Week 12 – Italy (Tuscany to Milan)

It’s hard to get motivated on this week’s post… we’ve arrived in Milan and we’re staying with Anna’s brother Tom and his family. After 3 months of travelling it feels great to change down a few gears and adopt a more regular pace. Of course we’re still keeping busy, but we’ve had 3 days in Milan so far and instead of spending our time doing all the touristy things we’ve been focussing on getting back to a regular routine – we’ve gone for a few runs, downloaded and tried a yoga video and spent time relaxing in the park. I’m also very relaxed because we returned the rental car back in one piece and they signed off that there was no new damage. Apparently it’s something you have to watch for with the budget car rental companies – they try and charge you for existing damage. There will be some additional costs unfortunately. I may have a fine or two coming my way after the GPS took me down a bus lane. The first sign was at the start of the bus lane with a camera 10m after. Oh well… these things happen. It is true what they say about Italian drivers, they are crazy, but it’s only in the big cities that it’s a problem. Having a car is definitely the way to go for seeing Italy.

From last week’s post we had one more day in Tuscany so we spent it in Siena. It was an overcast day with occasional showers so we drove in and parked near the stadium. Our host gave us a recommendation for a pizza place and it has been the best one so far, spicy salami with gorgonzola cheese – yum. We spent the day roaming around the historic town centre and people watching in Piazza del Campo. We visited the duomo which was very grand and impressive with its gothic stripes and highly ornate facade. It’s definitely one of the more touristy churches that we’ve visited although I guess that’s to be expected as we move towards the larger cities. It’s a shame that this one is so touristy that they don’t hold mass there anymore. It felt more like visiting a palace than a church. The best thing about Siena was our trip to the supermarket Pam. Well more specifically the discovery of Milka with hazelnut, caramel and cream was the best thing. So so yum!

We decided that we should spend 3 nights somewhere on the way to Milan to break up the drive from Tuscany. After looking at the map Bologna looked like a good option and just by coincidence, Ducati and Ferrari have factories in the area. The tolls were still too expensive so we opted for secondary highways. They took twice as long as the tollway but it wasn’t hard to see why they have supercar/sportsbike factories in the area. Some of the roads over the mountains were fantastic. The Citroën was great and all, but it would’ve been fantastic being on 2 wheels.

We visited the Ferrari museum in Maranello and did a tour of the factory and their private test track. Whilst the factory tour was a tad disappointing because you just drove around the factory complex without entering the building, it was very interesting to see how manual the manufacturing process is. There were no conveyor belt assembly lines for mass production – they moved bodies around the complex on trailers, forklifted engines to where they were needed and drove the part assembled cars around the factory complex to different departments for finishing and testing. Each car is taken on a 50km test drive on public roads and then put into a rain simulator to ensure they don’t leak. One thing we noticed is that you never see any Italian supercars on the streets of Italy. We only saw one Ferrari before we arrived in Bologna. Turns out that only 3% of the 7000 cars made annually are sold in Italy, with most going to USA, Japan, China and of course the Emirates. When we went to see Ferrari’s test track they were testing one of the F1 cars which was cool to see. The noise of the engine was beautiful. The museum was interesting with a mix of classic road cars, some F1 exhibits and the modern favourites.

The main event in my mind was the Ducati factory. Unfortunately no photos are allowed to be taken in the factory, but it was a real factory tour. We were guided through each section of the factory stepping out of the path of forklifts and employees wheeling trolleys with parts around. It was great to see that the bikes are completely assembled by hand, with the only robot being the gasket sealant applicator. Only 2 employees work on each engine and then a series of quality control measures are completed. A number of changes have been implemented since Audi took ownership in a drive to improve quality and reliability. It was surprising that the only parts they machined at the factory were the crankshaft and camshaft. Everything else was outsourced or were branded components that were then assembled there. Seems to be working because Ducati’s reputation of quality has certainly improved recently. I did walk out of there wanting a new bike… perhaps when we stop travelling.

We did spend some time in and around Bologna and it’s a pretty city but more of a practical city as opposed to all of the touristy places we’ve been visiting. I’m still very surprised with how the Italians take their dogs everywhere like stores and even restaurants for dinner, but I think the most shocking I’ve seen is the dog that was in the Bologna cathedral during Sunday mass. I know they’re well trained but that’s going a bit far.

Anna was very excited to arrive in Milan because she hadn’t seen Tom, Marlena and her nephew Gabriel for almost 2 years. It was my first time meeting them all in person so naturally I was nervous but I’ve felt very welcome. We’ve taken Gabriel on some outings since we arrived and even went to McDonald’s yesterday. I think it was Anna’s first meal at McDonald’s in about 3 years, but I’m not so healthy. Spending time with Gabriel makes me miss my 4 nieces. They’re going to be so grown up when I see them next. Maybe they won’t even remember Uncle Benny.

Gabriel with his scooter in Milan

Over the next week we’re hoping to get to the Lakes this week around Como but the forecast doesn’t look great. We’ll wait and see what happens.



Fail of the Week
Our attempt to return the rental car in the centre of Milan was probably our biggest fail. We had to return it with a full tank of fuel so we had to drive to a nearby service station first and then to the rental company office. Downtown Milan is a maze of one way streets, tramways, bus lanes and local traffic zones with an abundance of traffic cameras waiting to catch offenders. Well first of all the GPS navigated us down a short bus lane so we’ll probably get that fine and then when we arrived at the rental office it was closed. Luckily we had Marlena with us so she called the number and they informed her that the office was closed for afternoon tea and we’d have to drive to a nearby carpark in the city. We managed to find it and return the car but it was still a stressful ordeal.


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