Despite the relatively late night shooting the rainy scenes around Venice, Brad and I were up early to begin what would be a long day of travel. When we made our plans to visit the northeast coast of Italy we weighed out a few options of how to get back to Rome. Having taken the train on our way to Venice, we decided that renting a car and driving back to Brad's house would allow us the great opportunity to see Pisa and the Leaning Tower while on the way. To pick up a rental car we'd have to get to Marco Polo International Airport, about 4 and a half miles north of Venice. We packed our bags, made our way down the windy streets towards the train station almost entirely be memory, and purchased bus passes to the airport in short order. After almost an hour of traveling by bus, watching our GPS dot move sporadically around the map on my phone screen, we realized that we had boarded the wrong bus and were going to end up nowhere near the location we were aiming for. Exchanging glances on the very crowded bus, we simultaneously hopped off at the next stop and re-evaluated our situation. Some quick time spent on the Internet left us with a new game plan, a 20 minute walk across a quiet suburban town on a lazy Sunday morning. We found the correct bus stop, narrowed down the correct bus route to get on, and waited for it to arrive. All said it took nearly two hours to make the 45 minute trip to the airport from our Airbnb in Venice, but upon arrival we were able to quickly find the rental car desk and get the keys to our tiny little Renault.
The irony of the rental situation was that Bradley had no clue how to drive a 5-speed. As we made our way across the parking lot he tossed me the keys, verifying aloud that I could drive a manual transmission car. I laughed as we struggled to pack our bags into the tiny back seat, adjusting the driver's seat and taking a moment to figure out the gearbox pattern. Brad became navigator as I found my way out of the parking garage, and before long we were zipping down the highway as I searched for some kind of speed limit sign with which to gauge our rate of travel. We stopped for a quick fast-food breakfast as I searched for a Venice postcard, ultimately finding that we were too far from the city proper to find a "local" card to mail back to the States. As we drove along the suburban scenery turned to luscious green mountains and a the road began disappearing into a whole heck of a lot of tunnels. Growing up in Boston and having lived through the 20 year process of "The Big Dig" where our entire city highway system got buried underground, I'm used to driving in long tunnels. The northern region of Italy, however, blows the sox off any tunnel Massachusetts is home to. The perfectly paved two lane highway would go from winding though hillsides to entering a continuous tunnel that would last us five or ten minutes at a time to get through... it was impressive to think of how long it must have taken them to build these monstrous underpasses.
We arrive in Pisa shortly after lunchtime, both hungry and anxiously awaiting some form of nutrition. I found us a great parking spot on the street a quarter mile walk from the Piazza del Duomo that is home to both the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Cattedrale di Pisa. Packed with other tourists enjoying the history, architecture, and gorgeously sunny Sunday, Brad and I would our way through the lines of people waiting to climb the Tower, and as I turned to look down the length of the Cathedral, my eyes settled on what may have been the most beautiful sight of my entire trip to Italy. When we had begun planning our trip in the months before, one of the most important things for me was to go to the Ferrari world headquarters in Modena, Italy to see either the Ferrari Museum or, if possible, to get a tour of the factory itself. As we considered other things we were interested in doing, it became apparent that there likely wouldn't be time to visit Ferrari if we wanted to see Venice. With that backstory, I will tell you that I nearly shed a tear when we wrapped around the backside of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and found the road closed off and full of vintage Ferraris lined up for a celebratory car show. I had died and gone to heaven.
After an hour or so comprised of staring at this behemoth tower as it leaned into the pull of gravity, admiring the incredibly sexy array of vintage Prancing Horse automobiles, getting gelato and another small snack, and (finally) finding a post card, we were back on the road. The tiny gas tank of our tiny car was getting low, and as we stopped at a gas station, Brad and I discussed the urgent need for him to be able to drive the 5-speed in order to return the car from the airport after dropping me off for my flight home to Boston. It was there and then on that sunny spring day that I found myself doing circles in a dirt parking lot as I taught him how to use the clutch and gearbox simultaneously. As we were running out of time to get back to Rome in time for a Cirque du Soleil cast/crew party we were expected at, I deemed Brad's driving skills acceptable enough to try on the main Italian highways, and with a tiny bit of hesitation on both of our parts, we were off. He got progressively better at shifting as we made the nearly 4 hour drive from Pisa back to Rome, and even did a great job in the latter city's rush hour traffic.
We parked along the Tiber River nearby to where I had walked a few days prior, and I packed up my camera and tripod before walking over to a bridge I had scoped out in hopes of photographing sunset there. With a gorgeous view of Vatican city and flanked by a hundred other people with cameras, Brad was politely impatient with me as I clicked away with the shutter of my dSLR. I took only ten photos, doing my best to be respectful of the time while still doing my best to ensure a usable photograph from the pitstop. We hopped back in his car and made it across town in no time, each taking quick showers and changing for the Cirque event. We didn't stay as long as either of us had planned on, but seeing his coworkers outside of the Big Top was a great experience, especially having seen the show just three nights before. We were back at the house around midnight, having been awake for nearly eighteen hours. With my boarding pass downloaded to my phone and the alarm set for early the next morning, I passed out after an awesome day discovering a totally different kind of Italy.
The flight home the next day was simple, and Brad managed to get our tiny car back to the rental company without leaving the clutch to die on the streets of Rome. I made it back to Boston before the sun set, after a brief stop at New York's JFK International Airport. Luckily, despite some initial confusion as to whether not my suitcase ever left Europe, I was reunited with it before my Uber driver arrived outside passenger pickup. I had a great week with a great friend, traveled a country I had never experienced before, and took a whole heck of a lot of photographs. I'm thankful to have accomplished all this safely, and look forward to returning abroad again in the near future.
Final note - thanks for the hospitality Brad, I had a blast :)
More to come as life returns to normal domestically, and plans for upcoming summer adventures get solidified.