I have a bad back. I would love to say it was due to an old football injury or the result of saving an old lady from a burning building, but the truth of it is I’m just an overweight computer geek. Bad backs are as much a part of our DNA as comic books and Monty Python quotes.
Unfortunately, my back usually wants to show its ass when I travel. (Well technically, it’s still my ass, but you get the point.) While I normally blame my wife’s Titanic-sized suitcases, it could also be bad food, poor airline seats, or the midget-sized European beds.
Doctors, Italian Style
Whatever the reason, by Day 3 of our Italy excursion my back howled its disapproval at our travels. By the time we got to Florence I couldn’t sit without pain. Since we had a “free day” on our itinerary, my wife begged me to see a doctor for something, anything, to allow me to continue the trip pain-free. Like most men, I hate going to the doctor. Don’t ask me why, it must be an abnormality on the “y” chromosome. But with most of the trip still ahead of us, including a Tuscan Vespa tour the next day, I reluctantly agreed.
Our hotel arranged for an Italian doctor to visit me in my room and examine my back and hopefully prescribe a muscle relaxant. This was my first experience with a doctor in a foreign country, and if he is any example of how they operate, I need to move overseas. The doctor came in and listened to my wife describe my plight. (Have you ever noticed that when a wife goes to the doctor with their spouse, the husband isn’t allowed to talk?) He asked me what I wanted, and I replied (before my wife could!) that I wanted him to shoot me up and prescribe cyclobenzaprine as that worked in the past. But before he did anything, I let him know this was my first trip to Tuscany and I still wanted to drink wine. The doctor just laughed and reminded me this was Italy; nothing gets in the way of drinking wine. Yup, European doctors have their priorities right!
The doctor shot me up with a pain reliever and a muscle relaxant, and prescribed the needed medications. As he was leaving, he suggested I take it easier for a couple of days. I told him I had a Vespa tour of Tuscany the next day. It is never a good thing to make a doctor belly laugh, but that comment managed it. He asked why I just didn’t ride a pogo stick for the tour, it would just as comfortable. Little did I know how right he was.
Tuscany Vespa Tour
The next morning we headed to the meeting area for the tour. My back was still spasming, but it was a little better since the doctor’s visit. We gathered in vans to take us to do the vespas. There were about 20 people taking part in the tour, all of us Americans. Did the Europeans know something about this tour we Americans didn’t? The trip in the van let me know in no uncertain terms that driving a Vespa on these roads was not a good idea. Empirical evidence suggests “road maintenance” is optional in Italy.
As we gathered for instruction, the guides suggested we take out additional insurance. Anytime a tour is hawking insurance, it is probably a bad sign. After the van ride, I decided to skip driving a Vespa. I thought we would take one of the vans. Instead, I discovered I would be driven around on the back of a 3 wheeled Vespa. If someone ever offers you the option of a 3-wheeled Vespa and a pogo stick, vote for the latter. I quickly learned this “utility vehicle” of Vespa was worse than driving myself. If I were on a bike, I could have at least driven around the potholes. This traveling torture device hit EVERY one.
While Italian drivers had little respect for Vespa drivers, they have even less respect for TOURIST Vespa drivers. Once our little pack hit the road, cars were whizzing by us in wild abandon. Empirical evidence suggests “driving laws” are optional in Italy.
After brief stops for views of vineyards and to allow our fellow tour participants to kiss the ground in deliverance, we stopped at the Ambrogio & Giovanni Folonari winery. Although we toured the winery, it disappointed me we didn’t have a tasting there. Folonari has several excellent varietals.
Instead we headed to nearby Impruneta to try a variety of local wines. While I wouldn’t say the wines were the better wines of Tuscany, the service and attentiveness of the staff more than made up for it. Around the table the comaraderie of the tour members resembled that of soldiers. We had just faced death together on the Tuscan roads; we were brothers for life.
After a tasty meal by the Vespa tour group, we piled back into the vans and headed back to Florence. Even with a wonky back, potholes and crazy Italian road etiquette, I enjoyed my foray into Tuscany. It is a beautiful countryside and represents the vision of Italy Americans have in the minds. Explore it if you can…
…but maybe skip the Vespa part.
Pictures of the Day