On June 5th, we left our hotel on the cliffs overlooking Riomaggiore, drove back to La Spezia, and got lost making our way to the Autostrada between La Spezia and Florence. It’s so easy to do, especially without a GPS. I won’t drive again in Europe without one, but they were too expensive to rent. A couple of hours later, we took a wrong turn in Florence that cost us twenty minutes to correct. No big deal, just annoying.
The hill town of Arezzo is located about an hour and a half southeast of Florence, still in Tuscany, but getting close to Umbria (and Asissi). We had a special reason for going there: Our granddaughter, Rachel Doyle, will be attending her last semester of her undergraduate degree with Oklahoma University at their extension school in Arezzo. She will be there August – November of 2014. Momma, papa, and sister will visit her when she is done at the end of November. We just had to check out the town and the school since we were “in the neighborhood, so to speak.”
Naturally we made a wrong turn on the way to our B&B and ended up at the railroad station in the center of Arezzo, where a very nice young lady supplied us with a good city map and directions back to our B&B. On this trip, we decided to try out airbnb.com for a couple of our overnight stays, Arezzo and Como, Italy. Airbnb helps travelers to connect with property owners who rent out rooms or apartments or whole houses on a more personal basis. It’s almost always cheaper than a hotel or standard B&B, and the owners are usually there to greet you and help you out with information, tips, and maps, etc. Lorena Fallai met us at the door, helped us bring our luggage up to our room on the third floor of her building, and set us up with tea and snacks before we left for downtown. Very nice!
Our place in Arezzo was only about a five minute drive to the center of town and the area where the OU school facilities are located. The school address was 40 Corso Italia, near the Piazza Grande (main square) of the town. Nothing is ever easy to find the first time in a city in Europe, especially in old town centers. The street was wide, and shared between cars, vespas, and pedestrians. We parked near the Piazza, and started our hunt for the school. All we found at the address was an arched tunnel leading to a restaurant. Puzzled, we walked down the street, and heard some young voices speaking English. Three young ladies and an older man were having a meeting at an outdoor patio of a restaurant. I asked them if they knew where the OU school was located. The three women said they were students there and the man was a teacher there. The teacher asked us to wait for their meeting to end, and then he would take us to the school.
This was good luck, indeed! It also turns out that Kathy recognized the man from a chance meeting in Norman, Oklahoma, last year while touring the campus with daughter Rhonda. Small world!
When we returned to 40 Corso Italia, we had not noticed the doors in the hallway just prior to the restaurant. They had electronic security numeric locks on them. We followed the teacher upstairs, did a small self tour, and signed the guest register before leaving. The college is located on the second floor, is probably a few thousand square feet, and has classrooms, a computer lab, a reception area, and administrative offices. They will be moving to a larger facility in a year or so.
The OU school is located very close to the scenic areas of the old city, including the marvelous Piazza Grande, a city park with great views of the town, and a grand cathedral nearby. Arezzo has a population of around 100,000. It’s a nice sized, clean town with plenty of good restaurants and cafes. The location is nice, Florence is just over an hour away, the hill town of Cortona is just 45 minutes south, and Rome is about three hours away. We really think Rachel is going to enjoy living and studying in this Italian city.
When we returned to our B&B, Signora Fallai asked us what we were looking for in a restaurant. She spoke mainly Italian, so between my limited vocabulary and her smartphone translator, we got along fine. We were in the mood for an inexpensive place serving pizza, pasta, and beer. She took us five blocks down the street to the “New Black Cat” (true name), told the staff to help us out, and went back home. This place was full of locals, young families, teens, and senior citizens, all talking loudly and having a good time. We shared a salad and pizza with two glasses of wine for 24 Euros. Nice!
The next morning, we had a nice breakfast at the B&B, said Arrivederci to Lorena, and headed back towards Florence on our way to Como on Lago (lake) Como north of Milan.