A beautiful but harrowing adventure

I almost died last week. Well, OK, not really, but I felt like I might die. I found myself in the Colline Bolognesi, the hills of Bologna, leading a group of clients to visit a producer of parmigiano-reggiano cheese near Santa Lucia. Should I have previewed the trip earlier by doing a run through of the route? Absolutely. But time was at a premium. And I had a GPS. Nothing to fear!

Except that GPS systems are infamous for choosing routes with minor roads and excessive complexity, all in the name of saving half a kilometer.

So here I was with a van full of clients climbing into the hills of Bologna, except “hills” are an understatement. Really it is the beginning of the massive Apennine mountain range which cuts through Italy like a spine, and these were no hills. Instead there were kilometers of steep ascents and hairpin turns around every corner. And instead of choosing a direct route, the GPS system took us on back mountain roads, including one which had literally disintegrated into rubble.

But the low point was at the top of the mountain when the brake fluid light came on. How could anything be worse? It was all I could do to keep my composure and continue to the caseificio, which miraculously was found, and with five whole minutes to spare.

The visit was amazing, and all was forgotten temporarily. We started down the mountain toward lunch at Amerigo dal 1934 in Savigno, which was so tremendous that I was once again able to focus on something other than failing breaks. The brake fluid light hadn’t come back on, and everything seemed to be working fine.

But just as we were almost home free, the GPS had other ideas. As I learned later from studying the route, for the sake of saving us a kilometer, the GPS led us on a “short cut” back up over another harrowing mountain, requiring speeds of 30 km/h, and turning what should have been a 25 minute trip home into an hour-long, hair-raising ordeal.

But one of my clients was an excellent co-pilot and helped me keep up my nerve. I was sweating bullets, it was dark, I was coming down out of a mountain totally unfamiliar with hairpin turns every kilometer or so for 15 kilometers.

Needless to say, the first destination after returning to the villa was a soak in the hot tub. Nothing had every felt so good. But the remarkable thing is that the harrowing adventure up and down the mountains became the favorite memory of the whole week for many of my clients. Even I can now look back with nostalgia on what at the time was pure hell.

This past week I took a more sane and direct route to the caseificio with my second group of clients, and although it was by far a more relaxing trip, I can’t say part of me wasn’t craving the drama and adventure of the earlier trip. Maybe just not so much as to actually do it again.