Tuesday, September 28, 2010


One of Sarzana's charming streets
Before I tell about our trip to Sarzana, I need to make an admission.  My plan to take the Italian Driver's License test in Italian has changed.  I spent several weeks translating the manual, answering questions, and banging my head against the wall realizing all the while that I could still be doing this a year from now at the rate I've been going.  I was, however, committed to my plan of action until I learned that the test is changing on January 3, 2011.   Not only will the test no longer be offered in English, denying me any opportunity of even considering taking it in my mother tongue, but it's also going to be longer and harder.  Longer I can handle, harder...not so much.  In my smugness, I asked myself "how hard can this exam actually be?"  The response is "really hard"!  There are questions on the exam that are so unfamiliar, so un-intuitive...so hard!

...this means what?
...and this

...and everyone's favorite...right of way!
All of this stuff may be very familiar to European drivers, but for Americans, or at least Californians,  this is all new terrain.  Especially right of way.  None of that person to your right stuff, this is all about who passes in front of who's path...I can't even explain the concept I'm so confused.  There is no way I'm doing this in Italian, I'm not sure I can do it in English!! 

Anyway, back to Sarzana.  Until a few weeks ago, I'd never heard of Sarzana.  Even now I'm not quite sure what drew me to it.  From the train, it's an unprepossessing agricultural community similar to a hundred such towns in California's San Joaquin Valley, even down to the obligatory RV lot.  But, for some reason, when we got home from Pisa, I decided to do some quick research.  Sarzana lies about mid-way between La Spezia in the southernmost part of Liguria and Massa-Carrara in Tuscany.  I had assumed, because of the rather flat terrain, that Sarzana was in Tuscany, but to my surprise, it's a Ligurian town.  An even bigger surprise was that Sarzana has a pretty fascinating history.

The Cittadella
Sarzana is in a highly strategic position on the via Francigena, the main road used by the Romans to reach northern Europe.  But even after the Romans were long gone, the Republics of Genova, Pisa and Florence, fought for control over this small piece of real estate because it commanded access to the north.  The citadel pictured above was built by Lorenzo the Magnificent, ruler of Florence around 1488.  It has 6 towers, 2 of which you can see here, and a moat.  Unfortunately the moat is empty because this would be especially cool with water and crocodiles.  Not that they have crocodiles in Italy, but maybe they could import some.

More fortifications on the hill above the Citadel possibly built by the Genovese
In 1572 Sarzana finally became part of the Republic of Genova and is today the easternmost outpost of Liguria.  The blending of two different cultures, the Ligurian and the Tuscan is evident both in the cuisine, which is remarkably fishless for a Ligurian town, and the architecture.

The day we were in Sarzana was the last day of the Festival delle Mente. Initially I was pretty excited at the prospect of lots of food with mint in it.  Then, it sunk in that it was a festival about mente not menta.  A festival celebrating the mind not mint.  As you can imagine, the possibilities for embarrassment are unlimited when speaking a foreign language.

Piazza Matteotti is famous for it's triangular piazza
In August, all of the antiques dealers display their wares throughout the elegant streets of the centro storico.  But even without antiques, there are some wonderful small shops here often guarded by their very own guard dogs.

Actually probably a better doorstop than guard dog.

Although Sarzana is very small, only about 20,000, it's close enough to La Spezia and other larger cities to warrant a longer stay with an eye to life in a small town.  We still don't know the status of our apartment and apparently won't for some time, so we'll continue to explore.


  1. Hi there did you ever discover why your posts are not being delivered to feeds, or is it just me that is not receiving them?
    I was horrified to hear they are stopping the option of doing the driving test in English away from you! It is also interesting to see that your idea of a small town is 20,000 people! It sounds vast when you live in a small town like Marta.

  2. You have a very nice blog here! Love it!

  3. Did you know that you can renew your International Driver's license by mail? At least having that if you are stopped might help. I, too am horrified at the prospect of the Italian test.

  4. The problem with the International DL is that you can only use it in Italy for one year from the date of residence. According to a friend of mine, the fine is a whopping €9000. That may be an error, but even if it's only €900 that's still a kick in the teeth.

  5. I like your post... Despite the difficulty you encountered in getting an Italian driver's license you still shared to us the wonders of your place. I remember when I had my own Italy tours that I had some difficulty in communicating to some folks but in general I loved the experience of being there. The place is full of excitement.

  6. I took a course to prepare me for the driver's license exam, I went every day for about an hour, 5 days a week, for about 2 months until they decided I was ready. I was allowed to take the oral exam...available at the time to foreigners and Italians with only an elementary school education. Maybe that option is still available?

  7. If it's any consolation those examples aren't easily familiar to European drivers. Besides, why learn the theory to the right of way when it'll never be applied - might is right in practice. It's like installing direction indicators on Italian cars..why? :-)