Kindly contributed by Italy correspondent for The Economist John Hooper, who explores Italy -- its baffling contradictions, unique character and contemporary culture -- in his new, illuminating portrait The Italians. A must-read for anyone seeking to understand the country as it exists today.
For the traveller, unexpected discoveries are commonplace; unexpected journeys are rarer.
I had been at a conference in Siena. On the night before my departure, there was one of those apocalyptic storms that break surprisingly often in the skies over Italy. At the railway station the next day they told me the line to Florence was impassable -- hopelessly flooded. The only way back to Rome was by way of Grosseto.