Driving through the beautiful landscape of Tuscany takes your breath away. The shifting of gears up and down as you ride through the hills and countryside thrills the most seasoned driver. However, this thrill can quickly turn to frustration and become a little scary, just as fast as you can shift from first to second gear. I’ve driven from Milan, to Venice, to Florence and all over Sicily. And I marvel at the engineering spectacle the Italian highways provide, with their beautiful bridge works and tunnels that wind through the countryside. The cities are another story. Any given major city, possesses streets that can neuter any kind of motor skill prowess you think you may have.
I picked up my Peugeot minivan I leased directly from the car company in Nice, France. It’s a long story. For some reason, tax incentives I guess, it’s better for Peugeot and cheaper for the customer to lease the car for long-term periods than to sell it directly to a rental car company. (Contact car rental broker Auto Europe for more information). On my drive down from Nice to San Casciano Val di Pesa, I thought I would visit a few places: Monaco, Montey Carlo, Savona, Genova and then on to the Cinque Terra for one last bit of vacation before work began.
While driving on the streets of Genova, I was searching for the Best Western hotel where I knew they would have parking available for the van. But I found myself in a sticky situation. I had followed the instructions of my trusty GPS (NOT!!!), and made a right hand turn that slowly took me downhill into a cavern of historic looking buildings. As I slowly moved forward the street became more and more narrow and the grade of descent began to intensify. Then, I saw a three-wheel utility cart driving straight towards me. I sensed I was in trouble. A man dressed in work clothes got out of his vehicle and approached my car window to speak with me. Knowing very little Italian, I picked up words like macchina (car), parte (end) and fermo (stop). I was able to deduce that not only was there a dead end ahead, but I had just driven several blocks downhill going the wrong way on a one way street!
Since the road was just a bit wider than the width of the minivan, I had no option but to drive in reverse with a stick shift, going uphill, in the pouring rain to get back to where I made my dreadful mistake. I later learned that these types of streets are typical to Genova and are called carroggi , the term used in the Ligurian language to indicate quaint and narrow shady streets of many towns and villages in the Ligurian Riviera. There I was, with one foot gently on the gas as not to stall the manual transmission vehicle, and the other hand on the clutch pulsing in and out to keep a steady ascent. I used the back window frames on the van as a sort of gun sight to help guide me up the street, dodging tourists and shoppers as they walked in and out of the stores along the path and repeating to myself “I can do this. I can do this.”
Then, just as the sweat began to drip from my forehead, a clearing! I made it, so I thought, to an open area where I could turn my van around and proceed in the right direction. Suddenly, a loud, deep Italian voice cried out from the back “Basta!” The area was open, all right. But, on the other side sat a series of low level oversized cannon balls guarding the perimeter of the open area. And then, CRUNCH! The sound of the driver’s side rocker panel metal gave way to the reverse motion of the motor vehicle. I managed to get one of the cannon balls lodged between the front tire and the rocker panel.
After figuring out how much farther I had to proceed, I made it up the hill. I returned to the main road, parked at the first parking spot I could find, and walked to the nearest hotel, which fortunately, had a garage. Equally fortuitous, again, the Peugeot lease provided full insurance coverage. So, other than a much bruised ego, I don’t have to worry about the expense of the repair.
In conclusion, if you want to avoid the many pitfalls of renting and driving a car in Italy, I suggest you hire a driver. Between the time spent getting lost, the costly tickets generated by those sneaky roadside traffic cameras, the fines, should you encounter a restricted area, plus the overall stress of the situation, spend your money on a professional driver. Remember: this is your vacation, time for your enjoyment. Not only will you be delivered to your desired location without stress, the driver also can point out a few things along the way that you would have never noticed by traveling on your own.