If you’ve ever driven in a walled city, you know it requires some serious navigational skills. My friend and I had never had the experience, so we had no idea, and we happily rented a car from a nice lady who spoke little English but smiled a lot while nodding and repeating the letters G, P and S.
I understood streets were packed with people who seemed relatively oblivious to cars in general, but hey, what could go wrong? It’s a car and my friend and I both had, not only driver’s licenses, but international versions of the same! Let the adventure begin.
The next morning, we waved goodbye to our concierge, who had a worried look on his face but wished us well and off we went.
The mission was to get to Siena, a reported hour and fifteen minutes away. Forty five minutes later we were still driving around and around in the city where we started. Clearly the GPS had no comprehension of the INSANE number of one way streets to navigate…or perhaps it was pre programmed in cahoots with the car company to get more per-mile euros.
We finally made our way and had a marvelous afternoon in Siena. We were on top of the world driving back. After all, the hotel would be a breeze to find going in the return direction (we came from the hotel originally after all) and we didn’t have to get the rental car back until seven – a whopping two plus hours from point B back to point A.
Ha. Hahahhahahaha. This is hysterical laughter in response to the last sentence of the previous paragraph. Sure, getting out of Siena was easy. It was highway and country side for about forty-five minutes. We stopped for gas, used the restroom and made our final few miles to the the start of the heart of Florence. Cue maniacal laughter from GPS.
The watch on my friend's wrist read 5:45pm and we could see the tip of St. Mark from the red light where we were stopped. Traffic was starting to get thick but surely we were only a couple of miles away, walking distance even! The GPS read 1.2 miles to the hotel.
We turned left as instructed. Then right. Then right again…hey, wait a minute, this is the same street. We tried the same original left but made adjustments. Maybe that parallel street isn’t programmed into the GPS. And then, five minutes later, we were right back to the same original street and it was time to pull over to ask directions from the policemen who were directing traffic.
They tried to help. They kept repeating the only English they seemed to know “blue line, blue line.” They handed us a map and waved. 6:20pm. Panic to get the car back and not spend, not only another forty minutes in the car, but have to pay another rental day at 130euros. The blue line was what the bus followed. We weren’t allowed on the blue line.
I kept chanting “we’re not lost, we’re not lost,” as my friend bravely drove on. Another stop light and the world’s most aggressive drivers were pushing us out of their way (for such lovely people in general, Italians are terrifying drivers putting the most Turret’s Syndrome, amphetamine-crazed NY taxi drivers to shame). Once again we turned the corner back to where we’d started. I grabbed the GPS and shouted “I hate you, damn it! Why won’t you help us?!”
The one-way streets were winning the battle and my friend and I were going insane. We came to an interchange. And then we were stuck. It was going one way into a horrid traffic jam. The time had come for extreme measures. I turned to my pilot: “Drive this car backward to that street back there. We only need to go 100 yards and if we can get to the end we can go another way!”
Bless my friend's sense of adventure, she threw it in reverse and whizzed backward through two intersections amidst honks and funny looks but we didn’t care. There were only minutes to go before we had to have the car back. And then we turned down another street. The GPS read .2 miles to go!
We were so close…the GPS switched to read .9 miles. What? How is that even possible?
We pulled over. On the phone, the concierge at our hotel tried to give us directions but basically said we were screwed, as “even we get lost around here,” he commiserated. Defeated, hungry, needing a strong drink, we called the rental car lady; “We are at blah blah blah. Lost blah blah blah. Please pick us up. Blah blah blah.”
I waited in front of the corner landmark I’d been assigned and then, up walked rental car lady. She looked dumbfounded, as if I could very well be the dumbest human on the planet. At that moment, I might have been. She had come over from our hotel. It was less than a two minute walk away.
I took a great picture of my friend in front of that car at 7:05pm. She’s flipping off the camera, if you look closely, you can see the GPS flipping us off.