Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dove La Estazione?

Last Tuesday's mail included one of the strangest things my family has received: A one page letter from the city of Firenze, Italy (Florence) written in questionable English, demading we pay a 101 Euro fine for driving into the city. I could not stop laughing.  How Italian is that? They don't get around to sending us a ticket until 22 months after we left the country!

Seeing the ticket in the mail reminded me of the insanity of driving in France and Italy.  I decided that I would try to relate the stories and capture the humor.  It's not going to be easy.  Here goes nothing.

It all began when we left Paris, took a cab to Orly and picked up a rental car.  Renting a car was my idea.  I wanted to be able to see France and Italy at our own pace and not be on the schedule of the trains.  Man, do I regret being so stubborn about that.

So we pick up this adorable silver Alpha Romeo and think "we can totally do this".  We leave early and head toward our second destination on this trip: Avignon.  We fairly easily find our way onto the Auto Route, the amazingly long and wide freeway running through Europe, but called different things in different countries.  When I say that we found it fairly easily I mean that we only got turned around three or four times and only had to ask for directions once.  The ride through Provence was amazing and easy.  The speed limits are around 80 miles per hour and we were thrilled.  We found Avignon easily as well, but it is hard to miss.  A large walled city with castle like drawbridges leading in all around the city, not hard to miss on the horizon.  Once we entered the walls, the trouble started.  It was beginning to get dark and we got turned around.  You see, the street signs in most of Europe don't hang over the street on stop lights.  They are tacked to the corners of buildings, meaning that you cannot read them until you are in the middle of the intersection, which can cause, well, problems.  Our hotel was located right next to the Papal Palace, another landmark that you would think is hard to miss.  And it was.  We could see it, but couldn't get there.  I still remember the name of the street we were looking for, Rue Jean Villet.  That name will stick with me for a very long time.  I would guess that the distance from where we entered the city to our hotel was about a kilometer.  It took us two hours to get there.  Two. Hours.  Several times I jumped out of the car to ask someone in the Brasserie/Internet Cafe/Questionable Massage Parlor if they knew where Rue Jean Villet was.  Here's the problem: I don't speak French. I can say please, thank you, and count to three.  Not particularly useful.  But many many people in France speak at least a little English and tried their best to point me in the right direction.  At one point we were on some questionable back street that was clearly made for horses and carriages and the wheels of our tiny car were squeaking on both curbs. That was the point we gave up being frustrated for  minute and broke out into hysterical laughter.  We even tried heading out of the walls of the city and coming back in, like the change in perspective would somehow help.  It didn't.  We continually drove down the street that was supposed to intersect with our street, but could not find it anywhere, all we saw was a town square dotted with umbrella tables.  Finally we said fuck it, and turned into the square.  Once we weaved our way through the tables and completely non-plussed patrons of various restaurants, we spotted our hotel and pulled up in front.  We trudged into the lobby and the concierge took down our information and then told us we needed to move the car to the parking garage behind the building.  She started to take out a map and highlighter and my mother said simply "no, the car is staying right there tonight." The girl behind the desk could see that pushing mom was not going to pay off and told us we could leave the car there for the evening.  She also made the mistake of acting like it was perfectly normal to drive through the town square.  I had to stop myself from punching her in the face.

Tell me, doesn't this square just scream "drive through me"?

The story will continue as we make our way through the south of France and into Italy.
Many more laughs to come.

4 comments to blog for:

Florida Remodel Gal said...

I am laughing with tears streaming down. Been there and done that. I swear in one place a guy in Italy told us to drive across a cow pasture. I think he did it just to see if we would (we didn't).

I also feel a big guilty, because I told your mom that renting a car was great (guess I did forget about all of the directional problems). Sorry!

Anonymous said...


Nancy said...

FL Remodel Gal - You are guilt-free with regard to the rental car decision. Miss strong-willed-child was not to be denied the experience of driving through the south of France. The photo in this post doesn't accurately represent what the square looked like that night. It was literally filled with gaily-lit restaurant tables and small children mucking about! Other than a cow pasture, probably the last place you would dare to drive a car, no matter how small and sexy it was!

florida Remodel Gal said...

But WELL worth the laughs now, I'm sure. I laugh out loud just picturing you guys doing it. I love it!

Guess you may have trouble getting into Florence again in the future if they have the Italian equivalent of a warrant for your arrest for driving into the city!

Too funny. Thanks for the laughs today.