Friday, September 7, 2012

Adventures in Driving in Italy

One aspect of travel that you don't always get to experience are the everyday things that you have to deal with at home. Case in point, driving a car, and all it entails. We rented a car in Italy just outside of Florence, and let me tell you, driving in a foreign country is always an adventure. Then again, we live for adventure, though I have the easy job of simply driving. R has to navigate, which she excels at, but it's a tough job, especially when all the towns are in Italian and the road signs leave a lot to be desired.

Now I've found people in Europe drive a little fast, at least for my taste. This is complicated by the fact that we are driving on these small, winding mountain roads with little in the way of side barriers, so I drive even slower. For the record, Italy is very mountainous, though that's what makes it so beautiful and interesting. Either way, it wouldn't be so bad if we were all alone, but inevitably some driver pulls up behind me and isn't shy about letting me know that I'm driving too slow. They let me know this by pulling up right behind me and riding me. Talk about frustrating, though I can't complain, it's their country. They pull off these amazingly dangerous passes around blind turns and at night, it's pretty crazy. If there's a bright side to it, it's that I don't really have to do anything, they just go around me and take their own lives in their hands. It's disconcerting, but c'est la vie.

In fact, during the drive, the kids came up with a fun game (at least for them) of counting all the cars that passed us on the road. This was the most fun on the Autostrade, which is there big "interstate" highway system, and consequently, where people drive really fast. To make it all the more fun, we had a fair amount of rain during our last few days in Italy, and on some of the days, it poured, making driving all the more fun. I will say, however, that even though I was passed with reckless abandon in the early going of the trip, I did manage to storm back and restore the pass:get passed ratio to an even 1:1, i.e., I passed as many cars as had passed me. Does this make any sense? Since the kids are so cute, they made a little statistical sheet complete with pictures of each car involved in the analysis. Sometimes they're so cute it hurts.

Another fun challenge was getting gas, which is way more expensive in Europe, which is why everyone drives this little economy cars that get amazing gas mileage. The US should take note, they simply don't drive gas-guzzling SUVs out here. Gas is charged by the liter, as well, so it's even more painful. I'm not sure, but I think it costs about $200 to fill the tank, and the car is tiny. We had to return the car with the tank filled, so naturally there was no getting around the dreaded Euro gas station.

Now we passed these things throughout our trip, but never really gave much thought to actually using them, and it was kind of amusing. They have these self-service kiosks where you pay first and the pump, not completely different than what you see in America, though in the US, each pump has a pay slot, while out here in Italy, there's one central kiosk where you pay for all the pumps. Fortunately, there is an English option, but the darn thing wouldn't take our credit card. I tried my debit card, but no luck, either. I had to employ the assistance of one of our family computer/technical experts (i.e., our kids). In an ideal world, we would simply put in the card and fill the tank, but since it wouldn't take the card, we had to feed Euros into the machine and pump, then check the fuel level, and if need be, put in more Euros. We ended up doing this three times, and even then, I wasn't sure if it was completely filled up, but we went with it. As it turns out, we were fine, the rental car company didn't even check, they just asked us if we'd filled the tank.

The final piece of the puzzle was returning the car, and for this, we had to locate a small airport just outside of the port town of Ancona, where we were to catch a ferry to Croatia. We managed to get there but then had to figure out how to return a rental car. At American airports, they spell this out to you in big, clear letters, but here, it was not the case. Luckily, we'd rented from Hertz, so we managed to find Hertz signs and parked the car accordingly. Then we returned the documents and keys, the people spoke English, and we were on our way.

For the record, the rental car people were super friendly, and they were by far the busiest car rental. I was told this was because they were the nicest people, and I learned this from the Frenchman next to me with whom I conversed with in French. How cool is that? The conversation started because I thought he was trying to cut in front of me in line, but then we became buddies. I love when that happens.

Until the next time, thanks (merci) for reading, and merci de R pour les pics.

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