Watch Out For That Roundabout! – Driving in Italy, Episode 4

View from Piazza Micahelangelo

I had planned on dropping the car off at the office of the major international rental car company near the Florence airport.  I had my maps, my Google Earth views, my Street Views, etc.  I had my specific directions to exactly where the office should be. However, when we got near to where the office is supposed to be, we couldn’t find the right street.  We quickly became lost in a quagmire of one way streets. We drove around and around while I stared at the map, trying in vain to get to the right spot in the land of “can’t get there from here.”

View from Piazza Micahelangelo
View of Florence from Piazza Michaelangelo

Finally, as if by accident (oops, perhaps that is a bad choice of words, I mean by chance), I see the sign of the major international rental car company. “Pull in there” I yelled, as we screeched across two lanes of traffic to turn into the very crowded parking lot of a commercial building.  I didn’t see any rental cars in this small lot.  The office was about ten feet wide on the ground floor of a building housing many other businesses.  This must be the right place, because the sign is there, I thought, as we looked around for a place to leave the car.  They must take the cars to some other location.  Yeah, that’s it.

I got out of the car and approached the door.  The time was now 7:05pm.  The door was locked.  There was a small sign on the window stating the office hours.  This office of the major international rental car company had closed five minutes ago…

“OK, let’s stay calm,” I said as I silently fumed liked a volcano lava flow.  “We are at the proverbial fork in the road.  As Yogi Berra famously said, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

“What does Yogi Bear have to do dropping off a rental car in Italy?” asked Lisa.  “Where is Boo Boo?”

Ignoring this, I lay out our two choices.  One, we can leave the car in this small parking lot, blocking other people in, taking the chance that they won’t take a tire iron to the car of the idiot who blocked them in, and assume that the competent clerk of the major international rental car company will process our car return tomorrow morning properly and without extra expense.  Then we hopefully can find and take a taxi from this grimy industrial area by the airport to our hotel for the night and sleep like a baby. Two, we drive to our hotel near the center of Florence from here, then drive back here in the morning when the office is open to return the car.

We had been on the road all day.  We were tired.  We were hungry.  We wanted to be sitting in a nice Italian restaurant in the heart of romantic Florence on a Friday night eating a magnificent three course meal.  It was not to be. I made an executive command decision.

“I don’t like this area.  I don’t think we should leave the car here tonight.  Let’s drive it to the hotel and come back tomorrow.  You drive, and I’ll navigate.”

Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio over the River Arno

Vacations are supposed to be fun, relaxing, and enjoyable.  Driving across Florence during Friday night rush hour is none of those.

I checked my maps and we set off.  After a few turns, so far so good, we are getting there.  Ooops, I think where we are now is not on my map. I think we have to veer that way.  No, not that way, the other way.  Then something happened that happens every night.  It got dark.  Trying to read a map and street signs, and driving in a foreign city with heavy traffic, is a very hard thing to do.  Especially when the roads were laid out in the 1400s or whenever, and there are lots of one way roads. Then there is the nemesis of all American drivers – the roundabout, also called the traffic circle.

The basic theory of roundabouts is kind of related to physics and centripetal force.  You get into the circle, fly around a bit, and when enough force hits you, fly out at the desired exit.  The hard part, need I say more, is getting out at the desired exit.  When you get in the circle, the polite and respected thing to do is to go into the inner lanes of the circle while you drive around and around deciding where the hell is the right exit, then move to the outer lane when you want to escape the gravitational pull of the sun at the center of the circle and fly to Mars.

Without trying to, we came upon one of the main roundabouts of Florence.  It was packed like flies buzzing around a light on a hot summer night.  There were no turns and no way of escaping the circle.  In we go.

Center map
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