by Melinda Gallo

Returning the rental car

I don't think I have ever slept as bad as I did last night. I kept trying to go over in my head how to drive to Borgo Ognissanti from our area without going through the restricted areas. I kept visualizing the streets I'd have to take, but since I never drive in Florence, I only have a few memories of when I've been driven around by friends and taxis.

I parked the car in front of our apartment last night and tried to get it in the right direction so that I could get out easily and get onto the viale (large avenue) that encircles most of the city. Our street is quirky because no one knows which way is the correct direction: it supposedly changed direction a few years ago, but the signs have remained unchanged. Taxi drivers usually go one way and everyone else goes whichever way they want.

I had to get the car back to the car rental agency by 10AM. I left the house at 9:15AM, so that I'd have just the enough time to get there.

I got out to the viale and ended up having to go around to the other side to go up the viale toward Piazza LibertÓ. I tried to stay in the left lane because I knew that I had to go around the Piazza LibertÓ to go toward the Fortezza, which is the largest and most chaotic road in Florence.

I was stuck behind a motorino (scooter) that was going rather slow and wouldn't move over. I had to gradually glide over to the next lane to get around her. The basic rule when driving in Italy that I've noticed is that your only concern is anyone you can see in your peripheral vision: anyone behind you does not exist.

At each light that I had to stop at, I breathed a sigh of relief because the car was still untouched. As soon as the light would turn green, cars from the two lanes on each side of me would suddenly find themselves in my lane. I felt like I was getting squeezed out and so I had to slow down a little to accommodate them.

I turned the air conditioner on even higher in the hopes of calming myself down a little bit. I even had to turn off the radio as I couldn't concentrate with all the cars around me as I looked for the proper route to take.

At one point a small truck was not parked correctly and the back part of the truck stuck out into my far left lane. The car on my right wanted to pass me up and quickly cut in front of me. He was going fast enough and came close enough to me that I had to slow down quite abruptly, but I also had to swerve to avoid the parked truck. I didn't look back or to the right because I figured that any car near me would just have to adjust their path if need be.

I was doing so well driving in Italy over the weekend without even one close call to recount. And today I was driving on the viale around Florence alone and completely stressed out of my mind.

I turned down one street to try to go to the Lungarni, but there was a telecamera and I couldn't go down that way. I made an illegal U-turn into a one-way street and turned at Porta al Prato. I saw the Zona limitata (Limited area) sign, but figured that there was no other way for me to get to Borgo Ognissanti. I thought that maybe I'd call them and tell them to come and get me. It's overwhelming to be looking for the route and trying to avoid an accident.

I made it to the parking garage to drop off the car and hopped out the second I turned off the engine. It took me almost a half an hour to go around the city and arrive at the parking garage. Much longer than I expected to do the approximately four or five kilometers.

The guy from the car rental agency didn't say anything at all to me. He walked around the car, checked the gas, and escorted me back to his office across the street. He gave me the receipt to let me know the total of the rental. I was still processing my first driving experience in Florence, so I asked him what he thought of driving here and he said, "╚ un po' caotico sui viali." (It's a little chaotic on the large avenues).

I used to ride a motorino when I first came to Florence in 1997, but I found it almost easier than driving a car. Of course, I avoided the Fortezza and the viali at all costs. But, in those days, we could also drive our motorini downtown without any problems.

I'm sure there are more chaotic places to drive in Italy. I've heard horror stories about Naples and Palermo, but I realize that I wouldn't drive in large Italian cities unless I know them very well. I'll try to drive in Florence again sometime, but for today, I'm done.

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