Where to begin…it all started with this idea about driving through the beautiful Tuscan landscape. You know the Tuscan Sun movie with the beautiful landscape. Let’s just say it was not all movie perfect – our Tuscan experience.
We figured it would be less confusing and stressful renting a car in Florence than in Rome. We didn’t want to be tied down to a schedule, so we chose not to book a tour. Well, that just was not smart thinking on our part.
Florence may be smaller than Rome, but it is packed into a smaller footprint and the street signs are impossible to find, not-to-mention read (because we don’t speak Italian or read it for that matter). On top of that, there are people EVERY WHERE! It’s not like here in the States where people walk on sidewalks and wait for the appropriate signs to cross the street. Italy in general, you pass when you want using caution. It is very chaotic and confusing.
Now, getting out of Florence wasn’t so bad and driving on the autostrade is a lot like driving here in the states. Once we arrived in Siena, parking was an issue, but we found some only to realize you could only pay with coins – not like here where you can swipe your credit card at a paying station. So, we had to find change and the shop keepers are onto this and will not give you change, so you buy something and they give you bigger euros than needed and won’t change them for smaller coins. It was frustrating, but frankly its business. Once we settled the parking we wandered around Siena, enjoyed a fabulous lunch with locals. We felt so cool having found a place where, we were amongst the locals and not tourist like ourselves. We shared the best panna cotta after our fabulous lunch.
We wandered around and took in the sites, took a ton of pictures, helped a few fellow tourists with their cameras and then we departed for the ride through the countryside. It was an overcast day with few clouds, so I felt like the images I took were blah. I was dreaming of blue skies with big fluffy, marshmallow clouds. A contrast between the blue sky and the green rolling countryside. Plus, it was mid day not the best time to get landscape photos. When traveling you must adjust your expectations and roll with the current situation. I snapped a few shots I like, so I consider that a success.
We learned quickly, that roadside stops such as the all familiar gas station with a rest room do not exist in this beautiful landscape. So, we all had to relieve ourselves roadside. It’s not all glamorous when you travel – just keeping it real. I even got caught in the act by a passerby driver and got a honk. So embarrassing.
We took a road that had a beautiful green canopy and followed a dirt road to a beautiful winery. We had the place to ourselves and tried a few Chianti’s. We ended up liking the Chianti native Italians prefer – the one that is casted in cement vs. oak – the result is more of an minerals taste, also less sweet. This surprised the shop keeper. We ended up buying two bottles to drink while we were in Rome.
We ended up getting back into Florence later than we had planned and it was June 24th – San Giovanni Battista (the patron Saint of Florence) day and the town was shut down for the celebration, so that meant DETOURS!
Now the roads are confusing enough because we do not know Italian and there are rules that you are not allowed to be in certain areas unless you are a permit holder. Well, we got so lost and there were people everywhere and we had to get the rental car back before a certain time – stressful! We just kept going in circles, albeit new circles (it felt like we were in the movie Ground Hogs Day), but we couldn’t get our baring’s and the people were EVERY WHERE. It was insane.
We ended up turning on data on one of our phones so we could get navigation! That was an expensive 15 minutes. In this madness, we entered a restricted zone, but unknowingly. We received a ticket in the mail about 4 months later – oops. And we did pay the fine.
We finally got the car back to the agency and as we were leaving the parking garage, the sky opened up and just dumped buckets! We dashed into a café grabbed a drink in hopes it would let up, but it didn’t, so we raced across the street bought 2 umbrellas and walked back to our hotel.
It was a crazy adventure that I’m happy to say we survived unharmed. But if you get the crazy idea to rent a car in Florence, my advice is to take a group tour – it will be way less stressful and enjoyable. And it is a beautiful drive.
All the best,