Drive in Rome, Panic Included

Aaron and Ada in the Alfa Romeo*

We gathered our bags, ate a quick breakfast and waited for our taxi, which would take us to the EuroCar rental office located in the underground parking lot underneath the Borghese Gardens. Our driver was the first Italian we met who didn’t speak English. We showed him our destination on the map and he said “okay” and “no problem.” But there was a problem; he was clueless to where the lot was, and taught us a few Italian curse words while we made endless circles in the underground maze.

We arrived 12 Euros later and on time for our 9 o’clock pick up. We prepaid for a four door, mid-size family car. But Aaron quickly befriended the rental agent, who upgraded us to a two door Alfa Romeo GT. Aaron peeked in the window, noticed the six gears and said we’d take it. He ignored my worried but it only has two doors with a quick the car seat will fit and ran off to sign the papers. He was in love.

To help us navigate Umbria and Tuscany, I brought “Touring Guide Italiano Driving Atlas.” It showed us how to leave Rome on Via Salaria, but not how to leave the underground parking and get to Via Salaria. (The map just showed a big green blob for the Borghese Gardens with a “P” for parking.) While I’m always the navigator and Aaron is always the driver, it was during our first drive in Italy that we earned our new nicknames: Panicker and Quick-thinker.

Aaron’s new friend the rental agent gave us directions out of the parking lot — take two rights. Quick-thinker didn’t listen and took an immediate left. Panicker screeched “you’re heading to Piazza del Popolo!” into that chaotic traffic that left us mesmerized the day before, and in the opposite direction of via Salaria. He reversed (yes, reversed) back down the freeway on ramp and took a right.

The second right wasn’t at an intersection, but at a roundabout. And since a roundabout is round, we had many right options. We randomly picked one, hit the main road, and then Panicker screeched another “we’re heading to Piazza del Popolo!” Quick-thinker made a U-turn and we headed back to the roundabout to try a different random right.

With a touch of luck, we found Via Salaria. But via Salaria had a fork and we took the wrong tong. Panicker again squealed “We took the wrong road! We’re lost in Rome! We’ll never get out! Ahhh!!!” As usual, Quick-thinker ignored Panicker, used common sense and connected us right back to via Salaria.

My clammy hands clenched the map until we merged onto the A1, the major highway out of Rome. Aaron happily used all six gears and blended in beautifully with the other drivers. I took a few deep breaths and we cruised our way into Umbria.

Orvieto, Umbria

*Yes, Ada always sits in her car seat while Aaron is  driving and no, Aaron doesn’t normally drive with bread sticks hanging from his mouth.