You know the old saying, ‘All roads lead to Rome’?
My friends, I hate to break it to you, but this has to be the overstatement of the century.
It couldn’t be further from the truth.
The one thing I learned when I traveled to Rome, other than driving there was taking your life in your hands, is that driving in Rome is a lesson in futility.
Romans do not believe in street signs.
Don’t believe me? Let me share a little story about what happened when we drove to Rome. And maybe, just maybe, I will convince you.
In 2004, when the pseudo-hubs and I traveled to Italy for our two-week, world-wind tour of a lifetime, I did all the planning. From soup to nuts. I crossed every I, dotted every T, you get the point.
I set up the car rental, train reservations, hotel reservations, and planned the itinerary. Did everything for our all-out-assault on Italy – seven areas in two weeks.
It was going swimmingly – all without a hitch. The trains, the driving, reading the maps and the road signs, all just great.
Until we left for Rome, that is.
Now, the one that plans, also needs to be the one to take full responsibility when things get all effed up, which happened to me.
We left Tuscany en route to Rome by car a bit later than we had planned, due to the marvelous time we were having trolling about the Chianti countryside.
With our Michelin map as our guide, we made our way to the autostrada and set our SmartCar on high-speed-autopilot, due South, 130 kph.
We stopped to refuel at a gas station about ten miles outside of the first exits for Rome.
Pseudo-hubs turned to me as he climbed back into the car and said “Ok, where to from here?”
I started to panic and began riffling through ‘my papers’. Beads of sweat started to appear on my forehead and I began to realize I had no stinking idea.
How could that be? How could it be that I meticulously planned every little detail, except for the driving directions to the parking garage in Rome?
I had the address. I guess that was something.
Did I somehow imagine that I would magically know what exit to get off and that since we were in Rome, the Lord Jesus himself would somehow miraculously guide us to the parking garage?
I really don’t know what I was thinking, but it was clear I had screwed up. I had no idea how to get there. No detailed map of Rome, no directions. Nada.
At this point I turned to Chris to give him the good news.
“Uh, I dunno. I guess I was kinda focused on all the other difficult connections we had to maneuver in the earlier part of the trip.” I said.
Chris, being the unusually calm and patient one, was suddenly very out of character.
I little tantrum ensued. And then I got defensive. And then it was ON.
After we both calmed down, we got back on the autostrada and said our prayers. I generally have an innate sense of direction, so I was confident we would be alright.
We both put our game faces on because we realized that this was going to be a bit like driving to New York City and trying to find Central Park, without a map or a clue.
Oh, and without speaking the national language. Let’s throw that in for good measure.
We picked an exit from the Michelin map that seemed like it would be close to the Parcheggio di Villa Borghese and traveled down the ramp.
Surely there must be a sign at the bottom announcing the park, right? I mean, it is a large, well-known park.
To our dismay, not a one. No signs telling us anything.
This was the case for the next hour or so as we drove around aimlessly.
I was able to find a small map of Rome in ‘my papers’, but was never able to quite pick out our location. We couldn’t find one street sign telling us where the hell we were.
We drove round and round, back and forth. Nothing.
Frustrated and lost, I spotted a few young boys on bikes and we drove over, rolled down our windows and asked. Lucky for us they were helpful and spoke some English.
They even had a hard time telling us where it was, which in some warped way, made us feel a little better about our situation.
Though the boys didn’t solve the problem, they pointed us in the right direction and after another bout of getting lost a few more times, I finally spotted a sign for the garage.
But that was just a temporary high, because as Chris began his descent into what seemed like the entrance, half way down the steep, curved, narrowing ramp, he realized that he had made a grave error in judgment.
He had gone down the motorcycle entrance ramp. And though we were in a tiny SmartCar, it was no match for the narrow concrete walls.
We couldn’t make it any further down without taking the bumper and side-view mirror off the car and if someone were to pull up immediately behind us, we would get the second screwing of the day.
Where was the Lord Jesus when you needed him?!!
Knowing that I am the irrational and impatient one, I decided it would be best for me to just SHUT MY MOUTH!!
Instead, I closed my eyes, took several deep breaths and said yet another Hail Mary as Chris gently tried to maneuver the car out of the crevice that we were now lodged in.
It was a wise move on my part, because both the car and its inhabitants escaped without injury or further incident. Un Miricolo.
By now we were exhausted. But the fun was just beginning.
We trudged up the steep underground steps with our much too heavy luggage in tow and made our way to street level. Now we needed to find our bus (we were determined not to take taxis, but I was really beginning to regret that decision now).
Again, I asked myself what in the hell I was thinking!!?
Too tired to look around for a tabaccheria to buy a bus ticket, we hopped on the first bus we saw with the flashing neon #116, that by all accounts would drop us near our hotel.
We struggled with getting our luggage on board and some nice bus riders, who we later found out were American, helped us.
I began to worry that we would be kicked off, or worse, jailed because we were now illegally riding the bus without purchasing a ticket. I was panicking again.
Then the nice family that helped us with our luggage started chatting us up and I quickly forgot about my law-breaking status.
Turns out, they knew the bus line quite well. After we explained our hellish day, we told them our hotel was near the Piazza Navona. They must have felt sorry for us because before we could even start to worry about an exit strategy, the bus doors opened, they pushed us off the bus, luggage and all, promising that it was the right stop.
And we never did get to thank them. Nor did we get arrested.
Instead we spent the next half hour, marching up and down the street, looking for the little two block alleyway that housed our hotel.
No luck. When we finally found the road, it dawned on us that it was the exact spot the bus had stopped. If we had just looked down the tiny alleyway in front of us, it was the third building in on the right.
I’d never been happier to see three-flights of stairs and took them two at a time. We threw our luggage in the room and uncorked a bottle of red faster than you could say ‘Chianti’. We quickly polished off every last drop of the good juice in an effort to wash away the horror of the nightmare we just survived.
In the end we almost killed each other, avoided destroying the rental car, got to ride the bus for free, put our fate in the hands of some helpful Americans and realized that sometimes what you are looking for might just be right in front of your eyes.
Even with a detailed map and the best directions, the fact still remains that the signs in Rome really do suck. It leads one to believe that though all roads may lead to Rome, that tidbit of factual information is best left for the unprepared traveler to discover from the comfort of the backseat of a very expensive, but reliable Roman taxi cab.
And a little prayer in the city considered to be the Catholicism capital of the world doesn’t hurt either.
Have you ever driven a car in Rome before? Would you? Do you have a harrowing tale of misfortune to share?