It’s been a little stressful here in Italy. The Airbnb apartment I rented in Venice that cost a fortune was a dump and I nearly slept under a canal bridge because the landlady didn’t answer the phone when I arrived at night in the rain without my suitcase because Iberia lost my luggage. The place was so ugly I’d stay out late just to avoid being there. Venice itself is beautiful at every turn, every canal, every piazza—all of which were enchanting– but I was perpetually lost and discouraged therefrom, thinking senility must be setting in. But in fact everyone is lost all the time in Venice and have maps clutched tightly in their hands.. The maps don’t really match the streets and anyway each street has at least two different names; compound this confusion with the addition of a district name and a piazza name to every wall. The map to the Venice Biennale was the worst of all because it had no street names at all so finding an art venue involved standing in the wind with two maps open trying to locate an exhibition.
My next adventure was taking a road trip through the back roads of Umbria and Tuscany. The idea was to take a leisurely sojourn through beautiful landscapes filled with vineyards and olive groves, Etruscan and Roman ruins and Byzantine churches in mountain villages perched like fortresses on mountainsides. But the driving part turned out to be stress central.
Signage in Italy could be a text for comedia del arte or more accurately, from Dante’s Inferno. Unfortunately you have to rely on signs every mile or so because Italy believes in rotundas—roundabouts—each one full of signs– rather than stop signs, lights and intersections. So while you careen around a roundabout you have to read signs to determine where you’ll go next.
It’s crazy difficult trying to find a village name on a sign post that has 25 or more arrow signs that MAY have the town you’re looking for or may not but it WILL have all of the following on the sign posts as well: library, police station, post office, five or six local hotels, a couple of restaurants, seven or eight Agriturismos, the cyclodromo, Iglesias Maria somebody, Monumento Antigua, etc all in a random stack with arrows pointing straight left or right. And as you’re a rolling vehicle at these rotundas you are trying to find the town you’re headed to while still moving. I often missed the right turn because the village I was looking for wasn’t listed or the town sign I was following—Firenze for instance– all of a sudden vanished on the next rotunda sign. I got so lost so often that it took me 12 hours to manage a four hour trip on my first day out. I was in such a melt down by the time I got near Siena that I managed to roll my brand new Fiat 500 rent-a-car into an Alfa Romeo as I was trying to read a sign.
The next two days were better—no accidents, only six or seven wrong roads…then I got to Rome where the Forum’s Audioguide blissfully rambles on about structures that are not in front of you. Hadrian’s Villa, however, took the signage prize by being first of all four miles from the bus drop off and then down many roads without any signs at all—except one at an intersection where the arrow pointed BETWEEN two roads and then another pointed on a road marked “Do Not Enter” After another mile the entrance was obscured by a big sign for a pizza joint named Villa something and Villa Adriana signs were nowhere to be found. Once into the Villa there were heaps of stones and remnants of huge structures but no maps, no signs and a rare description that was usually illegible or irrelevant. So much for signage in Italy.
Even as I left Rome I was a crying mess because the train to the airport had so many misdirection signs that I was trapped in an underground moving walkway under my departure gate and only got to my train by a fluke of realizing I was on some strange underground passage going God knows where without anyone else down in the Inferno. I ran to catch the train and made it to the airport only to find that Alitalia had overbooked my flight and I didn’t have a seat. I was directed here and there until literally five minutes before departure time when I finally get a seat on my booked flight to Israel….getting the seat only because a family was a No Show. I was more than grateful and whoopee got a seat in Business class which was a total pleasure…Mimosas before take-off, linen napkins, a wonderful meal and the utmost ministrations of a beautiful Italian crew.