Driving in Florence; car rental

Nov 4th, 2000, 12:04 PM
Chris S
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Driving in Florence; car rental

We flew into Florence, and held off on picking up the rental car until we were ready to leave the city. Good idea. However, we chose to pick up the car at the downtown pickup location, rather than the airport - cheaper, and closer.

In retrospect, this was a bad idea. Getting from the pickup point to the autostrada - in an unfamiliar car, with unfamiliar roadsigns, etc - was a challenge. The airport, by comparison, is right next to the autostrada. So it would have been a longer taxi ride, and more cost, but probably worth it.

The biggest hassle was on return, though. We drove back into Florence a couple of weeks later (after two gorgeous weeks around Tuscany). Our plan was to drop off our stuff at our central hotel (on Piazza della repubblica) then return the car. BIG, BIG mistake. Using our tourist map of Florence (which did not identify one-way streets, nor the 'pedestrian only' areas), it was impossible to get to the hotel! The map would imply a route, but when you tried to drive it - no way! After two hours of driving around in circles (in 1 square mile!), my partner walked to the hotel while I waited in the car (illegally stopped of course). She walked to the hotel, then back to the car, finding and verifying which streets were drivable. Finally, we were able to get to the hotel - but only after driving down a couple of 'emergency vehicles only' streets! The serenity and wonder of our two weeks in Tuscany turned into heated tempers - really not good.

Next time - off the autostrada, dump the car, then taxi to the hotel! This probably applies to any 'heavily pedestrianised' city in Europe. It's great that they've done this, but makes the driving next to impossible.

The LAST thing I think anyone should do is to pickup the car right off the flight. Throw jetlag into the equation, and possibly darkness, and you are going to have a very bad start to your vacation! A taxi from airport to center is only about $20.
Nov 4th, 2000, 12:42 PM
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Sound advice. We too had a driving "adventure" in Florence. Arriving about 4pm -commute time-, the hotel on the outskirts of town we had selected was not satisfactory, so after a few phone calls, off to the new hotel, near center of city. Well, with the one-ways, ped only, hords of pedestrians, inadequate map, and just general rush hour traffic, it was a little harrowing. We actually could see the hotel as we drove by it (twice), but couldn't figure out how to get there. Finally, success, and thank goodness, didn't have to use it again in Florence.
We came into Rome during rush hour also (how do I plan these things?), but didn't seem to have the same problems. I got some pretty specific instructions from a great gas attendent before we got off the autostrada.
If you drive in Italy, or maybe any other country, you must be prepared for a few unplanned "adventures." All in all, after about 1500 miles, we were glad we had the car to provide us with choices and freedom. I'm not saying driving in Italy was problem free, and yes, we had some testy moments too. But for all those out there who are considering driving in Italy, go for it!
Nov 4th, 2000, 01:09 PM
Chris S
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Didn't want to be overly negative on the whole driving thing. I was actually dreading the driving, having mainly toured cities in the past, but this time, we drove around Tuscany for two weeks and it was a 'walk in the park' so to speak. We would drive for hours and see only a few cars. When the inevitable happened - impatient, local driver right on my tail wanting to zoom ahead - I pulled over and let him/her go, then back to my leisurely drive. You do need to learn 'lane discipline' on the autostrada - don't under any circumstances sit in the fast lane if you aren't passing. One minute, you are going along at what you think is a fast speed, with no one behind you. Next second, there's a mercedes on your tail with lights flashing, almost squealing to a halt to avoid rear-ending you. Just get over into the slow lane as a habit and you'll live longer!
Nov 4th, 2000, 01:17 PM
Donna T
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Another reason for me to say I Love this site and wouldn't start a trip without it. Thank goodness I checked your thread. We were renting car in Florence in the historial centre now I know get a taxi to airport and then rent car.
Nov 5th, 2000, 08:14 AM
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We rented a car at Avis in Florence (downtown location) and had no problem getting out because in was close to the Arno river, and not in the middle of the city. The Avis person was able to show us, on their map, exactly how to get out of town and to the Autostrada. I would still recommend that to an airport location. It does also save the 12% airport fee too. You do have to be prepared for driving in Italy, especially in the cities. It can be very confusing...but an adventure!
Nov 5th, 2000, 09:35 AM
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Chris, you are exactly right on the fast lane stuff. If you think 80 or 90 mph is fast, just stay in that lane, and he's right. From out of no where there is a Mercedes grill in your rear view mirror, lights blinking, almost screeming "let me by." In Italy, kilometers, not miles. so your speedometer says 100, you are actually, what?, 65 mph? 120 equals 78? mph or so. I remember over that I got a little nervous, but there was always some guy passing us. Not to say that it is unsafe, just watch your speed and stay in the right lane.
The little country roads in Tuscany are great fun. Villages, vistas, interesting stops not in any tour books. Donna T have fun driving in Italy.
Nov 12th, 2000, 05:13 AM
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We're just back from Tuscany and your posts have cracked me up. We spent more than an hour driving around Siena trying to figure out how to get close to the historic center and where to park our car. It was certainly an adventure and I guess we're lucky we didn't kill each other. Driving Tuscany, outside of Siena and Florence, was a breeze and I would recommend it to anyone. The opportunity to stop at Vineyards in Chianti and go to places tour buses do not take you should not be missed.
Nov 12th, 2000, 05:25 PM
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Chris, your post brought up our most anxious moment during our trip to Italy this fall. We had to catch a 7:15AM train from Florence to Rome (for a day trip) and we were staying in Montecatini the night before, which is 30 mins outside of Florence. Since we were dropping off the car from the same location we picked it up from in downtown Florence's Avis office, I didn't think it could be this difficult, but something told me to be extra prepared. We allowed 2-hours for doing a 30-min drive from Montecatini to Florence, finding our hotel in Florence so we could drop off our bags, getting gas, returning the car and walking to the train station from Avis' office. Here's what we were not prepared for: pitch black skies because it was 5:30AM when we got off the exit for Florence, maps that were essentially useless due to the one way streets, as we became more lost, it seemed the clock was ticking louder and we became more anxious and worse yet, disoriented, getting stuck behind garbage trucks on one lane streets, and running into thousands of very purposeful drivers and vespas everywhere (why were they up so early? and where were they going?). We ended up running out of time so we didn't refuel the tank and ran all the way to the train station after ditching the car at Avis. To cap off the morning, the time board at the train station was not working when we got there at 7AM so we had to listen for our platform information. I can't even understand the intercom systems in our own airports, let alone an Italian train station's with hundreds of confused Italians all talking and gesturing at the same time. Luckily, there was a very understanding conductor who allowed us to tail him until the message was announced and he would tell us where to go...once we got on the train, I remembered driving diagonally across the Piazza della Signoria as the sun was rising, the shapes of the buildings along the Piazza.....
Nov 16th, 2000, 10:07 PM
Chris S
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After reading all your responses/comments, I think the key message is - it's relatively easy to get 'out of town' (any town) - follow signs to the 'autostrada' or your destination city ('Pisa', 'Rome', etc). The further you get out of town, the less problems you have with one-way streets, etc. If you make a mistake, you circle around some 'bypass' road and correct your mistake.

Coming into town is the problem. You are no longer looking for 'Firenze', but for your little street or square, or hotel, which in the big scheme of things doesn't rate much on any map or street sign. And one wrong turn can send you on a major, major detour!

I actually anticipated this to some extent, and emailed the hotel and asked for driving directions before we left. Their response was something along the lines of - "follow signs to Firenze, then to the train station, then ask for directions"!!! We drove past that train station at least 5 times on our quest to find the hotel...
Nov 17th, 2000, 05:23 AM
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Having done this many times in Italy, I'd recommend that you drop your rental car at the airport, if possible. Especially in Florence or Bologna, where the airport is within 5 miles of the city. There's no drop-off charge to leave it there, and you can easily get a taxi to take you back into town. I usually pick up at an in-town location to avoid the 12% airport pick-up surcharge.
Nov 17th, 2000, 10:01 AM
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Hi Chris. Paul is correct. I picked up my car in Florence and I didn't feel driving OUT of town was difficult. But I do not think I would want to go back INTO town. But we returned our car at the airport in Rome. And there was no additional charge to leave it even there. Even though it was a different city. Airport locations are much easier to return cars to, in my opinion. Downtown , or other than the airport locations, are cheaper to rent from in Italy.
Nov 17th, 2000, 12:36 PM
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Just a few more driving anecdotes... We picked up our car at Linate in Milan (around 3:30 pm)and, after a gut check before leaving the rental lot, managed to get onto the tangenzianale after 20 minutes of hectic Milan traffic. Believe me, it was nice to be OUT of town. We drove down the coast past Genova to Levanto by dusk (7:00pm). It was a great drive and I mention it as a possible option after a long plane ride since it gave us an extra sunrise in the CT. Fortunately I wasn't sleepy and we got into Levanto before nightfall.

We arranged to drop our car at Avis in Spoleto and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that our hotel could arrange a pickup, saving me a trip across town. It's worth a check.

Re: Chris driving in circles in Florence... I drove into Spoleto without a clue where our hotel was, stumbled into another hotel with an open parking spot, asked the clerk where our hotel was, and was told it was literally a 2 minute walk away but that I couldn't get there in a car by any legal route. She instructed me to drive the wrong way down a very busy street (pointing out that it was dangerous), into a church parking lot (again, the wrong way), and, finally, down a 10' wide street with a steep incline, to the hotel. She was so beautiful that I figured, even if it was my last day on earth, it would have been a good one, so I made the maneuver with the help of my partner signalling when the road was clear, and landed smack into another open parking space at our hotel (from which the hotel - San Luca, by the way - arranged the rental pickup). It just goes to show that luck is a powerful thing.
Knowing what I know now, I would rent a car again in an instant (we had an Alpha Romeo 156) and judiciously avoid large cities. Having the car did save us time messing with a bus or train by letting us stay in Siena, drive in to the edge of Florence, and walk in for the day (15 min. walk, 1 hour drive). I think parking was a whopping $6.00.
Thanks to Fodors we made some good decisions and had a great 2 weeks. Luck helped.

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