The Blissful Adventurer Top 25 Italy Moments continues with #11 – Siena Church Driving. After our most recent trip to Italia I had to augment my Top 11 posts with some amazing new experiences which blew us away. We have gotten the list together and now we continue with the rest of the story.
#11 Siena Church Driving
I started driving in Italy on a regular basis in 2006. Since then I have driven vans, cars, and bicycles. I have pulled trailers, ridden in dump trucks, and driven cars on and off of very tightly packed ferries. I have used a Euro GPS and a modified American Garmin Nuvi 275. I can say with all certainty none of those experiences prepared me for #11 on my list of Top 25 Italy moments.
The Scene - Juliet and I were staying with our dear friends in Montalcino in 2009 and decided to go to the lovely renaissance city of Siena for the day. We found our way there and to a bit of a remote car park on the edge of the old town. We spent the day in the ancient city walking up intensely steep hills, drinking gorgeously roasted local coffee, and refueling our tanks with copious amounts of gelato. The town was bustling on this cool fall day and the sun was extremely bright in the sky over the famous square called Il Campo. The day had been idyllic and our hearts, minds, and stomachs were in the best places imaginable as we prepared to depart Siena for a feast that awaited us with the family that night back in Montalcino. Little did we know what was to transpire.
The Action – We jumped into our trusty Alfa Romeo Mito and set the GPS for home in the hills. We began normally, and as we are want to do, we were discussing the people and events that made up our day and left the directions to the Garmin NUVI 275 girl. This is one of those occasions that I wish I could read this blog aloud as I want very much to demonstrate my female robot impression and give you the run down of what life is like in Italy when Garmin girls go wild!
We began to notice we were not on the route we remembered when GG (easy term for Garmin Girl) sent us directly into a covered parking garage. And then kept saying: “in 50 meters turn right” every 50 meters. We finally realized after 3 full circles in the garage that there was one way in and one way out. On our way out we very nearly collided with a large BMW 7 series with blacked-out windows. The shady driver rolled his window down and gave me the old middle and index finger to the thumb shake as I just shrugged and hoped he would not make me any irrefutable offers in the coming days.
As we exited the garage and began to proceed the wrong way down a one way street we saw one of the elusive blue signs that pointed to Montalcino, followed immediately by a white sign pointing to the city center, then a green one pointing to the highway. GG kept screaming at me to make a U-Turn when I saw what I thought was the entrance to a church parking area. Granted I had never seen a parking lot for a church in Italy (or since) so I naturally assumed this was better than continuing on a one way street and I made a sharp right and over a small curb which to me at the time seemed like a pause or a reminder to drive courteously as I was approaching sacred ground.
At this point GG said the equivalent of a verbal Windows Blue Screen, “lost satellite”. How could it freaking lose Satellite? Was this a jamming device in the church? As it was, the church was gorgeous and became more so as we approached the front steps in a CAR! Suddenly, a priest appeared from the front door and began waving at me angrily, and I mean pissed off angry for me to go back. Juliet began to cower in the passenger seat as I ignored the Monsignor and pushed down on the gas and turned the car around the walls of the church to the back of the building.
I knew the road behind me would only lead back to the parking garage and the Francis Ford Coppola guy in the BMW. I had to traverse the church and obviously very quickly. As we rounded the back of the structure several dozen pedestrians sitting on the ground and on benches were now in our direct path and I had a very angry priest chasing behind me. At this point Juliet was near tears and assumed we were destined for prison or a manslaughter charge at the very least. This was like a fucking scene from The Bourne Identity or an outtake from The Italian Job. In all honesty I loved it! I was breaking some laws and experiencing a view of Italy few drivers will ever have.
I weaved the car in and out of picnickers, worshipers, gawkers, and standard issue Italian malcontents! It was like Death Race 2000 in reverse with the goal not dissimilar to the old game “Operation”. Do not touch the sides was my mantra as I squeezed the Alfa Romeo into a narrow segment between the courtyard and church building which seemed like an exit and a good idea, until a seemingly monolithic 4 inch curb at the end of the courtyard forced my little action film to a sudden halt.
Exasperated, angry, and with a mob of angry Christians on our tail I had little choice but to gas it and jump the curb! I goosed the engine, popped the clutch while gripping the wheel in white knuckle death throes turning hard right directly and emphatically into a:
PEDESTRIAN ONLY STREET! UGH!
With the engine revved I could see walkers diving into stores and a sea of baby carriages at every turn. There were no horns, no scooters, no sounds of any kind except my wife’s sobs, and the angry mob of Italians slapping at the car hood, roof, and back windshield.
Then in my field of view and less than 300 meters I saw the cop walking ever so quickly in our direction. Seas of humans parting and the Pharaoh readying his ticket book, his radio, and the stake in which to burn my American ass. In this instant that seemed like the moment of truth sandwiched between my greatest moment of stupidity and the imminent divorce papers back home, a miracle happened.
As I was ingesting a final view of the cathedral in my rear-view mirror an angelic voice jarred me to reality: it was GG!
“In 50 meters – TURN RIGHT….ASSHOLE!”
I accelerated once again dodging a granny on a walker and a fucking living statue painted like a Gladiator (it is Siena not Rome!!!) and ripped the car into the right turn. Then, there was no one, no cars, no people, no priests, just a clear road and a big intersection ahead. We increased speed, made the traffic light and in a moment were steaming towards the south and on our way home.
GG saved us from certain incarceration and herself from blunt force trauma.
The Conclusion - When we told the story that night to our friends they seemed amused but not worried. They knew all too well that any drive through a church courtyard that kills no one, gets one home safely, and makes for a good story was indeed a good drive and a Top 25 Italy Moment.