A driving lesson in northern Italy

Sitting in a car is a novelty for my almost three-year-old son. We’ve neatly avoided the hassle of having one since we left London by living right smack in the center of Oslo, a city with well-organized public transport. So when we do rent a car my son gets incredibly excited, and so do my husband and I for that matter.

Driving has been out of our daily routine for so long now that I’ve forgotten about paying attention to road signs and traffic and thinking about where to park. Being from the heart of the Midwest in the US – where cars haven’t left any space for sidewalks – it’s strange that I find sitting in a car so foreign. A few days with a car during a vacation Italy taught me that I don’t even know how to properly prepare for a car trip anymore.

The three of us spent Easter in northern Italy where we rented a car for a few days. After we picked up our silver Fiat from Milan airport and strapped our kid into his big-boy car seat, we hit the road for an hour-long drive to Lake Como. Our maps were handy and toll money was counted out, but we hadn’t been driving for more than five minutes when the car started beeping.

“He’s opened the door!” my husband said from the driver’s seat. Our incredibly curious little boy was playing with the door handle and although it wasn’t completely open, a little nudge and we’d be some serious in danger.

We forgot to lock the doors.

Completely panic-stricken I clambered into the backseat while my husband pulled off into a nearby gas station. We figured merely locking the doors wasn’t enough and I ran out to ask the one of the workers how to activate the child lock in our rented car, but the man didn’t speak any English.

Here’s where things got even more confusing. My heart was already pounding with anxiety over the danger we had narrowly avoided and for some reason, hearing the man stutter as he tried to communicate with me, I switched from speaking English to Norwegian. I cradled my arms while I told the guy in patchy language that I have a child who opened the car door and I need to lock it. My vocabulary in Norwegian isn’t quite that extensive so I was just saying about four words really loudly to him. I might have thrown in the word “bambino” in there, although I can’t remember.

It’s strange what living in a foreign country can do to you. My American accent prevails but my habits are becoming more and more European, at least as far as transport is concerned. And now I find myself between languages, too.

Besides the slightly bumpy start, the rest of our vacation was fabulous. In six days we used nearly every mode of transport: plane, car, boat, train and tram. We even drove into Switzerland for a day where we explored the twists and turns of the alleys in the town of Gandria, built right by Lake Como. It was in Gandria that we got the best view of the Lake.Lake Como

After a relaxing few days driving around Lake Como we returned our car and went back to the comfort of public transport, this time in Milan. The city’s history tracing back to the Roman empire is evident at every turn, particularly at the grand Porta Sempione, which is among many Roman structures still in tact.

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Sticking to the tradition of many European cities, Milan offers tourists a brilliant contrast of modernity and history. Not long after shopping in a chic department store, we stumbled on what is probably the oldest building I’ve ever seen: Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, built in 379 AD.

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One evening, just before dinner, we were wandering around just outside our hotel and realized that we were standing in front of Santa Maria delle Grazie, a former convent in which Leonardo daVinci’s infamous mural, The Last Supper, was painted. The piece was moved after the building was bombed during World War II but the building displays a lot of the artists sketches and paintings.

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9 thoughts on “A driving lesson in northern Italy

  1. Oh my God, Vitruvian Man on a sign in Italy is the best thing I’ve seen in a while! Ha ha ha ha!

    And at this point in my life, decades removed from a Midwestern vehicular life, I am like a dog whenever I ride in a car — sticking my head out the window and smiling really wide while looking all around at the wonders of the quickly moving world.

    Can’t stop laughing at that sign. You’ve made my whole weekend.

  2. It is funny how when we can’t speak in English we switch to the next language we know. When I first moved to Germany, when I was spoken to in German, I would reply back in Spanish. I would try as I might to find my German vocab, but it was stuck behind the Spanish. Now when I am sitting in my favorite Mexican restaurant in the summer in the states, German comes out instead of Spanish. I see my daughter do it to. When we went to Italy and she was spoken to in Italian, she would reply back in German. I know she was thinking…its not English so I’ll use that other language.

    • Yea I think it was a need to show that I also struggle to speak certain languages so I know how that guy felt when he was trying to find the right words for me. And I definitely switch to Spanish sometimes when I’m trying to think in Norwegian, strange.

  3. How can the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio be so old and look so good (at least in the picture!). Glad the rest of the car trip was without scary incidents!

  4. Having grown up in Michigan and following 5 years being car free in Burma, I insisted that we get a car now that we live in rural Sweden. After a bit of adjustment (I still don’t get the near complete lack of stop signs), having a car has made living here awesome. The countryside is phenomenal and at least every other weekend we go exploring unknown small country lanes. Its also a good way to insure both boys get a nice nap!

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