After an unexpected night in Zurich, I landed in Rome Fiumicino Airport to pouring rain at 8:50a, ready for a big day ahead.
No time for a coffee at Mercedes Benz this morning.
I had about an hour to get to a meeting in a northwest suburb of Rome. Rushing to meet my colleague at the Hertz counter, I prepared myself for the simultaneous joy and anguish of renting a car in Italy.
The agents are always nice, but I’ve never escaped a rental car counter in less than 30 minutes in Rome. Lines are long and the agents always have to seek help from their colleagues and consult copious laminated guides while filling out what approaches the amount of paperwork you fill out when you buy a new car. It’s endearing.
And this morning was no different. Needing a one-way rental to Venice, we rented with Hertz. Lines were long, but Daniella was quite happy to assist us when we finally reached the front of the line. Handing over my passport, she quickly found the reservation, but then the paperwork started…longform. This was input electronically. At no less than three points in the process, Daniella leaned over to her colleague, Francesca, to ask for assistance…or perhaps to talk about where they were going for lunch. Hand motions and all. I love it.
Daniella knew her insurance sales pitch well and put the pressure on. I had already decided to take full insurance: this was a business trip and I had no inclination to deal with any credit card company if my car got damaged. After all, I planned to cover over 2,000km over the next week.
But I did negotiate on price. She quoted me 48EUR/day for full coverage. I just laughed, and with a big grin on my face asked her for full coverage for free. She laughed and shook her head no. I said, “Then let’s just meet in the middle at 24EUR/day.” Pulling out a laminated card with post-it notes on it, she used her pen to trace down the list, speaking to herself in Italian before dropping the card, typing in a few numbers on her screen, then victoriously proclaiming that she could get me full coverage for 33EUR/day.
My business partner would have kept negotiating, but we had a meeting to get to it, so I just took it. At Rome Airport, you don’t just walk out to the parking lot: we had to make our way down several corridors, almost to the Hilton, before finding the Hertz garage, taking an elevator downstairs, waiting at another desk, and only then finally obtaining the car. We had 20 minutes to get our meeting.
> Review: Hilton Hotel Rome Airport
On to the Autostrade
Zooming out of the airport, I jumped onto the Austostrade, making sure to limit my speed to 130km/hr (the speed limit). We made it to our meeting, had an amazing meeting, then were off again.
Our next meeting was just south of Rimini, about three hours away. Traffic was light and we made it on time. The clock struck 5pm as we left our second meeting.
Now we had a choice to make: stay in town, drive three hours to our next meeting, or just start driving and stop when we got tired.
We ended up not going too far, staying at a hotel called the Hotel Federico II in a town called Lesi. This is apparently a small chain hotel. Forget about major chain hotels in this part of Italy.
I saw the rate was about 100EUR/night online and rather than make a reservation, just drove to the hotel and negotiated at the front desk. I successfully reduced the rate to 80EUR.
ME: “Can you offer me a better rate than on the internet?”
CLERK: “Of course. How is 95EUR/room with breakfast?”
ME: “How about 80EUR?”
Simple as that.
The Italians Eat Late
By this point, we were famished. We had not stopped for lunch and were quite hungry. But 5pm in Italy is a bad time to be hungry. Restaurants do not open till 7:30p or 8p. I figured there must be something open around town, but the front desk clerk said there was nothing.
Not feeling like embarking upon a wild goose chase for food, we had an espresso at the hotel bar and asked if there was any tapas available. Only ham and cheese toast. Fine. Sold.
The hotel was fairly nice, by the way. At least the common areas. Dated, but well-preserved. My room was small and I did not even take a picture of it. All bathrooms in Italy have a bidet, at least in my experience…
We both worked for awhile, then headed down to the hotel restaurant when it opened at 8p. The waiter and host spoke absolutely no English, nor was there an English menu. I ordered saffron risotto to start, followed by a mixed grill of beef, pork, and lamb. My risotto arrived with my colleague’s beef tenderloin. After finishing the saffron risotto (the portion was huge), our plates were cleared away and my next course was brought out: grilled vegetables…
How did that get lost in translation?
I didn’t say anything, though, because by this point, I was already full. We had also been offered a canape of thinly sliced fish.
After another cup of coffee, we both retired for the night. It was after 9p and we had to leave at 7a to drive to Florence.
> Read More of My Italy Road Trip: