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Dangerous Tuscany?

Tuscany is a hot travel destination these days, having just been listed as one of National Geographic's 50 "Places of a Lifetime". What better time to go there than autumn? The region is ripe with the grape harvest, truffles and delectable mushrooms, not to mention the art and architectural treasures that would take a lifetime to see. But, as noted in this postcard, Russ Thibeault wonders whether National Geographic missed the mark: whether they should have listed Tuscany with Mt Everest and the Kilua volcano as one of the world's most dangerous places to visit.

Dangerous Tuscany?
by Russ Thibeault

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Dear Rudy,

Ah, Tuscany. You've heard all about the wines, the art, the Renaissance architecture. But for my money, Tuscany's a place for high-speed adventure and danger. See, one of my guidebooks flat-out says, "Italians have the worst driving record in Europe." Actually, that's not true. It's much worse than that! And, if my guidebook wasn't warning enough, the scene my wife and I experienced at the car rental agency in Florence should have been a red alert.


Liz (Italian accent): "Ah, ohkay, ahh. You-ah car have a hole in the door-ah but not-ah worry, is-ah noted."

Liz: "Did she say a hole in the door?"

Russ (whispering): "Shhhh. She meant 'dent' "

Liz (Italian accent): "And-ah here's-ah you keys. Is 24-hours number on tag for-ah you call whenah you get inah accident."

Liz: "Did she say when we get in an accident?"

Russ: "Shhhhhh. She meant 'if ', if we get in an accident"

It turns out my wife heard the agent just right. There was a hole in our Fiat's door, a bullet hole, with a clear entry and exit path. A probable example of road rage, Italian style. And the accident? Well, more about that in a minute. So we head south out of Florence for Sienna, riding a hilly, twisty back road.

Liz: "Russssssss! Aren't you driving kind of fast?"

Russ: "Speed limit's a hundred."

Liz: "But isn't that in kilometers?"

Russ: "Whatever! I'm just trying to stay ahead of the school buses."


Liz: "What was that?"

Russ: "That guy just hit us!"

Liz: "Is he pulling over?"

Russ: "Yeah."

Liz: "Be careful, Russ, remember the bullet hole!"

Russ: "Don't worry, he's an old guy. Probably confused."

Russ: "He took off! He pulled over...then blasted away! He nearly hit us again!"

So I called that toll free number.


Italian Rental Agency: "Ciao, Accidente Reporta."

Russ: "I have one of your rental cars and it got in an accident."

Italian Rental Agency: "You can driveah you car?

Russ: "Well yeah! It wasn't my fault, this guy just..."

Italian Rental Agency: "You wanna us bringah you a new car? The car is can drive?"

Russ: "Yeah, yeah, it's just a dent."

Italian Rental Agency: "OK, you tellah when you turn car at airport."

Russ: "But what about the police? The guy drove off, but we got his plate number and..."

Italian Rental Agency: "Ciao, 'nother accidente call."

Rudy, this driving thing was getting to be a vacation distraction. "You gotta adjust your thinking", a friend I made in a café told me, "Driving in Tuscany is a sport. We don't just watch car races, we live them!" After awhile I did get into extreme driving: one foot on the gas, the other on the brake. One hand on the steering wheel, the other on the horn. Fear nothing. Not even buses. Well, O.K., buses. Fear buses. But nothing else! When we got to the airport at the end of the vacation, there were two stacks of forms in front of the agent: one small, one large. You guessed it. The large stack was accident report forms. And unlike anything else we came across on our two-week stay: they were in English. They get 30 or 40 dented rentals a day from guys like me. So Rudy, if you go to Tuscany, watch out for that old guy that hit us. They never did ask us for his plate number. He's still on the loose. And remember, "It's a sport." No matter what happens.

Russ Thibeault lives in Laconia, New Hampshire. He was assisted in that postcard by Liz Bulkley with production assistance provided by Boston's WBUR-FM.


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