It had long been on my wish list to drive the highways of central Italy, to traverse the Tuscan countryside in the land of the Ferrari and Lamborghini, and two weeks ago I finally got the opportunity.


Only I was driving a rented semi-automatic, four-door Lancia. Did I mention I can’t drive stick?


There’s a romantic notion a lot of men hold about the freedom of driving the open road in a foreign land with endless asphalt as their guide.


My impressions were far less idealized, having less than 48 hours to get from Bologna to a town near Siena, before making the trek to Pisa for a return flight home.


To make things even more interesting, this roughly 500-km road trip would be my first in Italy and the first with my fiancée. It would prove to be an education in more ways than one.

First, it should be noted that many Italians believe they’re Formula 1 drivers the second they enter onto an autostrada. Being somewhat competitive and acknowledging the reality that in this part of the world speed limits are merely a suggestion, I found myself hitting velocities that would make one think I was angling for pole position rather than trying to arrive at my destination.

Then there’s that whole problem with driving semi-automatic. So as I ground gears on the A1 to Florence, angering drivers behind me, I realized this is one of those skills every guy should know.

I also learned that nothing defines the nature of a relationship like time spent trying to read a map together when one of you is slightly directionally challenged.

It’s always amusing to watch a couple scream at each other in a rental car — in this case, us — as they try to find a famous landmark. It’s far less amusing when you’re the subject.

My tip to any guy out there is when you’re renting a car in Italy, if you have the option of upgrading to the Mercedes or BMW with the GPS system, do it at all costs. Some things are just worth the money — and the peace and quiet on the flight home.