Thursday, November 9, 2017

Tooling about in a slightly odd Italian machine

When we went on a solo driving tour of Italy a couple of weeks ago, Mother Hertz unexpectedly let us borrow a nifty black Alfa Romeo Q4 Giulia Veloce for ten days. 

Before you start having fantasies about Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren vrooming about on the Italian Riviera in a Alfa Romeo convertible, their Gucci silk scarves fluttering in the wind, allow me to dampen your imagination a bit.

No Marcello behind the wheel. 
This was Al and Stew, scarf-less, driving a far more modest Alfa Romeo with a four-cylinder diesel that had decent acceleration with a respectable growl from under the hood. It had oversized wide tires that really grabbed the winding  backroads in the Tuscan countryside.

Except for the day we went to Pisa, when a relentless downpour made it look as if the famous tower was really sinking into the mud, we had glorious fall weather, mild temperatures and landscapes of vineyards turning color as far as we could see. 

The car also had a couple of peculiar features: a lane-changing sensor and an often incomprehensible English-Italian navigation system.

The lane sensor would let out a honking sound through the music system whenever the car strayed onto another lane without the benefit of turn signals. The first time we heard the ominous honk-honk, we didn't know what it was or where it came from. We have no idea how this lane sensor worked.

It took several miles and randomly turning various knobs on the dashboard before we figured it was a uniquely Italian safety feature. Honk-honk. 

Italian wine country.


The navigation system was a study in bilingual confusion. It was set to English, so a female voice with a proper British accent—think Judi Dench—imparted the directions, while the actual street names were mumbled by either Judi trying to speak Italian or Sophia under the influence of something.

"In one hundred mee-tahs, turn right onto Garagiolafettuccinemarzippano!"

"What did she say?" we would ask each other, while we tried to match the Italian directions with street or road signs, often in vain.

At one point, mixed-up directions put us on a dirt road that dead-ended at the front gate of someone's house. We backed up and got on another dirt road for about an hour before the Alfa Romeo led us to a proper highway.

Confusion reached a crescendo, so to speak, as we tried to find our hotel in the medieval walled town of Siena, which one enters through one of several stone gates. We went around at least five times in a big circle a couple of kilo-mee-tahs in circumference, the Athena Hotel nowhere to be found.

Finally I suggested that Stew drive into the town, and presto the hotel appeared about fifty mee-tahs on the left. It seems that the Italianesque part of the directions contained a crucial detail: Drive through the gate into Siena, not past it.

A very nice car nevertheless but may I offer a couple of suggestions to the Alfa Romeo engineers.

Please make the navigation system a binational affair with Judi reading the English and Sophia tackling the Italian parts of the script. 

And O mio Dio! do something about that honk-honk safety warning.

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