[marco…?] by matt burns

The StickEuropean cars have three pedals. No. That’s not a European thing. Wait. That’s a manual thing. That is to say… I’m in a stick shift.

There are two types of people in this world. People that know how to drive stick shift, and people who have better things to do with their time than know how to drive stick shift. So what did I do instead of learning this valuable life skill? I didn’t answer your questions – that’s for damn sure.

So we find ourselves in Florence – map in hand, our things packed in the back, the motor humming, the open road ahead of us. And we sit. I can’t drive this thing.

I walk back into the rental car office, keys in now-emasculated hand to a chorus of eye rolls and what I assume to be Italian maligners. They fumble about before finding a new car – a car facetiously fit for me. A SmartCar.

While I pack the car, Steph runs around to potential Wi-Fi spots to try to get directions. I hear my name and look up to see her standing at the entrance of a Best Western across the street. As she tries to explain that she still can’t get a signal, the sliding doors slam into her. Manual cars and automatic doors are the death of us.

So we drive, belittled by our brand, bruised by doors and without directions. We have a map that says “To Pisa” in the bottom left corner, but the map’s road ends about an hour before Pisa. Should be good enough.


Nope. Maps are useless when the things they reference don’t exist. It’s no wonder the Marco Polos and Verazzanos and Vespuccis hail from Italy. If you can navigate Italy, you can navigate the world. Street signs are at a premium in Italy. Confusion is abundant and apparently encouraged.

We somehow find our way to Pisa based on guesses that Torre Pendente means Leaning Tower. It will be the last time we’re not lost.


Casa Borsi. Those two words will forever be singed in my memory. It’s the name of the bed and breakfast we’re heading to. Guiliana, the proprietor, sent me directions that seem simple enough. Too simple even. The problem? She’s apparently neglected to include, oh I don’t know, about six important pieces.

It should be an hour drive from Pisa. We’re at hour two. We’re lost. So we stop and ask for directions. The Italians are very cordial people – and very proud. It’s this blind bravado and desire to please that leads them to being the worst way-finders on earth. They want to help so badly that even if they have no idea where something is or what something is– they’ll tell you exactly how to get there… to nowhere.

It’s by the church. It’s the second turn. The third right. There is no right. The church. Up the mountain. There is no mountain. By the church. Down the mountain. First turn. By the church. There is no church.

We get to the mountain that each of our four helpers thus far seem to know Casa Borsi is on. Casa Malone, Casa Magrada. We must be close, so we travel farther up the mountain. Each person we pass we ask – Casa Borsi? Up? Yes, keep going up. We travel farther and farther up this mountain till we get to the top.

Casa Borsi? Down. All the way down.

Casa Borsi? Up. All the way up.

Casa Borsi? That’s down. Bottom of the mountain.


We finally find a nice Italian couple and the husband agrees to lead us there on his moped. So we travel upward, trying to keep up with his weaving and bobbing. He stops us finally and says he’s lost. No sh*t, you and me both. He goes on to scout out for Casa Borsi. We start thinking that Casa Borsi is a practical joke that Italians play on unsuspecting Americans. He returns a couple minutes later.

Casa Borsi? We’re on the wrong mountain. Those ever-confident Italians had been sending us up and down the wrong mountain. The wrong MOUNTAIN. We finally arrive and Giuliana is way too cheery and way too Italian – in that she doesn’t speak any English – so I can’t even tell her how mad I am at her. So we find our way to our room and dream of the days of street signs and GPS.

It’s Steph’s birthday. A new day and the main reason I came to Italy. We’ve had a full day of beaches, hikes and only getting marginally lost. But we’re lost again, trying to find our way to Casa Borsi from Steph’s birthday dinner at the peninsula of Portovenere.

I look over and my navigator is asleep.


She stirs awake, “Turn r-“ and she’s promptly back asleep. It’s not exactly the constitution you look for in your navigator, but I can’t help but smile. You know, finding out you’re lost is half the battle. Finding your way is a quarter. Finding yourself home safe is the last bit of the battle.

Finding someone who causes you to lose yourself, though – that makes getting lost much easier.

-matt burns


2 responses to “[marco…?] by matt burns

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