The Coast of Southern Italy
Greetings fellow adventurers!
As you know, Italy and most great European countries have phenomenal train, metro and bus systems. In many of the many headed metropoli you can find your way around super easily with an all day bus/metro pass. If you get lost it is no big deal because the next bus or metro train will be along any minute to whisk you away to another location and, if you really muff it, you can dive into a Taxi although that is kind of like cheating. The buses and trains are fun, easy and comfortable.
But what happens when you are travelling the road less travelled or simply elect to rent a car and drive from city to city? When you watch the drivers in Southern Italy and even in the big cities like Rome, the thought of driving there can fill you with a dread not unlike that which you get going into a triple root canal (Sorry, to bring up the painful past but I think you get it!), clammy hands, shallow breathing, the whole plethora of unpleasant and distracting symptoms.
I am here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way! There are unwritten Rules of the Road and if you understand them, you will breathe a sigh of relief and impress your fellow travelers with your total Zen/Italian driving viewpoint. Here are some tips:
1) The far left lane on the freeway or autostrada is for passing only. Don’t hang out there unless you want to make enemies. Also don’t be alarmed if when driving in the middle lane, the other drivers pass you then cut over in front of you quickly. When you see one coming up on the left, slow down a bit and give them room. I didn’t realize this rule until I listened to a rant from a fellow passenger on the plane trip to Rome as he railed on about those who hang out in the left lane. I hung my head guiltily because I realized I had been one of the insufferable brain dead trolls about which he was shrieking and carrying on.
2) While driving in congested areas (like Rome, for example), slow down and don’t make any sudden moves. If you watch carefully you will see that there is a rhythm that goes along with the traffic flow. Initially it will not seem this way because Italians, from what I have seen, love their horns. And the Taxi’s seem to have their own rules. But in general, you will feel the flow and enter into it. If you are all worked up and nervous or angry, you will have a tough time. In other words “Use the Force Luke, For it is Strong within You!” But don’t close your eyes ever! I mean not even to blink! (HAHAHA! Kidding!)
Roman Traffic Flow. If you watch closely patterns will emerge.
3) In Southern Italy, a simple code of conduct has sprung up with regard to driving on the two lane autostrada the connects the coastal towns all the way South from Rome to Reggio Calabria. This is the grand secret of the universe and I am giving it to you now. You are totally welcome.
While driving, when you see another car come right up behind you, it is polite for you to squeeze over as far to the right as you can to give them space to pass you. Failure to do this will incite frustration on the part of the drivers behind you who may or may not be going eight times the speed limit while waving their arms wildly.
On the other hand, if a driver in front of you squeezes himself way over to the right, he is inviting you to pass him. Nice right?
4) Don’t be afraid to break certain American driving laws while driving in Southern Italy. The situation to which I am alluding is when you are driving along in your very own lane, keeping to the speed limit and making sure everyone is happy with you and you suddenly see headlights coming right at you head on. Do not panic when this occurs as it will occur a million times a day. If they get too close, simply squeeze yourself over to the right as far as you can go. All American driving laws against driving on the shoulder or anywhere else fall into a cocked hat when you run across this and could actually kill you. Be flexible and smart and you will be fine.
5) For Heaven’s Sake Don’t stop at stop signs unless you actually see someone get there before you. Failure to observe this remarkably simple and sane rule might get you rear ended and in a heated argument with loud exclamations, arm waving and very likely ending with a glass of wine with your rear-ender. (And perhaps a marriage proposal? You never know!)
Stop signs in Southern Italy are suggestions rather than rules.
6) Turn off your radio while driving. This is huge. Although there is a flow of traffic, it is quite dynamic and requires concentration and being completely in the moment. Here in the US, I find that the ridiculous number of traffic laws in which we are schooled and tested have taken much of the thinking and reacting (and, I daresay the fun?) out of driving here. You need radios here to keep you awake! Over there you have to be alert. Things happen quickly and you need to be ready.
7) When Parking, look for painted lines on the street. There are a few different colors and each one means something. If you see them and want to park there, ask someone whether or not it is ok. Many times you have to buy a permit from the local merchant in front of whom you are parking. Other times there are boxes that sell you one and sometimes, if there are no markings, you are safe. Meanwhile, just for fun, check out the incredibly creative ways Italians have of parking in congested areas. It boggles the mind and you will wonder how they did it.
Wedgie parking in a beautiful hilltop town in Southern Italy (Tortora)
There you have it! Driving in Italy has just become simple! If you observe these rules you will have a wonderful opportunity to see the real Italy in between the cities. You can also take any of the byways off the autostrada and see some of the most beautiful Southern Italian hill towns you can imagine. Italy is such an amazing place with such incredible people. Absolutely go to the big trifecta of Italian cities (Rome, Florence and Venice) but don’t neglect the smaller towns and hillside villages that retain the true rustic culture. You will be swept up and amazed and you will have a vacation you will never forget! It is all part of the Italy Less Travelled. Buon Viage!