Driving in Italy isn’t as it seems in the movies. You won’t be gliding in a red convertible along a road lined by cypress trees in Tuscany, your scarf rippling behind you, a picnic hamper lodged on the back seat, and not a care in the world.
You’ll more likely be dodging convoys of articulated trucks on busy autostradas, or cursing the day you drove into an old town, only to find yourself in a tangle of steep dead-end streets better suited to horses than modern motorised transport.
It isn’t Italian drivers who’ll have you in a flap. It’s winding country and mountain roads with no kerbs or crash barriers. Or slippery cobblestones. Or old-town streets so narrow you risk entangling your wing mirrors in someone’s washing, or having them knocked off by ancient church walls.
The stereotype of the speeding Italian with no regard for red traffic lights or road rules is greatly exaggerated – or perhaps simply tamed by the modernity of abundant, bright orange speed-camera boxes.
Only in big southern cities such as Rome or Naples will you be white-knuckled in terror. Anywhere else, the most alarming thing about Italian drivers is their eccentric use (or not) of indicators, and their disregard for keeping their distance.
Don’t worry, tailgating isn’t aggression but simply the norm. Just don’t leave your braking until the last minute.
The secret to coping with life behind the wheel in Italy is to adopt the sangfroid of a Jeeves or James Bond. Never mind the zipping Vespas. Lane hop yourself like a drunken bumblebee. If you spot a gap, nip into it. Take most stop signs as a mere suggestion.
Let the honking of horns wash over you. Hard to know what they mean anyway. A honk in Italy could be a flirtation, warning, celebration or mere acknowledgement that the light has turned green a millisecond ago, and you ought to have instantly accelerated away.
Why not join in the fun? Toot away yourself. It deflects incipient road rage. It’s liberating. How often in buttoned-up Australia do we get the chance to lean on our horn?
Don’t fear Italy’s tiny parking spaces either – or any other space in which you could potentially park. Learn from Italian drivers, who squeeze between two trees and up footpaths like latter-day Houdinis.
Driving isn’t just driving in Italy. It’s performance art in which you’re invited to participate. Get your motor going, and enjoy.
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