31 October 2006

Driving Italian style

Driving in Italy is an experience most people either love or hate. I love it.

First, the vehicles here are small by American standards; not a lot of the monstrous SUVs lurking at every corner. This is very noticeable to us having come from New Mexico where most vehicles on the roads were either an SUV or a pick-up truck. Some vehicles in Italy are small enough you can park the vehicle nose first to the curb to parallel park. But remember, Italy is also the land of Lamborghini, Ferrari and Masserati for a reason.

Italy was not built to accommodate cars as in America, but roads were added as a convenience and these roads are rarely more than 3 lanes wide; most are 2 rather narrow, winding lanes with no shoulder, curb, guardrail and many times no lane or edge lines.

One of my favorite road features in Italy is the traffic circle; these are widely used in both urban and rural settings. Most of these are small, but some can be 20 yards wide, and make for a smooth constant flow of traffic at intersections with cars steadily entering and exiting the circle with the traffic flow. An added benefit to these circles comes when you are in an area where you don’t know where you are going. Each road exiting the circle has signs pointing to certain destinations so if you miss the sign you are looking for on the first pass you can just go around again until you see your sign.

A challenge I enjoy at the little towns we visit is to see if I can drive through the town first, then we find a place to park to stroll the town. Many times this is not easily done as some roads into towns are so narrow you have to fold the mirrors in to get through and there are various one way and dead-end streets. My favorite are the streets that also pass for stairs, these are steep with tracks on the edges for tires and steps up the middle, all stone or brick, of course. I have found myself on more than one occasion having to back out of dead-ends or caught in too tight of a corner.

The rule of the road is…there sometimes seem to be no rules. The traffic laws seem to be suggestions that few follow, but I have noticed some of the most courteous drivers here. Many times if you need to pass another car they will drive as close to the outside line as possible to give you more room to pass. Traffic lights in major cities seem to be an invitation to race to see who can get into the lane first as cars will line up at a red light disregarding any traffic lane markings. If you want to pull into traffic from a side street you just simply nose your way out onto the road until someone stops or you have blocked the traffic lane.

I have noticed a marked difference in drivers between the environs of Roma and Ascoli Piceno as the rules of the road are generally followed to a greater degree here in Ascoli. But when in Roma…”do as the Romans do”…or you just might get run over.


Anonymous said...

Bryan, Where was the photo taken? Did you jump out to buy postcards again? That beats the curvy, lovely track in Assisi where you blocked traffic so the shopkeeper yelled at the honking traffic in Italian for you!

Aaah, the memories you're storing! Miss you and wish we were there!

Bryan said...

This was coming down through Arquata del Tronto after going up the same way to view the castle.