Driving in Italy - not for the faint hearted
We finally finished the paperwork and tracked down our hire car in the airport carpark. It’s now about 8.30am. It was the first time I (Jan) had driven a left-hand drive car. As I exited the carpark, I forgot to look to my right and nearly collided with traffic in the far-right lane. As I drove onto the freeway, I followed a van which was full of nuns. I thought I would be safe. They were sure to have divine protection.
The car hire people told us to take the exit to Florence, but I missed it completely. How was I to know they called it Firenze? When I saw the dome of St Peter’s church above the buildings ahead, I realised that we were heading straight into the middle of Rome. Not a good idea.
[Note: this is 2006 and before satellite navigation was common. All we had was a map. A large and very complicated one.]
We pulled over and Marg tried asking someone the way to the freeway. They pointed back the way we had come (reminiscent of the airport really). After driving another couple of blocks with no sign of the freeway, we turned into a road where several people were walking.
We showed one chap a map of Rome, hoping he would show us where we were. But he couldn’t understand it, shrugged and walked off.
A couple of girls took pity on us and pointed out the route to the freeway on the map. Quite simple really. Drive up this road and turn right. Smiling confidently, we head off, the thought of getting to our destination by lunch time still optimistically fixed in our minds. After all, it was only 190km to Assisi. We should be able to do that in under three hours.
Now on the correct freeway we soon came to a stop. One could be forgiven for thinking we had entered a parking lot. With dismay on our left we saw hundreds of trucks (well, several) also trying to merge onto the same road we were on. As we inched forward, I suddenly found my lane had disappeared and we were squeezed between two very large trucks. At the last minute someone let me in. The golden rule for driving in Italy: look after your front, and trust others will look after your behind.
About four hours later (!) we finally saw the turn off to Assisi. It was here I made my first major turn - left – straight into a line of oncoming traffic in the left lane. It was then I realised I didn’t know where reverse was. I hadn’t needed it before now. Horns blaring, people yelling, and I was stuck! Finally, the quirky reverse gear action was discovered, and I moved off the road. It took several minutes to recover.
I wish I could say I learnt my lesson, but I had to use this turnoff many times over the next four weeks of our stay in Italy and I only managed to get it right once. (Upon returning to Italy two years later it was with great joy that I found a roundabout had been built at this intersection. They must have heard I was coming back!)
Now which way do you turn to go around Italian roundabouts? RIGHT!