I know this will be hard to believe, but after two years and 45 days, I finally drove in Italy!
I have decided to move to the north region and was vacillating between hiring someone to move my stuff, or just doing it myself. I opted for the latter. Why? Because I am very used to doing things myself. It’s easier (most of the time) than trying to explain, explaining again, and then having to re-do it because it wasn’t done the way I wanted it done. Plus, add in the language barrier. AND, nothing is simple here, therefore adding complexity makes things much more difficult, if not just impossible. Yep, I definitely was going to do it myself. And I did.
I used Expedia to find the largest SUV that I could afford AND that was an automatic transmission. Something like a Suburban, that would have gotten the job done in one trip would have cost $350+ . . . per day! The next option, an “intermediate” SUV (pronounced “soov” in Italian), was a mere $29 per day if it were a Manual transmission. For me, the Automatic-driving U.S. American, it was $65. I added collision coverage because I was petrified of driving here — I have seen how they drive.
I decided that one day is all I would need. I arranged to pick it up at 9am on a Wednesday and return it by 9am the following day. I would load up the “SOOV” and drive to my new flat an hour north, get some industrial grocery shopping done while I had the car, drive back the next day and return the car. Easy! I’ve got this.
Actually, renting the car was super simple and the attendants at the rental office were incredibly nice and helpful. They even swapped out the car for one with a bigger “boot.” (**PLUG: I rented it from the train station location in Verona. Locauto is the franchise that works with Enterprise – and other rental agencies – and they were incredibly nice and helpful. I can’t say enough about them!! And, they spoke English – BONUS!)
A friend was with me for moral support and off we drove through the clusterfuck of Porta Nuova (see picture of the non-trafficky cluster). If I survived that mess, I was going to be fine. Driving proved to be rather easy. I had watched others drive these streets many times, so I knew exactly where to go and what streets were one way (“senso unico” for those of you learning Italian). However, it became obvious very quickly that I have acquired quite a bit of stuff in two years and was going to need to take two trips . . . ugh.
And I did it. Why? Because that was the plan, damnit! I stubbornly stick to my plans. I was thrilled to return the car the next day and get on a train and then a bus back to my new residence.
But let me tell you about the actual driving part. If you’re gong to drive here, remember that each region varies a bit. I hear the south is the Wild West. The north is German-influenced so more orderly. Verona, is a mix of both. Italians can maneuver their cars in the T-I-G-H-T-E-S-T spots EVER!!! We, on the other hand, need a good 18 inches on each side to feel like we can drive straight ahead by another vehicle or through a tunnel/gate. They need an inch. I KID YOU NOT. I have no idea how they do it. I wasn’t going to test my skills because I knew I’d fail. Just be aware of the proximity – it’s uncomfortably close, but they all do and I did too.
Pay attention to one-way roads. Signage is always different in other countries. Here, the signs are blue. And, yellow lights are like they are in the States, but red lights seem to have a delay feature; light turns red, and 5 people go through who were in motion when it turned so they were actually part of the green that existed moments before. The funny thing is, the yellows are longer here so there really isn’t an excuse. Also, tailgating is so much of thing that no one seems to be concerned that you can clearly seen the person in the car behind you.
Pedestrians are also something to pay serious attention to. After two years walking here, I still find myself waiting for some indication the driver is going to stop for me. But my hesitation is less and still obvious to an Italian driver, but unnoticeable to an American. Pedestrians here take the lead and insist on the right of way. And, the drivers are impressive with how quickly they stop for sudden humans that appear in their way. This is also true, most of the time, for cars that venture to close (this too is relative; see above). If driving here, PAY ATTENTION! If walking here, do the same.
On the Autostrada, I was told the speed limit is 130km/hr and yet, I had people appear from nowhere and climb up my ass. Geezus! I got over as soon as I could. OH! and passing is strictly on the left. It was unnerving at first because at home, people pass wherever they feel they can get by, so trying to get over was dangerous, too. Here, changing lanes was easier as you are aware that there is little chance of someone passing you on the right. As always, there are those people that have to pass you on the right. It’s extremely dangerous so avoid the temptation to do it.
The Autostrada is a toll road and credit cards are allowed. But if you can have cash, you’re always safer. There is also the Tangenziale which is an older highway that mostly follows the Autostrada with stop signs and stop lights sprinkled in. They are free to use, but it will take you longer to reach your destination. I will add, however, that the Tangenziale is a more scenic route usually, and you can access castles, towns, etc., quicker because you don’t have to find an exit to get off the motorway.
Bottomline: if I can drive in Italy YOU can do it too. Just pay attention! There is absolutely NOTHING you need from your phone. Get GPS in the car if you think you’re going to need it while driving. Otherwise, just feel your way around. Good luck!