Driving in Italy

‘Driving’ in Italy’s main cities is more a condition of continual idling between the briefest bursts of mayhem. I wouldn’t advise it. But driving through the arrestingly beautiful country is a joy. Just be warned: the speed limit’s more of a recommendation than anything else.

The main highway connecting the boot’s main cities from the heel to knee is the A1. A toll road, it seems expensive at first. Until you’ve spent an hour in the hills of Tuscany. Some inclinations are so steep you fear you’ll topple ass over teakettle on switchbacks that take an hour to cover 10km as the crow flies. Then $20 to drive 100km seems a bargain.

Driving the A1 is an extreme experience. Yes, extreme. In a country that’s famous for its fast cars and deep thinkers, it’s like half the drivers have feet of the heaviest lead and are out to sodomize you if you dare enter the passing lane — while the other contingent tootle along barely breaking third gear, seemingly lost in thought.

Honestly, there was a discrepancy at times of up to 70 kph between the Mario Andrettis in the passing lane and the Leonardos in the passed.

Getting in the way of the aggressive ones on the day after their beloved Forza Azzurri’s been eliminated from the World Cup is a big mistake. You learn fast: The larger and more German the automobile, the heavier the foot. The flattened Olympics rings that compose the Audi logo appearing in your rear view are as good as flash of high beams to warn you out of the way. And the ironic peace symbol that is the Mercedes-Benz emblem will brand your trunk if you don’t move it.

The solution it seems would be to remain out of the passing lane. But in the slow lane are the Umberto Ecos experimenting with how many kilometres you can wrest from a litre of gas, each trying to coast in the wake of the car before it.

So then, should you also stay out of the slow lane? Sadly there’s rarely a middle lane on the A1. Hence the extremes. Goldilocks didn’t spring from an Italian mind, but Pinocchio did.

The other solution would be to keep TF off the A1. But you’ll never get anywhere on the local roads especially if you’re in the mountains — which would be most of the country. So you learn the rhythm; you flit between extremes. And you’re never bored behind the wheel.

Image courtesy of Andrea Marutti.

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