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Friday, January 28, 2011

Driving in Italy

Autostrada del Sole near the city of Reggio EmiliaImage via Wikipedia
By Edward Pullen

I spent a week in Tuscany with my wife touring from one hill town to the next, along with a day trip to Florence. One of the best parts of the trip was driving. The experience is primarily positive, although does take some getting used to before real comfort occurs.
The driving can be broken down into three types. First and definitely the most fun is driving on the hill country winding roads. These roads are similar to the switch-backs you find hiking in the mountains, where the hair pin turns come one after another, and you feel like you are scaling a cliff at times. The drivers are generally aggressive but talented, and if you stay alert this can be a lot of fun. No place for the faint-hearted, but speeds are moderate and the turns keep you alert.
The second type is on the Italian highways, called the Autostrada and the Superstrada. Here you get used to kilometers per hour after a while, and the speeds of 130-150 seem less heroic. The primary thing to know on these roads is that when you see a big black car, usually a Mercedes, approaching from behind they intend to pass and you are expected to get to the right and out of their way. Use the left lane strictly to pass, pass quickly and aggressively when passing slower cars or trucks, and you'll do fine. The drivers are aggressive but skilled, and it can be fun.
City driving is the third type of driving. This is just something to avoid when possible. Park outside the city and take a bus or train into Florence, Rome or other large cities if possible. In the cities the traffic is snarling, slow, confusing, and not worth even trying.
Some of the most interesting things are the signs. Watch for tiny arrows pointing at road hazards and for the signs for entering and leaving towns. Mostly relax, enjoy, and stay out of the cities.
Dr. Pullen

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