While living in Japan I started following a motto I created “Ya Gotta Go To Know” which basically means to me to go experience things, don’t just read about them or live through someone else’s adventure. With that in my heart I went for a drive by myself yesterday, the first time in Italy, and had myself a little adventure. Here are some things I noticed and some things we were warned about and saw/experienced first hand:
Whore’s … yes, I mean prostitutes, in the middle of the day sitting on a small chair or standing on the side of a road, often at the entrance to a small side road. I think I counted 5 in a small few miles and I was not driving in downtown Naples, this was country road kinda stuff. Sometimes there were two standing/sitting together. Heavily made-up and wearing shorts or a short skirt. Just standing on a dirt road or sitting on something.
Lanes … street lanes are merely suggestions here. Often cars, trucks, semi’s, bikes don’t stay in lanes on the highway, on the street road, on the small paths. They will ride on top of a marked line or when moving over will often not move completely over. I have seen shoulders used as a lane and I witnessed a two lane road function quite well as a four lane road. The basic mentality on driving here is simply get where you need to go and everyone else will worry about themselves. Which, lucky for me, is pretty much how my Dad taught me to drive. Be aware of everyone else but don’t worry about what they are doing, worry about what I’m doing and I can say I’ve only been in one accident in almost 30 years and it was because I was distracted. So, thanks for that Dad! Also, as many know the roads in Europe are often quite narrow and very often cobblestone or otherwise not smooth to drive on so that is an adventure as well. Our first night out we were driven to dinner by friends and I kid you not, vehicles were scraping walls in one area.
Stop Signs … there are stop signs every now and then but again, it’s a suggestion here. Have you heard the term “California stop”? Naples takes that to a whole new level. Basically, the first person to an intersection has the right of way, usually. Sometimes assholes force their way in so it’s really the aggressor who has the right of way. Most people slow down at intersections a bit but will continue forward and often it’s seamless, everyone knows the deal and it flows. Drive assertively or you will be sitting for a while and pissing off everyone behind you…if you don’t actually get rear-ended for coming to a stop.
Ramps … I’m talking on/off ramps to the Highway/Freeway systems. If you look at them on a map it quite literally looks like someone dropped spaghetti on the intersection. Navigating which ramp is quickly becoming a game of chance. Unfortunately, the way the roads are here, if you get off the Highway at the wrong exit it isn’t like in the states where you can usually just go to the next one, then go under/over the Highway and head back to the exit you needed. Here it often means many miles out of your way and possible toll roads. Just to keep foreigners on their toes they also have made it so the exit that seems to be the one you want is often not. For example, on the Highway you can see the big Ikea building but the actual exit you need is two exits down past the building, then you backtrack apparently. Oh and I have noticed two or three very close to each other to confuse you more. So, the idea that Italian time is often 20 – 30 minutes on outside is actually a bit of a god-send because unless I leave extra early I will likely be late for everything for probably the first year here. Here if you say 0900, they mean between 0900 and 0915-0930. (which is rare by the way, apparently most Italians don’t do much before 10:00 am)
Predators … It wouldn’t be Italy without a little crime drama right? When we first arrived, doing our cultural training, they tell stories of people being robbed, carjacked, etc. The tactic is often that a driver behind you will try to get your attention by honking and waving, pulling up next to you, all to try to indicate you have car trouble and need to pull over. When you do, they move in for the kill. Often robbing, or even stealing your vehicle. I thought this was extreme cases and rare but yesterday while driving my husband to work (the first time behind the wheel off base) and it happened to me…well the guy tried but he didn’t know who he was dealing with. I passed him on the highway and he came up behind me, flashing his lights and honking then pulled up next to me honking and waving. I just kept looking forward and talk/laughing with my husband that this was actually happening. When we arrived at the base, my husband got out and walked around the car to make sure there wasn’t actually anything wrong with it and sure enough the car was fine. I was preyed upon. Now I know to be aware and ignore because it really happens.
That about sums up the drama of the drive. On another note I was able to get myself around rather well and found that I was pretty comfortable driving so the nerves, while very real, were unnecessary. People are generally tolerant or simply go about their own driving business even if it means pulling around and in front of the idiot American who isn’t sure about crossing traffic. haha