Driving in Italy - tips, please

Jun 6th, 2001, 04:15 PM
  #1  
Jen
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Driving in Italy - tips, please

I have rented a car and now am getting a little fearful after reading the many
messages alluding to the risk-taking drivers
in Italy. How cautious does one need to be? Are the road signs easy to follow?
What is the best approach? How to go well prepared?
 
Jun 6th, 2001, 04:20 PM
  #2  
Art
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Its simple, keep you right food pushed through the firewall and your left hand on the horn.
 
Jun 6th, 2001, 04:31 PM
  #3  
adrienne
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Jen,

Driving in Italy is very simple. First, you need a good map and plan the route before setting out. You didn’t say if you’re going to be driving on the autoroute or on secondary roads…there’s a world of difference in the two types of roads. On the autoroute keep in the right lane and you can go at your own pace. Cars will pass you by at unbelieveable speeds.

Secondary roads were a pleasure to drive on. Outside of cities/towns there’s very little traffic. I found the drivers to be courteous. If there’s a car behind you then just pull over to the far right side of the road and wave your arm out the window to let them know to pass you by. Often they’ll give you a little toot of the horn to say thank you.

I wouldn’t attempt a car in Florence or Rome but in the countryside you need a car to see the small towns. Walled towns don’t allow you to drive in the old part of town unless you’re dropping off luggage at a hotel. There will be a parking lot on the edge of the old town.

Many gas stations are shut on Sundays so fill up on Saturday. The stations I’ve seen were self serve and you can put your credit card or cash into the pump and get the amount of gas you need.

Don’t be afraid. Driving is a great way to see the country and you’ll be amazed at how easy it is.

Have a great trip. Adrienne

 
Jun 6th, 2001, 04:39 PM
  #4  
kam
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It's a bit like driving in LA. Give up the passing lane to the natives and you will find that they are very good, but very fast, drivers. If you leave your turnsignal on when passing another car, that will signal that you will return to the "slow" lane as soon as you can and they won't flash lights at you or drive into your trunk. Don't worry, stay cool, it's not difficult.
 
Jun 6th, 2001, 04:40 PM
  #5  
Alec
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Others may have their own way of adapting to Italian driving, but I tend to drive defensively, but confidently. What I mean is I try to go along with the flow of traffic as much as possible, but never race other cars or take unnecessary risks when passing or turning. I tend to keep to my lane and not weave in and out, and try not to surprise other drivers by sudden unexpected movements. I find I can keep my cool this way when there's mayhem all around. Main road signs are fairly easy to follow, though getting into the right lanes isn't always easy with all the heavy traffic. I usual expect to get lost or take the wrong turn when driving on unfamilar roads and don't set myself a rigid schedule. I just relax and make it part of holiday experience. And get a good map (by Touring Club Italiano is good) and a navigator.
 
Jun 6th, 2001, 05:02 PM
  #6  
Bob
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All good advice above.

One thing about the toll roads that will save you time is that they take credit cards. I think the credit card lane is marked VIN or something similar. Just drive to that toll, insert your card, reclaim it and you are on the way. When I recd my bill upon returning home I found that the charges were not bad and it saved time waiting in line to pay cash plus fumbling for the correct amount of Lira.

Also be a little cognizent of various tricks. Watch your car at a gas station and just be alert to your surroundings. Find out the word in Italian for "lead free" as you will need to know it the first time you fill up unless you rent a diesel. We did that and had no problems. It beat driving in LA.
 
Jun 6th, 2001, 05:09 PM
  #7  
M&J
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Lots of good suggestions about driving, Jen. Here is a suggestion for when you park your car. Look down on the road, curb, street. If you see pieces of glass--don't park there. Those pieces could be an indication that car windows have been smashed in that area.
 
Jun 6th, 2001, 05:11 PM
  #8  
Modeen
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Jen,
There's a wonderful site about Italy by Pauline who gives advice on all kinds of things including driving. She has pictures of signs, parking information, etc. I think you'll feel better after reading it. I'm planning on printing it all out and taking it with me! You can read it at:

www.cohenkenny.com/default.htm
 
Jun 6th, 2001, 05:43 PM
  #9  
sandi
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Always use your signals. Slow lane on the far right, middle lane for approx the speed limit and don't get into the far left unless you don't see any cars in the rearview mirror and you're going very fast. They appear out of no where in the left lane.
 
Jun 7th, 2001, 07:37 AM
  #10  
marj
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The autostrada is not a problem at all. Signs are good, tolls are easy (they take credit cards). It's driving into the cities that's tough. Make sure you get good street maps of the places you'll be going to. With a patient driver and good navigator you'll be fine. the maps do not indicate one way streets or streets that change direction. that's what makes it so difficult to find specific addresses. It's a bit frustrating but doable.
 
Jun 7th, 2001, 10:23 AM
  #11  
Joe
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Jen: You have everything you need in the replys above. It really isn't difficult or intimidating after about two minutes of driving. You will quickly slip into the local driving habits. One tip, cars are great for really seeing the Country. But, a car is a nuisance in the major cities (Florence, Rome, Venice, etc.). Just head for the train station in these cities (assumes a good map) and park at one of the large carparks invariably found at these stations. Leave the car until you are ready to hit the road again. I have priced cars in terms of turning it in when I arrive (in for example, Rome). Turns out that sticking to the long term rate invariably beat the dailey charge I would have to go droping off and picking up cars along the way. Still, for my money, if you have the time and want to "look around corners and under rocks", you can't beat travel by car.
 
Jun 7th, 2001, 11:29 AM
  #12  
Diane
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1) Italians use their emergency flashers more than their horns. If the vincard machine eats your credit card, hit your flasher and clearly announce (Rick Steve's book has the phrase "The ATM ate my card" I think it was something like "...mangia mi carte credit"). This happened to us as we were demonstrating to my sister how neat the system worked. She was paying the toll with her card. Three guys came out and retrieved it for us. Cars behind us saw the flashing lights and backed up to use other lines. No one honked a single horn (this was South of Rome).
2) A left pointing arrow in front of the town name does NOT mean "turn left to go to (town name). It DOES mean "You are here, on the road to (town name.)
3) Public Parking areas are conveniently marked by blue signs with a big white P. When visiting a hilltown, do not park in the first lot you see with a P. Follow the signs to "Centro" and THEN look for P(arking) signs.
4) As someone else mentioned, get the most detailed map you can and study it before you go. Knowing what whether or not a town is north-west of south-east of another is invaluable. Also it is good to know about how many kilometers from one place to another. Italian signs don't always indicate distance.
5) When driving in the country, a sign for "A1 Rome/Firenze" does not necessarily mean you are close to either city. It does mean that if you keep following signs for the A1, you will eventually get to an entrance to the A1. And, of course, then you will need to know whether your real destination is in the direction of Rome or Firenze -- and that is where your map is invaluable!
Really, driving is fun and gives you the freedom to explore on your own time schedule, places you may not otherwise have access to. Distances are not that great, and people will always try to help when you ask. Enjoy.
 
Jun 7th, 2001, 12:32 PM
  #13  
dale
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i have found italian drivers aggressive and ultimately fair. they challenge but when you prevail they graciously cede with a smile. buon viaggio.
 
Jun 7th, 2001, 01:13 PM
  #14  
alibooie
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hi, we drove around Italy for three weeks without any real problems. As mentioned before, know in the direction of which town you are headed to because highway signs rarely show a north-south-east-west direction. Probably because the highways connect towns (since they are more recent). The small roads work exactly the same, except they will generally point you in the direction of the next town, and the next. Very entertaining to go checking them off the map. The only moment my newlywed husband and I absoultely almost killed each other was driving into Rome (Florence was pretty bad too). Turn in your car, if you can! Park it quickly if you can't! But, it's so not a problem to drive in Italy so relax, stop at small towns, enjoy the countryside, and you'll have a great time.
 
Jun 7th, 2001, 04:24 PM
  #15  
Jen
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Well, I feel a little better. Thanks for all the good advice. If someone could tell me where to get good maps,
I think I will begin to relax...
 
Jun 7th, 2001, 04:43 PM
  #16  
adrienne
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Jen,

I use Michelin maps and find they are very good. You can get them in book stores or order via their 800 number. They also have a web site which give driving information and route planner: michelin.com

Adrienne
 
Jun 10th, 2001, 07:38 PM
  #17  
Carin
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KNOW THE SIGNS!
And DON'T drive into Florence if you can help it! It took us 45 minutes to go around a block because of the one-way streets and the fact that some of the streets changes names every three blocks. Luckily, our marriage survived the adventure.
 
Jun 10th, 2001, 08:06 PM
  #18  
az
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All of the above advice is sound. Driving the country is no problem. Driving the large cities is greatly facilitated by a navigator who can not only read the map but look for street signs. It is not uncommon to drive for blocks w/o seeing a single sign, and the sign is usually one the side of a building rather than a post as we are accustomed to in the US. Also, watch for several different names for the same street, e.g. in Rome, one of the main streets running from the Spanish steps back toward Santa Maria Maggiore has no turns but three different names: Via Sistina, Via delle Quanttro Fontane, and V. Depreti. In Naples, Spaccanapoli is arrow-straight for about 3 miles, but has five or six different names along that length.
For a more relaxed guide to driving Italy, see the rules for driving the Amalfi Coast which I posted on this forum a short while ago.
 
Jun 10th, 2001, 08:30 PM
  #19  
julie
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Drivers in Italy (and parts of Europe) are very macho..hate to slow down,and use a great deal of body and sign language, some of what I am told is pretty vulgar. Also, not always the wide sholder we are used too., thirdly, street signs can be pretty obscure, and if you miss it, the chances to recoup are not always there...a good map is a necessity. And we always have one person read map, other drive. Toll roads, and there are many, will have a "Pay booth" reinforced in concrete, not unlike WWII bunkers, to protect the toll takers from drivers who won't slow down until the last second, if that. Be aware of all the local road rules, types of turn outs, and what the center line means. I turned left over a yellow line in Portugal, and a man in a differnt car followed us, got up behind us after we had parked and began to kick our car in in a fit of rage. Care is the by word.
 
Jun 12th, 2001, 11:08 PM
  #20  
Jackie
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Great tips, all of them. Any more???
 

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