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Driving in Sicily: Help!

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Feb 10th, 2016, 10:22 PM
  #1
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Driving in Sicily: Help!

My husband would rather not drive in Italy again and so I, usually the navigator, will be driving a standard shift car for 10 days or so for the first time in many years. In preparation I borrowed a friend's sporty little BMW and it all came back, including the exhilaration. Having said that, I'm still a bit worried about driving on hilly roads, narrow roads, unfamiliar roads, as described by some of you who have written trip reports.

Not too concerned about the Siracusa to Noto stretch (should I be?), but we plan to spend a few days seeing the other Baroque towns, Modica, Ragusa Ibla, Scicli and driving from there up to Piazza Armerina. Various trip reports have mentioned sheer drops, winding roads, etc. I'd like to avoid those if at all possible. I'm even thinking that if getting up to Ibla, for example, is nerve-wracking (for an uncertain driver) we could leave the car in lower Ragusa and take a taxi up.

So my question is, given my nervousness on steep winding roads, what should I avoid? Any workarounds you might suggest? I'm willing to go "the long way around" if it seems less nerve-wracking. And lastly, I should add that husband is not a good navigator, so both tasks will likely fall to me.

We'll be there in mid-May and reading all the information here is making me more enthusiastic than timorous, but still...
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Feb 10th, 2016, 11:02 PM
  #2
kja
 
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First and foremost: Drive defensively! And do not try to drive with jet lag!

Driving in Sicily can be exhilirating! It has its challenges (IME, Sicilian drivers are crazy!), but the major roads that I drove were well marked and well banked -- if only Sicilians honored the lane markings. Seriously! IME, major 2-lane highways often had 5 or more lanes of traffic, with cars on the shoulders and between the "marked" lanes, all at speeds well above posted limits and high enough to make me extremely uncomfortable -- at least near Palermo.

Driving on side roads was a bit more like driving on side roads anywhere -- locals and jerks drive faster than anyone can actually do so with safety, so expect the unexpected and drive defensively.

Do NOT try to drive like the locals -- they know (or think they know) where they need to turn or adjust their speed; you don't. And remember, the overwhelming majority of accidents anywhere happen close to home, so don't assume that locals know what they're doing! If cars amass behind you, just pull over whenever you can to let them pass.

Check viamichelin for best routes, etc. Consider taking your personal GSP with you -- since visiting Sicily, I've gotten my own TomTom, which I take when I plan road trips in Europe. I like being able to program it and plot routes in advance. If you don't already have a portable GSP system, consider reserving one with your rental car -- it adds a lot to the price, but might be worth it.

And FWIW, I managed to survive driving in Sicily in pre-GPS days -- so it can be done!

Good luck and enjoy!
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Feb 10th, 2016, 11:30 PM
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People think I pick on them by disagreeing with their posts, but one of the most outstanding features about driving in Italy, and in particular Sicily, is that people do not do "defensive driving". This is cultural norm in other countries, and it works in those countries because everybody is doing it, but in Italy, the norm is to seize available space and keep moving forward. Driving in Italy, it is best to be prepared to go with that flow or risk causing near-accidents. That doesn't mean driving aggressively if you are not an aggressive driver, but to be alert to the fact that a different driving norm is not "crazy" but simply different. The other drivers on the road will be focused on moving forward, not yielding. Go at the speed you are comfortable, but keep moving forward. If you feel under pressure from drivers behind you, pull off the road to the shoulder and let them pass.

I've been to Sicily twice and I recommend to others that they not plan days that involve long stretches of driving. On any given stretch, don't spend more than 90 minutes behind the wheel, or travel more than 3/4 hours for the entire day. Otherwise it is tiring. My favorte jaunts in Sicily were those where I had spent less than an hour driving there.

As to your specific concerns about steep, narrow roads, look on Google Street View for a a preview of spots that are worrying you and figure out how to avoid them. The idea of taking a taxi rather than stress out is a good one. Ragusa (in my recollection) has many large parking lots outside its centro storico (which might be totally off limits to non-resident cars) and unless you have mobility problems, it is not so steep you can't walk up.

If your husband is not a good navigator then a GPS will help, but what will help most of all is understanding before you even get on the plane is that you are going to miss turns sometimes, and need to backtrack (sometimes it takes miles before you find a good spot to turn around). So what? You are also at times going to approach roundabouts and not know which one is the exit you want and therefore need to go around 2 or 3 times. So what? Sometimes you will take one look at a road and decide you are not driving up that road or over that bridge, so that's all there is to it. Other times you may need to search all over for a legal parking space and then have a very hard time squeezing into it -- and you may give up and just drive on and not even see that town!

All these things are no big deal in the large scheme of things but they can cause you to blow up in anger if you are trying to pack too much driving into each day. Give yourself plenty of time to get places. Don't pick hotels or B&bs on hilltops or on dirt roads. Pick hotels/restaurants/destinations for their ease of parking. Don't be afraid to spend on taxis. Use the car sparingly.
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Feb 11th, 2016, 07:32 AM
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And remember that "most accidents occur close to home" because that's where most people drive!
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Feb 11th, 2016, 09:32 AM
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Thanks to all who replied, but I think I didn't make my question clear enough. I'm not concerned particularly about driving per se, but rather specific roads that I might prefer not to drive on, i.e. Is there a sheer drop on the road between Modica and Ragusa, or should I come at Piazza Armerina from one direction rather than another to avoid particularly winding roads. Information as precise as possible would be great from anyone who has driven in the Val di Noto.

Sandralist, thanks for mentioning Google Street Views. I had no idea they would have country roads. I'll check possible routes with a driving map in hand.

Thanks again.
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Feb 11th, 2016, 10:00 AM
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Hi Shellio,

I can't answer those specific questions because we won't be in Sicily until September but I'm interested in the answers.

any recommendations for the best map/s of Sicily?
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Feb 11th, 2016, 10:04 AM
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I embraced in the insanity. Drivers expect you to know when they are leaving the curb or that a scooter will to do a 180 in front of you.

The irony of driving in Sicily is that the behavior on the autostrada is predictable and courteous.
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Feb 11th, 2016, 05:35 PM
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Annhig, I've been following your thread with interest, having been through the same decision-making process.

Although I haven't yet researched it, I'm a big fan of Michelin maps and assume I'd use one in Sicily.
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Feb 11th, 2016, 05:39 PM
  #9
kja
 
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Shellio -- sorry, I can't answer your question.

Best maps: IME, Michelin.

My understanding -- which could be wrong -- of the research on the reasons for the high rate of accidents near where one lives is that it goes beyond that fact that there's where most of us drive the most, although that is (of course) the biggest contributor. Other factors seem to be increased use of cell phones near home, eating while driving, and perhaps most importantly, reduced vigilance by drivers in the areas with which they are most familiar.
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Feb 11th, 2016, 06:00 PM
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I'm afraid of heights, curvy roads with sheer drops, etc., and IME it wasn't that bad in Sicily. We took the long way from Modica to Piazza Armerina and that was, for me, a little scary, but I just took curves slow and used turnouts if/when I had cars behind me.

Elsewhere there are some long, high bridges that looked intimidating from afar but felt fine once I was on them.

I'll try to think of where else we drove that bugged me. Not much, really.
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Feb 11th, 2016, 09:00 PM
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We were all over the island, and there weren't too many scary roads. My niece panicked in Castellammare del Golfo when she thought the paving stones were slippery and we wind up in the Bay.
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Feb 12th, 2016, 04:44 PM
  #12
 
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After driving standard transmission cars for years both here and in Italy, I would recommend driving as the conditions require.

If you are on the Autostrada stay out of the left lane unless you are going to pass, then move to the right. If you like to ride in the left lane two km above the speed limit you may be in for some aggressive driving events on the part of other Italian motorists. Otherwise, driving on the Autostrada is just like driving on our interstate highways.

The farther south you drive traffic laws become only suggestions. We always give the other motorists the right of way. My family comes from Nicastro in Calabria and there are intersections there that can best be described as dodge-em, chicken, and every man for himself. However, after a few hours you will blend right in.

The cars we've rent since 2010 with standard transmissions have a hill hold clutch feature and if you stall they automatically restart.

City driving is intense and avoiding ZTL's is a necessity to avoid fines six months after you return home. After driving for a while you will adjust.

As for narrow winding roads...whoever claimed that Lombard Street in San Francisco is the windiest street in the world has never been to Italy and Sicily.

two years ago we spent a week driving in eastern Sicily and it was no big deal. We took day trips everyday leaving in the morning and returning around dinner without any ill effects.

Go and have fun.

Buon viaggio,
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Feb 12th, 2016, 04:46 PM
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Thanks Leely2 and IMDonehere, those're the kind of driving situations I'm concerned about.

I find, for whatever reason (it's usually age though), that I've become very nervous on bridges, where I now need to have some distance from the outside edge and on roads with sheer drops. For someone who lives in the SF area and used to drive down Hwy 1 with no problem this is embarrassing.

I expect I'll just drive slowly and make the Sicilian drivers very annoyed.
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Feb 12th, 2016, 05:23 PM
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Why don't you rent a car with an automatic transmission? You may need to go to an airport to get one, but I would think they have some.

I realize that even with an automatic you would still be driving over bridges, and would like to avoid hairpin heights, but I am not sure anyone can really help you avoid what you want to avoid. You are not saying where you are going and in what order. There are just too many variables about how you will be approaching a town. There are some roads in Italy that, once I saw them, I changed my plans for the day! You might have to do the same.

If renting an automatic would reduce one level of stress, sounds like it is worth the extra bucks per day.
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Feb 12th, 2016, 05:47 PM
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Twenty years ago we drove around Sicily…. Palermo to Palermo.
(Well… actually my husband did the driving…) I don't recall any anxiety at all. Can't say how things are now. We even drove in Palermo. Traffic was a nightmare, of course, but I navigated and we made it through. (Of course we live in NYC so city traffic didn't really bother us.) We went to Piazza Amerina … from Taormina as I recall… can't remember any hair raising driving.
(My husband loved driving the Amalfi Drive…. did it several times -
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Feb 12th, 2016, 06:32 PM
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Sandralist, I checked into renting an automatic but the cost was prohibitive. Apparently they don't keep them on the island and it would have to come from the mainland. But, as you say, it's not really the stick shift that's the problem.

As for where I'm going and in what order, Siracusa to Noto, staying in Noto for 3 nights and during that time visiting Modica, Ragusa, Scicli and whatever else we come across in that quadrant. From Noto we drive to Piazza Armerina, stay one night, visit Villa Casale and drive back down to Agrigento. These are the roads with which I am concerned. I had hoped it might be as easy as someone saying, for example: "oh, if you approach Piazza Armerina from the west the road is much better than if coming from the south...etc." Apparently not.

Gwendolynn, may I borrow your husband for a few days? Loving the Amalfi drive!!
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Feb 12th, 2016, 06:34 PM
  #17
kja
 
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"I expect I'll just drive slowly and make the Sicilian drivers very annoyed."

I'm sure you'll pull off to let them pass whenever you can. And I'm sure you'll find a way to make it work. If it helps at all, I've been on a few roads (not in Sicily) where I was terrified, and I just kept reminding myself that I could always turn around and skip whatever. I've never actually done that, but reminding myself that I do not HAVE to drive a road that makes me nervous has proven very helpful for me. I hope that realization will help you, too.

Go and enjoy!
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Feb 13th, 2016, 02:20 PM
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As for where I'm going and in what order, Siracusa to Noto, staying in Noto for 3 nights and during that time visiting Modica, Ragusa, Scicli and whatever else we come across in that quadrant. From Noto we drive to Piazza Armerina, stay one night, visit Villa Casale and drive back down to Agrigento. These are the roads with which I am concerned.>>

lol, shelilio, looks as if we're doing more or less the same route.

when are you going? - whoever gets there first tells the other what it was like!
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Feb 13th, 2016, 02:34 PM
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Shelilio,

Were it me worried about what you are worried about, I would book someplace in Noto at the periphery of the centrol storico (it's not a big town) where you have easy access to parking. Then, in planning day trips each day, I would consult with the people who own the hotel/b&b/agriturismo and ask them to show you on a map anyplace they know to be a difficult road.

Agrigento is a fairly bustling little city and there are places to stay outside the center of town that are close to the temples, so you might want to stay on the edge of town there as well.
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Feb 13th, 2016, 04:32 PM
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Annhig, I'm not surprised we are doing virtually the same trip as I too decided to go because I was entranced with the opening montage of the Montalbano TV series! I don't know if you know this (although I suspect you've done your research) but Scicli is the location for the scenes that show the outside of the police station. And his house is on the beach at Punta Secca. We go in May, so will be happy to add my opinions to those you are getting on your planning thread.

Sandralist, thanks, we will be staying in Noto in the historical center and will definitely ask for advice. Although i rather think that asking Sicilians about driving issues might not be as helpful as asking a more general audience. ;-)
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