We did a lot of driving in Italy, so we have a few stories to tell.
Driving in Italy, J. tells me, is a like wielding the One Power as an Aes Sedai. Let’s explain. In those books, the one power as explained to us must be worked with, not struggled against. Similarly, there is no point in getting angry at traffic or other drivers; on the other hand it is liberating to realize that the drivers there almost never get angry at you. The default assumption seems to be that everyone just wants to get where they are going and everyone else just chills out.
We were in a taxi in Rome in the morning, during ‘rush hour’ (or, what might be in any other city) and traffic seemed particularly bottled at a fairly complicated, key, intersection. We made our way through, with the driver visibly agitated because clearly things weren’t going they way they should. Sure enough, we navigated through to the arterial that runs along the Tiber, only to find that a police van had blocked one of the two lanes! As we crawled past, our driver shouted a filthy obscenity at the officer visible. It was the only time a driver swore — so you know it was a big deal!
Rome, generally speaking, was super crazy at first, but once we figured out the rules, made perfect sense. In Rome everyone just looks out for themselves, but that includes dropping back when another driver confidently moves in. Confidence is key! Just go about your business, don’t worry about the others, and it all works out. We picked up our rental car in Rome and confidently drove out of the city, merging easily and generally being fine. (Note, you really do need to have a Zen-like confidence that other cars won’t hit you.) I didn’t see a lot of drivers glued to their phones, or texting, and that might be a major difference. Italians pay attention to their driving.
The roads are well-maintained and wide. It really is a pleasure to drive around. The model you get for your rental makes a difference — we’re not fans of the Panda because it lacks power. Our favorite to date was the Audi hatchback we had on the first trip. If we could find that car here, we’d buy it.
On one of our trips through the Val d’Orcia we spent large stretches of time being the only car of the road. The weather was lovely: warm and clear. It was like a moment out of a novel when the road we were on came to an end at a barricade. No signage. No crew working. Nothing, just a series of concrete slabs. J. wanted to try and go around (we could have squeezed the car up onto the gentle verge and made it), but I cautioned that we really didn’t want to get stuck somewhere we couldn’t get out of. So we turned around.
J. got so good at driving, in fact, that when we returning to Rome, he had no problem zooming our little car past a bus and across two lanes of traffic to exit into the city. Do not try this if you are just setting out! (Also, he had to pay a $125 fine for speeding.)
Note that we’ve been told by reliable travelers that the Italian government has no problem targeting rental cars for fines when they don’t fine local drivers. So you can be going along with traffic at 120kph and you’ll be the only ticket. How? They have electronic surveillance that sends a ticket to you r rental agency, who then just charge the card on file. But you don’t get the bill for, potentially, months. Surprise! :-(