Thursday, January 21, 2010

To drive or not to drive ..

in Italy? Need your recommendations and suggestions. I've been to Italy over 6 times and never drove myself (interestingly)! I am one for 'public' transportation in foreign countries. However, this September, I am taking Ty for his first time to Italy and decided to do a B&B in a friend's Italian home-away-from-home, Paciano, in Umbria near the Tuscan border. Hence, the need for a car to visit the small towns and get to the train to Florence and/or Rome.

I know of the Italian propensity for driving fast and dangerously close. I have been told by others who have driven in Italy that being from Boston helps - notoriously discourteous and not law-abiding drivers - and to not look in the rear view mirror while driving. I guess my main concern is what happens if there's a car accident?

The other caveat is that I don't speak nor understand Italian (with the exception of a few curses and greetings). I could keep a translator handy but I am wondering how much of a problem this might be for conversing in smaller cities/towns.


barb cabot said...

I'm excited for your trip. Have you posted this on ? I bet our mutual friends can help you out on this one. I drive in L.A. and they say if you can drive here you can drive anywhere but still I've never dared to in Italy. Try to get some feedback from slowtrav. Good luck, I'm thrilled for you and such a nice month to travel. I'll be there in August the hotter than hell time but it's for a wedding so no choice in months. So happy for you.

menehune said...

Great suggestion, Barb. Would be fantastic to see a wedding (of a family member) in Italy.

Trekcapri said...

Hi M, how exciting for you to bring Ty to Italy for the first time. How fun! I can't wait to hear more about your trip plans.

I have very limited driving experience in Italy. I drove in Siena once (a small basically rural road) one time. I liked it, but it was not a busy road. Still, I found the sinage pretty good to follow and I really enjoyed the experience (but that's also because we got to drive a SMART car). I think Barb's suggestion to pose it on ST is an excellent one, there's a lot of experienced travelers there who have driven in Italy and they will be very helpful to you.

It sounds like a good plan to use the car while at the B&B so you can explore the small towns around the area and in route to your next destination. And then use the trains and city public transportation for those stays. That's what I tend to do. But also, I think the more I drive and gain the experience the better I think I get.

I read that some people use maps and some have Garmins that has road maps in Europe. I invested in a Garmin in 2007 after seeing how well it works in Europe when I was in a shuttle van once in the Czech Republic. I had it with me in Scotland but becasue signs were in English I didn't need it. Maybe that is something you might want to consider too.

The only things I struggle with driving in Europe are those Round a bouts but in terms of style of driving since I live in LA too, I think that helps.

In Siena, since it was just a day rental we really didn't think about insurance, but in Scotland I did get the extra insurance the rental company offers for to lower my deductible in case of an accident. You always hope for smooth sailing, but I always like that extra peace of mind. I think it was like another 7 or 8 pounds extra a day on top of the rental rate. I also found a website on the net with the driving rules in Scotland so I knew the right way to drive. It had examples of signs. I didn't prepare like that when I drove in Siena because it was a spontaneous on the spur of the moment decision. But if I drive again in Italy I would do my research like you are.

I'm a huge fan of public transporation, but there is a lot to be said about having a car. You are not restricted to time schedules, you have a lot of freedom to pick and choose where to go, what to see and how long to spend in each location.

So to make a long reply "short" :), I say drive.

Happy trip planning! And have a wonderful weekend too.

flygirl said...

Grazie! Love the idea of a navigation system, Kathy. We have a tom-tom - I'll have to check to see if it's internationally compatible and upload some maps. Older age has made me less of a risk taker;otherwise, I would have not given two thoughts about renting a car! Of course, I think you are a bigger one than I - at least in Italy it's the same side of the road! Many thanks for your encouragement...

annie said...

I've never driven in Italy and don't really want to either. :) But that's because I'm a solo traveler - if I had a co-pilot, I might feel differently. Even then, I wouldn't want to drive in Rome but around Umbria might be fine.

I know that SandraC (A Journey of a 1000 Miles) rented a car and drove all over Tuscany and Umbria last year - I think it went very well for her.

Have fun planning your trip!

Sandrac said...

Hi menehune! I've finally made the connection between your name and your blog -- the title of this post helped me to figure it all out!

I answered this question when I posted it on Slow Travel, where I saw you got a good response.

I don't think you would have too much trouble with a rental car. I've rented a few time, solo, and I was pretty intimidated the first time. I had many concerns about whether I could read signs when they were posted in Italian, especially while driving past at top speed!

But it wasn't nearly as intimidating as I had expected. Most signs are really universal (stop; yield; speed limits; etc.)

I didn't try to drive in major cities like Florence or Rome; I stuck to highways and rural roads in Umbria, and they were fine. And even buying gas wasn't a big chore. I would pull up to a pump, the gas station attendent would just start filling, I handed over money, and all was fine. So long as you know if the vehicle is diesel or not!

Parking was a bit of a challenge at times, and I'd recommend a smaller car if you can. The first car I rented was a pretty big, a new BMW which didn't fit well with the small parking spots, narrow streets and tight corners in small towns in Umbria! I returned that car to Avis with scratches and dents, and there were no questions asked!!! But the next time, I was glad to get a smaller Fiat with a few built-in boo-boos.

As for insurance, I rent cars when I visit my family out West, so I've gotten a policy through my tenant insurance that covers all car rentals in North America and Europe. You might want to look into that; it's only a few $$$ a month.

Have a wonderful time planning, I look forward to hearing more about your trip!

flygirl said...

Sandra and Annie - thank you for your comments. I did post the question on Slow Travel as well (thanks again, Barb)... Planning a trip is such a welcomed diversion from the winter doldrums and a wonderful excuse to shop!

girasoli said...

I meant to comment here but then spaced it out.

I have never driven in Italy so I do not have any personal driving experience. My reason for not driving though is more that I am constantly lost more than due to the crazy drivers there (although would I ever consider driving in Rome - never!).

I have been in cars with friends. I really have not seen too many crazy divers except in the major cities. I do get nervous because of the speed when with my friends but I always later realize that they really are not driving that fast, it is just the difference with miles vs kilometers and the higher kilometer numbers freaking me out.

Driving really does give you many more possibilities and having Ty with you would be a big help with navigation. And after all, you are a Boston driver - again a place I would never attempt when driving (I even freaked out the last time I drove in New Hampshire in 2003!).

Anyways, I did see the thread on Slow Travel and am glad you were given lots of advice that hopefully will help you make up your mind.

I think the only other advice I would have is to make sure to not leave anything valuable in your car while there.

I am sooo excited that you are going back to Italy! Ty must be excited also! Can't wait to hear more about your plans!