Monday, May 02, 2011

You've Come a Long Way, Baby!

Remember back when we got our little car, affectionately dubbed Guido because my family has a tradition of naming cars?  How we learned all about car buying in Italy, way back when we first arrived and had little Italian language experience under our belts?  How I was fearful to drive the newly-purchased macchina, especially anywhere within an hour of Rome because it was chaotic and stressful with cars coming from every-which-way, motorini buzzing around, and traffic lanes spontaneously appearing where no lines deemed them possible?

Sure I drove around Ascoli Piceno, learned to parallel park in ridiculously narrow streets while maneuvering into amazingly tight spaces, and took to the hills of the Piceno like nobody's business.  But I still had a fear of Roma and let Bryan drive whenever we went anywhere near the capital city.

That was then.  I've come a long way.  I went to Rome to meet my sister who had arrived with severe jetlag and a desire to get south for some R&R in our little village.  She wanted to do some jaunts around the region and a car is the only way, so she booked a rental.  Trouble is, she doesn't drive a stick shift and had no desire to drive in any town bigger than ours.  I signed up as a "second" driver, but was to be, in actuality, the primary guida for this trip. 

I'd driven the outskirts of Rome once or twice before when visiting Giorgio and Francesca.  While traffico there is crazy, it's not like the narrow lanes of the historic center where everything is magnified and signage is nonexistant.  We picked up the car at Termini, Rome's bustling train station, smack in the centro of all traffic horror possible, where one-way streets start, stop, turn back on each other and create a grid of confusion that even locals have a hard time getting themselves out of.  We buckled in and squealed the tires down the seven levels of insanely-tight turns in the parking garage, turned out onto the streets, gave one last cursory glance in the rear-view mirror and set off.

I gotta say - I rocked!  I clutched like a pro, slid seemlessly between second and third as traffic allowed while bumping over cobbles and dodging the scooters that buzz around all sides of the cars like swarms of wasps (which is why they're so appropriately called vespas, wasps).  I skirted slowpokes, passed delivery vans while avoiding oncoming whizzing drivers, and braked for pedestrians that suddenly appeared from nowhere.  I got us to the GRA, the eternally-clogged ring road that circles the Eternal City and found my way to the A-1, dubbed the Autostrada del Sole (the highway of the sun) that transported us towards Naples and points south.  During high-traffic Easter week when everyone was fleeing Rome for a long weekend away.  And I didn't bat an eye or feel a hint of a heart palpitation while doing it!

The sister was mightily impressed.  So was I.  I'm not ready for Napoli where red lights mean absolutely nothing, but it's a lot different from when we first bought little Guido and I didn't want to drive the narrow streets at all.  I've come a long way, baby!


Valerie said...

I am impressed! While driving around Umbria, Marche, & Abruzzo recently in a Fiat Panda was a slice of Heaven for me (and yay for my 1st time driving in Italy!), the "It's not so hard, this clutch is like butter!" philosophy in Rome is going to take a serious pep talk next year. 2nd though, maybe I'll just fly into Pescara... Brava, Valerie!

Nita Tucker said...

Wow, you're amazing! I remember the driving was one of the more daunting parts of living in Florence.

Valerie said...

Hi Valerie! Definitely easier to pick up the car in the provinces than in Roma, but I'm pretty darn proud of myself! The Panda is rather peppy.

Nita - Thanks! It can be very daunting, especially when you don't know the streets very well.

Louise at Abbastanza Buono said...

Now that I am used to driving in Italy, albeit in the more sedate traffic in northern Tuscany, I actually prefer it over driving in the Seattle area. On I-5 one never knows who is going to do what. At least in Italy I am pretty sure I am only going to be passed on the left. Do have to say that driving a Plymouth Voyager from Sorrento to Lucca last year gave me pause. Felt like I was at the wheel of a bus. Congratulations on your successful venture.

marybeth said...

BRAVA! I'm impressed!

I've started driving in Italy for the first time, in the countryside around Zagarolo, and it turns out that I enjoy it! I'm mostly driving winding country roads, and plan to avoid Rome, but I can relate to the feeling of accomplishment that you expressed in your post. Now I'm eager to explore more of the area by car this year.

You DO rock!

Valerie said...

Louise - Tuscany is definitely more sedate than Roma, but as Bryan says about Italian driving "there's a certain order in the chaos." I would not drive a minivan, though - kudos to you!

Marybeth - Ciao and brava right back at you for driving. Any plans to head south for a visit?

Linda @ IceTeaForMe said...

A big congratulations. I'm very impressed.

On my first trip to Italy I was driving around Rome to the airport on the GRA and inadvertently took an exit going into central Rome. I immediately knew I was in trouble and made some turns that got me honked at a lot but I finally made it back onto the GRA going in the right direction. I truly had a guardian angel.

janie said...

Wow-I give you a lot of credit! I've been watching people backing up down streets and into the tiniest parking spaces and I'm awestruck. You do rock!

Anonymous said...

Valeria - I've thought you rocked since our Thelma and Louise days. I now expect nothing less from you than a stellar Mario Andretti-like performance, with which you apparently dazzled dear Cara. As they say in the Marines.......Oooh-Rahh! Lou

Evey said...

You are a true Italiana, I just go through any busy city I come across, wanting to stop and take a look, but rarely have the courage. You are the leader of the pack!

LindyLouMac in Italy said...

I am so pleased that you are now feeling so confident about driving here.

Valerie said...

Linda - been there, done that! ;)

Janie - some streets are too narrow for me to even try to park on, but I've really improved my skills.

Lou - Grazie, you didn't do so bad yerself, and we have photographic proof :)

Evey - I do feel very Italiana.

LindyLou - Thanks!

rosann said...

What a great post! I am always amazed in Rome that the lane markings don't mean anything. If three lanes are marked, but 4 cars and 3 motorcycles will fit..... then 4 cars and 3 morotcycles it is! I love that your photo shows a couple of motorcycles going the opposite direction. Yep, that's Roma.