European Escapades

Italian Driving Lessons




Thankfully we don't have to dress up in gorilla suits to ask for directions
Thankfully we don’t have to dress up in gorilla suits to ask for directions.

Well I remember the last time we were in Italy, I thought the driving was somewhat casual, as we toured the Lake Garda region for the first time. Having to navigate the small streets of the Leguria region in a six and a half metre campervan only cemented my thoughts on the subject. That was until I was privileged to be offered a lift to a wine tasting evening by a 100% born and bred Italian called Graciella. My ideas of driving in Italy were to be rudely awakened as we experienced the pleasure and fun, full on from the confines of the rear seat of our ride. It started out normally enough as we took the bends that twisted and turned through the mountainous countryside leaving Ponzano Superiori. A little too fast for my liking as I’m sure we couldn’t really see what was coming around the bend on the narrow roads we were traversing. The sun was setting as we seemed to be taken on a sightseeing tour of Graciella’s neighbourhood and parents B&B. All I could see were the high stone walls surrounding the village and a glimpse of a small entrance, the only one into the mountaintop village centre I was told. As we moved out of the mountain roads onto the suburbs of La Spezia and heading towards Fivizzano things started to get interesting as Graciella started reading the directions from a small piece of paper she had fished out of a pocket somewhere.

It maybe the right time to tell you that also sitting in front was an American friend of Graciella’s by the name of Carolyn who was also coming to the wine tasting event staged by Heiko, our current HelpX host. We passed a public natural spring water font, that we had used the previous day to fill up with drinking water and our driver slowed to confirm from the sheet of paper that we were in fact going the right way, completely oblivious to the consternation she was causing to other drivers behind her, who were now eager to overtake. Directions confirmed we shot off down the road again catching up with the few brave souls that were now in front. This behaviour was repeated in varying degrees as we hunted down our written route, sometimes with horns blearing from behind us and sometimes with crazy overtaking manoeuvres being performed by the more daring drivers. Seems Graciella was completely flummoxed at one point as we suddenly stopped in the middle of the road to check for directions and the driver’s side window was rolled down and a hand flew out to stop the now overtaking car coming up along side us. Italian was exchanged as the queue of traffic to the rear was piling up, along with a few cars now stopped wanting to pass in the opposite direction, the one the previously overtaking car was now blocking as we discussed the way to our destination. The three passengers within the car were in a state of incredulity and laughing out loud as we wondered how this type of driving would go down in the UK and America. Problem solved as we were now escorted by our over takers in the right direction, and all the cars could now start moving again. But not for long as the lead car slowed and gesticulated out of the passenger window we were to turn right and then with what could only have been a big Italian smile they waved us on our way.

A quick stop a few kilometres up the road and we pull over again outside a pharmacy, the obvious place for further direction updates. Graciella is a pharmacist as well, so we are bound to get some good advice if only for the best place to get some Vallium for our nerves. At one point Carolyn shouts to peals of laughter and barracking from the rear seats “This is one step too far Graciella, you cannot drive a car with a phone in one hand and a piece of paper in the other, you gotta have one hand on the steering wheel surely?” We think we are almost there but it seems best to try and call for help from our Hostess, just to clarify the last few kilometres. Unfortunately now stopped on a dark narrow road there is no mobile phone signal for us to make the call. But what is this? another car coming up the dark narrow road towards us, time me thinks for another window down, hand out waving and a further conversation in Italian to assist us on our way.

Fortunately we were the only cars on this particular road and the conversation and hand waving seemed to take forever, as not only the directions were discussed, but the weather and what was on the television the night before that was interesting and where did the other driver get her hair done as it looked lovely and have a nice trip. We finally make it into the village to cheers from the weary passengers who start to look out for a yellow house in earnest, as we can see our destination almost within reach. Sadly all the houses look a kind of yellow in the cars headlights and an unexpected fork in the road scuppers our earlier celebrations. But a light in the house opposite us gives us some cheer. Graciella leaving the car running in the middle of the fork obviously, goes up to the front window of the house, which by now has a face in it looking out to see what the noise outside is. We hear more Italian and much waving of hands as Carolyn suggests sarcastically to us “it’s sometimes easier to ask for a person rather than an address in Italy as everyone seems to know everyone else.”

Graciiella come back smiling and says that the man didn’t know the address but what do you know, when she asked where Rosie’s house was he was full of information on how to get there. Another two kilometres along the left fork and we would be at our destination. Seems Carolyn was right, if only we had asked the pharmacist down in the village in the valley were Rosie’s house was we may have not had so much trouble. As promised just over two kilometres on and a bright yellow house comes into view with a long driveway welcoming us to our destination and a nice drop of red wine.

Laughing and joking as we meander up the drive towards the light and the friendly faces standing near the front door, I smile to myself and know we have found another good friend in Italy called Graciella and I am never going to look at driving in Italy in the same way again. At least with the copious amounts of red wine we will be drinking tonight, the return journey will be easier and less memorable, hopefully.

“Can I drive home please?”

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 24th, 2011 at 4:33 pm and is filed under Travel Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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