Driving, Italian style
There are no traffic laws in Italy, just polite suggestions.
It’s like going to a tavern and ordering a Margarita. The bartender might suggest Jose Cuervo, but he won’t think twice if you ask for Don Julio.
Out of the bar and onto the boulevard it’s much the same. Stop signs and lights petition a motorist to consider stopping, like a waitress might suggest your cocktail blended instead of on ice. But if you’re in a hurry or simply don’t like drinks in a slurry, then by all means drive on and order your tipple on the rocks.. Signs designating streets as one-way are also interpreted loosely. It’s true. There is one convention, like a salt-rimmed glass, that’s pretty much followed: when going the wrong way on a one-way street, drivers always honk their horn. And, while no parking signs are placed everywhere, they’re easy to miss because of all the cars parked around them.
It’s like not being able to find a lime because of all the lime trees.
More disconcerting than the laissez-faire attitude towards traffic signs is the Italian system for determining right of way. Instead of standing rules and procedures like cars on the right go first, Italians negotiate right of way with a continuous game of chicken. The driver that dares to go first is first. Pedestrians and cyclists also play the game.
Somehow it all works out for drivers; not so much for cyclists.
In a study of 29 European countries, Italy placed in the middle of a list of the most dangerous places to drive. Yet another study showed that while Italy has one of the lowest numbers of bicycle riders, it has one of the highest accident rates that result in death of the cyclist.
Nothing ruins a good vacation like sudden death.
Enter Top Bike Rental. I found them on the Internet and they proved to be just what we needed. Besides outfitting us with quality, well-maintained bikes, they also supplied guides knowledgeable in less traveled back roads and alleys of the eternal city.
They were also skilled negotiators of traffic.
Our guide Steffano had developed a move that seemed to work every time for him. Heading onto a busy street, he’d put his head down and step off into traffic in an exaggerated slow motion pantomime, kind of like a moonwalk but forwards. The movement seemed to send a clear message that I can do this slowly or quickly but either way it’s going to be lethally if you don’t let me and the group pass.
It worked like a charm.
Our first full day in Rome we took the city center tour and it was fantastic. There were a dozen in our group and Steffano did an excellent job keeping everyone together and safe. His knowledge of back roads and alleys combined with the mobility of the bikes, and we were able to see more in four hours than most see from touring buses in two days.
We started out at the Coliseum, rolled over to the Forum and unto the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain and more in about four hours. It was whirl of activity but worth it.
Back at the Camping Village, we kicked back at the pool.
All the analogies about driving being like a Margarita made me want one so I ordered it at the pool bar. A few minutes later the bartender brought me a pizza, a Margherita Pizza.