Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Driving in Italy

Here is the little Fiat Panda we are driving around in.

This car is great for driving in these villages where the streets are narrow with stone walls on either side. Of course it's a manual transmission, and I haven't driven one, maybe since 2006, when I was in France with Susie, Margie and Meg. And I have never driven in Italy.

It's been going pretty good on my end, because Susie is an excellent navigator. I bought a Michelin 'book map' of Italy before going since I knew I'd be driving around on my own, which so far, hasn't happened.

I did have a momentary panic in Todi, as we were leaving. Our Sri Lankan helper gave us a parking space on a small dead-end road. We had to drive downhill for only a few yards to pull off into that short deadend space, and the back of the Fiat was only a foot or two off the main road.

When we left, I had to back out of the space and uphill. New to driving this car, I put it into reverse, took off the emergency break, and drifted back and up hill as far as gravity took me. What I neglected to do was to ease up on the clutch, and engage the gears! When gravity tugged on the car it started to roll forward towards the corner of the stone building.

Inside I was saying, "Merde!" but cool on the outside. Still for a split second that was crucial, I didn't make the correct moves, and stalled the car out. I started it, and did the same thing, put it in reverse, but didn't ease up on the clutch to find the fulcrum point to get it moving backwards, and that stone wall was awfully close now.

Susie had been in this situation when she was driving last time, so she took hold of the hand break, let me get the gas and the clutch where they needed to be, and told me to give it gas and let her know when to release the break. It worked like a charm!

Whew! Crisis resolved.

On the open road, the Italians are interesting. They seem to have what I'll call 'white line fervour'! They whiz past you, and come over into your lane, as if their's wasn't wide enough, but of course it is. Your heart is now pounding cause you think that they have almost side-swiped you. They know what they're doing, but if you're new to this, and it can be a bit disconcerting.

Once past you, they straddle the white line. I am trying to figure this out. They might drive down the road for several minutes straddling that line, as if they are trying to decide which one to drive in.

The scooters are the worst. The drivers are fearless, and they squeeze into every nook and cranny possible, and often at very high speeds, and they seem to come out of nowhere.

I am navigating the round abouts really well, so well, that when I come to a traffic light, it is easy to miss it!

Tomorrow may be the day I drive without a navigator. Maybe I'll tackle a small village first, and I'll stay in the right lane as someone in America told me too. But Perugia and Assisi are where I really want to go, and Perugia is a big city.

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