Should I Rent a Car in Italy?

When friends are planning a trip to Italy they often ask me the question: Should we rent a car and drive while we’re visiting?  My rhetorical question in response is always: Are you insane? You have to understand that I’m a great big sissy when it comes to getting behind the wheel of a car in Italy, therefore I’m not very comfortable recommending it to others.  Of course it can be done and most people find that it’s not difficult adapting to the quirkiness of the Italian driving style …at least that’s what I hear.


You might not believe this, but in the U.S. I am actually quite a competent and assertive driver.  After all, I’m from San Francisco with its steep hills and Cable Cars to maneuver around. It’s no walk in the park for drivers.  Yet the shear thought of piloting an automobile in Italy sends chills up and down my spine.  Italians get into their cars and behave as if suddenly a magic force field surrounds them and they are safe to use their vehicles as personal bumper cars.  And not only do people in Italy drive at incredibly high speeds, they’ve apparently never heard of the “three car-length rule” – coming up behind you and riding your tail, high beams flashing and scaring the living daytime running lights out of you!

I think it takes nerves of steel and great intestinal fortitude to venture out onto the Autostrada…or even more terrifying….the streets of Rome!  My friend Linda and her husband Steve are owners of The Beehive Hotel in central Rome and have lived in the city for twelve years.  I am in complete awe of Linda and her motoring prowess and guts as she causally and confidently scoots her way around the hazardous streets like a true native: Nerves of steel, I tell you, nerves of steel.

….And then there was none: Parking in Italy

Even in my small and sedate hill town in the countryside, free parking is at a premium, but a parking space in Rome?  Forget about it!  Humorist Bill Bryson, in his book Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe writes about the craziness of parking in this country: “Romans park their cars the way I would park if I had just spilled a beaker of hydrochloric acid on my lap.”

My friend snapped this photo of a parking predicament we encountered on an afternoon stroll.  What you don’t see in the frame is another vehicle blocking the car’s passenger door as well.  From what I could surmise, the owner of the barricaded car would need to crawl through the trunk, climb over the back seat and squeeze between the gear shift to wriggle into the driver’s seat.  I wonder if this is some twisted Italian version of the game “chicken” (gioco del pollo) – who can park in this spot longest without flinching?  Too bad we’ll never know how this showdown played out – perhaps these cars are right where they left them.

So, in answer to the question, “Should I rent a car and drive in Italy”?  Sure, why not?  If 60 million Italians can do it, why can’t you?  Happy motoring!

March 23, 2012