Italy: All a Matter of Perspective

Italy Regions MapIt’s been a while since I last blogged; sometimes, life just takes over, but I’m back into “normal” life (though that’s usually just a setting on my washing machine). My husband and I just returned from a week-long wedding in Francavilla al mare, in the region of Abruzzo, Italy; the groom was from England & Chile, and the bride was from Switzerland – so it wasn’t a typical Italian wedding by any stretch of the imagination; it wasn’t a typical wedding period. Languages flew faster than seagulls at the beach resort where we were staying; you could hear English, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Romansch, French, Swiss-German, High German, Danish, and a host of other tongues – and those were just the wedding guests. What made the wedding even more special was the mix of people: The groom was Daniel Ilabaca, co-founder of the World Parkour and Freerunning Federation, so most of the guests were from that scene; his wife Paula is a good friend of ours who’s lived with us off and on over the years, and we got to know him and the work they do through her. Near the hotel is a permanent Parkour installation on the beach, and at the wedding reception, a slackline was set up on the beach for the guests (whether walking the line or not, we all enjoyed it!). If you’re not familiar with Parkour, or what a slackline is, click here for a video; you’ll see the slackline at 1:10.

I’ve lived in Switzerland for over a quarter of a century; in all that time, we’ve never gone into Italy except the border areas around Como or South Tirol, so a road trip down to the east coast, roughly level with Rome, was a new experience. While there, we experienced a few cultural differences. The saying When in Rome, do as the Romans has never been closer to home than this trip!

The first thing we noticed on Italian streets is the Italian way of driving: Italians love their cars, so you would think they wouldn’t risk life and limb with their driving tactics. I say risk, but that’s obviously not how they see it: In any other country I’ve lived in, a general rule of driving is one car length’s distance per 10 km of speed – this gives you reaction time. But in Italy, regardless of how fast you’re driving, you will have a driver relentlessly glued to your tailpipe. My family history gives me little patience for idiots on the road, dare I say it – for drivers who endanger others with their way of driving. But in Italy, we observed several surprising things over the course of our trip:

  • The traffic, even on stretches of motorway around densely populated areas, flowed uninterruptedly and swiftly. The only times we had to stop on the motorways were when we queued for their toll gates. We didn’t see one accident, and the roads are smooth. Swiss roads tend to be clogged with tons of traffic on narrow roads (less space between the mountains and antique towns to spread out a wide motorway) and construction zones at the slightest hint of a pothole in the road. What usually takes us under three hours to drive home (e.g. from Lugano) took us over five hours this trip (for those of you into numbers, we averaged 84 km/hr in Italy, and 44 km/hr in Switzerland…)
  • Speed limits are just a suggestion there; if you’re not going at least 15 km over the number on the road sign, you’re obviously going too slow. Not even the presence of a police car on the road slowed them down.
  • Tailgaters appear out of thin air. Even in the backwaters of the Italian countryside, without a car in sight, within ten seconds of getting on a road, we had someone so close that we couldn’t even see their front license plate in the rear-view mirrors. We began making up reasons for this behaviour; our most logical one is that Italians are family-oriented, and they just didn’t want us to feel lonely.

Italians are famous for their food; for the most part, we ate excellent meals at restaurants, but just like anywhere else, sometimes food can be indifferent. The ravioli at Restaurant X might not be anything to write home about, but the ice cream? That’s where they really excel! Any flavour you can think of, they probably have it somewhere. Even cheesecake ice cream that really tastes like its namesake!

Did you know that there’s a German-speaking part of Italy? South Tyrol (also called Trentino-Alto Adige) used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but was given to Italy by the Allies during the Treaty of London in 1915 – a “perk” to entice Italy to join their side in the war. This area now has 18,400 hectares of orchards, making it the largest contiguous apple-producing area in the EU. Driving through the area, we now know where the apples we eat come from – and that their farming practices are organic, rejecting the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers.

A week in our neighbouring land gave us a small taste for the diversity and beauty of northern and central Italy; it won’t be our last road trip!


Filed under Articles, History, Military History

11 responses to “Italy: All a Matter of Perspective

  1. Yeah! I’m glad you had a great trip and experience. I agree with your observations on traffic. What might appear crazy, dangerous or risky, is merely their perfected way of driving. 🙂 Driving in Rome is like a highly demanding video game or what must feel to drive the plane. Why they drive so close behind you? Obviously just getting ready to overtake at the slightest chance. 🙂 And let me add that Parkour in the video looks simply divine. Always welcome back to Italy!

  2. Next time perhaps we can meet up!
    As far as the driving, the tailgating was entirely voluntary; even on a 4-lane motorway, with plenty of lanes to pass, they stay behind you; we wondered if they were using the car in front of them to break their wind resistance for them, to get better gas mileage – speaking of flying a plane. 😉

  3. Which region do you live in, btw?

  4. I live in the south of Tuscany, between Rome and Sienna, less than 2 km from the (west) coast.

  5. I enjoyed reading about your trip to Italy. We were in Rome in 1981 or 1982, and we saw five accidents on the way back to our hotel. There is no way I would ever drive in Italy!

    I’m glad you made it home safely.

  6. We talked about touring Tuscany the next time we go, so I may drop you a note when we do! 🙂

  7. Most accidents in Italy probably happen because of tourists – either they’re driving, or, as in Rome, they’re swarming and don’t know how to walk across roads safely, causing drivers to veer. We could have gone to Rome for a day-trip, but we’re not city tourists – we prefer the mountains and countryside!

  8. That sounds reasonable. We were on a road with four marked lanes and cars driving six abreast.

  9. LOL! That sounds about right – lanes are just a suggestion, too!

  10. Long ago, I spent a few months in Italy that included some uneventful driving (in an absurd little rented Fiat) and some gawking at how creatively Italians parked their cars.  Why were the doors of every elevator preposterously narrow?  If they were any wider, somebody would park a Fiat in the elevator.

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