Donald and Mimi in Italia, 2001

Driving a Rental car in Southern Italy, from the perspective of a passenger

Italian cars, are kind of cute. Here are some of our favorites. The grey Punto, upper left, was our rental car.
We rented a car for a week from a rental agency in the airport at Lamezia Terme. That’s in Calabria, for those of you who don’t know. The car was a brand new Fiat Punto. 4 door, 5 speed. My husband has always driven faster and taken more chances than I would ever, so early on we were in total agreement about WHO was going to drive. HIM. ONLY… The son of our friend with the camper spent about an hour explaining Italian road signs with him. To all of you that thought that the “international” sign convention was all you needed, you will be sorely mistaken. The good news is that Italians rarely pay attention to the signs, so you just have to be alert and have good reflexes… to survive…. the signs, our friends said, are suggestions, to help you with your driving decisions. However, everyone stopped at red lights!

road side view from Autostrada in Calabria
From the start, my husband was in heaven. Drive as fast as you like. Pass whenever you want (again, use your head) the cars are almost all tiny, so it was not unusual to see people passing on both sides of the street at the same time. Every time we saw this my husband would yell triumphantly!!! “4 abreast!!!!” or something to that effect. Even more amusing was people passing in a no passing zone, over the speed limit as police sat in their cars or drove along side. We did see the police “in action” pulling folks over, but we never could figure out what the offenses were.

Via Progresso, Sersale
So you are all wondering, as passenger, how indeed was I feeling? well, to tell you the truth, it wasn’t as nerve wracking as driving in Seattle. When you try to pass someone, they move over to give you room. If people are passing on the other side of the road, no problem, just give them room. the cars are small and the roads were actually pretty darn good for the most part. We managed to drive the ocean highway from Tropea to Crotone. Most of it was absolutely gorgeous, but to be honest, we were not that impressed with the Crotone area. The area around Crotone was windswept, and barren. Reggio Calabria was filled with fascinating ruins, old streets, new streets, enough stuff to keep us entertained the whole time. On the whole, the coastal highway was a terrific road, with a very few exceptions right around the tip of the toenail, where it was obvious that the road (barely wide enough for 2 cars) had been scratched out of the rocks, and there was no other place for the road to be. Again, I had heard so much negative about the roads in Calabria, I was not prepared to find roads better than the ones we have right here in the pacific northwest, even going up to the little towns. True, there were lots of switchbacks,
but the road surface was good and even for the most part. I would recommend driving in Calabria even to the faint at heart, because as long as you move to the side of the road (right side) Italian drivers will happily pass you, no matter how slow you are going. Calabrese have many different types of vehicles, some of which we questioned their road-worthiness, some seem to have a max speed of 20 mph, while others of course, rival race cars. Imagine a tiny old fiat with a load of wood on top of a rack on top of the car. the wood is almost as big in area as the car. This guy is going down the hill, SLOWLY, and getting passed by a slick little sporty vehicle, followed by a squadron of kids on scooters. but they all seem to get along. Another nice thing about driving in Calabria is there don’t seem to be any toll roads.
This is VERY Steep and the switchback is very sharp!
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