Video: We shot a little footage while we drove around southern Sicily in October 2012. I thought I would share a few of these drives so you could get a true sense, and a few more tips, on what it was like to actually be there. And yes, every single frame was shot while I was driving. Mike was videotaping.
I’m not going to lie. The idea of driving in Sicily terrified me. I’d been to Rome. I knew how crazy the streets could be in that part of the world. I’d heard the rumors. The farther south you go the less the rules of the road applied. And of course Sicily would be the only place on our entire 5-week trip through Europe that I had to drive. Lovely.
This was my fear about driving in Sicily
(see first part of video below)
I was certain we were going to die. Ok, so maybe that is a bit melodramatic. We would at least have a minor accident. For the first time I sprung for the extra insurance on our rental car. My nerves jittered away in anticipation, but it was the two weeks before in northern Italy that really taught me that I could handle anything Sicily threw at us.
A week into our trip we arrived in Bologna, Italy, where my friend picked the boys and I up at the train station to drive us to her little town.
Bologna was a mad house.
Now I grew up in Philadelphia, the land of make-your-own-rules aggressive driving. Basically if a driver thinks he could pull it off he is going to go for it no matter where your car is. Growing up you just learned to assume everyone was going to lose their mind at some point and pull a stupid road stunt.
Bologna was so much worse, at least on the surface. It reminded me of China quite a bit. No lanes, no rules, just drive. I couldn’t believe my friend, who had lived in Philadelphia and driven plenty there, wasn’t driving white knuckled. I asked her how she managed it. She turned to me and said that she adored driving in Italy. It was even better than Philly, because you could just do whatever the heck you wanted.
Over the next two weeks I would drive a lot with my friend in the northeast part of Italy, and even over to Tuscany. She assured me I would be fine once we got to Sicily, and I actually started to believe her. What really helped was when she explained the rules of the road as she understood it. Here was the gist.
Tips to Driving in Italy and Sicily
- The left lane of the highway is sacred. Do NOT go into that lane unless you plan on passing someone quickly. Then get yourself back into the right lane.
- Everyone moves out of the way when an Audi comes cruising past.
- There is order in the chaos of Italian towns and cities. You just have to drive like you know where you are going and stick with that. The other drivers will figure out what you are doing and adjust accordingly.
- On the highway and exits you will see several signs pointing in multiple directions. These will list businesses and towns in the area or off the route. Keep an eye on just your town and which way the arrow is pointing. Ignore the rest.
- Pay attention to your speed and those little signs on the highway that look like a police officer. They are not afraid to ticket tourists.
- No horns allowed. Many towns and cities do not allow car horns to be used. With all the crazy driving I don’t blame them. It would get very loud.
After our educational time in northern Italy it was time to head south. I was feeling a bit more confident, but I still had a few butterflies. We arrived late, very late due to some storms and a detoured plane. The roads were empty. I still made Mike drive.
The next morning I got my first taste of driving in Sicily. I followed my friend and her husband to their restaurant in Sciacca (pronounced Shaka). Much to my surprise there were still road signs in this part of the world, and for the most part, people actually paid attention to them. They even used their blinkers from time to time.
I got so comfortable driving that Mike and I would regularly through the kids in the back seat around nap time, pick a direction, and just go. I feel in love with driving through the countryside and those unbelievably narrow city streets.
We had a few mishaps along the way, but nothing the insurance company had to worry about. For instance, we thought we were headed through this one town on a major road, but the street kept shrinking. I thought my side view mirrors were going to scrap the houses. Suddenly the street ended and we could only go left or right. There was no way I would be able to turn our car in either direction. The narrow roads were just too small for our rental car. Thankfully there was a place to turn around or a whole lot of Sicilians would have been pointing at me as I tried to back my way down a street without hitting houses, bikes, other cars, and people. I’m sure a few were still shaking their heads as they saw us pass by.
In the end driving in Sicily was one of the highlights of our trip. The kids happily slept most of the time, while Mike told me to slow down on those curvy roads, and I told him to just relax. My Philadelphia upbringing certainly helped, but there is nothing like a few crazy Italian drivers to get me excited to hit the road. I actually really miss the Italian approach to driving now and can’t wait to go back.