Hiring A Car in Italy? Do so at your own peril…

December 15, 2014

left hand drive, driving, motorway

My gusto for driving had come gushing back on a hot summer’s day in Oxfordshire after– incredibly –five and a half years without practice in Britain. It was me, my aunt’s lent and neglected Ford Ka, a hoard of nostalgia-reeking metal CDs from my early adolescent years (still know ALL the words) and a half asleep/half stoned friend, versus the M40 and M1.

We kicked their asses, obviously.

I was in love with driving again. If anyone needed a lift, I’d be there in a jiffy. Any time, any place, you name it. I was your man. It even made me give up drinking… until I had to return the car a week later. It was an inevitably difficult moment, but to appease my pain I’d decided to book me and my missus a trip to Sicily, and with that, a hire car, with which we would boldly explore the island’s east and resplendent coast.

Neither of us had been before, and, like any sane person in this world, we both adore Italian food. Exciting times lay ahead. We counted down the weeks, the days and on the day itself all I could think about was getting behind that wheel and trundling off into the distance.

We arrive. We reclaim our bags. We go to the car-hire offices. I realise I need a credit card. I don’t have a credit card. We don’t have a car.

FUCK.

Should’ve seen that one coming; you need a credit card to hire a car in Spain, where I live, and pretty much anywhere else in Europe so I have come to gather. My tactless and wide-eyed demeanour had cost us dearly; we were facing a royally ballsed up holiday before even having left the airport.

But then: “You would like to pay with debit card sir?” I spun around and ran over to the architect of these wonderful words. “Yes! Yes I would like to pay with debit card sir! Oh thank-you. Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you” etc.

Yep. Turned out that I didn’t need a credit card after all, and the road trip was back on, even if we were now in a more expensive Fiat Punto, as opposed to the cheaper and better Ford Fiesta that I had reserved online. Didn’t matter; my driving holiday was back on track!

piazza duomo, catania, sicily, italy

Piazza Duomo, Catania

italian flag, catania, sicily, italy

Catania City Centre

A friend of mine had warned me that Italy’s roads were occupied by the world’s most reckless drivers. I was dubious; I’d seen some pretty shocking displays of disregard in Thailand, and said friend, although most dear, is probably the least patient person I know.

However, it soon transpired that his forewarning had been entirely reasonable. Our first job following the averted disaster at the airport was to find our hostel in Catania, where the roads were MENTAL. Fleeting packs of scooter-ists zipped in front of or behind us, causing an incohesive string of profanities to part my lips on each occasion. Other drivers cut across with no warning. Pedestrians virtually leaped into the road from behind parked cars, whose doors would swing open wildly. It was relentless, each incident as bum-clenchingly terrifying as the last.

However, the most dreaded moment of any drive was, undoubtedly, coming to a roundabout. I may be British and used to driving on the left, but I’ve coped pretty well in France before and consider myself to be, at the very least, a veteran front-seat passenger with a discerning eye for a developing hazard. Sicilian roundabouts are jam-packed, chaotic spaces, where I suspect fatal heart conditions are triggered as often as they are concluded. Indication is rare, and sudden lane-crossing is the norm. Here, there are developing hazards everywhere. It’s fair to say that my discerning eye was having an off day.

fish market, catania, sicily, italy

Catania Fish Market

Somehow, in spite of all the mindlessness, I managed not to crash nor be crashed into for the duration of our rental period (4 days), and the motorways, I must admit, are very well signposted and a joy to cruise along. Once we got the wind in our sails there was no stopping us. We just drove, with a very rough route in mind. Often we would call in at random towns and beaches that no bus would ever have taken us to. Thankfully the roads were quiet and idiot-less in these spots, such as Giardini-Naxos– just a few kms south of Taormina –and the quaint but ho hum settlement of Belpasso, where we stayed at Mount Etna B&B. There wasn’t much to do here, and if we hadn’t had a car we’d have been up the creek, but with the car we were situated perfectly for access to Mount Etna. Full post coming on that shortly…

Hiring a car for our trip along Sicily’s east coast was worth it– we wouldn’t have seen half as much if we hadn’t done so. Although if you do intend to follow suit, just make sure that you take plenty of happy place music with you for the ride; you’re gonna need it.

giardini-naxos, sicily, italy

Giardini-Naxos, Sicily

12 comments

  1. Comment by Tine

    Tine December 15, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Haha I can relate… The roundabouts weren’t too bad in my experience, but crossing an intersection was horror every time! The cars behind us would start honking instantly if it took us more than ten seconds to cross.
    Tine recently posted…Yellowstone National Park in 15 impressionsMy Profile

    • Comment by Josh

      Josh December 17, 2014 at 2:20 pm

      Yes they were awful too. I thought I’d stop ranting at roundabouts though! I must admit there were moments where my indecisiveness irked one or two drivers behind. Tourists eh?

  2. Comment by A Cook Not Mad (Nat)

    A Cook Not Mad (Nat) December 17, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    This made me laugh, we’ve been in Italy since mid November and here until mid February. Driving is an adventure when a lot of cars use that big white line down the middle as a suggestion 🙂 Keeps you on your toes.
    A Cook Not Mad (Nat) recently posted…BEEF INVOLTINI WITH PORCINI & ARTICHOKEMy Profile

    • Comment by Josh

      Josh December 17, 2014 at 2:21 pm

      Indeed. Perhaps all driving tests ought to be taken in Italy?

  3. Comment by Ami

    Ami December 18, 2014 at 10:59 am

    Lane-crossing, leaping pedestrians and zig zagging drivers – sounds like my country, India. 🙂 Where I hate driving, by the way! So thanks for the heads up. Oh, and amazing pics! <3
    Ami recently posted…Travel inspiration!My Profile

  4. Comment by Gran Canaria Local

    Gran Canaria Local December 20, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    And we thought the driving was loco in Spain.
    Gran Canaria Local recently posted…Restaurante TehranMy Profile

  5. Comment by Simon

    Simon December 21, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    I had a good laugh reading your post! I am Italian, and I perfectly understand what you mean. And you haven’t even been to Naples! 🙂 Having said that, you might be surprised to know that while I have no problems driving in Italy, I’ve been always afraid (and therefore decided not to) in anglo-saxons countries. I’m scared of driving on the left and of a ‘code of driving’ which is so different.
    Simon recently posted…My 7 Favourite Photos of 2014My Profile

    • Comment by Josh

      Josh December 24, 2014 at 3:57 pm

      Ah it doesn’t take long to get used to it, trust me! And if you grew up driving in Italy you’d have no problems adapting to the UK highway code. You probably have nerves of steel!

  6. Comment by Carrie

    Carrie December 21, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    I was just in Italy a few weeks ago and am now in Thailand. Thailand is far, far worse. Of course most of that experience is on the islands, which seem to be worse than the mainland. However, I now group Italy in with the worst places to drive. That group is basically third world countries…and Italy.

    • Comment by Josh

      Josh December 24, 2014 at 4:00 pm

      Yes the worst single act on the road I have ever seen was in Thailand. Well I suppose it depends on how you look at it– it was a young lad, no older than 16, doing a hand stand on his moped while driving down a motorway, just to show off to his mates and us tourists. He pulled it off, but was certain death if he had failed!

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