Travel in Italy is among my very favorite experiences! While getting around is a bit of a challenge, whether you do so, ‘sulla piede’ (on foot), ‘in treno’ (by train), or ‘in machine’ (by car), ‘in l’autobus’ (by bus), or ‘in motociclete o biciclete’ (by motorcycle/scooter or by bicycle) your experience will be nothing short of adventurous. Joseph, my boyfriend, and I had every intention of experience travel in Italy from Milan to Sicily by train, a romantic journey to be sure. However, by the time we reached Perugia, we discovered that travel by train, was at best- on the high speed between Milan and Florence, the ultimate in first class comfort, and at worst, the seedy atmosphere of being trapped betwixt and between here and there, in limbo between the if-fy train station and the bus station in sometimes the seediest part of the city, where being ripped off in a cafe, because our luggage highlighted us as an easy target for pickpockets and petty thieves (hey, we all have to make a living somehow) and simply, stuck- at the mercy of a train schedule and destination options that were not among our intended itinerary. Such is the luck of those with a loosely planned itinerary that spans 7 regions, 4 seas, and includes one gimp with a broken foot. So, even though we packed incredibly lightly for a 14-16 day journey, getting from Milan, to the southern Adriatic coastline, crossing the Appenine Mountain range by train would require a side trip to Rome, a mere 2.5 hr train trek in the opposite direction of where we were headed, injury added by the 3 hr delay waiting for the train to Rome, and whatever “layover” was necessary in Rome for a train back to the east coast city of Pescara. While it was all possible, given enough transit time, it was wasting precious time we could be seeing, eating, drinking and romancing our way through Italy! Thus, we came to the conclusion that renting a car would be the ultimate solution to milling away our vacation in sketchy train stations and unsavory cafés.
So, with my limited Italian, I having searched the web for a rental car and with the help of a friendly cab driver/Italian travel expert, proud and happy to help his fares achieve the ultimate Italian experience, found Maggiore Car Rental. After a 3.5 hr wait in a café across from the Perugia train station, and another 1.5 hrs in line, rented the cutest little black Fiat 500, manual transmission (the norm), for approximately $600/week, with a pick up in Perugia and drop-off at the Catania, Sicily airport, where the representative thought it was likely possible to deposit the key in a drop at the airport rental return, hopefully.
This made the journey both exciting, as we drove from Tuscany to Abruzzo, through the mountains to the east coast unencumbered by any schedule except making our next Airbnb destination, and viewed the incredible landscape (which we would have missed by a landslide), had we gone by train, including maybe 50 fields of sunflowers in bloom, varietal grapevines, olive groves, fruit orchards (plum, peach, fig, pear trees) past many, many Trulli (a conical shaped architectural structure indigenous to Abruzzo and Puglia), traveling first on winding, steep hilled, two-lane (when wide enough to be considered two-lane) roads and later, on the Autostrada, where there is rarely a posting of a suggested speed limit, but the typical flow tends toward 140-200kph! Pay close attention, because when traffic halts, there is extremely limited reaction time! The left lane is not for novices or faint of heart, and when it’s moving, it’s truly a free-for-all! We saw very few Polizia governing Autostradas throughout Italy, and we have our new found friend, Charlie, from Ft. Worth, Texas, whom we met in the Milan train station, to thank for the final nudge to rent a car. Charlie was working for Lockheed Martin in Milan for approximately a month, helping the Italians to get an airplane manufacturing plant up and running, and on most weekends was using the provided company car rental to see other parts of Italy. That’s fodder for another conversation altogether, but suffice it to say that the Italians have no use for convention, or rules with it comes to transportation!
Driving in Pizzo, Scilla, Reggio Calabria and Catania, bring a whole new set of challenges- again, a free-for-all, where you either participate in the adrenaline chase through winding, one-way, NARROW streets made of ancient (think 1500 years or more) stones hand placed, and there are no traffic devices to govern the flow- no lights, 3 stop signs in all of Reggio, Calabria, a city of approximate population, 183,000.
Our advice: rent a car, but know that it is going to contribute significantly to your overall adventure! Also, word to the wise, if you pull silly and illegal moves such as illegally parking adjacent to a government office, or making a U-turn in front of the Polizia at the intersection of 4 major highway entrances, use the phrase repeatedly, “Mi dispiace, non loh so. Io parlo un po italiano, e Google Maps- OH!” (I’m SORRY!, I didn’t know, I speak only a little Italian and Google Maps! Oh!”). If you say it sweetly, it just may get you out of a jam. . .