How do I describe driving in Italy? “Controlled chaos” is the best and shortest way, the way you describe it once you’ve been around it enough and have seen its efficiency. But at first it’s more like the holy-shit-what-the-fuck-I’m-going-to-die.
Driving in the countryside, out first experience actually driving in Italy and not being driven, was interesting. The roads were narrow and there were constantly turns you couldn’t see around, so you had to honk your horn to warn anyone around the corner driving towards you. But the traffic was light. You’d only come across maybe half a dozen cars on a road because the houses were far apart from each other.
The Amalfi Coast (in a bus, no less) was a whole different story. I’m going to preface this entire thing with: I can’t explain it well enough, you have to experience it yourself to know what it’s like. But I will try my best.
The road along Amalfi Coast is a constant ‘S’ and the roads, as with all roads in Italy, are what would be a one lane road in the United States. A Ford Silverado and only a Ford Silverado would fit comfortably on their roads. Except their roads aren’t one way roads, they’re two way roads. Luckily most cars a half to a third the size of American cars. This is the only reason this system works.
Another thing about driving in Italy: all road rules are only suggestions; speed limits, stop signs, no parking areas, the line in the middle of the road, pedestrian crossings… suggestions.
So imagine driving in the largest vehicle in Italy, a bus, on a road that doesn’t go straight for more than 100 feet and fits only the bus comfortably. I was the second to last on the bus with standing room only, so I was standing directly next to the bus driver, seeing what he was seeing. Watching oncoming traffic coming toward the bus felt like I was participating in a constant game of chicken. Who was going to swerve first? It wasn’t the bus, I can tell you that.
In many areas of the road, it really is only wide enough to fit one car, so both cars have to stop and one has to back up to a wider area of the road so both can pass. How does anyone ever get anywhere, right?
In one area, the squeeze was so tight between our bus and a man driving a maintenance truck, the guy folded his side mirror in before we passed him. There was a mere inch between us. I held my breath the entire time. The bus driver looked bored.
At one point during our bus ride, the driver took out his phone to answer a call. Not only was this concerning because of everything I’ve already explained to you, but also the bus was a stick shift.
As if the streets aren’t narrow enough, there aren’t any designated street parking in Italy, or at least rarely, so Italians park anywhere they please, in medians, on sidewalks, in the 2 foot “shoulder” on the side of the road. Even on dangerous roads such as this, people continue to park wherever they want, especially on the “shoulder”. But because it’s not actually a shoulder, half of their car is still in the road making the road even more narrow and the bus ride even more interesting.
And how could I forget? All of this on the side of a mountain, often only a few feet from rolling off a cliff.
Luckily, these people do this every day and know what they’re doing. At least That what I tell myself. It’s the tourists renting cars and driving in the chaos that makes me nervous.
When I stepped off the bus, one of the Americans I was sitting near and exchanging worried glances with the entire ride said to me, we should get a bumper sticker: I survived the bus ride in Amalfi. I joked back, a feat similar to climbing Mt. Everest!