Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Streets of Italy: Donkeys Yes - Cars No!

Renting a car on your next Italian vacation? 
                                                                     Make sure the car's small and your courage - Big!

Driving around the back streets of old Italy can be daunting, to say the least. Don't be surprised to find fragments of taillights and mirrors at corners where cars were too large or forget to fold back side-view mirrors. Most of all, if it's a one way street, be sure you're going the correct way! Turning around is near impossible and a comical sight for onlookers.
(Been there - Done that.)

In the past, Italian roads and streets were built to accommodate walkers, people on donkeys and horses, or small donkey carts. Since streets were for walking, there was no need for sidewalks. Narrow streets meant cooler, shaded streets and more space for housing too.

Stepping stones in ancient Roman streets let the wheels of carts pass easily while walkers had a way of avoiding dirty water and excrement when they crossed.


In modern times, larger streets and main thoroughfares in new areas changed with the times, becoming wider to accommodate modern sized vehicles and increased traffic. 

Most neighborhood streets, however, remained the same – small! They are frequently narrow, steep, one way, and with blind turns and tiny (if any) sidewalks. Hence, negotiating the back streets of Italy today can sometimes be quite challenging. 

Italians, however, have adjusted. Modern, smaller vehicles are popular for both their ease of negotiating the narrow roads and gas economy too. 

Miniature garbage truck in Florence.

Most cars used by Italians are smaller, trucks are designed mini-sized, plus bicycles and motorbikes are extremely popular, as well.

Motorbikes are the donkeys of today. They're small, economical and make driving the narrow streets easy. If you're walking, watch out! They buzzzz by quickly and get points for each tourist they clip. 
                                                                              ; )

Bicycles are extremely popular in both small towns and big cities - not just for recreation and exercise, but for transportation and accomplishing daily chores. Need plants for the yard? Pick them up with your bike? Grocery shopping? Take your bike? Have to buy new tools at the hardware shop? Hop on the bike? Narrow streets - no problem. Parking - easy! Gas expense - none.

Some streets are still too small for even the mini-sized motorized vehicles and so have remained walkways...

...and scenic places to enjoy an afternoon meal.

So, have fun driving around Italy and don't let the narrow streets be intimidating. Just keep your eyes open and ears tuned in to what's going on around you. GPS? Great! It's a wonderful tool to have along, BUT may not be updated on street directions, closures, and construction. A sharp passenger directing the way and pulling in the side mirror is a big help and great company too!   Enjoy!!!

- Nina Spitzer

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