Who Rules the Road?
9/24/2008 3:10:39 PM

I’m sure Rome’s one-way street system was designed by the same evil mind that conceived birds-nest tangles in fishing lines. Unless you find a beginning or an end, the harder you try, the less likely you are to extricate yourself. I can tell you this after once picking up a car in Florence, driving up to Bologna on the A1 Autostrada, across to the Adriatic coast on the A14 to Rimini then, on some lesser roads, down through the hilltowns of Umbria into Rome.

A couple of major insights were gained from that experience. Firstly, the Italian motoring public seems to have rid itself of the Mitsubishi Lancer problem (ie; there are no old men with hats holding up the traffic by steadfastly sticking to the fast lane). Secondly, Italians have a healthy disregard of limiti di velocita, they view speed limits as mere recommendations, optional suggestions if you will.

By sticking to the speed limit (nominally 130kmh on the Autostrada) you’ll be blown into the weeds by something Teutonic (there are surprisingly few Ferraris to be seen) that will appear suddenly, headlights flashing, in your rear-view mirror before it howls past you at warp speed. Check your mirror at any time and there won’t be a car in sight, then whammo, a Porsche is suddenly there, threatening to do beastly things to your exhaust pipe. If you increase speed to 160kmh, trying to keep up with the flow, an Audi will make your door panels shake as it howls past at more than 200kmh. This is my kind of driving. If you can’t lick ‘em, race ‘em, I say. At least give it a good try. Unfortunately a rented Opel Vectra is puffing and wheezing at the pace required, so engaging in a Grand Prix doesn’t seem such a good idea.

But I digress.

Approaching Rome from the north, you join the A1 at a place called Orte then, by following the ring-road to Via Salaria you could drive straight into the city centre to drop the car off at the Avis office at Stazione Termini. Simple, huh? Big mistake - for a couple of reasons. Firstly, one should never arrive at the outskirts of Rome at 5pm on a Thursday evening which happens to be the beginning of a long holiday weekend. The ring road turns into an enormously noisy, eight-lane, circular car park. Secondly, you shouldn’t get in the wrong lane.

Let me tell you about the ring-road. It is called Grande Raccordo Anulare. It is supposed to be near Rome but I think that is just a rumour. The signs indicating the exits are cunningly located at the actual off-ramps - there are no advance warning signs. Unless you are in the correct lane, you’ll never make it across intervening streams of traffic mayhem in order to get off. You could circulate indefinitely knowing the exit you have just passed was your last chance to make a break for freedom without having to do another complete circuit. There are people who have never found their exits - and there are Anulare gypsies who simply take over cars abandoned when their owners run away screaming, having passed, for the 11th time, the sign indicating where they should have exited.

When you’ve passed the sign announcing the fact you have just missed the exit for Via Salaria, you face two choices. Do another circuit and hope to be in the correct lane when you came around again, or resort to Plan B. Of course if you don’t actually have a Plan B, it is still safe to assume via Salaria is not the only way in to central Rome, but it becomes a problem if it is the only way for which you have a route planned.

Another complete circuit is out of the question. On a good day, you would expect the round trip to take about an hour or and hour-and-a-half. On the eve of the festival of St Peter and St Paul, just about the biggest holiday on the Roman calendar, with cars cutting in, horns tooting, drivers yelling and tempers fraying in the 35 degree heat, you can kiss goodbye to most of the weekend.

I won’t plague you with details of the two or three hours it took to find Stazione Termini, but I have to confess that I let the male gender down, twice, by being forced ask directions. Both times of women, no less! After driving past the Victor Emmanuel Monument three times, desperate measures were called for. I have now found a copy of the Italian Road Code - “Il Codice Della Strada”. I’m getting it translated for future use. Senatus Populusque Romanus will surely appreciate the gesture.

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