Drive a bargain in Greece and Italy
THE INCIDENTAL TOURIST A good map or satnav is crucial as many Greek road signs are obliterated by graffiti or rampant vegetation
BUY on the bullets — that’s the cry of the most ruthless stockbrokers. Invest j ust before a war, after the stockmarkets dive, before the recovery kicks in. In the same way, now is the time for us to head for poor, battered Greece. Maybe it’s not quite war-torn yet, but driving around the Peloponnese this autumn was like touring a postapocalyptic ghost town.
Once you get out of the sunbleached concrete sprawl of Athens, the splendid motorway to Kalamata is eerily empty at all hours of the day. Rocketing along at about 120km/h, I could afford to stare for several seconds at the Corinth canal below me, and the ancient acropolis of Corinth above, with little danger — there was no one to crash into.
A good map or satnav is crucial as many Greek road signs are obliterated by graffiti or rampant vegetation. Make sure you’re loaded down with lots of Euros in change. In a bid to cut the deficit, there are toll booths every few kilometres.
Take Euro notes, too: some petrol stations have closed down and lots of those remaining only accept cash.
It’s a good idea to always keep at least a quarter of a tank of petrol in reserve.
In Italy, the love affair with the car continues, apparently undimmed by that country’s economic crisis. There’s not much point in driving in the trafficchoked cities, or even between them. Better to take the train — the fast one between Rome and Naples is only 70 minutes — and then hire a car at the other end for tootling around.
Don’t use the car hire companies’ websites. Go to the comparison ones — such as autoeurope.com.au — and the cost could be halved. While tracking Odysseus around the Mediterranean (for my next book), I never paid more than ($46.50) a day for a small car, often a lot less. Don’t pay the extra insurance either — it’s just a tax on anxiety. And avoid the full- tank option, another stealth tax.
Contrary to popular opinion, southern European drivers are the best in the world — far quicker, smoother and more instinctive than we terrified foreign slowcoaches.
The unwritten rule is that the traffic must keep moving, irrespective of the legal rules of the road, which are there to be broken. Remember that ped- estrians are second-class citizens, and motorbike riders first-class ones — they will pass you on both sides, without warning. Use both mirrors.
Don’t get angry if someone beeps at you: Italians use the horn for encouragement, rather than chastisement.
If you must respond, don’t be aggressive or swear. Instead, work on your imitation of a heroically selfpitying Italian Serie A footballer who thinks he’s been wrongly booked: hands touching, fingertips of both hands bunched together and pointing backwards at your chin, like a coupled pair of swan’s beaks. Harry Mount is following the route of the Odyssey for his next book.