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

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - HARRY MOUNT THE SPEC­TA­TOR

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.

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