Fast, furious and such good fun
SURE it’s got magnificent art, architecture and food, but for me Italy is all about the driving. Like any near-death experience, it just makes you feel so alive.
Back in the early ’90s, my wife and I went on a driving trip around Tuscany. We were climbing high into the mountains above Lucca when I noticed in the mirror an ancient Fiat 500 slowly gaining on us; it was travelling perhaps 2km/h faster than we were.
Hard as it was to believe, the car was attempting to overtake us uphill on a long, blind bend; there were no barriers on the side of the road, which clung to a sheer cliff that fell hundreds of metres into the valley.
As the Fiat inched its way alongside, completely on the wrong side of the white line, I turned to glare in horror — tinged with a hint of admiration — at the lunatic driver.
The nun at the wheel gave me a beatific smile as I stamped on the brake to let her in, then resumed her conversation with the three other nuns crammed into the car. I presume they were chatting about God, whom they looked likely to meet before they had many more kilometres under their habits.
It was at the age of 15 on the German autobahn south of Frankfurt that I fell in love with continental driving, standing with my nine-year-old brother on the armrest between the Granada Ghia’s front seats. We found we could squeeze half our bodies out through the sunroof to enjoy the flapping-cheek effect delivered as we urged our father to hit 200km/h. Excellent fun, though it would probably be frowned upon these days.
Much of the autobahn network is still, bless it, free of speed restrictions, but you never feel in danger, thanks to the average German’s exemplary driving skills.
Travelling at twice the Australian limit with supercars flashing by in the fast lane, you are filled with respect and gratitude for Teutonic discipline.
Gratitude, yes, but rarely excitement, much less terror. For real thrills you head south across Austria into Italy, where driving is a flamboyant expression of individuality and of the nation’s enduring love affair with anarchy.
The only overseas accident I have had was on another visit to Italy, when an Alfa Romeo went into the back of us at some traffic lights on the outskirts of Bologna. As we examined the slight damage, the middle-aged Alfa driver politely pointed out that it was really my fault: although the lights were red, there was clearly nothing coming, so how could he possibly have expected me to stop?
I found his logic persuasive, drove like a maniac for the rest of the holiday and never had another second’s trouble.
Susan Kurosawa is on assignment.