Fast, fu­ri­ous and such good fun

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - STEVE WATER­SON

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.

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