Transportation

Getting around in Italy is quite easy. There are trains, trams, buses, miniature cars, motor scooters, bicycles, and, of course, walking. While I am familiar with all of these modalities, some cultural adaptation is required.

For instance: crosswalk signs have little meaning. Green means go, yellow mean go, and red means go with caution. The right of way is determined by strength of will. When walking around town and darting across roads, alleys, and plazas (there are many) you scan for potential collisions with people, miniature cars, and scooters. Italians are courteous when it benefits them, and ruthless when it does not. If they can’t avoid hitting you, they will stop, or at least slow down. If they think they can avoid hitting you they will blast full speed ahead. Being brushed by cars and scooters is not an unusual experience. The trick is to look the driver in the eye to make sure they see you. If you can’t make eye contact there is a good chance they will mow you down. If you can make eye contact the chances of being run over are minimal, or at least greatly reduced.

Buses are way over crowded. Maybe this is more a factor of me being a country boy turned suburbanite, and American city buses are equally crowded. I don’t know…or care. The sad part about buses is the total lack of chivalry. Not only will men not surrender their seat to the octogenarian woman struggling with her groceries, but young men (40s) will knock her over trying to grab a recently vacated seat.

Taxis are fast and convenient, but watch out, because about half of the drivers are crooks. I’m being generous here assuming that my luck was poor and there are more cabbies with integrity than I had the good fortune to meet.

Of the various means of travel in Italy, the train proved the most challenging. Not merely because you need advanced degrees in geography, social science, and Italian to figure out your destination and appropriate boarding platform. No, it is the seats. They look very inviting and comfortable, but that is just the devil up to his trickery. There is a barely discernable slope to the seat running from the back to front. To complete the effect the seats are polished to a mirror finish and buffed with wax. You sit down with all your gear grateful for the respite from endless walking and standing. The train starts to move and you are slouching in your chair. What poor manners. You adjust yourself to an upright position and realize your back feels better. However, the gentle rocking of the train keeps luring you into the land of nod. You fight off the sleep, sit up straight, and repeat. Eventually the rocking motion wins the day. You fall asleep and wake up looking at the underside of the seat in front of you; or are awoken by bouncing your noggin off a well-waxed surface just after your posterior slides into no-man’s land. If you take the train while visiting Italy, buy one of the oversized belts sold in Florence and strap yourself in.

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