As Mr. Driver's Seat and the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat have now been back in the States for more than a month, perhaps it's time to stop boring everyone with my tales of life abroad. Friends, family, and colleagues all agree.
That'll be next week's plan. Let us have just one more week in the old country, though.
Up till now, I've explored the bright side of driving in Europe: It was better than experienced travelers had warned me, and the Fiat Tipo station wagon and Nissan Qashqai provided pleasant transport. This week, we'll explore the seamy underbelly of European driving, most of which came in the second half of our two-week stay.
Driving in Italy is everything you've heard: Every time I mentioned I would be driving in Italy, people warned me about Italian drivers being among the worst.
And they were.
Yet, it was like being back home in Philadelphia. Traffic stops and starts for no apparent reason, people don't signal, and it's every driver for himself.
On the highways, I noticed that for a minority of drivers, turn signals are to be avoided for changing lanes.
On the other hand, they're often used to make Mr. Driver's Seat think you'll soon be moving to the right lane, then proceed to drift ever so slightly rightward but never change lanes — ensuring that I could not pass them on the left or the right. I saw this more than 100 times in six hours of driving from Turin to Venice and back.
If all major cities are like Turin … : Then it explains a lot.
I went to this industrial town to pick up the Fiat Tipo station wagon. And soon I noticed every thoroughfare (at least around the Fiat factory and into downtown) resembled Roosevelt Boulevard. There are about five lanes in each direction, separated by three grassy medians.
But intersections involve roundabouts. Normally a great idea, the high number of lanes turn the circle into a free-for-all where everyone pushes his way in and no one knows which lane goes where.
Come to think of it, that's how lines operated at many cash registers in Italy as well.
Navigating Nice is nuts: This eastern French city is the lawless frontier.
Intersections throughout town have no stop signs, no yield signs, nothing. The engineers must figure that you're all going slow enough to stop in a hurry if needed.
It's hard on newbies, because I didn't realize this until I was approaching an intersection with no stop sign and witnessed a bus sail through from the cross street. "Man, if I'd been three seconds ahead of myself, I would no longer be here," I thought. That'll make you more cautious, believe me.
Furthermore, while enjoying dinner at a café on an outdoor plaza, I noticed a Range Rover turn and drive slowly into the plaza and down the block. The driver just proceeded on his merry way and no one seemed to bat an eye.
Half an hour later, he came through again, this time followed by a Smart. At least it's not a class thing.
Philadelphians, you'll be fine in Nice: The traffic is epic. At all times — except very late at night — you'll be stuck.
But the scenery makes up for it, from the Promenade de Anglais to the mountain vistas, even the views of the buildings in the center of town.
Scooters and motorcycles are also popular in the sunny seaside resort, and they weave around the stopped cars in the narrow lanes with great regularity. This adds another level of angst for drivers.
Parking is a challenge: Downsize whatever size car you're thinking of renting. Seriously.
I had a Nissan Qashqai (as noted in last week's review, it'll be available here as the Rogue Sport, a rather small crossover), and I had a terrible time finding room in several parking lots for it.
And street parking? One evening in Nice, I attempted to squeeze into one space, then gave up. I noticed a pharmacy truck behind me, and felt kind of bad for holding them up. I went around the corner, noticed the same truck behind me, and attempted a second spot.
I embarrassingly pulled out of there as well.
Third time was the charm.
The pharmacy guys applauded as they went past.