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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure: Our experience of driving in Italy

PART 64: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I am documenting what we are learning along the way.

We live in Puglia in the summer and then back again in the winter.


Step 1: How is our experience of driving in Puglia, or all of Italy for that matter, going? What about getting gas? Is it easy, or are there glitches?


In one word, Great. Easy.


Well, with a few bumps.


Let's go over a few points.


Step 2: Manual transmission


Before I started driving in Italy, I hadn't driven a manual transmission since high school. But once I discovered how much more it costs to rent an automatic rather than a manual, I dove right in.


I had a lot of fears about re-learning how to drive in Italy, and I made a bigger deal out of driving a manual shift than it was. It only took me a few minutes to get used to a manual transmission, which is good practice for traveling through Europe. I suggest diving right in.


Step 3: Gas and GPL


We were perplexed the first time we rented a car with two gas tanks in Italy. My partner nor I knew of vehicles running on gasoline (benzina) and GPL. But we ended up renting a GPL car anyway, and when we pulled into a gas station marked "GPL," the attendant walked us through it.


GPL = liquified petroleum gas (gas di petrolio liquefatto' ) , and is much cheaper, I mean much cheaper, than regular gasoline (benzina). Cars with both tanks first use the GPL and then switch to the standard gas tank.


Tips:

  • Keep the GPL tank full so you don't start using the gasoline. You will save lots of money.

  • Look for the GPL sign before pulling in since not all stations carry it.

  • GPL can only be filled by an attendant. If a gas station is automated after hours, you cannot get GPL.

  • Since gas can get very expensive if you take road trips (as we do), renting a GPL car is preferred.


Step 4: Paying for gas and the credit card


I like the sense of trust I find in many gas stations in Puglia (as well as other areas in Italy); paying after filling up is perfectly acceptable at many stations.


How to pay? I like to use my credit card when I travel, so I use a "no foreign transaction fee" card at gas stations. But when I tried to use it to get gas in Italy last summer, I was surprised it wouldn't work at the pump. When I asked the attendant, he said that I needed a pin. I never had a credit card pin before, so I was perplexed. I soon learned that not having a pin could significantly limit my ability to pay in Europe, so I resolved to rectify it.


I eventually called my credit card company; I was surprised that the process would take about a week and that the pin would be mailed to my California address, and, no, they would not give it to me over the phone.


When we returned to Puglia in the winter, I found that my credit card, with a pin, worked at some gas stations, but at others, it did not.


I still haven't solved this mystery, but now I always go on road trips with cash and credit cards, just in case.


Step 5: The gas station and costs


The cost difference between self and full-serve is pretty significant, so after using full serve for a fill-up or two, we realized we had to get over our fears and do the self serve. We first used stations where an attendant on duty could coach us. If I had a credit card issue, the attendant could usually make it work through his credit card swipe.


As far as the cost, gas goes up and down. Currently, gas is about $7.50 per US gallon in our area. Remember that gas is priced per liter in Italy, and 1 US gallon contains about 3.78 liters.


Step 6: Traffic signs and rules


"Italians don't worry about the rules, so you shouldn't either," was one piece of advice I got. "Just go with the flow of traffic on freeways; they don't ticket for speeding if you do that," was another. "Stops signs and just a suggestion; slow down and roll through," was another.


No, no, no! I say.


Traffic rules are in place and enforced.


Speed limits: There is always a speed trap warning in Puglia, where cameras are present. It may seem strange to warn speeders to slow down in the camera zone, but many speed through anyway.


Last year, we drove to Rome from Umbria and found out nearly six months later that we got two speeding tickets. We were going with the traffic flow rather than focussing on the signs. We paid for the tickets and learned our lesson; it wasn't cheap. Speeding is heavily fined and monitored.


Stop lights and stop signs: In California, we can turn right at a red light unless otherwise indicated. "No, you will get a fine!" our Puglian friends responded when we asked about doing the same.


As far as stop signs, we see some roll through them in our town, but I prefer to interpret "stop" as "stop the car."

Step 7: Pedestrians: Although pedestrians have the right of way here in Italy, our experience here in Puglia is not to assume that drivers will stop. Few drivers will stop in our area if a nervous foreigner is standing on the sidewalk, wondering if he/she should step into the crosswalk.

My strategy:

  • Step into the crosswalk.

  • Look the oncoming driver in the eyes.

  • Have him/her an excellent thumbs up when they stop and let me pass.


Step 8: Car break downs: We have not had the misfortune of a car breakdown in Italy, so I have no unique insights here. But when we rent our car, we always gather that information so, in case it does happen, we do not end up on some dark road at night not knowing who to call.


Step 9: Parking rules: The color of the lines painted on the side of a street often indicates what type of parking is available. Some general guidelines for our area in Puglia:

  • Blue lines: paid parking. Look for the payment station.

  • White lines usually mean free parking, but there are situations where it means resident parking. Check the signs; if it is residents only, it will be indicated.

  • Yellow lines: you need permission to use the space, like a taxi or handicapped permit.

  • Pink lines: for pregnant or parents with infants. I have yet to see these in person.

  • Green lines: electric charging parking only.

  • No lines; it could mean free parking, but read the signs. If I am uncertain, I ask a kind-looking person nearby.


Timed free parking: some zones are marked "60-minute parking" or another time window. To use this space, you must display that plastic clock image on your windshield with the clock hands turned to the time you pulled into that spot. This plastic clock enables the police patrol to know who is within the designated limits. We purchased ours at our local tobacco store.


The parking apps: I've downloaded a few apps that were listed in areas we tried to park in but have never been able to make them work. My credit card wasn't accepted, or my information could not be processed. If you have any insight into Italian parking apps, please share.


Step 10: Traffic and Google Maps: Google Maps can be a blessing and a curse. We rely on it while driving through Puglia, but the minute we get into a tight area with winding roads, it goes bonkers.


We were trying to leave the Assisi area once, and Google Maps led us up into the old city, down a street that was one way (the wrong direction), and tried to make us make a right turn down some steep stairs.


In Puglia, we followed Google Maps to our friend's house last night when it suddenly changed directions. They live in a small town in a somewhat rural area. We had to stop the car several times, reload the maps, and then read the directions to look for street signs. We eventually got there, but it was confusing.


On the positive side, Google Maps has enabled us to discover incredible areas and coastal drives that we would have never known otherwise.


Step 11: ZTL zones. The ZTLs are restricted circulation zones in Italian cities with historic centers. Only the residents and registered vehicles are authorized to drive there. Often, ZTL zones have signs that are turned on or off, depending on whether the restrictions are in place. Do NOT take any chances here; there are huge fines for driving in a ZTL zone when it is turned on.


Insights: Driving in Italy is like learning a new sport; you can have fun once you get the hang of the rules and practices. Getting over the fear is the first step. The second is to be a respectful driver; just because someone else drives like a jerk doesn't mean I have to react or be one. The third point is to remember that living in Italy is an adventure, and being comfortable driving here is part of the experience.


More next time.


My book is "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Stories-Puglia-Californians-Southern-Italy/dp/1913680649.




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lcdenard
Oct 16, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

The best ever explanation on the dual gasoline situation, great insight purchasing gas. Honestly, the most informative, insightful post. Thank you Mark! And for dispelling the critics who say you only get tickets in rental cars🚗

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Mark Tedesco
Mark Tedesco
Oct 17, 2023
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Thank you for the encouragement! We are learning along the way here.

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