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Driving & Riding

Parking is very often a headache. If you get fed up of driving around and settle for a space in a zona di rimozione (tow-away zone), don’t expect your car to be there. A handy gadget to have is a small clock-like dial which you set and stick in the windscreen, to indicate when you parked and that you’re still within the allowed limit: rental cars generally come equipped with these, and some tourist offices have them too.

Parking at night is easier than during the day, but make sure you are not parked in a street that turns into a market in the morning. Increasing numbers of cities operate a colour-coded parking scheme: blue zone parking spaces (delineated by a blue line) usually have a maximum stay of one or two hours; White-zone spaces (white lines) are free and unlimited in some cities, but reserved for residents in other cities; yellow-zone spaces are almost always reserved for residents. Note that walled towns which exclude cars often allow tourists to drive into the city to drop off baggage at a hotel. Car parks, often small enclosed garages, are universally expensive, be aware that it’s not unknown for hotels to state that they have parking and then direct you to the nearest paying garage.

Most motorways are toll-roads . Take a ticket as you come on and pay on exit; in automatic booths the amount due is flashed up on a screen in front of you. Major credit cards are accepted; follow the “Viacard” sign. Rates aren’t especially high but they can mount up on a long journey. Since other roads can be frustratingly slow, tolls are well worth it over long distances. For unleaded petrol, look for the sign “Senza Piombo”.

As regards documentation , if you’re bringing your own car you need a valid driving licence plus an international green card of insurance, and an international driving permit if you’re a non-EU licence holder. In Australia these are available from state motoring organization offices in major towns and cities; in New Zealand contact your local Automobile Association office. It’s compulsory to carry your car documents and passport while you’re driving, and you may be required to present them if stopped by the police – not an uncommon occurrence.

Rules of the road are straightforward: drive on the right; at junctions, where there’s any ambiguity, give precedence to vehicles coming from the right; observe the speed limits – 50kph in built-up areas, 110kph on country roads, 130kph on motorways (for camper vans, these limits are reduced to 50kph, 80kph and 100kph respectively); and don’t drink and drive.

If you break down , dial 116 at the nearest phone and tell the operator where you are, the type of car and your registration number: the nearest office of the Automobile Club d’Italia (ACI), Via Marsala 8, 00185 Rome (tel 803.116 for 24hr assistance), the Italian national motoring organization, will be informed and they’ll send someone out to fix your car – although it’s not a free service and can work out very expensive if you need a tow.

An alternative is to tour by motorbike , though again there are relatively few places to rent one. Mopeds and scooters , on the other hand, are relatively easy to find: everyone in Italy, from kids to grannies, rides one of these, and, although they’re not really built for any kind of long-distance travel, for shooting around towns and islands they’re ideal.

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