Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Driving in Italy

Driving in Italy

It’s about 4PM and I’m back on the entrance ramp to the Tange. It’s a typical entrance ramp that you would see in the US, except that traffic is getting heavy, and I am only moving about 15 mph onto the highway. The difference is that I am the center car three abreast as we enter traffic. I’m almost rubbing rear view mirrors with the cars on either side, and I’m thinking to myself, I really enjoy driving in Italy.

Driving in Italy is very different than it is back in the states. It is very selfish… driving is all about me. That’s right, there is no concept of courtesy toward other drivers. I mention that I am getting back on the highway, well that is because I already got on once, at one of the scariest entrance ramps that I have ever seen. The entrance ramp that I use to enter the Tangenziale every day coming home from work is only about 20 meters long, is on a blind bend to the right, and abruptly ends in a stone wall. So, after I enter the highway, pass under the overpass that is the reason for the stone wall, if traffic is heavy, I will get back off the highway, pass through the gas station on/off ramp and parking lot, and then back onto the highway (on the ramp where I was three abreast.) Now in the US, that is certainly illegal. It is probably also illegal in Italy, but it isn’t enforced.

For that matter, very few of the traffic laws are enforced in Italy. Unless of course, you get into an accident, then the Caribanarie will start writing tickets. But until you crash you don’t have anything to worry about.

Here are some of my highlights thus far while driving in Italy. Of course, like New Jersey, the Italians love the traffic circle. The key to the traffic circle is to not stop. Sometimes you are forced, but momentum through the traffic circle is your friend. Don’t worry if the car entering the circle has the right of way, all you have to do is get the front third of your car out front, and you are good to go. People expect you to cut them off, so they are always prepared to stop. Also, say traffic is light on the circle, and you want to proceed ¾ of the way around…. If you think that you can make it to the left by cutting across the circle in the wrong direction… go for it.

That takes me to my next topic, the lines on the road. They are mere suggestions. You can drive on either side of the road, you can pass across double yellow lines, you can drive the wrong way down a one-way street. And, if you are riding a scooter, then you can basically do anything that you think won’t result in death or dismemberment. Here’s an example. I’m sitting at a light on a 4-lane (two lanes in each direction) road with a jersey barrier down the middle. There are 4 cars abreast waiting for the light and some scooters in the gaps. I’m the 3rd car in line, against the jersey barrier, in the left lane. The light turn green and the two cars in front go left, the guy infront of me turns left, and then me and the guy to my right also turn left. So now we have 5 cars barreling up a two lane road with oncoming traffic. The guy that was directly infront of me wants to pass everyone, so he accelerates and we end up with 3 cars abreast ahead of me (on the two lane road), and then me with a guy to my right, and it all just gets sorted out.

You can really do whatever you want. Red lights are optional. Seriously, sometimes they just shut them off because no one uses the red light anyway. Personally, at some intersections I don’t even look at what color the light is, I just look to make sure I’m not going to get hit by a cement mixer as I cross traffic.

Really the only law that is enforced are the automatic traffic cameras that control speed on the highway, those send you tickets automatically, so you can’t really speed on the highway.

I’ll keep you posted. I have already hit my side mirror on two occasions, once into a ceramic drain pipe, and the second time into a parked car. I may just start driving around with my mirrors folded in. You really need to see it to believe it, so I suggest that you all come out for a visit, and we’ll go for a drive.

Until next time…. Ciao. Joe

Monday, March 9, 2009

February 2009

February 2009

9 March 2009

Keeping the blog updated lately has been a challenge. Since we moved into our house in beautiful Pozzuoli, our Internet connection has been spotty at best. This blog entry will be more like a journal entry just to let you know what we have been doing over the last month. Again I apologize for not updating the blog sooner.

Internet in Italy – Everything is done slowly in Italy. We moved into our place on Feb 2nd, and didn’t get anyone over to the house to hook up Internet service until Feb 13th. That is considered pretty good. Some friends have told us that they waited up to a month for an appointment to get Internet, and even some have had the technicians show up and tell them that they can’t get service. Excuses include, “There are too many customers in the connection box on the street, you have to wait until someone cancels their service.” You can bet that the landlord didn’t mention that. So, after the techs left on the 13th, the internet works for maybe 2 days and goes out. And it takes four more days of troubleshooting over the phone to get it working. Italy doesn’t have customer service personnel that speak any language besides Italian, so while my Italian is good enough to order food, shop, or find the bathroom, it is not yet sufficient to trouble shoot a spotty Internet signal over the phone. So, no, Italy is not like America where you call and you can press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish, 3 for Japanese, 4 for Italian…. etc, nope, you get only Italian.

So, that takes us all the way to around Feb 20th, after my Italian realtor hooks us up with some customer service assistance, to when we finally have internet working again. That lasts for exactly 6 days, and I should have gotten a blog entry (with photos) posted in that time about Italian Markets. In fact, if you have my facebook address, you can look at my photos and comments from the market, but I never had time to publish a similar story on the blog page, BECAUSE THE INTERNET STOPPED WORKING AGAIN. I don’t know why. So another six days of troubleshooting over the phone and finally it is working again, we think, we’re not sure for how long. So, we are back online, who cares, right?… you guys want to know what we are doing in Italy.

February was a pretty fun month. We moved into our place and have really been enjoying it. We have a very nice Italian villa in a great little town called Pozzuoli, which is right next to Naples. It takes me about 20 minutes to get to work from Pozzuoli. The Villa is very nice, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bath, with an office, living room, kitchen, fireplace, and a very big basement/garage. It also has a great yard for Clare to play in. The yard has 6 fruit trees, we know one is lemon and one is an orange tree, we’ll find out about the rest in the fall. It is also very secure, located in a gated community (called a Parco) off the main street, but situated in such a way that you can’t even see any of the homes from the street. So, we spent about a week settling into the house, and took our first trip (since the skiing incident) out of the Naples area.

For my birthday (Feb 7th), Melissa took us out to the Island of Ishica for the weekend. Ishica is a small resort island located to the south of the bay of Pozzuoli. It took about an hour and a half on the ferry to get out there. Ishica is mostly a summer tourist resort, but it also boasts resorts with thermal spas and naturally heated pools. If you didn’t know, the whole Naples area is located next to the very active volcano Vesuvius and the areas surrounding the area are still very volcanically active. Pozzuoli is located over a very thin crust of the earth’s surface over a large magma bubble. There is a thermal vent on the other side of town called sulfatara that is a vent for the volcano, and as you can imagine by the name, it stinks of rotten eggs. I haven’t been there yet, I’ll save that for when we have guests in the area. We can’t smell it from our house… most of the time. Ishica is over the same magma bubble, and the thermally heated pools were very nice. Overall the island is cute, and Melissa and I will plan to go back there in the summer.

The following week, I was finally able to finish up my last portion of the check in process for the Navy here in Naples. It was the staff action officer course, and it completed a full three weeks of checking into a command here at Naples. The process included a week of Area Orientation, followed by a week of Inter-Cultural Relations, and cumulated with the Staff Action Officer course. Also that week, we lost water for 2 days in Pozzuoli due to what I think was a water main break. Not to fear, we have a 600-gallon emergency tank in the basement… yea, that was empty. So, I filled it up once the water came back on, and we should be OK next time. Yet another Italian lesson learned.

Melissa has been taking an intensive Italian course in downtown Naples every day. So, for the last 4 weeks she goes to school at “Centro Italiano” and spends 4 hours of intensive immersion Italian training. She is getting pretty good. She is also now a master of public transportation in Naples, as she takes the trains and busses from our house to down town every day for class, while I go to work. I think that she is starting to look Italian. We spent the last three weekends in Naples enjoying the area. We’ve done some great dinners either in local restaurants, or with friends. Melissa took an Italian cooking class one weekend, I played in a poker tournament… it’s been pretty good.

This weekend Melissa and I are in Rome. As a matter of fact, I am sitting in our very small hotel room in Rome writing this blog right now. Rome is very nice, and pretty amazing. As you turn any corner there are different ruins. Buildings that are only 500 years old look new next to the Parthenon (which is over 2000 years old.) This is truly the beginning of civilization. My favorite site so far has been the Trevi fountain. It is an amazing piece of architecture, with “the Ocean” central figure, riding a chariot.

That’s all for now, I promise more stories soon, pictures from my trip to the market, and the stories about how everyone’s brother has a pizza place in NJ, and all about the food.

Ciao until next time,