Hints and Tips on Driving in Sicily: Roads, and other Sicilian Driving Hazards

PART UMPTEEN OF AN OCCASIONAL, HYSTERICAL SERIES

We have had torrents of rain for the last week. As a result, driving my son to school has been permanently upgraded from a Level 2 to a Level 1 risk activity. This is because of the new holes that have formed in the road.

road_hole

I do have a money-making plan to take advantage of this, though. I am going to open one of the giant holes in the road as a municipal open-air swimming pool and sell admission tickets to locals. I shall open the other networked hole-complex as the “Bagheria caves and grotto” and charge an exorbitant admission fee to tourists, which will include a guided tour and a souvenir lump of dislodged asphalt.

Well, this local event reminded me to publish another installment in my occasional series on Driving in Sicily.

Road holes are a major hazard in Sicily. They are literally everywhere. You will never find twenty feet of road free of a significant hole. Like my new local ones, they can often be as much as two feet deep. Look out for puddles! They may contain far more water than you estimated!

When driving along in a particularly holey area, you can adopt one of two tactics. One is to look for a hump before the hole, accelerate towards it and thus lift your vehicle up into the air, enabling it to fly over the hole and land gently the other side. This is clearly a technique for advanced drivers. The other is simply to swerve around all holes, slalom-style, to avoid thumping down into them.

Fiats have fairly “rigid” suspension, so some form of hole avoidance is to be recommended. Extreme hole avoidance can become addictive, however. Since cars overtaking you may not have got round to hooting at you yet, it would clearly be dangerous if you were to take a huge and sudden swerve in front of them.

car_hole

Hole avoidance on motorways is particularly important, and complex.

Motorway driving in Sicily is completely different from motorway driving in the rest of Europe. The motorways only have two lanes. I am aware they are like this in Germany too. Germans solve the problem by harassing each other along one behind the other, at 120 miles per hour, leaving a safe stopping distance of three quarters of an inch. Most Sicilians solve the problem by driving along the hard shoulder instead.

In Sicily there is also the problem of finding cars travelling up the slip road in the wrong direction. There is also the fact that the ‘I’m pulling out if you don’t hoot’ rule means Sicilian drivers always pull out of slip roads in front of you, because they have already built up so much speed that no matter how much you hoot, the Doppler effect means they think it was a rare bird cooing to its love in a distant nest.

Above all, there is the fact that there are never any warning notices or road cones set up to close a lane when there are road works going on. You just find yourself screaming at seventy miles an hour towards a vast hole, forming a dead-end, demarcated by a sign embellished with diagonal red stripes and a row of bum cleavages, getting sunburnt and sweaty while their owners mess about with tarmac (yes, some things are just like home). The hard shoulder on your right is occupied by a Fiat Uno on the verge of breaking the land speed record, and there is a ten ton lorry overtaking you in the lane to your left. Here is where you test the emergency braking powers of your silver Fiat Punto, and hope that the driver of the white Fiat Cinquecento behind you has got fast enough reactions to go from seventy to nought in five seconds while talking on his mobile phone which, since he’s Sicilian, makes him look as if he is conducting the Emperor Waltz with both arms and one leg.

Pedestrians are the final road hazard to be aware of in Sicily. They are often sensible enough to realise that they should keep well out of your way, yet you will find that there is a steady, reliable supply of fools just waiting to leap in front of you as you rocket towards them.

They will often be daredevil young lads who like to feel they can outrun any Fiat Uno that may dare to defy them as they cross the road. They may be lardy little kids in tracksuits drawn towards the cake shop. Most often of all, however, they will be a little, old, round-shouldered granddad, about three feet tall, carrying a colossal crate of oranges or bread or artichokes from his delivery van to his shop. He is seventy-five years old, he has been doing this backbreaking work full-time since he was nine, and frankly he does not care if somebody takes him off now.

Or does he? Perhaps he feels his time on this earth is running out and he simply cannot afford to waste precious minutes of his remaining life waiting for all the Fiats to get out of his way. Perhaps it is because he has a picture of Padre Pio and another of the Baby Jesus of Naples pinned up in his shop and he knows they are looking out for him. Or else perhaps he knows that his six foot tall son Totò is in the Fiat behind you and, if you touch a whisker on his body, you will find yourself going swimming with concrete boots on.

This brings me to the single most important rule for road safety, not only in Sicily but throughout Italy. That is, always have a religious icon dangling from your rear view mirror. You can touch it and say a little prayer before crossing a particularly ropey-looking road bridge which has not been restored since Ancient Roman times. (Readers in America may think that is part of my trademark exaggeration, but it isn’t). You can also look at it for inspiration and safe guidance throughout performing any particularly tricky manoeuvre, such as a three-point turn on a motorway.

Sicilians will often go on a pilgrimage somewhere and bring a dangly icon or at least a rear window sticker back for their car. My Mother-in-law, The Godmother, always takes two suitcases when she travels on pilgrimages, one for luggage and a second, empty, one to fill with sacred relics to distribute among her loved ones upon her return.

Sicilians also usually have the local priest come and bless their new car or motorbike before they drive it, dousing it with holy water and saying potent prayers over it. At the very least, furnish yourself with some rosary beads. They will help you defy all the odds and survive driving the streets of Palermo and the motorways of Sicily. Do not expect divine protection without them.

The pictures in this post came from this web page, which has many other very funny ones too:
http://www.time4leasing.co.uk/car_fun.asp


80 thoughts on “Hints and Tips on Driving in Sicily: Roads, and other Sicilian Driving Hazards

    1. Shoddy workmanship – definitely. It’s ironic that you can drive round Rome on cobbled streets that haven’t needed repairing since they were built in the first century AD, yet in Sicily they can’t even make a bit of tarmac last 5 years!
      Heavy rains are also to blame, because when it rains here, it really does pour.
      The biggest problem, though, is that they still haven’t figured out plumbing in this part of the world. When it rains, the water doesn’t have drains to drain down, and many of the roads don’t have a proper camber; the water just sits on the road and seeps under it, washing the soil away from under the tarmac a bit at a time. Eventually, it all gives way.
      It’s not just rain water. Mains water pipes burst here routinely, and usually have days to create underground rivers before they are eventually repaired. I’m pretty sure even a very well built road wouldn’t stand a chance!

      Like

  1. You’ve got the greatest voice in your writing. It’s hysterical! I love to read your stuff! Keep it up! You need to visit Hong Kong and report on driving there. Ten million cars, ten miles of road, 1000 meter incline. It’s terrifying!

    Like

  2. @.@ I am appalled to know that a developed country has such problems so wide-open (pun intended)! The size of those holes almost remind me of the sinkholes in Guatemala. Are there no building regulation authorities to oversee construction of roads? Or at least a land transport authority that concerns itself over this matter? Or if the problem really is the rain, then a national water agency? I can see so many ways to get the problem fixed. Coming from a country that has very high rainfall every year, I’m just speechless when I saw the pictures. I hope you’ll stay safe on every trip you make on the road, dear post author.

    Like

    1. We have all these regulatory bodies. They all accept bribes from the Mafia – who are usually the winnners of the contracts to build new roads – to give their official approval to roads that have not actually respected any of the extensive safety regulations that exist here. Some of the people in these authorities have Mafia affiliations too. So you see, the Mafia builds the roads, then the Mafia approves the work it has done. 😦

      Like

      1. The all-powerful mafia! How could I have forgotten about them~ Before you brought them up, I’d always thought mafias don’t actually have any real influence on national stuff (like road building). Seems I was wrong ^^”

        Like

  3. Thanks for the laugh!! We lived outside Naples for a few years…one day my husband got THREE flat tires from potholes!! People in the States think I’m exaggerating when I’d describe driving there as being in a video game. Totally agree about the plumbing.

    Like

  4. Love your idea of the municipal open-air swimming pool. Might be onto a winner there. When I visited Florence with my family we soon learned that crossing the road was not for the faint hearted. One way signs were pointless and you had to look both ways before crossing the road.

    Great post. It certainly put a 😀 on my face.

    Like

  5. This is too weird! The title was so quirky I had to check it out, only to realize that stuff like this actually happens! Goodness! It looks so hazardous, I don’t think I could find the will to leave the house (especially if I lived in Siciliy.) (: Congrats on FP! nerdwithtaste.wordpress.com

    Like

  6. Oh my God! I think Sicilians must be related to the Egyptians. Your blog could have described the Egyptian mentality on roads, etc. I love it! I will definitely be visiting you again. Congrats.

    Like

    1. Germans have a reputation for being so sensible, but they’re really closet maniacs.
      I have a couple of German friends in Sicily right now, who reckon Germans are just as loopy drivers as Sicilians, except for the additional infuriating habit of constantly telling everyone else off when they do something wrong!!!

      Like

      1. Oh yes. It made learning to drive on the other side of the road here all the more nerve-wracking. I look forward to reading all about your life in Sicily. I used to live in Malta nearby and still go there a lot, I think there must be a lot of similarities.

        Like

  7. God!! for a moment I thought I was reading about my country. all things are same, the holes, the hooting, a car coming in the wrong direction on your side of the road and most important the religious icon hanging from the rear-view mirror.. 😀 😀

    Like

      1. Just like any other place in the world, we have highways too. India is changing fast. Not every road has cows and elephants. What I like about India is animals have freedom to walk the same roads which people traverse. 🙂

        Like

      2. I do agree with you about that. I know progress is good, but you always seem to lose something really wonderful, don’t you?
        Where I grew up in the London suburbs, we had cattle grazing and they freely walked about and entered people’s gardens to eat whatever they fancied. We loved having them, especially when city people drove out our way and were scared of them!!! As children, we laughed riotously at adult men panicking! We were very sad when they built a motorway nearby and the cows were taken away, never to return.
        In Sicily you do see shepherds and goatherds with large flocks fairly often. I like seeing them, and I can never understand people who get impatient because they have to wait before they can drive past.

        Like

      3. here the religious icons can be many depending upon the driver’s faith. Usually a piece of printed red cloth, symbol of Goddess Durga’s stole is tied to the rearview mirror handle. It can also be small sculptures of various gods, more commonly lord Hanuman(the monkey god) who protects from evils and dangers. Lord Ganesha is also a favorite god. Apart from this pictures of Gods and Goddesses may also be found stuck to the dashboard. I have them too. Its just kinda reassuring. 🙂

        Like

  8. I am Sicilian, so probably I was the only one that didn’t laughed reading this! We know how we drive, someone is proud of this, someone a bit less, but at the end, we can’t really change this. Only when sicilians drive outside the island, they understand that there are rules to follow (and in the same way, they risk their life for this!). Probably the only way to solve the problem is to take away all sicilians from the island for a while 🙂 . Anyway, I noticed that turists really enjoy the circus of Sicilian roads, so, maybe it’s better to leave all as it is, just as turist attraction!
    Welcome in the island of everything!

    Like

    1. When you’re driving in Sicily, do you talk to the other drivers in Sicilian? My husband does, but I had better not write what he says, as it is often not very polite!!!
      I was talking to a Sicilian friend of mine who came to dinner recently, who said he thinks Sicilians are the best drivers in the world, because they can deal with absolutely anything: they are always ready for surprises, so nothing catches them out.
      Well, I answered that I agree with the principle, but I think Romans are the best drivers because they are not only ready for anything, but they can ALSO drive backwards, at 50 kilometres an hour, all the way up a one way street, from one end to the other; this way they are not breaking the law, technically, because although they are travelling the wrong way, their car is facing the right way.
      Well, when leaving my house, he drove all the way to the end of my street backwards – that way he proved beyond any doubt that Sicilians are the best drivers!

      Like

  9. You make Sicila Magna sound like the concentrate that the rest of Italy was diluted from…I’ve driven on the wrong side of the road in Britain, New Zealand (with a stick shift), driven in Germany (as you described) and France but have drawn the line at Italy our of cowardice. I admire your pluck and will reserve opinion on your judgment knowing one cannot walk through modern life, even in anachronistic places. Thank you for confirming my own decision!

    The U.S. lacks Italian local color but does not lack holes and they increasingly turn up on roads, which don’t vote compared to say, medical care, which evidently does vote. Some of our holes require more than one car to fill. However, we are just getting under way in this, a recent arrival in the competition. We know this however, and our politicians are dedicated to catching up, as current budgets make clear. It becomes even more certain after the post-construction/repair reports of the amount of spending that actually got onto the roads…

    Like

    1. I’ve had many a friend from England who declined to drive here, after seeing it was like going on the dodgem cars!
      I’m really surprised you have big road holes in America too. They cost a lot to fill, I gather… maybe holey roads will become widespread in these tough economic times…?

      Like

  10. Wow, sounds just like India. Except there the cars have religious icons, and even incense stick holders mounted on the dashboard. The road conditions are awful and he who is most aggressive and wields the loudest horn wins. It is terrifying.

    Like

So, what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s