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FEARLESS ON THE AMALFI COAST

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TRIPPING Driving toward fearlessness When driving in Italy, there is no second-guessing. When you see a sliver of room, gun it. MELANIE CHAMBERS From Saturday’s Globe and Mail March 28, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT Friends warned me against renting a car in Italy. You’re taking your life into your own hands, they said. Ignoring all advice, I picked up the car in Naples and drove south to the epicentre of road danger: the Amalfi Coast. Here, a narrow stretch of road hugs the coastline with corners so tight, there are mirrors above to view oncoming traffic. Driving only in first and second gear on the hairpin switchbacks, I made it halfway along that picturesque stretch of coast before the accident. Stuck behind a tourist bus, I got cocky. “I have tons of room to pass this thing,” I thought. So, I tried. Seconds later, the bus was squishing into my passenger side door. Tourists on the bus snapped pictures. I got out and assessed the damage: the bus’s paint stretched across both doors like a streak of blue lightning. A crowd was gathering. “In the Amalfi, we all have old cars because we know we’re going to smash them up,” said the bellhop of a nearby hotel. “When it happens, we just get another one.” Tripping: Italy The Globe and Mail It was at this point that I began to cry a little and a short old Italian woman came toward me with a lemon in her hand. “Smell it,” she said. “It will make you feel better.” Cutting a slice, she held it to my nose. I inhaled. “Lemons make everything better in Italy,” she added. The intense citrus woke me up. I did feel better. In fact, for my first day of driving I felt great: I was insured, and now I felt like a true Italian driver. From then on, every potential crisis just rolled off my back. Leaving the Amalfi Coast, I drove south to Pompeii. As I was parking in a lot across from the ruins, the parking attendant, in broken English, asked about the car damage. “Amalfi Coast,” I said. To that, he nodded his head; he understood. After I left the car for the day to walk around the ruins, the lot had filled up. And not surprisingly, it was mostly Fiats, and grey ones like mine. But, thanks to the accident, I could spot my car in seconds. “It’s the one with the blue paint,” I said to the new attendant. Leaving the town, I still had to get through a notorious roundabout. The rules are simple: When there’s a break in the circle, stomp the gas pedal to the floor and hold on. But “break” is a relative term. At first, I was the polite Canadian, letting everyone circle past. The drivers behind me were getting frustrated. Horns began blaring. So when I saw a sliver of room, I gunned it. And that’s how it’s done. I learned that in Italian driving, there is no second-guessing. The next day, I was heading to the mountains of Molise, where there are fewer cars, and tourists. As a result of the accident, the car was driveable but obviously damaged. However, I eventually discovered a real problem: Whenever I put the passenger window down, the door flew open. I made the connection after it popped open on the autostrada; did I panic, you ask? No. I calmly pulled over and closed it. These things happen. Driving at high speed along the autostrada was a bit intimidating at first. Tailgating in Italy is different from tailgating in Canada: Drivers come up so close, you think they’re going to put a forklift under the car to move you. I was starting to get antsy. Short of driving off into the meadow, there wasn’t anything I could do; I was already in the right lane! To calm down, I grabbed the lemon and sniffed. When I dropped off the car in Cassino, south of Rome, I was sad to let the car go. We’d driven over 1,000 kilometres together, and I came through, I dare say, a better driver. When I handed over the keys to the rental agent, I was half expecting a reaction to the blue dent. But when the guy didn’t say a word, or even take a second look, I wasn’t surprised. When in Rome… Special to The Globe and Mail

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