words and shots by Robert Turner
checking the rental documents
I love Italian cars. And not just Ferrari’s and Lambo’s. Anybody can like those. I love Alfa’s, some Fiat’s, and most Maserati’s. The Italians may not build a well engineered car but they do know a thing or two about design. There are a few misses along the way; take a look at the Fiat Multipla, or rather don’t. I hope you have a strong stomach because looking at one of those may make you want to hurl your lunch. I know it does for me.
So I am in Italy on vacation for a couple of weeks - hitting Milano, Como and the Lake District, Venice, Genoa, Cinqueterra, Monaco (I will report from there for sure), Roma and for those that know a thing or two about cars, a couple of tiny towns straddling Modena. Of course I am talking about Maranello and Sant’Agata Bolognese. Or if you need a bit of help, homes to Ferrari and Lamborghini. Hallowed ground for gear heads. And if your pulse does not raise just a little at the mention of these two automotive holy cities, put your cursor up in the address bar and navigate the fuck away to something like Entertainmenttonight.com or some other vapid site that caters to pop culture. If you care about cars…then you are obviously on the right site.
heading into the Ferrari museum
So it would not do my automotive mojo any justice to” train It” in and take a taxi to car nirvana. NO. We had to rent a car and drive down from Milano. I was excited to get started and head south to Modena. My wife? Not so much. She was a wee bit anxious to say the least. And when the rental agency rented us a very large car for Italy, an Audi Q5, we knew that navigating in the tight confines of downtown Milano would be an adventure. But it was one I was ready more than ready to tackle. I glanced at my wife. She was not so ready.
"On most Italian streets there are no marked lanes. And if there were, nobody would pay attention to them anyway…so why bother?"
The Q5 is a very nice stylish but smallish SUV for the US. However in Italy (or Europe for that matter) it is huge. When you have to share space with Smart cars, Vespa’s, bikes and oblivious pedestrians wandering into the tight confines of narrow city streets, the Q5 felt like a double wide Ford F250 Dualie. For this trip, we were going to navigate down to Modena using one of my two iPhones. One is our “burner” phone with an Italian sim card and number (felt like a secret agent having a temp number) and the other is my back up or rather work phone that our IT guy had generously turned on for me so I could check work email from time to time.
Like I said, my wife was a bit anxious about driving in Italy. Did I mention that my wife was a bit anxious…you probably get the picture. She quickly discovered that the Q5 had navigation. That’s a switch from the US since most rentals do not (they want to charge you extra). By using the menu options, she quickly figured out how to set up navigation in English. After about 10 minutes of fiddling with the settings, she had our address for the Ferrari Museum dialed in and our route was calculated.
wishing I was on the wall during an F1 race
all F1 winners
did someone mention trophy?
And off we went…onto the small cobble stone streets that make up Centro Citta (or the center city) of Milano. Let me set the stage for you. On most Italian streets there are no marked lanes. And if there were, nobody would pay attention to them anyway…so why bother? So basically you jockey for position with everybody else. Almost immediately we were on a very narrow but very busy street that we had to share with Trams, Buses, Cars, Motorcycles, Mopeds, bikes and wandering pedestrians. Four inches to our left and we would collide with a Tram, four inches to our right and we would hit a curb or parked car. Yeah it was tight.
And then there were the traffic circles or roundabouts (if you prefer). There are lots
of them. I would say that 50% of all intersections in Italy are roundabouts. And you have to know which street to exit to take or you are totally screwed. Oh and you have to compete with the aforementioned Trams, Buses, Cars, Taxis, scooters, bikes, ETC. They are all vying for the same patch of pavement as you. But being in a big car (for Italy) helped and those other forms of transport seemed to move aside for us. Except for the trams and buses of course. They did not give a shit about some smallish SUV trying to crowd their space. My wife kept telling me to follow a car (any car really) so that I would kind of know which general way to go. I followed her advice for about 4 blocks until I got pinched behind a VERY slow Fiat going about 10 MPH. Then I swerved around and did what everyone else in Italy does. I floored it and got into the flow of the traffic.
Finally out of central Milano, we merged onto one of the Tangenziale (or one of the main ring roads around Milano), picked up speed and made our way onto the A1 Autostrade. Next stop Maranello.
And on that exhaust note, see you next time.Robert Turner is the author of The Driver, a series of six novels your editor in chief finds intoxicatingly engaging and superbly written; Book I— Decision and Book II— Training are currently available here. He also has a blog entitled My Life with Porsches. Robert can be contacted at email@example.com.