Florence and the Italian Highway Code

“To an American, Italian traffic is at first just down-right nonsense. It
seems hysterical, it follows no rule. You cannot figure what the driver
ahead or behind or beside you is going to do next and he usually does it!”     John Steinbeck

We walked back to the river and crossed the unremarkable Ponte alle Grázie just down from the Ponte Vecchio and towards the gothic church of Santa Croce that houses the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli but sadly didn’t go inside, which gives us one more good reason to go back again.  Machiavelli or to give him his full name, Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an interesting man, he was a political philosopher, musician, poet, and a romantic comedic playwright.   He was a key figure of the Italian Renaissance and is most widely known for his treatise on realist political theory, ‘The Prince’, where he offered advice to politicians on how to behave badly in government and survive.

We found a restaurant for lunch where, but for the traffic, could have sat outside but the noise and the fumes were too much so we took a table inside instead.  We had a pizza, beer and wine and at the end when it came to settle-up the waitress attempted to rip me off with the change for a twenty when I paid with a fifty scam.  In Italy this is one of the most common restaurant cons to watch out for but Kim was sharp enough to spot it and the girl was quick to put it right when the mistake was drawn to her attention.  I was in a hurry to leave after that, I didn’t leave a tip but I forgot to pick up my umbrella so I guess that she got to keep that instead.

Italy it has to be said has some insanely different driving rules to the rest of Europe and the traffic was murderously busy and dangerously hectic in this part of the city.

Traffic lights are a good example of these different rules because each one resembles the starting grid of a formula one grand prix.  At an Italian traffic junction there is an intolerant confusion of cars all impatiently throbbing with engines growling, exhaust pipes fuming and clutch plates sizzling like a red hot grill plate whilst behind the wheel the drivers blood pressure reaches somewhere beyond boiling point.  A regard for the normal habits of road safety is curiously absent in Italy so although the traffic light colours are the same as elsewhere they mean completely different things.  Red means slow down, amber means go and green means mass homicide.  At a junction an Italian driver simply points his car at the exit he is aiming for and five seconds before the lights go green, he shuts his eyes, presses the accelerator to the floor then races forward and may God have mercy on anything or anyone in his way.

According to EuroStat, in 2004, there were thirty two thousand, nine hundred and fifty-one road deaths in the European Union and five thousand, six-hundred and twenty-five of them were in Italy. That is about 17%.  In the ten years up to 2004 the Italians slaughtered sixty-five thousand, one hundred and twenty five people in traffic accidents so it pays to have your wits about you when crossing the road and why if you want to be completely sure of avoiding death on the highway in Italy it is probably safest to visit Venice.

Perhaps it is because of their lusty reputation but they are also the horniest drivers in Europe.  Even though the use of the horn in built up areas is officially prohibited in Italy the streets were a cacophony of blazing sound that had a most disorientating effect so having negotiated the lethal traffic we made our way back to the Piazza della Signori passing by and admiring the exteriors of the buildings that sadly we didn’t have time to visit.  The Piazza was busy now with street performers and traders competing for the attention and the Euros of what seemed like about twenty million tourists.   We looked around some more and then went back to the café that we had used in the morning where we enjoyed sitting out in the lovely afternoon sunshine with a drink whilst watching the various activities taking place in the square in front of the cafe.

Suitably refreshed we retraced our steps back to the Duomo and were pleased to see that the long queues at the entrance had gone so took the opportunity to go in and take a look around.  The impressive Cathedral is constructed primarily from white and pink Tuscan marble and it was light and airy inside which was in contrast to many other cathedrals we have visited.  It was possible to go to the top of the dome and I would have liked to have done that but there just wasn’t time so we added it to the ‘to do next time’ list.

The final railway journey of the holiday took us back to Pisa and Kim slept again.  There was something about those train journeys that had a gentle soporific effect that she couldn’t resist but she was still catching up on the loss of virtually an entire night’s sleep and there had been a lot of walking today.  I liked the trains, they were clean and efficient and always on time and on this journey back in the sunshine the views were excellent.  Because of the weather we obviously didn’t see the best of the famous Tuscan countryside but that is on my ‘to see next time list’ as well.

In Pisa the sun was still shining so we went back to the Leaning Tower for one last look and then to eat al fresco at the first trattoria that we had used on the first day.  To be honest it was a bit chilly and our insistence on being served our food outside surprised the waiters somewhat who clearly regarded us as foolhardy.

Back at the hotel we collected the bags and arranged a taxi and then waited nervously to see if we would get the same maniac who brought us here.  We were relieved to be collected by an older driver who took us back sedately to the airport in a rather disappointingly uneventful journey.

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