Sorrento, Horny Drivers and Danger on the Roads

Sorrento Traffic 1976

“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

After the grime of Naples we needed to freshen up so we went for a quick swim and a half-an-hour around the pool before we went to the café over the road for our afternoon bowl of ice cream.

Over the past few days we had learnt quite a lot about the battle of Monte Casino, principally that fifty-five thousand Allied soldiers and twenty thousand defending Germans died there in the Battle for Rome in 1944.   The trip to Monte Casino was scheduled for the next day so as we had plenty of money left we decided to try and book places to join it.  Before dinner we found Maria but were disappointed when she told us the trip was full and so we never managed to see the place that so many of our fellow hotel guests had travelled here specifically to see.

And so without a coach trip we spent the next day in Sorrento and in the morning walked back to the main square for a second look around.  For a Sunday Sorrento was unexpectedly busy and full of people coming and going to church, filling the squares and cafés with colour and noisy chatter and there was certainly no let up in the volume of traffic roaring through the narrow streets in the inappropriate way to which we had become accustomed.  Once again the town resembled a racetrack because Italy has some different driving rules to the rest of Europe and the traffic was murderously hectic on this Sunday morning.

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 commotion with cars all impatiently throbbing with engines growling, exhaust pipes fuming and clutch plates sizzling whilst behind the wheel the driver’s blood pressure reaches several degrees above 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 kill!  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.  Italian drivers also have a range of additional hand signals not used in most other countries, which means that for them holding the steering wheel is a bit of an inconvenience that makes driving even more exciting so it pays to have your wits about you when crossing the road and why if you want to be sure of avoiding death on the highway in Italy it is probably safest to visit Venice.

In Italy the very desire to own a driving licence should immediately exclude an Italian from eligibility to possess one.

Later that evening at evening meal one of the waiters said that he had seen us in Sorrento earlier and he had tooted his horn and waved but we hadn’t seen him.  We explained that everyone was tooting their horns so how could we possibly have picked his out from all the rest and he seemed to accept our explanation but it left me wondering if they have different horn toots for different things and I listened out for that in future for the subtle variations I but detected nothing but a blaze of chaotic sounds.

When we returned to the hotel for lunch we were interested to see some preparations being made for a carnival and a parade that was going to pass directly outside.  Lights were being attached to the lighting columns and bunting was being strung across the street.  We enquired what it was all about and Maria explained that it was the celebration of a local Saint’s day and that the main event was scheduled for later that evening.  We were pleased to see that this was going to be at the front of the hotel but got a shock when we returned to our room and found a loudspeaker in a tree right below our window and we reconciled ourselves to the fact that this was probably going to be a late night.

We had an afternoon around the pool, ice cream at the café and then dinner in the restaurant and drinks on the top floor terrace, which gave us an excellent view of the parade route that snaked away along the coast road all the way to Piano di Sorrento.  After an inevitable delay the festivities began and decorated floats came into view and passed by and the cliff top terrace started to fill with local people who were all in party mood and started singing and dancing around the cafe tables.  The music was being played over the loudspeaker outside of our room but thankfully it didn’t go on too long and suddenly every one slipped away and the place returned to sleepy normality.

Vesuvius from Hotel Mediterraneo Sorrento

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4 responses to “Sorrento, Horny Drivers and Danger on the Roads

  1. Very entertaining dialogue Andrew, been to Italy a few times but i don´t think i´ve been to Sorrento.Cool photo´s, captures the spirit perfectly-love the last one- where would travel blogs be without pictures-magic! 🙂

    • Thanks Adrian. My own photographs from that holiday were taken on a Kodak pocket Instamatic – do you remember them? They are transparencies but only very tiny. I took the slides to a local photographer who digitised them for me and he said that he was surprised about the quality of the film and how it hadn’t deteriorated as badly as some 35mm.

  2. Accurate description of driving in Sorrento. I thought it was reasonably good entertainment, but the air pollution filling the countryside and the bay was disturbing. I felt guilty contributing to it.

    Air pollution was highest in the countryside between Roma and Napoli. So dense you could barely see trees. Couldn’t possibly be from cars.

    • Sounds horrible. My observation is that in Italy there seem to be a lot of old trucks on the road which are big polluters. This was certainly the case in Puglia this year. Thanks for the comment.

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