We'd decided that Tuscany had to be the place to go this year (this was written in 2002). So we booked a flight from Stansted, England to Pisa, Italy and arrived without hitch. I should have known there was a problem with Italian roads when the hire car a, Ford Focus estate, with only 8,000 miles on the clock arrived with scratches on all 4 corners.
I can't speak for the whole of Italy but in Tuscany on the roads they don't do paint. They don't do cats eyes They don't indicate the edge of the road. What they do do is signs. Lots of them. Signs appear at random intervals indicating all directions to all towns. So one sign will indicate the direction to maybe 10 towns and another direction to another maybe 6 towns and a third direction to another 4 towns. Now that many locations would take up a lot of space if they were to make the place names big. So they don't- they make the place names small. So small that you can't read them unless you are within 8 feet of them. And that's not good for driving.
So you have to find your town from another 20 or so all written in tiny script on all these signs. Then just to confuse you - you might want to find an hotel or some other company so they put all those on another set of signs. Then to make it more interesting they randomly scramble the names of the towns and randomly scramble the locations.
So there we are on Friday 16 August 2002 having done Florence ie Uffizi and Duomo driving back to Pisa - a 45 minute drive if one is sane and sticks to the autostrada. However, it all seemed too easy and the hills looked interesting so we turn off the autostrada to investigate the real Tuscany a bit. Bad mistake.
The signs seemed to be having a particularly bad day directing us mostly to places that didn't appear on the map. Sometimes we'd find a town sign posted that we could find on the map and follow it. Inevitably the town would immediately disappear from all future signs. I took to stopping to look at signs but that didn't help much. Eventually some 2 hours later we found the autostrada again and got on it. Joy. Saved.
But it had taken so long that it was going dark. By the time we got near Pisa it was dark. Now, not only don't roads get any white lines, they don't get any lighting and they don't get useful signs. For some reason best known to the weather the car windscreen began to steam up. I tried turning on the air conditioning, I tried turning it off. I turned on the heating. I turned it off. Eventually I just opened all the windows and hoped. Not being able to see the road anyway, driving on the wrong side of the road (for me), using the gears with the wrong hand, being lost and being unable to predict the future direction of the road was getting scary.
The only saving grace was that the Italians either had the good sense not to drive at night or had detected that there was a nutter on the loose and had decided to avoid us all together. We spotted a sign for Pisa and took the hairpin right turn. The road was narrowed immediately by armco traffic barriers to about 6 inches wider than the car. Why you narrow a perfectly good road God alone knows.
There was an almighty bang, the interior was sprayed with glass fragments and my wife caught a wing mirror in her lap. The silence in the car was palpable after that until I managed with heart thumping to ease the car into it's rented garage. The car hire company got the car back on the Monday with a dented drivers door, which happened when I was parked, and a damaged wheel which happened when a kerb appeared from nowhere to add to the four corner scratches. In fairness I ought to add that, bad though the Italian roads seemed to be, you could at least drive on them. I suspect that any Italian would freak at continual road works and traffic jams in the UK and be appalled at the food on offer at our service stations. Then an Italian did wave me into a parking space just because I got there first and that would never happen in England.