Her name is Noni, she is 86, and she drives a Fiat Panda Young with a manual transmission. And while "Noni" is real, and she is awesome, she is not who I truly fell in love with.
When we first arrived in Italy and got onto our bus en route to the Sorrento peninsula I watched the road for all the interesting cars we can't get state side. What I saw instead could best be described as comedic insanity in driving. It was like a bad episode of "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" where the lines don't matter and the other cars don't count.
Seriously. From the outside it looked like pandemonium. I was almost convinced the pilot got lost and I was somewhere in Russia.
After about a day or so of observing the driving and talking with the locals I came to see there was a method to the madness.
The roads are very small in most of Italy, so small, in fact, that here in America, we would not even consider them to be a one way road, yet in Italy, they manage to get a bus and a dump truck to pass one another on this very road. Because the roads are so tight, drivers are forced to pay attention, so cell phone use is virtually non-existent.
Road rage is also barely a thing over there as well. Everyone drives fairly aggressively, but you don't see people driving so aggressively that it endangers the other drivers.
On multi-lane roads, 99.9% of people follow the keep right except to pass rule, which is fucking phenomenal. Seriously. "Traffic" was equivalent to what driving down the highway at 9 pm is like in America becasue no one acted like they owned the passing lane.
But the best part, the absolute best part, is no one cares about 'the rules'. Not even the police. You barely see anyone speeding (mostly becasue tight roads + 2 way traffic + speed = death), and scooters and motorbikes pretty much have free roam. Lines? Those are for cars (sometimes). Lane splitting? It's encouraged.
So, being completely rational adults, we decided the best way to experience the culture was to rent some bright yellow (and a white) 125cc scooters and race out along the Amalfi coast.
Since, out of the three of us, I was the only one who has ridden anything with two wheels within the last 40 years, I made the suggestion that we make a few laps around the city first so that we could get a feel of the scooters.
They agreed and my father decided to take point, immediately blasting the wrong way down a one way street. Once he figured that out and turned around he decided to make a last minute left hand turn onto a sidewalk, from the right side of the road, nearly causing me and uncle Jim to crash into him and one another. For his final act, my father decided to lead us down a pathway littered with shops and people, which was barely wide enough for the scooters to fit, ignoring the "no motorized vehicle access" sign, and the shaking fists of all the shoppers.
Uncle Jim and I decided my father was not allowed to lead for the rest of the trip.
Finally it was off to the scenic Amalfi coast (top pic).
We made our way blindly through the hills on the south west end of the peninsula, stopping in some small town which none of us could pronounce (or remember after we left) where we met Giuseppe, a man of about 65 who was the owner of a small cafe. He told us the story about how he learned English from tourists who would stop in the shop and speak to him in English, he would then remember some of the words he heard and would later look them up in his Italian to English dictionary. Over the course of 30 years, he learned enough English to speak more fluently than some Americans...
After Giuseppe made us some delicious panninis containing prosciutto he cured in the back of his shop, bread he made there, and mozzarella that was made by a local farmer, we were on our way. First stop, Positano.
The Amalfi coast is littered with small towns built into the hills overlooking the water. It is one of the most scenic places I have ever been. The roads twist through the hills in what seems like forever, and on one side you have cliffs and hills, and the other is the sea.
After we left Positano we went through the city of Priano and then stopped in the town of Furore, which is located at the bottom of a cliff face along a small rock beach.
As we left Furore en route to the town of Amalfi it began to rain. We continued on for a bit but the rain got worse and worse. It didn't take long for one of the scooters to get a little sloppy and take a low speed low side.
We decided it would be best for us to turn back for Sorrento, and while we arrived soaking wet, and a bruised ego (and a few minor cuts) for Uncle Jim, we did arrive in one piece and just in time for dinner.
All in all this was an amazing experience and I truly fell in love with the Italian driving style, and the amazing roads of the Amalfi coast. If you ever find yourself in the area of the Sorrento peninsula, go rent scooters, and go get lost along the Amalfi coast. I promise you won't regret it.