Cracked mirrors; or, On having a minivan in Sicily

posted in: Driving, The Homefront | 0

“I thought you were bringing a car, but you brought a ship!”
-Owner of an apartment where we stayed on our trip to Cefalu.

Yep, that’s about right.

When we announced that we were moving to Sicily, we got a surprising number of questions about whether we were bringing our van. Now, something like seven months after it arrived, I thought I’d update you on how it is going.

First thing: Our van looks like it has been to war.
Second thing: I don’t actually think having a van here has been a big deal.

After all, this hasn’t even happened to us! (Yet.)

OK, so the first thing is that some of the roads here truly are TINY. Others, in particular the highway, are pretty much what we’re used to … at least until they randomly narrow because buildings are in the way. I actually decided to do this post after being reminded about how small roads can be (I’m totally used to the narrow spots on my usual routes now) because on Tuesday I ended up going the wrong way on a tiny residential street in Raglna and having to do a one-million-point turn to turn around. On Thursday, en route to a friend’s house, our phone conversation included a “hang on, I’ve got to fold in my mirror or I’m going to hit a post.”

Parking can also be a bit of a challenge because of the van’s length, which makes it hang out over some of the smaller parking spots. Luckily, “creative” parking is pretty much the norm here.

The white car in the background isn’t mine. 

I did scrape up the front of the van on a ramp in a Taormina parking garage where I kept hitting the wall, in a situation I can only describe as “sitcome-esque.” Chris was on one side of the car telling me I was hitting the wall (as if I didn’t know) and advising me to get closer to the other side, while on the other side of the car my mom would immediately warn me that I was on the stairs and about to hit the wall on the other side. Fail!

That said … my biggest nemesis isn’t out in the world. It is my own gate. Yes, that is ridiculous. But seriously, there just isn’t that much clearance on each side — maybe six inches? — and you have to go out pretty much dead center. I, uh, don’t always achieve this. But in my defense, I will say that I DON’T hit the gate about 100 times as often as I hit the gate. But of course no one ever comments on THAT.

This picture is from right after we moved here, which is why the side of the car doesn’t have a bunch of scratches in this picture. 

A casualty.

Now, after all that — on to point two. It really hasn’t been that bad. Maybe it is because I’m used to it, but for the most part I get through the roads just fine. Once in a while when the GPS is taking me a weird way down some tiny dirt path I’ll give it a big ol’ NOPE, but for the most part there haven’t been many places I actually can’t go — even if I do end up weirdly holding my breath through some places as if that will help me squeak through. And on the roads, people are surprisingly tolerant of other motorists dong dumb things, at least in my experience. In some busy places where there are cars parked (or double parked!) on both sides of the road there is no way more than one car is getting through at a time regardless of size, so they are used to taking turns. And frankly, my car is a hell of a lot bigger than most others so people just get out of the way.

While we do have a smaller car that we sometimes take when driving around the island as a family (more fuel efficient and easier to park), it has been extremely useful to have a big car when we have visitors. The four of us, my parents and my sister were all able to cram in there for visits to Siracusa and Taormina when they visited, and on the way back from the airport with my inlaws in May we very easily fit all our luggage in there as well.

Anyway, would I bring the van to Italy again? Probably. If we had to pay Italian prices for gas, however, it would be a different story. We buy gas coupons from the base at U.S. prices, which we can redeem at specific local gas stations. Given that a gallon of gas here would come out to approaching $6 in the states, this is a big deal. I recently filled up the tank and the cash price would have been 106 euros. No thanks.

Lastly, I just wanted to report that I just asked Chris for his assessment of driving the van here in Sicily. His response:

“It’s like driving a bull through a china shop.”

Fair enough.

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