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Kitty Reflects8/13/02

While Tom (Paul) is definitely not a passive driver - he would never own nor rent an automatic - he is also not aggressive. He is, though, assertive, taking pleasure in driving his old (but not aged) low slung Acura Integra at fast, but safe, speeds for the conditions of road and traffic. However, Italian drivers, at least in the parts of northern Italy we saw a few weeks ago, seem to have only 2 gears in their cars - fast and faster.

Our first experience driving in Europe began 2 days after our arrival in Zurich when we returned to the Flughaufen (Airport) to rent a car for the period Sunday 7/21 to Thursday 8/1/02. Once we oriented ourselves to the car, map, and actual highway, we enjoyed a pleasant drive to Bregenz, Austria taking in the numerous lovely sights in the rolling hills and low mountains of Switzerland along the way. We purposely used the lesser highways and encountered only an occasional driver who found our presence on the road an impediment to his motoring schedule.

We had decided not to make use of the express motorways (autobahns in Austria) for the simple reason that we wanted to drive slowly and enjoy the mountain views of Austria and northern Italy. There was no disappointment in the views, although Tom (Paul) was not able to fully enjoy much of it once we neared the Italian border. The roads, while generally good 2 lanes, had shoulders only periodically *and* the roads in the Alps themselves were filled with curves. In several places continuous switchbacks were numbered and twice we saw signs "19". (Where the switchbacks were further apart, the road departments didn't bother numbering them.)

The fact that the roads were very winding was not the distraction from the experience - not at all. It was, rather, the numerous drivers, both in cars and on motorcycles, who treated the roads as their own private Grand Prix course. It was rare for more than a few minutes to pass before seeing a car in my side view mirror rapidly approaching - or having Tom (Paul) inform me that we had "company again". More often than not, the car was so close that the license plate couldn't be seen - the utmost in tailgating. Needless to say, this was a bit disconcerting to Tom (Paul), especially when a driver then proceeded to "charge" at our rear bumper as though to force us off the road, as many of them continually did.

All the motorcycles - except one - travelling in the same direction as we were on the mountain roads passed us at extraordinary speeds. I used to drive a motorcycle when in my 20's and would never have conceived of taking those curves at the speeds we saw. I don't know which was worse, the 2-stroke version that whined at a deafening pitch as it approached and whizzed by or the monstrous BMWs that we didn't perceive until they were actually passing us. Neither was pleasant and frequently left me gripping my seat - Tron a la Alps! (The exception "bike" was ridden by a middle-aged couple who was definitely out to enjoy the scenery evident from the number of times we passed each other at scenic pullouts.

It's very possible that some of the drivers speeding these winding mountain roads were "locals" and had seen the views hundreds, if not thousands, of times and were only interested in getting from point A to point B. I suspect though that the majority of these young drivers - and we could see that they were young as they passed - in their mostly registered Italian vehicles, cared only for speed, obtaining no pleasure form the spectacular vistas that were but a blur under those conditions.

For such individuals to treat other drivers merely as obstacles to their own racing is of course dangerous and rude. It leaves visitors to their country - Italy, in this case - with definite unpleasant memories (am I not writing of them?!) More personally, each of these aggressive speeders reminded me of persons who can not recognize any beauty or experience enjoyment below certain velocities. My strong recommendation to them is to learn what they are missing. As the old saying goes, "Slow down and smell the roses"... and enjoy the views. Use the expressways for racing and let the scenic routes be enjoyable for those who want to experience the visual grandeur.


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