Thursday, March 19, 2015

Do you need a car to live comfortably in Italy? No. Well, maybe.

Can a person live well in Italy without a car? During the previous four years, we lived in Italy for a total of 11 months, most of the time without a car, and I would have said the answer is yes. But now I am having second thoughts, and I would have to answer that it all depends on where one lives.

We always did OK using our bikes and taking trains and the occasional bus. We rode our bikes five minutes to the local grocery store, or to the train station, where we either locked them up or took them with us on the train. We can reach the larger cities of Pescia or Altopascio in about 25 minutes by bike, or less than 10 minutes by train. Riding bikes is good for our health, pocketbook and the environment. For people who live in or near a larger city like Lucca or Firenze, almost everything they need is within the reach of bikes or inexpensive public transit.

We noticed, though, that everyone in San Salvatore under 80 years of age, besides us, has a car. We took some pride in the fact that we did quite well without one. This year, however, thanks to the generosity of friends Eberhard and Dorothea, we have a car for much of our time here. They are letting us use their little Fiat Panda at a very affordable rate, and it has really changed our lives.

It has allowed us to join a gospel choir that practices every Tuesday from 9-11 p.m. We could take a train to the practice, but the trains from the little city where the rehearsals are held don’t run late enough to take us home, and nobody in the choir lives in our direction. There is not even a hotel within three miles of the school where the rehearsals are held.

The car has also allowed us to drive up the hill to Montecarlo to look at houses for sale, and we are close to closing a deal on one. So far, we have had to go to the real estate agency, which is almost 20 miles away, three times to discuss terms and sign papers. Taking a train to the agency is theoretically possible, but we would have to take a circular route and first pass through Lucca and Pisa. This takes two hours one way, so it would essentially take all day.

I usually visit the church archives in Pescia twice a week, riding my bike home in the dark, sometimes in the rain. Now I drive, safe and dry inside the Panda, and I often stop on the way at the large EsseLunga grocery store, which has a much wider selection of products and at lower prices than our neighborhood store. We were also able to drive to some of the otherwise inaccessible little hillside villages like Cozzile, Massa and Malocchio that we have never been able to walk through before.

Next year, we hope to live in our own home in Montecarlo, and the walk from the train station up the hill will take at least half an hour. Riding a bike down takes only about five minute, but it puts some real wear and tear on our brakes. Going uphill on our heavy one-speeds means walking and pushing almost the entire way.

We’re not yet sure what we are going to do next year about transportation. We can’t count on our friends’ car being available every time. We are trying to scrape together enough money to buy the house, so we doubt we will have enough left over to buy a car. Even if we could afford one, Italian law prohibits us from car ownership because we are not full-time residents. It seems strange that we are allowed to own a house but not a car. We would have to ask an Italian friend to put a car in his or her name, something we’d be reluctant to do. We’d also have to pay for insurance, licensing and bi-annual inspections, so we might be better off renting a car for at least part of our time in Italy. We are not even allowed to buy a Vespa, and even if we could, we would need a special license to operate it. 

Another option we are considering is bicycles with an integrated electric motor to provide the boost we need to get up the hill. These do not require insurance, inspections or a special license, and from what I’ve read, they would had sufficient power to get us up the hill. We could also take them on the train. The house we are planning to buy has a sizable and secure storage closet on the ground floor, so we’d not need to carry them up stairs. The only drawbacks are the cost, about 2,000 euros each, and the fact that it can rain in Toscana fairly often in February and March.

Of course these are all questions to be answered in future years, since we have shown we can live here without a car, and we are fairly well set for the rest of this stay. If we had chosen to live in a large city, we would not have any issue at all, but our hearts are set on Montecarlo for reasons of nostalgia and its unique beauty.


  1. It sounds as if a car could create more time for you to experience new things in your life in Italy!


  2. After further review of the picture, I think you may be mistaken about having a "car". Judging by the size, you may just have a wagon with a steering wheel.


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