|Subject: Driving in Italy|
I shouldn't really post this message, as I'm an Italian and I'm used to drive in Italy, but, having driven both in the USA and many countries in Europe, I guess I can tell you the key points you could find different when driving in Italy.
The most important is gas station working hours: you really risk to be left stuck in the middle of countryside with no gas. Only toll highway (autostrada) gas stations are open seven days a week, 24/24. Gas stations in towns and on state or local roads are usually open Monday to Friday from 7-7.30 am to 12.30pm (sharp!) and from 3-3.30pm to 7pm (sharp again!). Some stations show a self-service sign, meaning you can fill your tank off hours, providing you have some bills, usually 10,000 and 50,000 lire. Some of them accept Credit or ATM cards, some not. On Saturday afternoons, Sundays and holidays, only a few stations are open and you can get crazy to find one. Be prepared and keep your tank filled, unless you travel a lot on highways. Remember in Italy there are almost no self-service gas stations.
Toll on highways is rather expensive (very expensive compared to USA). From Venice to Milan you spend more than 20,000 lire (8-9$) for 150 miles. The good news are you can pay it in many ways: credit card, cash and even foreign currency (but don't expect a good exchange rate or the correct change). If you're planning to travel a lot on highways and don't want to be bored about how to pay and which gate to choose( as previously explained by another Ziner), you could think about buying a Viacard (white and blue, credit card size, on sale at post offices, tobacconists, highway gas stations and else) for 50,000 or 100,000 lire. Inserting the card in the slot or handing it to the cashier, the toll amount is subtracted by the total on the card. You can compensate it with cash if there isn't enough, of course.
Anything left? I second Callie's suggestion about Touring Club Italiano maps, they are really good. Any gas station however sell maps, but if you want to wander on your own, don't buy anything under 1:500 000 otherwise you'll be lost soon. This if your map reading skill is average, as some people can't plainly read a map (my wife is one of them) and they have to rely on other people's goodwill!