Now that you’ve endured our crash course (no pun intended) on safe motoring in Italy (see the previous posts on Driving in Italy), you must be eager to get behind the wheel of that spiffy Italian number. I’ll wager that navigating from highways to cities, towns and countryside, you’ll have gassed up, followed signs, avoided speed traps, snacked all along the route and gotten lost merely once. It’s time to consider parking that tiger, stretching your legs and enjoying some of the sights on foot.
Parking spaces in Italy are color coded. White spaces are free, blue are paid, yellow spaces are reserved for handicapped permits, taxis or official vehicles and pink spaces are the domain of expectant moms or moms traveling with infants.
White Spaces — While free, white spaces may come with restrictions. If there are restrictions, such as days or times, these should be posted and fairly obvious. However, one of these restrictions can be a bit baffling at first.
When a street sign shows the above icon it means disco parking. No, you are not required to perform a sidewalk Macarena, although locals may find it amusing and even earn you a coin or two. Disco parking refers to a thumbwheel timer disc that all Italian cars have. It is either pasted on your windshield or somewhere in the glove compartment.
If the street sign says dalle 8.00 alle 12.30 it means you may disco park here from 8:00 am to 12:30 pm. Set the thumbwheel to the current time, leave it on the dash, if not already permanently affixed to the windshield, and be back by 12:30. Disco parking operates on the honor system and works remarkably well.
Blue Spaces — Paid public parking comes in two flavors of blue. There’s the attendant that asks how long you intend to stay, charges you and places a stub on your dash. You always take your keys.
The most common form nowadays are area parking meters. Park between the blue stripes and seek out a machine usually within 50 yards or less. Use coins or in some cases credit cards, select the time you wish to stay and pay. Return to your car and place the stub on your dashboard before locking up and going along your merry way. Remember that the time stamped on your stub is the last possible minute to get back to your car without risking a fine, or ending up like Cinderella to find a pumpkin in place of your chariot.
Be careful not to confuse vending machines. The one you use should have a large, blue-colored letter P. Street vending machines are quite common in Italy and we have had clients who mistakenly went to the machine selling Preservativi and ended up being bewildered by placing a package of condoms on their dashboard. P.S. For those whose diets require food prepared without preservatives, say: senza conservanti, since preservativi as mentioned above means something entirely different.
Pink Spaces — These spaces are free and reserved for expectant mothers and moms with infants. While there is no law that fines anyone for abusing this courtesy, nor is any proof or certificate required, it is expected that everyone respect pink spaces for drivers with the most important job in the world.
Yellow Spaces — Unlike the seemingly clever scofflaws above who will soon be towed and fined, nothing you will be driving allows parking in yellow spots, so simply forget about them.
Garage Parking — You will often find these by following blue P signs around an area. Depending on whether the garage is public, semi-private or private expect rates to be anywhere from moderately overpriced to exorbitant. Large parking garages require that you go to a cashier with your ticket before returning to your car. In many cases the cashiers are automated and do accept credit cards. Small garages lack automation and may require leaving your keys with an attendant and possibly prepaying as well. Always check and double check closure times, especially in small garages, as larger ones tend to be open 24/7, others may not. Visit this Italian parking location guide for most major cities, airports, train stations and ports.
Final word on parking — Would you leave your camera, pocketbook, suitcases, GPS and other valuables exposed in a car on a New York, Boston or Philadelphia street? I didn’t think so. Italy is a safe country but never tempt fate by leaving goodies or tell tale signs of being a traveler such as maps and guide books laying about. If you intend to stash items in your trunk, pull over and do so well before reaching your parking destination. Otherwise, all you have done is some inadvertent advertising.