The little village north of Villa San Giovani was nice for a quick transit. The family-run hotel was also nice but truly an integrated business run by a very efficient and bossy Matriarch. Café/bar on the ground floor, rooms on 1 and 2 and a restaurant on 3. Full service. Anyway, it was nice and inexpensive, we had a walk around the market on the following morning and off we went up the coast avoiding the A3.
Pretty typical coastline; easily accessible and quite busy with the usual hotels and resorts hiding any view of what the beaches might look like. We had the usual trouble in Southern Italy finding any place open for lunch and finally swerved off the road at a little pasticeria on the outskirts of a town where the entire population appeared to be sleeping. We wandered into the shop, didn’t see any sandwiches in the cabinet (only cakes) and were about to leave when the owner came running out and insisted on feeding us.
Well…the guy was Sicilian and he made quite a fuss of us. He bought out plates of brioche with ham and salami he made arancini for us, he poured plenty of sparkling wine for us and then fed us pastries and cakes (turned out he is a master pastry maker). Arancini is an Italian dish but with Sicilian roots and its not just risotto balls. In Sicily they are filled, sometimes with meat sauce or fish but in this case with spaghetti and tomato sauce. Pretty dam good they were too despite my surprise at the idea of starch inside starch. His little cakes were also to die for, even for me.
Finally we managed to get him to stop bringing us food and tell us what we owed him. 14 Euro. What a bargain and very entertaining. Despite needing a sleep after all that we steered the fiat back onto the road and off we went.
We persevered with the coast and its as well that we did because the route started to follow a very steep embayed section of coastline, sparsely populated and very beautiful; the Maratea coast I think its called. We ended up in the town of Sapri for the night.
Sapri is hard to get to and is a much more attractive town for it. We stayed in a B&B/apartment not far from the waterfront. I think we were the only guests that night and the process of checking in was a little strange as the owner wasn’t there. The young woman that checked us in had rubber gloves on and had pretended not to hear us knocking on the door while she was sitting at her desk. I don’t know what the rubber gloves were all about and so I kept my distance as we organized our room.
They were not expecting us I guess as we had only made the booking on line about a half hour before (a flaw in our booking.com strategy I guess). It all worked out though and it was a really beautiful place. The owner/manager was there the following morning and set up a big breakfast for us. A very nice guy and he gave us plenty of help with directions and things to see.
We set off heading for the A3 as we had already seen the coast north of Sapri when we stayed near Pisciotta on our way south. Our plan was to break the rule about not going where we had been on previous trips and to head for the Amalfi coast. The Amalfi coast is stunning, we had driven the coast road a couple of times before and had stayed in Positano. Well worth a third visit we thought. It was only a few years ago and I don’t recall that the traffic was that bad.
We got that wrong. The road is single, or maybe one and a half, lane for long stretches and there were plenty of cars in either direction, which probably would have been fine, but for the many buses that were also on the road. Spectacular views but not a lot of fun navigating around buses taking up the entire road. The only fun in fact was the Pizza place when we stopped for lunch in Maiori (sounds like somewhere we should try claiming under the treaty).
Buses; I reckon in this situation if you don’t want to drive or walk you should stay home (unlike in Auckland where steep road tolls would be a good way of putting people on buses and freeing up the motorway). Anyway by the time we got to Sorrento I was a little stressed and ready for an alcohol infusion which we could have arranged but for the hordes of Pommie tourists making the place burst at the seams.
In any case we ended up heading to Naples and staying at Pompeii in a B&B a few minutes walk from the ruins. The traffic in Pompeii was just like in Naples…awful and Linda was doing the reservation on line as we were driving and not keeping up with the choices as to which way to go at corners (and U turns would have been impossible even by Naples standards). Needless to say by the time we reached the B&B to check in the atmosphere in the fiat was a little tense. However once we had found a very nice Michelin awarded restaurant not too far away and settled in normal relations started to return.
By the following morning the consensus was that we had had enough of Southern Italy, and we had already seen the ruins, so we checked out, loaded up the Fiat, and got her started and ready to head north. Before we even got out of the parking lot the dashboard had lit up like mount Vesuvius did immediately before it turned Pompeii into a tourist attraction. Orange and red were the predominant colors and exclamation marks provided the main symbology. No amount of switching off and restarting would change the general message, which appeared to be “I’m not going any further with you behind the wheel”.
That’s a bit of a conundrum when you don’t fancy all day in Pompeii while getting help and getting mechanical issues sorted. Unlike her usual self though the GPS did us a favour. She found a Europe Car depot quite close (as it turned out at the airport). We decided to take the risk and drive there rather than call for help. All the lights stayed the same colour but nothing bad happened and no strange noises developed and we reached the car rental place in about 15 minutes.
The guy who checked us in looked at the dashboard and said “this is problem”. Really? I have to say though, Europe Car, as usual, did the right thing and we were installed in a new car and out of there about a half hour later. It was another Fiat 500, this time in Beige. Oh well.
North we went, around Napoli, around Rome, and then we diverted slightly east through the Apennine Mountains but well west of the earthquake damage and around Perugia. We had decided that San Marino was worth a look and booked a hotel right in the heart of the old town. The drive there was beautiful and the closer we got the more mountainous it was. As San Marino came into view it became ever more amazing.
Most people are surprised to find that there is a small independent republic inside Italy. San Marino (the most serene republic of San Marino in fact) is the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world and its constitution is comprised of 6 volumes written in the 16th century. It is completely surrounded by Italy, is near the East coast, has 5 towns including San Marino city, 32,000 citizens and one of the worlds highest per capita GDP’s. It is a vestige of the independent Italian states that merged over the centuries to become modern Italy and is the 3rd smallest country in Europe behind Vatican City and Monaco.
The GPS played tricks on us again and on the way to San Marino took us through 2 of the republics other towns and over all of its hills on its narrowest roads. It was worth the ride though to see San Marino itself clinging precariously to the side of a mountain rising 500m in a vertical cliff on one side from a near sea level plain. Our hotel was near the city gate right on the main pedestrian street and our room was a corner room with a stupendous view. It took only a few minutes to decide to alter our reservation from one to two nights.
The following day we walked the town, visited museums and made our way all the way up to all three of the original fortified towers that sit atop the city wall as it runs along the cliff. Words and photos really don’t do justice to what this place looks like. Lonely planet says that there is no soul but we found the place fascinating, the vibe good, and the restaurants great if a little pricey. While we were there the San Marino moto GP was starting.
From San Marino we had only three more nights to plan before leaving Europe and given geography and proximity to Milan where we were to leave from couldn’t resist going back to Bologna for a couple of nights. So we reserved an apartment about 15 minutes walk from the middle of the old city and headed off. We wended our way through some back roads and then blasted up the A14 to Bologna arriving in time for lunch!
Sensational apartment; split level penthouse with a nice kitchen and sunny lounge. The kitchen and the laundry both got a work out. Bologna is a beautiful city, with portico’s running along the streets many of which are pedestrianized. Its also one of the gourmet capitals of the world, home to many fine restaurants, fabulous deli’s and markets, and of course the home of Bolognese. Linda even found a shop selling Italian wool for knitting and weaving. Our new grandson or grandaughter will be kitted out in gear knitted with Italian wool as a result. While we were in town there was a big street race, maybe a half marathon, on. Linda does have a history with street racing having collided with a runner racing in Belgium somewhere while crossing a street. For the sake of everyone I found a wine bar for her to shelter in.
Two nights in Bologna was way too short. We saw lots of the city, cooked with some fantastic local ingredients, visited a couple of very good restaurants, and delayed our departure for our final nights accommodation near Milan Malpensa until the mid afternoon on Tuesday (after lunch of course).
Then it was a simple trip on up the E35, around Modena and Milan to Malpensa. Our accommodation was in an apartment in what seemed to be an old converted farmhouse in a rural area just a 15-minute drive from the airport. It was nice if a little rustic. I cooked most of the last of our supplies for dinner and we left what remained in that apartment. Obviously lots of folks like us do the same thing, as the cupboards and fridge were full of good stuff!
When we arrived the old guy running the place confused us with someone else and wanted to give us their passports and their key. Once we sorted that out he couldn’t find our reservation but seemed to have the very room I had booked ready for us anyway. The confusion continued the next morning at 0800 when we departed as he muddled invoices and charged someone for two nights who only stayed one and then charged someone the one night who had stayed two (they came back to help him sort it out). I made sure he got ours right!
Our 6 weeks or so in this part of Europe were fantastic and it seemed all wrong to end them. However I was soon to have plenty of other crap to be pissed off about that would take severing ourselves from Italy right off my mind. The car return went smoothly and we were in the airport and looking for British airways very quickly.
British Airways I have always thought were OK. On later reflection I would have to say that the EU is better off with the UK and its businesses “brexited” and restricted to the islands to the west. BA have a new rule (which the desk agents in Hong Kong on our way up here must have been unaware of) that a connection where you land on one BA flight and then leave from that same airport for a second airport on another BA flight isn’t really a connection if you book them separately. So they wouldn’t check our bags through Heathrow to Vancouver.
Are you f*****g kidding? I asked… Perhaps not the best way to address the issue but being polite probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome. Just as well we had plenty of time at Heathrow.
We had to disembark in London Heathrow T5, go through immigration, pick up our bags, and then recheck. The idiot on the immigration desk, on the basis of what usually happens, should have stamped our passports and sent us on our way for up to 6 months. However coming into the UK for a few hours seemed to confuse him (odd given BA’s rule).
He asked a bunch of stupid questions, wanted to see our onward ticket (difficult when its an e-ticket), and then scribbled a 2-day limit of stay in our passports as he handed them back. As I opened my mouth to discuss his IQ and cultural heritage with him I felt Linda tugging at my shirtsleeve and leading us out to baggage claim. She is very prescient, my wife.
Then we went upstairs in T5 with our bags to check in again to find that I had managed to book our flight to Vancouver from BA’s gates at T3. Yep, my fault but no big deal right? You just get on the connection train to T3. Yes, that works when the train is running to its very regular schedule. But when we got there the little screen said next train….1 hour. Broken train. WTF? By now I had completely forgotten that we had even been to Italy. Just as well I was so conservative with connection times when I made these bookings.
Once we arrived at T3 and checked in things started to go better and we eventually got onto our plane and headed for Vancouver and then Denver and the North American leg of our trip. From here on it’s Metaform related work and meetings for me until we head back to NZ a week later. For now though…Ciao!