Monday, May 18, 2009

Roma to Napoli

Today was supposed to be a quiet relaxing day. We only needed to drive about 230km and there was freeway pretty much the whole way. The day did not go as expected.

Since we thought that we had loads of time, we decided to go and see the port town of Ostia Antica which is very close to Roma but at the mouth of the river Tiber. We found it fine but it was closed on mondays and it was a bit early for lunch so we decided to push on and stop somewhere on the side of the road to have something to eat.

Driving south from Ostia there is mile upon mile of restaurants and beach on the one side of the road and parking on the other. This is obviously very popular with the Romans but other than sitting on the beach in the sun, not an option for me, there were no shady areas to be found; so we pressed on. The coast reminded me quite a lot of the vegetation and feel of amanzimtoti but without the multi-storey buildings.

Heading inland we thought that we could use one of the rest areas/picnic spots next to the motorway but there wasn't a single one all the way to Napoli. We could have pulled off at one of the one-stops but again, we would have had to sit in the sun in the car park. Hardly an enticing option. We were actually doing quite well until we arrived in Napoli when we came to a grinding halt because there had been an accident up ahead, it must have been quite serious because the motorway was closed completely in both directions. Chaos ensued and I learnt a lot about Italian drivers under stress and I have to say that they come out pretty well.

One has to remember that, for Italian drivers, road regulations are like a to-do list. I'm sure they get to the end of the day and tick off: done 80km/hr in a 50km/hr zone - tick, overtaken on a white line - tick, into oncoming traffic - tick. In other words they do pretty much what they want but because everyone does it and knows that everyone does it; it mostly works and nobody gets too tense with people doing what are blatantly dangerous or illegal maneuvers. Like overtaking in a tunnel, across the double white line, and into oncoming traffic. South African taxis would be proud!

The one thing Italian drivers don't do a lot of is drive fast. On the freeway the speed limit is 130km/hr and we normally drive at about 100-110km/hr and although we aren't the fastest on the road we are the same or faster than some of the traffic and we haven't yet had someone come past at 160-170km/hr. This apparent regard for the law is misleading because one quieter roads where the speed limit is 50km/hr they regularly do 70-80km/hr.

So arriving in Napoli we spent 2.5hr edging along the last 10km of our journey. Italian drivers are pushy and if you let them they will nose their way ahead or around you but if you don't let them, nobody gets tense, they just accept it and carry on. Big difference from South African drivers who would have a heart attack if people were to drive like this in South Africa. To take a really good example which happened several times today. Imagine heavy oncoming traffic (on our left since we are driving on the right hand side) and a road joining from the right. Since there isn't a gap for the cars joining from the right to get into they will slowly edge forward until our line of traffic is forced to stop, they then force their way into the oncoming traffic at which point we can go again if they weren't being tailgated by another car entering from the right. The cars going our direction have to force their way across this line of cars in order to get going again. Everyone accepts this and there is no tension or hooters or anything. Amazing!

We were stuck on the highway and I absolutely had to have a pee so eventually, after and hour of holding it in, I just had to go next to the motorway. Caron was not amused; because the traffic was barely moving I hadn't pulled over, just jumped out and of course, as I jump out the traffic moves about 50m so everyone behind us overtakes. 34 deg, slightly humid in an ice-cream van without air-conditioning and tempers were getting very thin. We didn't actually have an argument but it was close, very close.

I think that this was unusual even for Napoli because there were people who were clearly just motorists directing traffic. Once we had calmed down and were out of the direct sun it was a bit cooler and I started enjoying the experience since we didn't have to get anywhere in a rush we could just plod along and watch the kamikaze mopeds, some sans helmets, play chicken with each other down the centre of the traffic.

We finally arrived at our camp-site which is inside an orange orchard so we have shade pretty much the whole day which will be great tomorrow. We both took a walk down to the docks about 200m away which are very picturesque with loads of restaurants and bars on waterfront with boats in the harbour. I think we'll have to go to one of the bars tomorrow night!

To really cap Carons day, the ladies showers weren't hot so I had a very grumpy Caron on my hands.

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