Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The plains of Italy are GORGEOUS

Our destination after the mountains was Taranto, a coastal city. We didn't run into too many problems on the way there, but I did realize driving here has changed the way I drive. We were getting close to Taranto and we were in stop and go traffic. As we neared a stop light the car in front of me was rolling along slowly past a gas station. I saw that the light was green and thought that the car must be planning on turning into the gas station so I hit the gas and pulled around the car in front of me. As I did so the light turned red and the cars in front of me stopped, so I couldn't make it all the way in front of the car I passed, but instead I was kind of caddy-corner. As soon as I stopped I realized I had just been a major asshole, although the car didn't even honk. The next day while we were driving Anson started laughing because I was swearing at the car in front of me (it decelerating as it approached an on ramp ... something I found/find very counterintuative). I even peeled out once when going around a curve. Although, I've also found American traffic frustrating since I've been back I think if I hadn't adapted to Italian traffic at least a little I might not have been able to hack it. I'm sure the same is true of Anson although he's always been more comfortable with speed.

Anywhoo, when we made it to Taranto we parked on the edge of town and started looking around. We quickly stumbled upon a sort of Italian flea market and, before long, Anson found something he wanted to buy. A deck of numberless cards, they simply used symbols. It was only one euro so he bought it right out. We continued on through the crowd browsing. We passed some neat pipes, a sword, and a variety of other interesting things but didn't get any of it. We did, however, discover that Anson's deck of card only had 40 or so cards. They had had another deck or two so we decided to go back and see if we couldn't get one of those and, between the two of them, make a full deck.

This is one of the more, in hindsight, embarrassing language/culture experiences I've had. Anson, after reading a long history of cards, found out that there were only supposed to be 40 cards in the deck. Now the odd, suspicious, sidelong glances they gave us as the looked for the other deck of cards made sense. It makes sense because ... they thought we were crazy. They didn't end up finding another deck of cards so Anson and I set out for our next objective, food.

Anson kept asking for hamburgers and hot dogs in the hope that he would get something crazy and unique and Taranto didn't disappoint. When he ordered his hot dog they asked if he wanted french fries. He did. After a few minutes they served him a hot dog, cut in half long-wise, on a sub with fries sandwiching it on either side. It turned out to be very unique and also very delicious.

After dinner we began our evening search for a campsite. This evening however, we were looking to poach. We wanted something by the road, without much traffic or light. Preferably flat and without grazing animals or trash. It took us a lot of slow driving on back roads and some guts-ing up but we found a suitable place. We didn't find out until after we were laying down in the tent that our spot wasn't as flat as it had looked but we both slept well.

The next morning we got up at 7 and headed out. After getting breakfast we began our search for some archaeological ruins on the coast south of Bari. These too took some searching but these too we found in the end. They turned out to be spectacular. It was a village and burial site that were ~2000 years old. It was neat to see and we even got to walk inside some of the tombs and a large storage chamber. The coast in the areas was particularly
beautiful. It was rocky, which was neat because you could see where the ancient villagers had used the cliffs as a quarry.

By the time we left the ruins it was time to begin our daily ritual of looking for somewhere to eat. After almost an hour and one false start (we thought a pizzeria was open but, upon entering and talking with the management, who were there cooking, we found out it wasn't) we were hungry and frustrated with the whole thing. Just as we were starting to head back to the car to drive somewhere else, we saw a Chinese restaurant. Italians may take 4 hour lunch brakes but I was pretty sure Chinese didn't. We walked into the restaurant and, indeed, someone immediately came out and took us to a table. The food was good and I got to practice my Chinese ... always a bonus.

After a refreshing lunch we left and made for our next destination, the Castellana Grotte. They turned out to be stunning caves but very commercialized. We couldn't even take pictures inside because the city owned the digital rights and would not stand for anyone else trying to usurp them. The cave tour culminated in the 'White Cave', a truly stunning room where the water creating the formations was pure of certain elements leading to completely white stalactites and stalagmites. Another interesting thing in the caves was the effect of the lighting. Previously nothing grew in the caverns because it was dark but now, around the lights, algae was growing. Apparently in some parts of the cave the air was even being turned more acidic by human breath, leading to stalactites being destroyed by the constant dripping of water, instead of created. It was sad and made me wonder what the caves would be like in 20 years.

When we got out of the caves we found that we had gotten a parking ticket. It was a bummer but the main problem was that we didn't know how to pay it. I ended up taking it back to Bologna and asking my Spanish class what to do with it. Then Anson and I took a field trip to the post office, what my class/teacher had recommended, and paid it there. Immediately, however, our concern was to get our car washed and get to Bari. A guy on our tour of the cave was ''backpacking'' around Southern Italy so decided to give him a ride to Bari.

On the way we stopped at a car wash. We had to ask for directions but then we got it figured out and got the car reasonably clean. Anson didn't think it was a big deal but I was paranoid about getting a huge charge after we turned the car in for 'cleaning' (I, so far, haven't). Driving into Bari proved somewhat stressful but we found a parking garage and pulled in there. The parking spots were so narrow that parking was almost more nerve wracking than driving had been but we
made it.

Our main exiting event of the evening was stumbling upon some giant soccer celebrations. We literally rounded a corner and suddenly were confronted by a big screen TV and hordes of people watching, yelling, drinking, and generally carousing. This seemed a little more intense than we were quite ready for so we did our best to skirt most of it, only stopping to get gelato. On the way back to the car we stopped at a Tabacchi (smoke shop) where Anson bought another deck of cards. It wasn't until now that we began to realize the decks were only supposed to have 40 cards, and the used deck he'd gotten hadn't been short at all. It was just Italian.

We had to wake up early the next morning to drop off the car and catch our flight, so we just decided to spend the night in our car. The flight back was uneventful except that the passengers broke out into song a couple of times. The right soccer team must have one the night before. The trumpets sounded again on our landing, promting another round of song. We had made it back to Bologna.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The mountains of Italy are AMAZING

I woke up early (I thought) but Anson was up over an hour before me enjoying the sunrise. It was fully light by the time I woke up and we walked down to the beach again to stretch our legs. It was sunny, but chilly and pretty windy. However, I had wanted to swim in the Mediterranean and I knew this was going to be my last chance on this trip so I went back to the car and changed into my swimsuit. On the way back to the beach Anson advised me to just run straight in so, once we made it there, I sprinted straight in. It was cold but shallow. I swam out about 10' but it didn't get any deeper so I just waded around a little. 

Our campground had showers on the way back in and I started to use one of them before I realized they actually had hot showers too. So I went and tried to use one of those but unfortunately they weren't free. Thus, I trudged back out into the wind and stood under the shower head. I took a deep breath before turning it on full blast. It was as cold as I expected so I scrubbed off quickly and headed back to the car. We cranked up the heat and headed off. 

This day of driving was characterized much less on navigating by map and much more on which mountains we thought we could make it to by taking which roads in our immediate vicinity. By heading towards the steep cliffs, we made finally arrived at Castel Mezzano. The castle part had been built onto/into the rock itself and probably would have been a pretty good fortification. A modern addition that Anson and I were much more interested in was the zip line. It stretched from the top of the highest peak at Castel Mezzano, all the way across the valley, to a mountain on the other side (www.volodellangelo.com). It was, unfortunately, closed. Anson and I looked for food, an occupation that was beginning to become quite tiresome, and, not finding any, moved on. 

Since coming to Southern Italy I had been reminded more than once of Taiwan and now, as Anson and I navigated down the mountain on steep, debris ridden, and frequently one lane (due to landslides) roads the resemblance was overwhelming. In Naples moped use was almost as high as Asia, and I had even seen a family of 5 riding on one moped, something I had thought was distinctly Taiwanese. Squatter toilets and toilets without seats were also in regular use and, furthermore, families that owned restaurants seemed to also use them as their home. The food was even cheaper too. Now, driving along these roads with Anson, I was reminded of driving along Taroko Gorge with my dad the previous year. It was more surprising than anything else. 
Either Taiwan is advanced or Southern Italy is behind. Possibly both.

After more driving and many split-second navigational decisions we ended up in Tricario. We were still looking for food but we couldn't see anything open so we kept driving. It had started to rain but the scenery was still spectacular. We were in a type of deciduous forest and we began to see stock animals.
 When coming down from Castel Mezzano we had driven through some sheep in the road. Now we saw large grey cows that, at first glance, looked a little like elephants. Only at first glance though. We continued driving when we suddenly saw a restaurant sign on our left. Anson swung the wheel and we pulled up short in a parking space.

Our fist impression on entering the restaurant was that it was probably nicer than what we were looking for but we were seated quickly so it didn't seem like we had much choice. The restaurant was bustling with people, I guessed they were the after church crowd. After a moment the waiter came up to take our order and we quickly found out that he spoke English. And his name was Alfonzo. They didn't use a menu for lunch, instead they just had some things that they recommended. Anson chose lasagna and then it was my turn. Anson told him I was vegetarian (better to get that out early) and his response was not heartening. "Oooh, that is not good, we only work with meat at lunch." Because I had had a good experience yesterday with spinach I decided just to ask for that, or perhaps mushrooms. "I aint got not spinach, I got mushrooms, but I aint got no spinach." I asked for a small pizza but that request was also denied. Apparently they don't do pizza at lunch. Alfonzo then suggested a plate with mushrooms, peppers, and cheese. It sounded good to me so I agreed. 

After he left we observed the decor of the restaurant. It turned out that there was a picture on the wall next to our table, of a whole pig being roasted. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by the "we only work with meat at lunch" thing. Alfonzo turned out to be very nice and he frequently stopped by our table to talk. He turned out to be a very interesting guy, having lived in Liverpool and London for 6-8 years all told. No wonder his English was good.

Before too long he came out again, this time bringing our food. Anson's lasagna was pretty straightforward and apparently, very delicious. My plate was a bit of a surprise but ... I guess that should have been expected. There were two large (3-4" x 1" x 2 ") pieces of cheese, one mozzarella, which was tied in a knot, and the other was provolone (I think). I also had peppers, and eggplant. The best though, was the mushrooms. I think it is common to cut bell peppers in half, then pack the halves with something and bake them. I had not thought that this could be done to mushrooms but indeed, although they weren't cut in half first, the tops were stuffed and they turned out very delicious. Alfonzo had also talked us into getting some bruschetta (baked bread with tomatoes, olive oil, and spices). Jeannie and I had made it once in Bologna but this was vastly superior, I think because of more oil and more salt. Although eating the two pieces of cheese was sort of intense (it was just a lot of cheese) the meal overall was fantastic. Anson got coffee afterwards and it too was delicious. The best was yet to come, however.

While talking with Alfonzo before, it had come out that Anson and I were driving around and camping where we could. As we were paying, Alfonzo asked if we had a specific camping destination for the night and, when we said we had none, began advising us on camping in the area. After some discussion he said we could camp there if we wanted to. There would be live music at the restaurant and that they served pizza (among other things, they just assumed, correctly, that we would want pizza) at dinner. Suddenly, there were two short and squat (not fat, you could just tell that they enjoyed their cooking) old people wearing aprons appeared. I assume that they were the proprietors of the restaurant and the ones behind the idea to let us camp at their restaurant. 

This whole situation again illustrated how helpful, possibly overly so, the Italians were. We hadn't even asked for directions, let alone any advice on where to camp. However, we had gotten camping advice and more, we had gotten a free place to sleep, with the side offer of more good reasonably priced food and some live local Italian music. The chefs were still by the table, looking friendly and concerned. They spoke swiftly to Alfonzo. Turns out they offered to let us sleep inside the restaurant. We would, of course, have to wait until everyone left, at midnight or so, but then we could make ourselves at home. Sort of. 

The offer was tantalizing, especially since it had just started to rain and, although we would probably sleep fine in a wet  tent, it does kind of suck. We discussed our options and decided to keep moving. It wasn't that we didn't want to sleep there, it was that we were in the mountains and we were pretty sure that if we went out of the mountains it wouldn't be raining.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pompeii and Sorrento

We got up early (Anson actually got up really early and saw the sun rise on the beach) and went to Pompeii. First, though, we had to stop to pick up more supplies. We had seen signs for a large grocery store (we had actually stopped at it but it was closed). We pulled into the parking lot at 8:30 and found out it didn't open until 9, so we decided to wait. By the time  o'clock had rolled around there were 50 or so people waiting to get into the store. Most of them had carts and the atmosphere was sort of like the beginning of a race. People were not really 'jockeying' but more moving around slowly to try to gain a better position. As soon as the security guard opened the gate those in front shot out on their shopping errands. After Anson and I had gotten our groceries we headed off towards Pompeii. 

Although it was beautiful, and really cool to be able to walk around in that old of a place, it was sort of like a museum. Ie. it was really neat at first but after a while became a lot less exciting. Due to poor planning on our part we didn't bring in food and, because they didn't sell any inside Pompeii, we ended up leaving sooner than we would have liked. After Anson got lunch and I got gelato we walked around to the front and, to our surprise, they let us back in. Having been satiated, we enjoyed our round two entrance a bit more.

Because we were let in again, it was almost 4 by the time we left Pompeii, so we decided to begin making our way south, in preparation for heading inland (and back towards Bari) the next day. In Sorrento we stopped again for food and, to our surprise, we actually found a kebab restaurant. Anson ordered one of those but, because they are supremely meaty, I looked for something else on the menu. I saw savory looking baked goods in the display case and something that had spinach in it on the menu. For some reason (probably wishful thinking) I assumed that they were the same thing but, just in case, I asked if the menu item had meat in it. It did. (I found out later that the menu item I was asking about corresponded to the plate of spinach with sausages on it in the display case. Duh! it had meat in it.) I then asked if the delicious looking item in the display case had meat in it. It also did. After a couple more minutes of talking I began to realize that this experience was exactly what Anson had been talking about when he said 'When you ask an Italian a question, it is not just a question but a problem that needs to be solved.' I had brought up eating spinach and it was rapidly becoming clear that they were going to make sure I ate some spinach, if that was indeed what I wanted. I did my best to convey that that was what I wanted so they nodded and asked me to sit down. By this point Anson was well into his kebab and when, by the time he finished it they still hadn't brought out any food, we began to wonder if I had actually ordered anything. 

It was foolish for us to doubt and moments later they brought out ... a steaming plate of buttery, cheesy, salty, oily, and generally delicious looking plate of spinach. I answered in the affirmative when he asked if I wanted bread. Moments later he returned with bread, which I quickly used to sop up the oil and butter. It was, perhaps, a little to salty but overall good and, most importantly, it was very very Italian. 

After dinner we continued moving south and began to keep our eyes out for a campsite. We were not too excited about the possibility of paying 20 euros to camp so we tossed around the idea of just camping on the beach. However, as we drove along the coastal highway we started to see prostitutes on the side of the road. This only further contributed to a general air of shadiness so we ended up paying to camp in a gated campground by the beach. After we got set up we went for a walk on the beach, which, while nice, mostly reaffirmed our decision not to poach camping.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Heaven Help Us

The only excitement that the morning brought was trying to get onto the autostrada (highway). Anson and I had to ask at a gas station to figure it out but, just FYI, you take the ticket when you get on and give the ticket (and the corresponding amount of money) when you get off. Also, unless you are going roughly double the speed limit, you are treated as a 'grand-ma', dangerous at worst and humiliating at best. For example, as best we could figure out the speed limit on the autostrada was 80 kpm. Although we were doing around 130-140 we felt almost like snails as we were repeatedly sped past. We did our best to take it in stride.

Our destination for the day was Naples. Thanks to the convenience of the autostrada we made it there by about 11:30 and we stopped on the outskirts for lunch. It turned out to be a nice calm before the storm. Traffic had been somewhat crazy on the way into town but manageable. There was one main road with 2-3 lanes on it depending on how the aggresive drivers felt and how small their cars were. There was also a lot of jockeying within the stop and go traffic, which was 
somewhat nervewracking, but mostly harmless if you just let other people sort themselves out.

As we got further into town, however, things got much worse. The streets became more and more packed with cars, honking increased, and any forward progress seemed based on how willing you were to cut off the guy next to you in traffic. In some places traffic was completely stopped and people were getting out of their cars to shout. Then, suddenly, traffic was moving a little more and Anson and I came up on what looked like a sort of roundabout. I have done my best to accurately recreate how the street sign looked, although I was stressed at the time and didn't get much chance to ponder its intricacies because there were many cars behind me, all rip-roarin ready to go.
 Furthermore, although all I really remember is that it was a confusing jumble of circles, my model is probably more simple than the real thing was because mine is just one road going in a wierd sort of cursive J while the real sign probably depicted more than one road. 

Anywhoo, because there were cars behind me rarin' to go, Anson and I had no real objective inside Naples to see, and the sign would have been a terrible indicator even if we had known which way to go so ... I went right. I don't know if any other direction would have been better but I do know that I certainly would not got right again. We ended up getting funneled up-hill onto narrower and narrower streets with progressively more pedestrians. They eventually became so thick on the road that I could barely move forward. 

Nudging is  a sort of theme in Italian driving. Anson and I had begun to notice its use at intersections in alleys (where there frequently are no signs indicating right-of-way) or when merging onto heavily trafficed roads. People just keep merging out until the oncoming cars actually have to swerve to miss them, then finally one car slows down and they make it out. It is more dubious in alleyways because cars sometimes begin to nudge out right as one is coming up on them. 

So we had begun to notice the nudge and, seeing as pedestrians were thick as flies, I decided to try to nudge through them. I eventually made up to another alleyway. I was forced to stop again, but this time not by pedestrians. There was a car (car A) coming out of an alley to my right. It wanted to turn left onto the street I was on, but another car (car B) wanted to turn into the alley it was coming out of, and had pulled so far foward that it couldn't pull out. Before I clearly understood the situation I had pulled forward far enough so that we were all basically stuck. Fortunately there was a member of the local police force there to help us out. I had previously wondered if we were doing anything wrong by driving in an area with so many pedestrians but either, we weren't or this police officer didn't care. He just got car B to back up so car A could pull out. It was then my turn and the only place I could go (not that I particularly wanted to) was up the alley car A had just come out. The police officer waived me on so I started to nudge forward. 
I immediately ran into a wall of pedestrians. I honked, but all that got was one or two looks and 0 people willing to move so I could go. The police office again stepped in to smooth out traffic by stopping the pedestrians. I had to drive over the curb to get into the alley but destiny appeard to be forcing us in that direction so I drove on. 

Car B had pulled in behind me so even as the alley narrowed and steepend I was forced to drive on. The alley ended in a sort of dead end. There were two guys standing in front of me with not way to go on in that direction. One of them pointed off to the right, where there were two other narrow alleys basically going back in the direction we had come. I took the left one in hopes that it would get us out of the maze. As we drove past him the guy shouted that we should turn left at the end of the alley. We did make it to the end and turn left, but the way there was not only really narrow, but also littered with debris such as a mattress and a car engine. 

The left at the end of the alley pushed us further uphill but we ended on an actual two lane road that wasn't a tiny alley. The sketchiest part of the drive was over although traffic remained so thick and the mopeds in the other lane were nudging so aggresively that I hit one with my mirror. The mirror bent out of the way and the mopeder seemed not to notice so I refrained from yelling at him to get in his on lane. We finally made it down somewhere and (hallelujah) found a parking place. It seemed to good to be true since we had not only seen none up to that point, but we had also seen regular double parking, leading me to believe that there were no available parking spaces in the whole city. However, there it was so I pulled in. Ah!! Heaven helped us!! We made it through Naples on what was the heaviest traffic day in 10 years. (I found this out later from Niccola, the dad in the famliy Jeannie babysits for.) Apparently spring had come late and it was European Labor Day so everyone in the country had gone to the coast. 

Beacuse it was Labor Day very few of the shops were open and, after walking around for a while, we decided to head on out of Naples. We briefly considered going out to one of the nearby islands but decided to check out the castle overlooking the harbor instead. Alas it was closed so we contented ourselves with looking at the outside before getting back in the car and heading down the road. It was about 3 so we decided start thinking about a campsite, in which vein we decided to head towards Sorrento. We stopped for food once and Anson got an Italian style hamburger. The traffic continued to be bad the whole way but it was all pretty mellow compared to what it was like in Naples. Once, traffic was slow and I let another car in front of me. The driver did not even wave a thank you but instead turned away and honked once, teaching us a little more about the acceptable uses of honking.

We finally saw a sign for camping so we swung off the road to the right and began driving down a narrow and steep road. At the bottom we found the advertised campsite and turned in. I steeled myself for another conversation in broken Italian and got out of the car. I went over to the proprietor and (I'm pretty sure) said "I would like ... (dramatic pause for effect)  ... CAMPING!" He responded, somewhat disappointingly, in English, so we got everything taken care of pretty quickly. Although the campsite was more expensive than the one we had stayed at the night before, it was very nice. 
There were orange trees everywhere and some roses and it was generally a very pleasant place to be. After Anson and I got set up we walked down to the beach, then up to the next town (Vico Equense) for dinner. 

Friday, May 8, 2009


We neared the runway. The wheels touched down and I heard a sudden noise. Music. Trumpets playing triumphally. Many of the passengers broke out in applause. As Anson and I grinned and looked at each other inquisitively, wondering why a normal plane landing warrented such celebration, a voice came on over the intercom and annouced happily that we had arrived on time. Furthermore, so the annoucement said, Ryanair flights were ontime more than 90% of the time (the best record in Europe) and that because of this, and the cheap fares, we should continue flying with Ryanair. A damn fine argument if I've ever heard one. 

Anson and I had decided, while he was visiting me, to fly to Bari (on the Adriatic in southern Italy) and there rent a car. Now that the flight was on the ground, the next thing to do was rent the car. It took a little bit of waiting and some finagling, involving going to another rental place, but we did get a car rented. Now came the fun part ... driving. We drove straight out of the parking lot and ran smack into a roundabout. We took it and went straight back into the parking lot. We took a break, got our bearings more firmly settled, and headed back out onto the open road. The roundabout didn't manage to foil our exit this time and we headed for our first destination, an old castle built by the Holy Roman Emperor Federick the Second in the 
mid 1200's called Castel del Monte. Getting there didn't prove too terribly difficult but it was a sort of sink or swim experience. 

Anson was driving first and had had no chance to familiarize himself with the road conditions of Italy (a quasi complete lack of obeyed traffic laws). Although he was able to swim fabulously, avoiding all collisions and managing to pass a bike while being passed by a car in the other direction and being flanked by two parked cars, we did have to take an early brake. I went into a grocery store to get some supplies and Anson headed into a cafe for a sandwhich. After I got the groceries I decided (having brought the map into the store with me) that asking for directions would be good. The supermarket seemed to have a slight excess of staff and when I pulled out my map they materialized from all directions to provide assistance. I pointed to Castel del Monte on the map and did my best to communicate that I wanted to know how to get to the road that led there. I think they got it but none knew which road to take, so my cashier led me out of the store. 

We headed across the street to what looked like an abandoned gas station. There was nothing inside the store and all the pumps were wrapped up in paper. There turned out to be a middle aged man sitting in a plastic chair out front with his hands in his pockets, apparently not doing anything. The cashier began to talk to the man and show him the map. A near by German Shepard stood up and barked liesurely. 

The man began to speak to me rapidly in Italian. I gathered that we were looking for highway 95, that we should take a couple turns, and that there would be railroad tracks involved at some point. With these directions in mind, Anson and I headed back to the car. I decided that I loved Italy and asking for directions. I hadn't understood most of what transpired but everyone had been friendly, and it seemed like I had learned some things that would help us  get out of town. 

We headed off in the indicated direction and did take some turns and find some railroad tracks. We crossed them, but ended up pulling a U-ey (an art we would become practised in over our trip) and heading back into town. We had a map of the country which was reasonably detailed, showing major roads and some secondary ones. However, it completely lacked maps of cities; something that turned out to be a serious deficit. We did devise a strategy to cope with it which was, although not perfect, certainly adequate. We just drove around turning onto the roads that were bigger than the one we were on until we were on a road large enough to have signage directing us to the next town. Many of these towns were not on our map, but we usually could make an educated guess, and we always ended up somewhere.

After a few detours, we made it to Castel del Monte. It was neat to see but ... perhaps not as neat as one would hope. You couldn't even get on the roof. So we kept moving, heading north towards the Gargano Peninsula, the so called 'spur' of Italy. We stopped along the way in Barletta and ended up finding another castle. This one was much more like a fortification and less like a hunting home. Although we were able to get up on the roof, this castle seemed to have been partially turned into an office building. We checked out the dungeons too, where we stumbled upon an echo chamber. All in all, the second castle was much more fun to see, but after  a bit we decided to keep moving. 

Our destination for the night was Manfredonia and, without too many wrong turns, we made it. We were starting to get hungry but, in what was going to be a trend for the trip, there were no stores open. It was about 6 pm, which is earlier than many restaurants open but, we hoped, not too late for the tourist information office to be open. So we went there. The front door was locked, but the lights were on, so Anson and I hesitated outside the door wondering if there was anyone still inside. A man rounded a corner in the building and came over to open the door. He said something I didn't understand, so I just sort of looked back at, smiling stupdily. He repeated it, and I guessed that he was asking what we wanted. I don't know how to express 'can' so I asked where it was possible to eat. Then I rubbed my fingers together to indicated that money was a consideration. Here our man started to show his true mettle. Anson later observed that when you ask an Italian for something they treat it as a problem to be solved instead of a simple inquiry. This observation was to be proved again and again over our trip, but this first time was one of the best examples. Our man didn't just point us 50" down the street to a random cafe. He wanted to get us the best possible Italian food we could while meeting our cost considerations. He also wanted it to be easy for us to get to. Immediately, after I asked the question our man stepped outside the door and began to ponder. We could see that we were in for something good.

After thinking for  a moment our man invited us inside. He took us back to his office and offered us seats. While looking at his office we realized that he was a city employee, i.e. he didn't even work for the tourist office, but he just wanted to help us out. He did most of the talking and a lot of repeating,  but I gathered we were supposed to go to 'Leclerc'. I asked if it was a city. He said no but then got up and went to a map in the corner of the room. He then began to ascern where we had come from, where we were going, and where we were going to sleep that night. 

During my time here, my Italian has progressed significantly from nothing to ... descent tourist Italian. I can ask where things are, how much things cost, make sure that there is no meat in foods, and that sort of thing. However, my Spanish has gotten a lot better and whenever my Italian breaks down I try to slip in a Spanish word or two without anyone noticing. If that doesn't work I resort to English and more enthusiastic gesticulations. If this doesn't work ... I repeat myself a few times with different inflections and gesticulations. Between all this I can usually get my point across, and I actually enjoy it, partly because I think its just sort of fun and challenging in and of itself, and partly because I am putting myself in their shoes. I can only guess at how crappy my diction is, and it makes me laugh to think about asking someone the Italian equivalent of 'wheeere is posseble eating?'.

Our man also seemed to enjoy communicating and definitely one-upped me with the gestures. We where planning on heading to Naples the next day. When he found out he took his glasses off and rested them on a table. He looked deep into my eyes and slowly raised his hands towards his face. He gave Anson the same penetrating stare. Then he started to smile, pulled down his bottom eyelids, continuing to stare at us and smile happily, and said slowly 'o c c h i   a p e r t i'. Then he took his hands down from his eyes and held them in front of his chest with the fingers of one hand spread wide and the other hand in a fist. He said something in Italian and then, whistling slowly, he began to close the fingers of his open hand one by one until it too was a fist. He then pulled his eyelids down again and repeated 'occhi aperti'. Apparently, Naples was dangerous, and we should not only watch out for people stealing things but keep our eyes open. Ah, the joys of communication. 

These two warnings were repeated frequently thoughout our whole interaction. Indeed, they were repeated frequently enough that, when we did get to Naples, I was really worried about our car getting stolen. Our man continued questioning us and seemed concerned about where we were going to spend the night. We told him we were planning on camping and managed to gesticulate across that we had sleepings bags. Also tent is 'tenda' in Italian so ... we got that idea across too. He recommended against camping because of the weather and told us to sleep in our car in the parking lot just outside. I'm pretty sure he said he would have let us sleep there except that he might get fined. After 'discussing' this some more we moved back to where we would eat. 

He said 'Leclerc' again and then wrote it down for us. 'Le  cle  rc' He held up the piece of papers and read slowly for us emphasizing the spaces so we would be doubly sure to understand. He went on to discribe this place to us. Apparently it was a mall of sorts but there was a good restaurant there that was not only cheap but was also very good. Our man began to expound the virtues of this store, good pasta, good meat, lots of fruit, good appetizers, and on and on. I'm fairly sure that he said he'd go with us, except that he had work to do. I told him I was a vegetarian but that Anson could eat the meat dishes. A few days later I was thinking about it and I'm pretty sure I called Anson 'she' on accident a couple of times, but our man didn't make a fuss about it. Our man continued to talk about Leclerc and even wrote down directions (frequently repeated) on the same piece of paper that he had written the name on. 

When we finally left, our man walked us out and shook hands with us. He pointed to the parking lot and told us we could sleep there if we wanted and it would be safe. We could close our eyes without worrying there. As we walked back to our car, Anson and I shared our mutual astonishment at how nice our man had turned out to be. He certainly wasn't the first Italian to be nice to me, but he genuinely tried to help us find a place to eat good Italian food. Despite how good his directions were we still took a wrong turn (although we noticed it quickly) on the way there. In the parking lot we got honked at for stopping at a stop sign, reminding us to keep on our toes.

We were quite hungry by this point, but when we went into the mall we were quickly disappointed. We saw a restraunt dead ahead. It was, however, all shut down. A small sign on one of the doors explained, it was closed for renovations, but only for one day. Our man must not have known. We walked around the corner and found a pizza place. We would've thought this was the place our man meant, but when I had mentioned pizza he had shaken his head, disappointed. Pizza, he informed us, was okay if you were in America but in Italy ... :( ... we should eat good pasta. We ended up eating pizza anyway, but ...  at least we tried to follow his advice.

We camped at a roadside campsite and were on the road early the next day.