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. 

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