We’ve been home three weeks and are no nearer sorting out our photos… However I have gone through and picked out a number which illustrate the kinds of roads we drove on – some great, some scenic, some not entirely suitable for Gertie… Many of these photos were taken through the windscreen as we drove along, so they should give you a good impression of what life on the road was like. Sigh. I miss it.
I’ve been in Italy for 10 weeks and have driven it north to south, south to north and I’m still not sure how to use Italian filling stations. Mind you I’m still not sure who has right of way at unmarked roundabouts … but given the way that many Italians approach them I don’t think they know either!
In Motorway service stations the first thing you realise is that you don’t follow car signs for parking when in a Motorhome, you follow the truck and bus signs. However doing that for filling up gets you shouted at, you have to follow the car signs.
Next up is self-service and service pumps. The latter are up to 40 cents a LITRE dearer! So need to reverse out of those fairly sharpish.
Then there is paying. There are stations where you pull up, fill up and go pay in kiosk.
However others you have to go to kiosk, pre-pay certain amount and then fill up. Yet others you pay by phone app.
But the most confusing are the ones where there is a machine to pay by card and then fill up. Further complication is there is generally not one per pump so you have to input pump number. Just when you thought you were getting the hang of this type they have ones where one machine covers a number of pumps and another covers a different set … so you have done all the card stuff, look up to see what pump number you’re at and find out your machine doesn’t cover that pump, so start again at a different machine, or move Motorhome to different pump!!
Another issue is Italian opening hours which can appear fairly random. Best avoid midday to mid afternoon and late evening. This is not a problem at the card machine ones … as long as they work. I have pulled up at pump, got out and did the card thing at the machine only for someone to holler in Italian that it doesn’t work so fill up and pay at kiosk.
We have driven into filling stations, spent some time on the filling up game, given up and driven away without any fuel.
It’s not like each company has its own system, more like each location has its own variation. I’m now beginning to see why people will pay 40cents a litre more to avoid all the hassle!!
Then there’s LPG (GPL) which we need for cooking, fridge (heating haha!). This can only be operated in Italy by a filling assistant, and that’s when the opening hours drama really comes into play. Station open, kiosk closed, can’t get LPG.
A lot of things in Italy appear ‘designed’ to stop you doing stuff in auto-pilot. Refueling is one of those. Can’t believe many people put the wrong fuel in their car, by the time you have worked out which part of the forecourt you should be on, which set of pumps you need, how to pay, you are fully clued up to what fuel you should be putting in the car!
Having said all that we have managed to fuel over 4,500 miles of travelling round Italy so far 🙂
Italians, especially those in the South, tend to have a slightly different view of driving than people in the UK.
In general they appear to have quite a small personal space zone so they are very comfortable being in closer proximity to other people and cars than is the case in UK. There is no buffer zone in front of you that is ‘your space’. If you get to the space first it’s yours.
If there is a car parked/abandoned on the other side of the road, sticking out and blocking half the lane you know that if on-coming traffic get to it before you they will pull out into your lane to get by and you just have to wait.
They start from a position of – this is what I’m doing, and you’ll just have to work round it.
Approaching a traffic bottle neck in Britain one or probably both drivers arriving from opposite directions would realise if one of them waits while the other passes a standstill will be avoided. In fact you often get a bit of delay with both waiting for the other to proceed. In Italy both drivers proceed as far as they can, get stuck, get out and start discussing the situation, normally joined in by a few on-lookers and a lot of hand waving. Meanwhile traffic builds up behind both. More discussions, hand waving, sounding of horns, committee meeting gets larger. Eventually a complex set of manoeuvres covering most of the cars involved is agreed, the bottleneck is cleared and the participants proceed on their way with continued muttering and hand waving to themselves (or anyone who is still watching!). It’s a joy to observe if not participate in!
The general Sicilian driving behaviour is less ‘structured’ than the UK. Parking often resembles ‘vehicle abandonment’. The surfaces leave ‘a little to be desired’ on the majority of roads and expansion joints, of which there are many, seem to be more of a challenge than I remember in many other countries. But it is interesting and beautiful topography to have to build roads through. A lot of tunnels (with lighting that won’t overly trouble the Global Warming situation!), bridges and raised roadways.
If you’re not a very confident and assertive driver (or cyclist for that matter) then some of the villages and towns will be a challenge, especially Palermo which is just mad, but in a very endearing way.
Having said all that Sicily is a much less frustrating place to drive around than many parts of Britain, just a lot more chaotic.
The weather is pleasantly warm and sunny at this time of year (Apr/May) although we did have Saharan dust come visit for a day or so. The overnight rain left a much bigger mess than the occasional dump we get in the south of England.
Sicilian food is generally an interesting mix of mainly fish and vegetables. Being Italian there is plenty of pizza and pasta. Kath is addicted to caponata, a classic Aubergine sweet and sour vegetable which is extremely moreish. Street food is a great way of experiencing Sicilian cuisine. We stumbled upon ‘the Spice Man’ in the Palermo street markets. Apparently, he featured in The Times and was on Rick Stein’s programme about Palermo. We had a very agreeable lunch time experience at his establishment … a few plastic tables and chairs in the middle of a very busy food market.
Architecture, archaeology, monuments, churches and ruins are scattered everywhere you look. Sicily has had a fascinating mixture of cultural influences over the years which has left behind some great structures for us to look and ponder today. How many churches does one small island need?
And then there’s Etna ….
After my (Kath’s) last update on 16th April we had a bit of a change of plan. It was just too frustrating to spend hours on the scenic routes, and we were both ending up tired and frazzled by the end of the day. As we do want to get to Sicily in time to see the Giro d’Italia stage up Mount Etna we decided to hop on the autostrade and make quicker progress, thus freeing up some time for sightseeing along the way. Apart from the extortionate tolls and one long traffic queue (still quicker than the endless speed bumps) this has worked well.
Half the day was spent driving down the autostrade. This section of motorway is an incredible feat of engineering – all tunnels, bridges and viaducts. We reached La Spezia where we found a conveniently sited campervan park not far from the town centre. We spent the afternoon cycling around the town and buying our train tickets for the following day’s trip to the Cinque Terre. Saw the cruise ship Oceana – which we’d also seen a few days earlier in (I think) St Tropez. It’s clearly following us around.
See previous post by Ignatius! Wonderful day exploring the Cinque Terre villages.
Another driving day, down to Montalto di Castro. We’d picked out a campsite and planned to arrive in good time to do some washing (oh the exciting life we lead! Sadly a long trip means a lot of laundry to be done every now and again). The campsite turned out to be one that I am sure is perfect in hot weather as it’s all under trees and very shady, but the weather here in Italy has turned decidedly chilly these last few days and we found it cold. Anyway, washing was done, Gertie once more helped out, and somehow it did manage to dry overnight.
On down the motorway to Pompeii. Pretty sure I spotted Oceana again at Civitavecchia. Pompeii was absolutely top of my list of places to visit, and although we will certainly be back in the Naples area later in the trip I insisted we spend a day here now to see it. We found a reasonably priced campsite right opposite the entrance to the ruins, run by a lovely young Italian-Ghanaian lad who’d spent 3 months in Cork and who commented on Gertie’s Munster stickers. Small world and all that. We arrived in time to do a supermarket shop, and check out details for our Pompeii visit.
What can I say – Pompeii is awesome! It’s huge – at one time 20,000 people lived here. At the time of Mt Vesuvius’s eruption in 79AD there were probably only around 2000 in the city as the rest had evacuated. The ruins were first discovered in the 1700s and excavations have been almost continuous since then, but there are still huge areas to be uncovered. I was blown away by the scale, the opulence of the houses, the amount of amazing detail still to be seen in the frescoes and murals. And the casts of the victims are incredibly moving. It’s hard to do it justice with just a few words and photos in a blog post. I suspect one day I may write a novel set in Pompeii… we’ll see!