Day 17: Italy - Grapes n' hookers
Well, as you can guess from the title, Italy has certainly surprised today... But first, the ferry.
The ferry was an overnight one from Ignoumenitsa (Greece) to Brindisi (Italy), arriving down on the heel of Italy at about 9am in the end, although I had convinced myself it was 6am for some reason.
If I tell you that a good 70% of the vehicles getting on at midnight were Italian, I'll let you have a guess how paitently everyone formed an orderly queue to get on board... The main European nationality not known for liking to queue up constituting the majority of the people waiting, along with some Romanian white van men for good measure, means that three lines waiting for the ferry becomes seven, then the the ferry doors open and it's every car for itself concerning who gets on in what order. It's like a car-based rugby scrum!
In the midst of it all was a group of old classics, mostly old Alfa Romeos but also Fiats and a Triumph, doing a tour around the Med.
This one, number 20, was most entertaining. When the scrum commenced for driving onto the ferry he tried to start his car but it coughed once and died. This was no problem and he calmly lifted the bonnet, went to the back to get a hammer, walked to the front, hit something hard a couple of times, tried again and it started straight away. As well as this chappy who presumably always carries his special starting hammer, there was another Alfa being pushed onto the ferry as it was also not starting, and a third being towed as it had seemingly been dead for a long time and needed to be towed to the port. Out of about 15 or so cars, three appeared to be ready for the scrapyard! I know a Hyundai isn't exactly a badge to set the world on fire and your heart racing but driving classic cars does seem to be more trouble than it's worth.
Despite the chaotic entry, everyone got on board without trading paint so it was time to settle down in the reclining seats area. I'd not booked a cabin as in my mind we sailed at 1.00 am, and got off at 6.00 am, meaning at most four hours sleep before time to have a shower and head back to the car so the extra cost wasn't worth it. In reality, we got on at midnight and didn't get off until 9am Italian time (an hour behind Greek time) so it was 10 hours in the chairs, not four. And all the cabins were now full.
There is a place reserved in Hell for some of the occupants of those reclining seat rooms. And proper Hell, not Albania as that's too good for them. Who on earth decides to open a massive bag of crisps and slowly munch them, crinkling the packet, at 3.30 in the morning in a room of about 25 sleeping people? Or who thinks it's a good idea that because their 5am bottle of water was so satisfying they'd celebrate by crushing the plastic bottle repeatedly with their hands? But special punishment must await the tracksuit and sandals wearing comb-over loving excuse for a human who makes pond scum look like an advanced life form, who stood up at about half four in the morning, had a fart strong enough to rattle the windows, grunted loudly and contentedly while stretching, then went outside for a fag and then banged on the window to get his mate's attention? Surely chucking him overboard would've been acceptable in the circumstances?
After a totally non-restful few hours where I got a couple of hours sleep at most, I went outside to see the morning and where we were.
It was all very beautiful as the sun was just rising. I stood there for a good 15 minutes or so, then turned round and saw I'd been stood, in the public area where I was supposed to be, right next to this metal mushroom thing the whole time which had this label on the side. I think my life expectancy may have just got shortened a little.
As for the ferry itself - I'm sure it's been said many times before, but Grimaldi Lines do take that first Grim syllable very seriously as their company motto. It's a bit shabby generally, but worse than that, there were four toilet cubicles for the ship and that was it. Judging by the cesspit of raw sewage which they quickly became swamped with there was clearly a lack of ongoing cleaning, only matched by a large number of passengers who I can only assume had never seen or used an indoor toilet before so were utterly unaware of how they worked. Nasty nasty nasty. I decided that hanging on until off the boat was a better way of avoiding some terminal virus so wandered off for some breakfast where the only option was a dry croissant and a coffee. I asked for an espresso, my favourite and it being an Italian company I thought it should be good, to be told 'American only', and given a cup of sludge so tasty that after two sips it went in the bin. Not the best ferry journey!
We eventually trundled off the ferry at about 9.30 so I headed north, with the route for the day to be from the heel of Italy to Pescara, about half way up the right hand coast facing Croatia.
The section from Brindisi to Bari is not overly attractive, with scrappy towns and scrubland lining the coast, while Bari is a big industrial place. Nothing against them and I guess it's like an Italian tourist coming to Britain and assuming Luton, Birmingham and Bradford will all look like pretty Cotswold villages. It's all functional enough but I didn't see much worth stopping for.
After Bari the landscape gets more attractive so I was now avoiding the main motorway and using the old road for most of the way, with a few detours down smaller roads for interest.
This bottom end of Italy is very flat, probably the largest expanse of flat farmland I've seen since Germany, with the nearest mountains being visible a long way off. The morning's driving did highlight just how much Greece has spoiled me over the last ten days though as over there loads of the road signs, and pretty much all the important warning signs, are in English as well as Greek but in Italy, naturally enough, it's pretty much all Italian. No issues with that but it does make you have to think harder again after the help Greece gives.
As for Italian driving, I was expecting chaos but it's been very moderate up to now. With the exception of a chap reversing down a dual carriageway to a previous exit and speed limits seeming to be more of a general suggestion than a fixed upper limit, it's all been very disciplined. Have the Italians calmed down?
As I headed north on the old trunk road the landscape changes fairly suddenly, around Trinitpoli and becomes what you think of as very Italian - lush farmland and red tiled farmhouses and villages, with a few rolling hills starting to develop. Very pretty.
Continuing northwards, in the vicinity of San Severo I noticed a few women sitting at the side of the road on plastic chairs, usually one every 500 meters or so, and assumed that as there are a lot of olives here they must be selling the olives from their farms. The landscape is very well tended around here, with mixed vineyards and olive groves everywhere and a myriad of dusty tracks leading off into them. As it's rather photogenic I pulled off onto one of these tracks and headed into a patch of land to take a few photos of the vines.
The tracks here are basically a grid of gravel single-track roads so rather than reverse out I just went further in with the intention of going to the next crossing, turning right, right again and down back to the main road. On the innermost track, the back of the square parallel to the main road, I passed a small Peugeot and I don't think I'm over-stating it to say I was more than a little surprised to see a chap in his 50s being 'entertained' by a young lady in the back of his car. Although I was probably not half as surprised to see him as he was to see me. Well, that was an unexpected sight and the penny dropped about the previous ladies who had been by the road and who were perhaps probably not selling granny's olives after all. Also in retrospect they had dressed for the heat by wearing very little. Great, I'd stopped for a photo opportunity in the local hospitality area.
A hasty non-dawdling retreat seemed to be the better form of action, to leave the action behind as it were, so I ploughed on, turning down the next track back to the main road. At the junction was another Lady of the Vines, as we shall call them. I stopped to wait for the traffic to clear and she gave me her best sales-pitch smile, really showing off all the missing teeth. Lovely. Like a walking advert for children to look after their teeth. I shot out of the track at the first opportunity, my innocence scarred for life.
The main road down there is a bit of an eye opener as the ladies were waiting around on plastic chairs, each on their own, every few hundred yards or so, on both sides of the road, for a good 10 kilometers or more. There are loads of them, scattered in every layby, sitting on all the entrances to the dirt tracks going into the vines or olives, or just sitting on the crash barrier. Or in a couple of cases, just standing in the middle of the road waving at the cars. I don't known if there were any discount vouchers in the local papers but they were doing a brisk trade with many trucks parked alone in laybys with nobody visible in the cab and I saw at least two cars heading into the vines with ladies. That was a side of Italy I was most definitely not expecting and certainly not so blatantly! And just remember what goes on in the vines next time you open a bottle of Italian wine...
Joking aside, it did all seem rather sad. There were a few Bulgarian cars parked up in odd places so I'm guessing they've something to do with it, while the one who smiled her winning smile at me couldn't have been more than in her early 20s and you don't get teeth like that from having an easy life.
Anyway, onwards and northwards and before Pescara it is the Italy you expect again. Bigger hills, the seaside towns looking reasonably prosperous and all very jolly indeed. And a special word has to go to the B&B where for £48 for the night you get brekky, an excellent room, and a fresh coffee on arrival. And even a pool!
It's not been a hugely photogenic day, the first half of the day anyway, but it has certainly been memorable!
I've decided to change my route tomorrow and rather than up the coast am going to head inland. The map looks as though there are some nice towns and landscapes that way, ending up tonight at my hotel near Lake Garda.