And on through Italy

Tues 27th Sept 22

Our plan was to get out of Bari and find a site we had earmarked south of Monopoli. Bit of a struggle getting out of this busy city but we found our way to Monopoli readily enough. Now, Michelle had lived for several months in Monopoli whilst serving with the RAF in the late 90s ( I know, she doesn’t look old enough!) in support of the United Nations (SFOR) during the Yugoslav war. We wanted to try find the chalet that she lived in but we had no details. Seemed like a good idea to just drive round Monopoli and wait for memories to kick in… Well Monopoli has some very narrow roads… and Ruby is rather wide. Gawd did things get a bit tense. We got ourselves into smaller and smaller roads trying to find our way out. Eventually having to be guided through gaps between parked cars and vans by helpful locals with the wing mirrors pulled in ..again. – [We did note that the Italians were far more cheerful and helpful in these predicaments than the Croatians were when we got stuck back in Sibernik.] Eventually we had to admit defeat as no areas were bringing back memories of previous addresses for Michelle.. until… we were back on the main highway and whizzing down south – ‘ I recognise this bit’ says Michelle. ‘This is the route we used to take to Gioia del Colle for work every day.’ ‘My chalet would be back there- 20 minutes!’ Aaaaah. Dammit. We were not only well beyond the important part but we were on the main highway with little opportunity to turn. A missed moment unfortunately. 

So, this campsite we were heading for was called Pineta Al Mare in Specchiola on the coast. A chance to visit a good Italian beach to start us off. Well it was closed! . Just a tiny sign on the gate. Despite the website saying it would be open till the end of September. Welcome to camping in Italy..! But as relaxed and flexible as ever we drove a short way down an almost deserted coast road and discovered a motorhome parked on some tidy looking grassed area of a car park. Looked sweet. The Italian elderly female occupant was enjoying the sun looking out to sea in her camping chair. ‘Are you staying overnight here?’ Says I ‘ I no a speaka da English’ she says cheerfully. Anyway, she speaks a little German and we speak a little German so the conversation was possible. 

Are you staying overnight here?

Yes’

‘Is it a problem?. Is it safe?’

‘Yes, it is very quiet and no problem. You will be fine. Promise. The restaurant here is always open too so you are able to eat dinner and breakfast’

Well, how brilliant is this. A free night parked on grass with good food, a sea view, another motorhome for company and a nice quiet area. What can go wrong. ? Well…. The restaurant closed by 5pm…the Italian woman in the motorhome left the car park at 8pm and ……… at 2 o’clock in the morning a group of 7 or 8 cars pulled in, 20+ people got out.. and set off an almighty cacophony of fireworks 20 metres away…!!! Frightened us to bloody death. Aaaaargh!!. It seemed like they were actually attacking us at first. Well after calmly (!) watching out of the window it seems like this was an extended family group, including elders and young kids all dressed up. After about 40 minutes of standing round chatting loudly they all drove off together leaving us in our nice quiet car park…! Were they celebrating the departure of an elderly relative with fireworks? Maybe the final touches to a wedding celebration.? Who knows…but how we laughed…. Later!

So onwards the next morning towards civilisation and Otranto. This is pretty much the bottom of the heel of Italy. The Agriturismo Fontanelle site was pretty good and was very close to a well regarded (and as it turned out, one of our favourite) beaches at Baia dei Turch (Bay of Turkey). 

The pitch was open and very large and cost ¢20 (£17) per night. Simoni the  rather hunky site warden even brought some shopping to us at 8.30 in the mornings. Bread and local salads. Top man. The weather was right hot during the day and the sea was lush and warm and the sand soft and clean. So…. that was it, beach, beach, beach for two days. 

But we had things to see and places to go so the 30th September and we pulled up at a stopover site (Sosta’s they call them in Italy) at La Salina in Specchierica. This is where we started to realise that the southern part of Italy was pretty much closed. Season over. All done. All the shops/cafes/restaurants and even houses were all closed. Nothing to see here. Except for some flamingoes in the next door nature park. In fact…at this time of year, the whole of this area was a right dump. Now, as an example of what a bad overnight Sosta should contain for ¢16.50 (£14) per night this was perfect. The price included showers. Cold ones outside. Or hot ones for ¢1 extra 

Only one unisex toilet – for up to 30 motorhomes- and you had to get the key from the front desk….I had a big row (via Google translate amusingly) with the site owner. We had electric plugged in but it tripped all the time. (500w- for those who know!). Couldn’t even heat our own water for our shower to save using his at ¢1 each. Don’t get me wrong, the site was very tidy, very clean and the staff kinda friendly despite the row. There was one quite emotional moment. There is a guy who drives onto the site selling fruit and veg. Big friendly chap with no English but…. He managed to say how sad and sorry he was to hear of the loss of our Queen. He was really sincere and caring. He even said good things about the onset of ‘King Carlos’..The first person in over two weeks since Liz died that anyone had passed their condolences. Sweet.

La Salina in Specchierica overnight

Disappointed, one night was enough due to the failings of the campsite and the ‘closed’ town.  And, the sea – just 100metres away- was choppy and (after a trial swim..!) rather dangerous due to undercurrents. 

So onwards westwards along the sole of the Italian shoe.. Passing through the local town of Manduria which looked like a ghetto and felt very unnerving and we were keen to keep moving further north as well. We decided to just stay on the road and hit the west coast instead. See if that was open..

1st October and we pitched up at Foce, just south of Sorrento. Again this turned out to be a one-night stand. The sea alongside the site was massive and banging onto the beach with the heavy winds. In fact the beach was completely covered by the waves even at low tide. The site owner said that the whole of September had been blown away by the same huge waves and winds. The pitch on the site was also a little dark and unexciting, apart from one of the poshest motorhomes we have come across. Time to move on. 

Next day after just a short drive along some lengthy tunnels through mountainous regions we arrived at Vico Equense which is once again alongside the coast and an immediate neighbour to Sorrento. Well, this was a bit of a challenge once again. The reviews for the Sant Antonio site all said that it was brilliant and the site owner was helpful, guiding people onto the pitches. Well that was true, the very nice owner welcomed us and found us a pitch. They are not classically marked out pitches and the motorhomes are all under trees to protect from the sun. Fair enough. We had to reverse back 80 metres or so, between low trees and around other campers, round guy ropes, through narrow gaps, over bumpy stoney ground and onto our designated area. Tricky indeed. And very dark with all the trees, plus there were large nets slung between the trees blotting out more light.

As sun seekers this was not ideal for us. However just a short hop, skip and jump down the site driveway we met the sea, some great little restaurants and an incredible view across the Bay of Naples to the dominant volcano Vesuvius. Very impressive. A short walk away was Chicchi Beach which we visited on both our days here. Not your traditional beautiful white sand beach but a small, slightly tatty but pleasant local beach.

It was quite busy but mainly with elderly ladies who gather on a daily basis, chatting and topping up their already tanned bodies. Boy could they talk. On our second afternoon we had obviously been accepted as ‘locals’ (!) as we were alongside a 70th birthday celebration for one of the ‘ladies that do beach’. They had a cake and some pink Prosecco and boisterously sand ‘happy birthday (Buon compleanno)’ to the youngster. Happily for us too…we were handed a large chunk of cake and…. a glass of bubbles. Thank you ladies… The cake was a famous local Napoli Cake which was tasty but rather oily- (maybe that’s why the ladies tan so well..!!).

Birthday Naples Cake

It turns out that the nets overhead the campsite were there to catch the thousands and thousands of olives as they fall from the trees. Perhaps we would never need to buy another olive ever again..! There were however large gaps in these nets so olives dropped all through the day and amusingly through the night. This was the start of many memorable olive dropping moments on many of the Italian sites. Who knew that we would arrive at the ‘olive season’…!

Anyway the dark campsite was too dark and overgrown for us so we headed a short distance to a site in Sorrento. The Tube d’ Argento is just a few minutes walk into the town and close to another beach- The Marina Grandé. Have to say that the drive through Sorrento was probably one of the most ‘lively’ of our journey so far. All of us know that Italian drivers are a bit mad. Well this place was one of the maddest. Bonkers. This part of Italy also has lots of scooters and mopeds and all the riders wannabe Valentino Rossi..! God was it busy. Being attacked from all directions with no gaps. We have grabbed a few videos for you of some ‘moments’. To be honest though I did quite enjoy this driving once I got acclimatised to it. Just drive…don’t overthink it… they will get out of the way. No-one died….

Bonkers Sorrento traffic

We intended to stay here for several days as my brother Jez was flying out to join us for a while. So we spent a couple of days finding our way around before he arrived.

We had plans which involved the Amalfi coast so a tiny hire car was necessary. Bit pricey at €270 (£230) for three days though was not good. 

Collected the car on 9th October and went straight to Naples airport to pick up Jez. We decided to go straight to climb Mount Vesuvius due to the proximity to the airport giving Jez no time to get over his jet-lag from Manchester ! Anyway we drove half way up to the top of the volcano only to find out it was closed…! What..! Well it seems that so many people want to visit that they have to restrict numbers at the peak. Too many damn tourists. Bugga. That was Plan A blown away. 

Next day we compensated by visiting the historic ruins of Pompeii which was a real surprise. It is a huge ‘city’ with so much to see. We had read that this would take a couple of hours to visit. Well after six hours we felt we had only just started. There is plenty to see and feel about the impact of the dramatic eruption of this still active volcano. Can’t remember how much to visit the city but do remember the car park was €24…! 

Our next visit was onto the beautiful Amalfi Coast road. Not far for us to travel but the average speed was probably around 15mph. The road twists and turns tightly and narrowly all round the panoramic coast from the Sorrento area through picturesque Positano and into the beautiful town of Amalfi. The road is the best part. We have read many times that motorhomes are not a great thing to take here. We can see why. It was tight enough in our Fiat Panda..! Soooooo many close calls, near misses and scary bits. There are however still large coaches and trucks making it through every day. Challenging. This video shows an example of a scooter squeezing through a non-gap between our Panda and a concrete mixer. Wow. All you can hear is Michelle and Jez going ‘ooooh’ – ‘God’ – ’noooo’ and similar helpful guidance along the way..!

More mad roads

Once in Amalfi we had a lovely lunch near the harbour then did what we do best. Onto the beach and a swim in the sea. Terrific. 

We got safely back with no damage to the Panda and our nerves intact. However when I took the car back the following day to the hire company I thought I was in trouble. I parked outside but left it unlocked. Whilst waiting for the receptionist I looked across and saw some bloke climbing into the drivers seat of my Panda. WTF…! I dash out across the road to apprehend the car thief only to find it was an elderly gent. ‘Oh sorry’ he says (probably.. as he didn’t speak English). It was the wrong car. His white Fiat was parked in front of mine.!  He had even put his shopping onto the back seat and still hadn’t noticed it was the wrong car. Dude…… 

So… two days left for Jez’s visit so we had to hit the beach… Marina Grandé beach was a short walk down the steep hill from the campsite. There are beach clubs in this area which consist of jetty’s from the sand out into the bay. You pay for the sunbeds on the jetty for the day and get access to drinks and food too. Much better than the small, tatty, local beach.  Brilliant. Toasty hot and sunny. Cost was €10 per sun lounger for the day but defo a worthwhile cost. Sat amidst the Bay of Naples on a tidy wooden jetty with easy entry into the warm sea. Showers and toilets are alongside and beers available. At lunchtime we move along the jetty to the ‘dining’ zone for a very nice lunch before heading back into the ’suntan’ zone. What’s not to like. A nice relaxing day and expected repeat he next day.

However… the next morning was rainy, windy, ‘orrible. What a change and what a shame for Jez’s last day on holiday. Bugga. We did manage to walk in and out of town a couple of times without getting wet though. Had a lovely dinner in a restaurant in the town square which nicely finished off Jez’s visit. 

Olive Supply..!

14th October and we drive to the airport, back through the bonkers centre of Sorrento and throw Jez out the door. Time to head north again. Venice here we come.

Great to see you bro. 

Did you know…

Pompeii, preserved ancient Roman city in Campania, Italy, 14 miles (23 km) southeast of Naples, at the southeastern base of Mount Vesuvius. Around noon on August 24, 79 CE, a huge eruption from Mount Vesuvius showered volcanic debris over the city of Pompeii, followed the next day by clouds of blisteringly hot gases. Buildings were destroyed, the population was crushed or asphyxiated, and the city was buried beneath a blanket of ash and pumice. For many centuries Pompeii slept beneath its pall of ash, which perfectly preserved the remains. When these were finally unearthed, in the 1700s, the world was astonished at the discovery of a sophisticated Greco-Roman city frozen in time. Grand public buildings included an impressive forum and an amphitheatre; lavish villas and all kinds of houses, dating back to the 4th century BCE, were also uncovered. Inside were some preserved remains of people sheltering from the eruption; others lay buried as they fled; bakeries were found with loaves still in the ovens. The buildings and their contents revealed day-to-day life in the ancient world—and stirred 18th-century interest in all things classical.