Category Archives: Italy

Entrance Tickets – Ephesus, Turkey

turkey-ephesus

I am not a great one for ruins.  Generally it requires an enormous outlay of imagination and patience for scant reward but the site at Ephesus is so rich that I can walk on 2000 year old flagstones with recognisable buildings on either side…” – Michael Palin – ‘Pole to Pole’

Historically inspired by the visit to the Temple of Apollo at Didyma we were looking forward now to our bus trip to Ephesus and to Heirapolis (Pamukkale) to visit more ancient Hellenistic and Roman sites.

The bus was to collect us at eight o’clock so we woke early and after a modest breakfast made our way down to the appointed rendezvous point outside the apartment and then being the first to be collected began the tedious job of picking up our fellow travellers.

The problem with bus trips is that you cannot choose your travelling companions – it is a game of chance!  I imagined that we would be accompanied on this trip by middle aged historians in crumpled linen suits and battered panama hats, ladies in pencil-pleat skirts, archaeologists carrying trowels and leather bound notebooks and the entire cast of a Merchant Ivory film but at the first pick up we were joined by a Geordie and a noisy Lithuanian family and then horror of horrors by a misbehaving bunch of women who looked as though they should really be going to a market rather than one of the World’s finest archaeological sites.

You can call me a snob if you like but I couldn’t for the life of me understand why they were going on this trip.

It got worse.  It turned out that they were a darts team from Dagenham.  We were on a bus with an octet of middle aged women with inappropriate tattoos and piercings who were loud and embarrassing and behaved like escapees from a medical research centre.   I was horrified – we were going to spend two days with these people and as the journey started I looked out of the window and tried to block it from my mind.  I would rather have been travelling with a bus load of people suffering from an incurable tropical disease!

Ephesus Turkey

It took around about an hour to reach Ephesus and we passed through interesting countryside of agriculture, forests, villages, medieval castles and ancient temples but mostly through acres and acres of cotton fields which started at the side of the road and disappeared towards the horizon on all sides.  There was an awful lot of cotton out there and it turns out that Turkey is actually one of top world producers even though the product is of inferior quality to that of Egypt for example.

Eventually we arrived at Ephesus and ran the wallet robbing gauntlet of the hawkers and the unofficial guide book sellers and after a short break made our way inside the excavation site. It was busy of course but I expected that because this is one of the most visited tourist attraction sites in all of Turkey and we competed with bus tours and cruise ship day trippers from Kusadasi as we elbowed our way through the entrance and into the beginning of the tour.

Temple of Diana at Ephesus

We started at the top of the excavations and over the next two hours made our way down the ancient streets to the lowest point of the city which in previous times was the harbour which was difficult to imagine today because Ephesus is now a considerable distance from the shore of the Mediterranean.

We passed through hundreds of years of history, Greek theatres, Roman baths, ancient houses and even the public latrines and made slow progress towards the finest building on the whole site, the library of Celsus, which archaeologists have discovered doubled up bizarrely as a brothel!

TURKEY - Ephesus - The Library of Celsus

Ephesus was once one of the most important cities in Asia Minor, a natural trading crossroads between east and west and for a while enjoyed a status second only to Rome.  There is a lot of reconstruction of course but I am not averse to a bit of sympathetic reconstruction because without it it is difficult to imagine what it might have looked like.

After considering the issue I think I agree with Henry Miller who (writing about Knossos on the island of Crete) wrote in the ‘Colossus of Rhodes“There has been much controversy about the aesthetics of Sir Arthur Evans’s work of restoration.  I find myself unable to come to any conclusion about it; I accepted it as a fact.  However Knossos may have looked in the past, however it may look in the future, this one which Evans has created is the only one I shall ever know.  I am grateful to him for what he did…”

The guided tour through Ephesus was concluded by a visit to the Greek Theatre, which was later used as a Roman gladiator fighting venue and then we were out of the southern gate and heading back to the bus.  I could have spent longer at the site but our itinerary was determined by the restrictions of the tour bus timetable and it whisked us off now for an instantly forgettable lunch, which would have been alright in an emergency but not out of choice, at a tourist dining treadmill.

Temple of Apollo Didyma

Lunch over we now drove to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, although you would have to have a very good imagination to be able to understand how wonderful it was but could do no better than rely on the description by Antipater of Sidon, a Greek poet of the 2nd century BC:

“I have gazed on the walls of impregnable Babylon and on the Zeus by the banks of the Alpheus, I have seen the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Helios, the lofty pyramids, and the gigantic tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the sacred house of Artemis that towers to the clouds, the others were placed in the shade, for the sun himself has never looked upon its equal outside Olympus”

So it must have looked quite magnificent I imagine but except for one solitary column there is nothing there today and it turns out that if you want to see more, guess where you have to go, yes, the British Museum.  This was a staggering disappointment, it really needed some Arthur Miller approved reconstruction and interpretation and I for one was glad when it was all over and we were back on the bus and we could continue the drive to Pamukkale about three hours away to the east.

Ephesus Turkey

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Related Posts:

Spartacus the Gladiator

Rome

The Roman City of Pompeii

The Roman City of Herculaneum

The Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

The Aqueduct of Segovia

The Roman Buildings at Mérida

The Roman Ruins at Segóbriga

Diocletian’s Palace at Split

The Roman Buildings at Arles

Verona

The Greek and Roman Ruins at Empuria, Catalonia

The Palace of Knossos in Crete

Athens and Ancient Greece

The Acropolis Museum in Athens

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Danger in Naples – Camorra, Vesuvius and Pollution

Naples Italy

“”See Naples and die.” Well, I do not know that one would necessarily die after merely seeing it, but to attempt to live there might turn out a little differently””, Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad

On Saturday it was time for another trip and after breakfast we joined the coach that was taking us to Naples.  Naples is the third largest city in Italy after Rome and Milan but in the Golden Age of the eighteenth century it was the third largest in Europe after London and Paris.  Until its annexation to the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was the wealthiest and most industrialised of the Italian states.

There is a famous phrase that says ‘See Naples and die!’ which originated under the Bourbon regime and means that before you die you must experience the beauty and magnificence of Naples.  Some, less charitable, now say that the city is so mad, dangerous and polluted that death might possibly be a consequence of a visit there.

To be fair not everyone is so pessimistic and gloomy about Naples and in 1913 George Bradshaw wrote in his guide ‘Great Continental Railway Journeys”…

“Naples is a bit of heaven that has tumbled to earth.”

Centro Storico Naples

I liked it immediately.  At the Centro Storico the warren of alleys with peeling sepia walls were vibrant, chaotic and gloriously dilapidated, the architecture was glorious, the locals loud and boisterous, the balconies bannered with laundry and the driving was appalling.   This was a glorious place, the beating heart of the city, raw, passionate, crumbling, secret, welcoming and corrupt

Naples, we learned, was dangerous for a number of reasons.  Most obvious of all is its perilously close proximity to Vesuvius that looms large over the city. Naples is the most densely populated volcanic region in the world and is regarded as potentially one of the most dangerous volcanoes on earth because there is a population of three million people living so close to it.  Vesuvius has a tendency towards unexpected explosive eruptions and as the last one was in 1946 the next one is most probably overdue.

52 Naples

The second reason is lawlessness because Naples has enormous problems with Mafia style organised crime.  The Naples equivalent of the Mafia is the Camorra, which is a loose confederation of criminal networks in control of organised crime, prostitution, arms dealing and drug-trafficking, and the gang wars result in a high number of deaths.

The network of clans has been described as Italy’s most murderous crime syndicate, preying on the communities around it by means of extortion and protection rackets. Rival factions wage feuds as they battle to control the drugs trade.

Although we were extremely unlikely to come across the Camorra on our short visit to the city the tour guide did give strong advice on taking care of wallets and valuables and a recommendation not to buy anything from illegal street vendors.  She told us that cheap cigarettes would most likely be made from sawdust substituted for tobacco, leather handbags would be plastic and whiskey would be cold tea instead of a single malt and wherever we went we pestered by children trying to tempt us into a purchase.

“I remember the back streets of Naples
Two children begging in rags
Both touched with a burning ambition
To shake off their lowly brown tags”

Peter Sarstedt – ‘Where do you go to my lovely’

The Godfather

The third reason is the high levels of pollution which means that Naples is a very unhealthy city.  It was the most bombed Italian city of World-War-Two and today as we drove through it looked as though they were still tidying up.  The streets were full of litter and there was graffiti on almost every wall.  The historical tourist centre, which twenty years after our visit was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was better but we didn’t have to stray far away to find the unpleasant parts and the guide discouraged us from breaking away from the group.

There was a lot of air pollution as well and although the sun was shining above it we were trapped in a layer of smog and haze.  We drove to a viewing platform high up in the city overlooked by the bulk of Vesuvius and with a jaw-dropping view over the bay looking back towards the Sorrentine Peninsula where we could just about make out the ghostly apparition of Capri and although the sea looked inviting we knew that this was one of the most polluted parts of the whole of the Mediterranean Sea.

Vesuvius Naples Italy

The main reason for a trip to Naples was to visit the National Archaeological Museum which is considered one of the most important in the World for artifacts from the Roman Empire.  It was all very interesting and the best exhibits were the treasures unearthed at Pompeii and Herculaneum which filled many of the rooms.

I remember it as a curious museum without logical sequence or order and many of the valuable items on display seemed dangerously vulnerable.  In one room was a wooden bed that had been recovered from Pompeii and which one visitor decided to sit on to test it out.  This provoked a rebuke from an attendant but I have to say that it was their own fault for not giving it adequate protection.  I expect things might be different now.

But maybe not and I like this news report from August 2013:

“A tourist snapped the finger off a priceless fourteenth century statue in Florence. The incident took place in the Italian city’s world famous Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, with the six hundred year-old exhibit believed to be the work of eminent medieval sculptor Giovanni d’Ambrogio.

The tourist apologised for damaging the priceless artwork but the museum condemned the tourist’s behaviour, saying: “In a globalized world like ours, the fundamental rules for visiting a museum have been forgotten, that is, ‘Do not touch the works’”.

But there is  a twist to the tale – The museum  subsequently confessed that the broken finger was not original to the piece, and had been added at a later date.

In the late afternoon we left Naples and drove through the untidy outskirts of the city through whole neighbourhoods that were desperately in need of some attention.  After the War the Italian Government spent huge amounts of cash on rebuilding Naples and the south of the country but in some of these places it looked as if they were yet to make a start.  As we moved out of the haze of the city the sun came through and we drove back down the main road that returned us to Sant’ Agnello.

Naples Italy from viewing platform

Wroclaw, Cathedral Island, Padlocks and Museums

‘… In a few short years, the heart of Paris has been made ugly, robbing Parisians of quality of life and the ability to safely enjoy their own public spaces along the Seine…. The time has come to enact a ban on ‘love locks’ in order to return our bridges to their original beauty and purpose.’ – Petition Against Love Locks, Paris.

At customer feedback I rated the Best Western as excellent and awarded high marks for everything but it is has to be said that it is not a hotel for sleeping in late into the morning.  The room faced east and was adjacent to a very busy road so the combination of bright sunshine leaking in around the curtains and trams regularly clattering past meant for an early breakfast.

Leaving the hotel we walked towards the River Oder and the handful of islands that sit in a wide stretch of the river and which are connected by several bridges which immediately entitles it to the tag of the ‘Venice of the North’.  This isn’t a title that it holds uniquely of course because this has also been applied to AmsterdamBrugesSt. Petersburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Manchester, Edinburgh and even Birmingham amongst others.

Actually, I have to say that here in Wroclaw this description is stretching it to its absolute limit but it was pleasant enough criss-crossing the river on the bridges and strolling across the islands one by one towards our objective of Ostrow Tumski, the Cathedral Island, which actually isn’t an island any more since part of the river was filled in two hundred years ago.

To get there we had to cross the Tumski Bridge which has now become known as Lovers Bridge on account of that awful modern obsession with attaching padlock graffiti to any available railing which seems to have become an irritating epidemic all across Europe.  This is a lover’s plague whereby signing and locking the padlock and throwing the key into the river they become eternally bonded.

This tradition might sound all rather romantic and lovely but apparently all of these love tokens do lots of damage to the bridges because as they age and rust this spreads to the ironwork and thousands of padlocks need to be removed every year from bridges across Europe.  In Venice there is a €3,000 penalty and up to a year in prison for those caught doing it and that is a much, much higher price than I would be prepared to pay for eternal bondage!

This is what Tumski Bridge used to look like before mindless love lock vandals began to consider it acceptable to add metal graffiti…

This is what it looks like today…

I know which way I prefer it, I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

To anyone who thinks this is mean-spirited please bear in mind that in June 2014 the ‘Pond des Arts’ in Paris across the River Seine collapsed under the weight of these padlock monstrosities and had to be temporarily closed.  They are not just unsightly – they are dangerous!

Cathedral Island is the original site of the first permanent settlement in Wroclaw, sometime in the ninth century and shortly after it became established and became a bishopric work began to build a Cathedral.  Named after John the Baptist, Patron Saint of Wroclaw, the current incarnation of the cathedral started life in 1241 although it has had a great deal of restoration work since then because just like every European church it has suffered a mandatory burning down or two and the odd bomb over the years including the destruction of the twin towers in 1945.

There is a lift to a viewing platform up to the top of one of the towers and so we took the ride and enjoyed the views over the city and the surrounding countryside and after a couple of circuits or so of the spire we took the first available lift back to the ground where the temperature was more agreeable.

And so we left the islands and returned to the old town where we walked for a while along the south bank of the river.  Here we passed by two museums, the especially impressive National Museum built in the style of a German sixteenth century palace and over the road the Panorama of the Battle of Raclawice.

This is a concrete rotunda with just one exhibit, a 114 metre long by 15 metre high painting of the battle of 1794 when a Polish army defeated a superior Russian force in a struggle for independence.  This makes it the second largest panorama painting in the World just slightly shorter by six metres than the Arrival of the Hungarians in Ópusztaszer in Hungary and just ahead by 5 metres longer than the Gettysburg Cyclorama in Gettysburg, USA.

After the museums we went to the indoor market but it wasn’t as vibrant as some that we have been to and compared badly for example against Riga and Budapest and it seemed tired, run down and unexciting.  The guide book pointed out the importance of the roof as one of the best examples of early halls made of concrete in Europe and if you like concrete then I am prepared to concede that it was rather impressive.  Personally, I am not a huge fan of the grey stuff!

We had been walking  for over two hours and I was beginning to detect that the needle on Kim’s whinge meter was beginning to twitch so the priority now was to find somewhere for a coffee break so we walked back in the direction of Market Square and found a modern café where we stopped for a while for some of the group to top up sugar levels with cake in preparation for more walking in the afternoon.

The Official Travel Guide in Wrocław – visitWroclaw.eu

National Pizza Day in the USA

53 Naples Pizza

“Hey Mom, they have pizza in Italy too!”  American tourist family overheard in Rome

February 9th in the USA is National Pizza Day. 

First, the facts…

… Over four billion pizzas are sold in America every year, 17% of all restaurants are pizzerias, including Italy at World Showcase at Disney World at EPCOT and around about three hundred and fifty pizza slices are eaten every second. Pepperoni is the most popular pizza at just over one-third of all pies ordered.

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s Amore” (Harry Warren/Jack Brooks)

pizza-tonight-when-the-moon-hits-your-eye-like-a-big-pizza-pie-h2cg4e

When I was a boy growing up we didn’t have pizza!

For my Mum preparing food took up a lot of every day because there were no convenience meals and everything had to be prepared from scratch.  There was complete certainty about the menu because we generally had the same thing at the same time on the same day every week, there were no foreign foods at all, no pasta or curries and rice was only ever used in puddings.

The main meal of the week was Sunday dinner which was usually roast beef, pork or lamb (chicken was a rare treat and a turkey was only for Christmas) served with roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, which for some reason mum always called batter puddings, and strictly only seasonal vegetables because runner beans weren’t flown in from Kenya all year round as they are today.

We had never heard of moussaka, paella or lasagne and the week had a predictable routine; Monday was the best of the left-over meat served cold with potatoes and on Tuesday the tough bits were boiled up in a stew (we would call that bouef bourguignon now) and on Wednesday what was left was minced and cooked with onions and served with mash and in this way one good joint of meat provided four main meals with absolutely no waste.  Thursday was my personal favourite, fried egg and chips and Friday was my nightmare day with liver or kidneys because I liked neither (and still don’t!)  I complained so much about this that later I was allowed the concession of substituting sausage for liver but I was still obliged to have the gravy (which I didn’t care for much either) on the basis that ‘it was good for me!’

If we had been Catholics then we would have had fish I suppose but we didn’t have things out of the sea very often except for fish fingers.

I can still remember my very first pizza and I consider myself fortunate that it was in Italy, in 1976, my first ever overseas holiday when I visited Sorrento with my dad.

Centro Storico Naples

It was lunchtime and because we were in Naples we had to visit a pizzeria because Naples is the home of the dough based, tomato topped classic.  Legend has it that Queen Margherita of Savoy gave her name to the famous pizza on a visit there in 1889. Tired of French gourmet cooking (as you might well be) she summoned the city’s most famous pizza-maker, Raffaele Esposito, and asked him to bake her three pizzas – of which, prepared in the colours of the Italian flag – red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella) the simple and patriotic version was her favourite.

A lunchtime pizza stop in Rome…

Pizza Stop in Rome

Today, authentic Neapolitan pizzas are made with local produce and have been given the status of a ‘guaranteed traditional speciality’.  This allows only three official variants: pizza Marinara, which is made with tomato, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil, pizza Margherita, made with tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil, and pizza Margherita Extra made with tomato, buffalo mozzarella from Campania, basil and extra virgin olive oil.

I became an immediate fan of the Italian classic and all of its variants just so long as it doesn’t have pineapple on it.  And, I am not the only one who thinks pineapple is wrong on pizza; in February 2017, the President of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson said  and he was ‘fundamentally opposed’ to pineapple on pizzas.  He said…

“I like pineapples, just not on pizza. I do not (unfortunately) have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapples on their pizza.  For pizzas, I recommend seafood.”

Interestingly I cannot see that Italy itself has a National Pizza Day!

Maybe because in terms of pizza consumption per population Italy is only fifth in the World.   Fourth is Germany, third is the UK, second is the USA but first is NORWAY!  I can understand that, if I lived in Norway I would eat cheap pizza because Norway is amongst the most expensive places to live in the World.

Canada joins in on Pizza Day and I nominate this Poutine (fried potato, gravy and cheese curds) Pizza as probably the worst ever variation on the famous pie.  If we had ever had pizza at home and my mum served this up I can guarantee that I would be there twenty-four hours later listening to her repeat over and again – “you are not leaving the table until you have eaten all of your dinner” or, on rare occasions that I could wear her down…” one more mouthful and you can get down” and just to make it clear that didn’t include “I don’t want to eat this shit”.

poutine-pizza

Happy National Pizza Day USA  and Canada and Australia too, I believe – have an extra slice for me (no pineapple preferred).

pineapple-pizza

 

Malta, Washing Lines

Italy washing LineMalta Washing Lines 2Malta Washing Lines 1

 

An alternative Donald Trump inspired Disney EPCOT World Showcase

trump-hall-of-presidents

Following the unexpected election of Donald J Trump to the office of President of the United States the Walt Disney Corporation may find it necessary to have a rethink about the way countries are represented at EPCOT World Showcase at World Disney World in Florida to more accurately reflect the thinking and the policies of the new Commander in Chief.

Here are some ideas that they might consider…

Starting with China the Temple of Heaven could easily be demolished and replaced with a replica of the Great Wall of China to reflect an immigration policy which will redesign the USA/Mexico border with the construction of Trump’s Great Wall of Texas/New Mexico/Arizona/California.

great-wall-of-china

Rather appropriately we come now straight to Mexico which could be completely redesigned with the removal of the Aztec Temple and the boat ride El Rio del Tiempo with its audio-animatronic figures clad in authentic folk clothing, singing, dancing, and playing music. They are all way too happy and friendly and I suggest should be replaced with a Western theme based entirely on the movie ‘The Magnificent Seven’ which will emphasise the Trump image of Mexicans as fearsome gun-toting criminals showing no respect to their neighbours and swarming illegally over the borders of their village.

magnificent-seven

No really big changes required at Norway except for more emphasis on Elves and Fairies because these are the sort of mythical creatures that Donald consults with at his policy think-tank meetings and a lot more Trolls because he is good at being sexist and insulting and trolling is the basis of his interactions with normal and respectable people.

Little People Elves Iceland

Belgium is a beautiful city” Trump said during a rally in Atlanta, Georgia.

Donald doesn’t seem to have an especially good understanding of the complexities of Europe and the diversity of its constituent countries so to make it easy for visitors it would be a good idea to simply amalgamate Germany, France and Italy into one brand new attraction called the European Union and put the Eiffel Tower in amongst the canals of Venice and next to the Brandenburg Gate.

The United Kingdom could be included if it wasn’t for the distracting issue of the referendum and the decision to leave the EU but thinking ahead it would make sense to place the two attractions side by side so that they could easily be integrated if the democratic decision of the British people is overturned by the Remainers.

epcot-eu

Until that issue is resolved the United Kingdom should remain mostly unchanged to reflect the ‘special relationship’ that Donald has promised to maintain but with one important addition to represent his own personal ‘special relationship’  a waxwork image of his pal and UK BREXIT champion Nigel Farage might be placed at the bar of the Rose and Crown pub.

nigel-farage

The concept of Neighbouring Canada is designed to represent the great healthy outdoors with a canyon and a lake with a waterfall and a healthy forest but to reflect Trump’s threatened environmental policies and a reckless denial of global warming it might have to go through a complete remodelling and a whole different sort of attraction.

My suggestion is forest of stumps, trees killed by acid rain.

dead-forest

Currently the only country at Epcot that represents the Muslim world is Morocco where six shops decorate the pavilion which showcase Moroccan art and skills, selling visitors everything from rugs to leather goods and traditional Moroccan clothing.

Donald of course has little or no respect for Islam and seems to regard them all as treacherous terrorists so all of these representations of art and culture and peaceful religion I am afraid will have to go and will need to be replaced with exhibits that explain just how sinister and dangerous these people are.

bomb-factory

With Donald reassessing his foreign policy alternatives and threatening to withdraw support from traditional allies then there will no place in the new EPCOT World Showcase for poor Japan who I recommend simply be replaced by new allies Russia and a replica of Red Square and the Kremlin and a Victory Day Military Parade ride.

victory-day-parade-2016

That only leaves USA and there seems no urgent need for change in this pavilion, Donald has promised great things and Hillary has said ‘give the guy a chance’ and anyway, there are four years of Trump Presidency so if he fails or lets people down we can return to World Showcase USA and make any changes we want any time we want.

Anybody else got any suggestions for a restructured World Showcase?

EPCOT USA

If you are at all interested you can check out my original World Showcase post here… 

Around The World in Eighty Minutes

Travelling – Car Hire Advice – Driving in Italy

“To an American, Italian traffic is at first just down-right nonsense. It
seems hysterical, it follows no rule. You cannot figure what the driver
ahead or behind or beside you is going to do next and he usually does it!”  –  John Steinbeck

There are three main problems when driving in Italy and the first is the condition of the roads.  Unlike Spain, where the Government has spent millions of Euros investing in and improving the transport infrastructure and built many new roads and where driving is a pleasure, in Italy they clearly haven’t spent any of their EU money on highway improvements and the annual maintenance budget is zero.

The condition of the roads is appalling which makes using them rather like like playing Russian roulette. Pot holed and poorly maintained and with white lines that were first painted when Mussolini was in charge they are down-right dangerous.

On account of this there is a general speed limit of fifty kilometres an hour but Italians generally ignore that and this is the second problem – the drivers.

In Italy, traffic regulations currently in force were approved by the Legislative Decree number 285 of 30th April 1992 and are contained in the Italian Highway Code called the Codice della Strada, but anyone visiting a busy Italian city or town would be certain to dispute that there is such a thing as a highway code in Italy.

Italian drivers obey no rules and have no self-control, manners or tolerance,  junction priorities mean nothing because show a moment of hesitation and this is interpreted as a sign of weakness and an opportunity to pull-out, cut you up or just simply push in.  They are ignorant and impatient and show a split-second of indecision and they go for their car horn like a trigger-happy wild-west gunslinger.  At a junction or a roundabout the Italian driver narrows his eyes and flashes a ‘do you feel lucky punk’ sort of glare while his right foot hovers menacingly over the accelerator pedal.

Street Parking in Italy

Driving in Italy is like one massive demolition derby!  Red lights are ignored, speed limits are purely advisory and it appears to be compulsory to drive while speaking on a mobile phone.  After half an hour or so my nerves were in complete tatters and my stomach was as twisted as Chubby Checker and as knotted as one of the trunks of the thousand year olive trees at the side of the road.

Then there is the third problem – parking!  There is no parking discipline because an Italian will gladly block you in, double-park, use the bumpers to nudge other cars out of the way, scratch and graze other parked vehicles on the way in or the way out and generally disregard all of the normal civilised rules of parking a car.

Car Parking In Italy

I love the way Italians park… it looks like a parking competition for blind people.  Cars are pointed in every direction, half on the pavements and half off, facing in, facing sideways… fitted into spaces so tight that the only way out would be through the sun roof.  (Italians) park their cars the way I would park if I had just spilled a beaker of hydrochloric acid on my lap.” –  Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’

We thought that we might now leave the coast and take the main road towards the town of Fasano and then on to another of the white cities, Martina Franca where we arrived about forty minutes later and where the traffic was at its murderous worst and by the time we had found an empty car park  I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and Kim wasn’t too far behind me.

I found a car park the size of a football pitch and to be safe I parked the car right in the middle where there was no other vehicles and then walked towards the centre.  I wasn’t absolutely confident  because what normally happens to me in these situations is that I find a good parking spot like this and then a few seconds later someone in a 4×4 or a twenty year old beat-up Transit van comes along and parks right up next to me.

Perched on a hillside Martina Franca didn’t look anything special so we rather unfairly wrote it off as not worth stopping for and we carried on to Massafra where the driving deteriorated even further where I swear the drivers were all competing in some sort of scrap-heap challenge.  Caught up in the flow of speeding traffic I was terrified by the narrow lanes, the closeness of the steel barriers at the side of the road and just how near people were prepared to drive to the rear end of our car.

At every junction I had an expectation of a collision – at a roundabout I showed some hesitation and a twenty tonne truck just cut straight across me, missing me by inches!  I realised by now that stop signs are completely meaningless as, on approaching one, an Italian driver just ignores it and simply pushes the front of his car into the flow of traffic while he continues to chat away on his mobile phone.

My nerves were in shreds and I was so pleased to get back  to Alberobello and park the car in a safe place where it was now going to stay until tomorrow morning when happily we would be returning it to the Sixt car rental office in Ostuni.

You have probably guessed this already but I didn’t enjoy driving in Italy and it will be a very long time before I do it again!

Sicily Car Hire

The next day it was only a short drive to Ostuni and when we arrived there I was really, really glad to be able to return the car.  The man at the hire car desk silently and menacingly checked the documents and then looked up and with just a momentary look of threat and anticipation in his eyes asked one simple question “what damage to car?” as though this was surely inevitable.

I told him that I was absolutely certain that there was none and he looked at me as though I was the World’s biggest liar and came round from behind the desk and went off to check.

He inspected both inside and out, several times as I recall,  and then had to concede that there was no damage and then, with a look that had turned from anticipation to disappointment, almost reluctantly it seemed to me, signed off the hire release papers.

Italy’s roads are dangerous and 2014 was probably the worst year and according to EuroStat there were thirty two thousand, nine hundred and fifty-one road deaths in the EU and five thousand, six-hundred and twenty-five of them were in Italy. That is about 17%.  In the ten years up to 2014 the Italians slaughtered sixty-five thousand, one hundred and twenty five people in traffic accidents so it pays to have your wits about you when crossing the road and why if you want to be sure of avoiding death on the highway in Italy it is probably safest to visit Venice.