Tag Archives: Italian Driving

A Postcard From Puglia

Postcard From Puglia

“Evidently, the God of the Jews didn’t know Puglia, otherwise he wouldn’t have given his people Palestine as the Promised Land.”  –  Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Puglia (1194 to 1250 AD).

Read the Full Story…

 

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.

Sardinia, In Search of a Beach and on Safari looking for an Elephant

Sardinia Flag Postcard

“There is not in Italy what there is in Sardinia, nor in Sardinia what there is in Italy.” – Francesco Cetti, ‘Storia naturale di Sardegna

I suppose I was expecting Sardinia be all things Italian but except for a shared language and National Government, Sardinia it seems  is a very autonomous and could almost be mistaken for a completely different country.

One thing that I noticed most of all was the absence of the Italian flag because instead of the green, white and red tricolour almost everywhere there is I quattro mori, the Four Moors which is an especially striking and memorable national symbol.

According to tradition, it was a creation of King Peter I of Aragon, celebrating his victory at the Battle of Alcoraz in 1096. It was said that St. George miraculously appeared on the field of battle that day and that and the end of the saintly intervention there were four severed heads of Saracen kings.  (This is rather similar to the story of St James at the battle of Clavijo in 844 where a similar miracle occurred).

St George

So, the red cross and white background of St George and the black heads represent the Spanish Reconquista and further the four severed heads celebrate four major victories in Spain by the Aragonese, respectively, the reconquest of Zaragoza, Valencia, Murcia and the Balearic Islands. There are some alternative explanations for the origin of the flag but this is the one that I like best.

I found driving different from other parts of Italy.  You may remember me telling you that I was apprehensive about driving there again but I have to say that I found the Sardinian drivers courteous, patient and polite and not at all like the lunatics who drive on the mainland.  On the open roads driving was a real pleasure here.

Garibaldi Caprera

Finally, Garibaldi, the great Italian hero of Italian unification and who lived for many years on the nearby island of Caprera, because as far as my research tells me, except for Caprera itself, there is not a single statue of him in any town or city on the island.  I asked about this and was told that a lot of Sardinians are not that keen on being a part of united Italy at all, are rather defensive about their autonomous status* and rather like Scots in the UK and Catalans in Spain a great many of them look forward to the day of independence.

Perhaps Francesco Cetti was right.

After a disappointing breakfast we left Castelsardo and took a drive east in search of a beach that Kim, Mike and Margaret had found on a previous visit to the island and were so overwhelmed with it they were determined to find it again if only just to show me.

Sardinia Beach

What made this difficult was that not one of them could remotely remember where it was so we drove for twenty miles occasionally driving down unmade roads down to the sea only to draw one blank after another.  Eventually we reached the pretty little fishing port of Isola Rossa surrounded by crimson hills and all three of them had to admit defeat and face up to the inevitability of never finding it again.  This was a shame because they way that they described the location, it did sound quite magnificent.

Isola Rosso Sardinia

Instead we parked the car and walked around the harbour where yachts and pleasure craft competed for mooring places with traditional working boats where fishermen on deck  carried out all of the on-board jobs that need to be attended to upon return to land with a catch to sort and prepare for sale and nets to repair and stack.

Isola Rossa is only a small place so it didn’t take long to complete our circumnavigation of the village so after a short stop for a drink in the sunshine we returned to the car and drove all the way back that we had come earlier.

Iola Rosso Fishermen

Now we were looking for something else.  The Elephant rock, which is a curious natural sculpture, chiselled by erosion into the shape of an elephant which stands rooted forever to the spot by the side of the road and attracts a constant stream of visitors.

This should have been much easier to find than the elusive beach but we still managed to make hard work of it despite the fact that it was very clearly signposted and was only a couple of miles outside of Castelsardo.

Eventually we found it and ok, it looks curiously like an elephant but that is just about all I can say about it and my advice would be unless you have a fascination for rock shapes then don’t make a special journey to see it.

It was now mid afternoon and the sun was shining so we made our way down to the coast and found a wide sandy beach where we laid out or towels, changed into our bathing costumes and went for a swim in the sea.  It was lovely.  Except for a paddle in Wales this was the first time in the sea this year.  It has been a different year travel wise, we have been away a lot but this was the first time to a coast where the temperature made it safe to get fully submerged.

I generally find that an hour on the beach is long enough so as we were all in agreement we packed up, found a bar where we could sit and dry off and then returned to the hotel.

As we arrived back the siesta was coming to a close and after a couple of hours of shut down and inactivity life started to slowly return to normal and the little town began to stir into life once more.  Shutters rattled open, washing lines were cranked inside, car ignitions began to chatter, Lambretta scooters croaked into action and sleepy people began to reappear from their front doors.  The hotel reception opened for business, shops began to look for customers and within a short time normality was fully restored.

Later we climbed back to the top of the town in search of a restaurant but the choice was limited so we were forced back down again and found one at the bottom of the steps that we had passed by earlier and a predatory waiter persuaded us to go inside and after an excellent meal we were glad that he did.

Elephant Rock Sardinia

Have you ever gone out of your way to visit something in the guide books and then been disappointed?

*The Italian Constitution grants home rule/autonomy to five regions -Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Aosta Valley and Friuli-Venezia Giulia acknowledging their powers in relation to legislation, administration and finance.

Sardinia, Olbia to Castelsardo

Sardinia Postcard Map

“This land resembles no other place. Sardinia is something else. Enchanting spaces and distances to travel – nothing finished, nothing definitive. It is like freedom itself.”  D H Lawrence – ‘Sea and Sardinia’

Cheap flight tickets are top of a long list of good reasons to travel and when we spotted some reasonably priced return flights to Sardinia with Easyjet it didn’t take long to make a decision to visit the second biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea (just slightly smaller than Sicily) with our occasional travelling companions Mike and Margaret.

Our flight was to the city of Olbia in the North-East of the island so we planned an itinerary that would take us along the length of the north coast and then to the city of Alghero on the west coast and finally a return journey to Olbia across the northern countryside.

We landed around about eight o’clock in the evening so it was already quite dark when we finished the tedious process of signing the hire car paperwork and took possession of the keys to the nearly new black Ford C-Max and gently eased our way out of the airport and into the flow of evening traffic.  I was a little apprehensive because after the last bad experience of driving in Italy, in Puglia in the South,  I said that I would never do it again because although there is a Highway Code, Il Codici Della Strada very few Italian drivers are familiar with its contents and it is certainly not one of the best-selling books in Italy.

On account of my nervous driving disposition we had arranged to stay quite close to the airport at a hotel in the city and it only took twenty minutes or so to drive the four miles to our destination.  The plan was to stay overnight and then move on early the next morning towards the coast.

After parking the car in the safest place I could find (Italians are notoriously bad parkers*) checking into our hotel and approving the accommodation we set off immediately into the city to find somewhere to eat.

IMG_2216

Unusually for Kim she approved the very first pizzeria that we came to (she generally rejects the first on the flimsy basis that there will always be something better around the corner) but the rest of us insisted on not being too hasty and looking at the other options.  We found a number of suitable places but Kim was determined to have her own way and marched us back to her first choice.

The place was really busy with local diners which is always a good recommendation so we joined a line of people in the crowded doorway and waited.  We waited and we waited but no one greeted us or came to the line to ask what we wanted or to explain about waiting times or table availability.  Mike, Margaret and myself all ran out of patience after five minutes or so but no one dared say anything because we were all waiting for Kim to buckle under the pressure and be the one to give it up and go find somewhere else.

Eventually she cracked, made the suggestion to go elsewhere and led us back into the street and to an alfresco restaurant at the side of the street where we enjoyed an excellent first meal.

Sardinia Symbols

Olbia is one of those unfortunate places that seems to struggle to achieve any positive guide book mentions.  Press the ‘things to do’ link on Tripadvisor and I kid you not you get a blank page! Lonely Planet does a little better but still only manages a single sentence of introduction, Dorling Kindersley begrudgingly gives it a paragraph but Rick Steves ignores it all together!  It is primarily a transit city with an airport, a railway junction and a ferry terminal all serving the nearby beaches and marinas.

So with very little to recommend it we left the next morning immediately after breakfast in an uninvited rain shower and drove inland heading for the north coast.

Olbia Sardinia

We deliberately avoided going directly north to the Emerald Coast because this is a place for millionaires, gliterati and yachting luvvies and has hotel and bar prices some way beyond our modest budget and we set off instead for a mid way point along the coast to a place called Castelsardo.

Just a short distance out of Olbia we drove through the remains of the rain and as the sun came out the roads began to steam as we headed towards mountainous countryside and blue sky.  The road climbed a sinuous route as it threaded its way up to the top of the salt and pepper grey hills decorated with woods and trees and verges  cloaked in aromatic wild herbs until we reached the hillside village of Aggius where we rather discourteously drove through without stopping.

The road swayed and shimmied some more and the back seat passengers complained continuously but then the countryside opened out into a curious flat plain littered with giant rocks all shaped into unusual sculptures as a result of hundreds of thousands of years of steady erosion.  This was the glacial Valle Della Luna where the boulders were left in random piles and shapes by the ice as it retreated at the end of the ice age several million years ago.

As we started to climb out of the valley again we came to a small bar by the side of the road with uninterrupted views across the plain and as we sat and drank mid-morning coffee it was easy to imagine that this could have been a playground for giants in a noisy game of rock marbles.

Coffee break over and out of the mountains we continued now along straighter roads and we were glad of that because it reduced the level of back seat complaints and the totally unjustified criticism of the driver and the navigator in the front.

At around midday we drove into the colourful seaside town of Castelsardo and made our way to the Hotel Riviera where we would be spending the next two nights.

Valle de Luna Sardinia

*I am reminded here of the observation of Bill Bryson – “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.” 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Between

Car Parking In Italy

In Italy there is no parking discipline because an Italian driver 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 rules of parking a car.

It took me some while to find somewhere that I was reasonably happy with and found a spot away from the busy part of the town on the end of a street where hopefully no one could park behind me because I didn’t want to get back to the car later and find it sandwiched between two others like this.

Read the full story…

Italy and Puglia, Assessment and Review

Puglia Map

“Evidently, the God of the Jews didn’t know Puglia, otherwise he wouldn’t have given his people Palestine as the Promised Land.”                                            Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Puglia (1194 to 1250 AD).

As we waited at Bari Palese airport for the Ryanair flight home we began to review the holiday to Puglia and to come to some sort of agreed assessment.

Puglia Map

We had travelled to Italy before, to Pisa and Tuscany, Naples and Sorrento, the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, Rome of course, to Venice and the Veneto and the EPCOT World Showcase, but we had never before visited the far south east, the heel of the boot.

Despite almost being put off by the guide books we liked the city of Bari with its mazy old town and eclectic night life and one thing I would say to anyone thinking of going to Puglia then do not miss out the capital city of the region and don’t be scared off by the reviews.

The food was wonderful and although we didn’t have time to try all of the two hundred varieties of pasta I am certain that they would all be just as delicious as those that we managed to sample – the sea food pastas were especially good.  We also liked the pizzas and I have to confess that my favourite meal was the horse meat stew in Lecce but please do not tell my granddaughters.

Our accommodation was generally good – all booked in advance through www.booking.com my favourite hotel booking website.  The exception was the awful dump where we stayed in Ostuni, the Nonna Isa bed and breakfast and the best was probably the Grand Hotel in Lecce but that is a tough decision to make.

Along the coast we liked Polignano a Mare and Molfetta but we didn’t care that much for Monopoli but that might be unfair because neither of us were at our best that day on account of the stress of driving in Italy which wasn’t a great deal of fun and one thing for sure is that I won’t be doing that again in a hurry!

Polignano a Mare Puglia Italy

Although we didn’t like driving we did like travelling by train and Trenitalia was generally efficient, value for money and on time as we used the railway to travel from Bari to Polignano, to Lecce, Ostuni and then back to Bari with one final excursion to Molfetta.

Lecce was a revelation and the ‘Florence of the South’ did not disappoint us with a wonderful Baroque old town, good restaurants and a vibrant night life and we both agreed that we would really have liked a little extra time in that wonderful city.

We didn’t like the taxis because generally I resent paying the exorbitant fares but we had no real choice for our last three days in Bari because I had chosen a hotel that was some way out of the city.  But it was a nice hotel and they gave me a discount on the final bill and that was enough to cover the cost of the taxi fares so I shouldn’t complain.

La Città Bianca, the White Cities, were a bit of a mixed bag.  Ostuni was lovely but busy, Locorotondo was probably the best of them all (in our opinion) because it was less touristy and had a delightful centro storico.  The one that we liked least was Martina Franca but once again this might be unfair, it was another day where we were stressed from driving, the weather was quite poor and we arrived in the middle of the afternoon siesta.

Ostunia Puglia Italy

And we didn’t like the siesta period very much because every day the towns and villages just put up a collective closed sign, locked the doors and the people retreated to their bedrooms.  We have come across the siesta before of course but never as rigidly and as complete as in Puglia.

The highlight of the fortnight was rather predictably the tourist town of Alberobello and our four night stay in a traditional whitewashed, stone-capped Trulli house.  Four nights was probably one too many because there are only so many times that you can walk around the same streets but one thing you can do over and again is go to the same restaurant and we thoroughly enjoyed our four meals at the Foggia trattoria where the chef obligingly gave me some important tips on making a perfect risotto.

Other things we liked were the Peroni beer, the ice cream and the Amaretto.

So that is our short assessment of Puglia and as we pulled our list together we both came to the same conclusion.  We had enjoyed ourselves but this sort of vacation didn’t really suit our travelling style.  For us Italy is a great place for a short weekend break to one of the famous cities but not for driving or beaches so the next time we go to Italy it will be for just a couple of nights or so and we will most likely return to Greece again next year for our main late summer holiday.

If you have been to Puglia and agree or disagree with us then please leave your views and comments.

Trulli House, Puglia Italy, Alberobello

Click on any image to scroll through the pictures…

Italy and Puglia, Alberobello to Ostuni to Bari

Puglia T Towel Map

On Saturday we woke early, packed our bags, went for a final breakfast at the Trulli Holidays reception room, checked out and promised them a maximum ten points assessment on the booking.com website and then transferred the luggage to the car and left.  We had enjoyed Alberobello and when I returned home I was true to my word and gave the accommodation top marks.

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 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 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.

Because we had enjoyed our first night there and one morning had simply not been long enough we were now moving back to Bari and this meant going back to the trains for transportation and I was relieved and delighted in equal measures that someone else would now be doing the driving and so while we waited for the Trenitalia train to arrive we sat in the sun at the station bar and had a couple of beers.

I had found a good bargain at a Spa hotel a little way out of the city so when we arrived at Bari station, being unsure of the location, we broke a golden holiday rule and hailed a taxi.

Bari Puglia Italy

I am not happy about breaking this rule especially when the fare came to €10, bust the daily budget and nearly broke my heart but I was mighty glad that we hadn’t attempted to walk it!  The hotel, a once grand mansion on the edge of the city, was quite a lot further out of town than I had imagined it would be and as the taxi continued to drive further and further away from the centre it became quite clear that there was absolutely no chance of walking back into Bari for evening meal but never mind we thought that we might eat at the hotel instead.

It was a lovely hotel with a very good room but when I enquired about the restaurant I was informed that it had closed down for the season a few days previously.  Oh dear it was beginning to look like more taxi fares again later.  Once again, never mind, this afternoon we would use the Spa facilities while we considered our options.  Not a chance because these were closed as well with conflicting stories from the staff about break downs and/or refurbishment depending upon who was making the excuses.

I was annoyed by this and tried to cancel the third night but the hotel staff were reluctant to allow this and I couldn’t find a suitable alternative anyway within our skinflint price budget and so we had to resign ourselves to three nights marooned miles from anywhere on the edge of the city.

Never mind, we would now use the outside pool facilities and have a lunch time snack but once again not a chance of that either because the pool side snack bar was closed and everything was packed and locked away and for certain would be staying that way for at least nine months.  I complained again but it made no difference and all I got was more apologies.

So, we had to take a taxi back into the city and going back was even more expensive at €15.  Actually it could have been even worse because when the metre hit €15 I told the driver to stop and we got out, paid and walked the rest of the way to the old town.

Before dining we walked around the city walls for a while and then choose a pizzeria and trying to compensate for the cost of the taxi fare choose a very cheap meal and a pizza between us which seemed to surprise the staff.  I really hate taxis, they are such robbers and all that they achieve is to suck money from the local economy because if I hadn’t spent so much on fares then it is certain that I would have spent more in the restaurant but later we did find enough loose change in the bottoms of our pockets to splash out on an ice cream in a gelataria in the main square.

The main square was just as busy as our first night in Bari with a tsunami of people coming in waves into the old town and then just walking backwards and forwards like an Atlantic tide. This was the  passeggiata where local people descend on the town at dusk and just walk and sometimes stop to talk. Some people had bought fold up garden chairs and were just sitting and chatting, others were playing cards, some were hanging around the bars but mostly they were just walking up and down and around and around and they were still coming in as we battled against the flow and then returned to the hotel rather earlier than normal.

This cost another whopping €12 so when I totted it all up that was €37 in one day on taxi fares – more than I would normally spend in a full year, more than the cost of the fuel for four days car hire!  I needed a lie down and a couple of large amarettos!

Bari Night time Puglia Italy

Italy and Puglia, Driving and Rain

Trulli House Alberobello Puglia Italy

Simply because we had a hire car we felt obliged to use it even though my personal preference would have been to leave it in its safe little parking spot close to the Trulli house where we were staying and just waste the day away in the tourist town of Alberobello.

I wasn’t really sure where to go, I didn’t want to drive too far and yesterday the places that we had visited had been rather disappointing so without a real plan we headed out of the town and made for the naval city of Taranto on the other side of the heel of Italy’s boot but with an idea that we might stop off in Mottola and Massafra, two towns that both featured in the guide books.

First we drove to the nearby town of Noci which was reasonably straight forward and we rather enjoyed driving through the countryside and along narrow roads with verges decorated with pretty wild flowers and next to fields of grazing cows and the inevitable olive groves twisting away as though in a Chubby Checker dancing competition but this all changed for the worst when we arrived in Mottola and the minor road came to a sudden end and we were obliged to join a main road.  I say main road only because it was marked in red on the map but the standard of maintenance was no better and now we had to share the tarmac and the potholes with hundreds of demented Italian drivers.

Perched on a hillside Mottola 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 close 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 it was in the middle of all this mayhem that Kim confessed that she was feeling rather stressed as well so we both agreed that probably the best idea was to abandon any ideas of visiting Massafra and the planned trip to Taranto (there was still fifty kilometres to go), turn around and go directly back to Alberobello.  Luckily this meant that we could leave the main highway and get back onto the country roads which although tricky and at times dangerous were thankfully not completely murderous.

Incidentally if anyone has been to Mottola or Massafra can you let me know if I missed anything by not stopping off?

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!

While we had been driving and concentrating on the roads and staying alive we hadn’t taken much notice of the weather but now we could see that it had become horribly grey and soon after arriving back it started to rain, gently at first but then turned into a real down pour that kept us confined to the room for a couple of hours.  This was reminiscent of childhood holidays in Wales where it always rains and where as bored children we spent hours staring out of the door looking for weather improvement and watching raindrops racing down the windows of the holiday chalet.

Thankfully we had a nice room in Alberobello in Italy and not a damp holiday chalet in Wales.

Eventually the rain finally cleared away, the sky brightened, the sun came up and the streets quickly dried so released from confinement we had one last walk around the Trulli houses but to be honest there are only so many times that you can walk around the same streets and we had had enough of Alberobello by the end of the fourth day and we looked forward to moving on again tomorrow.

Alberobello Sunset Puglia Italy

 

Italy and Puglia, Monopoli and Martina Franca

Monopoli Puglia Italy

Car parking and driving discipline 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’

Reasonably satisfied with my own fussy and overly fastidious parking arrangements we left the car to the mercy of Italian drivers and walked towards the seafront and the port of Monopoli.  To be honest I remained way too stressed to really appreciate the coastal town and as we walked to the Centro Storico I found the place to be faded, shabby and untidy but, the way I see it, no one asked me to visit and if that is the way people like it with dirty streets and beggars on every corner then that is just fine with me.

Maybe it was just my frame of mind this morning because after the drive I wasn’t really in the mood for this.

Basilica of St Nicholas Bari Puglia Italy

Monopoli, Italy…

We found our way to the sea and a small crescent shaped beach of caramel sand where sunbathers were stretched out and working on their tans but we weren’t inclined to go down to the water and instead carried on into the old town and slipped into the labyrinth of streets leading to the cathedral.

So far Monopoli hadn’t really grabbed my attention and based on Kim’s view (often proved correct) that cathedral’s are generally disappointing I wasn’t especially optimistic about a visit there either  but on this occasion Kim was completely wrong and there was a wonderful interior that stood out from all of the other churches  that we had already visited on these travels.

From the Cathedral we negotiated the narrow lanes of the old town down towards the harbour and the medieval castle but there was disappointment when we arrived there (well, for me anyway) because it was closed on account of hosting some sort of conference so we had to be content with looking around the outside and then walking the walls until we found a water side bar and sat down for a while at a table next to two rather odd middle-aged English asylum dodgers who were sharing tales about their lives and their personal trials and phobias but each was so interested in their own stories that they did this without really listening to one another.  It was entertaining but eventually they paid up and left so shortly after that we did too.

On the way back to the beach and with clouds moving in quickly from the east we both agreed that we didn’t especially care for Monopoli and I was glad about that because it meant that we could return to the car and rescue it from its precarious parking spot.  It was perfectly fine of course but I was glad to get back to it and move on and away.

Sardinia window

Martina Franca, Italy…

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.

The car park was 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 about this 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 Transit van comes along and parks right up next to me.

I really wasn’t in any sort of sightseeing mood today and was immediately not overwhelmed by Martina Franca, not helped by the poor weather and the fact that we had arrived at about one o’clock and anywhere remotely interesting was closing down for the afternoon siesta and here in Martina Franca there was an absolute rigid adherence to the tradition of an afternoon sojourn.

Doors of Sigüenza 5

Cloudy and overcast we stopped for a coffee in a single bar that remained open and then we were both glad to leave the place and after a moment or two of panic when we couldn’t remember where the car was parked we were both happy to return to Alberobello where, by an absolute stroke of luck, we found a perfect parking spot very close to the Trulli.

Even now however the problems weren’t over because the builders hadn’t stopped for the afternoon siesta like everyone else and were still hammering away in the house next door and then it started to rain – heavily – and we were confined to the room with the battering noise and there weren’t even any tourists popping by looking for guided tours this afternoon.

Problems with Builders next door…

Early in the evening, like Moses parting the Red Sea, the clouds suddenly separated and disappeared, the rain stopped and within a few moments there were clear blue skies once again so we rushed outside and took a short walk and then returned to the accommodation where thankfully at last the builders were clearing up and going home.  I asked them if they were coming back tomorrow and they said no and I was so glad about that I offered them both a bottle of beer!

It had been an odd sort of day with equal measures of problems and disappointments and as we prepared to go out for evening meal I suddenly began to worry that our favourite trattoria might be closed for the night and that would just about cap it all.

But I needn’t have worried – it was open for business and when we arrived they seemed genuinely pleased to see us as we surely almost qualified for a frequent user loyalty discount card by now and we enjoyed a third excellent evening meal at a pavement table surrounded by pots of effervescent geranium blooms.

The end of the day turned out to be the best part of the day!

Alberobello Sunset Puglia Italy

Italy and Puglia, Driving and the Italian Highway Code

Street Parking 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

After our evening meal and a walk through Alberobello in the moonlight we went to bed in the serene and quiet surroundings of our charming little Trulli but, we were abruptly woken at seven o’clock by the pounding of a pneumatic drill because the owner of the next door Trulli had chosen this particular day to begin renovations and the street outside was transformed into a building site and as I lay listening to the racket I had a horrible feeling that today was not going to be a good one.

And very quickly I was proved correct.  Puglia is sometimes called the ‘California of Italy’ because, being a predominantly agricultural region, it supplies plentiful fruit and vegetables to the whole of the country and as though to demonstrate this, today was market day in Alberobello.  And so, because Kim likes walking through markets and searching through hundreds of stalls all selling rubbish, we left the accommodation early and spent an hour among the market stalls while I tried to feign some sort of interest in scratting through market tat although I do have to confess that I did like the food sections with the cheese and hams and especially the vegetables.

There was a problem at breakfast because there was no black tea and it was too far to walk back to our Trulli to get emergency supplies and then once back at the room the construction noise had risen to breaking the sound barrier levels so it was clearly impossible to contemplate staying there for the day so now I had to face the biggest problem of the day so far – more driving in Italy and we made the decision to drive to the coastal town of Monopoli.

Trulli Houses Alberobello Puglia Italy

I would have been quite happy with leaving the car in its safe little parking spot for a second day but as I started the engine and nudged my way into the traffic I immediately began to regret hiring a car because I was really not enjoying the temporary responsibility for the brand new Renault Clio.

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, the annual maintenance budget is zero and 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 but 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 because one of the biggest mistakes in the development of the modern world was to introduce the Italains to the motor car!

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.

The only exception to this is nun’s.  Italian drivers will not hit a nun – you see groups of them breezing across eight lane highways with amazing impunity, so if you wish to cross some busy place your only hope is to wait for some nuns to come along and stick to them like a sweaty T-shirt” – Bill Bryson

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 as knotted as one of the trunks of the thousand year olive trees at the side of the road especially when we arrived in Monopoli and encountered the third problem when driving in Italy – finding somewhere safe to park the car.

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 rules of parking a car.

It took me some while to find somewhere that I was reasonably happy with and found a spot away from the busy part of the town on the end of a street where hopefully no one could park behind me because I didn’t want to get back to the car later and find it sandwiched like this…

Car Parking In Italy