A Little Bit of Me

Jottings and Writing, miscellanous misgivings

Archive for September, 2016

Well I changed my mind. No sleep but up at 6am to catch the no5 and then the train to Sorrento, then the ferry to Capri to have a wonderful day mingling with tourists and seeing the once home of Leonard Cohen (and numerous other fab celebrities). Bad start as the Sorrento train quickly fills up with loud obnoxious youth who have no sense of body space, manners, or respect. They loudly take over the carriage and the top alpha male shows all the others that if you have a wisp of facial hair, a copycat American GI haircut and passably fashionable clothes(a cool jacket with Kim Kardashian your ass would look big in any dress on the back). While I quietly pondered whether to hit him hard in the throat, or elbow his Ray Bans so as to cause some serious facial damage the other passengers studiously avoided any eye contact. Luckily they got off at some ghastly stop to probably learn some useless skills that will see them stay unemployed. Italys youth unemployment is 24%).
Onwards and upwards. I had agreed to Capri if we could avoid the tourist rush which meant catching a ferry before 8.30 am. Good plan but someone else had read the guide book so there was still a fair crowd. They alight from the ferry at the marina and there is a desperate scramble to get to Capri village by bus (cheap and oversubscribed) or taxi (expensive and very, very scary.) I described the Amalfi coast bus ride but it has nothing on the ride to Capari and Anacapri, the other village on the island.
While standing in line a peculiar looking older gentleman asked me in Italian what the fancy taxis cost (Nissan extended sedans, a cool Fiat convertible from the 70s and some weird extended li o Fiats). I looked at the fares and they seemed to range between €20-40 . He suggested that he and his wife share a cab to Anacapri. €25 and we are off. The roads are narrow, 1000 ft drops and major buses, scooters and cars competing for space. I have never been so scared and Alison has now developed a fear of heights. Amazingly no accidents but I noted that his rear vision mirrors were folded back, as were most other vehicles.
We arrive at Anacapri and try to see The Axel Munst garden down a long drive called shoppers alley full of tourist traps and large guided tours of Germans and English and Italian tourists. Ghastly. The views out over the Gulf of Naples are spectacular as is the 1000 ft drop off the side of the track. The gardens are aloft the track and we only see some of the elaborate statues that this eccentric Swiss put there. Then on to the funicular which chairlifts you to the summit of Capri. Relaxing, scary, thrilling, not be missed. As the chairlift ascends you have a view of back gardens and this highlights the intensive horticulture that Italians undertake. Few animals, mainly horses, but well tilled fields full of new, healthy plantings, which the local markets feature on a daily basis. If I had to give advice about visiting Capri it would be to get there early morning, catch or share a cab to wherever you want to go, do your stuff and get-out early afternoon. Avoid eating there (three times the price and half the quality as Sorrento). Then back on that ghastly train, thankfully only half full and high speed (another piece of advice – avoid public trains and buses. Full of horrible people, dirty, graffiti strewn and thoroughly confusing). There is a reason they are cheap.
We are currently making our way further south on a Trenitalia high speed train and a whole different kettle of fish. Clean, efficient, comprehensible, and non of the riffraff of public though the guy across the aisle has been looking funningly at me . Oh! Hes the guard, that dazzlingly dresses man with the manicured look. On the local trains you don’t see a guard until you alight. He forgoes ticket validation and policing the delinquents and drunks to schmooze with the driver. Typical. The suburban rail, the garbage, have mafia’s hands all over them. The parking situation is the same. Why am I surprised?
My other piece of advice would be to explore the possibility of a group of five or six sharing the cost of renting a boat for 4-6 (self drive). This would mean you could see the island from the water, enjoy a swim, and be away from the tourist horde. My hatred of wandering groups of (mostly) elderly people traipsing around after some umbrella touting guide has intensified each day. I am thinking of setting up roadblock on SH88 and extracting huge tolls from cruise ship people. They really are a blight. A plague. Parasites.

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Found

Ah joy. Found the no5 bus. It deposits us in Ercolano after a disjointed drive with cars blocking the route. Much tooting, arm waving and sighing.
Our pool has two distinct areas. Where people usually sit , under the shade of large Mediterranean pine trees the marble tiles are populated by very large, angry, black ants. They form long columns and occasionally you will see a fight to the death as two three solders have it out. The corpse is then dragged away to be turned onto some sort of food (I suppose). Along the side of the pool there are terracotta tiles and here the ants are smaller, and dont fight or kill as much. They also have a remarkable ability to transport large crumbs across the tiles to their nests. Reminds me of tourists in Florence and Venice but today is going to be a turning point. I’ll explain.
Rico met us at the stazione, quiet accidently. He is a final year Med student and before he starts 2orking is doing a cycling tour of southern Italy. Has not been here before and, like me, finds it hard to understand and be understood with the dialect spoken in these parts. Wrong train to Sorrento, good guard informed us. Got off at Lorenzio and there he was,? NORTHERN ITALIAN. That’s good. They sort of rule Italy
Med student , EVEN BETTER. A Thoroughly nice man.
Has been in NZ. BETTER STILL. Spent some time in Queenstown as an exchange student.
We are doing the Amalfi coast via Sorrento and the Amalfi coast. Arrive in Sorrento and its pandemonium. Wall to wall tourists all rushing for the ferry which is down a thousand steps in the port. I don’t realise that there is a time limit and am meandering about but shewhomustbeobeyed is getting increasingly anxious that we will miss the 1030 sailing. The queues for Capri ferry are a hundred metres long and not moving. It looks like we will miss the Sorrento furry but we stroll on without a ticket (the ferry is running on Italian time. Packed to the gunwales with happy tourists who all seem to be taking selfies with the stunning coast as a backdrop. We arrive at Positrano and, for some reason, must slight while the ferry continues down the coast. The place is teeming and it seems that a lot of people stay here as their bags are transported to the wharf by semi nude Italian male models. We catch a smaller ferry to Amalfi and the cliff top mansions and hotels are a sight to behold. Again selfies and over eager tourists snapping everything in sight. Amalfi is a nightmare. Tourists and tat. The main street is almost impassable with brightly clad bodies, shops selling overpriced rubbish and scooters and cars weaving between bodies. We fond a nice little out of the way restaurant and are tucking into pasta when a tourist group arrives and loudly take over the place. Oh well the food was good!
We decide to forsake the ferry back and take the bus. I remember that this stretch of road has featured in films before and from the ferry it looked interesting. Straight away I can see its going to be an experience. The road is narrow, twisted, drops of thousands of feet on one side and solid rock wall on the other. The driver should have some sort of medal for the way he effortlessly negotiates not only the terrain, but other drivers, scooters, cars and, more importantly, other buses. At times I would not have been able to put a finger between the respective mirrors of the buses. It has to rate as one of the most exciting rides I have ever taken.
We pull into St Antoine station as a man publically urinates in the bushes off the platform. He clumsily puts his organ back in his pants with some difficulty as he picks his plastic bag of bottles and dirty clothing and lurches into our carriage. He then spends about ten minutes making sure he has indeed got everything tucked away while he carries on a conversation with an imaginary friend.
Paula and Henry have recovered their bags and their trip to Amalfi is over. She, liver eyes, he varicose veined though he is impossibly handsome. It seemed to both of them that they has missed something. The guidebook was full of praise nut Henry is mentally tallying up the bill and Paula hopes that her face have not been ravaged too much by that merciless sun. . Small luggage, though Vespa .leather bag an d ,locked suitcases. They examine a map. No24 Napoli. She wriggles, he squirms. It’s a train from Sorrento to Naples darling. Pederasts, drug smugglers, ethopian teeth grinders. We miss our stop. ECOLARNO with graffito. Oh!!! Ours doesn’t have the graffito. €25 TO GETTA YRS HOME. GET LOST. But I end up paying €20 anyway.
An exhausting day and I most definitely do not want to see Capri to tomorrow which Alison has set her heart on. What does one do when the thought of repeating the bus, the train, the crowds, to see the Blue Grotto which could be closed or so full of tourists taking selfies that my day will be like a nightmare from hell.20160926_224620.jpg

Cosa Nostra and the no5 bus

Working on my tan today and reading a book “ Coa Nostra” by John Dickie. As we drove into Naples I could not ignore the massive amounts of rubbish. Rubbish is controlled by the Camorra (Naples Mafia)so I am informed by shewhoknowseverything. Curious thing rubbish. In the Northern places we have stayed there are skips on each street (usually three side by side) and you just throw you bin loners in as you go out shopping. Here there is a wire basket attached to the street wall and each day you put out glass, next day, plastics, then paper, then garbage. If the Mafia does have control there must be some cunning, devious reason for this.
Next day and we are still looking for the elusive no5. It is supposed to pass by our front gate at 9.20 ish so we eagerly await to see its red livery and shiny orange no5 beaming at us. As we wait we marvel at MT Vesuvius towering over us from across the road. By 10am we have given up and I seek the WiFi hotspot of about a square metre that allows us to catch up on emails and mail this blog as well as getting information about STUFF. ,My first port of call is anm.it which is the bus company and it assures me that its regular timetable operates sat &sun as usual. We decide on a less ambitious plan for the day. We had planned to catch no5 run a circuit to see where we can get on and off and maximise our ticket price then alight at the train station, catch a train to Sorrento, then catch a ferry to go down the Amalfi coast. Now we will go to the supermarket (approx 2.3 km away and 25 minutes downhill walk according to the gps) then find us a taxi or bus to get back. Two hours later we find a supermarket but not the one we wanted. Its cheap and nasty but what the hell. Then we are faced with the dilemma of getting three bags of groceries back up MTVesivius. Call Enrica who comes to the rescue while I watch an intersection where dozens of vehicles as end on at breathtaking speeds and defy any sort of logic try to force their way through. I am dreading driving in Sicily. During all this drama I have not spotted one no5 although we have been on her route for the best part of three (3hrs) hours. Our enjoyment of Naples really depends on this bus.

On our forced march I again reflect on the Mafia and their supposed control of refuge collection. As we waited for the non existent no5 a garbage truck came by collecting the daily offering. A few plastic bags, a slip of cardboard, a piece of rope. We walked further down via Vesivio and the roadside was strewn with rubbish. Used nappies, shoes, a childs pedalcar, pieces of soiled paper, empty wine and beer bottles, car tires. Not just isolated bits but a constant stream of rubbish. It seems that people just don’t care or the local council just has not got the resources to keep the place clean. I have never seen so much garbage!

Just a finishing note. Internet here is(as it has been at most places in Italy) terribly fragile. We don’t have a router in our brand new apartment and I have to walk 50 metres up the path and perch on a wall to eavesdrop on our neighbours open network. I can go up to the big house and sit on the verandah furniture and get a fair signal but my blogs with pictures don’t seem to be getting out. I have posted three since Grizzly Bear but they don’t appear when I log in. My apologies but the technology is CRAP.!!!20160924_191212

All Lucked Out

20160923_225955After the disaster at Barriers. I think we have lucked out. The photos will show the setting but we are on a private estate of about 10 acres with ‘ the big house’ , a large three storied Mediterrean house , and two smaller separate three room apartments, overlooking the Mediterranean and the port of Naples.
I shouldn’t be to harsh on Bari. We had three good days nut the stay was marred by the horrible accommodation and I developed shingles. Of all the time and all the places my Italian holiday would be the worst. Not a severe case (though Alison says its severe) but I had three days of real pain and sleepless nights and felt lousy for two days.
Still good to see the arse end of Barriera. The three hour bus ride from Bari to Naples showed a different side of Italy. More grapes, olives and some ,market gardens but also great tracs of ploughed land. Many mountain top villages shining orange and white through swirling mist as we wound up the mountains before descending into dismal slum areas on the outskirts of Naples of the sort I have only seen in films of the ghettos in South Africa. We had to catch a train from Naples to where we were staying at Ercolano . We were picked up by the owners son who is just finishing an Economics degree and when I talked to him about the slums and the poverty we had seen outside Bari he seemed either oblivious of it or preferred to point out the beautiful sights as we wound our way up to his gated property. I feel like John Key. Nah! Nothing to see here . Move on. Poverty. They are all immigrants, druggies, no-hopers. I must say I haven’t been hustled quite so much as at Naples centraile? Mind you some of the tourists on the packed train, on their way to see Vesuvius and the ruins we pretty hustely as well. In their haste to get tickets, get on and off the train, and accommodate other travellers.

Paulo (hostess husband) and Enrica took us down to the supermarket this morning in the trusty Alfa Romeo, leaving behind the Merc, mini cooper, other assorted fiats and alfas. Obviously a wealthy family and we learned through halting English and Italian that tbe house had originaaly been Pauols fathers and was handed down to Paulo on death. His two brothers and family occupy lower and top floors though I havent seen any of them apart from a couple of senoritas flitting about. They transported our groceries home while we went on to explore the local market and the remains of a fishing village that had been discovered by a man digging a well. When he told of discovering a large room everyone though he was trying to impress the ladies and it was years later the complete ruins were uncovered. An amazing site and I had interesting conversations with australian, english and american fellow travellers.
Then, more crap from Italy. We were to travel back to our hilltop hilton by local bus. Unfortunately the tabacchi where you buy tickets was closed from 2-4.30 pm, as are most business, especially in Southern Italy. We didn’t know this and waited until 3pm thinking surely a public service would not be so misguided to enforce such a rule. So we trudged 1.2 km to the railway station where we figured would be open as so many tourists travel by train to get off and see MT Vesuvius. Indeed, they were open but when I asked for a ticket on the autobus locale to via vesuvi (our street) the buffon said no no no around the corner (where tourist buss to the MT leave from. No amount of repetition would convince him I did not want to see the fucking mountain and I stormed out of the office much to the shocked surprise of people in the queue. Alison calmed me down and then a sproiket asked what had happened and assured us that the office did sell local bus tickets and pointed out where we should stand to catch nus no5. Back in, different man on the desk. Same result until eventually some gear clicked in his little brain and the tickets were produced. Seems like I should have been saying suburbana which would have turned on his lights. So we waited, and waited, and waited, and waited. Two hour’s later we saw the no5 going back the other way and were assured by a lady trying to catch the same us that it would make a circuit at the bottom of the hill and pick us all . She then grabbed a passing g cab. So we waited, waited, waited but no no5 appeared so eventually we stopped a passing cab and told the destination and asked the price. “€20” he replied and in my haste to het away from him I nearly knocked over an innocent gentleman who had double parked on the bus stop. Amid hilarious laughter from the other occupants of the shuttle taxi he lowered his price to €10 which did not seem so outrageous (later Enrica said that we got a really good deal and she had no idea why the nus didn’t front E she d8d admit it wad a little unreliable and that she herself her would not dream of using the bus service she would just take the Merc, Alfa, Mini, Fiat. ). Mmmppphhh!!!!

A Perfect Day

Best compliment yet today. I got asked directions by an Italian.

A perfect day. That Lou Reed song was playing as we dined at Tutti
in Aldrobello . Not a great meal.but I tried swordfish (pesce spada) for the first time.
We planned to visit. Aldrobello which is about 50 south of Bari by regional train and is famous for its houses built with stones called trulli. Getting the train was a bit of a mission as the line is really obscure and the validation machine is cleverly disguised as a hand washer. The outskirts of Bari are a real showcase of the poverty in Southern Italy. Large tracts of waste ground, occasional allotments, but mainly graffiti effaced railway stations. We stopped for fifteen minutes in the wop wops, went backwards, the crashed into something , the guard running down the aisle screaming “barriera, barriera ” and I had images of those Italian rail disasters from a few months ago and seeing.20 yr old pictures of Alison and me on tv and the odt. However it was.just as traibitalia high speed coming the other way.
We reached Aldrbello after about an hours travel and what a delight. A beaut little station with a rostoramte opposite the served the best arancia I have had so far. Riceballs stuffed with parma and cheese and a good coffee. I have fallen to drinking american as the esspresso is just to small an amount. A good start. The tulli are smazing and the structures are whitewashed regularly so everything looks picturesque.
As we wound round the narrow streets taking picture after picture we realised we were hungry. The first place was not yet open and an old guy gestured there was a good place”a destre” we rounded the corner and found Tutto. under a tutti. A great atmosphere and although the food was average we enjoyed ourselvex. Could have been the litre of vino locale and the generous shots of grappa but we rolled down the hill and PROMPTY GOT LOST. My gps app which works sans wireless has been invaluable bur it just got as even further lost and after the romantic morning we swiftly descended into a semi domestic. Eventually sorted but will have to learn to use the app in a better way.

I was using a zebra crossing outside Bari and was nearly kn9cked down by a car. I shouted an obscenity and gesticulated to the clear, large white lines. An elegantly dressed Italian lady looked me in the eye (as they do -daring you to visually undress them and muttered ‘guarde”, the Italian word for watch out. Its not the first time I have encountered this. There are NO rules governing the interaction between vehicles and people although some regional governments are trying to implement them . I would assume they would go the way of cell phon3 use in cars – everyone ignores them and they don’t seem to be enforced. Pedestrian mortality and morbidity figures are high ( and thete are lots of former scooter riders missing body parts. The advice given seems counterintuitive. Don’t meet the drivers eyes, don’t speed or slow down, follow a local. I might start carrying a ballpeen hammer and develop my menacing stare.
Asked instructions again today by of all people a couple of Australians. Disguising my accent I sent them in the opposite direction of where they wanted to go. Feel quite proud of myself (only joking

Breaking Away

Many years ago I watched and enjoyed a film called “breaking away” a coming of age film that garnered much praise. It essentially told the story of a group of high school grads who have now to make the decision of what to do with their lives. The central character is a talented push bike racer and loves everything Italian, a theme which is developed in multiple ways throughout the film. The highlight for him is the Italian racing team are coming to town and he has an opportunity to train with them. His adoration of Italianissa comes to a rapid end when he discovers they are a bunch of cheats and don’t like being bettered by an American, resorting to deliberately crippling his bike. Thus probably incubated my love of Italian cars, engines appliances, films, clothes, and eventually the people and the country. My father also saw service in North Africa and Italy and the few 5imes he talked of his experiences he made it sound an exotic place

Such are my feelings as we prepare to leave Bari which I have renamed Barriera. Barriera used to be the place where people left Italy to travel to Greece, and other parts. It has since partially reinvented itself through the historic centre as a tourist stop but has to go a long way to succeed in that. To attract tourists you have to appear to like them while fleecing them, but here you are treated like a piece of dog shit. Yesterday while trying unsuccessfully to find the beach we took lunch at a Ristorante. For some inexplicable reason they couldn’t fill my order, Alisons meal was not the meal she ordered, the couple sitting next to us were still waiting for their food a half hour after ordering and, two tables over, a meal not ordered was plonked in front of a customer who complained only to be ignored. She are it anyway figuring, I guess , that it was better than going hungry.
Later, at he gelatoria, I carefully explained, in Italian, what I wanted. Two cones, one with peach, one with melon, without the biscuit. And the small version. What I got was two cones half and half peach and melon, with a biscuit , at piccolo price but of giant proportions.
Then we sit down on a quiet bench at the centre of three intersections governed by traffic lights. For the next hour or so horns are sounded for each light change. Drivers are so impatient that if you don’t take off a microsecound ater the light changes you are treated like the road version of a leper. And I have yet to work out the rules for pedestrian crossings. You take you life into your hands stepping out onto one. No one will stop and I have nearly been struck down several times. Oh well. Gives me an opportunity to practice my Italian expletives and hand gestures.
And just why are three heavily armed military personnel and a aggressive humvee type vehicle doing in the middle of s peaceful park? Oh yes a group of arab chanting youth have just walked by. There IS a war on you know. ( I later see that they are part of a project on public safety) Yes Barriera is like the italian bicycle team. Loud, busy, rude, exploitive, part of the 21 century yet firmly embedded in it. I question my own attitudes to tourism. Just what do the endless buses, boats and trains offer the tourist?
The distant thunder rumbles and the military retreat to their vehicles with gelatos. The piazza quickly empties.
At the end of “ Breaking Away” the protagonist meets a French exchange student, who mentions the Tour de France and our hero starts thinking those thoughts of bikes and yellow jerseys. Ahh!! The innocence of pre Lance Armstrong 1970s.

Breaking Away

Many years ago I watched and enjoyed a film called “breaking away” a coming of age film that garnered much praise. It essentially told the story of a group of high school grads who have now to make the decision of what to do with their lives. The central character is a talented push bike racer and loves everything Italian, a theme which is developed in multiple ways throughout the film. The highlight for him is the Italian racing team are coming to town and he has an opportunity to train with them. His adoration of Italianissa comes to a rapid end when he discovers they are a bunch of cheats and don’t like being bettered by an American, resorting to deliberately crippling his bike. Thus probably incubated my love of Italian cars, engines appliances, films, clothes, and eventually the people and the country. My father also saw service in North Africa and Italy and the few 5imes he talked of his experiences he made it sound an exotic place

Such are my feelings as we prepare to leave Bari which I have renamed Barriera. Barriera used to be the place where people left Italy to travel to Greece, and other parts. It has since partially reinvented itself through the historic centre as a tourist stop but has to go a long way to succeed in that. To attract tourists you have to appear to like them while fleecing them, but here you are treated like a piece of dog shit. Yesterday while trying unsuccessfully to find the beach we took lunch at a Ristorante. For some inexplicable reason they couldn’t fill my order, Alisons meal was not the meal she ordered, the couple sitting next to us were still waiting for their food a half hour after ordering and, two tables over, a meal not ordered was plonked in front of a customer who complained only to be ignored. She are it anyway figuring, I guess , that it was better than going hungry.
Later, at he gelatoria, I carefully explained, in Italian, what I wanted. Two cones, one with peach, one with melon, without the biscuit. And the small version. What I got was two cones half and half peach and melon, with a biscuit , at piccolo price but of giant proportions.
Then we sit down on a quiet bench at the centre of three intersections governed by traffic lights. For the next hour or so horns are sounded for each light change. Drivers are so impatient that if you don’t take off a microsecound ater the light changes you are treated like the road version of a leper. And I have yet to work out the rules for pedestrian crossings. You take you life into your hands stepping out onto one. No one will stop and I have nearly been struck down several times. Oh well. Gives me an opportunity to practice my Italian expletives and hand gestures.
And just why are three heavily armed military personnel and a aggressive humvee type vehicle doing in the middle of s peaceful park? Oh yes a group of arab chanting youth have just walked by. There IS a war on you know. ( I later see that they are part of a project on public safety) Yes Barriera is like the italian bicycle team. Loud, busy, rude, exploitive, part of the 21 century yet firmly embedded in it. I question my own attitudes to tourism. Just what do the endless buses, boats and trains offer the tourist?
The distant thunder rumbles and the military retreat to their vehicles with gelatos. The piazza quickly empties.
At the end of “ Breaking Away” the protagonist meets a French exchange student, who mentions the Tour de France and our hero starts thinking those thoughts of bikes and yellow jerseys. Ahh!! The innocence of pre Lance Armstrong 1970s.