Thursday, 15 October 2015

On the road., Italian style

Tuesday 13th October

Arrow straight Roman roads, endless plains of  olive groves, dry-stone walls...Puglia!
Back on the road, There is no doubt about it, driving a motorhome in Italy is trickier than in France or Spain. Take this morning - we never manage to exit campsites early, so it was about half past ten before we exited Lido Salpo and headed off to nearby Manfredonia in search of a bank machine and a supermarket.

We instructed Muriel to find a shopping centre and headed into town. Checking the route on the sat nav with  town map that the camp site supplied - it looked straightforward. In fact it began swimmingly well, as we entered the town Gill spotted a bank, I found a nice long parking space just beyond it on the other side of the road, and in a scene like something from the Ten Commandments, the stream of traffic miraculously parted allowing me pull into the space. Gill jumped out to rob the bank, and I sat watching the Italian world go by, which is rarely without its entertainments. Today it was an Oscar winning performance by a middle aged gentleman who paused next to Maisy. In the wing mirror I noticed him walking around the van staring intently. Being British, and of an innately suspicious nature, I expected him to accost me and point out that I was illegally parked. Instead, he did approach the cab, placed is fingers to his lips and made that Italian kissing fingers gesture that signals hopeless infatuation. "Bellisima! Bellisima! he mouthed at me silently. Clearly he had fallen head over heels in love with Maisy, as if she had appeared on the streets of Manfredonia like some Fellini inspired vision of loveliness. This pleased me inordinately, as every owner of a motorhome likes to think that their shining pile of metal IS the very best shining pile of metal in the whole wide world.

Gill hopped back-in, 300 euros richer, and we set out to find the supermarket. This is where sat navs are hopeless. Muriel works by plotting the most direct route; in towns this can involve being directed down side streets more suited to a scooter than a motorhome. Take into account that all of this takes place among Italian traffic waltzing about as if in a Strictly dance-a-thon for the totally pissed, then what should be a straightforward drive to a local supermarket deteriorates very quickly into a nightmare. Soon we seemed hopelessly lost in a grid of oneway streets, made all the more narrow by cars parked on each side in that uniquely haphazard Italian way which seems to connote gay abandon and a happy disinterest in following either rules or a sense of decorum. When finally we found a wider road, then the way was blocked by the town bus that headed towards me as I headed towards it, each convinced they had right of way. Clearly I did not, for the resultant jam had to be untangled by two passing officers of the Polizia Municipale who shouted at me for a while in gattling gun Italian punctuated by the the word, Why? Why? After a few minutes they decided that they had yelled at the stupid Englishman enough, and sent us on our way. 

Eventually we did find the outskirts, but not before we had circumnavigated a covered market which seemed extend for acres, then driven up and down an unmetalled track a couple of times next to some crumbling apartment blocks. The local youth were using the track for impromptu moto-cross. On our second perambulation they took the opportunity to display their more advanced techniques by performing wheelies, including a young man on a Vespa, a trick which should be impossible according to the accepted laws of classical Newtonian Mechanics.


"That was tricky" we agreed as we reset the sat nav to head for Foggia's Ipercoop hypermarket. Gill continued, "Muriel is bound to take us around the inner ring road, and it will be quiet by then, everyone will have gone to lunch." This was reassuring for the driver who, following the morning' vicissitudes was driving along clutching the steering wheel with an iron grip and staring at the potholes ahead with a fixed, catatonic expression. As it turned out, Gill's reassurance, though calming at the time proved factually incorrect in every aspect.


Still, as we trundled towards Foggia over at broad plain of fallow fields and tall grain storage towers we chatted about this and that, noted that the landscape had a certain resemblance to inland Spain, so really we did not take note that the sat nav was taking us right through the city centre, and far from being quiet due to lunch break it was actually frenetic as people rushed home for lunch. We edged through the zone on industrial decay, crawled past the cross-roads of refugee desperation, passed the stadium of barbed wire and rust, but we got through, no one even hooted their horn, maybe I was learning what it takes to be an urban driver in Italy! Finally, we turned left into the gigantic Ipercoop car park, thankful that it had no height barriers, grabbed shopping list and trolley and headed into the store. Quite clearly the morning's shenanigans had rattled me. As Gill stood in the wine section weighing up the Negroamaro and the Salce Salento, I stood by my head full if images that at this very moment every ne'er-do-well and itinerant in Foggia was crawling over Maisy, removing the contents and anything that could be prised-off with a crow-bar. "I am returning to guard the van" I announced dramatically. Of course when I exited the store there was Maisy sat there, unmolested and intact, under a bright blue sky.


As I waited in the cab for Gill to return with the shopping I entertained myself by turning the van upside down looking for my wallet that was missing from its usual place at the bottom of my camera bag. It was nowhere to be seen, I started to go through what I needed to do to cancel my cards, racked my brain as to when I had used it last in - France or maybe in Ashford when we topped up with diesel at Tesco. Somewhat crestfallen, I checked the camera bag for the last time. Of course my wallet was there, as it always had been. I had not lost my wallet, just my marbles. Constant travel, day after day can do odd things to you, after a certain time you can become slightly deranged. Time to get a grip!




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