Sunday, 15 November 2015

Italy - heel to toe...

As travellers we don't really wander. We make a plan and on the whole stick to it. But plans are just plans and subject to Murphy's law, and over the last few days the Irish king of the unforeseen has reigned supreme . Really the root cause of the chaos was the change of ferry time which resulted in us arriving at Brindisi at nightfall rather than dawn.

Greece, idea.

Catching up on a sleepless night.
At the best of times coping with an unfamiliar city, in a new country, in the dark is not easy. Optimistically we set the sat nav for Camperpark Fuori le Mura listed as open all year on the outskirts of the nearby city of Lecce. After half an hour or so of driving through the rush hour traffic, Muriel led us down a narrow unmetalled road with tall white walls on each side punctuated occasionally by solid metal gates. Our arrival was greeted by a cacophony of angry barking, high pitched yelping and the occasional plaintive howl as every dog in the neighbourhood said hello. There was a sign to the camperstop, hanging off a disfunctional lamppost, but no sign of the place in reality. I had to stop to let a car past on the narrow road, the driver gestured up another even more cratered road when we asked for directions, we could not find the place there either

Plan B. We had found the details of another place - Camper l'ail - in the nearby town of Vernole. Somehow we ended up in the centro storico squeezing through narrow streets, finally we came to a sharp corner, made all the more tricky by a line of bollards protecting the Cathedral. I parked Maisy at the entrance of a cul de sac and hopped out to reconnoitre on foot, "I think we can get through" I observed optimistically as I climbed back into the cab. We edged around the corner into the floodlit central square. It looked lovely with the cathedral on one side and a marbled public space with a fountain in the middle, all bathed in a pale yellow light. It was busy, the passiagata was in full swing. It was amusing to see everyone wrapped up in winter coats and festooned with scarves. In the UK. with the temperature hovering around 20 Celsius there would be much muttering about it being a 'close night'. I was impressed by the extent the locals entirely ignored the appearance of Maisy in their midst, gleaming with a beatific brightness under the arc lights. We drifted through their animated socialising like a big white ghost, and disappeared into the night, thankfully up a wider thoroughfare.

Re-setting the sat-nav co-ordinates, we took a second stab at finding the place. We found two signposts to Camp l'Ail, and arrived in Via Lecce where it was meant to be. Muriel announced we had reached our destination, but after parking up and exploring the area on foot, still it was nowhere to be found. We gave up, after a broken night's sleep on the ferry, both of us were dog tired. So we headed back the 56kms to Brindisi Terminal, at least it had security. Three hours after departing from the port, we drove back in, eat some bread and cheese, polished off a bottle of Nemea between us and collapsed into bed. I thinks it's called 'living the dream'.

Next morning we woke early to the sound of Albanian traders setting up their stalls of knock-off trainers outside the terminal. Next, a large fork lift truck parked beside us its engine throbbing away about 10 feet from our heads. Time to get up. 

We gave up on the idea of visiting Lecce, deciding to head towards the Lido do Metaponto, but not before calling in to Brindisi Ipercoop to restock. 

Blimey, Christmas comes to Brindisi Iper-Coop

and bonkers Anglicised slogans.
A little after midday we discovered that the sosta,  Pianta Nettuna, at Metaponto was staffed, but only for the purpose of informing would-be customers that the place was in fact closed. We realised that the information contained in the Camperstop book regarding opening dates was wholly unreliable, at least so far as Southern Italy was concerned. Now we were in a pickle, as on the whole we don't feel safe wild camping in Italy.

As ever, we hatched a plan - there were two campsites listed with all year opening in the ACSI book, one at Ciro Marina, near Crotone on the east coast of Calabria, the other on the west, not so very far from Reggio. While I drove south, Gill tried to phone ahead. Some miles further south the road forked, one way hugging the coast, the other cutting across country to join the Naples to Reggio autostrada. If we were unable to raise either site, we decided to head for the one on the west coast on the basis that if was closed, at least we had the option of sleeping at the dockside again at Villa San Giovanni before catching the ferry to Sicily tomorrow. In the end Glll managed to raise the site at Marina di Nicotara, ascertain from the non-Engish speaking owner 'Aperto today'. With the sun setting over the sea, just after 5:00pm we arrived at the site, it was open, hallelujah! What a day, we had driven almost 300 miles down bone shaking roads, it was exhausting.

Taranto - Middlesborough by the Med
A castle somewhere in Basilicata 

Late afternoon light in Calabria
The Calabrian mountains - unexpectedly deciduous and northern looking.
It's a pity we have ended up rushing through Basilicata and the south of Calabria; the area has come as a bit of a surprise on first impressions. Oddly I found some striking resembles with Northern England. I know, it does not look like the Lincolnshire Wolds or the Yorkshire Dales, it's more the demographics that seemed familiar. Firstly it is a highly populated and industrialised landscape - Taranto, think Middlesbrough by the Med; Cosenza, Milton Keynes, but with ravines; and so far as the coastal resorts are concerned, off season they have all the the god-forsaken, impoverished charm of Morecambe or Clacton on Sea. In amongst all of this is a spectacular mountainous landscape. It too is surprising, not at all like the garrigue covered crags of Greece; the foothills of the Calabrian mountains are verdant, grassy mounds with occasional deep-brown ploughed fields. The trees too look surprisingly northern, deciduous, white-trunked poplars with bright yellow autumnal foliage. The autostrada snakes through these Italianate 'Pennines', then suddenly the Anglo Saxon mirage is broken as the road sweeps around a hillside to reveal the silver expanse of Golfo di S. Eufemia. We may have had three tricky days, but there have been delights as well as challenges.


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