Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Saturday April 25th 2009 - Sunday April 26th 2009

International Camping Village, Praia a Mare (ACSI2009-1546) N39.88190 E15.78548

We have the usual decision to take at this time of week, is the present site suitable for a trip to church on Sunday either on foot or on a bicycle. For this site that is definitely a negative, you have to either negotiate the steep switch back road for about 2 kilometres as it climbs up to the town, or if you are feeling really fit you can walk up the (what seems like) several hundred steps to the town. How do they comply with disabled access legislation here?

So we decide to head south, so that we can be settled in place at somewhere suitable on Sunday. We key in the coordinates to the satnav, and tell it to avoid motorways. We want to do the scenic route. We do not know it yet, but this is a major mistake.

The trusty satnav takes us along the Amalfi coast as expected, towards Positano. As we had expected it is spectacular and very beautiful. Kathleen has cramp in her hands from gripping onto her seat as we climb and then drop down, all of the time negotiating hairpin after hairpin bend. We notice that the road is quite busy, and there are many cars and large busses parked in laybys as we approach Positano. We check the trusty diary and find it is a National holiday today their version of Independence day or some such. On the edge of Positano there is a Policeman who waves us down and tells us something in Italian, which we of course do not understand. We repeatedly tell him (in English) that we are going to Amalfi. He is not having it and he will not let us proceed. Instead he directs us onto a side road (we now think he intention was for us to turn around and retrace our steps, but this was not clear at the time).

The side road is narrow, but it is signposted Amalfi. So we soldier on up the hill, and up and up, the road gets even narrower. We begin to think we are making a big mistake (well, I am thinking it, Kathleen has been telling me forcefully what a big mistake it is for the past 4 or 5 kilometers). Eventually we come to a fork in the road, no signposts, silence from the satnav. Do we go right, or do we go left? Fortunately there are two Italian chaps passing the time of day by the road side (goodness knows were they have come from we appear to be in the middle of nowhere and part way up a very steep hill). Fortunately one of them speaks enough English to understand when we tell him we are trying to get to Amalfi. He tells us we need the left fork, but, and this is a big but, there is no point in proceeding since the road ahead has collapsed and there is no way we will able to pass in something 6metres long and 3metres high. We have to turn around.

Fortunately at this point, the road widens slightly. Kathleen hops out to watch the back (she says, I think she just did not want to in the cab as I drove forward towards the chasm). I swung the van around and drove towards the drop, at this point some other vehicle had clearly gone through the stone barrier, and all there was between me a a drop of several hundred feet was some red and white checked tape. The helpful Italian, beckoned me forward (it is OK for him, he is not in the cab!), still further and further, eventually I chicken out, and opt to reverse until I hear the cry of STOP from Kathleen, Forwards toward the drop again, and so we execute a three (or maybe five or six) point turn, Kathleen jumps back into the cab and with a cheery wave we retrace our steps, this time down the hill.

We arrive back at the “main” road along the coast, the policeman is still there and still refuses to let us pass. There is nothing for it but to return towards Naples and join the motorway. We have now spent about 2.5 hours driving up and down the Amalfi coast. The boss is not amused, I decide that silence the wisest option.

We rejoin the motorway. Initially there is a toll, but it is only 2Euro or so (more of this later). We now speed south making up for lost time (as I constantly reminded. All goes smoothly until we reach the point where we must leave the motorway and begin heading for the coast again. The road at this point is in good condition, but is twists its way across some high hills (most of Italy, I am beginning to realise is mountains) and overtaking is not really an option. We can see the road snaking ahead as it climbs and drops. There is a Campervan visible way ahead. We steadily gain on him and soon find it is an ancient arthritic Italian job. There is no chance of us overtaking him on the twists and climbs of this road. Steadily the queue of cars behind us builds up, although the odd suicidal Alpha driver goes for it and overtakes both of us with zero visibility ahead, most opt to stay alive. The crawling Italian shows no sign of pulling over to allow us to pass, so for the next 50kilometres of so, I pull over, and allow the cars behind to pass, so at least they have to overtake only one campervan. Eventually he turns off, oh joy. We do not know it at this point, but we will see the Italian van again soon.

We arrive at our selected campsite (La Mantinera 1547), it looks very posh, our hopes are raised. But, despite the opening date given in the ACSI book, it is closed. All is not lost, there is another site (1546) only a kilometre along the road, it is actually nearer to the town (and the church), so it may be better anyway we tell ourselves.

We drive along there, infront of us, waiting to check-in is the arthritic Italian van!, how did he get here ahead of us?, he obviously knew a shortcut not known to our satnav.

We settle in, there are some good points. The facilities are excellent, with lost of hot water (an unexpected luxury we have discovered in Italy, they must use cold showers as a form of birth control I think). It gets better, it is an easy cycle to the town and there is a church. Now the negative, there is a railway line next to the site with highspeed trains passing regularly, the good news is they stop about 10:00pm.

As usual almost everyone there is Dutch or German, but we soon notice another English van, George and Anne who are (or were) planning to go to Sicily. They have made it as far south as Gallipoli, but at that point have decided they are running out of time, and must start heading north again, hence we find them here.

From them we learn were the ferry leaves from, how much it will cost, that the motorway is free all the way to the ferry terminal (we find out why later), and they kindly loan us their “Sicily Book” with the understanding we will post it to them on our return.

We venture out to explore on our bikes. There is a fine promenade complete with cycle track which runs for several kilometres along the coast. But this is a strange place, clearly at some point there has been a decision to built a resort here, and indeed whole sections have been built, such as the promenade, but at the same time many developments (houses, hotels etc) are unfinished, and clearly work on them has been abandoned for several years.

As we cycle along, we spot a church, on the hill side. It would be of course. We cycle towards it. Eventually the climb becomes so steep, that the road gives way to steps. We park the bikes, and climb the steps. At the top is an amazing church come grotto built into the hillside. It is clearly in use, but it turns out only on special occasions and there is no service there tomorrow (Sunday). We return to our bikes and cycle into town, where we find the somewhat anonymous but functioning modern church. There is no notice board advertising mass times, but a helpful Italian lady converses with in sign language to convey that mass is at 11:00am the next day.

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