Italy Day One – 4.23.07

Arrived in Rome (Fuimancio) around 3:30 and wondered around lost in the airport for some time looking for the car rental place after no sleep, intro into a foreign country and a foreign language. We finally got the car keys after nice exchange with car lady, and left for Campania on the A1, got lost, and ended up downtown. After execute extraordinarily illegal turn and getting back on the autostrade, we were on the way to Ravello.

We got lost again south of Napoli. Thankfully this is not too great a theme. We spent much more time not lost really, but not really sure of where we were or where to go, but not caring for one reason or another. Gaby triangulated our location and figured out a good exit for us to exit. Inexplicably, the hotel has given directions to come across the coastal range instead of 165, which can have very heavy traffic and conflagrations between drivers and buses, etc. But we missed the A3 exit for Angri and ended up on the A30. Gaby figures out we can rectify this by getting off at Nocera and we end up going through there to Cava di Terrini. This part is interesting. It’s an industrial town of 30,000 people with narrow, busy streets and barely enough room for two way traffic. We are not really certain 100% of where we are or our direction in general despite glimpses of occasional signs pointing the way to Ravello, or more accurately not to Ravello but festival and advertising signs for events and places in Ravello. The obvious landmark of the mountain range doesn’t work in the semi-urban canyon just after dark either. At some point things seem wrong and we turn around only to find ourselves in full-on grid-lock. Two busses do not have the room to pass on the main street through Cava, but cars have packed in behind them and they are incapable of moving forward or backward, with the bus drivers actually outside of the busses yelling at random people and avoiding the motorcycles speeding through the grid-lock maze. Realizing this is going nowhere anytime soon, I weave my way to a side street a ¼-block ahead through random cars, pedestrians and motorcycles in order to turn around and get the hell out. It’s totally dark now. The side street turns out to be a couple of blocks long and is flanked by an enormous pile of trash and several feral dogs engaged in their evening meal. This ended up being fortuitous because soon after the turn-around, we find the actual sign to Ravello, and Gaby has located us on the map. The driving stress is alleviated some, but the trip over the coastal range takes another forty-five minutes and you have to proceed even with the undercurrent of uncertainty you have only in foreign countries.

We thought finally reaching Ravello would be a relief. It was partially. We even found signs to the hotel. However, the way to the hotel seems to dissipate into the 15th century winding footpaths that make up Ravello’s center. Determining we cannot go further, we back out the 100 feet or so back into the plaza and turn around. After even more fruitless meandering to this side and that of Ravello, we decide to park and walk. Oddly, the moment we park, someone stops next to us and asks “Villa Maria?” (the name of our hotel). “Eric Fain?” My name. Then “follow me.” That exhausted this particular man’s English. It was enough. Disconcertingly, we followed him down the same path we had just determined was impassable and through several spots where the car fit with maybe four inches to spare on either side of the car. Trellises of pink-blossomed vines covered the parking lot, and some kind soul awaited to take our three heavy bags the remaining few hundred yards up the footpath to the hotel. This was easily the trips most beautiful sight.

We check in to the Villa Maria, get to the room, shower, and have dinner at the Villa Maria on the terrace overlooking we know not what at the time because of the darkness, though we can guess. I ordered a Barberesco, which the waiter disparagingly referred to as “oh, Toscana,” because it was not from Campania, the region we were in. Gaby’s pasta fresca with eggplant and mozzarella was fabulous. The chinghale ragu over tagliatelli was disappointing, but it the hotel was beautiful and peaceful and we knew we’d be taken care of there.

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