Status Update:

Current location: Bochum / Germany

50 countries, 1226 days, trip mileage: 124200 km

2 Jun 2008

Italy (1) - Pursuit of Sunshine

Italy – sunshine, amazing coast lines and la dolce vita. Sounds good, right? Well, not for me this time: with solid rain since Switzerland and all passes over the Alps closed, I have to take the motorway & decided to stick to it until just after Milan. The only sign of ‘dolce vita’ are the two customs inspectors at the Swiss-Italian border, who are more interested in leaning against the wall smoking their cigarettes than checking passports. This is what border crossing should all be like!
After getting soaked for eight hours in the rain, camping is the last thing I want to do. So I take a hotel near Milan to dry the bike gear and get a good night’s sleep.
Well – the next day the bike gear shouldn’t stay dry for too long: thick clouds, rain and thunderstorm all the way down to Florence with not a single bit of blue sky in between. I’m already prepared to go all the way to Naples. But the moment I’m having a quick break on the motorway, the sun comes out for a bit & I decide to treat myself for a pizza and stay the night on a campsite in Florence.

Florence skyline

Florence is the first major Italian city I enter by motorcycle, and traffic is exactly as I expected it to be: completely mad. My ‘waterproof’ GPS (Garmin Quest) had given in to the rain & died just before the Italian border. But to make things worse: just as I exit the autostrada and start heading for Florence, I notice that my horn doesn’t work anymore either – so by Italian standards, I suddenly find myself way down the ‘traffic food chain’ and hardly get noticed at all. Thankfully, I can later manage to fix it on the campsite. (As for the GPS: I tried to rescue it by cleaning it with isopropyl alcohol to get rid of any moisture, but to no success).

I wake up the next day, by the sound of rain drops hitting the tent – this is starting to become a test for my positivity. I quickly pack the panniers & the tent, and with the horn working this time, I am ready to head out of town and down to Naples, in the pursuit at least a full day’s of sunshine. The situation in there: rain. I bypass Naples to find the Youth Hostel in Agerola just off the Amalfi Coast, south of Naples. The entire Amalfi Coast is a World Heritage Site, due to its natural beauty. Besides that, it’s an absolute dream for motorcyclists – just to give you a better idea: I counted some 25-30 curves to a mile – that’s one every 50 meters!

Later in the week, I shall find enough time to ride this beautiful coastal road without all the luggage and, more importantly: in the sun. But for now, it's still raining and I had to get up the windy mountain roads for 20km through dense fog to find the Youth Hostel.

Half way up the mountain – it’s already getting dark – things start to change for the better: the rain reduces to a dribble (which is enough to put at least a little smile on my face), and a friendly Italian man, who looks (and drives) like Roberto Begnini in ‘Night On Earth’, asks me to follow him in his car: Agerola is a complicated one-way-system, and he’ll guide me to the hostel.

Guesthouse Beata Solitudo, Agerola

The ‘Beata Solitudo’ hostel is the perfect place to relax & wait until the rain has finished: remote & quiet, with extremely friendly and helpful hosts: Paolo speaks quite good English, and he’s more than happy for me to use the telephone (with my own calling card) for as long as I need to. He’s interested in the visa and bank problems that I’m still having to deal with – and after I explained a few more details, he tells me that he is dreaming of a similar adventure: to take his campervan alongst the Silk Route in a few years, together with a few friends.

Whenever the weather gets better, I make use of the time: go for a walk, visit Pompei and the Flegraen Fields. The later are the highglight of my visit to Naples and its surroundings: I had heard of this place through a radio podcast a while ago, and thankfully it hasn’t been discovered by ‘Lonely Planet’ yet. (So it was actually quite a lonely site to visit). Even better: the whole day, from morning to evening was a celebration of blue sky & sunshine.

La Solfatara (standing inide the crater of a small volcano)

One of the main attractions of the ‘Campi Flegraei’ is the ‘Solfatara’, a tiny yet active volcano. Unlike Vesuvio, the Solfatara doesn’t elevate very high – hence it’s difficult to find & doesn’t look much like a volcano. But once you’re on the site, it is amazing: lots of sulphurous smoke coming straight out of the warm earth, bubbling water and even a disused, ancient sauna.

Large parts of the site are fenced off for safety reasons. At some point, I unvoluntarily loose the path and all at once, I can hear my foot steps echoing underneath me – I’m on shallow ground! And just as I am reading the last page of the visitor’s booklet, I find out that the Solfatara site is actually the crater itself. Apparently, on a ‘good day’, you can feel the earth trembling underneath.