Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Mountain (h)air

The heat and the mosquitos had got too much for us so we decided to head for the hills once again. This time Abruzzo was our destination; another little visited region, with a vast national park, home to bears and wolves.

We set off from our campsite in Pompei at 10am, expecting to arrive at a free camp by 3pm at the latest. This is where travelling by campervan in Italy with a one year old has its challenges. In a rather typically fuzzy Italian way, wildcamping is permitted, but only with the permission of the municipality. This means that we often rely on information we have gathered online or in old Camperstop books to identify likely places to park up. This information is often, frankly, shit, and we have had many frustrating driving days only to discover that our satnav coordinates are duff, or that actually it's a paid stop, or a layby right on a main road. This was one such day, where the wildcamp we were heading for turned out to be a layby with a road on one side and a sheer drop on the other and massively fly infested at that. Not ideal with a recently walking toddler. Anyway the upshot of all this is that we did eventually find somewhere nice to stay but only after nearly 8 hours on the road, so we were all somewhat frazzled by the time the keys left the ignition.

We awoke to a glorious view - flower filled meadows, high peaks and the longed for cool mountain air. Whilst shaving off a week's beard growth, Will (who is currently reading Hemingway) decided he would sport a 1930's mountain adventurer style moustache for the day; after all, who would see it hiking in the mountains? We spent a pleasant day walking, eating packed lunches etc and enjoyed ourselves so much we decided that we would stay another night.

Frankie's bedtime routine underway and dusk falling, Will noticed a faint glow from the headlights. His cry of cry 'bollocks!' echoed off the surrounding mountains. We had a flat battery, in the middle of nowhere, with no jump leads ('I could swear I packed them') and no phone signal. There was nothing for it but to throw ourselves on the mercy of strangers. Will and his moustache stood at the side of the road, waiting a good 10 minutes between passing cars and trying rather unsuccessfully to flag one down. Finally a nice couple in an old car (it's always the ones in the beaten up old cars who stop) pulled over and hallelujiah they had some jump leads. A few sparks flew but these two even took near electrocution with good humour and we soon got the old girl started. And no one mentioned the moustache..


To go to Napoli or not.. We were so close, a mere half hour away by train, but the scary stories about rubbish burning in the streets, potential cholera outbreaks, kamikaze road crossing attempts, pickpockets lurking around every corner etc.. were giving us some doubts. In the end, rumours of the best coffee and street food in Italy, including the famous deep fried pizzas, won out and we were on our way.

First impressions were of a city with more in common with Athens or even India than with any other Italian cities we had visited so far. Crossing the road was indeed a hair raising experience, though Will got stuck in straight away, merrily weaving the pushchair in and out of the traffic while Emma had a nervous breakdown on the pavement.

We almost immediately got ourselves lost in the side streets, wandering through markets, past welders' workshops in the front rooms of houses and underneath buckets hauling groceries to the top floor. We observed the Neopolitan predilection for slogan emblazoned t-shirts, which ranged from the grammatically creative ('Look me!' and 'Boy is my toy') to the bizarre ('Don't touch my bikini!) to the hilarious ('Homo sport'). We ate delicious deep-fried pizza and questionable deep fried cheesy frankfurter and enjoyed a very fine espresso at the Liberty Cafe in the stunning Art Nouveau arcade. We bought painted ceramic chillis from a smiley little artisan and took advice on Frankie's well-being from almost everyone we passed - 'the sun's in his eyes', 'take off his trousers!' etc.. - This despite the common spectacle of whole families crammed precariously onto a vespa, not a helmet between them.

There was a lot of rubbish piled up and we did fail to find a single patch of grass for Frankie to play on (and we walked a long way looking) but we were utterly seduced by Napoli.

Liberty Cafe, Napoli