July 2007

People always ask if I’m not afraid to drive in Italy.  I tell them, “if you can drive in New York City, you can drive in Italy.”  Actually, that’s a bit of a fib.  You have to be very, very brave to drive in Italy and like a true New Yorker, do as the Neapolitans do.  Honk while driving, swerve from one lane to another to keep the vehicle moving, and always keep one foot as close to the brake as possible.  If you are driving a stick shift like we usually do when renting a car in Europe and are a bit out of practice, this constant maneuvering becomes very interesting.

When traveling, Lynn and I have developed a pattern; I do most of the long distance highway driving.  He does the narrow and often dangerous “watch out or you’ll fall off the cliff” driving while I navigate with a map and a guidebook or two.  Usually this works.  I also find myself telling him to slow down.  Frequently.  Occasionally I shriek. Sometimes I even close my eyes. I actually don’t think of death; I just think of being hurt and my managed health care plan refusing to cover the costs of airlifting me to a hospital.

The last time we had driven through Naples was 1986.  Back then there was so much pollution, I never got to see Mount Vesuvius.  Lynn kept insisting it was there; I kept seeing postcards of it and even when we went to Pompeii there was no indication that a still-active volcano was lurking nearby.  Fast forward 21 years later.  It must have been my lucky day. Vesuvius loomed in the distance from where we were on the autostrada as we made our way to Positano.

Positano and the Amalfi Coast get a lot of hype.  Everything you read about the Amalfi Coast is true.  It’s stunningly beautiful. It’s also a bitch to get there. If you’ve mapquested your route and it says “40 minutes” from Point A to Point B – triple that amount of time.  That’s because you will be inching your way up a mountain road trying to avoid head-on collisions with scooters, motorcycles, cars, trucks and bicyclists.  If you’re really unlucky, you will have someone driving head-on in your lane in the middle of a very dark tunnel who only avoids crashing into your vehicle at the last minute by switching back into the lane they should be in.

You need to start laughing at this point.  Hysterically laughing, like you are a crazy person, because you are obviously surrounded by mentally ill drivers.  That’s the only way I can explain that kind of driving.  Of course, if that’s not part of your psyche and you are really “shitting bricks” as Lynn likes to refer to being scared, you may be tempted to turn the car back around and drive to the nearest airport.  Don’t.  Once you reach Positano and see the view, you’ll forget the agony you just went through to get there.  I suppose you can equate it to child birth.  (After both of my children were born however, I still remembered the pain.) 

Ok, so I missed the part in all the guidebooks that says Positano is a pedestrian-only town.  You park your car in one of the many parking lot/garages at the top of the town and a town porter takes your bags down to your hotel. 

How “it” works I only found out after innocently walking into the hotel we were staying at and asking where we could park our car.  That question brought new meaning to the term “dumb American.”    Luckily, the staff at the Covo dei Saraceni hotel was very gracious and didn’t seem too put out by my stupidity.

Luckily there was a bar and an excellent wine list at the hotel, drinks were definitely in order after a drive I wasn’t going to forget anytime soon.


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