Kris Goodbody tells us of Madness in the Mezzogiorno Region in the fourth leg of his cycle trip between Ireland and Greece
Rome’s main port is called Civitavecchia (I still can’t pronounce it). We were one month into our cycle across Europe, and our ferry had just docked one hundred kilometres north of Rome in this dubiously-named town.
It was getting dark, and we had to cycle a sufficient distance out of the town in order to camp, with road systems were nearly as complicated as the place name and without a map. It was also too hot to cycle in anything more than a very revealing pair of Lycra Cycling shorts, further adding to our appearance as a very sweaty group of gay men heading for the Greek islands.
Needless to say we made it out in one piece, but this was the first day we realised that nothing in Italy works even remotely the same as anywhere else. Nothing is properly signposted, people’s hand gestures are far too erratic, and drivers adopt the age-old tactic of speeding up and beeping when anything gets in their way. Suffice to say Italian drivers didn’t gain their reputation by chance.
It was on shaky legs that we embarked on our Italian job, and it was with full body convulsions and heavy signs of relief that we boarded our boat to Greece. We rolled into Rome the evening of the second day and generally did as the Romans did: we took photos of ourselves in front of St Peter’s Basilica and the Colosseum, ate Carbonaras and drank one euro bottles of wine. We even managed to get into a multilingual verbal argument with an upset policeman.
Expecting to be passing through something akin to the rolling Tuscan hills, we were disappointed to find that the road to Naples was a seemingly endless chain of tacky seaside resorts. Upon arriving in Naples we were lulled into a false sense of security by what, from a distance, looked like beautiful scenery but what in actual fact turned out to be the worst place in the world.
Four hours of treacherous cobbled streets, perfectly bike-wheel-width tram tracks and articulated lorries followed, in what I will always remember as the most back-to-back near-death experiences I will ever have in my life.
After the worst place in the world things started getting better, we wheeled our way into Pompeii a few days later to look at a load of fancy dead people and hang around a 2000-year-old brothel, went to Sorrento to rent a speedboat, and drive to the island of Capri (what recession?) before pedalling on to the Almalfi coast. This is a road carved out of thousand foot high cliffs winding its way above the bluest sea I’ve ever seen, and it’s a memory that will stick in my mind forever, hopefully keeping the one of Naples at bay.
If asked for any advice I would give for someone cycling in Italy, it would simply be this: don’t do it. But if you have to, move worlds to avoid Naples, it’s as rough as a bag of hammers.
Kris’s diary continues after Christmas…