Going South

While it is fair to say I’m less confident at driving the van than I was I don’t expect Husband to undertake all the driving. On a trip like this it would be tricky to do the distance. So I take a turn to give him a break.

We leave Venice and turn south on the coast road towards Rimini and Ancona. The journey is without incident and a little slow due to the 50kmh limit almost all the way. I am happy enough driving through the built up area where I cannot overtake and cannot be overtaken. At the end of the long day we arrive at a coastal site south of Ancona where a handful of motorhomes have also stopped. The site opened a few days before but is clearly not ready to receive visitors, the bathrooms strewn with electrical cables and tins of paint, the sound of sawing and the to-iing and fro-ing of the workmen as they labour.

At reception I am told to return in half an hour, even though the vast expanse of site is so sparsely occupied as to be almost empty. At last we are supplied with a shower key for a slot to provide hot water, the delivery of which lasts all of 2 minutes-enough time to work shampoo up to a lather and little else…

Of the numerous toilets, only one is able to be sat on, the remaining cubicles being the archaic, squatty type. Half of these are filled to the brim with excrement. We are not impressed!

Next day I take first turn, assured by Husband that we’ll do autostrada; that we can ‘just drive’ and it will be easy. I turn on to the motorway, settling behind a lorry until I feel confident enough to overtake. It is a large tanker. Seeing a space, I pull out into the middle and begin to pass-just at the sign for a lane closure, the tanker’s lane. Horrors! The lorry driver makes his predictable, terrifying move as I am part-way past, indicating and lurching sideways in a bid to bully us in. By now I’m hyperventilating, yelping. Husband urges me to put my foot down and go, which I do…then I am past and I can swing back in, gasping in relief. A few moments later, as we limp along behind the next lorry the tanker driver regains his advantage, displaying his superiority from his testosterone filled cab and I let him go. That’s enough near-death experiences for one day.

Later we leave the motorway to climb into the mountains of Abruzzo and stop at Opi to be greeted by the owner speaking American English in a beautiful, remote site surrounded by towering peaks and woods supposedly occupied by bears and wolves. Across the field there is a lone, Dutch motor-home but the couple are enjoying their solitude. After dinner we sit by a huge wood burner in the empty restaurant, share a local brew of beer and chat to the owner’s daughter, recently returned from Boston.

In the cold night I fancy I hear wolves baying. The friendly site dog is sitting outside in the sunshine waiting to greet us next morning and as I wander up the lane to supply the fluffy donkey with a carrot a troupe of little pigs and a gaggle of white ducks come running up.

Then we are off again, heading down off the Appenines and away to the west to skirt Naples-I am adamant this time that I will not drive on the motorway. But we are to encounter far worse driving related incidents as we progress south.

At last we are over at the opposite coast, The Mediterranean, at Paestum and we settle down for a couple of nights by a beach under the shade of some eucalyptus trees with a handful of German, Swiss and Austrian neighbours soaking up the warm sunshine.

Mr Hyde, I Presume?

An old friend who now lives on the Spanish Mediterranean coast rang last week to ask if he could stay. He is splitting up with his wife.

This is awkward. A number of issues jumped into my mind. Husband and myself are both ourselves ‘second-time-arounders’. This couple, both in their sixties are the first friends we made twenty years ago together, that is to say not friends from one of our previous lives. They are, or were both our friends. I had no desire to be taking sides, neither did we want to appear to be judgemental in any way [having ourselves been in their situation many years ago].

Being the hospitable folk we are we concurred, offering our best guest accommodation with the en suite. They had, after all accommodated us when our leaking, malfunctioning camper-van rolled up on their driveway several years ago. He arrived.

After a relatively short time I began to realise that while his political views and many of his likes and dislikes had always been at odds with ours we’d got along fine, except that now, without the tempering, conciliatory presence of his wife he is a different person altogether. His loud ebullience, once an asset to raucous nights at the pub has become overbearing and intrusive. He is unaware that we may be reading or writing, butting in with the tales of his current predicament, his medical conditions or immigration.

He explained that he has ‘not been happy for a long time’ in the marriage. He wasted no time in regaling us with the details of his testosterone levels and how he needs medication to help him satisfy his new girlfriend-the real cause of the gash. All this is far too much information. There was a much needed interval while he went shopping, returning with a substantial haul of medicines which he heaped into a pile in his room; then we were plunged back into his views, gleaned from the red-tops he reads or commercial news stations, his love life and money issues.

We continued to accommodate, murmur, provide and feed him, even when he threw himself into my own, favourite, comfortable chair with the TV remote control to watch football and comment loudly that I was eating a ‘big’ bowl of salad [whilst he chomps through the chilli and rice I have made].

My good intentions not to take sides blew away on a blast of hot air. Out of earshot I rang my friend, his wife. She is staying with another friend, too upset to see anyone. ‘How had she managed forty-five years with him?’ I asked her. ‘He is a monster. I’ve struggled to get through two days with him. She should get shot of him, ASAP’. She agreed he is difficult, but unchecked, his disagreeable traits have become exaggerated and offensive. When I told her she will be better off without him she replied that I was not the first to say it.

Husband whispered to me that relief was at hand. He would be leaving us after the weekend. We shared a grin of relief. We had only to spend an evening at a restaurant [he took us for a ‘thank-you’ meal] and then our duty would be despatched. The meal [our chosen venue] was good. His excesses were a little tempered. I drove him home. If there is a next time we will be a] very busy b] away or c] have a houseful of guests. Phew!