Saturday, 22 June 2013

Bari, Amalfi Coast and Pompeii

By Sanne

The 10 hour overnight ferry ride from Dubrovnik to Bari in Italy went smooth. It was the first vehicle ferry we had boarded since the numerous decrepit ferries in Indonesia and what a difference! Boarding actually happened in an organised and calm manner, we didn’t have to sleep next to the bikes together with various kinds of livestock and the toilets weren’t overflowing with waste. This was definitely a much more civilised way of seafaring (if maybe a little less adventurous).

We weren’t the only bikers on the boat. A big group of Harley riders from Italy, Germany and Czech Republic were on their way to Rome for a weekend of celebration in honour of Harley Davidson’s 110 year anniversary. They were going to hightail it straight to Rome after getting off the boat where as we had planned on following the coast down south for a bit. We had considered going all the way down to Sicily but we had just recently received some quite annoying information regarding Mark’s allowed length of stay in Europe. We were of the idea that Mark as an Australian citizen would be able to stay in each European country for three months. Luckily Mel, one of Mark’s friends, mentioned that the three months allowance is a total for all the Schengen area which includes approx. 15 countries. This was very unwelcome news as this meant that we now had a deadline to be out of the Schengen area and into the UK (which isn’t part of Schengen) before the 30th of July. This was doable but it did mean that Sicily was now totally out of the question. We would have to start heading north again pretty soon if we still wanted to spend some time in Paris, Amsterdam and Luxembourg and of course our beloved Alps.
That night we were total rebels and sneaked in and got ourselves some reclining seats in which we attempted to get some sleep, which proved a little hard as the room was very, very cold. It was like sitting in a refrigerator basically. However we managed to catch some restless sleep and awoke to the sun rising over the Adriatic Sea.

At 8am we arrived in the port town of Bari. Getting off the ferry was also very smooth as pain free; no manic rush to get off the ferry together with 500 scooters while trucks full of bananas push you from behind, no, completely organised and peaceful. We headed out of town and accidentally found ourselves on the motorway heading south. South we wanted to go yes, but not on the motorway, and especially not with these drivers around! Holy mother, I now understand why the Italian drivers get such a bad rep. A mix of driving very fast, very close and very erratic seemed to be the way down here and we started to think that maybe Italians and Indians are somehow related. The Indian (possible) connection was not only apparent in the traffic but also in the landscape. This was so completely different from the Italy we had seen so far. Down here it was much drier, flatter and dustier with lots of ugly industrial areas and lots of rubbish. Even the coastal route we were following revealed some not very appealing stretches of beaches. And this was marked as the scenic route on our map! Perhaps the maker of our map had marked it scenic for a slightly different reason altogether, because if prostitutes on the side of the road = scenic, then this was definitely Route 66! The road was lined with women, young and old, each one wearing a skimpier outfit than the others and each one trying to outdo one another in the dancing stakes. Because as a prostitute in Italy, apparently it is not enough to just stand there and look “pretty”, no you have to shake that thang like your life depends on it. It was quite comical if not a little tragic.

We had seen enough and decided to cut across the centre and get to the west coast asap. While riding through one city, utterly lost and trying to find our way out, I all of a sudden heard beeping behind me. I thought that it must just be the usual Italian beeping for no apparent reason but when it continued I turned to look only to find that I was staring into the eyes of a police man on a motorcycle. Crap. He was not alone, his partner was coming up behind him and they signaled to us to pull over. Great, just what we need, I thought, a bloody fine. We pulled over and they both got off their bikes. Turns out all they wanted was to ask us where we were from and what we were doing there. After we had told them our story they were very helpful and gave us directions out of town as well as they could in their broken English

It was really hard to find a place to camp that night and with tourism seemingly non-existent in this area (for god reasons I might add) there wasn’t even any ‘proper’ campgrounds around. We ended up setting up our tent almost right next to the road, only just hidden by a small mound. This was definitely free-camping at its sneakiest. The next morning we awoke to the sound of machinery coming closer and closer. When we got out of the tent we saw that only 100 metres down the road were people with whipper snippers cutting the grass on the verge and they were coming our way. Well, I don’t think we have ever packed up this quickly before. Within 15 mins we had packed up everything and were on our bikes out of there. Not that I think we would have gotten into trouble, the workers just looked surprised when they saw two bikes flying out onto the road but in situations like that it’s better to just get out of people’s way.

The next day we headed for the famous Amalfi Coast. It is stunning with the tall cliffs going down into the ocean and the road winding its way all along the coastline BUT having been to Cinque Terre last year which we wrote a blog post about here I will say: give me Cinque Terre over the Amalfi Coast any day. The main problem is that the Amalfi Coast is very busy, so the time you should be spending looking over the ocean is spent focusing on the (still erratic) traffic. It also only goes for about 50 kms so before you know it you have already ridden through it all. Pretty much all the beaches there are private, as seems to be the case with most beaches on the Italian and French Riviera. So, happy to have seen it but I doubt that I will ever go back to the Amalfi Coast.

There was zero camping opportunities on the coast so we continued to Sorrento where we checked out the most derelict-looking campground I have ever seen. We decided Sorrento was not for us and continued on our way. We bypassed Napoli and headed for Pompeii in the hope that we might eventually find something on the way. We didn’t. So we rode all the way to Pompeii , which I was surprised to find is besides being an archaeological site also is an actual city. The modern city is spelled Pompei whereas the ancient one is spelled Pompeii. I guess we hadn’t calculated how touristy this place would be, but lucky for us I guess as right in front of the entrance to the archaeological area were not one but two campgrounds, and we made ‘Pompei Camping’ our temporary home for the next two nights.

The next day we went exploring in Pompeii. And what an impressive site that is. Pompeii was an ancient Roman city that was completely destroyed and buried under 4-6 m of ash and pumice after the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius in 79 AD. The city was lost for about 1500 years until it was rediscovered. The objects that lay beneath the city have been well preserved for thousands of years because of the lack of air and moisture. These artifacts provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city during the Roman Empire. During the excavation plaster was used to fill the voids between the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allows you to see the exact position the person was in when he or she died. 

It is so worth going there for a visit. It really is amazing to be able to walk around these ancient streets and try to imagine what life was like back then. It is also fascinating to see the beginnings of modern civilization as we know it, as back then they had a fully functioning judicial system, a complex water system, amphitheatres and gymnasiums. Of course back then they also had slaves which were sometimes trained as gladiators to fight to the death in the main amphitheatre. 
What surprised me was that it wasn't lava from the volcano that buried the city. No, it was the ash and pumice that rained down on the city for about 6 hours and filled people's lungs and suffocated them. It was total and utter destruction and to see the 'mummified' people and their painful expressions is truly tragic. 
These days Vesuvius is 'sleeping' they say. But apparently it is only a matter of time before it awakes again. Pretty scary as you have millions of people living right below it.
A UNESCO world heritage site for a good reason. 

Mark on the ferry as it is docking in Bari

The bikes

Our sneaky camp - where's Wally...

The Amalfi Coast

Pompeii with Vesuvius looming in the background

The body of a young slave boy who was killed during the eruption

You can still see the bones in his feet

Another person who was found huddled beside his horse, visibly praying

The narrow streets

The main amphitheatre

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