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Published: June 30th 2016
The Carabinieri would not let me drive Skippy to Amalfi. So I took the bus.
That gave me a chance to sit back and take in the scenery as well as take some photos as the bus travelled from the city of Sorrento along a spectacularly rocky bit of coast to the holiday village of Amalfi. Why anyone would holiday there I do not know, but if you talk something up enough, then spendthrifts who need to be seen will not be put off by the fact that its half meter wide beach is made of rocks, or its inaccessibility, or its mountain goat trails from accommodation to amenities, or its being overpriced.
Amalfi’s one attraction is the ride to get there. Most places in the world where mountains drop vertically into the sea are in remote places or are not easily accessed by an afternoon bus ride from a big city. To outsiders like me the entertainment comes as much from the obstufication bought on by arrogant road users that impede and frustrate normal traffic flow, as it is about the the scenery. And the scenery is truly spectaular.
I shall try to
describe the bus trip. The SITA bus company runs a service from Sorrento rail station to Amalfi many times a day. From the start, the young driver showed other road users he was not going to take prisoners. His bus needed more than half, sometimes all of the road. If he had not used the horn and accelerator with such deft coordination, while swinging the steering wheel from lock to lock, we would still be getting there. In the first part of the trip, we climbed rapidly to S.Agata in an interesting but unremarkable series of switchbacks, where locals parked their cars illegally on the roadway edge snubbing their noses at heavy traffic.
From that point, the pace slowed sometimes to a crawl. The road became narrower and serpentine bends became sharper, almost universally requiring the bus to take all the road. Perhaps some parts the road should only take traffic in one direction, or should not allow cars to park on the kerb side. On average there would be a significant traffic hazard about every 100 meters or so, that would bring the bus to a standstill. Mostly our progress was impeded by illegally, or at
least dangerously parked cars. In the parts of Europe I have seen, local roads often predate the motor vehicle, resulting in narrow roads which require traffic from one direction to stop and give way to oncoming traffic. Drivers in France, Croatia and Eastern European countries take a practical approach to potentially conflicting situations where oncoming vehicles will not have enough room to pass, whereby one waits at a wide section of road and everything flows fairly well. Somehow every Italian driver considers themselves to have a priority on the road; maybe they see it as a weakness to show a sensible courtesy on the road. So our SITA bus driver had on several occasions to stop and with his bus blocking the road, wait until oncoming car drivers firstly stopped racing forward, and then realise there was not enough space, and then to reverse to a wider safer bit of road.
Sometimes three or four cars may have been coming from the opposite direction, so we would have to wait until the last car in oncoming queue went through the process of stopping blowing his horn long enough to understand that he would have to reverse his
Maserati, so the Porsche could back away and allow the Mercedes to make space for the Goggomobil to back off to a point where the bus could pass. From my high bus seat, I could look down on white knuckles curled around Mercedes, Porsche and Maserati steering wheels, as the bus passed within a cigarette paper’s width of their mirrors and glistening duco. Signs of fear, when confronted by a larger vehicle that just can't give way, is something I have noticed several times about Italian drivers; that fear supplants the bravado they had shown when they thought they could hog the road to push their way past.
When entering a tunnel, I noticed that the driver blew his horn to warn oncoming traffic and centred the vehicle in the middle of the road as the walls of the tunnel arched inwards such that the bus would be too high against the wall. Motorcyclists whizzed past on either side.
While all this was going on, I got a bird’s eye view of mountains rising up from the sea. With the road cut into a mountain ledge some 100 meters or more above the sea,
I could look straight down to Tyrrhenian blue water, or feel sorry for holiday makers lounging in crowded little beaches and gawk at houses, apartments and hotels built up the mountainside.
When we reached the pretty little town of Amalfi, I stayed on the bus as there were about three busloads of people waiting to board to be conveyed back to Sorrento. It seemed there was not enough in Amalfi to keep them there any longer.
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