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Published: August 22nd 2017
I go down for my last breakfast. The staff have stuck the handle back on the front door of the hotel so it looks much better now. I notice a copy of "The Godfather" on the bookshelf in reception and wonder what the significance of this might be. The hotel dog doesn't remember me from yesterday and tries to bite my arm off as I walk back up the hill. We check out and are driven down to the port. We have really enjoyed our time here and are very sad to be leaving.
The ferry to Milazzo, which is our next destination on the north-east tip of Sicily, is running very late. The hire company that we need to pick the car up from in Milazzo closes for a siesta from 1pm to 3pm, so if the ferry is too late we will need to wait around for two hours for it to reopen. We get there just in time.
The lady at the hire car company office tells us that this is our lucky day, and that we have been upgraded to a better car. We assume that we have been upgraded to a bigger car, but
we can't find any big cars in the street outside the office that match the number plate we've been given. We go back to the office to try to find out where our car is. The lady tells us that the car we've been upgraded to is a Fiat 500 convertible, which we find double parked in the one way street outside the office. It is tiny, and leaves us wondering what sort of car we might have got if we hadn't been upgraded. The car only has two doors and a very small boot. We can only just fit one of our suitcases into the boot, so we need to try to squeeze all our other luggage through a very narrow opening into the back seat. The car is now totally full. I try to drive off, but I can't work out how to start the engine or to put it into gear. I go back to the office and get the lady to show us how everything works. She looks a bit worried, and I don’t think she’s too confident now that we’re capable of bringing her car back in one piece.
It seems like the whole
of Milazzo must be using the street we're double parked in to get home for their siestas. The traffic is very heavy and the drivers all appear mad. I think it might be compulsory here in Sicily to drive while talking on your phone. Issy says that I should just go with the flow. She says that I should just merge into gaps at intersections and roundabouts and the other drivers will get out of the way and let me in. I'm not sure I'm feeling quite so trusting, but it seems to work.
We manage to find our way onto a motorway which is heading towards Messina, which is the way we need to go. We don't know what the speed limit is and there aren't any signs. We cruise along at 90 to 100 kilometres per hour, but lots of cars pass us going a lot faster than that.
We see a toll booth up ahead, and drive up to it nervously, wondering what to do. There is no one in the toll booth, and we now have a boom gate in front of us and lots of angry drivers honking their horns behind us. Issy says that our car is so small that we should just drive around the boom gate. I think that this is a very bad idea. In fact I think that this is probably right up there with the very worst ideas that I've ever heard. I ask her to get out and ask one of the angry honking drivers behind us what we are supposed to do. I think that if I do this they will probably try to kill me. She comes back quickly, triumphantly waving a ticket that she says was hanging out of a hole in the wall of the toll booth. The boom gate has magically lifted and we drive off.
A bit further on we see a man standing on the side of the road waving a red flag. It seems that he is trying to get everyone to slow down. The cars in front of us have come to a standstill. There is a sign saying that it is a kilometre to another toll booth, where it seems you need to pay for using the motorway. There is also what looks to be a permanent sign saying to beware of traffic jams. It seems a bit odd that there would be a permanent sign on a motorway, that you have to pay to use, telling you that it is routinely affected by traffic jams. We come to a complete standstill and then very occasionally crawl a few metres forward. We assume that there must be an accident. After an hour and a quarter of stopping and crawling the toll booth comes into sight. There is no accident; the traffic is just backed up behind the toll booth. We wonder why anyone uses this motorway. We give the lady in the toll booth the ticket that Issy got out of the wall at the last toll booth, and she says that we need to give her two euros. The boom gate then opens and we speed off.
I am getting very sleepy, so we pull into a rest area on the side of the motorway. A few minutes later a police car pulls up next to us, and the policeman winds down his window. I am sensing that I am now in very serious trouble. I'm sure that I must have broken a lot of road rules. The only thing I'm happy about is that I didn't take up Issy’s suggestion that we drive around the boom gate at the first toll booth. I break into a cold sweat, and begin to wonder what a Sicilian jail might be like. The policeman asks me if everything is alright. I nod vigorously, and he drives off.
About half the length of the motorway seems to be in tunnels. The longest one is nearly two kilometres long. All the tunnels have names, even the very short ones. We think that this is very cute.
We see a car with a large "P" sign on the back of it. It is handwritten on cardboard and is so big that it covers the whole of the back windscreen. We hope that the driver doesn't need to be able to see out the back of the car. We haven't seen any P or L plates anywhere else in Italy, so we're not quite sure what to make of this one. The driver is driving very slowly right on the very edge of the motorway. We wonder if maybe he's a P plate driver from Australia who thought he needed to mock one up to be able to drive here, and just to be sure he made sure it was really big.
We have booked an apartment in Ortigia, which is an historic island immediately offshore from the city of Siracusa, across a short bridge. The instructions on how to get to the apartment, where to park, and how to contact the owner and the agent, are longer than the instructions for all the other accommodation for this holiday put together. The nervousness from the encounter with the policeman has worn off, but we can now feel some other nervousness coming on. This time it is about getting to the apartment.
The first instruction is that we call the owner when we pass the city of Catania, which is about 50 kilometres north of Siracusa. Issy calls him, says "OK" a lot and then hangs up. I ask her how the conversation went, and she responds that the owner doesn't speak much English. This doesn't do a lot to ease our nervousness. The owner gets his son to call Issy back and he tells her that they will meet us at the apartment in about an hour.
The Motorway ends. We only know this because there is a sign saying that you can't go 130 kilometres per hour any more, you can now only go 110 kilometres per hour. We think that it might have been nice to know this as we got on the motorway, rather than as we got off it.
We take the turn off into Siracusa, and look for signs to Ortigia. We can't find any. We drive around in circles for an hour until we spy a sign to Ortigia pointing back in the direction that we've just come from. We follow this and more signs, including one that is hand painted, and end up back where we started. Issy says that the hand painted sign was clearly a hoax to mislead idiot tourists. We drive around some more and eventually find our way onto the bridge onto the island.
We now have a map that was provided by the owners that we can follow to our designated car parking garage. The map is very hard to follow and none of the street names on it are legible. All the streets are very narrow. We soon find ourselves on the bridge that we came onto the island on, only now we're driving back off it again. We turn the GPS on the phone on. It takes us to the waterfront, and then tells us that the only way of getting to the car park from here is to walk. We're sure that a car park that you can't drive to must have some purpose in life, but nothing immediately springs to mind. We decide that it might be better if we turn the GPS off and follow the map instead. We follow the map diligently. It takes us into an area where cars aren't allowed, and we then find ourselves in the courtyard of an ancient church. Issy gets out to see whether we can go any further, and quickly concludes that we can't. There are lots of people yelling at us that we can't be here in a car, but there is no room to turn around. Issy says that maybe the map is a bit inaccurate, and that we need to be one street back from the waterfront instead. We try this, and it works. I hope there weren’t any CCTV cameras in the church courtyard. I think that the penalties for driving through the courtyard of an ancient church on an historic island might be quite severe, and if the authorities don’t get me first I’m sure there would be any number of local "businessmen" who would only be too happy to fit me with a pair of concrete shoes or apply some other form of customary local punishment.
We drive down a very steep ramp into the garage. The instructions that the owners gave us said that the man who operates the garage is very rude. We don't know if he's rude or not because he doesn't speak any English. He wants us to do something but we can't understand what. We give him the car keys and he drives the car off out of sight into the back of the car park. We're fairly sure that we've now voided the insurance.
We see a man coming down the ramp into the car park asking if I am "Mr David". It is Stefano, and he is the owner of the apartment. His son is with him. It is now three hours since we told him we would be there in an hour, and he tells us that he was getting a bit worried so came looking for us.
As we go to leave I realise that my wallet is still in the car. I find the car in the back of the car park, but it is so close to the car next it on one side and the wall on the other side that I can't get to the door to open it. The man who manages the car park is a lot bigger around the stomach than I am, so we wonder how he managed to park the car and then get out of it again. Stefano then moves to the back of the car and pushes it out with his hands. This must have been how the manager got it in there. We get the wallet out, and then push the car back in again.
We walk through the main square to the apartment. The square and the cathedral are spectacular, as is the apartment, which is right between the square and the waterfront. Stefano and his son are very nice people. They show us around and tell us that we should call them any time we need anything. The apartment is in a traditional building, and we agree that it will be good to live here like locals.
We have dinner at a restaurant in the square, right outside the apartment.
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