Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Day 16: Bacoli

When we look out the window this morning, it is dark and cloudy---overcast and definitely cooler than it has been. But while we are eating breakfast, it looks like the sun is trying to break through.

We are driving into Naples today to go to a laundromat. (For those of you who have followed our laundry chronicles over the years, we had a load done at the hotel in Campobasso, so this is our first laundromat foray of this trip.) There is an Onda Blu laundromat near the university in the center of Naples and we are attempting the drive only because it is a national holiday (Feast of the Dead) and most offices and many stores and businesses will be closed. I have always said that Naples was the only place in Italy where I don't want to drive, but we anticipate that the traffic will be light and that we will have no problem parking.

The drive into town is uneventful--a few stores and bars are open but there are few people and not many cars on the streets. The sun has lost its battle and it is now steadily drizzling; we have picked a good day to be inside. We find the laundromat with almost no hitches and are able to park a half a block away. It is open and there are no other customers. There is a very pleasant woman on duty at the laundromat and she is very helpful getting us started.

In addition to all this, Onda Blu has now added internet points at some of their laundromats (including this one) so while the laundry is in process, we are on the computer reading e-mail and surfing the net. We finish the laundry in about an hour, say goodbye to the staff person and are on our way with a suitcase full of clean clothes.

It is now raining steadily and it is very dark but I decide that this will be good day to practice driving around Naples. We make a tour of the Piazza Garibaldi (near the train station), pass the National Archaeology Museum (which to my surprise is open on this holiday), and drive down one of the main shopping streets, the Via Toledo. But with the rain falling harder and traffic getting heavier, we decide to head back to Bacoli. It is lunchtime and, driving down near the water, I see a sign on a side street for a pizzeria called "Vera Pizza" (true pizza). This is too fortuitous so I quickly circle back around, we see that the pizzeria is open, find a parking space right across the street and make a dash through the rain to the door.

We enjoy our lunch...the pizza is better than the Neapolitan pizza we remember from our last trip and we also have some excellent appetizers--a sautee of clams for me and mozzarella in carrozza for Diana. We have to make a run for the car--the wind is now blowing very hard and the rain is pouring down. We plan to take the fast route back to Bacoli and hole up in our hotel until the storm passes, but we miss our turn and end up on the scenic route up and over Cape Posillipo, through Pozzuoli and around the harbor to Bacoli. At least it would have been very scenic had there been any visibility over the water, but we drive on. The rain intensifies and it is now raining as hard as we have ever experienced.

After driving along a particularly pleasant looking stretch along the harbor in Pozzuoli (lots of restaurants and bars along the sea front promenade), just as we are about to enter the center of Pozzuoli, the line of traffic stops and we see cars beginning to turn around. We assume that there is something blocking the road ahead (although we never get close enough to see what it might be) and we make the decision to also turn around and look for an alternate route.

Turning around entails retracing our steps back about three miles to the town of Bagnoli, a Naples beach suburb. There is some standing water on some of the streets but nothing too alarming as yet. We drive through the streets of Bagnoli trying to find our way up to the main road but when we come to a railroad underpass that we need to go through, the amount of standing water there seems ominiously deep. A few cars make it through but others (including us) turn around. Finding another way under the train tracks becomes a trying process. There are many other cars in the same predicament....there is a lot of driving the wrong way up one way streets to avoid high water spots.

After about 15 minutes of essentially going around in circles, we hit upon a street that goes under the tracks and doesn't present a water barrier. We have finally gotten back to the main road, the rain continues to pelt down but we are feeling more confident about our trip back. Even on the major roads, there are times when four of the six lanes are water covered and when we try to get on the "tangenziale" (limited access highway), the access road is not only water covered but strewn with garbage that has ended up in the roadway.

While we are on the "tangenziale", it is pretty clear. Once on local streets, we are moving along pretty well until we get to the bottom of the hill in Baia....traffic is moving slowly as some cars search for alternate routes, others turn around or stop and wait. This particular stretch of water covering the road is about 100 yards long and several cars are already stuck in the middle. We watch as a number of cars are able to make it safely through and, since we are driving a Opel Zafira (a small van) that rides pretty high, we think we can make it. Trying very hard to keep going forward at a steady pace, we make it successfully to the dry road on the other side.

We are feeling pretty confident now that we are in the homestretch. As we enter Bacoli and drive down the hill to the waterfront, traffic is moving at a crawl. At the bottom of the hill, most of the traffic turns left but we have to go to the right. There are several cars and a local bus stopped just in front another long stretch of flooded street. There are two cars stuck in the middle of the high water but they are not vans. Since we have made it through before, I feel pretty good about our making it through again....we are only 1/2 mile from the hotel.

At first, all seems to be going well...we are moving forward steadily and making progress. But suddenly the road dips and the water is higher than it had been before and I am getting worried. I keep my foot on the gas and hope for the best. But all at once the engine sputters and dies and we stop. For a few minutes, we just sit in the car and try to figure out what to do next. But the water is now coming into the car through the floor where the holes for the pedals are....and it is rising quickly. We will have to abandon the car or else end up sitting in a few feet of water. We jump out into knee high water--I grab the clean laundry suitcase and Diana's coat and Diana takes my bookbag which has my computer in it. It's still pouring. We wade to the side of the road to higher ground in the waterfront park. We are under some trees and not getting too wet but when someone opens the gate to the parking lot of the small amusement park across the street to let some of the cars wait there instead of in the street, we wade across the street so we can take cover under a tent and stay dry.

The rain is letting up somewhat. All the people waiting around are remarking about the intensity of the rainstorm. I call the emergency number for Europcar and try to arrange for a tow truck and a replacement car, but there is a lot of confusion about whether this situation is covered by their emergency services. Nothing is resolved and I call AutoEurope in the US to try and get their assistance.

We have to wait until the water recedes enough to let traffic get by. Soon the Bacoli fire department and emergency services trucks arrive. They push two cars out of the middle of the street, try to unclog the storm drains and check to see how deep the water actually is. Finally, after about an hour, we hop on the local bus when it leaves (we are wet, cold and carrying a suitcase and bookbag) and it takes us close to our hotel. We had left Naples about 1 pm and it is now after 5 pm (the trip should have taken an hour), but we are happy to be in our room and able to clean up and dry off.

The rest of the afternoon is spent negotiating with AutoEurope and Europcar about the towing...the desk clerk at the hotel spends a lot of time on the phone with the towing company and finally it is all arranged. An hour later, I walk back to the scene of the mishap in my sodden sneakers (about a ten minute walk) and the only evidence of the flood is a lot of mud on the ground. The tow truck comes, picks up the car and delivers me back to the hotel with the remaining stuff that was in the car.....luckily, we had stowed a suitcase, the olive oil and some books in the rear compartment and they all stayed dry. We finalize the arrangements to pick up a replacement car in Naples tomorrow -we will also take the opportunity to then go to the Archaeological Museum.

It has been a long and trying day.....but we feel fortunate that we got stuck so close to the hotel. It would have been even more complicated if this had happened 10 miles away. The only issue left outstanding is a question of whether this incident is covered by the insurance on the car but that negotiation will wait until we get back home.

We have dinner in the hotel dining room, one floor down from our room. Not only are we the only guests in the hotel, we are the only customers for dinner. We have the very attractive dining room all to ourselves. The meal is mostly fine....the cook comes out and asks if we like "pesce". We say yes and we have another elaborate seafood antipasto, spaghetti with clams and mussels and a stewed octopus dish (which is too strong for both of us) but is served with small portions of a very good spinach sformato and some kind of eggplant lasagna. Dessert is a pretty good panna cotta for me and some fruit for Diana. We drink the Villa Oteri house wine--another very refreshing white made from the local Falaghina grape.

We are glad that we only have one flight of stairs to climb after dinner. Tomorrow we go back to Naples by public transportation to the museum and to get the car.

[NOTE: No pictures the heat of the moment, I lost my photographer's instinct and there is no record of the flood, etc.]


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