Van Talk 3.

This post follows on from last week’s, in which I described how we swapped a small campervan for a larger vehicle and began to see the benefits…

Now that we had a larger and more comfortable van we began to contemplate more adventurous travel. In 2017, Husband hatched an audacious plan to motor down through Italy to the very south, to Calabria, to cross by ferry to Sicily, to cross Sicily and get a ferry to Sardinia, from which we could get another ferry to Corsica, then a ferry hop to the French mainland at Nice. In the beginning, Malta was included in this schedule- that is until he learned the eye-watering cost of a ferry from Italy, upon which discovery the idea was aborted.

Of course we needed to allocate plenty of time for the trip, estimating around five weeks.

The travel down through France was all good until Lyons, where navigation became complicated, even with the SATNAV helping. I’d had some bad experiences in Lyons from student days, so these difficulties did nothing to endear the city to me. [I’m sure it’s beautiful and has many elements it its favour once you get to know it].

To cross the border we used the Frejus tunnel, easy but ridiculously overpriced. We looked at Turin, staying in a car park by a subway station. It is a grand old city, beautiful even in the rain, although we were nonplussed by the subway payment system and ended up not paying at all- for which I apologise!

Italy has its north/south divide; the north being relatively well off, the south less so. The north is also relatively civilised in terms of driving. As we progressed south, however, the rules of the road began to appear less assiduously followed. I was taking my turn on the motorway past Naples, attempting to overtake a lorry when the driver took exception and cut in front as we were about to enter a tunnel, a near-death experience which totally lost me my nerve.

The scenery, however, as we grew closer to the straits of Messina was sublime.

Then there was Villa San Giovanni, the town we’d embark from to get to Sicily; the town where we’d need to get tickets. Traffic in the town was unruly. We drove down a narrow street, searching for the ticket sales office, only to be met head on at full speed by various vehicles. There seemed no way to get on to the docks, resulting in our making repeated circulations of the town, only to end up back where we were, like Alice in the garden in ‘Through the Looking Glass’.

At last we pulled into a small car park and went on foot for tickets, helped by a passer-by, eventually driving on to a ferry for the short crossing to Sicily.

The relief, however was short-lived. Once on the other side, at Messina, the roads were worse than ever, cars double or triple parked anywhere as people pulled up abruptly with not a signal or a warning to be seen. Traffic lights seemed to have no significance whatsoever. I spent a good deal of time as a passenger with hands clamped over my eyes.

On reflection, it’s probably just as well we made this trip in our older van, although we’d failed to get our dodgy handbrake sorted before departure. There were some mishaps, such as the misplaced bollard in a Syracusa car park causing a nasty dent.

We visited Palermo, Sicily’s capital, by bus and I was grateful for the bus driver, who was used to dealing with the chaotic conditions at every junction, where mostly the traffic looked to be dancing some kind of vehicular hokey-cokey with everyone leaping into the middle together.

Looking back I wonder how we got away unscathed, although Husband declares that he loved it, relishing the gung-ho, wild west nature of it all. But after two weeks we went on to Sardinia, where we stood at a pedestrian crossing and marvelled when the cars stopped to let us cross…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsendis now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishingand many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook:(1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook