The generally held view is that Italian traffic is bad, and that Neopolitan traffic is some of the worst in Italy. Despite driving all around Italy we had not experienced really bad traffic – until last week.
On Monday evening our visitors flew out of Naples and we drove them to the airport. The normal drive from Positano to the airport is about 1 hour and 20 minutes over winding hill roads. At rush hour or on weekends “allow 2 hours” has been the past advice from the knowledgable staff at Eden Roc Hotel.
We had visited the ruins at Pompeii Monday afternoon so our trip to the airport was a much shorter journey – according to our GPS only 30 minutes from the town of Pompei where we had dinner, and all along motorways. Sweet!
Even so we left Pompei town at 6:15pm, aiming to be at the airport by 7pm. This allowed a comfortable hour and a quarter for our visitors to get through immigration, security, do a little leisurey duty free shopping and arrive at the gate by 8:15pm. As their flight was EasyJet, the gate would close at 8:15pm – there is no room for movement.
The first two thirds of the trip were completely uneventful. Then the traffic started to get a little heavy – in fact we were at walking pace by the time we exited the main Napoli to Salerno motorway and transferred to the motorway to the airport.
But on the bright side at 6:40pm we only had about 5kms to go. Easy!
About 400 metres further on the fun and games began. Three lanes of traffic converge into two. As kiwis we know the routine – merge like a zip. Not in Italy. This was a case of merge like 4 zips, two of which are broken and two of which are twisted around each other and every driver has a different idea of which way to pull the zip.
The net result was that after “merging” we ended up with three lanes of traffic crammed onto a two lane motorway. To add spice, there seemed to be an unofficial fourth lane next to the slow lane which formed when a car needing to get somewhere in a hurry (not that we weren’t in a hurry) used hazard lights and horn to push through the already jammed motorway.
While this configuration got the maximum number of cars on the motorway it made for the minimum possible traffic flow. In fact walking would have been considerably quicker.
This became an option we seriously considered as time passed quickly and the distance to the airport reduced slowly – really slowly – snails paced slowly.
We only had 1.6kms to go to reach the airport but already the time was 7:30pm. The clever banter in the car about the state of Italian motoring had subsided and there was an oppressive silence interspersed only by terse comments “don’t let him push in”, “watch that VW”, “bastard, he just got in front of us”.
By 7:55pm thoughts had turned to rebooked flights and overnight stays in airport hotels. But then the traffic started to thin and the exit to the airport appeared. It was clear – well clearer than anything we had experienced for the last hour. So with 1.0km to the airport we were off.
Those of you who remember the final drive to the hotel in the movie Notting Hill will understand what followed. No stopping for anything, even for stop signs, new lanes were formed where necessary to get around queues, the pavement was even used at one point. If I do say so myself it was a truly “Italian” approach to driving and it got us the remaining distance to the airport in record time.
What followed was a mad dash for bags (all carry on thankfully) and the entire team headed into the airport except the driver who was then moved along by the airport police.
After parking the car – in an official carpark not just at the side of the airport road as the locals do – the driver made it back to the terminal. Just in time to see our vsitors, having already cleared security and customs, running towards their gate.
Ironically the drive back to Positano was done in record time. All the traffic jams had cleared and we had a clear run all the way. Ahh, Italy.