Return to Positano

Prosecco for dueYesterday, our week in Sicily came to and end and we returned to Positano. Our journey back was a truly Italian experience. We drove from the villa to Catania airport and arrived with over 2 hours to check in, go through security and board our flight – loads of time we thought.

The first clue that the airport was going to be an adventure was the thousand or so people crowding around the 4 Alitalia check-in counters, with another 150 people crowding around the 3 working automated check-in terminals.

Jean and I have played this game before so she joined the “bag drop” queue (for that read mass of people all crowding around the one poor Alitalia staff member at the bag drop counter) while I joined the “print your boarding pass” queue.

After about 40 minutes Jean had moved 3 feet and I had reached the check in terminal. With about 200 people watching, waiting and providing helpful (and loud) advice in Italian (no pressure) I went through the process of printing the passes.

Just as I rejoined Jean an Alitalia staff member came through the crowd saying that those travelling to Napoli should move to another, newly opened, check-in counter. Salvation we thought, as we joined a relatively short queue to check in.

But then another Italian tradition kicked in – everyone in the queue had a problem with something – the lady travelling alone with 4 check in bags and no intention of paying for excess baggage. The couple travelling with a dog, but no booking for the dog.

In 30 minutes 3 people (plus 4 bags and 1 dog) had checked in. We now had less than an hour to our flight departure.

A lovely Italian gentleman who was seeing his son off looked at us and shrugged his shoulders. He said that this always happens but somehow it all comes together in the end – he called it “Italian creativity”.

At that point the baggage belt stopped working. Apparently the baggage handling team was overwhelmed and needed some time to recover.

By this time we had reached the check-in desk and had our bags tagged but they were sitting on the floor in front of the counter – together with a growing number of bags as the luggage started to spread across the terminal floor. The baggage conveyor belts were full and not moving and we were told not to leave our bags unattended.

We now had less than 30 minutes to get through security and make the flight. This made us nervous because as we’d passed the entrance to security about an hour and a half earlier and it had queues longer than the check-in desks. But we had no choice. We were stuck watching our bags.


At this point a helpful check in lady pushed a few bags around on the carousel and found a spot for our luggage. So we were off to join the queue at security.

But now the delay worked for us. Because check-in had effectively stopped, security was deserted. It took 5 minutes to go through and reach our gate, just as boarding was commencing.

At this stage we gave our bags about a 10% chance of making the flight – but as we sat on the plane we could see them being loaded – along with all the others for the flight. We left on time and actually arrived 5 mins early into Napoli – with all our luggage intact.

After the early start and drama of the flight, we were exhausted so both managed to fall asleep in the back of the car that collected us from the airport for the drive to Positano.

But things were looking up – we arrived at the hotel to a warm welcome, a room upgrade to a suite, and two glasses of chilled prosecco waiting for us.

All good.


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.

Today is a big day

Today Jean’s sister, brother-in-law and their wee baby arrive in Positano. Charmaine, Mike and James have been in Europe for the last 2 weeks visiting London and Paris. They should be well acclimatised and ready to tackle the frantic pace of life that is Positano.

This is their first trip to Italy and we are really excited to have the chance to show them around.

They fly into Naples airport later this afternoon (Wednesday) and we have arranged for a car and driver to pick them up and bring them over the hill to Positano. We’ve already asked them not to judge Italy by what they see during the drive. While there are parts of Naples that are beautiful the parts you pass through on the way to the Amalfi peninsula are not those ones. I’ve never really experienced the third world but I imagine it’s a bit like southern Naples.

The Amalfi Coast with the coast road cut into the cliffs - look closely and you'll spot it

The good news is that all that is forgotten when you crest the backbone of the peninsular and the view is the blue sea with the thin ribbon of road winding along the coast cut precariously into the cliffs and with small villages hanging to the cliffs in seemingly impossible places.

We’ve also warned them about the width of the roads (or lack thereof) and the propensity of Italians driving everything from scooters to tour buses to overtake or undertake or to do u-turns or simply stop for no reason at all.

Thankfully the limousine drivers are experts at negotiating these roads however I do recall one occasion a few years ago when almost all the luxury Mercedes car that we started the trip in made it to the end.

It had a wing mirror removed by a passing car that got a little too close. All I remember was the sound of tearing metal and smashing glass, and the sight of the mirror flying past the side window of the car. No one stopped but we did learn a few choice Italian phrases that we could use if we found ourselves in a similar situation.

Charmaine, Mike and James – welcome to Italy.