Rome (Italy), 13.11.2013
As the Italian mainland came in sight I woke up on an uncomfortable bench in the ferry’s saloon. Around me some people were still sleeping while the kitchen crew started its preparations for breakfast. A cappuccino at the bar helped staring the day. Outside a fresh but not cold wind welcomed me. Industial chimneys were the first buildings on the shore to stand out. The docking procedures lasted not too long before the handful of cars drove off the ship onto the Brindisi port. At the port’s gates, a customs official asked me a few questions, but got confused by my accounts of where I was from, the journey I did and where I was heading to.
Some months before leaving Europe, on an inflight magazine I had read a piece about mainland Italy’s last city on its southeastern tip. Otranto had seen bloody battles against Ottoman invaders and the old town, fortress and harbor were described as jewels. So I drove the 45 mins through unexciting industrial and commercial areas. Once in town, I found the thick walls of the bastions, parked the car and went for a walk through a deserted old town. No shops were open, no people on the streets, there wasn’t even a bar for breakfast. I had expected more, and left disappointed.
On my first car trip ever, a few weeks after passing my driving exam at the age of 18, I had toured Southern Italy and passed through an alpine mountain range north of Taranto. This time I took a detour from the straight route from Otranto to Rome to see the Mezzogiorno again. For the first two hours I crossed a flat countryside with plenty of olive groves, empty villages, slow little cars and a lot of poverty for a founding country of the EU and one of the biggest economies in the world. Around Taranto plenty of sad industrial plants made me speed up and drive through the area as fast as possible, before leaving the motorway for a road through a beautiful mountain range to the north. While I closed in on the peaks covered by heavy clouds heavy rain started to fall. Around lunchtime I started looking for a place to eat. Here in the mountains I hoped to find a roadside trattoria or at least a sandwich van, but not a single place to eat was to be found. I left the road twice to drive into towns and find a place for lunch. No luck: few people crossed my way through closed down villages. With my last drops of diesel I reached a gas station once I drove on a motorway again, and ate a sandwich. At least the motorways were in very good shape an traffic modest, allowing for a comfortable and fast drive north, avoiding the traffic of the Salerno and Naples areas towards the eternal city, Rome, my hometown I had left 18 years ago. The more kms passed, the more I became aware that the discovery phase of this journey was about to end. From now on I would drive through very well known territory, see friends and family again.
On the last hour of motorway, past Monte Cassino, the sun went down, coloring the gentle hills left and right in a deep orange and purple light. And then suddenly as the road took a left curve downhill the city lights appeared, and the vast southern end of the Roman urban area extended in front of me. It was a moving moment, quite emotional for me. After 54.000km and counting my city was there, I was sort of home. I put the iPad away, I knew my way around here, and reached my parents house after a journey through the afternoon traffic. Holding my mother and father in my arms after many months away felt very good.
– Km driven: 794
– Hrs on the road: 10
– Diesel l/100km: 10,6