May 28—trains, planes, and automobiles

I’m writing this in the car, trying to escape the Mistral winds that nearly carried our campsite away today. We are in day six of our trip to Greece, and so far it’s been, well, rocky.

We left Sauzet Wednesday about noon, planning to spend the first night in a hotel. After stopping in Carcassonne to exchange our tent (long story, not worth telling) we drove to Arles, arriving about 7 p.m. to find that every hotel was compleat. And this is only May. We gave up on Arles and turned south, driving through a large industrial area with the worst pollution we’ve seen in France. Coughing and holding our breath we looked for hotels in two other towns—same story. We finally gave up and retraced our steps to a campground just outside Arles. By this time it was 9 p.m. so we put up our new tent in the dark and fell into bed.

It was only then that we realized we had the motorway on one side and the railroad on the other. And hark, was that a plane? Yes, oh yes, there was an airport nearby too.

The next morning we dragged ourselves out of bed and headed for the coast, planning to find a spot we could stay long enough to “get organized.” After getting lost several times and checking out three campgrounds we returned to the first one we saw. (Jennifer will attest that this is an old pattern.) And there was the railroad and there was the highway, but hooray, there was no airport. The highway eventually quieted down, but the trains ran all night, about every half hour—just 200 feet from our tent.

The next day we found a pharmacy and bought earplugs.

For the past three days we’ve been camping in the mountains above Nice, in a little town called Vense. It’s a lovely campground, with plentiful and clean facilities including a laundry, a grocery, a cute café, and two large swimming pools. There are enough Dutch people here with their caravans and upright bicycles to fill a small community. Also Germans, Italians, French, and us. Until the winds came up today we had pleasant, warm weather, and we feel reasonably organized and ready to start the “real” portion of our trip—Italy and Greece.

If the tent doesn’t blow away tonight, we plan to leave for Italy tomorrow.

Sunday, June 3, Sorrento, Italy—the Amalfi coast.

There are so many Americans and English in this town it feels like a colony, with Italians sent in to run the shops and wait on tables. It’s beautiful though, and from our terraced campground we have a lovely view of the Bay of Naples and Mt. Vesuvius. Like all of Italy it’s noisy, with cars and buses and motorcycles climbing up the steep hill behind the campground, their engines and horns echoing off the sheer rocky cliff and the hotels that cling to it.

Yesterday we took the train into Pompei to see the ruins, something I’ve wanted to do ever since I learned about the site in 4th grade. The ruins were far more extensive than I imagined and we walked about four hours to see most of the highlights. The mosaics, however, will require a trip into Naples to the National Museum, and we will do that too before we leave here. First, however, we’ll take the ferry to Capri tomorrow—if it doesn’t rain.

Here are some Pompei photos:

No camping trip is complete without a little rain to make you appreciate the dry days, and we’ve had ours. It started late yesterday afternoon and rained off and on all night. We stretched a tarp over the tent and table last night, and until the deluge this morning we were in good shape. I left to shower and when I got back the tent was surrounded by streaming water and was essentially a mud hole. Ray was wrapped in a blanket, so engrossed in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, that he hardly seemed to notice the rain. But he had dug trenches around our little home, so we were muddy but unbowed.

Fortunately the campground has a good cheap restaurant (all food in Italy is cheap compared to France), so we don’t have to cook in the rain.

With nothing better to do on a Sunday, we joined the rest of the Americans and Brits and paraded up and down Sorrento’s narrow streets, knocking umbrellas, admiring the Prado shoes and the Armani jackets and buying the cheap souvenirs while devouring the omnipresent gelato. Lunch in a warm café dried us off in time to enjoy a sunny respite before heading back to camp.

If we don’t wash away, we plan to be here a few more nights.

Technical note: It has been near impossible to find Internet cafes in Italy (though there are three in Sorrento), which accounts for lack of correspondence and blog entries. It’s curious too that one must show a passport to use the Internet, and wifi is not generally available. One must use the available computers (Windows) or if lucky, plug in with ethernet.