Saturday, December 02, 2006

Travel to Salerno, Italy

(These entries about the Salerno travel were written on the respective day, but were uploaded later, due to unavailability of internet during the trip.)

As usual before a trip, I only get a very short sleep. The evening is spent with collecting the stuff I want to take with me, and with last errands to run, such as responding to emails, finishing reports etc. I go to bed at 2am. The alarm clock rings at 3:15 am.

The drive to the airport takes about 20 minutes, under ideal early-morning traffic conditions. This time I decided to drive with my own car and pre-book parking there, instead of taking a taxi. Those cabs are convenient, but also have their disadvantage: you have to drive with a driver and bear his choice (and volume) of the radio station, and his choice of draft wind through the open window. It is much more convenient with the own car, although that needs parking. We arrive at the Leeds Bradford International Airport (LBA) at 4:45 am.

A long line at the check-in for KLM – very strange for such an early time. What is going on? So many people need to fly to Amsterdam on a Saturday morning???

The flight goes without any problems. This will be again one of those travels with four airports on a single day: this time these are Leeds, Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS), Rome Fiumicino, and Napels. Ok, I know, the climate change... and short-haul flight is bad. But you would not expect me to travel now for two days by train, would you?

There is sufficient time in AMS to catch the next plane. But Lena decides to take it easy and to rely on the usual boarding delay. As I am already in my seat on the plane, she is still not here. I notify the flight attendant, telling her that Lena will be here shortly. After a while, Lena still not here, the pretty Alitalia flight attendant comes to my seat, with a serious face, stating "This is a very important flight". I wonder why? She continues "This is the flight where you left the wife in Amsterdam". Hahaha, very funny. Later, when I tell this to Lena, she does not find this very funny.

Most of the sky over Germany is overcast. As we fly over my home town in Northern Bavaria, there is only the closed cloud cover to see. Only shortly before we begin flying over the Alps, the cloud cover opens, and the mountain ranges are visible all the way. I recognize the Zugspitze (see picture) and the Brenner Pass. Far in the West is the high peak of the Mont Blanc, in the East I see the Grossglockner. Many hundreds of kilometer (miles) visibilities, over the whole Alps! I have never seen this whole range at once. Both to the north and to the south the planes are covered by clouds, but the mountains bath in sun.

One very noticable thing: there is very little snow on the mountains. Around this time of the year, all peaks should be covered in qhite snow blanket. But only the peaks above 3000m are white... again an indicator of global warming? Or just a warm autumn 2006?

Changing the plane in Rome goes fast. Not much time to hang around at the airport, also tne next flight leaves on time.

Arrival on time at Naples airport. During the approach, we notice the smog that hangs over the city. Seems almost worse than Los Angeles...

As we wait for our luggage, the first problem occurs: our two suitcases are not here. Alitalia does not know where they are – they give us a phone number and a tracking number. Well, I have nothing with me in my carry-on luggage - this means we would have to do some shopping in the evening, for emergency supplies.

No other choice than to pick up the rental car. A small white shuttle bus brings us to the Hertz location. Get a Ford Fusion, Turbodiesel.

On the way outbound, the road leaving the airport goes through very strange neighborhood: it looks like a small road through a village. No grand airport entry, just a narrow road, a roundabout, a big pile of garbage on one side, small single-story buildings on the sides of the road.

On the Autostrada A3 towards Salerno. As we drive towards South, we see the cause of the smog: many fires burn, fueled by autumn leafs and wet wood. The smoke burns in the eyes, one can get almost dizzy. Reminds me of the California wildfires – where it was officially declared to be a health hazard to be outside and breath that air...

The neighborhoods are quite ugly, half-finished buildings, some decaying, ruins. The whole valley is surrounded by nice mountain ranges, and in the south is the volcano Vesuvio. How could that beautiful scenery have been so damaged by all those ugly man-made structures???

Driving on the autostrada requires some nerves. The A3 between Napoli and Salerno is quite narrow, is being rebuilt with wider lanes. Construction segments change with old-style narrow parts. Everywhere are speed limits - but nobody seems to care. In principle, cars seem to drive double the speed stated on those signs. I quickly adapt to this, "if you cannot beat them, join them". There is no police in sight to enforce the speed limit.

Typical street in SalernoThe description of the way to the hotel which I had gotten from the conference organisers was a bit schematically. As I drive down the narrow streets of Salerno (example see the picture to the right), after exiting the Autostrada which leads high over the city along the steep coast, it seems to be a very difficult task to find the Duomo near which our place is supposed to be. Several times I go into circles, spirals, until I finally ask two carabinieri for the best access to the hotel – they point me to that narrow road which I had ignored – because of the sign with the round red circle, indicating that vehicles are forbidden to enter. Well, with official permission I enter that road, and slowly drive among the pedestrians uphill towards the Duomo. Most of the streets are barely wider than the car... and often there are cars parked at the sides!

Hotel Convento San MicheleFinally, we end up at the parking lot of the hotel.

Later, it is already dark, we call to the airport regarding our luggage, and yes, our suitcases are here. We decide not to wait until Alitalia would deliver them to us, but instead drive back to the airport and pick tem up ourselves – otherwise we would have to wait a full day until the next evening.

After a few miles on the Autostrada, a sudden traffic congestion. We drive stop-and-go for 1/2 hour, for 4 km. Will we make it before the airport office closes at 10:30pm?

Ok, we made it in time. It turns out that it was not Alitalia's fault, but the fault of the baggage handlers at the Amsterdam airport - the suitcases had not made it to our flight to Rome. But we are glad that they are here, no damage, no loss. In fact, in all my flying, I never had any luggage lost ever - it might have been delayed, but I always got it in the end.

On the way back to Salerno the same congestion on the Autostrada: an accident had happened there earlier, hindering traffic in both directions. As we learn the next day from a newspaper, a driver had gone in the wrong direction - and had collided with the center divider. He survived. If we had driven a short time earlier, we would have encountered him...

Well, I am not very impressed with the driving skills of those Saturday-evening testosteron-loaded teenage guys who populate the autostrada at that time... when for example two lanes merge, there is not the zipper rule applied (one from left, one from right), but whoever does give up his perceived right of way first, looses. This seems to be a matter of principle, of pride.

Finally, at 0:30, the light is switched off, and the day is over. Falling asleep to a very welcomed rest.

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