Category Archives: Ponza

Blame it on the rain

Storm clouds gather in Copenhagen, Denmark

The weather can make or break a place. No matter how majestic, picturesque, or well renowned a place is, it has the potential to fail miserably if the weather is off key.

Daylesford, Victoria – the postcard rolling hills, quaint shops and boutique restaurants. Countryside as seen in a lush period drama. But not so pretty with slashing rain, gale force winds and thunderous grey skies. Unfortunately, the weather helped generate a rather gloomy slant on Daylesford – a grit your teeth, just shut up and like it, kind of forbearance.  My niece and I had some excellent meals, a fantastic time at a Hepburn Springs spa and in general, enjoyed our stay. But we also sighed a lot. We drove to the pretty lake ready for a brisk walk, but instead sat silently in the car enjoying the view through persistent drizzle before driving away for another latte. The lavender farm driveway required a sturdy four-wheel drive vehicle (we didn’t have one) and when we got to the property entrance we discovered it was completely flooded anyway. We were also creeped out by some odd things. At a lovely restaurant there were prints from local artists on the wall. We shared a table with a scribbled ink drawing of ‘Marianne’. Marianne seems to have been locked up in the attic and fed raw tuna and rotten tomatoes. The look of anguish and torture on her face almost put us off dessert. Marianne, beloved of someone, sent shivers up our spine. Then we had to walk out into an icy dark country night, full of whistling winds and unfamiliar squeaks…..

Beijing was equally ‘ruined’ by below freezing temperatures that inhibited walking and breathing, let alone proper, joyful sightseeing (see Beijing Disconnect). But it’s not always the cold that has an effect on your holiday happiness. In the Spanish Sierra Nevada mountains I was on a walking tour and every day it climbed to well over 30 degrees Celsius. Had I been at home I would have been sitting under a pleasant air conditioner sipping iced tea. But if you sign up for a walking tour, you really should go walking. So every day I would slip on my warm chunky hiking shoes, grit my teeth and go out into the Spanish countryside.

It was glorious and fragrant with herbs and citrus trees. The blue sky was grand and overwhelming. We picked our own cherries and mulberries and dipped our grateful hands into cool fountains. But we also walked up a bare and shale covered mountain with the sun beating relentlessly. The back of my legs were so burnt I could only sleep on my stomach that night. My feet were swollen and my head pounded with a killer headache.  The thing that irked me was the British tourists who kept looking at my quizzically and snorting incredulously if I dared to say something mild like, ‘Good God it’s hot’. ‘Surely’, they said, ‘you would be used to this heat?’. Oh yes, I know what this heat feels like – I just don’t like it! Apparently, because I’m Australian, I should be immune to unpleasant feelings of being fried by a demonically hot sun. Surprisingly then, I confess I am not.

Overcast but recognisably pretty – Ponza ‘before’

Unfortunately, I think the rain is always worse that the heat. When the sun grills you, at least you know it’s summer/holidays and that’s the proper way of things. In Ponza, it was summer but it rained in biblical proportions. Mum, dad and I had arrived for an overnight stay on the little island just down the ‘road/sea’ from Capri. You can see it can’t you – white washed stone, idyllic blue sea, Campari and lemonade. We sat on low wall at the beach, watching kids kick around a soccer ball and eating cheese and bread. Ah bliss.

The next morning it was grey. Nothing serious. Nothing to worry about.  Just overcast. We managed a little sightseeing, and then, just before lunch, it started to pelt down. Bucket down. Niagara Falls. It  creating spontaneous cascades down the quaint white washed steps. We collected our luggage and headed towards the ferry terminal. The ferry was at least two hours away so we huddled together under a veranda wretchedly wet and gloomy, the rest of our sight seeing written off as just too hard. The restaurant who’s veranda it was took pity on us (or, if your cynical, spotted an easy sale) and opened early just for us. We sat contentedly eating steaks and translating signs for the lovely restaurant owners until it was time to head to the ferry terminal. They kindly offered us giant black plastic rubbish bags, so we scampered across the terminal carpark in our impromptu raincoats, luggage flapping, arms waving, shouting in consternation. I tried to tip toe through the water but I looked down and realised it was half way up my calf anyway. At that point I laughed my head off, gave in and splashed happily through the rain.

Ponza ‘after’. Barely recognisable. 

The thing about extreme holiday weather is that it’s association is never forgotten, good or bad. Never mind the spectacular scenery, the picture perfect setting, I’ll remember Ponza as the island on which we could have relaunched Noah’s Ark.

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Filed under Beijing, Daylesford, holiday weather, Ponza

Quirky Italians and their unique driving habits

I think sometimes Italians are unjustifiably labelled ‘arrogant’.  (Ok, sometimes justifiably.) I prefer to call them quirky. (Perhaps because whilst Australian, I also hold an Italian passport). What might be arrogance could also be called charming, innovative or creative, especially when it comes to driving.
Let me explain.
On the streets of Formia I witnessed an alarming number of ‘quirky’ driving techniques (not to mention crazed, kamikaze, and downright dangerous).  This town’s streets were sometimes so narrow they were one-way and only wide enough for a single car. One sunny afternoon, my cousin was driving us around when she suddenly had to step on the brakes as the car in front of us came to a halt.  What’s this?
Oh, I see – it’s a warm day so the driver had to stop, put the car in neutral, climb out of the car, pull off his jumper, smooth his hair down, get back in the car and then set of on his merry way again.
See? Quirky. Utterly quirky.
Then, while I was catching a bus from town, the driver suddenly stopped (in the middle of the street – no cissy pulling over to the side), wound down his window and called out to a fellow in a car heading the opposite way, in the opposite lane. Yes, effectively both cars held up traffic in both directions. Their important conversation went something like this:
Break time at the Forum.

‘Hey! I’ve been trying to reach you. Where have you been?’

‘Oh I’ve been busy!’
‘Never mind. Listen, are you coming to the BBQ on Saturday?’
‘Sure I am! What do you want me to bring?’
‘Nothing! Just yourself.’
‘You’re sure?’
‘Yes, promise. Just yourself.’
‘Ok, no worries, see you then.’
Quirky. Charming.
What I love though, is that nobody on the bus batted an eyelid. People continued to stare out the window, totally unperturbed by the small pause in their bus journey. Sure, there was a half hearted horn toot but nothing abusive. True, it only took a minute, but can you picture that taking place in any other city quite like so?
Not that there isn’t a bit of road rage now and then.
While hanging around in Rome I witnessed a fellow walking towards his car, only to find that someone had double parked next to him and he was trapped. Mm… what was he going to do? Well, I couldn’t hear him from where I was standing but I’m pretty sure there were a few ‘Holy….’, ‘Your mother is a ……’ before he starting beeping his horn, continuously for about ten minutes. Eventually a tall thin man started walking towards him nonchalantly. With his hands he indicated that the first fellow should really calm down. I paraphrase:
‘Hey, what’s your problem?’
‘What the f….k do you mean, “what’s my problem”? Your car is my problem. I can’t bloody get out!’
No actual sorry. Instead: ‘Sure, but there’s no need to get so upset. It was only 10 minutes and here I am. I’ll get out of the way right now. That’s all.’ He smiled kindly, apologetically, calmly – only implying ‘mi scusi’.
Quirky, charming and charismatic.
But it was on the island of Ponza that I witnessed yet another bus driver who illustrated the very essence of quirky Italian driver, employing all the charm, charisma and creativity at his disposal. On a gorgeous summer day, halfway through our journey around the island, at a busstop, the bus door jammed itself halfway open. Its panelled doors were thoroughly wedged. The driver turned to the passengers and asked, ‘Does anyone have any string?’.
It turns out nobody had any string.
(What he was going to do with the string still baffles me.)
He nods his head, in a ‘what-are-you-going-to-do’ style, and starts whistling a happy tune and continues on his way. At the next stop an elderly lady frowns at him through the half open door. He stares her down: ‘What do you want me to do lady? Do you have any string? No? Well then!’. He shrugs apologetically but tells her, ‘breathe in and get on or don’t. It’s up to you’.
She humphs and struggles in sideways. ‘Do I still have to pay’. Affronted he answers, ‘Ha! Certo!’. Certainly!
Humph… grumble, grumble. But she gets on. And she pays.

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Filed under driving, Formia, Italy, Ponza, tourism, travel