Tag Archives: Southern

Crazy Driving in Southern Italy

Driving in Southern Italy is challenging and exciting.  It requires me to be on my toes, constantly ready to react. It stresses Diane out.  I’ve written previously about driving in Europe, but driving near Naples takes this to another level and is not for the faint of heart.  Here are some of the challenges we face…

Most people here drive small, maneuverable cars much faster than the posted speed limit.  They rarely stay in their own lane, often spanning two lanes or crossing into an oncoming one. They pass whenever possible, even on hills or blind corners when it seems unsafe to do so, expecting that the oncoming cars will make way.

Some of this erratic driving is necessitated by parked vehicles blocking the roadway.  Despite the fact that the cars are generally small, the parking spaces are even smaller, and people frequently exceed the boundaries.  They will park wherever possible, including on sidewalks, at corners, and in crosswalks.  They will park nose-in to a parallel parking place, with their tail hanging out in the street.  The drivers of parked cars often open their doors without looking, requiring one to be constantly on the lookout for motion in parked cars.  They will often double park (parking in the street beside cars that are parallel parked) as if putting their 4-way emergency flashing lights on magically turns wherever they happen to be into a legitimate parking spot.  Sometimes I’ve seen them triple park, blocking not only one lane, but part of the oncoming lane too!

A narrow street flanked by colourful buidlings that is filled with people and shops with good spilling out onto the street

Try getting a motorhome down this street!

Most shocking is a peculiar practice in Naples where drivers will shop from their cars.  They stop in front of a small store, usually double-parked, and honk their horns.  The shopkeeper will emerge, get their order and their money, then disappear into the store to return a minute later with their purchase and their change.  This is happening while other cars stack up behind or attempt to pass, without any apparent concern for them, as if this is completely normal (well, I guess it is in Naples).

Diane standing beside a tiny yellow car an night witha brick wall behind

Yes, this is someone’s real car!

If the cars are bad, the motorcycles and scooters are worse.  The majority of them are scooters (a lot of Vespas but now many Asian manufacturers too), so I’ll refer to them all as ‘scooters’.  Lane splitting by this plague on wheels is normal.  They drive between the other cars, passing on the left and right while traffic is moving, on blind corners, and in busy intersections.  At stop lights they worm their way to the head of the line, often performing major acrobatics to get to the front, or as close to it as possible, wedged in between the other cars and/or the curb.  When the light turns green, they race off ahead (they’re quick off the line), but they sometimes get passed again if the roadway has a higher speed limit, in which case they repeat the procedure at the next light.

Crazy scooter driving was commonplace in Asia, but I wasn’t behind the wheel there.  It’s much more exciting when one is in the thick of it.  A particularly shocking example we’ve seen was a man driving his scooter with a very young child, perhaps 3 years old, standing between his legs while he drove.  The child wasn’t wearing a helmet, wasn’t secured, and appeared to barely be old enough to hang on to.  The child wasn’t tall enough to reach the handlebars, even while standing, so was holding on to something lower, behind the front console.

Many scooters parked together

Scooters Everywhere!

On the other hand, we did receive a very nice favour from a scooter driver.  A scooter behind us started honking and drive up beside me so I slowed down and eventually stopped.  The driver reached over and gave me my swim goggles, which I’d forgotten to bring in off the rear rack of our camper where they’d been clipped with a clothes pin to dry.  Although she didn’t speak English, she must have seen them fall off while we were driving, retrieved them in the middle of this crazy traffic (at no small risk to herself), and then chased us down to return them.  Perhaps scooters are good for something after all?

Down to our Last Złoty

Many countries in Europe are part of the Eurozone, a monetary union of 17 European Union (EU) member states (a subset of the total number of 27) that have adopted the Euro as their sole legal currency.  Some members of the EU are not members of the Eurozone, including several that we’ll be traveling to.  This requires us to purchase or convert to a new currency in each country, with the associated effort of buying or converting upon arrival and spending or converting upon departure.  This was a constant headache when traveling in Africa, where currency exchange often had to be done in an open air, risk laden free-for-all in the ‘no man’s land’ between border crossings.  It less hassle but still an inconvenience when traveling through non-Eurozone countries.  To make things simpler, we often try to spend all of our remaining currency before leaving a country if we won’t be returning or needing that currency at a later date.

This is exactly what we tried to do in the south of Poland, before crossing into Slovakia.  Poland’s currency is the złoty.  In Polish, it literally means ‘golden’.  We needed some groceries and we had exactly 38 złoty and 75 grosze to our collective names.  Each grosze is 1/100th of a złoty (like pennies to a dollar or pence to a pound).  This converts to $12.02 Canadian at current rates. Not a lot for grocery shopping, but enough to pick up some needed items.

We headed in to a Carrefour Market with our iPhone calculator in hand and with the objective of buying groceries adding up to but not exceeding our remaining złoty.  It’s kind of like the final showcase of the long-running game show The Price is Right.  To win you need to get as close as possible without going over your remaining cash.  Note that this shopping game is much easier to play in Europe because there is no added sales tax.

Diane started picking out things and I dutifully added the value of each to our running total.  Shopping in Poland is not without its challenges due to the fact there is no English, French, nor typically even German on the packaging.  Sometimes it’s a bit of a guessing game.  When in doubt we try to ask for help, but of course the staff don’t usually speak any English either.  We were trying to buy some peirogis (the Polish spelling of what we normally spell as ‘perogy’).  Diane wanted the ones with potato filling, but in Poland they are often filled with cabbage or mushrooms or meat, so she wanted to be sure.  She asked the young lady who was serving them, but despite their best efforts to communicate, nothing was getting through.  I offered the word “kartoffel” which is German for potato, in hopes that she might speak some German or that the word might be similar in Polish.  No luck.  Apparently potato is ‘ziemniak’ in Polish.

Diane went to the produce section and returned with a potato, pointed at the peirogis and then pointed at the potato in her hand.  The young woman shook her head, implying that none of them involved potatoes.  She went away for a while and in a short time returned with another young woman who spoke a tiny bit of English.  We said that we wanted potato peirogis and she spoke to the other woman in Polish.  By now there were also 2 other staff looking on to our spectacle.  The other woman answered her in Polish and pointed.  It turns out that potato peirogis here are called ‘Rosyjski’ peirogis (pronounced ‘ros-yis-kee’) meaning ‘Russian’.  Problem solved.

Things got added and removed from the cart as we tried to get the most important things we needed with the right combined price.  In the end, I lost track of the total, but I knew we were in the ballpark.  Diane had two cans of tuna that were optional, so we went to the till with the intention of watching the display as the other items were totaled, and then adding the cans of tuna fish one by one if required to get closer to our total budget.  If we were over, I was prepared to sacrifice the bananas.

And so, after all of this, here is the result.  This is what $12.02 CAD worth of złotys will buy you in southern Poland.

The food we purchased displayed on the table of our motorhome

What you can buy for 38.75 złoty

  • 2 small loaves of bread
  • 0.5 kg (1 lb.) of Gouda cheese
  • 0.5 (1 lb.) of cured, salty ham
  • Approximately 30 Russian perogies
  • 1 Litre of Coke Light
  • 2 bananas
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 8 rolls of toilet paper, and
  • 1 can of tuna fish (for good measure)

We think that this is significantly more than $12 would buy in Canada.

We had 1 złoty ‘and change’ left over (a strange expression given that the złoty, like the Canadian Loonie, is itself a coin).  We deposited our final złoty and groszy in the donation box by the door of one of the Wooden Churches of Southern Lesser Poland.

Church with tower all made of wood

A Wooden Church of Southern Lesser Poland

The interior was amazing.

Photo taken from rear balcony of a church with a carved wood interior that is hand painted

The ornate carved wood interior is hand painted

We headed to Slovakia ‘złoty-less’.

Observations about East and Southern Africa

  • People have a vague understanding of Canada, and a generally positive impression. Some think it is part of the US. Many know that it is cold there, and can quote the city names of ‘Toronto’ and ‘Vancouver’, even though they have no idea where these are.
  • The majority of the people are Christians, the result of a century of successful missionary activity that continues to this day.
  • Many of the businesses are controlled by South Asians, primary East Indians. They drive much of the economic activity, including import/export and retail. They often employ African people, and there appears to be a love-hate relationship between the two groups.
  • Women are generally not empowered. They do the majority of household and farming work, all while carrying a child on their back and with toddlers scrambling around their feet.
  • Education is highly prized. In most countries, elementary school education is free, but you usually must be able to afford the uniforms and school supplies, so many children do not attend.
  • HIV/AIDS is widespread. Funerals are common, and many children are raising their siblings.
  • Life expectancy is generally low. The combination of high infant mortality rates, HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, unclean water, and malaria mean that the average life expectancy in these countries is between 38 and 48 years.
  • African politics generally follows the approach of the British parliamentary system. However, in most countries corruption , partisanship, and patronage are widespread. The newspapers constantly report it, but there is rarely any information about perpetrators being punished. Governments and politicians will often go to extreme lengths to remain in office (e.g. by removing or extending term limits, or rigging elections). By the time an individual or party loses an election, or is otherwise thrown out or overthrown, they need to have feathered their nests enough that they don’t need to work again, and can leave the country if necessary, because the new government will likely not be fair to them.
  • The quest for money seems to dominate the lives of most African people. This is really no different than in Canada, but because the amounts of money are relatively much smaller, it is often surprising the extent to which they go to earn just a little bit of money. e.g. a woman with a small child will sit out in the hot sun all day selling peanuts, to earn a total of a dollar (or less). Sellers will wander around a bus depot all day trying to sell a single item like a pair of shoes or a flashlight (not one type of product, but one specific item).
  • Lack of capital is an issue. Many people have the work ethic and ingenuity, but lack the money to initiate an activity that would allow them to support themselves (e.g. buying hand tools or a pump to farm, a bicycle/motorcycle/car to operate as a taxi, or chickens to sell eggs). A variety of groups are working to filling this void by offering micro-financing.
  • Almost all the men love soccer, which they call ‘football’. Most boys and young men play football. In addition to their national team, they follow the English Premiership very closely. Many men wear the jersey of their favourite team and decorate their vehicle with stickers, etc. Most buses and mini-buses display the name or logo of a Premiership team. Manchester United and Arsenal are the most popular teams, and Patrick is often asked which team he supports.
  • The people of East and Southern Africa are generally friendly and pleasant. They appear to like foreigners and are usually willing to help out in any way they can. Sometimes they want so badly to be helpful and to not be rude, that they’ll give you information about things they’re not sure about.