Adrift in Italy

28 km, 2.5 hours

We are off the ship and on dry land, but we are certainly feeling adrift in Italy. In hindsight, we are thinking it rather foolish that we arrived in a non-tourist area of Italy. The captain gave us the option to stay on the ship until Naples and we foolishly declined. Our guidebook starts 75 km north of where we are. Very few people here speak any English, we speak almost no Italian and we have very little idea how things work. At least the weather is beautiful – 20-25 degrees Celsius and sunny.

The ship arrived in Gioia Tauro at 9 pm last night, and it took until 10:30 pm to clear customs. Since they were going to be around until at least 8 am, we decided to stay on the ship for the night and disembark in the morning (definitely the right decision!). In the morning, we were up and had everything ready to go, but the ship’s departure was delayed to at least 10 am, so we were no longer in a rush. By 9:00 am, our gear and bikes were unloaded – this time using the monorail crane, so the process was much simpler – and we were on our way.

Getting through customs and immigration and out of the port was entertaining. We started by riding our bikes to the nearest security gate. Just before we arrived, a security car came up behind us telling us that we could not ride in the terminal (oops). We checked out of security and were led to immigration. The immigration guy looked at our passports, photocopied them, and marked down the name of the ship. He said to return when we were done. He spoke some English, but it took both of us several minutes to explain that we were not returning to the ship. The magic word turned out to be “disembarkation”. He then took our passports again, found our names listed in a different folder, stamped our passports, and we were on our way.

After about a kilometer, we came to the main gate for the container port. The customs guards stopped us there as well. At one point they all came out (about 8 of them) trying to figure out what to do with us. It seems that big trucks are more common than loaded bicycles – funny that! One of them took our passports and looked for a stamp. There was clearly a stamp from Gioia Tauro for today, but he did not seem to recognize it. After much miming, he telephoned immigration, who eventually cleared us. We were on our way again, for real.

Gioia Tauro is a small town that appears to primarily support the port. Looking south, you see a series of hills (mountains). Our first order of business was to ride around Gioia Tauro in hopes of finding a better map and a snack before going further south. Our thought for the day was to head to Massena on Sicily (about 40 km from Gioia Tauro according to our map).

Gioia Tauro appeared to be mostly closed. It may have been that it was still too early in the day, or we were in the wrong area of town. We did find a fruit store and bought some delicious grapes and a few bananas. Becky also ate a granola bar from her stash, and we headed south. We had already ridden 15 km. We began the climb out of Gioia Tauro. At one point Becky saw a sign that said 222m and looked like a bridge. She though perhaps there was a bridge or tunnel in 222m. That turned out to be incorrect, and the sign actually indicated the height of the pass. About 10 km later, we finally reached the top of the hill.

At about 12:30, we reached the town of Palmi. We were both rather hungry, so we headed towards the downtown (indicated by a sign saying Centro and showing a picture of concentric circles like a target). Just after we turned up the street Becky noticed a Tourismo office, so we stopped in. We were both in a fog about what we wanted. We asked about accommodation and food. The women (about our age or younger) helping us was apologetic about not speaking English. She explained that her colleague who usually translates was off sick. Our communication was a mixture of us using the guidebook, her speaking short phrases in English, and an online interpreter (each taking turns typing in our various questions and answers).

We decided to spend the night in Palmi, where we could hopefully get better orientated to Italy. We are in a much more luxurious place than we need – the Residence “La Marinella” (, which has apartment rooms with full kitchens. We are paying a little more than we would like at 80 Euro, which is actually very reasonable for what we have. It is definitely the off season, and a new place, so there are only a couple of other people here.

We took a brief afternoon siesta (when in Rome…), which we both needed as our sleep last night was rather fragmented.

After our siesta we tried to shower, but couldn’t get the water to come on. After much frustration, we tried to call the numbers we were given, but there was no phone! The assumption seems to be that everyone has a mobile.

We got up the courage to knock on the door of the other tenant and asked him to call our hosts. Fernando is a lawyer articling in Palmi, and speaks some English, which made the process much simpler. When they arrived, it was a matter of seconds to “fix” the shower. Although the water knob both pulled and turned, neither of these motions turned on the water. The magic trick was to bend the knob up and to the left or the right. Whups!

The residence is in a beautiful spot, 150m above the ocean. A high hill is to the south, and there is a lookout below us on a promontory. We made the scenic walk down to the lookout. There are many olive trees along the way, with nets below to catch the ripe olives as they fall off the trees. A women was walking up and down the side of the road with a bag, collecting olives that had fallen onto the road but were still good (not yet squished). She seem to have about 4 or 5 liters when we passed her on our way back up the hill. Becky tried and olive off of a tree, but it tasted awful!

Our accommodations are not as close to downtown as we would have liked and are 100m downhill, but after our scenic walk we did venture in that direction. It turned out to be not as far as we had feared, so a little unprepared, we were walking around downtown. Scott did not have his wallet, but Becky did have her purse, so we were able to get dinner and find an Internet cafe.

We had our first three course Italian meal (although each item is considered a course). First course was a simple pasta dish – penne with pomodoro and Basilico (tomato and basil sauce). It was simple but very good. The second course was fried pork, and the third (which was served with the second) was green salad (just romaine lettuce). Given that we didn’t have our guidebook, we thought we did well finding food and ordering. It was also only 6:30 pm and most Italians don’t eat until after 8. Since we did not have a proper lunch or breakfast, we were both rather hungry by that time, and did not want to wait until 8 pm to eat.

Our learnings for today:

  • Southern Italy is hilly!
  • Have our “fake” passports handy to give to hotels and such for documentation, so that we don’t end up with worrying about a passport.
  • Everything seems to close down during Siesta time (1 pm – 5 pm) and most stores appear to be open in the evenings 6 pm onwards.
  • A normal supper does not start until 8 pm.
  • Don’t rush when figuring out accommodations – take time to ask questions and get clarification. It might take us a while to learn this one!

Download GPS Track in GPX format

2 thoughts on “Adrift in Italy”

  1. Hey Scott and Becky…
    Good idea about the ‘fake’ passports…Are they a photocopy of the main page or ?

    Thanks for the mini escape…I always feel as though I was able to be there…even if it was just virtually!

    Your olive experience sounds much like an experience I had when I was in Venice…wine grapes taste much different than table grapes!!! Blech!!!

  2. Hi Meike,

    Our fake passports are made up of a colour photocopy of the outside page and identification page of the passport. I glued the pages together, laminated them and folded them. They look quite official! I don’t recall where we got the idea, but I read about someone else doing it. Whatever you do, don’t use them at Immigration though!

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