Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Italy Motorcycle Diary: 6. Learning As I Go


Bay of Naples
                It took time to shake the bad feelings. I took E35 around the densest part of the city. Traffic wasn’t crazier than anything else I’d driven. My Italian driving skills were being tested, but I was doing ok. Then I got off the freeway entirely. It was a little worse, and the GPS – or rather, my reading of it – caused me to take a couple of wrong turns. But after a couple of u-ies I seemed to be back on track and started feeling much better. As I melted into the cacophony of beeping horns and buzzing scooters on all sides, I felt surprisingly at home. When space opened up, I edged in. When I had enough room to pass, I passed. I was assertive, never aggressive, and ready to throttle back at all times.
I soon found the quiet neighborhood where the Hotel Rex is located. Traffic was minimal here. I parked out front on Via Palipoli. A mild breeze wafted between on the buildings on the street. At the end of the street, past the coastal road of Via Nazario Sauro, was the sparkling blue waters of the Bay of Naples.
The liner of my mesh motorcycle jacket stuck to my arms as I peeled it off at the Rex’s check-in counter. Linda, one of the clerks, spoke fluent English. I’d paid 25 euro on top of the room rate to leave the motorcycle in a nearby garage affiliated with the hotel, and Linda said the bellhop, Ali, would take me there after I brought in my things.
Next, I had the first of many similar experiences that would occur over the next few days – the unpacking and packing (and vice-versa) of the Givi cases.
Francesco had told me to go easy on the keys when turning them “because it’s Givi.” The side cases took one key, the top case another. The looked identical and it took me a couple of days to stop trying to insert the wrong key.
There was also a learning curve for the case packing process. The cases were so tightly stuffed that I had to do some rearranging every time I opened one to get something out. The big black duffel stuffed down to a compact size, but only when there was next to nothing in it. That mean some of my clothes, and my spare shoes, had to remain loose in the cases. Taking many things out and putting them back in, which I did at least once a day, was akin to combat surgery. The cases were so full and likely to eject something upon opening that people would look at me, robbing me of that “I’m a cool motorcyclist” vibe. The side cases were worse for accidental spillage. Over time, my skills evolved so that I could make a rapid series of moves with the cases – unlock, open, catch, remove, rearrange, close, lock – that no one batted an eye.
Soaked with sweat in my clothes, I took everything out of the cases since the bike would be parked overnight more than a block away. I’d heard that if my bike was going to get stolen, it would be in Naples. There wasn’t just motorbike theft in Naples, an Italian Uber driver had told me the previous year in New York — there was a motorbike theft industry.
I went back inside the Rex to put my bags in the room. I couldn’t wait to feel the air-conditioning and planned to chill in the room for a while before finding Paul, who had checked in a couple of hours earlier and was out exploring. But a blast of warm air hit me when I opened the room door. The room had air conditioning, but it was off. I turned it on, changed into shorts, left on my damp T-shirt because it wasn’t going to get any drier, and went back out to put the moto in the garage with Ali.
He was a nice chap, probably 21 or so, and wearing a white uniform. He walked ahead of me on the street as I drove behind. I coasted down a ramp to the underground garage. It seemed full. “Put it in there,” Ali said, pointing to a parking space next to a concrete stanchion that already contained another full-size motorcycle, and a scooter. As I drove the BMW into the available space I realized there was barely enough room for my bike to lean on its kickstand, or for my legs so I could get out. I didn’t have a clue how I was going to back it out of there.
“Just put your helmet on top of that car,” Ali said, not quite saying all of that in his limited English. He pointed to the small car in the space next to the motorcycles. “That guy’s not going anywhere.” I was tired and hot and although I never would have done this at home, I did as he said and put my helmet on the hood of the car.
Parched, I walked to a corner cafĂ© with an ocean view and sat on a stool at the counter, ordering an espresso and a water. When the bartender put the glass of water on the counter I grabbed it and started chugging – then spit it back into the glass, gagging. I had forgotten to ask for naturale and received the more typical gassy water instead. I would not make that mistake again for the rest of the trip!

Next: Piglet and Uovos

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