When la Dolce Vita Meets Russian Roulette: A Road Trip in COVID times
When we moved to Catania, one of the things i was looking forward to was road trips both in Sicily and the rest of Italy. The Covid situation had other plans for us.
As we lived through the ups and downs of the early months, we welcomed the re-opening of the country and started planning a few getaways. Despite initial fears, people had done their part and the infection rates went down drastically. We had faith that the much feared “furbismo” of the Italians wouldn’t get in the way of general health.
Well, on August 16, just as the sacrosanct “Ferragosto” weekend came to an end, the government ordered all discos to close and made mask wearing mandatory (link)
Early signs of relaxing too much were already visible in Catania with mask usage rates going down from circa 90% early June to less than maybe 10% by end of July.A few trips to the beach ended up being a source of worry more than chill-time.
Now, i’m not paranoid by nature but despite 17 years in China, i never really wore a mask, until now.
I was getting a bit worried as the trip inched closer: 8 days, 1500km and so many opportunities to catch something unwanted…
Day 1: Catania – Gioia Tauro
Mostly uneventful trip in the car with a little ferry action to cross into the mainland. The ferry service was extremely well managed with mandatory masks, clear lines on the floor and blocked seats for social distancing. It was a pleasant surprise.
Getting to the sleepy town of Gioia Tauro was another story: Not a mask in sight, beachgoers flocking at the local pasticceria and even throwing one or two smart-assed remarks about us wearing our masks in the heat. Figures…
On the beach or strolling the sidewalk, it looked like a normal summer evening: Teens snuggling, adults arguing, music blasting, drinks flowing. Covid? what’s that?
Day 2: Gioia Tauro
We took it easy and went to the private beach so we could avoid the crowds. Paying 15E for a parasol and two beach chairs was a steal. Again, not a mask in sight… adults, kids, men women. The only real COVID issue was that our B&B no longer served breakfast.
Day 3: Tropea
This joy of a beachside resort, even though it’s less than an hour away from Gioia Tauro, was a whole other story: Masks and hand sanitizer everywhere, including the beach. Staff wore them more or less correctly, and so did a big part of the folks around. It made it a lot easier to enjoy the beach and the food.
Maybe there was hope. That said, the beach and the city was packed.. arguably some of the most beautiful waters i’ve seen in Italy.
Day 4: Gioia Tauro- Papasidero – Avellino
A bit of a road trip with close to 6 hours on the road but hey, that’s what you do for friends. Papasidero is literally a mini town of 500 and avoided the grunt of the infection. The little time we spent there was reassuring, especially at the restaurant where the owner/lady wore a double mask at all times.
Getting to Avellino, we were happy to see our friends, also Beijing veterans, with their masks. It was not exactly the case for everyone sadly.
Day 5: Napoli
We took the bus from Avellino where everyone has their masks on, not to mention that even other seat was blocked. A bit of joy and relief when you’re gonna be in a closed space for 1 hour.
We spent about 6 hours in Napoli walking around and eating our weight in pizza. Again, mostly no masks, no social distancing but at least, restaurant staff took the required precautions.
Masks were also mandatory in public transportation.
Day 6: Capri, Pompeii & Sorrento
Capri was packed.. boats everywhere, people everywhere and this was considered a bit of a slow summer. We lucked out and had a boat for 6 so it was a bit easier to feel safe. Once on the island, it was just a question of staying away but yeah, no masks.
The lack of tourists was quite obvious in Pompeii so we felt a bit safer walking around in plenty of space. It was easier to enjoy and appreciate the grandeur of the old city without being worried about getting too close to someone. A majority of tourists were either French or German with locals rounding up the numbers.
Visiting Sorrento was something else though: You could see the masks all around but not necessarily on people’s faces.
Our fantastic B&B was probably the brightest spot of all as far as safety goes: All required security measures were implemented, staff wore masks at all times, customers were not allowed to serve themselves at the buffet. Big A grade.
Day 7: Avellino wine land
A big of agriturismo in wine land was an opportunity to relax: Small crowds, social distancing and all safety measures respected. Again, much easier to enjoy oneself.
Day 8: Avellino-Catania
We set out for the big drive back home; we weren’t the only ones! While mostly uneventful, we did have to skip at least 3 rest areas due to crowds during lunchtime. While masks were required in the shops, most folks just avoided them outside.
The ferry crossing to Messina was no different from the earlier one: Social distancing etc… big ups.
As we got back to Catania, we couldn’t wait to be home away from the crowds. In the week we were gone, the rate of infections went up drastically and by today, a new decree making masks mandatory again has gone out, mandatory quarantine for some folks is in effect and we’re talking about “Joyful Contagion Machines”…
Despite all the warnings from the government and sacrifices made in the early phase of the pandemic, Italians have played Russian Roulette and they are losing.Let’s hope the tourists are not blamed for this one.
As we face the next few weeks, I’m pretty certain that we’re headed for another lockdown. Sadly, I’m looking forward to it.