Rome was great – fine food, good running in the Villa Borghese and fascinating sights, including the scene of Abebe Bikila’s iconic barefoot Olympic marathon victory. And did I mention the food?
Next on the itinerary: a direct train south to Naples before changing to another train south again to Vico Equense, a coastal town outside Naples.
The food here was fantastic too. Vico Equense is home to the Pizza a Metro, a restaurant and self-styled ‘university of pizza’ that sells pizza by the metre. One metre of pizza is enough for 5 people, the menu told us, although this didn’t clarify if one metre would be enough for me.
Unfortunately, il padrone insisted that I and my other half could only get a half-metre between us. No discussion, no compromise. I was crushed, but out of good table manners I still brought myself to wolf down most of that 500 centimetres of pizza.
On another night at our hotel restaurant we had a five-course taster menu of traditional local dishes, with a different local wine for each course, all topped by an amuse-bouche and tailed by a platter of small cakes. If you’ve ever been stuffed at an Italian wedding dinner you’ll appreciate how our so-called tasters could have fed a platoon of shipwrecked troops. It was all delicious, of course, and again it would have been unmannerly of me not to demolish it all.
Nearby were the tourist hotspots of Sorrento and Capri, relatively quiet during our pre-season visit. Again we ate and drank well; you’ll know Capri as the home of that famous orange juice, Capri Sun. (Alas, I had no opportunity to visit the centre of Naples and try some authentic Neapolitan-flavoured ice cream between two wafers, the dessert of my childhood.)
With all that eating and sunbathing, I needed to go for a run or else I would have to be rolled onto the plane home. And so one morning, waking up with the sunrise as usual, I slipped into (or squeezed into, more likely) my running gear and set out for a run along the coast road overlooking the bay of Naples.
I lived to tell the tale.
The road past our hotel had a stream of traffic in both directions – and traffic in Italy is something else. In the courtesy shuttle from the train station to the hotel the previous day, I had seen how cars were out in the middle of the road until oncoming traffic persuaded them at the last second to return reluctantly to their proper side. Many drivers seemed to be taking bends at a tangent, in a style that marathon runners would recognise as the optimum racing line.
The footpath was only on one side – the opposite side from our hotel. I stood inside the hotel gate, waiting to cross, watching cars whizz out almost continuously from a tunnel to my left and a tight bend to my right. Time passed.
After an age, a gap in the traffic from the left coincided with a gap from the right, and I tore across the road to the footpath side like a hedgehog on speed. Finding myself on the footpath unscathed and unsquished, I could begin my run at last!
The footpath was narrow, though, and cars whizzed past my left shoulder, a little too close for me to relax and admire the scenery. On my right was the rockface from when the road had been cut into the hill; the other side of the road had a steep drop into the sea. The road was winding, with sharp corners and short tunnels reducing visibility for drivers.
Half a mile into my run, I found a car parked on the footpath, with no way for me to pass except to step onto the road. Another minute of waiting, then, before I could go around the car and carry on.
However, after a mile and a half the footpath disappeared. I wasn’t feeling foolhardy enough to run along the verge of a busy Italian main road, and so I just turned around and ran back to the hotel – stopping again to get around that parked car, of course.
And then on my way back I saw a runner coming towards me on the other side of the road, where there was no footpath. For a running top he seemed to be wearing a white cotton vest, as if he were a man from the 1950s who had simply taken off his shirt and started running. His neat, carefully-oiled hair made him look classically Italian, and it was as snow white as you would expect from someone who ran on a dangerous road every morning. But he seemed completely nonplussed by the cars zipping past him only a few centimetres away.
So there you go – some pedestrians and runners can be as reckless as drivers.
Well, it wasn’t the most satisfying run I’ve ever had, and I didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy the view. Still, I can say that I had a 3-mile run on a scenic road overlooking the bay of Naples.
But maybe in a parallel universe I am still standing at that hotel gate, waiting for two coincidental gaps in the traffic from each direction, like two planets aligning with the sun.