Practice For The Amazing Race

This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, June 20, 2007 was originally posted on July 05, 2007.

PART 2:  “Have you seen The Amazing Race?” I asked Steph as we jogged with our packs on our backs to the ACTV water bus stop at Venice’s Rialto Bridge.  She wasn’t too familiar with it and I explained how it was the Emmy award-winning CBS reality show — called by some critics as the only reality show worth watching — in which eleven teams of two race around the world, following clues to markers and pitstops in faraway destinations.  Each pair has a different relationship dynamic (i.e. father/daughter, married gay guys, boyfriend/girlfriend, etc.) that the drama of travel can make or break.  In The Amazing Race, traveling in haste can really cause people to crack under pressure.

Seeing us with our backpacks on, I was reminded of the show as we started the next leg of our journey towards Napoli.  With the way our day had been going, we only had just enough time to get from the Rialto Bridge jetty to the Piazzale di Roma, the bus depot where we’d catch the airport shuttle bus bound for the outskirt domestic Treviso airport, over an hour away — there was only one last known bus that would take us to the suggested check-in time for our cheap RyanAir flight to Rome.

Everything was going according to plan — until we noticed that the stops we were passing didn’t sound familiar.  “Are you sure we’re going the right way?” Steph asked.

“Well the boat said it was going to Piazzale di Roma,” I said.  It’s what the electronic ticker said.  I took out my map to double check while Steph ended up in an argument with some old Italian woman who was urging her to take her pack off to make room.

“It’s just going to take up room on the floor,” Steph tried to explain in clear English, hoping she’d understand.  “It might fall.”  The woman was still annoyed, trying gain support from other people near by.  Steph ignored them and turned to me.

“We have to get off,” I said.  “We’re going the wrong way.”

We got off at the next jetty and then rushed around the gate to get another water bus going the other way.  I actually jumped onto the boat as it was starting to pull away.  “What time is it?” Steph asked me.

“Time to get a watch,” I joked.  I showed her my watch; we had lost about fifteen crucial minutes.  “Think we’ll make it?” I wondered. 

“I don’t know,” Steph said, keeping collected.  “It is what it is.  All we can do is try.”

“Maybe we would be good together on The Amazing Race,” I told her, admiring our patience and teamwork.  We entertained ourselves on the boat with quotes from “Planet Unicorn” and by trying to take a photo of the old man nearby who reminded us of our mutual friend Bil, but in thirty years

The water bus approached the bus depot jetty about ten minutes after our shuttle bus was to have departed.  “What do you think, is it worth it to run?” Steph asked.

“Yeah, let’s do it.”  We already had our tickets and just needed to get on the bus — the next bus would be a whole hour later.

We ran like hell, weaving through buses parked and moving, until we saw a bus at the airport stop.  Steph ran in front to inhibit any forward motion while I caught up.  “Treviso airport?” I asked the Italian bus driver while catching by breath.

“Si.”  He gladly opened the luggage bin and let us on just in time, avoiding our elimination.  We found the last two seats, apart from each other, and joined the rest of the passengers, all most likely taking the same flight as us.

ALL TEAMS DEPARTED on the RyanAir flight from Treviso, Italy to Rome’s Ciampino airport.  With a budget airline like RyanAir (faster and far cheaper than taking the train), there were no assigned seats; it was every man/woman for his/herself and Steph used her crowd-bumping skills to get us ahead so we could be seated together.  The flight was a no big deal in the end once we got on the plane (after a twenty minute delay), but it was the rental car that was an issue.

“I can’t find the reservation,” the Italian Hertz guy said at the Treviso airport when we went to confirm our car was an automatic.  Our reservation information was in an email that Steph looked up in the internet cafe — which revealed the problem: the reservation was duh, in my name.

“Buon giorno.  Uh, the reservation is under ‘Trinidad,’” I said back at the desk.  “Is it an automatic?”

“[No, usually they are all manual.  If you want automatic, you have to request it.]”

“We did request it when I reserved a week ago,” Steph interjected.  The triple-A guy she rented from told her that most Hertz rentals in Europe were automatic, but we didn’t really believe it.

“I can’t do anything here,” the Treviso Hertz guy said.  “It is a special request you must do months in advance.”

“This’ll be interesting,” I said.

Upon arrival in Rome’s small domestic Ciampino airport, the woman at the Hertz desk was a little more helpful.  “Is it automatic?” Steph and I asked in unison.  Both of us had driven stick-shift before but were too out of practice to trust ourselves with it, especially in a country known for crazy drivers.

“Let me see,” the Hertz counter said, building the drama.  “Yes, we have one.”

“You wished it was manual!” Steph teased me.  “To make your blog interesting.”

“Well, yeah.  But this is probably best.”

The keys we were given opened up a nice little Mercedes number in a far off parking lot.  We inspected it, packed it up, and head out of Italy’s sprawling, urban and historical capital — both of us had been there before and decided to skip it.  “I don’t need to do Rome,” Steph told me. 

“I don’t need to do Rome either.”

It took a while for us to get used to the Italian road signs, the ones pointing left or right when they really mean go straight.  Traffic was also a factor, but it didnt’t really matter; this wasn’t The Amazing Race after all and we weren’t too pressured for time. 

“What time is it?” Steph asked.

I looked at my watch.  “Half passed time to get a watch.” 

Later she just looked at the time on her cell phone.  “You know what I just did?”

“Yeah, you ruined my joke.”

Our planned pitstop for the night was a bed and breakfast in what we originally thought was the Roman outskirt town of Fondi down the S7 highway, but when we actually looked at the road map only just then, we realized that Fondi was actually a sort of haul, about halfway between Rome and Naples, 100 kms. of more driving than what the B&B’s website had implied.  As it stood, there was no way around arriving late and missing our dinner reservation.  Unfortunately neither of us had the B&B phone number on us.  “I’m sorry,” Steph apologized, navigating in the passenger seat.  “I thought it was just outside Rome.  I don’t think I’d be good for The Amazing Race.” 

“It’s okay, it’s not your fault.”

We kept our spirits up.  It was a leisurely evening drive after all, as we blared Harry Belafonte’s Pure Gold CD, which I had brought along for the ride — Harry Belafonte tunes were a Trinidad family road trip tradition that I had taught Steph about during our road trip to Kalamazoo in Michigan:

“Matilda… Matilda… Matilda… She take me money and run Venezuela…”

“Angelina, Angelina… Please bring down your concertina and play a welcome for me, ‘cause I’ll be coming home from sea…”

“Man smart… the Woman is… smarter!  Man smart… the Woman is… smarter!...”

and of course:

“Day-O… Day-ay-ay-O…  Daylight come and we want to go home…”

We were also entertained by the beginning of another inside joke to last the trip:  with so many signs for “Carabinieri” (military police) in every town, I kept on saying they were for carabiner stores.  “That’s where you get carabiners.  All kinds,” I said.  “Funny because my camera strap broke and I actually need one.”

“Hey look, another carabiner store!” Steph pointed out in the next town.

DUSK TURNED TO NIGHTTIME as the S7 eventually led us to Fondi, which wasn’t as cute as Steph had seen in pictures on the internet.  “This is not what I imagined at all,” she said, feeling a little cheated.  Not only did it not live up to its internet hype, but it also didn’t live up to another joke we had:  that Fondi was actually home to a huge pot of melted cheese that we could have a lot of fun with.  The castle that I’d seen on the internet that I believed to be the actual B&B was not in fact; it was the castle in town, the symbol of the town itself, with no beds for the night. 

Using the map graphic I’d printed out from the B&B’s site, we still couldn’t find it.  For a good while, tired and disoriented, we were driving in circles.  To get our bearing, we tried to use the Maxisidis grocery store in our midsts that was on our map, but only continued to get lost.

“I have NO fucking idea where we are right now!” a frustrated Steph said a couple of times.

We pulled over to find one of a few people we saw out on the streets so late at night:  a cop outside a “carabiner store.”  “Uh, where is M Blo?” Steph asked with her charming smile.

“Mblo?” the cop wondered.  We showed him the map and he told us in Italian words and hand gestures how to get there — apparently we had been using the wrong Maxisidis for our bearing all along.

Eventually we found the B&B after driving through a maze of dark, narrow cobblestone streets, and at one point, a pedestrian zone not open to cars.  (I’d made that mistake before on Swanston Walk in Melbourne, Australia.)  The M’blo B&B, which was just a corner building in a tightly packed residential neighborhood, seemed deserted until we finally called them with the number at the door.  Luckily someone was awake to ride his bike over to let us in and give us the key to our room

“Sorry, our flight came in late and we got lost,” Steph explained.  “I have a reservation to stay in your hotel tonight.”

The inside was nice I thought, with a little internal courtyard that was the subject of the quaint photos on the internet that Steph had mistaken for the town itself.  No matter, it was “cute” as Steph said the next morning when it was nicer looking with the sunlight coming in — the stairs and the tree in the center.  However, that night we arrived, cranky Steph could care less; we were exhausted.  Fortunately, after driving in circles for most of the later part of the night, we were rewarded with yummy crepes in one of the only open places in town.

ERIK AND STEPHANIE, who arrived at 11:04 p.m., departed at 11:04 a.m.  Or about that.  We didn’t leave Fondi until we walked around town that morning, after a really slow startSteph eventually woke up and was all smiles after some food and caffeinated cappuccino. 

We wandered Fondi, a town not really frequented by English-speaking tourists; Steph tried to get by with French while I got by with Spanish.  We walked around, from the old ruins, the castle, and the church.  We finally walked through the pedestrian zone that I had accidentally driven the night before, which was an overrated experience:  Steph stepped in dog shit and had to wash up at a local fountain, where local old men watched curiously across the street.  “Just like the Italians not to clean up after their dogs,” she said.

THE S7 HIGHWAY TOOK US down to the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea, where the landscape changed from the dark industrious-looking suburbs we’d come to know, to the impressive rock formations jutting out of the earth, forming natural spectacles to break the repetition of tomato farms, narrow upright “Italian trees,” and Harry Belafonte lyrics.  “I realized all his songs are about three lines,” Steph told me as I drove and she took pictures for me.  “And then he sings it softly and then loudly with everybody.”

After a quick stroll on the beach, we followed the signs to Napoli (picture above) which brought us from the coast to the tolled Autostrade.  A confusing conversation with the toll booth guy attempted to lead us to Napoli’s port, our final driven destination (for now) before hopping on a ferry to the Isle of Capri.

“Dove il porto?” I asked.

The Italian man said a whole lot of Italian words that was way over my head, but I recognized “fondo” — “outside” in Spanish.  I figured we simply had to go “outside” (possibly by the shoreline).  Of course, in Napoli (a.k.a. Naples), a city known to have awful, awful traffic, it wasn’t so direct.  We fought our way through the crowded, uncontrolled intersections and everything in between —  circles, taxi lanes, whatever.  At one point we actually nicked a Vespa driver accidentally; our side mirror fell off and dangled after it hit his handlebar — but he merely shook it off as it probably happens often.  “Despite the chaos, I’m actually surprised at how patient all the drivers are around here,” I said. 

Patience was definitely a virtue in the traffic melée of Napoli, but it ran thin with Steph as we circled and circled cluelessly looking for the ferry port.

“Turn left!”

“Turn right!”

Steph, self-aware that she’s notorious for being a backseat driver, pointed directions to me in haste without fully thinking things through; she led me onto oncoming traffic in a wrong one-way, where I had to quickly turn around and speed away to get out of harm’s way.  Even with directions and map from a Ramada concierge, Steph couldn’t navigate the way. 

“I have NO fucking idea where we are!” a frustrated Steph said, all pissy.  It wasn’t entirely her fault; we had to use a castle as our bearing, but about three things could have been the castle we’d heard about.  It was hard to just drive to it with the traffic and all the one-ways that seemed to be working against us.  Time was running out; at least in Steph’s mind.

“Make a left then make a right there,” she instructed me when we thought we might actually be going the right way. 

“What if I don’t want to go right?” I joked.

“Then I’m going to Capri without you!”

“But I have your bags.”

“It’s fine.  I have a credit card!”

Her harmless comment rubbed me the wrong way — I was just trying to get us to the port for Chrissake — but I kept my cool.  Thankfully I drove us to a parking lot with overnight parking by the correct castle before any real thresholds were met.

“Maybe we can move our clothes and just take one big bag,” Steph suggested.

“What’s the difference?”

“So I don’t have to carry my big bag around.”

“You can roll mine and I’ll carry yours,” I volunteered.  (My new Osprey backpack transformed into roller luggage for such an occasion.) 


I strapped on her big backpack while she rolled mine.  “You’re such a girl,” I snapped at her — but we calmed down after we got to where we were going and I finally took a much needed pee break.  Meanwhile, Steph secured us tickets on the next jet ferry to Capri.

After a long, stressful drive around downtown Napoli, we came to our senses, sitting down at a table for a quick snack.  Steph was all apologies, which was nice — she knew me well enough to read me.  “I’m sorry about before,” she said.  “I was just getting stressed out when we were going in circles.  I’m sure you’ve learned I get stressed when I want to be somewhere.  It’s one of my downfalls.”

“It’s okay,” I told her.  “I already learned that in the States.”  I smirked.

“I guess I won’t be good for The Amazing Race.”

“Well, this is a part of it,” I told her. 

“You know I don’t mind getting lost.  Just not when I want to be somewhere,” she said, which was true.  “Thank you for carrying my bag.”

We made up over Cokes and a funny-looking fritatta that looked like a leftover spaghetti and cheese microwaved casserole.  She spoon-fed me like a child to keep our spirits up. 

“You have to make plane noises,” I told her.

She did, along with her childhood spoon-feeding phrase, “The Allied truck is going into the tunnel!”

WE EVENTUALLY BOARDED the ferry to lounge around in more comfortable chairs.  Steph got up to get us a bottle of water (without gas) at the concession stand, manned by an Italian man that started flirting with her.  “Are you here alone?” he asked her.

“No, I’m here with my boyfriend,” she revealed proudly.  I was honored; if I wasn’t going to be an Amazing Race teammate with Steph, I was happy enough to be just that.


“So are you going to make me sound like a bitch on your blog?” Steph asked me after we had calmed down at the port in Napoli.

“Well, I’m going to build drama,” I told her.  “I’ll just tell it how it is, and let the readers decide.”

Next entry: The Fake Honeymooners

Previous entry: When Harry Met Erik…

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Comments for “Practice For The Amazing Race”

  • Excellent entry, man! 

    I like Steph, a most excellent addition to “The Trinidad Show”.  I have to admit, waiting for my first fix of this blog led me to believe she was some kind of Scorpian woman, but alas i have seen the light.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/06  at  12:24 AM

  • Thanks Iain… so glad to hear I passed the test and am not a “scorpion woman!”  Of course, you’ve only read the first two days of our trip.  Who knows, maybe your opinion will change wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/06  at  08:08 PM

  • Charla and Mirna would have beat you on this leg of the race!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/09  at  03:16 AM

  • Flashback time…only my husband and I ended up using some pretty bad language while trying to drive Rome north to the Tuscany area.  I really thought we were going to die a few times! LOL We got on a one way street and ended at a dead end which was a cliff. Had to do some pretty fancy maneouvering with the stick shift not to die! This was a great entry.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/26  at  07:07 AM

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This blog post is one of twelve travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Two in The Boot and Beyond," which chronicled a romantic getaway through Italy, plus jaunts to Croatia, Switzerland, and London.

Next entry:
The Fake Honeymooners

Previous entry:
When Harry Met Erik…


Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

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