Bev Wood experiences the Italian capacity for both wild frenzy and languid indolence.
What scenery? What view?" Hugh asked, unable to raise his eyes from the road to see the spectacular scenery I kept exclaiming over.
We were risking life, limb and divorce travelling around the Amalfi Coast in Italy by car.
The narrow road, carved out of rock, twists around the craggy mountainsides high above the Mediterranean, before plunging down in corkscrew fashion until it reached a small village, then races through tunnels out into the sunshine and clambers up before plunging again.
Terraced vineyards, houses and lemon groves hang suspended, and I wonder how they don't slide into the sea way below.
I had expected the main coastal strip to be full of quiet little fishing boats and friendly fishermen as it had been when I'd visited over 40 years previously. These days tourism has taken over, cruise ships have replaced the quaint fishing boats; and luxury hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops now line the roads.
In fact, exploring the Amalfi Coast is a popular day trip for cruise ship passengers who have docked at Sorrento/Capri, Salerno or Naples.
If you're in a car, forget about trying to park it to enjoy the view. If you're lucky enough to find somewhere to stop, chances are a man will rush out and try to remove your annual income for an hour's parking. Or a polizia will threaten to lock you up for a generation if you so much as look as if you're going to stop illegally.
"What the hell!" Hugh exclaimed, as yet another suicidal maniac risked decapitation, and worse, as he roared past our car and swung his motor scooter to within a few centimetres of our front bumper. "He's going to end up as our mascot if he doesn't get out of our way."
I loved the dodgems when I was younger, but this was like dodgems from hell with cars, trucks buses and scooters all hurtling around corners, taking most of our share of the road as well as their own, a succession of accidents waiting to happen.
I closed my eyes, wishing myself back in the tranquillity of the Auckland motorway at rush hour. This wasn't Spaghetti Junction, but it was rapidly promising to become Spaghetti Bolognese.
Then came a reprieve - a traffic jam - which abruptly halted all the crazy drivers. But we were in luck. My clever husband squeezed our vehicle into a tiny gap hard against the rugged mountainside. We sucked in our tummies - grown bigger from too much pasta and vino - and slithered between the stationary traffic to the other side.
There was our sanctuary - a hotel perched on a narrow point high above the Mediterranean. We stepped inside and an uninterrupted view of blue sea and dazzling white boats was spread out just for us.
It was nearly midday.
"Let's have lunch here," I suggested.
"Why don't we see how much for a room? I can see we won't be moving from here for a while," Hugh added. I mentally calculated how many bags of gold it might set us back.
But what the heck, this was an adventure, and we deserved a little pampering.
We turned to the handsome man standing at the reception desk. He had a pile of papers in front of him, stamping them one by one with a big rubber stamp, a slave to Italian bureaucracy.
"Buongiorno. Could we please have some lunch?" Hugh asked.
"Too early," the vision replied in impeccable English, not lifting his eyes from the job in front of him.
"Have you got a room?" Hugh asked.
"Yes," the handsome creature replied, and continued his irksome task.
"Would we be able to see it?"
And the poor overworked soul kept stamping, stamping, stamping ...
We walked past the desk, sat down at one of the beautifully set tables and rested our elbows on the starched white tablecloth. We drank in the view. In spite of the elegant, glinting glasses in front of us, it appeared the only thing we were going to be drinking for a while.
My husband muttered that our host needed a dose of KiwiHost training. It was obviously our fault for rudely interrupting him, expecting a bit of service when the man was busy with so much important stamping.
An hour later, we looked back out onto the road. The traffic was still in a jam, now more of a jelly, as the sun was hot enough to cook a bistecca. At least we were cool in our own private bit of paradise, beneath the shelter of the patio.
From our vantage point we could see the cause of the traffic hold-up. Two buses, heading in opposite directions, appeared to be laminated.
As this was Italy there was much yelling and gesticulating in Italian and much horn-blowing.
After further waving and shouting, the buses managed to scrape past each other and the traffic started to move, one centimetre at a time. Finally, it was as free-flowing as Italian traffic ever is.
There was still no offer of food, drink or a room. Our host didn't raise his head as we walked out the door. He continued stamping, stamping, stamping...
Then we rejoined the maniacal imbeciles plaiting and weaving, honking and parping our way around this magical, scenic, exhilarating, coastal road. And back at the hotel, no doubt the stamping continues still today.
Getting there: Cruise ships offer shore excursions from Naples, Sorrento/Capri or Salerno to the Amalfi Coast via sea or road.
Further information: See amalficoast.com.
Jason & Linda Kroupa from House of Travel - Motueka share their top tips on how to make the most of your cruise on Oceania Cruises.
1. Free specialty restaurants are a bonus on Oceania. Favourites are Toscana on Marina or Jacques on Riviera.
2. It's best to make dinner reservations before you leave home.
3. Take a bottle or two of Oceania's free mineral water when you leave the ship to sip while exploring ports of call.
4. If you don't finish your wine at dinner, waiters will store the bottle and serve you next day.
5. Oceania's free room service continental breakfasts are a great wake-up call - and help avoid temptations at the restaurants upstairs!