La Dolce Vita II
November 5, 2005
After breakfast, we set off over the mountains to one of the world's playgrounds of the rich and famous - the Amalfi Coast. The total distance is less than 35 km, but the road literally climbs up the mountain and then back down to the coast on a series of hairpin turns. It took us just about 2 hours from the time we left the hotel in Naples - and we did pass Mount Vesuvius on the way, but the weather was so foggy that we couldn't get any pictures.
Even with the clouds, the view coming down the mountain into Amalfi is magnificent. We were told that we couldn't check into the villa until 2:00 and as it was just 1:00, we drove into the town of Amalfi and parked near the waterfront, walked along the harbor and enjoyed the views. It had started to clear by this point and the sun was warm - so warm that about 6 people were sunbathing on the beach! We sat and watched the boat traffic until it was check-in time.
Once the paperwork was taken care of, we were "escorted" to the villa in the nearby village of Ravello. Words are inadequate to describe the roads here - terraced into the sides of the mountains and looping back and forth as they climb higher. We got to the villa - which we never could have possibly found without our escort - where parking is on the roadside and the villa entrance sits about 60 steps higher. The villa itself is okay - stunning view from the terrace but the interior is rather dated. We're just happy to be in one place and as long as it's clean and comfortable (which it is), the rest just isn't that important.
After we got our bags hauled up the stairs, we set off in search of groceries. Markus decided that we should head up the hill to the village center - 20 minutes and too many steps to count (all uphill!) later, we reached the Piazza Duomo. The town is lovely and elegant and we enjoyed the stroll but unfortunately, there are no grocers in the town center. We walked back to the villa and out to the road where we walked uphill on the road - the villa representative had told us that there was a market just about 5 minutes walk - so, we walked and we walked (did I mention that this was uphill?) and we ended up back at the Piazza Duomo. Convinced that we had missed the market, we started the walk back down. And we were right, we had missed the market, although I'm not sure you would really call it a market. It was more like a small stall with a few grocery items, but they had enough to get us through the night.
We had pasta for dinner (not that that's a surprise!) - I had to make the sauce from canned tomatoes by adding onion, garlic and spices. It was pretty good, if I must say so myself. We collapsed after dinner, just so happy not to be on the move!
November 6, 2005
Our plan today was not to have a plan. We needed to find a supermarket and we needed to get some laundry done, but that was the entire agenda for the day. The weather was rainy and overcast, so it was probably just as well that we didn't plan to tour the coast today. We put a load of laundry into the clothes washer and set off up the hill (in the car this time!) to the supermarket. As it is Sunday, we weren't certain that the market would be open and of course, it wasn't. But at last our luck turned for the better as another market just up the road was open. The owner was so nice and so very patient with us and our lack of ability to speak Italian. Euro 50 later, we are now assured that we won't starve!
After we returned to the villa, Markus sat down by the window in the master bedroom to work on his camera lens, which needed repair. The view from this window is incredible and Markus was watching the rain clouds just down the coast. He called to me as what looked like a low-hanging cloud was starting to swirl and form into what we thought might become a tornado. We could see the effect of the cloud on the water - we know from living in Florida that when a tornado is over water, it is called a water spout. This formation wasn't quite that strong so we assume it would be classed as a funnel cloud. The cloud didn't seem to come completely to the surface but was definitely stirring up the water below, as you can see in the photo. A private yacht was anchored right in its path (just off the bottom of the photo) but we think the crew must have seen it as well because within minutes, the yacht was motoring out to sea. Fortunately, the formation smacked right into the side of the mountain off to our left and completely lost power. It was pretty exciting to watch while it lasted!
According to plan, that was all of the excitement for today. That is, unless you consider that we lost the power twice when the main circuit breaker popped because we were trying to run the washing machine at the same time that we had the oven on. Fortunately, there was nothing cooking in the oven - I just had it on in an attempt to heat up the kitchen and dry the laundry which was hanging on the drying rack in the room (as is typical for this region, there is no clothes dryer). Traveling is just so glamorous!
November 7, 2005 and November 8, 2005
Monday started out fairly nice, but had clouded up by lunch time. We ran out to the Spar supermarket, which was actually open! But we did make sure to get there before siesta time when everything closes for a few hours. The market wasn't too bad - definitely not a Publix, but sufficient for our purposes. It rained on and off for most of the afternoon. At this rate, our laundry might be dry next week!
The weather was nicer on Tuesday. There was a weekly market in town this morning, so we walked up the 205 steps to the center of Ravello. Before going to the market, we stopped off at the Duomo (cathedral), founded in 1087. The mosaics that decorate the ambos were quite beautiful. The most unusual aspect of the cathedral has to be the relic of the blood of Saint Pantaleone. It is purported that each year on July 27th, the day of the Patron's feast, the blood miraculously liquefies and becomes clear.
The market was not at all what we expected - we were anticipating fresh fruits and vegetables, breads and baked goods and other general food stuffs. Instead, it was predominantly clothes, shoes and linens. Quite a disappointment, especially after the uphill hike! So, we came back to the villa and went for a drive along the coast. Unfortunately, as seems to be the pattern here, the sky was becoming very overcast so the views weren't all that nice.
We returned once again to the villa and spent the rest of the afternoon playing cards and making homemade vegetable soup. The temperatures here are a bit on the cool side (particularly when the sun isn't shining) and soup really hits the spot! We are out of books with no chance of finding English books in this part of the world to replenish our stock. When the weather isn't nice, it can actually get pretty boring.
November 9, 2005
Finally today we had a full day of sunshine. Not that we did anything more exciting than hike up the hill to the one and only internet computer in Ravello! We needed Internet access to make a reservation for tomorrow night in Rome as I fly out to New York on Friday morning. Markus is returning to the villa for the week that I am away. Since we don't have much exciting for the journal today we thought we would record instead a few of our observations of the Amalfi Coast.
Terraces - Thousands of terraces line the sides of the mountains along the coast line. These have been created through hard labor over several centuries. The terraces are planted with citrus trees, grapes, olives and many other varieties of vegetables and fruits.
Roads - The roadways are never very wide and frequently only one lane wide - they are also very steep as they climb up and down the mountains, most of the time right on the edge - with the mountain side on one side and the sheer drop-off on the other. Fortunately, unlike some other places we have driven (like St. Lucia - J&N, I'm sure you remember that!), there are very sturdy guard rails and barriers. This is really important when you are unlucky enough to meet one of the many buses that run between Ravello/Scala (a neighboring village) and Amalfi. The road is so narrow that the buses honk their horns in warning as they approach the curves.
Some of the smaller roads are designed only to allow access for residents and the road will just end without warning other than a cat sitting on a scooter, which we think means "No Motor Traffic Beyond this Point" in Italian. Then (as in the picture at the right), you find yourself in the situation where you have to reverse out!
Parking - Parking is on the side of the road as close to the "wall" as possible, meaning that you have to fold in your side-view mirrors before parking. The smaller the car, the better - and if it has a few dents, scratches and scuffs, all the better!
Bars - What the Italians call bars, we call cafes. They are most popular in the morning when the Italians stop in for a coffee (espresso, of course) and a pastry. And, one never drinks cappuccino after midmorning (about 10:30). We always order "Cafe Americano", which is espresso with an extra shot of hot water, making it only slightly weaker. A cup of coffee costs about a single Euro if you stand at the "bar" and drink it. This is the Italian way. If you sit at a table with service, then copertino (service charge) is added - typically Euro 2 per person, so the price of that coffee just tripled!
Siesta - This is truly a foreign concept to Americans! But one that is widely accepted throughout the south of Europe (we encountered it in Portugal, Spain and here in Italy). Just about all business ceases for several hours in the afternoon (even in the winter time), so you have to plan your excursions to the market accordingly.
To the right, I have included a picture of the kitty that comes around the villa. I have named her Maria - she typically visits in the morning when I am sitting on the terrace with my coffee (Americano). She meows to beg for food, but the rental agency requested that we not feed the cats as they don't want to encourage them. So, I just talk to her for a few minutes and then she wanders off in search of another sucker!
We went for a walk this evening, my last in Ravello. We set off down the road and around the end of the cliff - we thought we would come out on the other side of Ravello, which we did, but we were about 200 feet below the town center. It was dusk by this point and the little light that remained was fading quickly, so we decided that the safest route was to turn around and retrace our steps back to the villa.
November 10, 2005
We drove to the airport in Rome today. It took about 4 hours, then we couldn't find the hotel, which added another hour of driving time. We passed Mount Vesuvius along the way, and today the view was much better. Other than that, a very unexciting day!