Travelling Hopefully

12 May

The alarm went off at a time far too early in the morning, namely 4.45am. My flight to Naples was scheduled for 8am, so I'd driven down the night before and stayed in a hotel near Gatwick Airport. The bed had been comfortable enough, but I never sleep well when I know I have to be up early. Matters were not improved when the kettle was found to be nonfunctional, so I couldn't even have a cup of what is laughingly referred to as 'instant coffee.' (May I put on record that anything referred to as 'instant' is usually not worth having?)

The taxi driver seemed to think that talking about the plumage in crows (seems he's noticed that they're getting more grey feathers of late) would keep me amused for the short trip to the airport. Check in was the most DIY I'd come across. I'm used to sticking my passport into a computer terminal and obtaining my boarding pass. But this is the first time that my luggage tag was also printed, and I had to work out how it's meant to be slipped around the handles of one's luggage.

I dropped off the bag, went through security, and had a large coffee before the flight. The flight was uneventful and we landed at a warm and sunny Naples just before noon. Exodus personnel were waiting for us, as was a bus. However, several of us nearly climbed on to the wrong bus. We happily had our bags stowed away and it was only when we realised that everyone around us was speaking in Dutch that we realised we were on the wrong bus! So a quick bag retrieval was in order, and we quickly found the right one.

Our hotel is just over an hour's drive along the coast from Naples. We had lunch upon arrival. I met my roommate, Margaret, who is a retired teacher and regular churchgoer (sings in the choir). We took a wander into the small town. There are a number of eclectic shops, cafes, and a small square. I had a lovely ice cream as we walked back to the hotel.

We have a nice, large balcony, and we sat outside sipping lemon tea whilst watching town life. There are a number of dogs wandering around loose, and three were having fun in the area near our hotel. Dinner was interesting. More and more bits of antipasta kept arriving. Just when you thought you were safe tucking into the mozzarella a tray of cured meats arrived. This was in addition to various salads and fish. Fortunately the second course was straightforward pasta, finished off with fresh fruit.

There are eleven of us on the trip, and the guide (a local, Italian man called Eduardo) has told us that this will be a relaxed holiday!

13 May

Got up at 7.15am and was ready for breakfast at 7.30am. A good selection was on offer. Fresh fruit, freshly squeezed orange juice, cereal, toast, and coffee on tap, although the coffee had a strange flavour. I found it best to let it cool then simply gulp down the caffeine.

We climbed into our minibus at 9am and followed the twisty road down to the coast. Unfortunately clouds had come in overnight, so I grumbled at the grey weather. We got out at the town of Amalfi. Eduardo took us past the harbour and into the town. Whilst we were standing in the town square a procession of young children dressed in white came past. Today was to be their first Communion, and they were followed up the cathedral steps by family, friends, and tourists.

After a quick stroll around the town our guide released us to follow our own interests. After investigating a few shops I made my way into the cathedral. There were plenty of cameras in action, so I felt able to take photos of the proceedings. The smell of incense was lovely in the air and the choir sang beautifully, particularly one young female soloist. Incense swirled in the light from the stained glass windows and the servers seemed to enjoy it.

Afterwards I went on to visit the cloisters and the crypt. The altar in the crypt was built to house what is said to be the head of St Andrew.

We met up near the harbour and were taken back up into the mountains to Ravello. There we had a light lunch on a terrace overlooking the coast. The sun threatened to break through as we went into the town. Eduardo borrowed a key to let us look at the gardens of a private villa. We also visited the gardens of Villa Cimbrone, with more wonderful views over the coast. I even used my macro lens when I found a set of mushrooms near the villa entrance. My hat served as a makeshift rest in the absence of a tripod.

Afterwards I wandered around the square, then back out to the coast. Although the sun had come out the views were still misty. My fourth lens had his turn--the telephoto lens came out to zoom in on the villages below.

Dinner back at the hotel was two courses of pasta and then a pork chop with mushrooms sauteed in garlic butter. The local wine is served in carafes on the table. An honesty system is in operation. One glass of wine is 2 euros. If you have more than one glass it is 5 euros for as many as you want to drink. I stuck to just one glass tonight because I can otherwise see the temptation of drinking without limit.

We're all rather tired tonight. Sightseeing is so exhausting!

14 May

We awoke to the distinctly unwelcome sound of rain. I tried to cheer us up with the fact that the weather on a coast can be very different from that in the mountains. But it felt like packing for a day in England, taking both warm clothing and jackets.

We drove down the coast to Herculaneum. And, as I'd hoped, the sun began to emerge. We started our tour of the site in the company of an excellent guide. He showed us how you can see the different layers of mud and volcanic ash in the walls which seem to surround the site. Seems to surround, because the town was buried by mud when Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. This preserved much of the town. Some buildings still have their original roofs, many their tiles and bits of fresco. Other bits were chopped out and taken away for various museums.

The guide explained the layout of the houses and the shops. As the morning went on the place filled with other parties, including children, and the guide usually managed to get us away from the crowds. At noon we headed back to our minibus.

The minibus climbed away from the coast and up Vesuvius. We stopped for lunch at what had once been a station for a cable car, now long gone. A pack of dogs slept on the road nearby, and one black labrador puppy sniffed hopefully as we ate our packed lunches. He managed to steal the bag from one of our company, and it had to be wrestled back again!

We parked and then walked up the rather steep path to the crater. There another guide explained some of the history of the volcano. Some steam was issuing gently from a few fissures. It was rather windy and cold at the top, and I was glad to be wearing a coat. The sun was nearly played out for the day, and as we started back down we felt rain on the wind.

When we returned to our hotel we saw signs that it had been a rainy day in the mountains. We had a couple of hours free, and then our group was invited to join the hotel owners in the kitchens. One brother is front of house at the hotel, and the other, with his wife, works in the kitchen. We watched them make fresh pasta, and boil up clams and mussels. The main course was sea bream, just steamed with some tomatoes and chilies, and the pudding was tiramasu, also made fresh.

I again kept to my single glass of wine. I was one of the first to leave the table at 9.30pm. I'm still behind on working on photos!

15 May

Again, it was grey in the mountains. Eduardo had asked us about switching around the itinerary in view of the weather. So we agreed that today we would go into Naples.

The skies cleared over the city as we drove down to the coast. We left the minibus at the port, and briefly admired the huge cruise ships nearby. A quick stop for coffee and toilets, and we were off.

One of my fellow travellers later referred to the day as 'relentless sightseeing.' Eduardo seemed determined to pack in as much as possible. So we hurried along the road, stopped for a moment to look at something, then were hurried along again. And, well, I suppose we did see a lot. We walked along the coast road, which was traffic free due to the America's Cup having been staged in the waters nearby just recently. A number of young men played football in the street.

We were taken next into the Spanish Quarter. Very much a living part of the city, and one which I think few of us would have visited on our own. The close buildings and small shops reminded me of other old cities I've visited in places like Morocco and Israel. At one fishmongers the proprietor lifted out one of his living creatures and waved it in our faces, as well as at a curious dog. Cars somehow made their way through the narrow streets, but we did notice that all the vehicles had numerous scrapes across the paintwork.

We popped into a couple of churches (again no more than a few minutes in each) before stopping to eat our packed lunches. Then we were off again. We took the guided tour of Napoli Solterranea, an underground system of Greek and Roman water cisterns and aqueducts. At one point we all had to take candles and squeeze through the very narrow crevasses (built to permit water, not humans, to pass through). I began to sing the 'Indiana Jones' tune--it felt like that sort of adventure!

The ultimate goal was the Museo Archeologico to see the various bits removed from Herculaneum and Pompeii. But when we got there we discovered that it was shut--as it is every Tuesday. Eduardo took us to a nearby cafe where we were permitted about ten minutes to down beers and coffee before being herded onto the minibus.

Our last stop was at the top of the hill at Capodimonte. The old building has been turned into an art museum. Although I normally appreciate art, there was too much of the same thing for my taste. Room after room of paintings of Madonna and Child. And none of us seemed able to find the Caravaggio which is supposedly the highlight of the collection.

That evening was 'pizza night' at the hotel's restaurant. After enjoying a number of slices we were invited into the kitchen to watch them being made. Then one of our party was tutored as he made one of his own. At the dinner table an number of us laughed until our sides ached, teasing Eduardo about his 'relentless sightseeing' and the museum being shut. As I said, never have I seen so little of so much. It was very late to bed!

16 May

This was our 'free day.' All eleven of us had agreed that we wanted to go to Pompeii, so Eduardo 'phoned a friend and there was a mixture of minibus and car to take us down the mountain. We were greeted in Pompeii by the same guide which we'd had in Herculaneum. This worked out well, as he could remind us of what we'd seen at the other site. Pompeii was a much larger town and therefore a rather different experience.

The sun came and went as we visited the public areas, which gave me some wonderful light on the ruins (with Vesuvius in the background). We started our tour at 10am, and soon many more coach loads of people were wandering through the ruins themselves. When you look at my photographs you'll realise that Photoshop works wonders at removing people wearing bright shirts!

I'd read about Pompeii when I was 10 years old, so it was great to finally wander through it. The guide interpreted what we were seeing (imagination is sometimes needed). What amazed me was how well preserved many of the buildings, and the frescoes, were. However, it seems digging it out then exposes everything and the frescoes and walls begin to crumble. Some bits are better preserved, like the paintings in the brothel (we joined a queue to look inside!).

After our two hours with the guide we had an hour to wander by ourselves. Then the group split. Four went to the Archaeological Museum in Naples, and the rest of us to Sorrento. I was in the second group. I needed some retail therapy after all the viewing of ancient sites and, as importantly, a beer!

Sorrento was a bit more commercial and busier than Amalfi. I wandered around the more modern area, then down the side street full of smaller shops. In one shop I bought a hand made plate which shows a dragon rising out of Vesuvius. I always like to challenge myself on bringing something fragile home safely. I had a sandwich lunch in a cafe and later on I bought a bottle of beer which I drank on a bench in a park. A couple of my fellow travellers found me and said I looked like a tramp--and then refused to give me any beer money.

In the late afternoon we were taken back to our hotel. We discovered that the other group had had quite an adventure in Naples. The road to the museum was shut, and their driver went through many a back street trying to find an alternative route. This explained why Eduardo, whilst driving the minibus for our Sorrento group, was shouting into his mobile 'phone whilst negotiating the twisting coastal roads.

17 May

Today we set out for a walk from our hotel. The route along the coast to Positano is called ‘The Walk of the Gods.’ The path is mostly level (a bit of up and down) hugging the coastline with wonderful views out along the Sorrento peninsula. We admired the views down the hillsides to the sea (perhaps not a walk for those who suffer from vertigo).

The weather was just right for me, long sleeves and trousers. For much of the walk I was at the tail end because I would insist on halting to take photographs. We saw vineyards clinging to the steep hills, wildflowers (I have a weakness for poppies), and villages coming and going through the gorges.

We ate our picnic lunch in a square near a small church. There must have been an Ascension Day service nearby, because I could smell incense. Eduardo gave us the options over lunch. We could either walk on and descend to Positano via over 1000 steps. Or we could take the bus down. I was one of those who opted for the bus. Walking down steps is not fun when you're carrying as much camera equipment as I strap to my back. Oh, how I suffer for my art!

In Positano we went to a beach side cafe for a drink. The wind was rather fresh so I had a coffee instead of a beer. Then we had time to wander through the town before catching a ferry back to Amalfi. I managed to get a good seat on the ferry to take photos of the coastline. At Amalfi Eduardo arranged for a minibus to collect us and take us back to the hotel.

18 May

Early start. We met at 8.15am to catch the public bus to Amalfi. In Amalfi we boarded the ferry which, after calling at Positano, took us to Capri. The sky was a brilliant blue, which promised a beautiful day for siteseeing and a dreadful one for photography (harsh mid day light).

Once we'd docked at Capri we took the the funicular railway from the port to Capri town. This part of the island feels like wall to wall exclusive shopping, with many of the most expensive brand names such as Versace and Prada. Eduardo took us down one of the streets where, predictably, there were no price tags on display. (If you have to ask the price you can't afford it!) We turned down one side street, and were startled by the sight of the local ambulance. It looked like a golf buggy, but I suppose you need a narrow vehicle to get down the narrow streets.

We visited the Giardini di Augusto, admiring the flowers and the views over the island. Then we took the (small) bus up to Anacapri. This was rather an adventure, as people were crowded into the vehicle and the bus lurched and swerved up the twisty roads. Well, I thought, if I fall at least there will be plenty of bodies to provide a cushion.

At Anacapri we took the chairlift up to the top of Monte Solaro. This was 15 minutes of silence, with just the sound of birds for company. Many of us agreed that it was one of the most relaxing experiences of the holiday. A cafe at the top sold expensive drinks (5 Euros for a small beer!) and offered great views. We ate our packed lunches there, choosing sun or shade depending on how frightened we were of dermatologists.

I went back down on the chairlift to explore Anacapri. I much preferred this part of the island. The shops were more of the low budget touristy type. I visited the Church of San Michele. The floor boasts a marvellous floor mosaic depicting the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, complete with unicorn. I found my wide angle lens could only just get it all in. A quick stroll back along the streets took me to the gardens of Villa San Michele, where I enjoyed the views before hurrying to rejoin the group.

We crammed into one of the small buses and rode it down to the port. We had enough time to get an ice cream before boarding our ferry back to the mainland. Again I managed to get a good seat to admire the evening light on Positano and Amalfi. Then back by public bus to Bomerano and our hotel.

Sadly, it was now time to pack for the return home. When we went to the restaurant for our last meal we discovered that the tables had been decorated with tea lights and rose petals. The wine flowed freely, and included a glass of Prosecco. Well, some of us managed to get more than one glass...

19 May

One last trip through the bendy roads to Naples. I had felt all right when I got up, but during the bus trip I began to feel distinctly green. I nursed a bottle of water whilst we waited in the airport for our flight. Of course, it was only after I was seated in the 'plane that my stomach finally decided to stage a revolt. Fortunately I was prepared, and the cabin stewart gave me something which sorted the stomach out nicely. Not much could be done, of course, for the two babies nearby who reacted badly to flying.

The drive home was uneventful and the plate I'd purchased in Sorrento survived the flight. The Amalfi Coast is to be highly recommended, but be careful of mixing wine and twisty roads!

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