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Campania & Amalfi Coast Amalfi Coast (Ravello, Amalfi, Capri) 2019

Georgia & Zig

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Continued from - Part 1 - Naples (2019)

Thursday, September 5th

Up early for the train to Salerno. We had reserved seats but there were people in our seats. An old man had grabbed Georgia’s carry-on and insisted on carrying it to her seat and arguing with the people who were there. He wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. All the change we had was about 1 and ½ euros. He was indignant. I finally had to tell him “Basta!” (enough) , and send him away. He must have been a first cousin to the people on the streets who insist on “washing” your windows for change.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We walked from the train station to the marina and luckily asked people about the ferry before we headed off for the large ship we saw “way over there.” The ferry was small, no autos, just walk-on passengers.

On board I got a beer and relaxed nicely. The breeze off the water was perfect and the coastline is everything it should be. It’s more built up than I remember the Cinque Terre being. Hope it hasn’t gotten too built up since 2006, but that’s 13 years ago!

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Amalfi was a huge disappointment for me. Way too many tourists for the infrastructure. Miserable wait in overheated, irritated crowds to catch buses to Ravello. It was purgatorial both for the tourists and the townspeople. They want the tourists and the tourists want the beauty and illusion of luxuriousness. The reality is painful. The crowds spoil both the beauty and the relaxed luxurious atmosphere the town wants to convey.

When the “Sita” bus arrived we clawed our way through the crowd and got on – even getting a seat. Every seat was taken and the aisles were packed for the harrowing ride up the goat paths they call roads around here. At the top is Ravello. We were supposed to take another bus which would deposit us “near” our AirBnb, Casa Limoni; but there was so much kerfuffle at the bus stop and so much coming and going, there was no chance we’d recognize the right bus. We had a map and Georgia had seen the BnB on Google street view and said we’d have no problem. So we took off walking down-hill, me pulling the suitcases, Georgia carrying her straw tote bag announcing every few feet that “We’re getting close”! Down and down we went back and forth on hairpin switch backs. After about 1 ½ kilometers of “we’re getting really close,” Georgia announced that we had arrived! A little porcelain sign attached to the guard rails of steep, concrete stairs announced “I limoni.” It disappeared down the hill at an alarming angle. I motioned that perhaps she would like to transport her own baggage? She didn’t want to, so down we went with her announcing that now we were really close. The house number was supposed to be 6. After about 100 steps we found a #5, but the landlord had told her there were only 52 steps, so I mutinied and sat down at someone’s stoop. I could hear a puppy whining at me through the door. I apologized but told him I wasn’t budging – no matter how much he might want me off his doorstep – or might want me to let him out.

Georgia, proving the validity of the gambler’s fallacy, said she was sure we were close and continued down the steps of hell, around the corner and out of sight. Thirty minutes later the lady at the top of the stairs—by the original sign—consumed by curiosity about the suspicious man sitting on the doorstep 100 steps down started sweeping her steps and grumbling soto voce with her neighbor. I ignored her.

She started sweeping farther down, closer and closer. She stopped, muttered something to her neighbor, then hollered, “di limoni?” I hollered back “Si, Prego.” She hollered “Limoni Gradoni o Limoni Casanova?” I hollered “Casanova!” She shook her head and pointed up and around the corner. About that time Georgia reappeared from the bowels of Hell and hollered something at me and started waving, then sat down. I was midway between two hollering women! One actually knew where we were and the other did not. I headed toward the one who did, dragging the two anchors we bring on these yearly excursions.

As I neared the upper hollerer my strength gave out and she, grinning, came and fetched one of the anchors as though it was a lunch pail. But then, her arms were bigger than mine.

I pointed at the little porcelain sign and she gave me to understand that there were two “Limoni,” one on via Gradoni where I had been taking up space, and one on via Casanova where our BnB was.

Somehow the idea of descending into Hades to fetch my beloved Persephone left me with palpitations. Luckily a man laden with groceries drove up. He also gave me to understand that I was on the wrong Via and the right one was the next one down the road. He offered to tell my wife when he passed her on the stairs. I wished him God speed! and started walking down the road. At the next “Via” (another flight of stairs!) I saw an Indian man looking at me expectantly. Evidently Georgia had called him to say we were on the steps and needed help with the luggage. He naturally wondered where my wife was. I did too, so leaving my bags with him, I went back up the road to find her.

She was winded and chastened but also adamant that that via should have been the right one – she’d seen it on Google maps!

The Indian told us that he worked for Gregorio and showed us the room. It was very nice and the view was stunning!

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There were ripe figs and lemons on the trees all around! Yum!

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The shower was larger than the one at Monacone, there was a nice little kitchen with lots of snacking foods like salami, parma ham, crackers, melba toast, juice, sparkling water, yoghurt and processed cheese. Milk and cereal too. We weren’t going to starve. We ate and ate… and tried to decipher Italian TV. Impossible. But it was fun to see an old episode of Monk dubbed in Italian. Then off to bed with visions of never ending stairs dancing in our heads.

Friday, September 6th

Our host showed us where to catch the little local bus right out where our Casanova stairs join the Republican Road. It was about a 12-seater and locals greeted each other warmly and nodded at us politely. 1 euro fare.

We visited the Ruffolo Villa first. Nice gardens and view but not being very well cared for. Lovely painting by Caravaggio’s pupil whom we admired in Naples. Black (or very dark) background with flesh tones dry brushed over.

Visited the Cathedral and then the Belvedere Garden where John Huston directed Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollabrigita in 1953’s “Beat the Devil.”

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We had a great lunch in the Duomo Piazza. Tuna sandwich and a mixed green salad with wine and gin & tonic made with Schweps lemonade.

Took lots of scenic shots in all directions and did much people watching. We drank beer and aperol at a bar in the evening in the piazza. Meandered back to the Bnb. There was a pretty pink sunset. Tomorrow up early before the buses arrive!

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Saturday, September 7th

Caught the local bus at 9:15 and got to the Villa Cimbrone about 9:30. It started to spit rain. Luckily I’d tied my raincoat around my waist. Unfortunately Georgia was adamant that it was not going to rain so she didn’t bring hers. “It’s too hot!”

So she got my raincoat. But what a glorious soaking I got! We couldn’t really take many pictures at first because we didn’t want the phone to get wet. But it was all amazing. By far the high point of our trip so far. Panoramic views and wonderful plantings, and we had that beauty entirely to ourselves. I could pretend that this was my little slice of heaven on earth – though this would be a very expensive slice to maintain!

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We stopped in the “Bar” under the “Terrace of Infinity” and sat out the worst of the rain with a couple of cappuccinos. Not too shabby. We had it to ourselves as well.

After the rain stopped we finished our tour. It is a large garden, with lots of nooks and hideaways to explore.

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In one section it looked like they were going to set up for an enormous wedding party.

I could have stayed there all day but as the sun came out so did the tourist buses and completely changed the character of the gardens as people jockeyed for photo-ops then hurried on to the next “selfie spot”.

We left to look for a place to have lunch. Found Villa Amore! Dow a long deadend “street.” We had huge salads with the absolute freshest greens and shared pasta with tomato sauce and local mozzarella. Georgia had wine and I had my new favorite drink, gin & tonic. They didn’t have the Schweps lemonade but they did have tonic plus the lemons from their own garden. Amazing. The balcony where we ate overlooked the bay. It couldn’t have been more picturesque.

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We left, asking for directions to the supermercado. Small but very cool and many locals. Bought beer, eggs, cheese, bread, olives, local wine and mustard. The owner wanted to be sure I knew that the eggs were from his own personal 45 chickens.

Walked back to the Bnb and made little hot dogs wrapped with prosciutto and cheese on the bread we bought, that’s why we needed the mustard, plus wine and beer, of course. There were fireworks at dusk from the church of Michael Archangel, just a kilometer along the same terrace we’re on.

Sunday, September 8th

The local bus driver is now used to seeing us each morning at 9:15 for our ride to the top of the mountain for 1 euro per trip. Went to the piazza to learn Mass times. Missed the 9 AM Mass. Next one is at 11, so we went over to the Panini bar and Taverna with outside tables. They’re use to seeing us there too. Good cappuccinos and people-watching. We saw a wedding party go in then come out in a little while, then huge banks of flowers go in, then florists coming back out. Asked the waitress if they were having the 11 AM Mass or were they having the wedding instead. She said the wedding. The Mass would be at 7:30 this evening. So I told her, in that case, to bring me a chocolate croissant. She smiled.

We sat and people-watched some more but didn’t see any sign of more wedding prep. So at 10:45 we went into the Cathedral and took a seat. The priest was doing some sort of wedding prep for a young couple, showing them where they would stand, and how they would travel to reverence St. Sebastian’s altar, and where to bow and all those things good Italian couples need to know. Still no sign of wedding guests.

A young Indian boy, about 5 or 6, broke away from his mother and ran up the steps to the altar. A blond, middle-aged woman with a kind face came and took him by the hand and led him back down the steps. I thought she was going to carry him back to his mother, who was now sitting down in the small congregation, but she led him around the formal ambo for the readings and back to the hallway leading to the sacristy.

In a few minutes we saw him again standing next to the priest in his little white alb. They processed in to the sounds of the beautiful and powerful organ. The kind woman was the lector and it was an indescribable joy to watch the boy sitting next to the priest in the Deacon’s seat, swinging his legs and looking around.

When the priest processed with the book of the gospels, the little boy stood next to him, swaying gently back and forth and looking very solemn. During the homily (which we couldn’t understand) he went back to his seat and swung his legs some more. After receiving the host we hung around to take pictures. A fairly small cathedral, but very ancient and with beautiful stone and mosaics.

Stone lions support the ambo of the gospels. They are lovely. The lector’s ambo is the one with famous mosaics of Jonah and the whale, one showing him being swallowed and one showing him being spit back out.

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Afterwards we shared a pork sandwich at Panini’s and told the beautiful waitress that they had the 11:00 Mass after all. She is not a small girl but she wears a pair of these large round Harry Potter-type glasses that make her face look small and her eyes look big.

Went looking for the property that my wife’s cousin, Diane Confalone,’s husband’s family once owned. Wow! A villa AND a palazza! Spectacular and on the oldest street in Ravello.

Stopped at the grocery store again and bought more bread, foccacia this time, and more wine and beer and dropped it off at the room, then headed to Torello to see where they were setting off fireworks. Decided that it would also be a convenient place to stay – fewer stairs and bus service to Ravello. Ate supper of foccacia, cheese, olives, salami, wine and beer. Yum. Went to bed pooped but awakened by another fireworks display. This one from Maiori and it was pretty spectacular. All of them are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary – celebrated all this month.

Monday, September 9th

Up early to visit Amalfi. I dropped an egg between the fridge and the counter. Lucky the fridge was small and easy to move. The bus ride down was more pleasant in a smaller bus and fewer people.

But Amalfi is just as touristy and frenetic as before. Maybe in the off season it would be O.K.

St. Andrew’s Cathedral is lovely and full of many relics. The museum was well worth seeing too. We saw a priest walk through in his vestments and head for one of the side chapels, the one that doesn’t have the cap of St. Andrew’s skull in a monstrance. We sat at the back just as Mass began. It seems like the people were all together. Perhaps it was a tour. Anyway they all sang together and the final hymn was sung in harmony. Loved it. People gathered outside the chapel to listen and the acoustics were as special as you would expect them to be.

We had a great lunch at a seafood restaurant in an alley-way to the left of the Cathedral which we found by smell as we were looking for the non-existent Mary Magdalene Church. (It’s actually in Atraini, not Amalfi.) We shared a salad and prawn, tuna steak and swordfish. Delicious olive oil marinade and local lemon to squeeze on it. Wine and gin and tonic, of course. Then finished with something called panna cotto covered with a magnificent dark caramel. It was similar to flan, but more creamy with sugar on the top caramelized with a torch. We then walked up behind the Cathedral and took some pictures.

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It was easy to catch the bus this time: no luggage and not many people heading to Ravello this time of day.

Tuesday, September 10th

Up early with a beautiful sunrise. Georgia wanted to stay at the room while I tried to walk to Minori. There is a path below us that goes pretty straight to Torello. The winding stairway down is pretty rugged but then the walk across was lovely with fruit and olive trees, and grape arbors. And there was always that amazing blue Mediterranean Sea as backdrop. The walk down from Torello to Minori was long but the steps were in good shape and it was down, which makes a big difference. It took about an hour. Minori is a small version of Amalfi with smaller everything, but the same frenetic tourists. The beach is made up of crushed rock instead of white sand. The Basilica was closed but I doubt if it had interesting stained glass. Except for that one church in Naples, the glass has been a bust. Had a café au lait and a pistachio cream-filled croissant. Delicious and full of calories.

I decided to walk to Atraini. Part of the walk would be on the main road and I thought there was a path that went above it. There wasn’t, but it did detour through the cemetery. A nice elderly man explained for about 15 minutes how to get there in Italian. I just nodded. He enjoyed having someone to talk to. Funny that he’s probably no more than 8 or 9 years older than me and I think he’s old, but not me.

Never made it to Atrani. Felt a blister coming on and just climbed back up to the room for a shower. Then we took the “Locale” bus up to Panini’s again for supper.

Wednesday, September 11th

Caught the Locale to the bus stop in Ravello, then the SITA bus for Amalfi, then the ferry for Capri. Beautiful out on the water and lovely little towns on the coast. No wonder this area is overrun with tourists during the “season”.

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Capri marina was like Amalfi on steroids, but we took the funicular to the top of the mountain and started rambling. The farther away from the piazza we got the calmer it became.

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Expensive everything! Jet-setter vibe but hard to believe that one of them would want to walk around in this mess of people. But some must. We visited a men’s clothing store featuring pink suits for 2000 euros and an art gallery selling 12,000 euro paintings. (They were really good though!)

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I’m finding that I’m getting grumpy. But I’m not the only one. I overheard a disgruntled Italian man tagging along behind his wife/girlfriend comment sarcastically to his equally out-of-sorts friend, “Put me the leash law where you want me to go!” And he yanked an imaginary collar around his neck. And since I had my phone taken, I can’t even retreat into my innocent pastime of taking pictures. Georgia is understandably worried about something happening to her phone, so is nervous whenever I touch it. Ugh. This trip is not a relaxing vacation for me.

The saving grace on Capri was seeing the gallery “Liquid Art” artwork, visiting a monastery/now museum exhibiting a painter I didn’t know named Diefenbach, and an ice cream /bar called “Caffe’ Morgano” which served us ice cream and iced coffee slushes and a delicious 16 euro gin and tonic with lemon.

Georgia enjoyed our lunch but I didn’t. A pushy, grossly overweight proprietor, pimping in the dank underground passage/street pulled her in. It was a miniscule restaurant with an Indian cook and waiter. Rubbery squid and calamari on spaghetti which even when perfect still tastes rubbery. But then I was grouchy anyway, so probably wouldn’t have enjoyed Delmonicos in San Francisco. Lots of standing around in crowds waiting for buses, funiculars, ferries, until finally back up in Ravello we saw Gregorio’s Indian help, Mijoris (or Mario). We asked if he would call the Taxi person Gregorio told us about for tomorrow morning. He suggested we should just go over to the taxi rank and talk to the drivers face to face. We did, and made arrangements easily for a taxi at 8 AM for 45 euros.

Thursday, September 11th

Travel day by taxi to Amalfi, ferry to Salerno, train to Naples, Easy-Jet to Palermo, Sicily, then rental car to the Casa Diocesana Baida (which we thought was at the Convent in Baida). Lord, what a day, and I know we had guardian angels doing double duty as we got horribly lost in the back streets of Palermo trying to avoid hitting or being hit by the other maniacs out on the road.

But to start at the beginning, our taxi driver was there right at 8 AM, though we got there at 7:30 and watched the street sweepers. No mechanized street sweeping in Ravello, but guys with weed wackers, brooms and leaf blowers. Less efficient for sure, but more humane in a way. Rather than having people without jobs. Technology is efficient, but people need full-time jobs, not a bunch of part-time jobs or “gig economies.” The girl I sat next to on the plane to Palermo had just lost her good job with the marketing department of Johnson & Johnson in NYC and was now trying to pay for her $2500 a month studio apartment with gigs – designing marketing strategies for little Mom & Pop businesses. Her parents live in North Carolina outside Asheville and her father says “You can always come home,” but she hates the idea of throwing in the towel after 8 years on her own and slinking home. I know how she feels.

Our taxi driver is living sort-of in a gig economy too, I guess, where he drives for his cousin who owns the company. But they have to make enough money during the 4 month tourist season to last 12 months. The bane of his existence is the tourists who rent cars and don’t know how to drive on the tiny little goat paths they call “roads” around here. More about that later.

The ferry ride to Salerno was probably the easiest. We sat inside out of the wet, unlike yesterday when sitting at the bow we kept getting splashed by salty spray coming over the rail from the ferry hitting the chop.

The train ride from Salerno to Naples was fun for meeting the slim girl sitting across from me. She was originally sitting in one of our seats. The boy she was now sitting beside was darker and very kind looking. She had a wonderful expression, like someone in love or who just found out she’s expecting or some other wonderful life-changing event. I figured she was newly engaged to the young man. She was wearing a medallion of the virgin Mary surrounded by diamond chips on the outside of her pale blue blouse. It was a very simple style. And she had on blue jeans. The whole ensemble was out of whack though. She looked more like a religious novice than a young woman engaged. I had to say something.

“Is that Santa Maria?” I asked tapping my chest and motioning to her medallion. She had a beatific smile. “Si, si”, she said. She took out her phone and started tapping in some things, then showed me a web-site for a society dedicated to the Holy Virgin. “She IS becoming a nun”, I thought. She leafed through several photos of groups of people and found one, pointing at the central figure, a priest. She said “Father ________.” I asked where she was going. She thought I was asking where she was from and said “Catania.” I asked what she was going to do there and she looked confused. The nice young man, who spoke English well, saw the confusion and translated. She said, no, she was going to Rome to study to be a hotel chef.

Georgia asked if they were traveling together. The young man smiled and said “No, only for another 20 minutes.” I thought he looked wistful. They really did make a lovely couple - both radiating kindness and joy. But he was getting off in Naples too and she was traveling on to Rome.

Georgia and I started planning what we would do at the airport and the couple started talking with each other. They looked very comfortable, though we couldn’t understand what they were talking about. At some point he said something to her he probably shouldn’t have and I saw her cross her arms and purse her lips. “Whoa bud,” I thought. “Whatever you said you’d better find a way to smooth it back out.” Eventually she relaxed again but I hurt for him. She really was lovely and gentle, not unlike the medallion she wore and I wanted to tell him not to get off at Naples, but to continue on with her and try to persuade her to continue on with him until death do us part. But he didn’t. I will wonder, I guess, for the rest of my life what if anything happened between them. I think that will be the joy of heaven – getting to hear “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to say.

To be continued - Part 3 - Sicily 2019
 
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