Friday, March 30, 2012

Two Days in Palermo

03/28, Wednesday
Claudia gave us some more ideas for sightseeing today. Churches abound in Palermo so it is inevitable that we visit a few. Also, a Norman palace from the 12th century. It, like many other old buildings, is being restored, but we are able to walk about the chapel. It is very well preserved/restored and has impressive features, but the entry charge is over priced. Guess that is why it is gold everywhere. Another impressive area called four corners with ornate buildings and churches was on our way to the palace along with a huge white fountain with many, many statues all around it. Much larger than the famed Trevi fountain. Turning a corner we are confronted with an enormous cathedral, which we had not even been looking for. Seems like a gathering spot and lots of activity going on in the piazza. Great people watching ! Came across a pretty park/garden, but it was blocked off, so couldn't walk through it. The amount of construction, restoration and scaffolding is amazing. Some of it looks like it has been going on for years with very rusty, old parts. Would think they could employ lots of people, but doubt the money is accessible.

Parts of the old castle are now used for the regional parliament. There were bells ringing to call the members for a vote while we were wandering through the halls. Our guess is they had an emergency vote to resolve the garbage strike problem...more money for the garbage haulers...that is, for the gang that controls it.

Tomorrow we hope to attend L'Opera die Pupi, a puppet show. Susan and Robert Crawford saw a performance some years ago, and they highly recommend it. Today we found the theater and the performance time, 10:30. Also finally found the Post Office to mail off Nicky Mei's birthday card. Wonder if it will ever arrive. First they said they didn't have stamps and then put three huge ones on this tiny card with glue and then used paper clips to hold them !

Gin Rummy was our pastime of the day...we played two games, a split decision. And, at dinner, one game of Cribbage...I think I won, but I still owed Mom a massage from her previous 10-wins. Tonight I will pay off that debt before lights-out.

03/29, Thursday
We are sooo lucky...another sunny day. Spinetta, the cute dog, loves to be scratched and petted. We really like dogs! Claudia takes her out for a quick walk while we have breakfast.

And, we're off to see Gran Duello di Orlando e Rinaldo per Amore di Angelica, the great duel of Orlando and Rinaldo for the love of Angelica, at the puppet theater. We squeeze into the theater with a couple of grade school groups, sitting in the last row. There are 8 or 10 scenes with warriors, a horse, a dragon, lots of sword fights, and the duel in which Rinaldo gives Orlando the victory to save the country! Lots of laughing from the kids, and we get a half-price fee. It was very clever and much effort goes into the puppets and staging. Not sure why Palarmo is known for these shows. The puppets appear to be around three feet tall and take on a personality with all their adept movements.

Then we do a quick tour (until we are told we need to be on a guided one) of a massive theatre right on the main street. Some grand costumes on display from past performances.

We follow the route our hostess recommended near the water and in the Arab district. Streets very lively, lots of cars and even more garbage. Find the little local spot that Claudia told us about that is only open from 1 till 3 for lunch, Zia Pina. It has a serve yourself antipasta and then you pick out some fish. Really fun. We sit outside ( garbage free area) and meet an interesting couple from England. They have a get away home near Agrigento, and are here for the Easter break. We have a very interesting conversation and exchange E-mails. They live very near to York and the walking trail we hope to do some day, so we might just meet again.

Palermo is a mixed bag. A big city with some magnificent buildings, but most need lots of repairing. Lots of people hurrying about, but high, high unemployment, so it seems depressed. Plus their major garbage problem that seems to be a frequent occurrence. Still there is an excitement about the city and I'm glad we came. Lots of contrasts with old and new. Many upscale shops and then a few steps later they are selling mattresses on the street. The Arab and Muslim influence is very apparent in the architecture, clothing and food. Our hostess really made it special here. She speaks very little English, so we did lots of mime, smiling and laughing. Yesterday she had cassetas, cannolles and tea ready when we got home. She has a lovely place and a wonderful, carefree attitude that was great to be around.

Our ferry doesn't leave until 20:15, so we have time to relax back at the B&B until 17:30, then a 1/2-hour walk to the port. We're not allowed on the ship until 19:00. Boarding is easy and quick. Our assigned room is not what we window and four bunk beds. We request a change to a room with a window which is what we thought we had paid for. The Room Captain upgraded us, but that room had noisy air conditioning, and it was ultra cold. As I was trying to adjust it, a steward passed by, so we showed him. In the end, we are in a room on the top level with a big window and no noise and there's heat. A great upgrade! It has a private bathroom, too.

Leaving Erice, Heading to Palermo

03/27, Tuesday
The only thing about traveling as we do, without planning beyond 3 or 4 days, is that we have to take at least 1-1/2 hours each day to get our next step secured. Today took a little longer because of the ferry connection we're taking from Palermo to Napoli on Thursday.

The Internet is invaluable, as is Ippy, but there always seems to be a glitch or two...for some reason our Visa card was not accepted online by the ferry operator, but, when I verify our reservations, I have made 3 unconfirmed reservations (because I tried 3 times to get the transaction to complete), and each of the reservations is non-refundable!

Oh-oh!!! I tried to phone the office, but only got a recording in help! So, we'd better stop at the ferry station to sort this out as soon as we get to Palermo. That means we need to find out where the ferry station is located (found on Maps App, okay), take the time to walk there first (20 minutes), then walk to the B&B (Maps App, okay), another 20 minutes.

I know, it sounds like I'm complaining about the small stuff. You're right! How bad can it be to be traveling in Europe, enjoying a special time together with Mom, eating great food, and seeing sights we usually only see in glossy travel magazines.

Glad Dick finally put a positive spin on this trip! He does handle the bulk of computer time, so I'll give him some complaining opportunities. A favorable outcome of not having a strict schedule is using suggestions from people we meet. We had not planned on Erice and that was definitely a high point. Today the cable car opened for the season running from Erice down to Trapani, and since we didn't pay ahead for other transportation down we were able to enjoy a great and quick trip on the cable car. It was Dick's suggestion too! Also I think we enjoy the flexibility of staying longer in a place, such as Sorento, if we have more sights to see.

Stress was high in Palermo! It is a big city, and the garbage workers are evidently on strike. Anyway, there is lots of garbage sitting around on the streets, at least 2-3 days Italian strike? That's not the stress though. (We watched the first show of the first season of The Sopranos last night, having never seen it before. We think Tony Soprano would fit in here as a Garbage advisor for the mafia, who have their fingers in the Palermo mess.)

We tried to find, and finally did find (after several disputes and retracing our tracks for about 300 meters carrying our "small" bags) the ferry ticket office so we could book our trip to Naples. An hour later we found the station, and have our cabin confirmed, saving €20 versus the online booking.

Retracing more steps, we found the B&B off the main street. We walked up three flights, only to discover there is an elevator. Claudia, our host, is our age, and very energetic. She has a cute little dog, Spinetta, and lots of suggestions for dinner. Rest a bit on a tiny balcony and Claudia serves us some wonderful strawberries as we watch the sunset.

We search out one of her suggestions at 7:30 near the Teatro Massimo. It's a real bargain with more than enough good Sicilian food, wine and dolci, but there's a gelateria just a block away. Wow, what these people can do with eggplant, sardines and peppers is a real culinary delight. The Sicilian cuisine has a Muslim and Arab background. Really very different than the mainland of Italy.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Exploring Erice

03/26, Monday
From our balcony window this morning, nothing is visible except fog. By 11:00,MIT has pretty much burned off, but as we found throughout the day, fog/clouds roll in and out. It is part of the intrigue and beauty of this town. The town only has 200 residents. Most workers need to come uphill from Trapani each day.

Our first stop is the tower of the Duomo. 108 steps to the top seems pretty easy. Clouds pass by as we gaze to the plains and sea below, 721 meters plus 108 steps. There are only a few tourists and students milling about the streets. Our walking tour includes 8 or 9 churches and one castle ruins spread around the village.

We think this town is more dramatic than Ravello, Taormina, or Civita della Bagnoregio. Oh, Bagnoregio was pretty dramatic but on a much smaller scale. Erice is perched on a rock plateau way above the sea, probably the result of an earthquake millennia ago. Protective walls, buildings, streets, castle, and churches are well preserved due to the inaccessibility of the town. Also, there has been a lot of restorative work recently and ongoing. Walking the winding streets that are marble placed in square patterns you feel the remarkable medieval atmosphere. This is quite a town ! We are actually above the clouds at many look outs and the fog/mist just magically comes and goes.

They seem well organized here and have a booklet with two walks through the town, which we take. One follows the various churches in the ancient city ending at the Castle of Venus. Some different art in several churches, wax modeling, Misteri(four statuary groups representing Christ's final hours of life, made of wood and canvas and very touching), altar cards with ornate frames and a huge lapidary collection. Guess everyone has the desire to hand down memories for future generations.

Anything connected to Venus gets high regard, so the castle ruins were almost a sanctuary as well as a phenomenal fortress. What a view !

The second walk took us through basically silent streets, sights of the steep cliffs and "Cyclopic walls", which are the very ancient and best preserved walls. Had a view of these from our balcony. They were a real feat of engineering with massive stone blocks at the base. Just how was that done ?

Walking back to Il Carmine B&B, we decide to explore an area on the town map called the Spanish Quarter. One false start, and then Sandy spies a small sign pointing "this way", actually blocked off to pedestrians. It looks safe enough to us, and it is paved with old stones following along a stretch of the original town wall. It's another adventure! The Spanish Quarter, which was to hold a garrison of Spanish soldiers in the 17th century was never finished. It now looks like someone tried to turn it into a restaurant or hotel and that too was never finished. The panoramic view is fantastic and again the fog comes and goes. Very serene.

We learn from our little booklet "A Friendly walk around Erice" that an annual seminar on subnuclear physics meets here and has give the city the title City of Science for Peace. It sure seems to fit. This place seems to have a magical aura.

Passing one of the ubiquitous tourist shops we spot little magnets of Obama, Brigett Bardo and Paul Newman. That pulls you out of medieval times, but even these shops are rather tastefully done and don't seem abundant. Wouldn't want to be here in the summer though. Luckily the residents seem to have their places secluded and quite inaccessible to the public.

Leaving Agrigento, Headed for Erice

03/25, Sunday
Fortunately, our hosts alerted us to the time change last night. We lost an hour. Had we not known this, we would miss our 3:00pm bus to Erice.

Our hosts were dressed in scout uniforms since they are leaders and taking their den on a hike. They looked cute and again so helpful. They had written a note to us and gave us some yummy cookies. Really like the Italian people and their zest for life.

Given several hours more to visit in Agrigento, we took a bus to the Archeological Museum. Like other archeology museums, there were exhibits of items found around the area, in particular, at the temples...pottery fragments, small icons, statues, and one very large (17 meters tall) telemon, one of the 38 statues outside each temple, "holding up" the roof.

The symbol of Sicily, seen most everywhere, is the Triskeles, a woman's head with snakes and wings, and 3-legs around the head, kind of a pinwheel. It is said to represent the 3 seasons (spring, summer, winter) or possibly the triangular shape of Sicily. It dates back to the 4th century BC when it was used as a painted design on the bottom of pottery bowls used for serving wine.

We use an odd hour before our Erice bus to take a tour of a city prison (converted from a former monastery), first opened to the public today. There is a crowd of locals who are fascinated by the prison aspects. It is in the early stage of excavation and reconstruction to become a tourist site. As American travelers, most local folks take great interest in us. Stopped for some water and this man said we needed to hurry since the prison was about to close. He seemed so nice that we stopped to get a sandwich on our way back to our B&B. He made a great sandwich that we took back to eat on our balcony. He carried on a very animated conversation the whole time while making the sandwich, which was fun. Also stuck in a couple pieces of candy.

The bus ride to Erice is over 3-1/2 hours passing along the coast at times, through country hills at other times. The small towns reflect the poor economy...empty buildings, unfinished construction, needed repairs, generally bad upkeep. Sandy feels the Mafia could clean up their image by sponsoring roadside pick-up.

As we get further north, things begin to look more prosperous. Trapani is a pretty big place. We're glad the hotel sent a driver (actually, both the cable car is not operating until next month and the bus is not running on Sunday after 6:00pm) because the ride up to Erice takes a half hour (750 meters from sea level, about 2500 feet). It seems like quite an adventure to be in this town.

Our B&B is an old convent, the Convent of the Sisters of Carmelite Friars. The monks lived pretty well here. Wide hallways, big rooms, balconies, and thick walls. Okay, it's been updated and renovated a couple of years ago! a super setting.

The town is virtually empty, but the restaurant had several couples at dinner. Mom had couscous pesce, and I had ravioli with eggplant and swordfish. Two dolci...a cannoli stuffed with a sweet paste, and a chocolate ice-cream with pistachios and raspberry sauce. Another wow dinner.

Leaving for dinner at 8:00, it was clear with a sliver of moon visible and two brilliant stars. Returning after dinner at 10:00, it was foggy and damp, like you picture London on a dank and dark night. Our convent hallway echoes as we walk and open our door...just as a convent should sound.

Next Stop, Agrigento

03/23, Friday
It's a day for bus travel to the northwest coast. We had originally planned to stop in Siracusa for a day, but inadvertently I made reservations at a B&B in the plateau town of Agrigento, much further north. So, we won't get to see the Greek town of Syracuse this trip.

The bus ride is several hours, and gives us a view of the center of Sicily. It is quite hilly, lots of orchards blooming with what appear to be cherry blossoms? Maybe apples? There is major new highway construction. Unemployment in Sicily is high, so infrastructure work is good for the economy.

Called our B&B Kerkent, and after several moments of "lost in translation", the woman said, we hoped, she would pick us up. Thank goodness, since it is straight up hill and doubtful we would have found it, even with the IPad map. She is delightful and studying English. We have a very nice room with a large balcony. The sea is in the distance as well as the Greek temples, which are lit at night. Almost a surreal view.

Walk down a wide set of stairs to the main street of the old town. Settle on a cute little restaurant, named Manhattan, for a very authentic Sicilian dinner.

03/24, Saturday
A leisurely breakfast with two Aussies, the woman works for Cambridge Academy (I think this is an online school that prepares students for international education), the man works for the Federal court system as a data base manager.

We have settled on our next destination (Erice, a town near Trapani), and need to make sure we can get there by bus on Sunday. Our hosts help, but Ippy comes to our aid again. It is funny how technology, mainly information on the Internet, has really surpassed human capacity to communicate. People put their B&B out on trip advisor, BB Planet or, many with help, but then speak little English to answer questions or more or less "close the deal". Of course it would help if we spoke some of their language too !

Then we take a local bus to The Valley of the Temples, only a few miles away. Agrigento (aka, depending on what culture was currently in charge, Acragas, Agrigentum, Kerkent, Girgenti) is famous for the ruins of several temples dating to the 6th century BC.

They remain today in relatively good condition even though constructed from sandstone. They were built by the Carthigians, and resemble the same kind of structures in Greece. One, here, is supposed to be the best example, better than any in Athens. Not crowded, sunny day and we just ambled down among the temples like they did 2500 years ago, but we were listening to an audio.

The magnitude and preserved state of the Temple of Concordia just blows you away. This is a much more manageable area than the vastness of Pompaii. We wonder if the water was closer long ago. Keep hoping these audios are going to answer all our questions.

Of course, they were originally for worship of Greek gods, and for animal sacrifice. During the rise of Christianity, the Romans converted them to churches. The audio listed 11 different cultures (Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Saracens, Normans, Italians) they have survived to present. The sophisticated design, impressive size, and unbelievable manual effort testify to the knowledge of people over 2500 years ago.

Sulphur mining had been the region's main economic activity for centuries until the 1970s. It also served as an agricultural center for the surrounding region. Nowadays, Agrigento is one of the poorest towns in Italy (close to 20% unemployment), has a long-standing problem with organized crime, particularly the Mafia, and suffers from smuggling of illegal drugs. (A lot of guys look like members of the brotherhood to me.)

We had a tipico Siciliano dinner of pasta and fish, red wine, and pannacotta with ciocolloto. At 8:30 we walked a few blocks to the Piazza Purgatorio to hear a choral concert performed by l'Associazione Filarmonica Santa Cecilia, a cappella and with piano. The music was very good food for the soul. The performance was in a beautiful old church.

We took all kinds of winding side streets home and avoided about 100 steps up to our B&B. Very quiet area once you are off the main street and we felt pretty confident we weren't lost, but it was nice to come to our little piazza. Another great day.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Taormina and Mount Etna

Thursday March 22nd
Davide, our host at the Agon B&B, served breakfast. We had a great conversation with him and the other guest, Suzanah from Germany. He gave us several tips on what to see and do.

Took a liitle bus up to the main town of Taormina, which is 200 meters above sea level. Met a nice couple from Canada on the bus and they gave us a couple more ideas.

Beautiful sunny day and we walk our way through some of the town to the ancient Greek theatre, which dates to the Hellenistic period, around 3rd century BC. It was transformed into an amphitheater by the Romans when gladiators took center stage after patrons grew tired of tragedies. At some point, in the Medieval age, part of it was used as a palatial residence. Lots of "recycling" of this property took place over 27 centuries.

The most spectacular part are the breathtaking views of the bays and particularly Mt. Etna. It has a looming presence everywhere in the area, from the amphitheater, from the town, from the seaside. There is still snow near the peak even though the eruption last Sunday melted some of it. Davide showed us his photos of the eruption in stages from start to finish. Locals do not live in fear of its eruptions; they, in fact, look forward to them. David seemed quite informed, since he is a guide,and said Mt Vesuvius is a dangerous volcano, but Mt Etna is a very different kind and people actually hope to collect lava. He showed us a piece he obtained last year.The country is trying to encourage people to move away from Mt Vesuvius and offering a bonus,but not enough for people to abandon their land.

Taoromina was chosen centuries ago as a favorable spot for it's climate and views. It has been popular with many celebrities (Sophia Loren, Burt Lancaster, Richard Burton, Natalie Wood, Tony Perkins, Liz Taylor...mostly oldies) and is the site of an annual film festival. It is a very nice town.

We just picked up sandwiches for lunch that a woman made with their great salami, several cheeses and tomatoes and sat in this beautiful, unique park facing Mt Etna. What a magnificent, peaceful place. Mom squeaked out a cribbage victory while we ate and enjoyed the view.

The park has numerous small unusual buildings, empty now, used for guests of the original owner, who was pretty eccentric. Lots of plantings only a few in bloom. The park honors WWI & II heroes...each olive tree is dedicated to two warriors. There is a two-man-propelled torpedo...they actually rode on and steered the device to the target, then dropped the warhead beneath the ship, and hoped to get away before it exploded. Now that is something we will pass on.

Isola Bella, an small volcanic island, is a long walk down steps and roadway to the sea, then across a stoney beach to a narrow path of stepping stones. Davide was the caretaker here some years ago. The structures have the same quirky design as the public garden in town. In fact, the same woman was responsible for both.

It has been built with stone and lava into a kind of labyrinth of passages and rooms at one time used for entertaining. It is in the process of being renovated so we were not able to walk to the top where there is a chapel.

It's a fair walking distance back to the B&B. We are lucky to catch a bus to the front door. Pretty tired so we just finished our lunch and called it dinner.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Salerno to Sicily Train and Ferry

03/21, Wednesday
We met two young men at breakfast, both professors at Salerno University, one from Basque Spain, the other from Torrento, Italy. They speak good English. Their assignments here are long-term, so they commute home occasionally.

We're in transit now on TrenItalia, passing through flat farm country. We departed promptly at 10:33, non-stop to the toe of Italy, a train-ferry stop...Villa San Giovanni (VSG), then the cars are ferried across the Strait of Messina to Sicily. Our car then heads to Taormina, a town on the south coast, arriving at 16:44.

Well, the train has made two stops so far...I was wrong about non-stop. It is a nice journey, the train electric, quiet, and smooth. Now, we are by the sea, earlier in some mountains...literally "in" several long tunnels. There are some pretty good-sized towns passing by, but the train is going too fast to see much. Nice sunny day. Some great beach areas, but not being used today.

We just arrived at VSG, 14:15. This is where our train car is put on the ferry. Lots of switching at both ends delivers us to Messina Centrale station, Sicily, at 17:55. On to Taormina, arriving exactly on time. Only 30 meter walk to our B&B, just across from the train station/bus stop. It looks out to Ionic Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean, between Greece and Italy. Italy claims it as it's sea using the term "mare nostrum".

Davide, our host, is also a hiking guide in the area. They have operated the B&B for six years, and had hoped to build their apartment above. But, the owner refuses to sell the space to them. Consequently, they live offsite.

We ate dinner at Le Desir Piquant da Roberto (sounds French, but they serve Sicilian meals). I met Roberto and his papa, Lilo, our server Giovanni, and a friend Claudio. We were their only guests for the evening.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Salerno, here we come!

03/19, Monday
Watching BBC this morning, we are stunned to hear and see that Mt Etna (on the island of Sicily) is erupting. The video is enthralling, yet disturbing...are we still able to travel there? It turns out the eruption is pretty common...4 times last year, March 2012 the most recent...our host says, "Don't worry, you can go there, no problem".

Okay, we're on our way to Salerno for a couple of days before we catch a train to Taormina, Sicily, not very far from Mt Etna. Maybe things will have settled down by then.

Salerno is a pretty big town, 120,000 people. The Centro Storico (central city) is near the sea front where there is a strolling path. Our B&B faces the main walking street. It has a small balcony with Italian window-door. Our host is Ludovico. He also owns a jewelry business across the street.

The bathroom is spectacular with a big tub for two which we make good use of. Our legs are getting pretty weary from stairs and strolls. Lemoncello helped relax our muscles along with the hot water.

We ate dinner at a nearby restaurant,Il Vicollo Della Neve, serving typical Salerno family meals. We shared three great things, a baked pasta with beans, a pizza with the best mozzarella cheese I've ever tasted and an artichoke stuffed with egg and salami and then broiled. Finished with more babba for dessert.

03/20, Tuesday
Our breakfast-mates are from Savannah, GA. About our same age. They have been in southern France for a month in Arles. They wanted to see Pompeii and then on to Rome.

This morning we are visiting the Gardenia della Minerva, a short uphill walk. It is still too early for the flowers and trees to have buds, but we are fascinated by the design and the original purpose of the garden. It makes use of water flowing from inside the hill to fill basins and fountains, then into "canals" that distribute water to the plants.

It was designed by Dr Matteo Silvatico in the 12th century, not only for beauty, but for ingredients for medicine, using parts of the plants. The doctor introduced some of the first logic to curing illness at that time by relating health to a balance of the four humors.

Everything is based on "fours": 4 human humors (blood, black bile, yellow bile, and are familiar with these, I'm sure); 4 natural elements (air, earth, fire, water); 4 primary qualities (hot, cold, moist, dry); 4 grades (something to do with physiological power, i.e., degree of illness up to death); and, 4 terraces, each with a pergola, stepped up the steep slope to display the plants.

Ludovico recommended a small trattoria hosteria, Il Brigante, owned by his friend Alessandro. (Il Brigante, The Robber or Bandit, is an old Italian film.) The tastes were extraordinary. We both enjoyed a soup with beans and spinach and then a pasta dish. The wife does the cooking upstairs and it comes down in a dumb waiter to the tiny restaurant. Very cute. Again, so much fun watching the locals in their animated conversations.

If there's a castle nearby, we make the effort to see it. The one in Salerno is in ruins, high above the city, reachable only by bus (#19) or car. An hour walk around the ruins and the museum satisfies our curiosity. It has a great view of the city far below and the Salerno Bay. It is over a 1000 feet above sea level. During recent archaeological digs a remarkable quantity of medieval ceramics and coins were recovered. With three to six feet walls everywhere, it will be around for many more centuries. (I wouldn't make this a primary or secondary stop if you ever get to Salerno...Dick.)

Enjoyed another fantastic pizza around 8pm, which is early for Italians to dine, so we have no problem getting seated. We've pretty well walked around the old town now and it certainly isn't touristy. A few B&B's, but no large hotels. Our place is very, very nice and we have definitely enjoyed our stay in Salerno.

Ravello, beyond and above Amalfi

We're still trying to figure out why the camera-iPad is not uploading, so no pictures!

03/17, Saturday, St Patrick's Day
Not many Irish here! Probably we'll have to go without corned beef and cabbage, and beer is more expensive than, maybe we'll celebrate with pasta and wine.

An young Italian doctor at breakfast shared his thoughts about Italian youth (they eat too much and don't exercise) and the new government under Monti (he is raising taxes and limiting social services hoping to reduce the debt crisis).

This is our third bus ride along the coast with an extension of 5km into the hills to the towm of Ravello above Amalfi. This small town hosts an annual theater season in the summer including jazz, symphony, dance, and acting.

It's another beautiful day, temps in the 60s, a little fog over the sea. We saved some sandwiches from last night's "dinner" to lunch on when we first arrive, then called our host, Guiseppe (Ju-SEP-ee), to pick us up after trying to find our way walking (the MAPS app had good directions, but I couldnt find the alley names. The next day we used the directions backwards, and they worked.)

We have great sea and mountain views with a terrace for breakfast and to watch the sun set. After enjoying the view, we venture into town via old streets and piazzas. There are very few people on the streets. The Villa Rufolo is about to close, so we will visit on Sunday.

03/18, Sunday
Another beautiful clear morning. Warm croissants delivered to our room.

Enjoyed the terrace again before walking to Minori, a town about 1000 feet below Ravello. Quite a descent (at least 700 steps down) and the sea always in view.

Sunday seems to be family day (Sergio told us that) and it was fun watching the people enjoying the coastline in Minori. Saw several swimmers and quite a few sun worshipers. Minor is a busy Place, more of a working class town, less touristy than Amalfi. It has plenty of shops and restaurants and hotels and churches, but more comfortable somehow. It would make a good place to stay, too.

Had a great lunch outside in the shadow of the town basilica. A bus ride from Minori to Amalfi, and another up to Ravello (no, we didn't walk up 700 steps). Coordinating bus arrivals and departures is our daily homework and we still have moments of confusion. Traveling keeps you on your toes and hopefully good brain exercising. Read a saying last night, which seems to fit us. "Why tip toe through life only to arrive safely at death." We aren't tip toeing !

Villa Cimbrone, recommended by our B&B host, is 200 steps up from the main Ravello piazza. We were surprised by the size and beauty of this Villa. It was an enormous estate in Roman times producing timber for naval use and then for farming. After being abandoned for many years it was purchased by Lord Grimthorpe in 1904, determined to bring it back to a real work of art. It became one of the meeting places of London's Bloomsbury Group (James Joyce and his cronies). It is privately owned still and has 19 rooms rooms in the villa about to open for the season. Around $1000 per night and you have to walk up ! Of course one would step where Greta Garbo walked and I'm sure some other notables.

Lots of motor cyclers on the road this weekend. They are daredevils! Seems to be all ages enjoying the sport and speed is important. Italians are very good drivers. They go fast, but they're very courteous. We have yet to see an accident or any road rage.

Along the Amalfi coastline and up 2000 feet to towns like Ravello, where we are staying, give hairpin curves a whole new dimension. The bus drivers make driving an art. All cars defer to buses and will backup to allow the bus around the curve. Buses periodically allow cars to pass and get so close to each other you wouldn't want to have your hand in between. The bus drivers honk to warn oncoming traffic of their approach at many curves, but otherwise very little honking.

Lots of cars have scraped and dented fenders, probably not due to buses, but the drivers' own misjudgement. Italians say it takes them 30 minutes to drive the coast while anyone else takes two hours.

As the town lights come up along the coast below us, we sit on the terrace with a glass of wine and philosophize about humanity and natural beauty.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The romantic and famous Isle of Capri

03/16, Friday
It really does look like a dramatic, rugged mountain coming right out of the sea when you are approaching Capri (pronounced CAP-ry by the locals). Quite a sight.

It was a marvelous day at a marvelous island. It is just a 30 minute ferry ride from Sorrento to Capri and we arrived around 12:30. We first enjoyed another excellent breakfast at our B&B before racing for the earlier ferry, which we missed by seconds, necessitating a 1-1/2 hour wait. So, we enjoyed relaxing on the wharf by the harbor reading and playing cards. Really didn't want to walk up all the steps we had just run down, plus we had pretty well "done" Sorrento.

The island consists of several villages reachable by bus. The harbor village is mostly shops and restaurants. A 5-minute funicular ride avoids lots of steps to the upper, posh town. Here, too, there are shops and hotels and restaurants, many not open yet for the season, but getting ready. There is a minimal number of tourists, just right for our tastes. Some very upscale hotels that seem to be gearing up for the season. All done quite tastefully.

We took a spectacular walk to a belvedere way,way up and the views were great. The sheer cliffs, large outcroppings and the clear, clear water was sort of mesmerizing. Birds were flying right in front of us. Then we went to a garden that we saw from the top and that too had great views and planted with yellow and purple pansies.

Wouldn't take much to convince us to stay here for a bit. Many people have beautiful villas and no doubt a great life style, at least before the throngs of tourists arrive. Can't believe how they deal with more than we saw walking around today.

All of a sudden we can't seem to download pictures, but we are working on it.