Italy Journal

November 4-15, 2003

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Tue November 4th

Took Anna to school. Composed melody and chord scheme to ‘High Waving Heather’ with text by Emily Bronte. The check-in line was 90 minutes. Had a snack and were boarding my row when I arrived at the gate. Uneventful flight, arriving in Heathrow 40 minutes early. The only TV I watched was a bit of Coupling and the channel with the current location of the plane. Began to read A Fine Balance that someone had given me for the trip. (by Rohinton Mistry).

Wed Nov 5th

Brian met me at Heathrow. Couldn’t book the luggage through so I had to wait for it. Drove to his house in Kingston. Lots of artwork collected from his travels. Lovely garden extending a long way back, nicely landscaped and very well kept. I wasn’t keen on the color scheme of the newly decorated lounge – somewhat cold and austere. Had tea and then went to Painshill Country Park for a lovely hike amidst fall colors and follies. Tea at the shop then to Gatwick – boarding again by the time I got to the gate. Took off over lovely firework displays. Drifted off to sleep listening to the CD mix made for me for the trip. Woke to see the outline of the bay of Naples. Colin was there to meet me in a rental car. It was just after midnight when we arrived at his apartment in Sorrento after an hour’s drive.

Thu Nov 6th

Very Spartan apartment – not even a comfy chair. Colin went to class and I went to explore the town on my way to meet him at the language school, following a map. Then coffee in an outdoor café. Lovely sunny day. Hiked up to the Amiti hotel - through olive groves-for coffee and then drove along the coast to the remains of a Roman Villa with a lagoon. Raining, but we had raincoats. Sleep, then shopping in Sorrento after dark.

Fri Nov 7th

Met Colin at the language school, and his teachers and friends. Drove along the coast to views of Capri. Found, by chance, a fantastic restaurant, where Pavarotti dined. The place seated over 00 guests but there was only one other table occupied but they were all set. Had dinner that night with 2 Swedish ladies, students at the language school, sampling the new wine, grapes only being picked in September. A 6-course meal for 20 Euros each. Brought 2 bottles home. Managed to stay awake until 11.30. It was sad for Colin to leave the school.

Sat Nov 8th

Said goodbye to Gregorio at the apartment. Shopped in Sorrento and left for Positano. About an hour’s drive with amazing views. Wonderful light. Two old ladies weeding a wall. Had lunch at the place above the town, and watched donkeys carrying wood. Always a cat on the garbage bins – a new photo series? Walked down to the beach made famous in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun. Lots of great women’s clothing shops. Took photos on the beach. Went to the villa around 5pm. Built into the rock face. It felt about as warm as a cave, but at least the heating works. Fantastic view from the terrace of the Mediterranean and the town of Positano beneath. Full moon. Stayed in for supper for the first time. Sparkling white wine, candles and lots of music. TV gets BBC news channels. Went through the photos so far and there are a few good ones.

Sun Nov 9th

Out by 9 am – very warm. Sleeveless T-shirt weather – I had mainly brought clothes for cold weather. No clouds. Drove to Amalfi, along the hair-raising coastal road. To the cathedral. Had coffee and éclair at 10.30 watching the worshippers going and coming from services. Huge building. Very high ceiling and very light. Took photos inside. The place holds the remains of St Andrew with vivid silver sculptured altarpieces and paintings of his tortured death! 20 people sunbathing on beach but no boats because it is one week past the end of the ’season.’ Drove up to Ravello, one time home of DH Lawrence. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was written here. Wolfe, Green lived here and Gore Vidal’s home is now up for sale. Cumpa Cosimo for lunch. Had seafood spaghetti with crayfish – excellent. Villa Cimbrone – wonderful views of ocean almost vertically below, and lots of vineyards now turning into their autumn colors. Lawrence was a guest there. Internet café and drink in Postino and called Anna.

Mon Nov 10th

Another gloriously sunny day – warm enough to have breakfast on the verandah at 7.30 am. Off at 8.15 to the port of Sorrento to get the 9.40 boat to Capri. Only took 25 minutes, but we were indoors. Took the funicular up to the town of Capri. Internet café. A glimpse of the Gucci, Hermes and Bennetton stores was enough to send us on a walk along a tiny coastal road. Visitors and residents alike have little golf-cart-like contraptions to transport them and their belongings. Lots of amazing villas overlooking the Southern coast. Not a leaf out of place. Lots of leaf sweepers in evidence all over the island. One great hotel on a promontory held a plaque commemorating the meeting there of Churchill and Eisenhower. Lenin and Trotsky also had retreats there. The Roman emperor Tiberius was the first to use the island as a vacation paradise. Then we took the bus to Anacapri. There seemed to be only 4 inches between the side of the bus and a several hundred feet drop into the ocean. We had lunch in the same café that Colin had visited two weeks ago. The owner – who engaged in several loud altercations with his chef/wife during our meal – remembered Colin and his companion, Katie, from before, mainly because Katie drank far too much! Great food – spaghetti with homemade Tiverio wine, with complimentary limoncello after. Looked at a church build by a nun in thanksgiving for the deliverance of Vienna from the Turks in the late 1600’s. A wonderful tiled floor with one big mosaic of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I chickened out of mounting the spiral staircase but Colin got the overview on camera. Back to Sorrento by boat. It was dark now, and chilly. We picked up a couple of items from the supermarcato and had dinner in.

Tue Nov 11th

Wow! Another clear, sunny day but quite a bit cooler. Headed out to Vesuvius. Saw the huge sprawl that is Naples – apartment blocks with antennae rule! We were able to drive to within 30 minutes walk of the crater’s edge. Wonderful views from the top, though a little hazy. Still quite a lot of steam vents, primarily in the upper layers. Far less people on the mountain than I expected, but a lot of schoolchildren were arriving as we left. Three little shops on the rim selling souvenirs. Lots of seismic sensors.
Drove down to Herculaneum. Colin was not comfortable in this city. The teachers from the language school had warned him about the dangers of this city and then one of the students was mugged here. I explored the ancient city alone. Great view of Vesuvius looming over the old remains. Much of the ancient city is covered by modern city apartments and ubiquitous washing lines. Many mosaics and frescoes are intact although everything of value that could be moved has been taken to the Naples archaeological museum. Great bookstore at the site. Bought a book of photographs taken in this district – Campania – in the nineteenth century. A man tried unsuccessfully to bribe us 10 Euros to park. We had to assess the situation quickly. Would he become violent if denied his bribe? Back to the apartment just before sunset past great views of Capri. Monte Pertuso for dinner.

Wed Nov 12th

Easy day today. Colin read on the terrace in the early morning sun and then went for a hike to Furore Gorge and explored Canca Marini. I stayed home, getting my first alone time on this trip, with the two house cats, embroidering, listening to Chopin’s music and writing my ‘homework’ letter about my views on separation in the marriage. Lunch at home and then a trip to the Grotto. Down the cliff in the elevator. Only us two and the guide on the boat. The guide sent Colin on a wild goose chase in order to get me alone! He made much of trying to show me a stalactite formation that looked like a witch. Very funny, especially when Colin gave him a more than generous tip.
To Praiano-parked and followed the signs to the beach. Hiked down lots of steps and eventually gave up when we saw that the ‘beach’ was a concrete block, still far below us. Residents of all the houses here must convey everything up and down these steps. Had a cappuccino at a bar on the terrace and went into Positano and had great fun trying on clothes. Dinner at home after buying groceries in Monte Pertuso.

Thu Nov 13th

Off to Pompei – an hour’s drive. Lots of tour buses and Japanese tour groups. Dull grey sky with some rain. Hard to take photos in this dull light. The umbrellas of tourists provided the only color. Plaster casts of people and animals very evocative. ‘I’ll have a #3’ at a fast food counter will now be forever associated with the brothels where various acts were painted on the walls together with a number. Most of the prostitutes did not speak Latin. Stone beds, too! Evidence of current excavations still in progress. Picnic lunch amidst the olive groves, then to Salerno. Many decrepit-looking buildings. Had a cappuccino in one of them. Beautiful large church with the cloisters in front – unusual. St. Thomas Aquinas was buried here – and he also founded the medical school in the 6th century. Stopped at cetera for a 45-minute ‘space break’ and then drove to Amalfi. It was now dark and pouring with rain. Most restaurants were closed since it was only 6 p.m. but we found a wine bar amidst a warren of alleys. We were the first customers of the evening, but soon lots of people (mostly American and a smattering of Aussies) livened up the place. I had pumpkin and white bean soup, toasted smoked mozzarella with anchovies and tuna salad, local wine by the glass, and crème caramel to finish.

Fri Nov 14th

Cetera for coffee before hitting the freeway for Paestum. Just before we reached the archaeological site we stopped for a sandwich and were bypassed by lots of kids just getting out of school – all smoking. Paestum was a Greek city taken over by the Romans. 3 large temples remain, all in far better condition than those on the acropolis in Athens, but no tourist group joined us – it’s not on the tourist trail. The interiors of the temples still had their columns. Also visited the on-site museum. Wonderful ceramics and walls from funerary monuments and tombs. Bronze armor. Then off for our only gelato of the trip. Back for a home-cooked supper and packing. Pretty dreadful cauliflower and cheese. I’d forgotten we didn’t have any flour.

Sat Nov 15th

Early morning mist cleared to give us our last sunny views of Positano and the Amalfi coast. Went downtown to buy a skirt and top – 270 Euros! And then to Naples. Checked in to the Holiday Inn about midday and then headed downtown straight away. Had tea in the most famous café in Naples, in the central piazza, which also had the worst service of our entire trip. Then we had a 45-minute tour of the opera house, built in 1757, and rebuilt in the neoclassical style. In the mid 1900’s the décor was changed from silver and blue to gold and red. Interesting clock. The face moved and the hands stayed still. 6 price levels of boxes from 18 to 200 Euros, each with a mirror placed so that occupants could see the king. The royal box seats 16 and is now reserved for dignitaries. Lovely painted ceiling. The opera house is not much to look at from the outside. There was a homeless man asleep on the steps.
We took the car back to the airport rental and got a bus downtown to wander for an hour along the main shopping street. Bought a ‘look-alike’ Prada bag from the Umberto galleria, where West Africans sell to the highest bidder. Couldn’t believe how many people were in the streets. The shops were too crowded to enter. Families, teens, everyone! Found a spaghetti house in the old town and then got the bus back to the Holiday Inn – and went for a drink in the bar.

Sun Nov 6th

The long journey home.

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© Heather Morris 2006