Friday, April 29, 2011

An Amalfi Easter

Do I even make the cheesy joke...yes: A God on the Path of the Gods
Waking up on Easter morn, celebrating the special day by enjoying the beauty of Creation and hearing the church bells, we were slow in getting out the door for our hike. Eventually, daypacks were filled with water and oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies (very important), Scully was leashed and ready, and we walked out our hotel's gates and directly onto the hiking path, Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods), as it winds out of Nocelle.

"A journey is an occasion which can be renewed as a choice and a measure of an interior wish:
in this sense, it is right to restore the fantasy again, starting from the Path of the Gods, that road suspended above the magic bay of the Sirens, furrowed again today by memory and myth."
Italo Calvino

The Path of the Gods: 7 km from Bomerano to Positano - our guess is the Nocelle to Positano stretch, those 2000 steps I mentioned earlier, are about 1 km, meaning our hike was about 6km each way. Each way because of our dog, cute as he is, can be a problem! The typical hiker will begin at one end, and at the other, take a bus back to the city of the starting point, either Nocelle or Positano or Bomerano. Scully was not allowed on the bus, so we decided early on that we'd just turn around and do the hike back. The most recommended hike is east to west, from Bomerano to Nocelle. We were doing it backwards to start due to our hotel location, but that worked out well for us. As we neared the end, we began passing groups, large and small, of other hikers, going in the "right" direction - so for us, we were out of the pack and had the entire hike to ourselves. The first part of the hike winds around the cliff fingers that stretch into the sea, so for awhile, we hiked along the outer edge, enjoying the ocean view. Then we'd head back inland and pass through shady, cool forests as we curved around to the next cliff finger. Every single step, curve, or new view is incredible. It is one of the best hikes either of us has ever done. Towards the end of our first leg, we began seeing civilization. Whereas the beginning of the hike, we looked down (far, far down) onto the coastal towns, at the end, we passed terraces of wine groves and olive trees, a convent in the distance, some abandoned, stone houses, and then a very small neighborhood. And at the very end (or start, depending on your route), a cliff with medieval animal pens cut into the rock.

Hikers we'd met had told us that the end/start in Bomerano was in a cute town with a piazza and a nice coffee bar. We were excited for this, right up until we started into town and had every stray dog around come out snarling and growling. Not cool, and I wasn't up to the tenseness of having to fight off packs of strays to keep our knucklehead out of a fight, so we elected to turn around, foregoing that ice cold Coca-Cola I'd been dreaming about the last couple of kilometers. Since we had packed lunch, in addition to our oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies, we headed back to a previously passed picnic table with a view - possibly the best located picnic table in the world:

And the best view was at the end of the hike, when instead of facing 2000 down steps to Positano, we were looking at the gates to our hotel. We spent the afternoon on the balcony and then wandered back down to the trattoria for another fantastic meal. The only marring bit to the weekend was when Nathan took Scully out for his consitutional, he found out that Nocelle has it's very own pack of mean strays, and theirs includes a German Shepherd. Thankfully, Nathan was close to the hotel at the time and was able to scare the dogs away to give him enough time to get back, but that meant Scully did not get to go on our walk around town the following morning. Instead, we took a load of luggage, located the pack of strays (who were all napping in the parking lot - how convenient for them to be right near our car), went on a walk around the upper part of town (and found an alternate route to the car), conversed with one of the residents out doing some gardening, then headed home to spend the rest of La Pasquetta (Monday after Easter) napping.
The rest of this post is for people who want to actually hike the path - logistics and such:
For anyone else who wants to hike the Path of the Gods, we had trouble finding directions that actually made sense. Here's my attempt at explaining where to start, end, and the like.
The main part of the hike is between Bomerano and Nocelle (above Positano). There are plenty of other hikes in the region as well as options galore, so I'll just concentrate on this main part. Every info site I read said you should hike from east (Bomerano) to west (Nocelle/Positano). It doesn't really matter. If you want to go in the opposite direction, just stop and turn around to make sure you're taking in everything. We enjoyed both directions. Don't bother taking two cars and doing the ferrying thing - that takes as much time as just using the local bus system. On the hike, follow the red marks. They are located fairly often, either painted on rocks or red tape around trees. It took us 2.5 hours to hike it the first time and 3 hours the second. This is with several photo-op stops, water breaks, and lunch break.

Bomerano to Nocelle: There is plenty of parking at the start of the hike. Info says there is a pay parking lot in town, near the piazza. I have no idea why one would pay to park further when there is street parking all along the trailhead - maybe it's a no parking area, so I suppose you park at your own risk, like anywhere. In Bomerano, get on Via Colle Serra and drive it to the trailhead, marked with a huge sign and paved path to start. Hike the path. Once you pass the monument (large, needle rock with a plaque on it), you will come to a T intersection with an old stone house on your right. You can turn right here and follow a high path - we didn't do this, so I have no idea where it connects to the main path, if at all. We turned left and immediate right, which takes you down to another T with a sign. Go left for Priano or go right to continue Path of the Gods hike. After you leave this area, your next village is Nocelle. In Nocelle, you will take a left turn onto the paved path into town, then another left turn down some stairs. At the second landing, you are standing in front of iron gates for Residence Villa Degli Dei. Turn right here and follow the alley to a small piazza, across a walkway, and now you have two options: (1) Go past a set of stairs going up. There is a sign that says "Positano" and you will be headed down. Prepare for a long walk down a lot of stairs to Positano, where you can get a SITA bus back to Bomerano - not sure, but I think the buses pick up at the beginning of Positano's pedestrian zone. Buy a ticket in the Tabacchi and ask the guy there where the bus stop is (dov' e fermata per autobus a Bomerano); (2) There are stairs going up that go to a parking lot. At the top of the parking lot (not where the bench is) is the bus stop. We never did figure out if the bus goes all the way to Positano or if it stops in Montepertuso, and there you change buses. You can buy those tickets on the bus.

Positano or Nocelle to Bomerano: Two options again for parking: (1) Park in one of the pay lots in Positano - best ones, if there's space, are either the gas station lot about a block before the pedestrian zone begins or the lot right at the start of the pedestrian zone. These are expensive and crowded in the summer. Parking in Positano means you have to get on the bus to Montepertuso and then Nocelle. We didn't ever get on this bus, so I'm not sure where it picks up, but I believe it picks up at the start of the pedestrian zone. This bus is not a SITA bus, and you should be able to pay onboard, although I'd have correct change. If you don't want to do the bus, you'll need to hike up the steps. Unfortunately, I don't know where they leave out of Positano, but they go up towards Montepertuso, then on to Nocelle.
Alternatively, drive to Montepertuso, through it, and then park along the street. Nocelle has a pay lot - the road to Nocelle ends at it. I don't know who you pay as there was never an attendant nor is there a pay machine. We parked along the street, for free. Our car was there for three days, and we didn't have any trouble, but I have no idea if the spot was legal or not. If you park in the lot, make sure you're in spots outlined in blue. Yellow spots are for residents. Once you're parked, do not take the road that says something like "Alta Via" out of the parking lot. Instead, go to the back corner of the lot and take the stairs down. Turn left at bottom of stairs and follow the path. Go through a small piazza, and when you come to a four way intersection, take the stairs going up to the left (with a sign that says "Sentiero degli Dei." Those stairs end and path goes right. Voila - you're on the path. Enjoy it. The next time you pass an inhabited house, you'll come to a 3-way intersection. Going straight takes you to Priano. Turn left (past the "sink as a water trough") and go down a short alley to a T intersection. Turn left and then immediately right, walking with the falling down, stone house on your left side. Continue on to when the path becomes paved. As you pass the trailhead on this end, you'll see stairs going down and a new looking, paved path. Take that into Bomerano's piazza. Here, you can get a SITA bus back to Positano. I don't know where it picks up, but you will need to get a ticket at the Tabacchi. Alternatively, our hotel suggested we get a bus from Bomerano to Amalfi, then take the ferry from Amalfi to Positano. It's more scenic and fun, but more expensive. Still, a nice option.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

To the Mountains

Easter has some beautiful and special traditions here. There are haunting walks on Good Friday, where men (I think it's usually men) carry a replica of the body of Christ, there are choir chants, special robes, candles after dark, the whole bit. We attended none of these. Why? I do not know. I wish we'd made more of an effort, and next year, we hope to do exactly that. Instead, we booked a last minute stay in the tiny, mountain town of Nocelle, located high above coastal Positano.
Scully at the lunch restaurant mentioned below - he loves vacation!
Our trip was due to one of Nathan's co-workers, who asked if we'd like to hike a 7km (4.3miles) trail known as the Path of the Gods, named for it's stunning beauty along the Amalfi Coast. We've wanted to hike it since our arrival, but have had the luxury of being Little Red Riding Hood about our time - not when it's too cold, and not when it's too hot, and not when it's raining. April is perfect. Unfortunately, Nathan's co-workers were going this upcoming weekend, when we're not available, but the seed was planted. At the last second, we found Residence Villa Degli Dei in Nocelle, a town we'd never heard of. The hotel would take our Crazy Dog...and it is located right on the Path of the Gods...and they have a parking lot (paid, but still, parking)...and it is above Positano, a town we both love. Sold!

Saturday morning, we loaded up and headed south, fighting all the other Amalfi Coast traffic along the way. Needing a break, we stopped at Grotta Smeraldo (Emerald Grotto). With only one spot left in their parking lot, we pulled in high above the water, then dragged Scully down a few steps to the elevator. He's terrified inside elevators, so that didn't go well, but it was a quick trip down to the the sea level, where the grotto is located. There, we headed into a tiny grotto, where we got into a five bench rowboat (with Scully - he does like boats, so no problems there). After some more tourists arrived, the rower shoved off and rowed us about five feet to get a better look at the glowing water. It's a beautiful color where an underground opening in the grotto lets in the light. The rower then rowed around the edges of the grotto, telling cheesy stories about the formations and showing us where an underwater nativity has been set up - probably to help us not feel ripped off at paying 5euros apiece. It was actually a really great stop, fun to stretch our legs and do something a little different, and it's quite a bit cheaper than visiting Capri's Blue Grotto!

Back in the car, we continued along the coastal road, my foot pressing the imaginary brake that sits on my side of the car at every turn - every single curve seemed to also hold a massive, tour bus swinging around it! We were starving, but thought we'd get on to our hotel, until we passed a restaurant right along the road but with sweeping views from it's outdoor tables. We've gotten used to beautiful views here, but this restaurant was really something special! After a nice lunch and back in the car for good, we continued on to Nocelle. We had to stop in Positano at another hotel, where we were to meet a man who would guide us up to Nocelle. He was already up in Nocelle though, so the hotel clerk gave us directions up into the mountains that ended with: "Follow this road until it ends, then look for a man in a black shirt." This was when I started to have second thoughts. And up we went. Climbing, climbing, climbing, with the two-way road getting smaller and smaller - and it did indeed end, right at a little parking lot, where not one, but two, men in black were there to greet us.

Good thing, too. What we didn't know was that Nocelle is a pedestrian only town, accessible from the parking lot via a bunch of stairs, then a tree-lined walkway over a gorge, then some little alleys to navigate. We're light packers, but had not packed for this type of haul. The men helped us carry our two weekend bags, two daypacks for hiking, food basket (it being Easter, we had no idea what sort of restaurants would be open), and Scully's bag with food, bowls, portable dog crate, and toys. Oh...and our six pack of 1.5liter water bottles. But our hotel - oh my! And the town! The weekend ended up being one of those perfect, getaway weekends that I didn't know I needed.

Nocelle is a real deal mountain town, but just gorgeous. Not a run down, country town, but charming and serene. It quite literally clings to the edge of the mountain, with lots of stairs going up and down to various houses and terraced development. Pathways are narrow and lined with hand-placed, stone walls, many with flower baskets spilling blooms down them. At the edge of town is a pizzeria (closed during our weekend) and a very, very small, salumeria (meat and cheese deli, light groceries). There is a trattoria, in which we had one of my favorite meals since we've moved to Italy, and a church. There you have it. The entire make-up of the town's commercial spots, other than a few Bed&Breakfasts or Villa hotels. So as far as things to do in town, options are relax or relax. No shops, no bars, no clubs, no nothing. It was perfect.

View in one direction from hotel balcony...
We were in a smaller room at our hotel because it had a larger bathroom - complete with tub and multi-jet shower, which we anticipated needing after our long hike. Since we were on the top floor, we had sweeping views of the ocean, with cliffs spreading out in either direction, the church steeple below our balcony (so we were in a beautiful spot to enjoy the Easter morning bells), a wonderfully appointed kitchenette to make our own breakfasts and lunches, and a bed that faced the french doors opening onto that gorgeous, ocean view. Just because we could, we'd planned to take a local bus (picking up back at the parking lot) down to Positano for dinner. The best thing that could have happened was that the bus never arrived. We'd had much discussion about the fact that we'd only have an hour in town before the last bus up to Nocelle...or face the 2000 stair walk back up to town. When the bus didn't arrive, we headed straight for the one trattoria in town, sat at yet another table with a view, and enjoyed an absolutely fantastic dinner. This restaurant got the portions exactly right - something we've never experienced here. We left full, but not too full, walked "home" along a quiet alley, woke up to the ocean view, and enjoyed our coffee while listening to the Easter morning to bells echo around the mountains.
...And view in the other direction

And then we hiked...

A Day in Sorrento

Wisteria blooming in Sorrento
My aunt and uncle left about two weeks ago, and I've been catching on my blog from both their visit and Paige and Julia's visit before that. In the intervening time, my days have been spent organizing photographs, cleaning, resting, and the like. We did take a brief trip down to Sorrento, on the Amalfi Coast, a couple of weeks ago. We'd started to feel a bit lazy on our weekends, and we don't want to leave Italy when our time is up feeling regret for lost weekends. With potential rain in the forecast, we made a plan to go to either Sorrento if weather was nice or to the Volcano Mall if it was raining. I have no idea what the Volcano Mall is other than a mall in the shape of a volcano. I don't know what stores it holds, if the volcano has mock eruptions, if it's a mall like an American mall, and so on. Nathan told me he saw a picture of it and thought it was a new soccer stadium.

Saturday dawned, and it was quite nice. The Volcano Mall is saved for another day. We elected to leave Scully at home because it's no fun dealing with our dog on a leash and every stray in a 5 mile radius snarling at him. It's actually a bit tense and frightening for me to always have to watch for attacking dogs. Things were going well for our pleasant afternoon in Sorrento...until we reached the turn-off from the Coast Road and came to a screeching halt. We crept along, unsure of how far we were from the main area, and after about half an hour, we passed a train station that I thought was the main one, so we parked in a nearby lot and began walking. As it turns out, we parked too soon - an entire town too soon. Rather than get back in the traffic, we just walked and walked and walked some more. Then we took a wrong turn and walked an extra 1/3 of a mile or so before finally reaching Sorrento's main piazza. I was not in a good mood. Nathan quickly realized he should get gelato into me fast - he knows exactly how to cheer me up!

Much restored, we returned to the main piazza to take in the beautiful vista to the sea. We'd planned to follow a little walking tour we had in our guidebook, but after all the walking we'd just done - no, thank you. Instead, we decided to just wander down whatever streets looked interesting. Sorrento has a pedestrian zone (I cannot tell you how much I love these zones, where I can relax from jumping out of the way of speeding Vespas or constantly be dodging the mass of crowds on the sidewalks and the mass of cars on the roads - and the cars on the sidewalks, since we are in Italy, after all). One little street was nothing but an alley, but seemed to be the main, shopping area. Throngs of people filled the tiny alley, most of them speaking English. When we finally reached a harbor overlook, we could see that there was no cruise ship there, so we never did find out why the mass of Brits and Americans filling Sorrento that particular day. Maybe it's always like that.

How to sunbathe in Sorrento
While Sorrento is nice, I'm not quite sure what I would actually do there for an overnight or longer term stay. Many Amalfi towns have restaurants with sea views, so if you don't want to do anything in those towns, you sit with gelato or wine or pasta or whatever and just enjoy people and ocean watching. Sorrento didn't seem to have these options. There is a train station with service north to Pompeii and Naples and buses with service south to the smaller, coastal towns, so I suppose it's a nice little anchor city if a visitor wants to see a good bit of the area. And I suppose the pedestrian zone makes for a nice touch, as well as language is not as much of a barrier due to all the other tourists, but...I just didn't find the "wow" factor. It was nice enough for an afternoon, and maybe if we'd been a little more energetic, we would have sought out the sites and been more impressed, but it really just seemed to be a crowded, Disneyland version of an Italian town. We'll have to return in the off-season and try to explore Sorrento's charms a little more.
Sorrento lemons are like no others!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Roman Finale - For Real This Time

Departing the Roman Forum on aching feet, we walked out the back exit and up a long flight of stairs. Behind the Roman Forum is a museum and large piazza. One of the interesting things about the Coliseum and Roman Forum is that they sit smack in the middle of a living city, busy streets filled with cars and all. Rounding a corner a few blocks away, we could see a church with it's side cut away to reveal the ancient columns beneath the modern plaster. A city built atop a city, and on and on it goes. We'd decided to walk across the Tiber River to the area of Trastevere. I'd heard that this was the place to feel a little more of a local scene, and it's a bit quieter and out of the traffic congestion than much of Rome. On our route there, we happened upon what looked like a miniature version of the Coliseum. Turns out, it's the Teatro di Marcello, once an open air theatre and now, apartments.  Fancy living in one of those! We took a path that circled the base of the theater, and came upon a crush of tumbled down ruins with this fun little column base among them:
How cute is this little guy!
The theater and ruins are explained in this very helpful sign: "Antique Monument and Archaeological Ruins"
Trastevere was indeed a peaceful area. Unfortunately, by the time we made it there, we all had aching feet. While we tried to enjoy the area, we really just wanted to head to dinner and get off our soles. We'd picked Dar Poeta Pizzeria since Nathan had eaten there and loved it, two guidebooks recommended it, and one podcast I listened to a few weeks ago listed it as the host's favorite pizzeria in Italy. We were lucky to get a table - actually, not lucky, just American. Sure enough, our 6pm arrival netted us a prime table, and when we left around 8pm, about 20 people milled around outside waiting. The pizza was good, I admit, BUT...we live in Naples. I'm currently holding fast to our hometown La Sorbilla as the best pizza in Italy...clearly, this cannot go unchallenged, so we'll be sure to test plenty of pizza in our time here.

Our walk home included a swing by the Pantheon, beautiful at night, and the Trevi Fountain, so we could all throw our coins in again - absolutely necessary to ensure my aunt and uncle's return to Italy.
Buon viaggio e speriamo che tornate!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Roman Finale

The end of our exciting three weeks of visitors, touring, and enjoying time with family and friends ended with a full day of Roman sightseeing. We'd intended to take the train up to our hotel, near the main train station, then take the train to the airport on Saturday morning. And...cue the train strike. All over Italy. Local trains, national trains, all on strike. We were forced to drive, and while our hotel was in a heavily congested area, and it took 30 minutes for my aunt and I to find the parking garage a block from the hotel while my uncle waited with the luggage on the hotel curb (lots and lots of one way streets and traffic!), it wasn't as bad as I'd expected, and we were able to set off on our touring with no stress. Another reason for our excellently located hotel was so we could take the metro to all the sites we planned to visit...and metro is on strike, too. Time to walk. Thankfully, Rome is a beautiful city. The architecture is gorgeous, and if you can take a route off of the main thoroughfares, much more enjoyable for walking. We first hit up our target - the Coliseum and Roman Forum. I thought the last week in March would still be pretty off season, but there were throngs and throngs of people. Bless you, Rick Steves, for your tips on how to avoid long lines! We followed his advice, got our combo ticket, headed back to the Coliseum and sailed past at least an hour's wait in the "buy-your-ticket" line. We'd planned to also use the Rick Steves AudioTour for the Coliseum, but messed up our route early on, and with all the people milling about, decided to just take in the view, stand in the Roman Empire's largest amphitheater, and reflect on the brutal history.

Interestingly, the Coliseum had a scale model that showed how the pulleys and floor openings worked to bring up things like stage sets and wild animals for the exciting and "fun" shows. Gladiators fought against one another and wild animals or animals fought against animals, all with adoring crowds cheering them on. Animals included (but were not limited to) dogs, bears, hippos, elephants, crocodiles, and lions - giraffes came later, too. Some of the "animals" were actually people, brought in from lands outside the Roman empire. That pulley system I mentioned would bring up little, murderous surprises for the gladiator in the ring. And yet, becoming a gladiator was a way for a slave or poor man (or woman) to become a wealthy, celebrity du jour - to overcome his or her beginnings, as in, "Today I saw a slave become more powerful than the Emperor of Rome" (you know, from the movie "Gladiator").

Whenever I feel a little hopeless about how our society seems to be sinking into more and more evil, I like to think about the horrific barbarism that was completely acceptable and government supported in Roman Empire - for example, upon the Coliseum opening, there was a 100 day celebration - supposedly, 2000 men and 9000 animals were killed in the celebration shows, although these numbers may have been stretched. One source stated only 3500 animals were killed, not 9000, so our delicate sensibilities should take heart. Now not all of the shows were killing, mauling, and maiming - the Coliseum was also home to plays and battle re-enactments. In addition, there were staged hunts, with fancy stage sets, complete with forests and lakes. Some days, those attending the fun (for free - only visitors today have to pay money to get inside) got the triple threat. A staged animal hunt in the morning, gladiator match in the afternoon, and sandwiched in between the two, the ever popular, criminal execution, generally carried out by throwing the criminal, unarmed, into the ring and releasing a wild beast or two. Enough was enough, and we headed across the street to the Roman Forum.

House of the Vestal Virgins
Just fascinating. For Americans, if you've visited the National Mall or downtown D.C., imagine it in 2000 years. That's about what the Roman forum is. There are some temples (National Cathedral), the government building where the Senate met (hello, Capitol building), some interesting arches that were monuments (Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, etc.), and the Temple of the Vestal Virgins (...ummm...I'll leave that one alone). The VVs are a big deal because their house just reopened to tourists after being closed for years. They served the goddess, Vesta, and had to keep the home fires burning - really, just one fire, and that's where all the other households could come to get fire. The Vestal Virgins were a major deal - they were chosen in pre-puberty and gave a vow of chastity for 30 years. Braking that vow meant death by live burial. For their sacrifice, they were the most revered women in the Empire, with enormous power. They could own property, vote, commute a criminal's sentence, and handle legal issues, such as wills. They lived in luxury, and at the end of their 30 years of service, they could choose to marry - but most decided to keep their life of luxury and prestige. Walking around the Roman Forum is walking around a pile of rubble, but how amazing to stop and think about what that rubble was. There is even a little memorial, complete with fresh flowers, on the spot where Julius Caesar's body was burned all those centuries ago. I highly recommend some type of detailed guidebook or actual guide. We used the Rick Steves AudioTour, successfully this time, and we appreciated the extra insight in explaining what we were seeing.
Break time at the Forum; And where do visitors take a load off? Atop some old, marble columns just lying about.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Last dinner

Technically, this wasn't my aunt and uncle's last dinner. But the three of us were heading to Rome the following day while Nathan headed to work. Their plane left out of Rome, so we went up the day before in order to (1) visit the hot spots other than the Vatican, and (2) avoid getting up at 4:30am to make the three hour drive to the Rome airport from our house.

Now there's a back story to this dinner. First, our landlady and her children own a resort hotel nearby. When Mamma Anna, our landlady, found out my aunt and uncle were coming, she said she wanted us to come for Sunday lunch. I'd called her the week before, and as we've already clearly established in this blog, my telephone Italian is sketchy, at best. I was able to get from her that she was out of town and I should call her son, our landlord. That's always an adventure, to put it nicely. Ciro doesn't have my cell phone number (only Nathan's), so when I call, he either doesn't answer due to it being an unknown number or he answers, but I'm not who he is expecting. Which means when I start speaking, he's caught off guard. After our exchange of greetings, our conversations always, always  consist of a version of the same. I say something, and Ciro says, "I do not understand you." I switch to the other language...same response. I speak slower...same. I switch up the placement of words, I cut out all extra words other than the noun and the verb - as in..."pay rent." We hang up with me having no idea what will happen next - either someone is going to show up at the house (Mamma Anna, possibly with a handyman) or sometimes I call Nathan and ask him to have a go at calling Ciro. That always goes much better.

In this instance, Nathan and I had a back and forth for days on who was going to call Ciro. I lost. I called on Monday, no answer. I called on Tuesday, no answer. I called on Wednesday, no answer. So we made dinner reservations at an agriturismo with a beautiful view over the bays. On Thursday, I called Ciro in order to tell him we were ready to pay our rent. He answered (yay!), and when I explained that I was calling about the rent, he said something along the lines of, "Bring your parents to dinner this weekend." We believe Mamma Anna must have told him that he better invite us to dinner. Mamma Anna is a very tiny lady, but she is not one with whom to be trifled! I told him my aunt and uncle were visiting, not my parents, and that this was their last day. So he changed the invitation to that night - come to the hotel that night for dinner. Then he threw out a whole bunch of time questions ranging from 6pm to 9pm, and hung up. I didn't know if were supposed to go or at what time. Time to call in reinforcements - Nathan (if only he'd called first, we could have avoided the middleman, or middlewoman, as the case may be). And no joke, that night at dinner, Ciro gently scolded me for calling him on my aunt and uncle's last day in town. Sometimes, I really just want to cry in public.

Nathan and I had not been to the hotel yet, so we had no idea what to expect. Walking up, a lady at the desk pointed to a table in a nice looking dining area and told us to take a little walk as it would be about 15 minutes. We wandered about the pool deck, enjoying the view over Lake Fusaro and the beautiful grounds, wondering if we are indeed allowed to use the pool this summer as Ciro had indicated at the time of our lease signing. Finally, a man came up and spoke to us in rapid dialect (not Italian!). He finally got us to follow him...around the pool, around a party room that was setting up for some type of disco party, down a garden path, and into one of the the most luxurious restaurants we've seen since we moved to Italy. Our table had apparently been moved to this restaurant that didn't even seem to be open. Frescoes on the ceiling, beautiful carpets and upholstery, creamy white linens on the tables. We sat, our server brought us wine and water, and then Ciro appeared. He did not eat with us, but did ask us what we wanted, so we were able to request "land food." This usually stops the barrage of dishes with octopus as the main ingredient. Our server, a wonderful gentlemen who continued so diligently to communicate with us, despite our complete inability to speak the Neapolitan dialect, brought us dish after dish after dish of delectables and in between these visits, he stood a few feet away, at the ready to help us. We were a little disconcerted at the fact that this restaurant was clearly staffed with a cook and a waiter solely for us. And we wondered why they didn't leave us in the more informal restaurant where our table had been. Had the restaurant staff set us up there, and when Ciro saw it, he moved us to the formal restaurant? Did the staff see that we'd dressed nicely and think we wanted the more formal restaurant? As is normal, we had absolutely no idea of what was going on and why things happened the way they did.

We called it quits after the generous helping of pasta that followed all the appetizers, and the look of disappointment on our server's face just about did us in. Here was this man, waiting only on us, who had been so helpful, and it was as if we'd just killed his puppy. But three of our party of four had barely been able to fit in their pasta course, and one of us couldn't even eat half of it (okay, that was me, I confess).
This is just the cheese plate, for four people, and was one of about 10 appetizers!
 Then Ciro showed up asking if we liked the food and why we didn't want the next course. We tried to be effusive in our thanks because the meal truly was delicious. We were able to sit and visit with Ciro, before he offered to make us nutella pizzas for dessert in the other restaurant. Astonishing how the word "nutella" opened up a huge hole in my stomach. Ciro left us to finish up, and we headed to the other location. And then we found out our server must have been given firm instructions to take good care of we walked through some gardens, around a couple of buildings and down another path, we missed the turn for the cafeteria and were headed to the parking lot. Before we realized it and corrected, this man had come up behind us and told us we couldn't leave because we hadn't had our coffee yet, and he proceeded to herd us back with him to the new restaurant. He was not letting us leave without coffee, at the very least. We enjoyed our coffee and yummy, chocolate goodness for dessert before heading home, well and truly sated and hoping that Ciro had understood just how much we appreciated the dinner.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Quiet Days

After our two days of pounding the Venetian cobblestones, we decided to spend the last two days of Mike and Katrina's vacation resting and staying near home. We spent much of our time reading, writing, and sleeping in the warm, lemon-scented Glass House, which is always a nice way to pass the time.

In the interest of one last site visit, we drove the quick, 5-minute drive to the Baia Archaeological Park. I visited this place a few months ago, on a quiet day while Nathan was out of town. It's a little known, lovely place to see ruins of old villas and thermal complexes completely alone. There are no other tourists. Both times I visited, there was a sum total of about four other people walking around this huge area - much different from our visit to the Roman Forum the following day (coming in a future post).

Waiting for discovery
This visit, however, I was armed with the most fantastic guidebook specific to our region - Campi Flegrei, Guide of Discovery to the Lands of Fire by Massimo D'Antonio. Using this, we could see that the big hole in the ground really was once a swimming pool, we could see the changing rooms for the thermal complex, we could know that the domed Temple of Mercury (the swimming pool built a hundred years before the Pantheon in Rome) is actually the oldest known example of a round cupola. We walked around, sometimes following dark tunnels into the terrace below, sometimes pausing to take in a vista that included the Temple of Venus, set right into the nearby neighborhood, the Baia Castle atop it's cliff, the Bays of Pozzuoli and Naples, Capri in the distance, and Mount Vesuvius hovering over the mainland, a view that we could imagine those bathers so long ago enjoying as they walked upon mosaic floors, from sauna to warm pool to cold pool.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Venice in a Heartbeat

As if my aunt and uncle's first week didn't include a packed schedule of marvelous sites, we decided to do a quick hop up to Venice. We were able to find a flight leaving Naples in the morning and a return flight the following evening, meaning we could visit Venice for two full days - not enough to see all the extras, but enough to see the city and visit St. Mark's Basilica. I've already written about how much I love Venice. And yet, I seem to be one of only a few. Generally, in the days leading up to our trip, when I would tell people of our intentions, a flash of distaste would cross their features before good manners forced a bland, pleasant smile to take over. I've started asking people what they didn't like about Venice because I just don't understand it. I find the city to be pure magic. Walking the back streets, away from the maddening hordes (none of those on my February trip, but plenty this time around), it's possible to really see the appeal, to hear the gentle lapping of the water as it flows into the first floors of some of the palazzos, to hear the echo of a far-off, singing gondolier, plying his extra-paying riders with entertainment, to get lost in the maze of alleys that wind around the crumbling buildings and canals everywhere. I could walk around Venice for days just soaking in the atmosphere.

The city has over 400 bridges, but it's possible to walk the entire city in a day or two if you don't linger. We elected to skip all the actual sites, other than St. Mark's Square and Basilica, in favor of wandering - my favorite Venetian activity. For all four of us (Nathan got to go on this trip, too!), the best of the best for our trip was the end - needing to be at the airport about 6pm, we decided to take a private water taxi. It meant we could leave almost an hour later, and, since we'd foregone the requisite gondola ride, we wanted to get out on the water. The water taxi was phenomenal. Leaving from St. Mark's Square, our driver cut directly across the island, navigating down narrow, empty canals, which allowed us to see parts of the city we would never have gotten to see. Then it was through to the Lagoon on the other side and pedal to the metal across the water - great fun and the perfect way to end our stay.

The Wonderful Pool

When we moved here, we kept hearing of the Piscina Mirabile (wonderful pool), an ancient cistern located in Bacoli, a nearby fishing village and former vacation spot of the rich and famous in the Roman world. I'd seen a couple of photos of Piscina Mirabile, and it's no normal cistern, where you just go and look down a big hole in the ground. This was something full of magical arches that visitors wander around underground. When Paige and Julia were here, we tried to visit the Piscina Mirabile, which our guidebook states is kept locked, so one goes first to the Signora's house, the lady with the key. Her address was in our book. Naturally, our first turn off the main road put us on what could generously be called an alley. A few more turns later onto progressively smaller streets, and I'd reached the point of no return - no way to back out, no way to turn around. We crept along, praying no other car would come from the other direction (one did, but then, passing one another worked out, as it always seems to). Spotting a parking spot, we managed to fit my giant, American car into it, proceeded on to the cistern, and found that the guidebook, as has become normal, was wrong. Now there are hours posted - weekends only. But La Signora's phone number was conveniently posted on the sign. Since Paige and Julia only had one day left, I decided to call and see if she would bring the key. The very nice, patient woman who answered the phone (daughter, friend, auntie, mother, niece?) finally communicated to me that the lady with the key was not home at the moment. This conversation took about 10 minutes. I would get one word in the sentence and repeat it, which would lead to a different sentence, again with only one recognizable word. This went on until I was finally able to get enough words I recognized and put them together into something intelligible. Relief for me at a semi-successful phone conversation, but disappointing for Paige and Julia to miss out on this.

So on a Sunday after church and a delicious lunch out, we headed back to Piscina Mirabile with my aunt and uncle. It being a weekend, the lady with the key should be there, right? Well, sort of. This time, walking up, we see that the hours end on Sunday at 1pm. It was now 3pm. We were much too late, but the doors were unlocked. I happened to have our nice, DSLR camera hanging around my neck, which turned out to be important later on. The lady (The lady with the key? Is this really she?) waved us in. We descended into stillness, broken by beaming shafts of light and the click of fancy cameras from other folks below. Humidity was high, moss covered the walls, and, as described, the Piscina Mirabile was amazing, with huge stone arches marching into the distance.

This cistern was one of the largest built by the Romans and was used to provide drinking water for the Roman fleet located nearby. This was actually the end of the aqueduct serving the Naples region. Other books describe the Piscina Mirabile as an underground cathedral due to the arches and columns, the stillness and the hush that descends with each step down. There is a pipe for water to come in, but not one to take water out, so archaeologists believe hydraulic equipment was used to raise water to the surface above. I'm always stunned at little facts like this as I then begin to think about how western society went from a culture that valued art and craftsmanship, books and learning, technology and luxuries (like indoor plumbing!) - and from that, we descended into centuries of dark ages. A hundred years ago, many U.S. homes didn't even have indoor plumbing (little fun fact - King Minos of Crete had the first indoor, flushing toilet, built 2800 years ago - we will soon be visiting this lovely island, and I can check out all these little informational tidbits). History can always give a nice little wake-up call to our thoughts about the sustainability of our own societies.

We were the last folks to leave this place, and as we ascended and passed our little tip on to La Signora, we noticed all the people who'd been there with us were standing in a group at the top, all with fancy cameras hanging around their neck. It seems we had crashed a private visit for a photography club. Hee-hee - carting around that heavy camera finally paid off!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Amalfi Coast, Here We Come!

Finally (finally!), Nathan gets to join in some fun. The week of Mike and Katrina's arrival, I gave Nathan our list of planned activities and asked him what he most wanted to do with us as he'd only be able to join us for one day of touring. He picked going to Positano. Years ago, Positano was a retreat for me. I'd been traveling in Italy with friends, I was tired, and I was backpacking. I've often said that Italy was the single most difficult country for me during that time, on a trip that included most of Western Europe, a couple of Eastern European countries, and Morocco. After some time in Italy, my friend and I retreated to Positano for several days, where we lounged about on our rented beach chairs, took a boat over to Capri, and basically did a whole lot of nothing. So Positano will always hold a place in my heart for offering that calm retreat...and Nathan wanted to see it.

We got an early start as my trip down the Amalfi Coast the previous week had included sitting in traffic for over an hour. I'd hoped that was due to us not leaving my house until 10:30am. As it turns out, that wasn't the problem. I haven't actually looked at a map of what our route should be to get there - I am way too dependent on the GPS - but I believe there is a road that cuts off a lot of the coastal drive. That road is currently closed. So all drivers heading south are forced to drive an extra stretch along the coast road, which meanders through little towns as well as the curvy mountains. Despite the traffic, the drive is extraordinary. Every single curve brings yet another amazing viewpoint. One of our goals was to pick up some Sorrento lemons for our homemade limoncello. Sorrento lemons are amazing. They are huge and bursting with flavor. Unfortunately, the recipe I'm trying out right now is one that takes about three months, so if all goes well, we'll have some limoncello made of Sorrento lemons by mid-summer. I plan to start a second batch soon using a different recipe, one that is a whole lot quicker!

Positano picturesquely climbs the mountain to which it clings, but the beachfront area is pedestrian only and lined with lovely, small shops. We parked our car on the edge of town and meandered down to the beach, stopping at the artisan limoncello shop to stock up. This is the place that makes organic limoncello - I mentioned them in the previous post on Positano, Driving the Amalfi Coast. I wanted to pick up several bottles to keep on hand at the house, and we snagged a ginormous, lemon candle to hopefully help with our anticipated mosquito problem this summer. (Side note: yes, Katrina, before you ask, ginormous is a real word. I looked it up - first known use, 1948! Funnily enough.).

We continued our ramble, stopping in at shops that caught our eye, Mike and Katrina picked up a few gifts, and we finally reached the beach and enjoyed yet another delicious meal, this time at Cambusa's, overlooking the beach and ocean.  With rain clouds moving in, we headed on down the coast to see the Grotto Verduro, which I had just read about on our way to Positano. Disappointingly, we arrived about 15 minutes after it closed. But, I was excited to see the coastline beyond Positano as it was totally new for me. We headed on down to the town of Amalfi, where we picked up a mountain road to cut over rather than returning via the busy, congested coast road. This was a true mountain road apparently. Driving along, we had to come to a complete stop while a goat shepherd wrangled his goats over to the side of the road for us to pass - definitely something I did not expect to see on our Amalfi Coast Day.

In case anyone is planning to visit Positano, you should be aware of the town's rules for guests, "so that also you will be able to help keeping presentable [their] town."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Try, Try, Try

After writing about the heckler in my previous post, I thought a little more explanation is in order. In the north, I found the people to be very accepting of limited Italian, and they would hold conversations with my friend and I in Italian, letting us stumble through and try our best. Not so, here in the south. If I try to go beyond anything basic, the person either immediately switches to English (if they know it, which is not common here in Naples) or, more likely, the person looks at me with utter disgust. It's very demoralizing. I know I don't speak the language well. I know my accent is horrible, and I mix up the words, the verb tense, and the masculine/feminine articles. I know all that, but I'm trying. While the people themselves are generous, open-hearted, and welcoming, engaging in any conversation just seems to be a big chore. So my already limited Italian grows rustier and rustier with each passing day. And as wrong a response as it is, there are days that I stay home rather than go out and try to engage. The mental exhaustion can just be too much.

There are, as with any huge generalization, exceptions. The jewelry store in Anacapri I mentioned is one. The owner and her son let me talk and talk. They ask questions. We converse. I wonder if it might be the difference that tourism makes. In heavily touristed towns, friendly shopkeepers sell more goods. So while trying to talk, in their native language, to a bumbling foreigner may not be the highlight of their day, those shopkeepers know better than to show it. And the towns we visited in the north are certainly used to tourists - Venice, Florence, Siena! The best of the best. Or maybe  those shopkeepers are people-people, and enjoy getting to know their shoppers, where they're from, what they think of Italy, etc. So far, in Naples, I've seen virtually no friendliness or openness towards tourists. Many times, shopkeepers just seem irritated that I'm in their store. At the larger tourist sites, the ticket window can more likely resemble a slog through the airport's Passport Control line, with no attempt at even a smile from those manning the information counters and ticket windows.

Despite all this, the people in the south are so very generous. Back when we were house hunting, a potential landlord sent us home with five bottles of his homemade wine and a bag of fruit. A friend's landlord spent 20 minutes slogging through muddy fields to find our rascal of a dog when he slipped out her gate and ran off. Our local salumeria owner always, always greets us with a hearty "Ciao," and a handshake. The local produce guy went digging through mounds of empty crates to find a few scraps of individual basil leaves for me, based on my forlorn look when he told me he didn't have any basil left. So I've yet to grasp the real issue as to the distance I feel on the majority of occasions. Is it  really annoyance? Is it supposition that I, the foreigner, am not even going to try to learn their language? Is there some protocol that I breached right off the bat? Is it a lack of desire to connect with people beyond their own families and friends? Or is there some other issue, some other cultural divide that I've yet to bridge? I hope, that after three years here, I will at least begin to understand.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Capri Times Two

The lovely, pedestrian zone of Anacapri
My aunt asked me a few weeks before their trip if I was going to get tired of going to the same places over and over again with each new set of guests. My answer then, as now, is a very definite "maybe." But so far, I've found new things to enjoy. And all our guests are different in the atmosphere they prefer, activities they most want to do, and reactions. There is enough in the area to mix things up a bit, also, but I'd enjoyed everything I did with Paige and Julia so much that I really wanted to follow a similar itinerary with Mike and Katrina. Especially because once I've been to a place and figured out all the logistics - how to get there, where to park if necessary, a decent restaurant, where the bus/metro/ferry station is and how to buy tickets (this is harder than you'd think - you don't always buy tickets at the source, but that's for a different post), what to see - all of that takes time and mental energy, then factor in the foreign language aspect. I fell in love with Capri while there with Paige and Julia. I love riding the ferry (when there's no seasickness surrounding me!), pulling into the port and staring up at the towering mountains, I'd probably really like riding the funicular up the mountain to Capri Town if it were ever running on my visits. I like the views over the ocean and wandering around pretty, little alleys and going into beach shops.

I don't, however, care for the bus rides. Both trips recently, there was a particular route that, of a group of about 20 waiting to board the bus, about 5 actually make it on. With the bus only running every 20-30 minutes, this means a pretty long wait, especially if you're trying to make a ferry down at the port. My aunt, from south Georgia, had a really hard time with the pushing your way forward that happens at most places here in Italy. The concept of lines and personal space are practically nonexistent, and what we'd consider outright rudeness is just the norm here. The cultural differences are real and vast. At the end of our Capri day, we were trying to get to the port from Anacapri, a 15 minute bus ride to Capri, then a wait for another bus and another 10 minute ride. As I looked around the huge group standing at the Anacapri bus stop, I thought to myself, "There is no way my aunt is going to push her way onto this bus." I let Mike and Katrina know that there would be room for only a few of us to get on the bus, and if we didn't place ourselves at the door and weren't ready to push, we were waiting another 25 minutes or so, where the process would then repeat. They were troopers - those two took what I said to heart, and we were first on. It was helpful that my uncle was a foot taller than anyone else trying to get on and therefore able to run a block maneuver. The locals who depend on bus transport must absolutely despise tourist season.

While on Capri, we spent a small amount of time in Capri Town, just enough to look at the view and visit my favorite patisserie for a takeaway lunch and sampling of pastries, then hopped a bus to Anacapri. We did a little shopping, went back to Chiesa di San Michele (the tiny church with the gorgeous, painted tile floor of the Garden of Eden - posted about in Across the Sea, to Capri), and visited my new favorite jewelry store (owned by a family with their own factory on the mainland, where family members make all the jewelry - and for the cynics out there, both times, when I talked to the owner about living in Naples, she and her son invited me to visit their factory, located nearby, and gave me their personal cell numbers).

Of course, we couldn't leave without trying out the Monte Solaro chairlift. The chairlift itself is almost as much of an experience as the views from the top - at least for Americans, where this chairlift would have long ago been banned. Seriously, the lap bar DOESN'T LOCK...or snap or have any sort of closing mechanism whatsoever. Astonishing. I love visiting countries where there is still an emphasis on personal responsibility rather than everyone else's responsibility to make sure you don't act with stupidity. Crawl around ruins at your own risk. Explore mossy, damp, unlit tunnels in old castles with your own flashlight and no handrails going down the steep, crumbling stairs. All that said, this chairlift may take things a little far.

I couldn't resist taking a dozen more photos. Some crafty person has created a whimsical, art garden that passes beneath our feets, with a koi pond, shell encrusted planters, and a statue wearing sunglasses. Then it's up, up, up, enjoying views over Anacapri and the ocean all the while. And at the top, views, views, views - you can see the Sorrentine Peninsula, up close, or peer down into the brilliantly colored shallows at the edge of the island, or gaze off into the distance at the isle of Ischia and the over-developed mainland. Much progress has been made at the top in opening up some type of restaurant or snack bar. I look forward to another return to Capri, where perhaps we can sit and enjoy some gelato or a glass of wine along with the view.
Mike and Katrina, on top of Monte Solaro
We made it back down in the chairlift (although I admit to a bit of vertigo this time), shoved our way onto the bus, arrived at the port to find a ferry leaving in only 3 minutes, managed to buy our tickets and run to it in time (despite a heckler next to the ticket counter mocking my Italian when I used the wrong word for dock - oh, how much I hate not knowing the language well), and got home quickly, helped along by Nathan, who braved driving in downtown Naples to pick us up on his way home.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Showing Them Centro

Hand of Herculus, National Archaeological Museum
The day to show my aunt and uncle Centro Napoli had arrived. As I previously wrote about  with Paige and Julia's Centro visit, this can go either way. Paige and Julia happened to love it. Regardless of what you think you'll feel about Centro, you cannot visit Naples and not go into Centro. It is Naples - it's the vibrancy, the noise, the chaos, and yes, the trash. It is exactly what guidebooks and podcasts talk about. I've recently been listening to some different podcasts about Naples, some of which include call-ins. Without fail, the callers say something along the lines of, "I went to southern Italy a few years ago, and we skipped Naples because we'd heard about the crime." Naples has this reputation of being such a hotbed of crime that even seasoned travelers and well-known tour guides either skip it or have a "get-in, get-out" strategy. And so, a beautiful city with treasures beyond compare goes unrecognized and without those valuable tourist dollars that are probably the only thing to begin moving this city out of the feudal, dark ages to which it seems to have returned.

Here's how the folks propped up family photos 2000 years ago.
With purses firmly across our bodies (and we never felt unsafe), we set off on the metro line nearby for downtown. We followed roughly the same route as I did with Julia and Paige by first heading to the National Archaeological Museum. I have no idea where I read it, but some guidebook described this museum as "dusty" and "tired." That description couldn't be further from the truth. With light and soaring expanses of white marble, I enjoy just walking into the museum. I have yet to get the audioguide to the museum, but it really would be very helpful. While most rooms have a large, English translation on the wall describing the collection and pointing out particularly remarkable items, I think an audioguide is necessary to get the full value.

When visiting with Paige and Julia, we'd gone up to the third floor, where the frescoes from Pompeii were supposed to be. We wandered through rooms of amazing bronze statues, collections of ivory, glass, and silver from Pompeii and Herculaneum, and even an old papyrus (from the Villa of Papyri in Herculaneum - over 1700 scrolls were found in excavations!) - but no frescoes. With Mike and Katrina, while in this large, former library turned painting gallery,  we walked to the other end of the room in order to see an old sundial...and there found the doorway to the frescoes. And what frescoes there were! Rooms and rooms, little ones and big ones, all kinds of subjects, all kinds of techniques - some were paintings, some were faux doorways/windows to the outside world, some were just wallpaper type. How amazing to live in a home with such beauty covering the walls. 

We also found a model of Pompeii, complete with the frescoes (that are now in the museum) painted in miniature on the walls in the locations where they were found. Just amazing.

After lunch at Sorbillo, my favorite pizzeria downtown, we went to see the Veiled Christ statue at Capella Sansevero (written about in the post Centro Napoli) and then took a walk down Spaccanapoli, the ancient road of Naples, built about 2500 years ago to connect Naples with the world beyond. While walking Spaccanapoli, we ducked into Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo. I'm never failed to be astonished when wandering into a church. Even the most unassuming, little church on the corner will generally have at least one piece of breathtaking art, wood carved railing in front of the altar, or inlaid marble floor. Gesu Nuovo didn't fail us and presented an elaborate organ facade, inlaid marble walls and columns, large art in the side chapels, and a few sculptures to finish things off.

In need of a break for our feet, we headed to Cafe Gambrinus, sitting on the edge of Piazza Plebiscito. Cafe Gambrinus has a bad rap among locals and guidebooks alike, as all anyone ever mentions is that it's overpriced. But Cafe Gambrinus is one of Naples' oldest coffee bars and was a haven for the literary intellectuals back in the day - Oscar Wilde is said to have spent time hanging about here. The previous week, Paige, Julia and I had stopped in for a coffee while standing at the bar. For three coffees, we paid the princely sum of 3.40euros, about .40 more than we would have paid elsewhere. We'd taken at peak at the two, richly decorated rooms for sit down patrons, and I decided to return soon and take a table. With heavy, velvet drapes swagged back, frescoes on the walls and ceilings, and tuxedoed waiters, what better place for my aunt, uncle and me to rest our feet this day. We could even get gelato while we were at it. The cafe was a quiet, beautiful, and relaxing spot to gather our energies for our next assault on seeing and doing it all. And it was only about 3euros more per person to enjoy the beauty and history while we relaxed in comfort, not crowded into a small table shoved in the corner with masses of people bumping us on their way to and from the stand-up bar.
From Cafe Gambrinus, we enjoyed the pedestrian area of Chiaia for an hour or so before heading home to rest our over-stimulated brains. Another successful day. My aunt and uncle were loving their trip, and I loved the opportunity to share our new life with them.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Back to Cumae

I got a little sidetracked while writing about my aunt and uncle's visit to the nearby Cumaen ruins. Since I wrote so recently about the ruins themselves, I thought I'd just share a few photos of our day spent in my neck of the woods.
Driving to the Cumae ruins, we pass under Arco Felice, an ancient entrance to the Cumaen city - it's fun to stand at the ruins of the city now and look far off into the distance at the arch. We look over many farms and fields, and it's one of those, "what lies beneath" moments. Driving underneath this arch, we drive over the top of cobblestones that are part of the original ancient street.
Standing among the ruins of the Temple of Apollo, looking out at the beautiful sea view and the mountainous island of Ischia (original home to the first Cumaen settlers on this site), it's easy to see why they picked out. Miraculously or through some feat of unexplainable, Italian zoning (?what?), much of the area in front of Cumae has remained undeveloped, so standing here, visitors can really get a feel for what those citizens so long ago saw themselves - we hear the term "window to the past" so often, yet this place truly seems to be such a thing.
My aunt and uncle sitting on the sides of a Christian baptismal font. Built in about the 6th century BC, this place was a Greek Temple (today called the Temple of Jupiter, but I don't know that historians actually know the recipient of the worship). The Greek temple was reworked into a Roman Temple a few hundred years later, and then a Christian Basilica. A small Christian cemetery was found within the church and nearby to the old baptismal font.
Temple of Venus, located in Baia. This temple is quite literally, on the side of the road through Baia - and right across from Monkey, a yummy coffee/gelato/hot chocolate bar. This "temple" is yet another example of older historians naming every big ruin they came across as a temple. The Temple of Venus is actually a huge thermal room, built in the early 100s. It was most likely connected to the thermal baths (now ruins) on the other side of the road - I'll have more about them later. The outside was once covered in blue, glass tiles - can you picture how beautiful this must have been!
Via Panoramica, obviously named. We have Lago Miseno in the foreground, the Pozzuoli Bay behind it, and far in the distance, just a smudge on the horizon on the right side (possibly doesn't even show at this small size) is Mount Vesuvius.
We had a wonderful, relaxing day just driving around this historic area. Although we started to have a little problem that was quickly handled Italian style. As we left the Cumae ruins, carrying our bag of former sandwiches from Gennaro, some self-appointed rule-enforcer ran up to the guard working the entrance pointing at our bag and telling him we ate in the ruins and he needed to check our bag. Check our bag - are you kidding me? The guard looked at this lady with disgust, looked at me, and asked, in Italian, "Did you eat in the ruins." I looked at his face, caught his cue for my response, looked at our empty bag, and then looked back at him with complete shock and a huge, "Eat! Noooooo!" He looked back at the lady, shrugged, and said, "See, no problem." We trundled off with the lady glaring at us. I'm amazed sometimes at the rules Italians want to enforce. We spent over two hours in the ruins and we were the only people there the entire time. Eating a sandwich and then packing out your trash - not okay. Throwing that same plastic bag out the car window on the road driving away from the ruins - perfectly acceptable. In fact, go ahead and add a mattress, sofa, and a few thousand plastic bottles while you're at it.