Thursday, October 10, 2013

On to Sorrento and Beyond

On to Sorrento and Beyond

Thursday, October 3,  2013
Friday, October 4, 2013

I have grouped these days together because they both involved substantial driving on various roads in various conditions. We began our day on Thursday on the Isle of Elba and finished Friday afternoon in Sorrento, many miles to the south.

We had a lovely breakfast on Thursday morning and left our hotel on Elba in plenty of time to catch the 9:15 ferry back to the mainland. It was a beautiful day. The sun’s early rays sparkled on the water and lightened the hillsides, making our drive to the port very enjoyable, indeed. After just a couple of days driving the coastal roads - curves and hills and precipices – the roads had become much more familiar and I was more comfortable at the wheel. We actually made good time all the way to Portoferrio.

What we had not counted on was the ferry being sold out!! We were given tickets for a later ferry but placed in a queue for the first ferry just in case. Well, we almost got to the front of the line when the ferry was declared loaded. Only 8 cars back in a very long line, and we had to wait … and wait! This is Italy so things seem to happen spontaneously. The next ferry, scheduled for 10 am was not going to be running due to a strike. A strike!!! For only one ferry during the entire day! And it was the one we now wanted to be on.  So we waited some more, passing the time enjoying the sun and reading a book; Jim wandered some shops and bought a new hat. (He lost his other one yesterday.)

Finally the appointed time of 11:15 am arrived and we were directed to drive onto the upper deck of the ferry. It was a tricky drive for sure with lots of tight corners to manouevre. We were glad that our mirrors folded in. Although we were among the very first vehicles onto the ferry, we knew that our location in the ship would detract from “first on, first off”.  The hour long ride across the serene and glistening water was a delight.

Once on land again, we headed for the autostrade in the direction of Napoli (Naples). Our plan was to get as far south as Formia today and spend the night there with the idea of exploring the town in the morning. Our drive was wonderful, again passing through a variety of landscapes ranging from rocky mountains with long tunnels bored through them, to coastal plains of rich agricultural land, and pristeen seacoast dotted with coastal towns and villages. We were on the road for about 6 hours and fully enjoyed them all.

Well, there was at least one hour that was less pleasant when we were driving on the ring road around Rome …. But more about that later.

What amazed us most about this day of driving was the number of very long raised roads that crossed miles of fields of market gardening and other crops. It was astounding to think of the cost of construction for each one of these roadways. Again, each one of the several we travelled across was many miles in length. The only explanation that we could think was reasonable was that the land below was actually flood plain, close to the mouths of rivers that carried waters from high in the mountains to the sea. There must be a lot of water at certain times of the year. October is a dry month so it was more common for us to see dry streams, canals and slowly flowing rivers.

The range of crops was remarkable. Of course, there were thousands of vineyards  and olive groves along our way. But a great deal of land was also given over to market gardening. The fields were divided into long narrow strips for planting. Fall crops of corn, melons and squash were being harvested and the fruits of the labour were proudly displayed in small stands along the roadside. Peaches, pears and nectarines are also in season and are so sweet to the taste. Grapes of all kinds are being harvested as well. Most are for wine-making but some are also for the table and we have been amply indulging in them as healthy snacks.

Even though it is autumn, the climate here will support plant life all through the winter months. Consequently, simultaneous with the autumn harvest, planting of new crops is occurring. The bright green shoots of new growth are appearing in crisp straight rows in fields all through the area. Various types of lettuce, beans, peas and onions are among the new crops. There are also hundreds of greenhouses in farms in this area. We have yet to determine what is being grown in such a protected environment. We will keep looking until we find out.

We arrived in Formia quite late in the day and were warmly greeted by several members of the family who run the local hotel where we were staying. It was clean, modest and comfortable. We quite liked it! We enjoyed seeing the members of three generations of the extended family interacting in the public spaces of the hotel. While we had dinner, the five children from two of the families played together, watched television together, got into mischief together and even had a tiff or two. It was good to note that children behave the same way and parents in all countries face the same challenges and try their best to help their children grow into responsible and caring adults. A particular treat with this family was seeing and holding the newborn baby girl, Allegra. She was just ten days old. Oh my, babies are tiny when they are new. She was absolutely beautiful.

On Friday morning, we spent some time in Formia looking at a church, San Giovanni Battista e Lorenzo, that had been originally constructed in 400 AD. It has been rebuilt and refurbished many times since then, most recently following a bombing attack in World War II. Even though the original church building no longer exists, it was very special to be in a place that has continuously been at worship for over 1500 years.

Next we maneuvered our way through some narrow cobbled streets to the top of a very steep hill in search of a Roman built cistern. It was a challenging drive but I was managing quite well in tiny spaces until, at the top of the very steep street, we found a dead end.  With some wailing and gnashing of teeth on my part, we got the car turned around and travelled back down the hill but it was an experience I will not soon forget.

We travelled a bit out of town to find Cicero’s tomb. Yes, the Cicero of your university philosophy class! He is actually buried right here in Formia. He has been cited throughout the years as a brilliant thinker. Even Roosevelt attributed some of the attributes of the Declaration of Independence to the writings of Cicero.

By the time we travelled back into town, the traffic seemed to have increased a hundred fold. My goodness, driving in Italy is an interesting and hair raising adventure.

Some of you have commented over the years about my skill and confidence as a driver. Let me assure you that I have had to put all that and more to the test in the last few days as we have made our way along autostrades, around the rugged coast of Elba, through crowded towns with narrow and cobbled streets, through rush hour traffic in Rome, albeit on the freeway ring road. That made driving the 401 at home seem like child’s play. Today we navigated into the heart of Naples and out again and along the coast road from Castellammare to Sorrento.

In each of these circumstances, sharing the road was a major component of the excitement. The road community includes bicyclists, motorbikes, pedestrians, small busses, large touring busses, small trucks, large load-hauling trucks, cars (ranging in size from Smart cars to full on Range Rovers), camper vans, golf-cart sized vehicles, electric wheelchairs, and tractors with or without wagons. In most cases outside the city, the roads are wide enough for any two of these vehicles to meet and pass one another safely. Often, there are dual carriageways in busier areas with two lanes going in each direction. What that actually means is that the right hand lane is deemed a lane and a half with slower vehicles driving quite close to the edge so faster vehicles can pass them. The left lane is reserved for vehicles (mostly larger and expensive cars) to pass all vehicles in the right hand lane at breakneck speed. If you happen to be in the left lane when one of these speedsters comes up behind you, you can expect lights to flash, horns to honk, hands to wave with just enough space between you and the car behind to pass a piece of tissue between the two vehicles. And, most likely the speedster will be talking on the phone all the while.

Now add in motorbikes for which there do not seem to be any rules. They pass on the left, they pass on the right, they drive into oncoming traffic which often has to swerve to miss the motorbike passing vehicles in its own lane. The only good thing about motorbikes is that they are all quite noisy so it is difficult for them to sneak up on you unawares. But not impossible!! And did I mention that there are no helmet laws here? Many drivers wear helmets but by no means all of them. It is downright scary to watch them pass a vehicle that is already travelling 120+ km/hr.

And the speed limits are incomprehensible. In town the speed limit seems to be 50 Km/hr. Pretty familiar. But … no one travels at that speed. It is either so congested that it is not possible to even approach that speed, or the traffic is light which means you can make up time.  80 km/hr or even more is not uncommon on city streets. Pedestrians risk their lives crossing the street.

But let me tell you about pedestrians. There are marked pedestrian crossings which occasionally are honoured by motorists. Not because pedestrians are waiting patiently on the side of the street beside the pedestrian crossing sign. No! It is because the pedestrians have joined the traffic on the street and are dodging among the vehicles, baby stroller or doddering grandma in toe. And vehicles make every effort to avoid the pedestrians without slowing their speed. Lots of swerving and dodging and acceleration to ensure that they get where they want to be. And then you add in the motorbikes which are ruthless in squeezing through tiny spaces!

Roundabouts work reasonably well but both stop signs and yield signs are signals to edge your way into traffic as appropriate even if the traffic travelling on the crossroad needs to stop because your nose is out a little too far. Swell, at least you got to make your turn or to cross the street.

And so today, we passed through Naples crisscrossing the inner city on all manner of streets and laneways. We were in search of the perfect pizza as described in the Lonely Planet Guide as well as on Trip Advisor. Pizza is said to have been invented in Naples and there are only two remaining shops that make it in the original way. With the help of maps and our GPS we found one of them where there was a line of over 70 people waiting to have pizza. About two hours later, we were seated at a table and served some wonderfully delicious pizza, limited to 3 ingredients on a delectable thin yet chewy crust. Pizza is food for simple tastes, we are told, so additional toppings are simply not available.

I had forgotten that in the book, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, she had described the pizza we ate today as food from the gods. I am not sure it was that good but we were not disappointed in spite of the wait.

We are now just outside of Sorrento, staying in a small cabin in a lovely campground. It is clean, comfortable, modestly priced and the view from our front window is the Sorrento Harbour and the Mediterranean Sea. We can do our own food prep here which is a pleasant change from eating in restaurants all the time. Jim is out doing the laundry and I have made dinner and am patiently awaiting his return to uncork the red wine that will be my reward for all the driving in the last two days.

Tomorrow, we are planning to go on cruise to the Isle of Capri, weather permitting. The car will remain parked at the campground all day long!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sounds in the night ….. fireworks exploding and lighting the sky over a distant peak; olives falling onto the roof of our little cabin from the abundant trees that surround us; branches sweeping the roof as the winds grew stronger; rain, at times gentle and at times torrential; water drops falling onto the roof, also from the olive trees, even when it was not raining; thunder and its silent partner, lightning; rivulets running from our roof down the side of the cabin onto the ground. Some people would be able to sleep though all of that, but I was awakened many times and worrying about how we were going to pack our luggage and transport it to the car in this continuing wet weather. So here I sit in the early, early morning hours writing our diary and listening to the continuing rain outside.

Well, as predicted, the car did remain parked at the campsite for the full day on Saturday and we did go to the Isle of Capri, but the day did not flow as smoothly as we had thought it might.

We arose early in the morning to take an 8 am small boat tour to Capri. We arrived at the appointed location only to learn that the seas were too high today for the small boat to go. We were surprised as, although the sky was overcast, the sea looked calm and there was no wind. Alas, the small boat was not going.

We made a quick decision to take a local bus into the centre of Sorrento and explore what other options were available for the day. We were joined at the bus stop by another retired traveller from Winnipeg who had clearly used the local bus service and knew the ropes. He was very helpful.

Once in Sorrento, we immediately located a comfortable intercity bus that was travelling along the Amalfi Coast from Sorrento to Amalfi. It had been recommended by many people that we not drive the Amalfi coast because of its overwhelming traffic and narrow, winding roads. This bus seemed to be a reasonable alternative. We were even lucky enough to get two seats on the right hand side of the bus so we would be overlooking the sea views and cliff edges at close hand. Done! On we got!

We could tell immediately that it would have been far less fun, especially for the driver, to have driven this road in our own vehicle. The road was narrow, traffic was steady, the turns were tight, cars were parked on both sides of the road, and there was only a small brick wall separating each vehicle from the long sheer drop into the ocean.  But from the vantage point of a reasonably clean bus window, it was possible to look in many directions, to absorb the breathtaking beauty and danger, to take innumerable photographs, and to generally relax and enjoy the fact that an experienced and capable driver was at the wheel.

We oohed and ahhed at the beauty of the landscape. We climbed high along mountain roads only to descend steep slopes into the next village. We passed by amazing homes and hotels (there is money buried deep in these hills) which cling to the precipitous cliff faces, causing us to reflect on the engineering feats that must have occurred in the design and construction. We were able to see the path of the road ahead of us as it wound around the sides of the mountains far above the Mediterranean. We were able to look back and see the many layers of the Amalfi Coast undulating behind us as we travelled further and further along the road. Villages stretched from high on the mountain face all the way to the sea. Steep, steep driveways and innumerable staircases connected the levels of these villages from top to bottom. Fissures in the mountainsides created small coves at the water’s edge where boats of all types were moored. From the height of the road, even the large fishing boats and private yachts looked small.

We were also able to appreciate the skill of the bus driver as he navigated the many tight turns and narrow passages along this famous drive. Many times, traffic had to stop and adjust position for the bus to make its way forward. When two busses met on the road, it was an exercise in extreme spatial awareness that enabled them to creep past one another in spaces that seemed impossible. Cars, trucks, motorbikes and pedestrians also shared the roadway causing amazing congestion, especially in the villages. We were very glad to have taken the bus.

We were almost sad to reach the town of Amalfi, knowing that one of the world’s beauteous areas now was a part of our past. Anticipation is a wonderful thing and, while Amalfi lived up to everything we had expected, we could no longer look forward to going because we had already been there. (Does that make any sense to anyone else?)

We quickly moved on to the next adventure of the day, taking a boat to the Isle of Capri, albeit a larger boat than the one we had intended to take earlier this morning. There was an amazing array of options and we used expediency to help make our decision. We booked tickets for the next boat leaving for Capri. Just enough time to get a cappuccino to go and find our way to the correct location on the dock.

While we waited, many other boats came and went. Each boat was filled with passengers travelling to or from a range of destinations – Sorrento, Salerno, Positano, and of course, Capri. Local travellers were easily distinguished from tourists. Tourists were the ones with large suitcases rolling across the cobblestones behind them. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack. Tourists were also the people most likely to be speaking another language. What a range we heard. But the most common was English – British English, American English, New Zealand English, Australian English, Indian English and yes, Canadian English. We met several Canadians in our travels today.

While we waited for the ferry, something else happened. The weather changed. The overcast weather of earlier transformed into inclement weather and as we stood under cover on the dock, the first few drops of rain transformed into a steady downpour. The sky closed in, visibility diminished and the sea became choppy. But, alas, we carried on, boarding the ferry when it arrived and optimistically choosing seats that afforded the best views as we travelled over the water back along the Amalfi Coast.

We did enjoy seeing the cliff faces from the water. The colourful villages clung to the steep slopes in almost vertical fashion. The road we had just travelled could be seen high above the water with ever increasing traffic. The contour of the mountains clearly showed why the road was as winding as it was. The hairpin turns embraced the edges of the fissures in the landscape.

But as we travelled, the rain intensified and soon we were not afforded a view of anything other than slanting torrential rain. Enterprising marketeers appeared on the ferry with “ponches’ for sale. Three euros. Having left our rain jackets in our car, now far away, we promptly acquired “ponches” and made good use of them when we arrived on Capri. We were especially careful to keep our camera dry, having had a disastrous camera experience in Tahiti last year due to a torrential rainfall.

To say that our visit to Capri was less than we would have hoped for is an enormous understatement. We walked from the dock to the closest restaurant, happily one with heaters outside. We nestled in close to the flame and ordered a glass of wine, pondering how to spend our time on Capri in the rain. Well, we could take a local bus around the island and hope that the rain would stop so we could later ride the funicular. We could inquire about trips to the Blue Grotto and be ready should the rain cease. We could spend some time in the shops and wait out the weather system. In the end, we decided the best option was to order lunch (a fantastic bruschetta) and take the next ferry back to Sorrento. In the end, it was a good option as the rain has not yet stopped a full 18 hours later. So much for our experience on Capri!

When we got back to Sorrento, there was a short break in the weather and we were able to explore the main square in the town and determine how to get the bus back to our accommodation. We stopped into a supermarket to get some food for dinner and headed ‘home’. Which is where we spent the balance of the day.

I will say, it was nice to have some time to read and I finished the book Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. I enjoyed this book thoroughly and was disappointed when it was over. I wanted to hear more of the story.

Since the rain is continuing, I imagine I will have more time tomorrow (or is it now today) to read. For now though, I am heading back to bed to see if I too can sleep while the sounds of the night continue.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

It rained again most of the day. Jim and I moved from our campsite mini-cabin to a mucher nicer hotel room. We settled in and spent much of the day in the room. I had quite a bit of catching up to do on our photo books so it was nice to sit by a window with a seaview (even in the rain, the Mediterranean is a beautiful blue) and work away on a project that gives me great pleasure in the preparation and both of us great pleasure and a treasure trove of memories when it is completed.

I seem to have fallen behind in both the diary and photo management at times because the Italian practice of eating dinner at 8 pm does not lend itself to being very productive in the short evening that follows dinner. We spend our days out and about exploring communities, landscapes, museums, shops etc. and do not build in time for personal projects. Then, by the time dinner is over and a nice glass or two of wine have been consumed, there is no appetite or energy for working on writing or organizing. So we have found the best solution is to take a few hours on occasion to get caught up. And a rainy day in Sorrento with a view of the sea was a perfect day to do so.

Next ….. Salerno

Monday, October 7, 2013

How lovely! The sun was shining this morning when we got up. A bright clear day lay ahead of us. We were on the move today, travelling from Sorrento a bit further south along the west coast of Italy to Salerno. Salerno is described as the sunniest city in Italy. What a great day to be going there.

The drive from Sorrento to Salerno was straightforward but slow due to the volume of traffic inching along a narrow two lane highway. There was no faster way to make the trip so we just got in line with all the other vehicles and mustered up our patience. Actually, when travelling through towns and villages at this speed, there is ample opportunity to look at the buildings, the vegetation, the shops and the people. Quite fun in some ways.

Eventually, we made it out onto a main road and headed directly to Salerno. When I say directly, that is exactly what I mean. In spite of the high and rugged mountains in our path, rather than going over or around, the road went straight through the mountains. Several tunnels had been built, a couple of them over a kilometer long.  It was a very smooth trip from that point forward.

When we arrived in Salerno, we travelled to the centre of town. We found a lovely promenade that followed the waterfront for several miles. We parked the car and set out on foot. The sun was warm, the air clear, the sea beautiful so we walked and walked. We stopped for a coffee at a café on the promenade and then continued on our way.

We watched a freighter being piloted into the port at the far end of the seafront. What skill those tugboat operators have to manoeuvre such a large vessel safely into a small space. We stopped to watch some fish swimming close to shore. We explored trees and blossoms that we did not recognize. By the time we were hungry for lunch we were a very long way from the car. We found a lovely little restaurant part way back and enjoyed a very fresh Greek salad. Yum!

One we got back to the car, we headed out to find both the duomo (cathedral) and the castle that is associated with Salerno. It seems that every town all along the coast has been fortified over the years. We tried to follow the signs but missed a turn and ended high up on a hillside right above the port area. There was the ship that had just arrived, laden down with containers ready to be unloaded. Far below us, there was also a very large parking lot filled with cars that had arrived by sea and were awaiting further shipping within Italy. Trucks were lined up to be loaded with vehicles to be transported to destinations all over the country.

We did not meet our goal of finding either the duomo or the castle but we did stand and watch the shipyard for an extended period of time. Tomorrow we will achieve the rest.

We headed to our hotel, again with a lovely seaview room. We are here for two days so we do not need to move our things again for a while. We strolled along the sea wall early this evening and then went for dinner and ate an absolutely delicious pizza. We may got back to the same place tomorrow night.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What a comfortable place we are staying and what great service from the staff.  Tourist season in this area, as in most of Italy, has come to an end and the people who run this hotel are happy to have any guests. They have rolled out the red carpet for us and made us feel very welcome and comfortable.

Following breakfast this morning, we headed out into the city of Salerno, determined today to locate the museums and the cathedral we could not find yesterday. We hit a gold mine and found everything and more.

First, a stroll along the waterfront promenade with all the men. There was nary a woman in sight! Old men, young men, middle-aged men and all other men, strolling together, chatting amiably on benches, fishing along the rail at the water, riding bikes, talking on the phone, having coffee in nearby cafes, even pushing strollers. It is clearly a great public space for men. But where are the women?

We wandered from the promenade into the “Centro”, the old part of town where traffic is restricted and most streets are pedestrian thoroughfares. What a pleasant change from playing chicken with the traffic to get across a street.

The shops were all open when we arrived. Many upscale clothing stores, the usual assortment of souvenir/trinket stores, several lovely children’s clothing stores, many shoe stores (shoes really are a big thing in Italy), a music store and a myriad of cafes. We meandered past them all, not really looking for anything in particular, simply enjoying the browse.

An interesting looking building came into our view. It was white with some lovely ceramic tile decoration. And it was titled “Virtual Museum – Museum of the Medical School of Salerno”. This was one of the places we wanted to visit. As we bought the tickets, a museum guide approached us to ensure we understood that this was a virtual museum with no specific displays or artifacts. What was available was a series of videos about medicine in the 11th and 12th centuries. Hmmm …. Unusual, to say the least, but we went in. What we did know is that the first recorded female surgeon anywhere in the world trained in Salerno in the 11th century and she wrote three books on women’s medicine.  A woman ahead of her time, I believe.

The videos were quite interesting and at least they were subtitled in English. We were the only two people in the museum and took our time in viewing at least 8 videos. Medical training, instruments of the profession, herbal medicines, anaesthesia, surgical techniques, women’s medicine, and treatment of freckles (yes, you read that correctly) were among the topics explored. It was actually pretty fascinating and, at times, gruesome.

By the time we were finished our viewing, it became clear that the museum staff wanted to close for the midday break. So we graciously took our leave and continued to meander.

Something we have not adapted well to anywhere in Italy is the concept of a midday break. Stores close, museums close, even some restaurants and cafes close for 2 to 3 hours in the middle of the day. Just about the time we hit our stride in terms of how we will spend the day, the shops close and everyone disappears from the very places we want to spend our time. We have not learned yet that it is truly rest time and that most shops and public buildings will reopen later in the afternoon. Today was another of those days that we wandered the streets of Salerno gazing longingly at locked doors and closed shutters (big metal shutters that resemble garage doors and are pulled down fully in front of the shops.) We could not even window shop.

Fortunately, about this time, we happened upon the Duomo, Salerno’s Cathedral. It is a very modest place but filled with history. This cathedral building was first consecrated in 1085 AD and has been in continuous use since then. Some parts of the original building still exist, particularly the Norman style bell tower, and other parts have been rebuilt, restored and refurbished over the centuries. Most recently, the cathedral was seriously damaged in an earthquake in 1980 and has been restored since then. Some of the original frescoes remain intact and many of the graves that are inside the cathedral date back many hundreds of years. Most notably, the remains of St. Mark are said to be buried in this cathedral. This places it in very high regard within the Catholic church.

In the restoration, some of the original (or at least very old) brickwork and columns were exposed for viewing by the public. It is good to be able to see how the building has evolved over more than a century of existence. We are humbled by the depth of history here.

Lunch followed at a lovely balcony restaurant, fortunately under cover from the bright sun, and then the unexpected, sudden and short-lived  downpour of rain. By the time we had finished our lunch the sun was out again and we were able to continue our meander through the town.

Our first stop, ironically, was a lovely little deli that sold many specialty foods from the area. We stocked up on some local cold meat, some lovely cheese and crusty bread with the intent of preparing our own dinner tonight.

We then enjoyed continuing to meander along many of the narrow alleyways that seem to be a part of the core of the old section of Italian cities. Large doors open into unknown spaces on either side of each alley. On occasion, a door will open allowing a rare view into the interior. Sometimes, all we see is a set of stairs leading up to apartments on the floors above. Sometimes, there will be a lovely courtyard filled with potted plants and seating areas. Sometimes there will be a parking lot with a remarkable number of vehicles squeezed into a very small space.  As we walk past, it is fun to imagine what lies behind these old doors.

We happened upon the other museum we wanted to visit to see some Italian paintings but, sadly, it is under renovation for the next two days and is not open to the public. Rats, foiled again!

Something that was happening in Salerno today was the installation of elaborate decorations along one or two key passageways. Yes, indeed, they were installing Christmas decorations complete with twinkling white lights. I guess that is what happens in places that do not celebrate Halloween. Even to this Christmas lover, it seemed a bit early to be putting up Christmas trimmings.

We finally arrived back at the waterfront promenade and stopped for a coffee overlooking the water. In truth, we also needed to use a toilet (yes, another toilet story coming … I promise to make this the last one!).  Sometimes establishments charge a small fee (50 cents) to use the toilet. We have also found that if we order a coffee or a cold drink, the fee is waived. So, instead of 50 cents, the toilet visit actually costs us 3 or 4 euros! In any event, the toilet in this café was very clean and, well, interesting to use. It was without a doubt the smallest toilet cubicle that I have ever seen. A very narrow double swinging door gained entry into a tiny space where the sink was located. A second set of swinging doors allowed the user to pass into the actual toilet stall. The toilet, very low to the ground, took up about 75% of the space in this little room. There was barely enough space available to place your feet in front of the toilet bowl when standing. Manoeuvering clothing in this space was nigh onto impossible. I will spare you the specific details. Once down, there was no place to put a bag or purse or anything else you might be carrying. Truly, the only option was to hold it on your lap. And, once finished on the toilet, rising to a standing position and reclothing oneself required the dexterity and flexibility of a gymnast. I was almost laughing aloud by the time the process was complete. In need or not, I sent Jim in to see the facility. It was worth the price of the coffee to have the experience.

We left the café and managed to locate the parking garage where we had deposited the car on our first try. We glided up the ramp and back onto the street and headed in the general direction of our hotel. By now, the afternoon had waned and it was time to return to our seaview room to enjoy the late day sun and light over the water.  We discovered that we had access from our room directly onto a large deck that afforded wonderful views of the sea and the streets. This is where we spent much of our time. In fact, we did prepare our own dinner in due course and ate it out on the deck as well. How lovely it was to be able to sit outside all evening.

Except for the French Horn. Yes, the French Horn! Someone in a room very close to ours was practising the French Horn. Scales, no less. It would have been much better if there had been a melody or two to charm our eardrums (I actually really like the French Horn) but all we heard for a couple of hours were scales and arpeggios. At least, the musician played them well. And at 9:30 pm, the music stopped. We were willing to wait until 10 before taking some action. But no need to approach the desk clerk and attempt to explain the problem of the musician and the French Horn. The subsequent silence was quite lovely, I must say.

Southwest we go to Crotone

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

We ate breakfast and said farewell to the staff at our Salerno hotel. It was time to head further south and a bit west to Crotone on the east coast of the southern peninsula.

We started out by stopping to purchase stamps for two postcards. Everything in Italy takes more time than we would expect and purchasing stamps was no exception. Three stores later, we finally had stamps but no one including the salesperson was sure they were the correct stamps for mail to Canada. And, no one seemed to know exactly where a mailbox was located. So we carried on with the postcards and stamps in hand. We’ll deal with it later.

We headed along the coast road enjoying the views of the sea but also looking for a Frutteria we had seen a few days earlier. Our supply was depleted and we enjoy having fresh fruit as snacks on driving days. After a few kilometers we did find it and made some selections. Then we turned inland and began our journey toward to the west.

For the first several kilometers, we travelled on local roads feasting our eyes on the rich agricultural land that stretched out on both sides of the road. Market gardening was the main agricultural industry here and there were fresh produce stands at regular intervals along the road, mainly selling whatever the local crops seemed to be. Watermelons at one stand – 3 euros each. Mushrooms at another. Lettuce and other greens at a third stand. And so on.

Crops at all stages of development were flourishing in the fields, some familiar to us and others quite unidentifiable. And then there were those greenhouse. We still could not figure out what was growing inside them.

We passed through three towns along the way. Long, busy towns with the main street lined with shops and many, many apartment buildings. Driving was very slow through these urban areas. In the third town, we did spot a post office and Jim took our postcards in to confirm that the stamps were correct and then mail them. Again, all things in Italy take time. First, there was a long line of customers. And not enough staff. Then, when it was finally Jim’s turn, there was a further discussion among the postal staff about whether the stamps were correct or not. They finally called upon their supervisor to make a final determination. She said they were fine and so Jim mailed the postcards. I sure hope they make it to Canada!

It was at this point that we looked at the map and noted the short distance we had travelled this morning. Time to put on the turbo props if we were actually going to make it to Crotone in daylight hours. We dispensed with the local roads and once again hopped on the southbound autostrade. What a good decision! The road was in good repair, there was very little traffic and the terrain was rugged to say the least. We travelled across several mountains, sometimes clinging to the edges on a road that was built on a narrow ledge. At times, we disappeared for long periods of time into tunnels only to emerge on the other side of a mountain or back on the narrow road on the edge of the mountain. There were times that we could look far ahead and see exactly where the road was going to lead us.

The landscape was spectacular. Craggy peaks, hilltop towns, precipitous cliffs, plunging valleys. There was not a flat space to be found in the middle part of southern Italy. Jim and I were really quite unprepared for the ruggedness of this entire country. We finally crested the last mountain and began our long descent. It was a relief to be on the way down (and out of the construction zones …. And the fog that existed when we were high enough to be among the clouds). We stopped at an Autogrille service centre for lunch.

There is a unique practice in Italy when it comes to eating food in restaurants. If you want to sit at a table, often you are required to pay a ‘coperta’, a cover charge for the use of the table and the dishes on it. Bread is also usually a part of the coperta charge. The coperta varies from one to three euros depending on where we are. However, if you are willing to stand at the counter to drink your coffee or eat your sandwich, there is no coperta. You pay only the base cost of the menu item you order. So, today, having been seated in the car for a few hours at this point, we decided to forgo the use of a table and stretch our legs at the counter while we are our paninis. And, no coperta to pay either.

A few kilometres later, we reached the bottom of the mountain and once again left the autostrade. We were once again travelling along a local road through extremely productive agricultural land. This area though was a wide flat plain and the main product in the area was fruit. Apple trees, vineyards, and groves of citrus fruit stretched as far as the eye could see. Irrigation systems were in place in many of the orchards to ensure a steady water supply for the thousands and thousands of fruit trees in the area. We also noted that there was netting placed over the trees as the fruit matures, presumably to discourage the birds from eating or damaging the crop. We also saw some sheep, goats and dairy cattle along the way. What a contrast to the market gardening of earlier in the day.

It was not long until we could see another body of water in the distance. We were very close to the Golfo di Taranto which further south spills into the Mar Ionio (Ionian Sea). Yet another body of water to out my toes into. I must say though, it is hard to distinguish between the Mediterranean Sea on the west coast of Italy and south of Sicily, the Adriatic Sea is on the east coast of Italy and the Ionian Sea is at the very south of the east coast of Italy and lies between the Adriatic and the Mediterranean.  Confused? Yes, so are we. In the end it seems that the water all runs together and the boundaries between these bodies of water are pretty arbitrary.
We travelled along a coastal highway down the east coast of the foot of Italy (not the heel) to reach Crotone. We had booked a lovely apartment where we will spend the next couple of days exploring the town, enjoying the sea (the water is apparently still warm enough to go swimming) and reveling in the views from our multiple balconies. Oh … and did I mention there is a heated pool, a spa and a massage therapist available in the facility where we are staying. We may never leave!

I will leave you with this. The sun is setting in the west behind the mountains, its constantly changing colours reflecting on the billowing white clouds over the turquoise water of the sea, shimmering in the last of the sun’s rays. As darkness conquers daylight, lightening begins to flash in the clouds over the water. A veritable light show flashes before our eyes. Nature’s beauty and power intertwined.

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