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Who are these gypsies?

We are a retired couple who enjoy travel.  We love meeting new people, new cultures, and exploring unique experiences.  We will share our discoveries on our blog and photo album as we wander about our wonderful world.

Check out our (almost) daily blog that follows below.

When we’re traveling we blog nearly daily.  When we’re home and not planning a trip, this blog may go quiet for weeks.

Categories

Use the categories filter on the right side to select the blog entries that interest you. Alternately you can scroll back “in time” through our blog.

 

International Travel

We love to visit Europe, Italy in particular.  Spring 2015 we took our inaugural “Retirement Celebration”  trip to Europe.  We visited the Galapagos Islands on the National Geographic Islander with Safari Experts & Tim Lapage in the spring of 2016. We have a trip to Italy planned for spring 2017 and a long “wish list”

Our International Trips:

  1. Seabourn Cruise of the Greek Islands, Rome, Istanbul, Venice, and Florence, 2015
  2. The Galapagos, 2016
  3. Italy for two months, spring 2017
  4. Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, and the Amazon, future
  5. Alaska, future
  6. Antarctica, future
  7. Africa: Zambia, South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia, future

Road Trips

We purchased a 2015 Winnebago View in February of that year in Connecticut and drove it back to California in some of the coldest weather that winter.  We have since taken a number of trips in “The Beast”, as we call “him”.  We’ve taken to calling him “Li’l Beast”.  As large as our 24′ RV is, it is dwarfed by some of the 44 footer’s.

  1. return trip from Connecticut, 17 days
  2. San Diego, 1 week
  3. Napa Valley, 2 days
  4. Whidbey Island, Washington state, 2 weeks
  5. New England, 9 weeks
  6. Thanksgiving, San Diego, 2 weeks
  7. Springdale, Utah 1 week (Tesla S)

Notes from each of these trips can be found on our blog.  We are now enjoying a week in San Diego over Thanksgiving.  We will move into our new home in February after some remodeling.  It is fun choosing flooring, fixtures, materials, and colors. We’re finalizing our trip to South America next spring.

The photos that rotate through in the top banner capture memorable events in our travels.  They are not necessarily related to the day’s blog.

“Track our Travels” (on the top menu) will show you where we have been today.  You can also access our photo albums or other nooks in this website.

Enjoy!

Life in Firenze

We have been living in Firenze for a month now; two weeks in a rustic hillside house and two weeks in an palace apartment.  You would think with so much time, I would be writing about our experiences.  When we are home, I am enjoying relaxing and reflecting on the day.  I plan to write a compendium of our experience in Firenze when we arrive back in Hercules.

We are having a wonderful time.  I am sure people wondered how we could endure six weeks in Florence.  Most tourists visit for a few days, four at the most, and move on.  Florence is steeped in history and its art.  It is one of the most storied cities in the world, and was home to an unrivaled list of genius’.  Every day holds something new for us: sometimes a bit of historical information, often something more contemporary.

Then there is the food.  Think of Italy and most Americans think pizza.  We have ordered our share of pizza in Italy; it is quick, tasty, and inexpensive.  It is not what I consider Italian cuisine.  I have had fresh ravioli, cone shaped and stuffed with Porchetta, bread, mussles, and pop pig.  I have no idea what pop pig is, but it was delicious. Spaghetti cacio e peppe and spaghetti alle vongole verace are both wonderful.  The antipasti can be surprisingly tasty with unusually paired flavors.  Along the coast, the seafood is marvelous.  Italian wines and artisan beers are quite easy to drink.

Everywhere we have gone we have had fun talking to the people in our small but expanding Italian vocabulary.  Most everyone speaks English, but they love to see us speak their language.  Sometimes we get a barrage of Italian in response!  Then we sheepishly have to respond in English, popping the illusion that we can actually speak Italian.  It’s fun.  We are learning every day and that’s fun too.

The food is so good and so varied, it is impossible not to gain weight.  As Antonella said over dinner last night,, “Italians do not eat like this every day.  We typically eat a light lunch, maybe a salad.”  We do not eat like this every day either, not “at home”.  Visiting Italy, now that’s an entirely different beast.  Overindulging for a week’s vacation is one thing.  We are staying for two months.  We have gained some weight.  I hate dieting, I enjoy food far too much to deny myself this simple pleasure. I do see an extensive exercise program in my future.

We have taken an massive gallery of photographs.  If I had to guess, I’d say we have taken six thousand photos and videos.  Some simply document meals and restaurants.  Some chronicle ancient ruins we have visited.  Others picture expansive views of the sea or cities we have visited.  Some are spectacular.   It takes time to sort through them, culling the best and posting those.  For now, I claim laziness! I will post photos and an in-depth description of our stay in Florence some other time.

Ciao!

Day 15, out of sequence below

A quick note.  Somehow our WiFi connection failed when Day 15 should have been posted and I did not notice it until days later.  It’s the nature of a blog that each entry is sequential, hence my re-submission of day 15 is out of chronological order.   We had a great time in Sperlonga, in fact we’ve had a great time wherever we’ve gone!

We are now in Florence and I’ve been very remiss in updating our blog.   Given a choice of enjoying Florence or writing about it, I must admit writing takes a distant second place.  We’ve had a wonderful time at the outskirts of Florence in a charming farmhouse and an equally wonderful time in San Niccolo near Oltrano.

One day I’ll feel the muse, but for now we are simply having fun re-discovering Firenze.

Our hosts have been wonderful.

Salve Firenze!

Day 15, Gaeta and Sperlonga

 

Hotel Poseidon

We had breakfast at the hotel. Fair cappuccinos, ok cornetti, good scrambled eggs and a bacon like ham thing.  We ate comfortably, meaning we did not gorge ourselves.  Photos of the hotel make it appear to sit on the water.  It is actually a block from the sea. The dining area overlooks a parking lot and the sea.

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The manager handling the breakfast buffet was two faced.  He was gracious to the guests and rude to his workers.  I think he was eastern European, though he could easily have been Italian.  He ruled the dining area with intimidation and an iron fist.

I do recommend Hotel Poseidon.  It is comfortable, close to Pompeii, close to exquisite sea food, and has a parking garage.

 

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Torre del Greco: Getting a Boat to the Marina

We left Torre del Greco for Gaeta around 10:30.  Getting out of Torre del Greco was a trip.  Our GPS guided us along the coast on a road that grew increasingly primitive.  At one point it led us to a dirt parking strip fronting a repair shop.  An ancient wall rose up to our right, the sea and old unkempt buildings to our left.  There was a very tiny opening in the wall.  That was the road.  I had to back up to negotiate that turn and the immediate left turn that followed.  Eventually we found a road that took us to the autostrada.  Did I mention driving in Italy is both fun and challenging?

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You wouldn’t think it’s a bridge, but for the tower and cables

It was a gloriously sunny day driving the coast north.  We had roughly three hours drive to get to Sperlonga. Time was tight; we decided to skip driving to Bacoli.  This way we avoided Napoli entirely.

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Mondragone, on the Road to Gaeta

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Parked in a Blue Pay Parking Space, *SAFE*

A bay curves into a point of land that is Gaeta.  Most interesting geological formations along Italy’s coast are home to ancient towns that grew into modern towns that harbor a centro storico, or historical district.  Gaeta is one of those places.

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We Parked Just Off This Small Square

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We drove into Gaeta and immediately found an expansive parking lot across from the bay.  It is Saturday, the day before Easter..  Most people are home visiting family and relatives. Great. I parked.  Another rookie mistake.  It is a better idea to drive around a small town some to reconnoiter.  Check out where the points of interest are and the scale of the town.  This works if the town is small.  It can backfire if the town is large.

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Ellen at Gaeta Along The Shore

We parked and walked along the sea promenade.  We were very hungry at this point; many (most) Italian restaurants close after lunch then open again after setting up for dinner.  We’ had been caught looking for la pranza (lunch) at 2:15 with no luck.  Not this time!  We walked by Antica Pizzeria Ciro, which was open and had lunch there.  We both ordered spaghetti vongole. We cannot get enough clams on the Italian coast!  My glass of house white wine was  “ok”, and the vongole was fresh and tasty, but probably yesterday’s catch.  While good, it was noticeably different.  There were more clams that didn’t open when cooked indicating they had died prior to going in the pot.   Lunch was just ok.

 

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Ristorante Ciro, 1923

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Spaghetti con Vongole

We had a table by the Plexiglas and canvass windows and had a wonderful view of the bay.  Toward the end of our meal, a group of six or eight people, friends of the owner arrived.  They apparently complained of the heat in the room.  The owner opened our Plexiglas/canvass window/door such that the Plexiglas rolled up and away and the canvass rolled up blocked our view.  Worse, now the bottom of our “window” was open to the wind that immediately made our table frigid.

Moments later our waiter dropped by asking if we wanted anything more, dessert, coffee, espresso…  “Yes, could you ask the owner to close our window so we don’t freeze and can see the bay?”, but of course that went unsaid.  Instead, we asked, “il conto per favore” and made as if to leave.  The waiter had watched the entire fiasco.  He actually went to the owner to mention they were losing business having the window open.  The owner could care less.  Italy has pluses and minuses.  This was a minus for us, but only because we had not engaged the owner earlier.   It was no big deal, we were planning to leave then anyway.

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What, Gaeta Has No Centro Storico?

Continuing our walk along the promenade, we first came to a marina, then parking, then a “centro storico” sign, and the old part of the city built into the hillside.  There were a few ristoranti open, some bars too. We walked the historic center and enjoyed the view from high above the sea.  Gaeta is well worth a stop for lunch and to walk the old city.  I know I will look further along the promenade and skip Ciro next time.

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Where We Should Have Parked and Eaten?

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The Fort, Gaeta, Played a Role in the Unification of Italy in 1860.

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Details of a Bell Tower of St. Erasmus, Gaeta

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Church of St Francis of Assisi, Gateta

 

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Duomo, Centro Storico

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A Stairway, Let’s See What’s Up There!

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Everywhere You Go, Stairways

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Some Stairways Are More Historic

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Find Your Place in the Sun.

The drive from Gaeta to Sperlonga is about thirty minutes.  With this in mind, we lingered in Gaeta.

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On the Road To Sperlonga

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Sperlonga from Tyberius’ Villa

The drive into Sperlonga is along narrow two way streets that are not that intimidating.  We found the hotel by driving past the street twice, parking, and using Google on our Italian phone to get us the last 100 meters. “Here is your room key, breakfast is served on floor zero.  Your room is on the 2nd floor.  Park anywhere in back.”  As with every room we have stayed in thus far, the room was clean and outfitted with brand new Italian fixtures.  We took the elevator to the 2nd floor and didn’t find room 215.  It was one floor down on the first floor.  Breakfast must have been served of floor –1!  We unpacked what we needed from what little we had and headed out to explore Sperlonga.

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A Very Nice Shower Fixture

Sperlonga has two long, beautiful beaches divided by a high spit of rock that juts into the  sea.  The old city of Sperlonga sits atop this rock and has steep narrow staircases between very old buildings.  Pathways lead to pathways that go up or down; up to the piazza or down to the sea.  There are boutique hotels and B&B’s hidden away in dead-end stairways or closed off gates. In the old town cafes and ristoranti line the piazza.  Further from the sea, is a piazza that local children use to play.  Soccer balls fly here and there, most are run down.  Children show off their skills or mess up trying a new skill.

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The Spit and Tower that Divide the two Lidos

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The More Developed and Lively North Lido, Sperlonga

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The Less Developed South Lido, Sperlonga

We walked the pathways (street conjures up the wrong image) coming to know Sperlonga’s ins and outs.  Hungry again, even after a good spaghetti lunch.  We vowed not to eat pizza tonight!  While pizza is tasty, Italy has so much more to offer.  Local cuisine varies so much from region to region, it seems a travesty to just have pizza. Eat local.

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The Slow Food Sign, Sperlonga

Sperlonga is a  “slow food” city.  Italy’s slow food movement began in Rome when McDonalds attempted to open a store right beside the Spanish Steps.  That store was opposed by residents who feel that a fast food chain is anathema to the concept of Italian life.  “Slow Food” is a movement trying to preserve the best of regional foods by encouraging the use of local ingredients and promoting cooking, eating, and enjoying a meal SLOWLY.  Piano Piano, as the Italians say.

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Stairs From the Sea to Centro Storico, Sperlonga

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Sperlonga’s Marina

I wanted to try local cuisine, but at the same time have a light meal.  It was the day before Easter and many ristorante were closed.  Then it was too early for others to open.  We walked up to the main piazza, around the upper town, then back down another route, not settling on any place to eat.

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Sperlonga’s Central Piazza

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Sunset Walking To The Sea

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Sunset on Sperlonga’s Lido Nord

Back at sea level, we walked the lido toward home, Viriglio Grand Hotel Sperlonga.  I whipped out my trusty Italian phone and looked up restaurants near me.  Up popped “Tropical Pizza” rated #1 for cheap eats.  Pizza?  Well ok.   It was busy, though we were seated quickly as were a hoard of people behind us.  The place was overflowing with good natured talk among family and friends.  They had an astounding variety of pizza.  As Julia Roberts said, “There are only two kinds of pizza, Margherita  and Margherita with double buffalo mozzarella.”  I ordered a Margherita pizza, Ellen had vegetables of her choice grilled and half of my pizza.  It seems just a bit weird to be eating pizza in a slow food town.

We were hungry and the pizza was good.  Tropical Pizza had a Tropical Bar next door that played loud music.  Inside, the pizza place played a low volume mix of Italian ballads and U.S. mellow rock (think Beach Boys).

Day 17, Tivoli, Civita Bagnoregio, Orvieto

 

Tivoli and B&B Il Gardino

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B&B Il Gardino’s Entrance, Tivoli

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Common Area, B&B Il Gardino, Tivoli

We awoke early for us, enjoyed a leisurely shower, and went down for breakfast.  The buffet breakfast was quite varied. “Would you like coffee?” “Due cappuccino, per favore.”  though we could have spoken English.   I really appreciated the fresh fruit that greeted us at table.  The cappuccinos were great.

As we often do we walked the town of Tivoli in the morning.  There were a few people out for a morning stroll or coffee.  The town felt deserted. We left for Civita Bagnoregio around 10am.

Bagnoregio on an Italian National Holiday

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Bagnoregio is Perched on a Small Hilltop

Traffic on the autostrada was unusually heavy today and moving as congested traffic does.  We came to a near stop or a full stop innumerable times.  Sometimes traffic would zoom at the speed limit and two kilometers come to a complete halt for minutes at a time.  I’d expect to come upon an accident, but there would be no indication that anything was wrong aside from the traffic.

Our GPS piped up with “take slick road on right in 2 kilometers toward…”  I pulled to the right lane saw that traffic was queuing in the break down lane for the exit and pulled in line just in time.  Traffic moved at a snail’s pace.  After an hour we were approaching the turnoff and one of the holdups became apparent.  For every car in line that exited the autostrada, here were two cars who cut the very head of the line.  That was infuriating.

The second bottleneck was traffic merging from the left accessing the toll booths.  There were two lines of traffic darting in, around, and through each other.

Third up?  The toll gates themselves.  Two were closed and two were open; one open for cash, the other for telepass. Cars accessing  the cash lane were blocking the telepass lane and telepass holders were blocking the cash lane.  Madness.

Finally my turn after cutting of a guy trying to cut in front of me.  That’s not going to happen after waiting 90 minutes.  Up to the booth attendant with my ticket.  He’s on the phone.  He takes my ticket and 3,40 shows on the display.  Great I hand him a 5 and fish for 40 cents.  He takes the five, still talking on the phone and does nothing.  I found the 40 cents to get an even 2 euros back a tried to hand it over.  He’s still talking on the phone. “Sigonore, per favore” nothing, this guy is “busy”.  “Signore, please take this 40 cents”  nothing.. I’m sure traffic behind me is convince I’m a total idiot by now.  “Allora, Signore, please take this 40 cents too” It wasn’t a shout, but I did raise my voice.  He moved the phone away from his ear, glowered at me, and released a stream of Italian the gist of which was I’m on the phone talking about this traffic backup.  You could wait.  He did take the 40 cents and give me 2 euros.  I was free…

The back roads to Bagnoregio were traffic free!  I had this haunting feeling that something was happening that I was not aware of.  Why so much traffic on the autostrada? We we approached Bagnoregio, I could not believe what I saw.  Driving toward the lower parking area, the streets were lined with parked cars.  In the lower part of the new town, there were people milling about every where.  Car parking areas were full.  We eventually found a parking yard with an opening and grabbed it.

The pay kiosk was broken another dilemma.  Do we park elsewhere and not get ticketed for sure, or do we simply walk on hoping for the best?  We walked on, joining a stream of people headed to Bagnoregio.  Now Civita Bagnoregio is a very small town that sits on a precipice. Access to the town is across a long picturesque pedestrian bridge.  To access that bridge, you first park, walk up steps to the upper town, walk through the town eventually to access to that pedestrian bridge.  The crowds were staggering. Walking through the town we joined a throbbing throng of people moving toward the pedestrian bridge; with another stream of people returning.  It’s about a 1 kilometer walk through the town.  This was like being at a world fair, it was so crowded.  Everyone was speaking Italian.

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Bagnoregio is Quite Dramatic

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Crowded? Pieno, Pieno, Pieno!

Look closely at the crowd crossing the footbridge to the city in the photo above.  It turned out that today, the day after Easter, is a national holiday. Half of Rome had come to visit Bagnoregio.  We eventually reached access to the pedestrian bridge, but seeing the crowd crossing the bridge it became apparent that a relaxed lunch in Bagnoregio admiring the town and its views was not going happen.  There was no way we could stand the crowds. We left having taken a few photos of the town and the crowds.

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The Foreground Appears Uncrowded, a Bus had just Gone Past!

 

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Upper “Bagnoregio” men’s & women’s Line

We both needed to use a Toilette.  The line near the Bagnoregio foot bridge was excessively long. We moved quickly back through the new town and down the stairs to find a men’s and woman’s line.  Predictably the men’s line was four deep, the woman’s nearly twelve.  Ellen, “is there a door in the men’s room?”  After checking, “yes” and she waited in the men’s line with me to the shock of one fellow in particular.

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The Lower Women’s Line

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Ellen used the Men’s Room, One Guy was Not Amused!

Back at the alfa, we had no parking ticket.  There was traffic!  There were people looking for parking and those leaving.  We left and dialed in Orvieto as our destination.  We were off.  Ellen asked if I was ok leaving Bagnoregio without actually seeing the city.  Of Course, the mass of people was a complete disaster. No way would I have wanted to continue.

We stopped at a service center on the autostrada to get gas and maybe a bite to eat.  I drove past the entrance for the food court and drove through the exit to park.  No harm done, nobody was coming out.  The food selection at the food court was extensive, from pizza by the slice to made to order pasta dishes.  A fellow overheard us talking about the pizza and he said, “the pizza is good”. We opted for a slice of pizza.  Crust makes a pizza.  My pepperoni/salami pizza slice was good, but the crust was not crunchy.  Ellen’s was crunchy and much better. Full up, we filled the car up too.

Orvieto

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Orvieto, Prominent in the City is the Duomo

The drive to orvieto went very smoothly until we reached Orvieto.  Rick Steves had recommended parking at the funicular and taking it up to the city.  Parking in the city is limited and expensive.  Right.  So we drove up a winding road looking for the funicular.  I stopped and asked an attractive woman police woman (comment about Italian Woman discreetly left out) where we would find the Funicular.  She was very helpful and precise.”a sinistra, allora diretto e a destra” motioning in the general direction of left.  Off we went following her directions and surprisingly we did not find the funicular, but we found a parking garage.  We parked, dragged our luggage out of the car, and headed out in search of the Funicular.

The policemen directing traffic either did not understand English or couldn’t be bothered.  Ellen approached a group on a corner and asked were we would find the fu NIK u lar.  They looked at each other, clearly not understanding what Ellen was asking.  I have no idea where this sprang from but I blurted out, “FU nick u LA re”  Instant recognition sprang upon one gal’s face.  She pointed down the hill, “e la”, she said proudly.  In Italian accent is everything.  The difference between so prah SEt to and so pra SAH to is the difference between getting a blank stare or a great sausage.

Down we trundled over cobblestone, Ellen dragging her suitcase, me with my duffle bag over my shoulder. We found an expansive parking lot, the entrance to the Funicular, and a ticket office.  “due biglietti, per favore” and we stepped into a crowded car with standing room only. Ellen and I were separated in the car.  Eventually there was a beep, the doors closed, and the Funicular lurched downward. DOWN?  We are going DOWN?  It occurred to me that we probably drove up to parking in the city.  There was no need to take the Funicular.  None.  I didn’t want to look at Ellen; didn’t want to know what she was thinking!

When the Funicular hit bottom, we stayed aboard as others boarded.  A bit later the doors closed and we were headed back to Orvieto.

We took no photos of the Funicular. We were disgusted with it/us.

We dragged our bags up past our parking area, up and up.  Eventually Ellen approached a good looking Italian fellow and asked where the Grand Hotel Italy was.  He said, in very good English, this street takes you to a square.  The hotel is just past the square on this street I believe.  We had arrived, almost.  Those last 200 meters were torture.

Orvieto and Grand Hotel Italia

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We Found Orvieto’s Duomo

The hotel is well located in Orvieto’s centro storico.  It is a comfortable if modest hotel situated just off Piazza del Popolo.   We had a standard room of moderate size with a nicely appointed bathroom. Lunch was a vague memory, we were hungry again.  We asked at the desk where we could get an authentic local meal.  “On Piazza del Popolo, just nearby, is Mamma Angela’s.  That is the best.”

Mamma Angela’s

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It Was Too Cold to Sit Outside

http://www.osteriadamammaangela.it/

We walked had walked past that piazza on our way to the hotel.  Finding the restaurant was no problem, but it did not look open.  Approaching a fellow setting up outside seating, I asked, “E aperto?” to which I heard “No, aperto alle sette quindici.  Vuoi una prenotazione allora?”  “Si, alle otto?” and the waiter made a gesture saying I’ll remember you while saying, “recordo”.  We had forty minutes time to walk some of Orvieto.  The church on the square is interesting, though we had seen a clock tower nearby.  Off we went in search of something.  That something was the Orvieto’s duomo.  It is an impressive structure in white and gray stone similar to Firenze’s duomo.  It was closed.  We returned to Osteria da Mamma Angela at 7:15 sharp, hoping to be seated early.  “Buongiorno, interno all’esterno?” “La, per favore” I said pointing inside while avoiding the whole interno issue.  We were seated and given menus in Italian.  Ellen asked his name. “Luca” Ellen asked “Luca, with two ‘c’s’?”  “no, one c, Luca”.  Luca is one of the owners.

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Mamma Angela’s Italian Menu

Cool, We were well into translating the menu with my “Italian phone” when a waitress came over and asked if we would like an English menu.  Sure, let’s do that.  Apparently, I had spoken enough Italian convincingly that the first fellow thought I spoke Italian. Cool, if counter productive!”

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Mamma Angela’s Ravioli

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Mamma Angela’s Osso Bucco

The English menu was so much easier to decipher, though we still had questions about ingredients.  Included on the menu was Osso Bucco.  I love osso bucco.  Ellen even commented that it was on the menu. Ellen ordered Mamma Angela’s Ravioli. We had house wine which was exceedingly good.   My osso bucco was not nearly as tender I had expected.  Like the pasta, the beef was al denti.  It was perfectly seasoned with just the right touch of finely chopped carrots. I assume celery and onion as well, though they mostly dissolved in the sauce.  I have since learned that chianina is the local breed of Tuscan cattle.  It is a tougher meat than angus.  The Italians prefer a chewy beef to the tender beef we eat in the U.S.  My osso bucco was no doubt from Chiania beef.  It was very tasty and very resilient! The osso bucco was good. Ellen’s really enjoyed here ravioli.

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Cheese Cake, and the Topping? Excellente!

Our waitress tempted us with a desert list.  We settled on cheese cake.  The cake was wonderful, but the fruit topping was amazing.

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Inside Mamma Angela’s

Italy and Wines

A word about Italy and wines.  Italy has more acreage cultivated for grapes than any country in the world.  It produces more wine than any other country.  Surprisingly, most of Italy’s wine is produced by small family wineries producing wine for local consumption, akin to Germany’s local breweries. Most of these do not produce wine in sufficient quantities for a large export market.  The wine is consumed locally.  Therefore Italian wines are virtually unknown in the U.S.  Only people who travel to Italy and sample the wines from the various regions come to appreciate both the quality and variety of these wines.  I have had some extremely good glasses of house wine produced locally in small volume I’m sure.   No doubt I will have a mixed case of wine (or two) shipped back home.

Typical for us, we left Mamma Angela’s happy, tired, and sated.  Unusual for us, our walk back to the hotel was short, flat, and with no stairs.

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An Eclectic Curio Shop, Orvieto

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There’s Something About Betty

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Froggie!

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Wagon Train, Orvieto

Italy Day 16, Sperlonga, Tyberius’ Villa, Tivoli

 

In retrospect, today was a very full day. We touched on so many things: historical, culinary, visual.  From the beach to a hill top town, from 1st century BC to a local bar playing beach boys.  We had one miss and one near disaster (that wasn’t). Everything else was perfect.  What a glorious day!

 

Virgilio Grand Hotel

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The Hotel Entrance

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The Lounge, the Virgilio Hotel Is Modern

Breakfast was included at Hotel Poseidon. We ate at the hotel and walked the old town of Sperlonga one more time.  Ellen said, “I could stay here a month”  Sperlonga is a beautiful community, though there might not be enough cultural events for a months stay.

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It Was Too Cold To Setup Breakfast Outside

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Tropical Pizza, Highly Rated but Slow Food?

A Pictorial Walk Around Sperlonga

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Tiberius’ Villa, Sperlonga

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Sperlonga Seen From Tiberius’ Villa

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The Path to the Ruins of Tiberius’ Villa, Sperlonga

The hotel concierge strongly advised that we visit Tiberius’ Villa and Grotto, which is a few kilometers south of Sperlonga.  I knew tiberius had a villa atop the blue grotto with a stairway down into the grotto, but not about Sperlonga! Back at the hotel, we brought our luggage down and I went out back for the car.  It was GONE! It was simply not there!  Not here, not around the corner, GONE!

I frantically went back to the hotel desk, “scusi, my car is gone!”  “oh, we moved it down stairs.  It’s on level –2.”  Whew!  And it was on level –2.

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Walking the Ruins, Sperlonga

Driving to Tiberius’ Villa, meant retracing our drive south about three kilometers.  The turn off for parking is not well marked.  The first clue the driver has something is coming up is the bus parking to the left you notice just as you drive by a small blue “P” and arrow to the right. Down the road some there are place to turn around.  Even knowing where the turn in for parking is, it is easy to drive by.  The entrance is quite small.  You drive down a short steep road.  The road goes straight take a turn to the right and park in a dirt/grass area.  We found the last parking space.  I thought we might be parked in when we leave.

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Raised pools, Tiberius’ Grotto, Sperlonga

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Water Once Flowed Through The Pipes (holes)

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A Statue Left Outside (hard to access?)

The entrance to the villa from the parking area is not marked at all.  From parking you walk 100 meters to an access road.  Left takes you back to the main road.  Right takes you down to the sea. “Scusi, dov’e la villa di Tiberius?  e la?” (pointing to the right). “No e la” (fellow points to the left)  That saved us a walk down to the sea and back! Up to the Villa.

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Close-up of the Ancient Pipes

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Fishing Here Is Still Good!

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Small Fish in the Lower Pool

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Large Fish in the Upper Pool

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Our Single Busload of Tourists

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The Ruins a Different Perspective

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Ellen, Having a Great Time!

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View from Tiberius’ Lair: Sperlonga & Ellen

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Description of Tiberius’ Grotto, In Italian Of Course

Instead we found the entrance to a museum. “Dov’e la villa di Tiverius?”  It worked once, lt’s see what the museum official says.  “e qui”.  Cool, in we go.  You pay a few euro to tour both the museum which houses incredible status and then tour the grounds of the ruins of what once was Tiberius’ Villa.  Tiberius knew how to position his homes.  This on is situated on a relatively flat  expanse that runs right to the sea.  To the left is a grotto.  To the right is the Lido that leads to Sperlonga.  It’s a moderate walk from here to there.  Directly in front of the villa, now ruins, is a rocky seafront.  There was a fellow spear fishing on the rocks.  The fishing must be pretty good.  The grotto pools with their array of huge fish were fenced off.

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Some English at the bottom!

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Location of Statues in Tiberius’ Grotto

The statues in the museum depict scenes from Homer’s Odysseus. The Slaying of the cyclops is very well sculpted in white marble. It is a huge statue with many parts.  Interestingly Tiberius had these statues placed in the grotto.  Tiberius himself had living space in the grotto.  The museum is small.  It houses the statues that were recovered from the cave.

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Odyusseus and the Cyclops

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Cyclops, Close Up

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How The Art Might Have Looked

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What is Left Today

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It is a short walk to the entrance to Tiberius’ Villa, which is now a series of low walls marking the boundaries of houses and plazas.  It is small compared to Pompeii. Then a villa is quite small compared with a town or city. To me the most amazing thing about the villa is the Grotto.  There are two man-made pools fronting the grotto. I imagine one was cold water, the other hot.  These look to be fed by a freshwater spring.  There is evidence of fire in some places inside the cave. It could be caused by Tiberius’ candles or lamps or perhaps by modern teenagers in the 16oo’s lighting bonfires in the caves.  Perhaps both are true.

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Marble Come To Life

A tour group arrived with us.  Tour groups typically move quickly through sites. This one did as well. Here one moment and headed for the exit the next.  “Check, got that one”.  Maybe it’s just me, but I prefer to linger in striking places to soak in the history or the beauty of the place (both?).  The Grotto faced the perfect sand beach that stretched in an arc for two kilometers.  It has access to great rock fishing and fresh water pools.  What a wonderful place to relax.  I must admit I know very little of Tiberius.  Curiosity will drive me to read more about Italy’s roots.  It is clear that someone or some group of some ones really had it in for Tiberius.  Everything he has touched was severely trashed.  It brings to mind current US politics. Basta! (enough of that)

 

Terracina

The skies had darkened as we walked the ruins.  A drop or two fell as we left for our car.  The promised rains were coming.  I drove on to Terracina with Ellen and our GPS units navigating.  We planned to eat lunch in Terracina

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Terracina, Coming

It was a dark gray, rainy drive to terracina.  Learning from Gaeta, this time I drove along the coast.  We found nothing of particular interest in a long drive around and back into town. If there was an old town, we didn’t find it.  Headed back out of town we passed a very appealing restaurant on our right.  Stop, backup, park.  “Do you think we can park here?” “Look, they did.  We should be ok”

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Terracina, Going!

This is About How We Felt About Terracina, Wet and Out Of Focus

We walked into the restaurant. It was packed.  Ellen headed for the Toilette while I tried in vain to get someone’s attention. Perhaps ten minutes later, a fellow who looked like the owner walked by. “Scusi, posso mangiare qui?”  “No.” Followed by  stream of Italian that was unrecognizable to me.  I get this often now.  We’ve been given menus in Italian later to have them swapped for the English ones when I becomes apparent we have no idea what’s on the menu.  It is Easter today.  The restaurant had probably been booked for weeks in advance.  No wonder nobody even noticed us when we walked in; or when we walked out.  Another day without lunch, but that’s OK.  We’re headed to Tivoli.

On the Road

Our car needed to be fed too.  We could probably have driven through to Tivoli, but a service stop presented itself and we took it.  Cars to the left, trucks to the right: ok.  Food to the right gas straight ahead; oops.  I drove in the out to get back to the food court.  It was an extensive food court with fast food (pizza, calzone, beer), made to order pasta dishes, salads and vegetables, trinkets and souvenir sales.  We each had a slice of pizza.  Ellen’s was vegetable with a crunchy crust.  Mine was cheese and peperoni with a soggy crust. The crust is everything.  It was a fair lunch, the least memorable thus far.

Tivoli

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Free Street Parking!

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Trip Advisor Loves B&B Il Giardino

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The View Isn’t That Bad Either.

With the alfa fed, we sped off to Tivoli.  There was relatively little traffic; we made very good time.  Approching Tivoli we switched from the clueless Garmin to the mostly ok Google Maps (again thank you TIM, Palermo!).  Still we drove into town, out of town, back into town, then up the correct street without seeing B&B Il Gardino.  “Wow, a parking space”, I zipped in and parked.  We found the B&B very close by. The sign was prominent if you are walking by, but not so much if driving.  It was mid afternoon when we arrived.

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We have a Patio and a View over the Valley

Omar came right away when we rang the front bell.  He checked us in and showed us our room.  It was comfortable and had a view of the valley over the tops of the homes just below.

An Afternoon Walk Tivoli

Tivoli, the historic town of Tivoli, is small and build on a hill side.  We walked the upper city.

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Tivoli’s Upper Square

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The Arch, Tivoli

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We Missed the Castle, Tivoli

 

Valle D’Este

Tivloi Gardens were open and closing at 7:30.  The group of eight ahead of us chose not to enter, it was too expensive.  No problem for two @ 8 euro each.

We walked the gardens until we were literally shooed out at 7:20.  But I thought they closed at 7:30!

I’m trying WordPress’ album and slideshow feature to see if we like it.  Tell us what you think.  -ron

 

 

Eden 2.0

The sun was sinking low on the horizon as we walked back toward “home”.  We had noticed a bar with an appealing view and stepped in to watch sunset over a drink.  We were seated at the “window”.  There were no windows, just a low railing and an expansive view.  Sunset, Beer, and Limoncello: Heaven.

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Eden 2.0

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Waiting for Our Order, Eden 2.0, Tivoli

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A Tivoli Sunset from Eden 2.0’s Balcony

Ristorante Sibilla

Back at the apartment we freshened up and went out for dinner armed with two recommendations for dinner.  One for authentic local food, the other with a 10% discount.  It was dark by now and we navigated by a tourist map.  These maps are next to useless.  We managed to find the local food restaurant, but it was closed.  Most everything seemed closed on the narrow streets we walked.  OK, let’s find the other one.  Like streets in Boston, there was no way to know where a street would lead.  Some would go straight then zig left.  Others connected to the right only.  We were lost.  We asked directions from two woman who spoke perfect Italian, but no English. Back up the hill and to the left, is what we took away.  We went back up the hill, left, then down hill to the river.

I saw a restaurant across the river, but that was not the one recommended.  It was il Ciocco, which I remembered as having a great view of the river and waterfall, but not so great food.  After dark, there is no view.  TIM & ItalPhone to the rescue.  Ellen mentioned that they might be closed by now.  “Yes, we are open.  The kitchen closes at 10.  Pronto, Pronto”  We arrived at Ristorante Sibilla at 9:20.  We were seated right away.  Our waiter enjoyed talking with us in English (how hard will it be to learn some Italian?)  We had a good time talking with him too.  I had a simple classic dish of paste with pecorino cheese and pepper, Ellen had cheese ravioli.  My dish was fantastic.  The combination of fresh paste, virgin olive oil, some butter, pecorino cheese, and pepper was what Mac&Cheese should be.  It was mouthwatering  The cheese in Ellen’s ravioli was superb.  I very highly recommend Ristorante Sibilla.  The house wine was excellent as well.

We found our way home by following the main street uphill to Tivoli’s upper square.

Italy Day 14, a Ferry, Salerno, a Car Rental, Torre Del Greco, and Occhio!

 

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Amalfi’s Fountain in the Main Square

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We felt comfortable knowing that the ferry from Amalfi to Salerno ran regularly.  There was some discrepancy in the scheduled times we saw, but not enough to cause concern.  We slept a bit late and packed.  To turn in the key, we walked to the owner’s flat, rang, and were buzzed into her patio. She came out moments later, “Buongiorno, Come stai?” We chatted for a while, mentioning again that Romeo messed up in not arranging to have our bags (and us) whisked up to the apartment.  Would we like a ride down?  “No, downhill is not a problem.”  With mille grazie on both sides, we parted and hiked down to a coffee shop near the ferry bigletteria.

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Ellen waited at the coffee shop entrance while I purchased tickets.  The next ferry was at 10:20, roughly an hour away.  We ordered cappuccino and a doppio macchiato enjoying the sun.  Ellen mentioned she wished she had photographed a narrow street when we walked down.  “Go do it.  We have lots of time before the ferry arrives”  She came back well ahead of the ferry.  We moved to the dock to wait.  It was a glorious morning with some high clouds in the sky.  Not enough to threaten rain.

The Ferry

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The ferry for Positano arrived first and it was packed on departure.  Fifteen minutes later we were on the ferry to Salerno, which was half full.  We sat close to a couple with a baby girl. She was gorgeous.  Part way through the trip, we commented on how beautiful their daughter was.  They were on vacation from Sidney for two weeks visiting relatives in Campania. Their parents live in Sidney with them. He is a firefighter, she a teacher (If I remember correctly).  I have great respect for firefighters.  California is just coming out of a drought and has had four years of severe fires. The 40 minute ferry to Salerno went by quickly.  As we left I joked, “Can we take your daughter for just a few weeks?”  I’m not sure they heard me, probably for the better.  We landed at a familiar port, unloaded and walked to the car rental (europcar) with the help of my Italian Smart Phone (thank you TIM).  It was a short walk away, made longer by heading in the wrong direction for a while before the GPS corrected itself (err, me).

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We bantered with the rental host in broken English and Italian.  Had our passports photocopies, signed here, there, everywhere on a form, and were walked to a pristine, white, Alfa Romeo Guilet sitting practically on the sidewalk.  I was shown how to open the trunk (not obvious) how to open the gas lid (would have got that one) and , “Should I show you how to find reverse?”  “No, I think I’ve got that. Thanks.”.  He walked off, while another europcar fellow stood nearby watching closely.  I think there was a bet going, “how far will I get before causing a crash or could I even drive off the curb?”  It took my time settling in, adjusting the mirrors, figuring out how to shift into reverse (lift a ring under the shifter and move the lever into reverse), setup our Garmin Nav with a Fodor’s map of Italy.  It took some time.  The attendant patiently stood by waiting.  Into first gear and a soft push of the throttle and the car lurched forward. I think I scared the fellow who made room for me as much as I frightened Ellen. I was too busy to be concerned. I was free and driving in Salerno.

There are two GPS maps of Italy available for the Garmin Numi today.  The Fodor’s is the best of the two.  It is very good at getting close to your destination, but very bad at locating it.  We use our Italian masterpiece and Google maps for the last 20 km.  I had wanted to see Bacoli, a small town on a peninsula west of Naples, but we thought it best to avoid Naples and went directly to Torre del Greco.   The surface roads getting to the autostrade are hit and miss, some good others not so much. The autostrada was great.  Smooth except where marked, and fast.  I did not see one polizia the entire drive.

I chose Torre del Greco because it is close to Pompeii.  I wanted to visit the ruins and they were just off the autostrade.  Arriving at Pompeii, I parked in the first place I found after some difficulty (fun) crossing cross traffic.  We parked and were told that parking was free if we had lunch there.  We were starving and not thinking very straight.  Sure.  We sat, ordered, then were told that we had to spend 40 euros for free parking.  Our order was less.  But you could get the mozzarella and a water and be ok.  Humm, 3 euro per hour, we could stay overnight for 40 euros, but we were starving.  Ok.  The pizza was good, not great.  The mozzarella was not buffalo.  The beer was good!  We felt like we had been had, and we had been. With a shrug, we were off to the ruins.

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Free Parking with Lunch, Do Not Eat Here

I have been to a number of ancient archeological sites, some very well preserved.  Nothing I have ever seen prepared me for Pompeii.  It is massive.  It is an entire Roman city that was destroyed when Mt Vesuvius erupted. Think about that: an entire city.  destroyed, volcanic eruption.  I’ll post a photo showing Mt Vesuvius today. If you run a line up both sides of the volcano, they intersect well above the saddle in the current mountain. The area below that intersection is the amount of the mountain that was blown into the air along with probably an equal mass of molten lava from the earth’s core.  This is astounding in its magnitude.

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The Nine Regions of Pompeii, Pompeii is Vast!

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Modern Sculpture Abound on Site, Beautiful but do not be fooled.

Equally astounding is the extent of the city the Romans had build by 79 AD, the year the city was destroyed. You have to see it to believe the size. And not just the size, but the quality of life shown in the layout and decorative skills of the artists and artisans of the period.  The mind runs in several directions when confronted with Pompeii.

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A Human Body Encased in Ash and Turned To Stone

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More of the Same

Destruction, annihilation, extinction.  When randomness in the universe was first proposed, the church opposed the theory on the basis that God would never allow the earth to be destroyed by some random act of “nature” (or God).  That a massive asteroid ended the dinosaur’s evolutionary path is well accepted.  Ours, mankind’s, could end just as abruptly.

I hope this video gives you a sense of the size of Pompeii.  This is a video of one small part of one of the nine sections of the ruins of Pompeii.

Quality of Life.  What defines quality of life.  Nearly 2000 years ago, these people had a very good and relatively advanced culture.  Arguably, from a literary or philosophical point of view,  as advanced as our own today.  Scientifically and gadgetarily there is no comparison of course.  But does having more “stuff” imply a better life?

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Classic Tile Floor from 79AD, Pompeii

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Mosaic 79AD, Pompeii

Empathy. Why did I feel such abject sadness that an entire city was wiped out.  I have no immediate connection to these people who perished 1,938 years ago. Yet I felt sorrow, tearful at the event and what remains now.

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It felt strange walking the paths that these long gone people once walked, embraced on, and even were immolated on.  There are ash encased remains on display here and there, with clothes and muscles as detailed as in life as if clinging to life.  Hands held to mouths to shelter one more breath from the heat or ash.

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The mosaics, the two amphitheaters, that must have played a role in entertainment.  Making the mundane more bearable, like our jaunts to the big screen for some escape.

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The Lesser Amphitheater

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Expanse of ruins

We got lost finding our way out.  Who knew there were three entrances and therefore three exits.  Which entrance did you come in?  Well, we don’t know.  Let me check our ticket.  With that and some help from a docent, we found our way out.  In the process we saw much more of the ruins that we expected.  At some point anything as large as this becomes overwhelming.  I cannot take more than a few hours, three at the most, in the Louvre.  Saturation sets in, I get “punchy” and have to leave. Pompeii is huge, far too big in size, scope, and implication for more than three hours.

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Painting On Stone, Pompeii

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Steam Heated Walls in 79AD, Pompeii

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A Courtyard, Pompeii

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Another Stone Body, Note Clothing and Hair Detail

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Mt Vesuvius In the Distance

Look at Mt Vesuvius in the background of the photo above. If you continue a line along the right slope and left slop they intersect at a point high above a little below and left of the left cloud.  The part of the mountain that is missing was blown away.  Probably an equal amount of molten core material exploded into the air, rising up into a column of super-heated rock probably miles high.  When that column collapsed back to earth, it engulfed Pompeii destroying parts of the city while covering other parts in ash leaving Pompeii largely intact but buried.

From Britannicia.com:

“Herculaneum was discovered in 1709, and systematic excavation began there in 1738. Work did not begin at Pompeii until 1748, and in 1763 an inscription (“Rei publicae Pompeianorum”) was found that identified the site as Pompeii.Sep 13, 2016”

Leaving Pompeii, our Garmin Numi got us close to Hotel Poseidon, Google Maps took us to the doorstep.

At reception we met Germano, who was very accommodating. Room Keys, Breakfast downstairs 7:30 to 10:30, park out back, take the elevator to your room, this is a seafood town all the restaurants serve very fresh seafood. Enjoy.  We tried to speak our limited Italian, but Germano was having none of it.

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Hotel Poseidon, Torre del Greco

Hotel Poseidon is modern and decorated as if you were staying at the bottom of the sea.  It is so modern, I could not figure out how to use the elevator! Seriously.  I’ve seen electronic panels with touch sensitive regions that spring to life when you press them.  I pressed away to no avail.  Lights came on, but nothing happened. Germano,, at the desk said (as if he’s done this many times), “Slide your thumb, don’t press!  Like this”  He slid his thumb across the panel, the up/down indicators glowed red, and after some whirring the elevator doors opened.

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Looking Down to the Lobby, Hotel Poseidon, Torre del Greco

The apartment was new and clean. All the fixtures in the bath room were bright shiny new.  The shower had a wand and overhead rain head with plenty of hot water. The bed was firm and comfortable.

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Taverna a Mare viewed from the Lido

Settled in, we left to explore the town. We walked down to the wharf/marina which clearly is a working marina. We walked until we could walk no further and had to turn back. At that point on the 2nd floor was a restaurant that looked inviting, but wasn’t open. “Let’s go check it out”. It was not obvious how to get there and in the process we passed an interesting café/bar with enclosed street side seating. Cool. We continued on trying a few dead end streets and eventually came upon the front entrance to Taverna a Mare.

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They were setting up for dinner. At the entrance was an ice lined display case of seafood that one fellow was setting up.  It was enormous.  Scusi, then I said in English that I’d like to make reservations for this evening.  He spoke with another fellow who scurried off to find someone.  I followed close on his heals. Moments later I was face to face with the manager, a tall big hulk of a man in his late 30’s, imposing with jet black hair and a full beard.  We do not open until 8pm.  We can seat you then if you like.  Yes, that would be fine.  Then he did something strange.  He paced his right index finger just under his right eye with the finger running down his cheek, lowered his head, and glared at me for too long. It was unnerving.  What is this guy doing?  I had the sense not to react at all.  After probably 30 seconds of this he relaxed and showed us out. Strange. The gesture is called occhio, and it means, “I’m watching you and I am not a fool”.. Check these Italian gestures out: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/29/travel/experts-guide-to-italian-hand-gestures/

 

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Da Ciccio

To kill close to an hour we went back to that bar we had seen, Bar da Ciccio.  This was a fun place to stop for a while.  I ordered a birra della spina and Ellen a limoncello.  Where are you from and we were off.  We used google translator to talk to each other.  First the gal then a guy.  We went back and forth.  Later I ordered another round and the conversation grew.  Ellen took photos of the group, who said, No let’s all be in the photo. The time came to go to Taverna and we parted with many Arrivederci’s, salves, and ciaos.

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Da Ciccio Crew

We were seated at Taverna a Mare beside another couple. The Italians do this. They are a gregarious lot and expect cross table conversation to flourish.  I had seen scorfano on ice when we entered, and ordered scorfano.  Ellen had coveted my spaghetti vongole the last time I ordered it.  We had house wine by the glass.  Ellen asked if she could have extra clams on her order. “Si, madam”.  I’ve probably mentioned this before, but the vongole, clams, are very small and very tasty.  They’re smaller than little neck clams of New England.  Ellen’s vongole was excellent, but my fish was amazing. The first bite was firm, mild, and very flavorful.  It was like a bit of perfectly cooked Main lobster, but tender.  I was ecstatic.

                               

Video of Taverna a Mare, just for the audio.

The couple beside us each had spaghetti vongole for their first course and salt encrusted fish for their second. This reminded me of the time Markus and Axlexandra visited in Venice.  The four of us wanted to share salt encrusted fish at a restaurant, but a Russian party ordered the last one.  That started a conversation about fish with the couple, Jonathan and Anna. Anna joked that her name is an anagram, demonstrating a thorough grasp of English.  They had driven down from Switzerland on a two week vacation.  They would go as far as the Amalfi coast.  I recommended Da Gemma in Amalfi and we raved about Ravello. Anna is a PhD candidate in biochemistry.  She is striking, poised, and very quick witted.  It would be fun to get to know them better.

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Some of Torre del Greco’s Fishing Fleet

A word about Torre del Greco.  For fresh seafood, this is the best place we have visited thus far. The ice bar, to your right as you enter Taverna a Mare, is at least thirty feet long and five feet deep.  It is filled with whole fish and shellfish, fresh caught that day.  There is more seafood on display in that restaurant than most seafood mongers have in their entire shop.  The variety as well as the extent of the display was staggering.  Yes, they had scorfano and clams and muscles, and lobster, and fish I’ve never seen before.  Use Torre del Greco as a stopover to see Erculano, Pompeii, and perhaps Bacoli.  Walk the beach, check out the working marina and fishing boats.  Enjoy a drink or two Bar da Cicco.  Talk with the staff, they’re really happy friendly people.  Iif you’re really lucky (or unlucky) you’ll get “the occhio” at taverna a Mare. There is a “there, there” at Torre del Greco, but it is not on the surface.

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We walked back to Hotel Poseidon happy, sated, and ready for bed.

Italy Day 13, Amalfi and Ravello

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The View Back UP the Hill, Ravello

We slept well.  The bed at Basilius is firm without being hard. We headed out around 9:30 for colazione (breakfast) peering into the occasional cheese or fruit shop along the way.  Ellen suggested getting a juicer and some fruit later.  Sure, let’s not get one now ok?

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Fruit In Hand

We settled on a small pastry shop with seating in the sun.  With the warmth of the sun and a cold wind, we chose to sit in warmth. A woman was just getting her order as I was considering what to get for Ellen.  A fellow ordered a number of items for his family.  He was fidgety and seemed impatient.  He was vary particular about each individual item.  The barista, a tall striking Italian woman, was clearly getting annoyed by this fellow’s attitude.  She said nothing. Time to pay, and his credit card would not go through.  We’ve all be in this situation.  It sucks.  This fellow got insistent that the card was good, “try it again”.  It failed again.  He got more animated, “try it again”.  The Barista called the manager over, they tried a third time, then after a full power reset, his card went through.  He acted like he had been vindicated.  After he left, the barista asked , “prego”  I ordered in Italian as best I could and the barista glanced at the departing fellow, curled her lower lip, and made what I took to be a disparaging almost growl.

Outside with our order, that family had positioned themselves right beside Ellen and I. Our chairs were facing the street, directly facing the four of them.  We turned our chairs.

Today we could either visit Positano or Ravello.  We had stopped for an hour in Positano on the way to Amalfi.  We hadn’t seen Ravello, “let’s go there”. Most people know Positano from the classic photos taken from the sea.  Positano is picturesque, but to me it is all shopping and tourists. You even have to pay for a spot on the beach in high season.  Off season, as it is not, locals frolic on the beach.  It is free.  Our espresso finished, we easily found the bus pickup along the (short) Lido.  There was a long line waiting for the Ravello bus.  A bus arrived, people packed aboard, and we were left waiting, first in line for the next bus.  Surprisingly the next bus arrived in under five minutes!  Our bus wound its way up around up and around for quite a while. At one point the bus could not make the turn and had to back up a bit and try a 2nd time. We were on the land side of the bus.  The ocean side had quite a view of the sea and the drop-off.

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The View from High Atop Ravello.

It was about 40 minutes from Amalfi to Ravello.  Across from the bus stop sits a paved overlook with stunning views from the height of Ravello to the sea far below.  We soaked in that view and took a photo or two as well.   Ravello is gorgeous.

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Fruit is Available Everywhere

Up the road perhaps 40 meters is the main square of Ravello.  One side of the square has an open view across a gorge,  Shops line two sides of the square.

We first walked down a series of steps to the left as you approach the square.  The steps continued down and down. Past a chapel on the right, past private residences and small doors to B&B’s.  Sometimes the view closed in with no panorama, simply steps and old building walls. Turning a corner an expansive view of the Gulf of Salerno may open.

Walking back up those steps, we found advertising and a brochure kiosk for the 2017 Ravello Concert Series. Each year the Ravello Concert Society presents an extensive series of concerts at Ravello.  Some of the concerts would be held in this small chapel. Other open-air events are held in the Villa at sunset.  For more information on the Ravello Concert Series: http://www.ravelloarts.org/festival/index.php.  For us a trip to Ravello from Firenze is unlikely.

Just to the left past that first stairway just before you enter the square is the entrance to Villa Rufolo.  You pay a nominal fee ( I assume for maintenance) to enter the villa.  The upper garden and arched entries are dramatic as are the rooms of the villa.  Sunlight and a sea view will draw you outside without even seeing more than a few rooms of the villa.  The sight of the gardens, on descending tiled patios is stunning.  I’ve forgotten most of the villa itself,  It is the layout of the gardens, with stairways descending from one level to the next. The symmetry of the plantings. But most of all the view from high atop the hill will stop you in your tracks.  It is hard not to be moved by this panorama.  Ellen and I easily spent two hours walking, gazing, taking a photo or two (or too many).

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Scattered around the grounds are video advertisements for the Ravello concert series presented in electronic kiosks.  Even the advert was inspiring.

Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia about Villa Rufolo:

Originally belonging to the powerful and wealthy Rufolo family who excelled in commerce (a Landolfo Rufolo has been immortalized by Boccaccio in the Decameron), it then passed by inheritance to other owners such as the Confalone, Muscettola and d’Afflitto.

Around the middle of the nineteenth century it was sold to the Scotsman Francis Neville Reid who took care of a general restoration, resulting in today’s layout.

The villa is entered through an opening in the arched entrance tower, and after a short street a clearing is dominated by the Torre Maggiore: the latter facing the bell tower of the cathedral in Ravello, overlooking the terraces (upper and lower) as well as overlooking the Amalfi Coast and the Gulf of Salerno with flower gardens that are in bloom most of the year.[1]

Of particular interest among the rooms of the villa is a large courtyard elevated like a cloister and some rooms forming a small museum.

The German opera composer Richard Wagner visited the villa in 1880. He was so overcome by the beauty of the location that he imagined the setting as the garden of Klingsor in the second act of Parsifal. In commemoration, every year the lower garden of Villa Rufolo hosts a Wagnerian concert.[2]

I was mesmerized.  I’ll let our photos speak to the beauty of this Villa.  I could sit for hours as I am sure the Villa’s extremely wealthy owners once did.

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We skipped walking through the villa’s interior, choosing instead to walk Ravello, the town.

Ellen and I are not shoppers.  We do not willingly walk down the main shopping street of say Capri and oh and ah at the pricy goods.  We do appreciate excellent materials and artistry in the design of “some things”, actually most things.  As we walked down Ravello’s shopping street just past the square, I ran my fingers down fabrics on display.  Quality is in the feel of fabric.  One fabric in particular had an wonderful hand; it was unusually fine materials.  I was going to say something to Ellen, who was just a few steps ahead of me when she disappeared into this shop, Ricordi di Ravello.

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Ricordi di Ravello, Wonderful Linen & Cashmere Clothing

The shopkeeper was an unassuming, direct woman about Ellen’s height.  Ellen went right to a light gray-blue shawl on and asked if they had this material in her size.  The owner (she was the shop owner) pulled down a garment that fit Ellen quite well. Not surprisingly this was the same material with the excellent hand.  “That material is the best quality cashmere from Firenze.  We purchase the material there.  These are all our designs.”  Me, “Where do you manufacture the clothing”  “On the peninsula, about 20 minutes from here.  We have a small factory.”  It was unlikely we would find these designs in Firenze.

One Splendid Walkway

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One Splendid Walkway

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Another Splendid Walkway

There was a dark blue 3/4 length light weight coat in the same material that I asked Ellen to try on.  It did not hang well on her.  We both preferred this color.  Ellen tried on a poncho, a shawl, zippered sweater, and the 3/4 length coat.  She preferred the poncho. The price was high, but not for this quality.  Ellen left happy to have a warmer article of clothing.  Evenings and even some days had been cold and we would soon be heading north.

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Main Square, Ravello

We walked Ravello. Toward the end of the street we found “Wine & Drugs”.  Funny I thought, but I plan to save wine tasting for Florence.  We are still nomadic and do not need the weight.  The shop-gal popped out.  We greeted her with “Buona Sera”, good afternoon/evening, and we had a conversation in broken English and Italian.

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Wine and Drugs

Communication is not that difficult, unless it’s about ideas.   Wandering on we climbed some steps to find the Chiesa di San Giovanni del Toro and the Belmond Hotel Caruso, named for Caruso the great tenor.  The hotel sits on a promontory with views to the east and west.  It has an understated elegance that exudes exclusivity.  Dinner or sunset drinks here would be fun, but we want to be back to Amalfi for Da Gemma and our reservations for dinner.

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The Belmond Hotel Caruso, Ravello

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Dining Patio, Hotel Caruso, Ravello

One ristorante on the piazza had outdoor tables at an overlook in the sun.  Perfect. I relaxed with a birra alla spina (draught beer) and Ellen had aqua naturale.  The sun came and went.  At this time of year, the sun is very warm but the wind is very cold.   We alternately baked and froze all while listening in on two 20 something couples joking around in Italian.  Eventually the cold got the better of us (or my beer glass was empty).

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A Quite Unusual Beer!

We queued at the bus stop to go back to Amalfi.  It was now about 4:20.  Time passed, the queue grew, a few busses for other towns came and went, but there was no bus to Amalfi.  It was now 5:20 and the queue was a crowd.  Finally, 15 minutes later the Amalfi bus arrived.  People were aggressively getting aboard.  Ellen got on with me right behind her, but at least five other people crowded ahead of me. Wondering where the boundary between politeness and rudeness is, I intentionally cut off some young girls pushing through and boarded the bus.  On board I encountered a frantic woman pushing forward past me.  We could have gotten a room, it was that intimate.  It turns out she boarded the bus, but her husband (probably a nice guy) didn’t make it. She found he was not aboard, and exited the bus.  That could easily have been Ellen were I less assertive.

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On the Bus to Amalfi

We left about half our number at the bus stop.  On the windy way down we did not see another bus come up the route.  Those people left behind were in for a long wait. This was not high season.  I wonder how bad it could be then.  My thought?  Stay in Ravello and visit Amalfi and Positano  bus and/or by ferry.

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Polipo Arrostito con Pomodori,  Roasted Octopus

We walked back up our familiar route to drop our cameras and freshen up ahead of our second meal at Da Gemma. Our reservations were at 8 PM.  This time we were seated by the window.  Oddly the table and chairs tilted.  After we ordered, we switched chairs as Ellen was uncomfortable with the tilt. Ellen’s back bothered her less after we switched. Tonight had the grilled octopus appetizer; we both ordered spaghetti con vongole and a glass of house wine.  The spaghetti was mixed with nearly creamed broccoli.  The waiter made it a point to correct Ellen, “No, this is not broccolini, it is broccoli. No broccolini.”  He was being funny.  When time came to clear the table, he kiddingly tried to whisk my two smart phones onto his crumb plate. He mentioned a fellow who took his Rolex off at diner and almost lost it to the crumb plate. His eyes followed the Rolex as it slid across the table.

For dessert we had a hard time deciding.  We chose the chocolate with chili dessert, which sounded unique.  We were very surprised and had a good laugh when the same dessert we had had last night was placed at table.  “No, this cannot be what we ordered”  It was.

The broccoli detracted from the spaghetti con vongole.  We enjoyed our meal, but not with the sense of ecstasy we had last night. We met almost no one as we walked “home” and to sleep.

We absolutely loved Ravello and Amalfi.  Tomorrow we must say, “Ciao Amalfi” and push on to Torre del Greco.

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Leaving the Next Morning for Salerno

Italy Day 12, Ferry to Sorrento, Our Driver Inna, Positano, Amalfi

 

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The Amalfi Coast

Capri, Toni and Nunzia

We arranged to meet with Nunzia today to have our passport photos taken for the authorities.  Toni was out working in the yard.  “Buongiorno, Toni” and we were off.  He loves talking about anything and everything.  We were still talking when Ellen came down.  Shortly after Nunzia came out and joined in.  Eventually Nunzia photo’d our passports and the conversation wound down.  I mentioned Torre del Greco as one of the places we will visit.  “Be careful there.  Be very careful.”  Ominous, a harbinger of doom? I’d have put more credence in this had Toni not been so wary of the Sicilians too.  “They’re not true Italians.  They have their own government and call us (Italy) the mainland.”   Torre del Greco is a few days away.  It will take care of itself (I hope).

We grabbed our bags and walked down to the marina.  I bought two one way tickets to Sorrento and was told the ferry was already in at port 12.  We had thirty minutes, more than enough time for a quick breakfast of espresso and cornetti.

Private Day Tours

I had arranged through Gianluca Savarese of Private Day Tours,  http://www.privatedaytours.com/ , to have a car and driver meet us at the Salerno ferry and drive us to Amalfi.  I wanted to enjoy the view as we drove the coast and not be bothered by the traffic.  I knew the day we would arrive in Sorrento, but not the time.  There were too many variables to commit to a specific time.  In emails we agreed that I would call ahead once I knew when we would arrive Sorrento and a driver would be there for us.  I called Gianluca while we waited for the ferry.

Ferry to Sorrento

It figured, port 12 was the last on one the pier. We boarded the gangway, handing our tickets to an agent as we walked on.  The theme for Capri was “almost empty”, it was never crowded.  This hydrofoil had three other passengers aboard.

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Empty Ferry Capri to Sorento

The crossing was swift.  The rhythmic swaying, rocking put me to sleep.  I awoke as we neared the dock.  Ellen dozed off and on too.  Disembarked, we looked for our driver among the tight knit group waiting to board. He was nowhere in sight.  We thought, “strange” and continued on toward the street exit.  A short while later a tall, lanky blond woman rushed up and asked “Ron”.  Here was our driver.  There was such a crowd getting onto the ferry that we missed each other.

Inna, our driver to Positano and Amalfi, Private Day Tours

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Inna Taking a Turn on the Way to Positano

We walked over to a brand new Mercedes, put our bags in the trunk, and were off. Inna introduced her self.  She pointed out buildings of interest in Sorrento and other small towns as we wound our way in traffic toward Positano and Amalfi.  The coastline was gorgeous, full of mountains dropping into the sea with enclaves of villas perched on ridges or built  together up ravines to form small towns.  It was similar to route 1 in California, but with so much more history and architectural variation.

Inna stopped at a scenic view and we took a break from our ride to stretch our legs and take a photo or two.  It was a gorgeous location.

A stop on the way to Positano

A stop on the way to Positano

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Picturesque Positano

Further on, Inna stopped in a parking garage in Positano.  We were hungry. “Let’s go straight down to the shore, eat something, and walk back more slowly”  “OK”.  Of course Ellen could not resist taking a few photos along the way.  Ellen and I walked down to the sea, passing a myriad of shops, tourists, and shoppers on the way.   This reminded me of Capri’s main shopping street.  Still we made pretty good time navigating the tourists. At the shore we found a number of seaside restaurants.  Had this been peak tourist season, we would never have had time to eat.

On the beach we chose a restaurant with tables in the sun and had a Margherita pizza and a beer.  We had just enough time to eat and walk back up the main street.  Positano is a shopper’s paradise. I was left wondering what hiking trails were accessible in Positano.

 

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A feel for the crowds in Positano.

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Positano, A Steep Stairway.

Inna was waiting for us at the top of the hill.  I called the manager of the apartment where we would stay next to ensure someone would be available to meet us. The Amalfi coast is a beautiful drive.  I could have driven it with no trouble at all, but it is far preferable to enjoy the dramatic scenery than it is to “enjoy” oncoming traffic. The blue of the sky complimented the blue of the ocean.  The cliffs and gorges cut into the limestone were precipitous.  Often the roadway was built out from the cliff on stone arches.  We passed two small public beaches and did not stop.  Eventually at the eastern end of Amalfi, Inna pulled into a street and parked.   Romano, our booking agent appeared, Inna, Ellen and I made our goodbyes. Romano now ushered us up to the apartment.

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Lemon Candles, Ellen Stopped then Moved On.

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View from The Top, Positano

Amalfi

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On the Road to Amalfi

Romano and his cohorts at the real estate office all said it was a short walk with not too many stairs. Sounds good, right?  Wrong on two counts. It is a short walk if you’re not carrying baggage up the hill, we turned sharp left and walked up a very steep incline for 100 meters, then negotiated 104 steps to the apartment door.  Romano stopped by the owner’s flat to get the key.  She came out and greeted us; a very warm friendly woman.  She then turned to Romano and asked something in Italian and Romano looked sheepish.  She then told us she would have been happy to take us and our bags up the hill in her small 3-wheeled truck!  Good naturedly, but seriously at the same time, I ribbed Romano about the hike.  We had left a bag or two at the real estate office and had to repeat the “ordeal” yet again.  All in all the hike was not a problem.

The apartment again was exactly as presented in the photos, though the view from the windows was misrepresented.  I assume it’s typical of a real estate agent’s approach to selling; make the property look as good as you possibly can and deal with any fallout later.  We did have an expansive view, just not so much of the water.  Most of the time we are out anyway.

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We Purchased Fruit Here

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Classic Meat Market, Amalfi

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Early Morning Buying Fruit for the Evening

A leisurely walk down the main road took us past meat shops, cheese shops, fruit stands, a hardware store.  As we drew closer to the gulf of Salerno, the shops changed from every day shops for locals to some then more tourist shops.  Amalfi, unlike Positano or Capri, developed in a very narrow canyon.  This limited the town’s sprawl and also the number of shops catering to tourists.  There are no “high end” or designer shops in Amalfi.  The town is not the glamorous jet-setter destination we expected.  We were glad for that.  Amalfi is a rustic quaint town alive today as it has been for decades, perhaps centuries.  The rich and famous have expansive villas built into the hillsides around Amalfi, but they are mostly hidden.  Sofia Loren’s villa sits along on a promontory between Positano and Amalfi.

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Amalfi’s Duomo

Learning from our mistake in Salerno, we found the ferry terminal and the bus stop to points north and south.  Amalfi’s seaside is quite small.  Back at the apartment with our other bags, I recalled a restaurant that Megan, practically a family member,, had recommended on her honeymoon on the Amalfi coast.  Checking my “play book” I found Da Gemma and called them on my trusty Italian phone.  Yes they could make a reservation for 7:30 tonight, how many?  “Due, per favore”.  The Italians just know which language to switch to.   It can be hard to practice Italian; I do it anyway.  Every now and then I’ll ask something in Italian, and I’ll get a barrage of phrases strung together that could be individual words or could be one big run-on germanic like word.  It’s fun.  Usually my blank expression is clue enough that that last question I asked might just be the only “good” Italian I know!

Da Gemma

We found the restaurant with ease and were guided to a less than perfect table.  Ellen asked to be seated by the windows. “ I am sorry but that is not possible.”  During most of our nearly 3 hour meal that followed, the window seats remained empty. But about an hour before we left, they filled.  It is not unusual for an Italian family or couple to linger for hours at a table enjoying each other’s company.  In Italy, you are not simply paying for a meal.  You are paying for the table for the night.  Tables the appear empty are often being held for a party that could show up early or (more typically) late.  That group would rightly be very upset if “their” table was not available.  If you read through any restaurant reviews posted by Americans in Italy, many of the poor reviews revolve around poor service or not being seated where the couple expected: no window seat when there were clearly numerous seats available.  Dining in Italy is a wonderful experience.  “When in Rome…”

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We started our meal at 7:30 with a bottle of aqua con gas and a bottle of white wine and some good natured conversation. The restaurant opens at 7, there were a number of people seated already. The waiter brought a small appetizer with compliments of the chef, one for each of us.  With a hint of plantain, it was a welcome surprise, very tasty, with not easily recognizable ingredients. Perfect.  I had seen a number of scorfano on ice when we entered.  This was the fish Toni had raved about. Ellen had the house specialty pasta, Mezzi paccheri alla genovese and I asked for scorfano, one of the special fresh catch of the day.  I was told it would be grilled and fileted with a touch of olive oil and lemon on the side. Perfect.  The wine improved as it breathed, the meal was very very good.  After the main course, the waiter brought each of  a mousse to clear our palette for dessert.  The bottom layer was a cream with a hint of lemon, the next layer was a hint of strawberry, and it was topped off with small flacks of caramelized ginger. We ordered variations on chocolate for our dessert. It consisted of five chocolate presentations: one was white chocolate with a small egg sized serving of chocolate gelato, another was a small chocolate lava cake, another was a chocolate and chili mouse. All were very good.  We were happily considering asking for the check, when the waiter appeared with another dessert dish, this one with eight mini pastries.  A very tiny cream puff, another was a cherry cream puff, another candied mango dipped in chocolate,  the fourth escapes me.    It was now 10:10; the restaurant had filled and was very lively.

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First Teaser Appetizer, Complimentary

The first appetizer was a fried cheese with a hint of plantain with a splash of pesto reduction and tangy red pepper sauce.

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Half an Appetizer, We Shared

We ordered a mixed appetizer which included hand made sausage, ricotta stuffed zucchini flower, and tuna carpaccio.  I had fresh scorfano sautéed in olive oil and served with no embellishment.  Ellen had Mezzi Paccheri alla Genovese.  Grandma Gemma’s Genovese pasta recipe of short rigatoni stuffed with her special meat.  Both were great, though my single serving fish was small.

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We Shared a Bottle of White Wine

The wine was very good, but needed time in the glass to develop.

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Dessert

We ordered a mixed dessert of chocolate chili mouse, volcano chocolate cake, white chocolate mousse with chocolate gelato and caramelized ginger, and a scrumptious something.

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Palette Cleanser and Chef’s Complimentary Dessert

After we thought we were done, our waiter brought out two orange ginger palette cleansers and a set of pastries: a mini coffee cream puff,, a sour cherry mascarpone soft cookie,  butter cookies, and chocolate dipped candied mango.  The orange ginger drink was exquisite.

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A Representation of Amalfi built into a rock face

In the back of the main street in Amalfi is a representation of houses stacked together much like those in Amalfi.  It was fascinating to look at. Going home from Da Gemma, we found that the artwork is electrified and has tiny lights glowing from the house windows.

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Stairway to Our Apartment, 1/3 of the way up.

Today was a week day; Amalfi was asleep.  There were a few couples walking about, but noting was happening.  It felt like the sidewalks had been rolled up.  It was a long day for us, coming from Capri, to Sorrento, Positano, and Amalfi.   We went home and right to sleep.

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The next 1/3 of the way to our lair.

Italy Day 11, Capri, the Blue Grotto, Toni & Nunzia

 

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The Faraglioni Rocks

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Waiting for the Bus

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The View of Marina Grande from our Apartment

We were not up early the next morning.  My best guess is we walked to the bus stop around 10AM.  Our plan was to take the direct bus to Anacpari and walk to he blue grotto as Toni had suggested. We watched bus after bus go by; none for Anacapri. We asked the market shopkeepers when the next bus would come.  “quindici minuti”, the bus would come and it would not be for Anacapri.  Strangely it would not be for Capri either.  We stood and waited.  Finally the Annacapri bus drove by, right by.  Ellen flagged it down furiously, but the driver waved her off.  The bus was full.  Ok, we’ll take the next bus and go from there.

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The Dramatic Isle of Capri

Capri

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A stroll along a Via, Capri

The next bus took us to Capri, though it was labeled something else.  We walked to a ristorante for espressos.  We also had caprese; Ellen’s as a salad, mine as panini. The price was excessive.

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Pathway of Forts, Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto

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Our Oarsman Giovanni

We walked back to the bus terminus and queued for the Anacapri bus. We missed the first bus, but we were the first couple on the next bus which arrived almost immediately.  We took the bus to the last stop, past Anacapri and had to retrace our steps a bit to find the road down to the blue grotto.  It was a long walk.  Most of the views were obstructed by trees, walls, and villas.  Here and there we saw well maintained gardens and trellises of wisteria in full bloom. The road stretched down and down.  Down and down.  Bicyclists passed us coasting downhill and later passed us again going up hill!.  I kiddingly called out,” ancora, un altro”  That got a laugh and, “Si,, certo”

Still we walked down toward the water.  Eventually a British family passed us, the sun and husband first followed by the wife.  We exchanged pleasantries, though I had the impression they were not happy.

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Father and Son fishing at the Blue Grotto

Eventually we arrived at a walkway to the sea with a restaurant on one side and a trinket seller on the right.   On the sea there must have been eighteen rowboats, some servicing tour boats that had arrived, taking couples from the tour boat into the blue grotto and back.  IT is a well orchestrated affair with the rowboats queued up taking turns.  I caught the eye of one oarsman who turned his boat and rowed my way.  I discussed pricing. 15 euro per person entry fee and whatever we chose to pay him.  I asked if he could go twice around inside, “Si”.

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Souvenir Time?

I had some difficulty explaining that there were two of us and that I wa  s waiting for my wife who should be down in 4 minutes. After a bit Ellen came down and said that they would not let her use the bathroom. Then Ellen said she could go up and ask again and she asked the oarsman how much time she had (meaning would he wait for her).  The oarsman chuckled and said, “that depends on you, how much time do you need!”  We had a good laugh and Ellen and I piled in the boat after some assurances to the oarsman, “va bene”.

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A tour boat loading and unloading passengers

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Iridescence

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An Unexpected Delight, Alone in the Grotto.

The tour boats bring a dozen or so people to the grotto.  They are loaded into the rowboats in pairs.  The last two rowboats from a tour boat were ahead of us rowed into the cave as we paid the entry fee. One other rowboat was inside as we entered and a moment later we were alone in the cave.  Ellen, I, and Giovanni. Giovanni serenated us a bit and more importantly showed us some of the beauty of the cave.  As I had asked we took a very slow double loop around the cave.  It was memorable.

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Not a Tour Boat in Sight.

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Arrivederci Giovanni

Anacapri

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Atop Monte Solaro

We took the bus back from the grotto to Anacapri, bought calzone and a beer at a pasta shop, and took the lift to the top of Monte Solaro. You have a 360 degree view from the top. Capri sits three miles off the tip of the Amalfi peninsula.  It looks like you could reach out and touch it.  The calzone was not what we expected.  It appeared to be deep fried thick dough with some mystery sausage and greens inside. The beer was great. We lingered a while, our hopes to see sunset dashed by the 7pm closing of the chair. I assume the path down the mountain closed sooner to avoid having people lost after dark on.  For me the ride back facing downhill was fun.

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One View from Monte Solaro

We walked Anacapri.  The chapel was closed.  The shops in Anacapri are much more modest than the Capri shops.  Is hardly a designer shop on the main street.  The merchandise quality is a small step down, but still good quality.  The prices are significantly lower.  We both eyed scarfs, but did not buy anything.  At the end of the main street sits a small park probably near a school.  There were many children playing.  I noticed one mother with a young child looking anxiously around.  She eventually found her two boys and gave them 5 euro for gelato.  Both Capri and Annacapri’s main street were filled with people. The pace seemed slower in Anacapri.

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Descending Monte Solaro

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Fresh Squeezed Orange with a Touch of Lemon

We found the bus back to Capri and took the the Funicular down to Marina Grande.

This was our first time on the funicular; we had to try it once at least.  There is a single track that doubles up in the center.  The two cars run past each other in the middle, one going up, the other down in the middle.  It is a smart and inexpensive way to double the capacity of the funicular.  The cars move slowly, but arrive quickly,, the track takes a very direct route.  The uphill section of track is quite steep.  The uphill car takes a hold of a cable that pulls the car to the top much like a chair lift cable.

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Nearing Sunset, Marina Grande, Capri

Now in Marina Grande, we sat for an espresso, looked at the menu, and ordered a spaghetti Bolognese and spaghetti vongole.  I’m sure you know who had the vongole.

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Marina Grande Sunset Looking Towards The Amalfi Peninsula.

We had forgotten how long and steep the walk back to the apartment was.  We could have taken a bus bit chose to walk.  It was the golden hour of photography and our last night in Capri.  Without hesitation we walked “home”.   The market was still open.  We stopped in for a few items.

Capri is not to be missed, but to really feel the island you must get away from Capri’s hotel and shopping area.  That is not the Capri I will remember.

Tomorrow we leave for Amalfi by way of Sorrento and Positano. We meet our driver at the ferry dock in Sorrento.  We will take the 9:25 ferry that arrives Sorrento at 9:45.

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The Faraglioni Rocks at Sunset

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Sunset on the Island of Capri

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Now How Do I Get Off this Thing?

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Waters the Color of the Caribbean

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Alone Again on the Piazza overlooking the Faraglioni Rocks

Italy Day 10, complications, consternation, and Luigi too!

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The Promenade, Salerno

Departing Salerno

We awoke refreshed. As we do every morning when we are not rushed, we went out for a morning stroll and an espresso.  Luigi provided a voucher for a simple colazione at a café, nearby across from the Duomo.

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An Open Air Market, Salerno

Much to my surprise Luigi was leaving as we arrived. “Buongiorno”   Luigi was working on the upstairs apartment, would we like to drop in and see it when after we’ve eaten?  “Certo, grazie”  Our espresso and cornetti were excellent. And we headed back to pack for our ferry to Capri.  You will seldom have a bad cup of cappuccino or espresso anywhere in Italy.

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Luigi, Professore

“Professore, Professore” I called as we approached the apartment.  After watching Montalbano, Voice of the Violin, I’ve wanted an excuse to say that.  Luigi’s head popped into a window frame and called us upstairs and inside.  This apartment was larger and much brighter than the one we rented.   He would rent this one to us at the same price as the one below, if we wanted to visit Salerno and the Amalfi coast again.  Given prices in Positano and Amalfi, this is a tempting proposition.

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Living Room & Dining Room from the Kitchen Level

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Kitchen Level and the Stairway to the Rooftop Patio

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The Kitchen Level and Front Door

We talked about the work he is doing on the upstairs apartment.  He showed us the patio upstairs above a charming circular wrought iron stairway.  We lingered enjoying each other’s company.  The feeling that Luigi would rather be having fun and not working was palpable.  Finally we had to pull away to pack.  Luigi asked where we were going next.  The ferry to Capri.  We discussed where it departed and were at odds.  He thought on one pier, we were told on a different pier.  Luigi called around, called again. looked serious, called another place. He had a few long conversations with who knows whom.  Something was amiss.

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The Ferry Pier for the Amalfi Coast

And something surely was.  There was a single ferry each morning that departs from the pier we were told.  However, there is only one ferry at this time of year and it left at 8AM! We could take a ferry to Amalfi or Positano, then take the ferry at 8PM to Capri and arrive late. I knew the ferry from Salerno to Capri could be trouble, but the latest information I had was that the ferry would be running hourly by now.  Not so!  Luigi continued calling.  At one point he said, I know a fellow who owns a boat.  He will take you to Capri if the ferries are too expensive. By now we had finished packing.  Luigi mentioned that the only direct ferries to Capri now were from Sorrento and from Napoli.  He could drive us to Sorrento!

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On the Train to Napoli

I know that train service between Salerno and Napoli runs regularly like clockwork.  I went round and round with Luigi about what the best method to get to Capri might be.  We finally settled on taking a train to Napoli and taking the ferry to Capri, “but be careful in Napoli.  It is not safe to leave bags outside”  We had left a bag outside the apartment for a long time wile researching ferry options.  “I can take care of myself, don’t worry Luigi. We will be fine”.  Luigi walked us to the train station and carried my bag the entire way.  We continued an interesting conversation about dialects, Napoli, Salerno, about life in general, and about being happy as a way of life.  We parted at the train station after we had verified that ferries from Napoli ran regularly to Capri and having discussions with women in line for tickets about options to get to Capri.  It was agreed that going by way of Amalfi, while possible, would get us there late in the evening.

The tickets to Napoli were under 5 euro each, very reasonable.  The train was scheduled to leave at 12:10.  It was not 11:45.  We were good to go!

The train ride was fast, 40 minutes, and uneventful. Departing the train station a fellow asked, “You want a taxi? Where To?”   I said “Traghetto per Capri”  “Si, I take you”  (Lesson Learned Prior)  “Quanta Costa?”  “venti euro”  “Ma, No. diece euro”  “quindici”  I walked on.  Another 50 meters a second fellow asked “Taxi?” “Traghetto per Capri” “quindici Euro”  “dieci”  “dodici” “certo” and off we went to the ferry for 12 euros.

On the way the taxi driver asked Traghetto or something else.  Not being sure what the “something else was” I said “Si, traghetto” and shortly we were dropped of at a street corner.  The driver accosted a coupe crossing the street with baggage and asked if they were going to the ferry. “Si”, and he motioned to us to follow this couple.  The four of us eventually found the Traghetto, the car ferry to Capri.  We parted ways as they already had tickets and followed the signs for biglietteria.  By now we knew that was the ticket counter.  We arrived behind a very talkative group of Italians who seemed to have an issue with the agent.  They went on and on about the same thing forever it seemed.  All good natured, but the group was trying to find a way around or through some problem.  Eventually they gave up.

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Ferry to Marina Grande, Capri. Ellen Chatting with justin and Kate

Our turn. “Il traghetto per Capri a qui?” “Si” “A che ora?”  “sedici e mezzo” “Ma troppo tardi”  The agent switched to broken English and said that there is another ferry that leaves sooner down that way, pointing further down to our right.  Great.

We turned around and the couple behind us asked, “there’s another ferry leaving sooner?”  “Yes”  “can we follow you”  “Of course”, not that we knew anything more than it’s “that way”.  Off we went.  Justin and Kate from Texas were newly weds (well less than a year married) and this was Kate’s first trip to Italy. We had a great time chatting about Texas, travel, languages. As we walked I stopped frequently to ask “Dov’e il Traghetto per Capri” and often people wanted to send us back to the car ferry.  We persisted.  Eventually Justin said they had dropped a car off right there, “Oh, that’s the car we dropped off.  They told us to go to the ferry where we met you!”  There’s lots of confusion about ferries.  We pushed on baggage in hand.  We saw an arch with people coming and going, “that could be it”.  “It looks like a cruise ship portal”, Ellen was correct.  By now we were flagging, it’s been over a kilometer and no sight of ferries.  Turning a corner we noticed a low white building across the street. It was nondescript, but could be a ticket counter.  “Wait here, I’ll go check it out”, and off I went. I entered the front door to find a long counter with two agents staring at a display to my left and an agent helping someone to my right.  It still was not clear what this was, ticket counter, private tour operator, local undercover police, who knew.  Again the agent and the Italian were having a great time discussing the pros and cons of the color of the tickets or whatever was of interest.

After a few minutes of this, out of my mouth popped, “allora”  The two agents looked up from the screen and both said, “prego” (it’s that easy?  Who knew.)  “Dov’e il biglietteria per il traghetto per capri?”   “e qui”  “Si?”  “Si.”  I went outside and signaled that this was the place.  Not getting a response I shouted, “Andiamo”  wrong context I should have shouted “Vieni qui” but it worked.  We all bought tickets.  Leaving I asked, “Dov’e il Traghetto”  what I meant was where do we board, but the agent got the message. “andare in giro poi dritto e sinistra”, motioning around then straight and left.  Cool. we were off.

With a few missteps, we found the boarding area, got aboard directly and were on our way to Capri.  Once aboard the ferry, I texted Luigi that we were safely headed to Capri.  Ellen gave Justin our travel card.  We never have pen and paper to exchange contact info with like minded people we meet travelling.  With “retired” cards we no longer have that problem.  We arrived Capri mid afternoon, beating the car ferry by many hours and not inconveniencing our hosts.  GPS guided us toward the rental and up to a dead end.  Great, GPS is useless.   We turned back and took a reliable route.  I called Nunzia who said Toni would be waiting for us at the supermercato superiore. “OK”, I said knowing I had no idea where it was.  We could always ask.  Walking back across the marina promenade, I asked a waiter where I’d find supermercato superiore.  He pointed across the street then wanted to have us sit and eat.  “troppo, non adesso per favore”  Clearly the market across the street was not “superiore” we kept walking.

A few hundred meters I asked again and got a gesture of up the street then around left and back around right and it’s up there. Vague, but something to go on.  Nunzia called and said there’s a stairway on the left we’ll see as we walk that’s a shortcut.  Toni will meet you at the market.  Cool, Up and around left then right, was quite a slog.  Then up a long flight of stairs.  Then left along a very narrow curvy road with cars and an occasional bus going buy (slowly luckily). Eventually we saw the market and a fellow hopped off the wall beside us and asked, “Ron”  “Si” Toni introduced himself.

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The View onto Our Terrace

We are roughly the same age.  I may be a number of years older.  Toni showed us down a long walkway then left and right (or was it right and left?) through a locked gate ( just reach around and press the first switch to open the gate) and here you are.  Up a short flight of stairs and there’s a view of Marina Grande, Capri. The water sparkled in the sunlight.  Ferries and tour boats left white wakes streaming behind.  We were “home”.

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Marina Grande, Capri

This was a relief.  We could have been stranded in any number of places between Salerno and Capri.  Toni showed us how to work the heater/AC while talking about Capri.  He could not find an English version of a map of Capri, but he marked up a French copy.  “Here’s the bus schedule,, you can reach the blue grotto from Anacapri.  No need to take a tour boad, the rowers will pick you up from the shore here.  There are old English forts along this side of the island and a walkway between them.  There was a famous sea battle between Napoleon and the English that took place here.  The forts were there to protect the British. You should walk.  Don’t just sit outside in the sun. Walk.  Explore.  See the Island!”  That’s toni.

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Sunset Over Marina Grande, Capri

I was late.  We had had two long days with uncertain connections.  We turned on the heaters, warmed up the apartment, and relaxed some, then headed off to Capri before sunset.  There was one restaurant I wanted to try.  I knew it was close to the two rocks, Faraglioni di Capri, the symbol of Capri. To reach it we would take a bus to Capri and walk down the south side somewhere.  Not knowing the restaurant’s name put us at a disadvantage.  It was unlikely we would find it among the nest of narrow streets and walkways.

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A Typical Capri Stairway

Capri is steep. There is much more up and down than walking on the flat.  We walked down to dead ends and private property a few times.  We always retraced our steps and continued in a east south east direction.  Eventually we passed a restaurant that “looked right”.  “I think this is the place”, I told Ellen.  Let’s eat here.  The restaurant was closed but opened in half an hour around 7:00.  Could we have reservations at 7?  Certainly.  See you then.

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Terrazza Brunella is Villa Brunella’s Restaurant

Terrazza Brunella

A bit further along east, we found the Faraglioni overlook and a trail that winds below.  We easily consumed half an hour walking, watching the sun set, and taking a photo or two.  At the witching hour (a bit early perhaps) we returned to the restaurant and were seated. Ellen would have preferred a window seat, but accepted what we were given.  Often an Italian restaurant will have reservations for particular tables at 9:00.  That table will be held even at 7:00.  It is not unusual for a party to spend three hours over dinner.  The excellent Italian restaurants are much more interested in the qualify of the food and the dining experience than they are with turning tables.  Many a US diner has complained either at slow service or at not getting the table they want.  Understand the Italian culture and roll with it. Why not?

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The View from Our Table, 7:15 PM

Sardines?

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These Were So Yummy We Ordered a Second Serving!

On the menu for an appetizer was fresh sardines in olive oil and lemon with balsamic pearls and chili. I like the canned sardines we get in the US, Ellen does not.  Still she acquiesced and let me order the sardines as an appetizer.   She ordered a filet while I had dorado.  The house wine was a good choice.  When the sardines arrived, they were small thin individual rolls drizzled with oil.  I tried one having no idea what to expect.  Surprise, surprise.  These were mild and melted in your mouth. They were not fishy nor salty, but a mild clean fish flavor enhanced with a mild olive oil flavor and a hint of lemon.  They were outstanding.  I suggested Ellen try one.  Again I had no idea how she would react.  I had high hopes of consuming the entire appetizer myself.  That would be heaven.

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Dinner By Candle Light as the Sun Set.

Ellen loved the first bite and the second.  Wanted another, then three more. My dreams of “drowning” in this exquisite sardine dish evaporated.  When the sardines were gone, Ellen said, “we should order another!”  Really?  I signaled a waiter and said, “we would like another order of the sardines, provided it does not interfere with preparing our main course”.  In no time another dish of sardines appeared and was quickly consumed.

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Scrumptious Filet Mignon

Fresh sardines, and they must be fresh as the oils change character quickly, but fresh they are a delicate soft meat very unlike anything else. These were extraordinary.  My main course was very good; fresh fish sautéed in olive oil with nothing else.  Only fresh fish can be prepared this way.  Ellen’s filet was slightly charred on the very outside and medium rare inside.  Prepared, seasoned, and cooked perfectly.

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Not Masters of the Selfie

We shared a dessert and espresso.  We enjoyed talking about our trip thus far, relating current events to past humorously, with hints of the next few days and weeks adventure.  Food courses were presented in a slow even flow along with an occasional top-up of our wine or water glass.  We watch the evening change from late afternoon to sunset then dusk as our table was lit by the sun. But slowly the candle light became the only source of light (there were low wattage ceiling lights that were outshined by the candles).  It was a very romantic evening in a romantic setting. We left the restaurant a little after 9:30, a wonderfully slow paced meal.

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The Funicular Terrace, Nearly Deserted

A walk and a bus ride took us back to our apartment.  We were “home”.

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Late Night, Capri