Category Archives: Uncategorized

Pague to Montenegro

One leg of our proposed trip next spring had me puzzled.  How do we get from Prague to Belgrade efficiently.  I’ve seen flights that go through Rome and even Paris.  There is no direct connection.  The most common path is through Budapest, but we start in Budapest and would prefer visiting a “new” city.

Looking at a map of central and eastern Europe, there are two cities to the east that look interesting: Bucharest, Romania and Sofia, Bulgaria.

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Bucharest, Romania

Tarom, Romanian Airlines, has a direct flight from Prague to Bucharest! It’s a two hour flight at a reasonable price.  Air Serbia has a direct flight from Bucharest to Belgrade at a reasonable price.  What about a hop to Sofia? There are direct flight Bucharest to Sofia and Sofia to Belgrade.  A stop over in both Bucharest and Sofia is possible.

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Sofia, Bulgaria

I know nothing about either Serbian Airlines or Tarom.  Time to get informed.

From Belgrade we plan to take the train to Podgorica, Montenegro and rent a car.

Europe 2019

Historical city hall of Bamberg on the bridge across the river Regnitz, along the Castle Road

City Hall, Bamberg on the river Regnitz

The more I study our alternatives for Spring 2019, the more I am convinced we will have a fantastic time.  The only certain piece of this puzzle is our river cruise from Budapest to Prague.  I’ve been juggling what to do when before and/or after the cruise.  I know we want to visit Berlin, Croatia, and Slovenia.  Then there’s Germany’s Castle Route which is a drive through Germany’s castle region. 

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Franconia, Bavaria | © Canadastock/Shutterstock

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Franconia, Bavaria

To the extent that I can, I hope to keep our costs for connections to a minimum while balancing travel time.  One train route caught my attention, the Balkan Express that runs from Belgrade, Serbia to Bar, Montenegro with the option of cutting out at Podgorica.  I’m having some difficulty finding an “easy” connection between Prague and Belgrade.  RyanAir does not service the Dalmatian Coast countries at all.  Most flights connect through another city (some as far as Paris!).  There are no direct trains, though a connection through Budapest is possible.   Next up is seeing if there are direct connections from a city closer to Prague.   RyanAir does service Bari, Italy with ferry connections to Albania, Montenegro, and Croatia, but the ferry is a 10 hour trip.

The view from the Belgrade-Bar train as it passes through Montenegro’s mountains

The train skirts the Lesendro Fortress ruins on Lake Skadar on its way to the Adriatic

Stock Images, The Balkan Express

If you search images for Montenegro, you cannot help marveling at the picturesque small island, Sveti Stefan.  The island is owned by Aman Resorts.  It is private and open to guests only. A one night stay on the island is pricey at $1000.00.  We will marvel at when we stop by on our way to Kotor Bay.  I have found lovely romantic bay side apartments right on the water near old town Kotor that are reasonably priced at $35 per night!  Granted we will not have a pair of 60 minute spa treatments included, but that’s OK.

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Orthodox Church Saint Jovan Vladimir, Bar, Montenegro

 

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Stock Image Kotor, Montenegro

Europe 2019

 

We are changing our focus from Ireland/Spain/Portugal to Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia perhaps with a jaunt to Berlin.  For some reason I find it much easier to be excited planning for the Dalmatian Coast than I did for Ireland and Spain.  I have no idea why; clearly I would like to visit Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco.   It could be the passing familiarity with Croatia we have from our retirement cruise that included the Adriatic Sea that’s luring us back.

We’re now thinking of flying round trip to Budapest and making a grand loop or flying into Berlin, and flying out from Ljubljana, Slovenia.  This change of plans came about when Ron suggested we join him and Christ on a 12 day Danube River cruise from Budapest to Prague. Sure, we’d love to.  We enjoyed their company in Florence; we travel well together.

We’ll either fly into Berlin then get to Budapest for the cruise or head to Berlin after Prague.  In either case we expect to spend a few days in Budapest, Prague, and Berlin before flying to Podgorica, Montenegro.  We plan to rent a car (probably a Citroen) and drive the coast from Montenegro to Slovenia with inland excursions here and there.   After a few weeks exploring Montenegro, Croatia, and Slovenia; we’ll fly back from either Ljubljana or Budapest.

I considered a Gate 1 tour of Croatia and Slovenia, but I know I would rather follow my nose through these countries.  I’ll look into private tours here and there along the way.  We met fellow who manages a bespoke shoe shop in Florence who is Slovenian and “would love to show us around his country”.   That could be and adventure, assuming he was serious and has the time.  Italians are well known for their graciousness, and sometimes less follow through.  I fondly reminisce over our time in Florence.  Having a screensaver with random photo popups feeds my nostalgia.

I’ll post a single image.

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The Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Norway & Sweden

 

Reservations for our trip to the Norwegian Fjords and Sweden are complete.  I am certain that January will be cold.  We plan to dress accordingly with no plans to freeze.  I hope the Northern Lights are aglow for us.  We loaded up on cruise ship daytime excursions and we’ll take two activities while at the Ice Hotel: a night-time Northern Lights photography outing and a visit with reindeer (thanks to Cynthia for this suggestion)

Now I can “relax” and “simply” plan an RV excursion to Yellowstone NP, Montana, Idaho, Washington State, and an excursion into Canada for this fall.  At some point ahead of our RV trip, I do need to plan out our trip to Europe in the Spring.  With the Blue Danube river cruise prepaid, we’ll shift our attention to Eastern Europe and book-end the cruise with time in Croatia, Slovenia, and perhaps Berlin.

Travel 2018-2019, Norway, Sweden, Northern Lights, and the Ice Hotel

 

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This year (2018) we installed a solar system and that put a crimp in our travel plans.  We’ve talked about an RV trip to Montana, Washington, and Victoria BC, but have no solid plans as yet.  I have to get that planned out or it may not happen.

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Bergen, Norway

Last year we took a very inexpensive trip to Vietnam through Gate 1 Travel.  To our surprise, we thoroughly enjoyed that trip.  Since then Gate1 has regularly sent teaser brochures advertising their “specials” for the week or the quarter.  Most times we glance through them thinking some would be fun to do in the future.  Last week Ellen pointed out a Northern Lights cruise offered by Gate1 in Norway.  It is unusual for Ellen to get excited about trip planning in the early stages.  Further research was in order!

Trondheim, the docks

Trondheim, Norway

The “Gate 1” cruise would be on either MS Richard With, MS Nordlys, MS Nordkapp, or MS troljiford in a standard inside cabin.  Look up any of these ships and you’ll find they are operated by Hurtigruten.  Hurtigruten is a Norwegian cruise line that operates a fleet of ferries that plies the Norwegian Fjords.  All are working ferries that make numerous stops up and down the coast.  They feature stops at a few ports of call with excursions.  A few of their cruises are billed as “Adventure”,  “Northern Lights”, or “Astronomy”.

I got all excited that I could book directly with Hurtigruten, get an outside berth, and opt for excursions at some of the destinations.  Great.  Now for the logistics: which destination city should we fly into: Bergen, Oslo or Stockholm?   What time of year is best to go? Some research showed that Stockholm is located on islands and is much more picturesque than Oslo.  Bergen is the port of departure and a direct flight there with an overnight might be preferable.  There are regular flights from Stockholm, Sweden to Bergen, Norway where we would board a Hurtigruten ship.  There is also a flight from Oakland Ca to Bergen with a stop over in Paris.  Cool.

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Northernmost Tram Ride in the World, Trondheim Norway

During my research Ellen mentioned wanting to visit the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden.  This complicates things.  We now have three legs of a potential “Northern Lights” vacation: 1. Stockholm, 2. Hurtigruten Cruise, 3. Ice Hotel.   In which order do we do this and during which month?  If we save the Ice Hotel for the last “leg”, do we fly to Bergen and do the cruise first or fly to Stockholm and spend a few days there before taking the cruise.  Do we do a round trip cruise.

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Arctic Ice Park, Kirkenes, Norway

Initially I thought we’d visit the IceHotel in November and actually booked a warm and cold room and a few excursions. Then I realized that there would be little snow on the ground for dog sled rides and a November cruise would push our return up against  our prior plans for Thanksgiving.  On Monday of this week (6/25) I called the Ice Hotel and cancelled our reservations with no penalty.  The fellow I spoke with was most gracious stating because I called within the two week window after booking there would be no problem with a full refund.

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The Northernmost Town in the World, Hammerfest, Norway

My thinking now is to book the Ice Hotel in January after our “Astronomy” cruise on Hurtigruten and either before or after spending a few days in Stockholm. Also of interest is a side trip to lulea, Sweden.  Lulea is the most northern city in Sweden.  It lies on the coast and is becoming a tech hub for the country.  We’ll most likely fly from Stockholm to Lulea and take a train from Lulea to Kiruna and the Ice Hotel the following day.

Art Suite 365, Ice Hotel Jukkasjarvi, Sweden

Today it looks like a round trip flight Oakland to Bergen, overnight Bergen, take a 12 day Norwegian Fjord cruise with a zodiac trip in the arctic for the Northern Lights. Then we’ll fly from Bergen to Stockholm and tour Stockholm for a few days before flying on to the Ice Hotel.  We’ll stay first in a warm room, then in an “Art Suite 365”, a new addition to the hotel.  It is a cold room with an attached warm bathroom and seating area. A warm room right off the Ice Room?  It seems far to civilized!

All arrangements are now booked except a hotel for an overnight in Bergen and one in Stockholm for two nights.  We’ll be in Trondheim on new years day!

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).

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