As you travel down the Italian boot, the Appenine Mountains run down the middle like a tongue and on the west side of this formidable dividing range, about 140 miles south of Rome, sits the World War II beachhead of Salerno on the Amalfi Coast. This is a land of volcanoes, peaks, and cliffs rising out of the sea – a vertical world of stunning vistas, fairy tale villages, and pinch yourself beauty.
As we docked inPointed grey crags crowned a breathtaking skyline adorned with giant white crosses and ancient stone ruins. Near the top of the mountains many of the old monasteries and convents had been converted into hotels and jutted out onto precarious ledges like ancient grey birds of prey.
in the pre-dawn glow, it was already lights, camera, ACTION around the
waterfront. This was clearly a working
town. And as the sun came up behind the
ship, it back lit a city of striking architecture. Maybe architecture
is the wrong word. Perhaps clever
faith captures the scene more accurately. Crème-colored, limestone apartment buildings
lined the blue-green sea in stair step levels, hanging along insanely steep,
tree-covered volcanic hillsides where bridged highways ran overtop of one
another like an ancient city of the future – sort of like an Italian version of
the Anasazi Salerno village of Hovenweep in southwestern , but with trucks and cars. The whole thing looked like it might fall
into the sea at any second. Colorado
Line – as in the fabulously rich Monaco Grimaldis – and Salerno is the main Italian port for new cars coming into
Europe for delivery.
The Royal Caribbean dock was surrounded by a futuristic marina and in the center sat a spacey yacht club that looked like a long, grey stealth ship surrounded by a million little blue and white motorboats. But
isn’t the playground of the rich and
famous. There were no large yachts and
only a few small sailboats. Salerno
Fishing is still a major industry in
As in every other place in the world, there is a North versus South rivalry dividing
And to add a little spice to the mix, even within each geographical area, there are subtle language differences between every city, like
. This may help to explain why Italians can
rarely agree on anything – even their own language. Naples
The Greeks and Etruscans predate the Romans in southern
, and several of the first
Roman rulers were Etruscan. The Romans eventually absorbed Italy Salerno
and for centuries the city prospered under the protection of the Empire, but when
Rome fell, many Romans fled the Vandals and
Goths and settled along the because of its
splendid isolation. These folks were
later conquered by the Normans, then the French, and then the Spanish. The history of Amalfi
Coast is pretty brutal. Italy
The Greeks and Etruscans predate the Romans in southern
Even though we didn’t have to deal with getting from our port to a faraway city, like in
Experience the spectacular Amalfi coast, the most famous in all of
- Amalfi: Explore the narrow streets of this maritime village.
- Lunch will be served on the
Begin with a short transfer to your waiting motor launch and enjoy a 45-minute cruise, viewing the Dolomitic cliffs, which rise out of the sea. They have been sculpted by nature into fantastic shapes.
Amalfi is situated at the mouth of a deep gorge along the coast. You’ll hear interesting commentary about how this was once a major shipping port during the Middle Ages, and also an independent maritime state. Your guide will escort you into Amalfi's main square where you will stop to see the facade of the 12th-century cathedral. Enjoy some free time to explore this famous maritime village before re-boarding your motor launch and returning to
From there, drive by coach to
We gathered at nine in a giant parking lot by the ship, boarded another fancy tour bus, drove a short distance through the hectic town, disembarked in a crowded little square, and were led by our happy guide Guido to a bustling dock that was filled to the gills with slightly dazed tourons. Large tour boats were docking and departing like a choreographed water ballet and within a few minutes we boarded a large motor launch with an open observation deck and rows of white benches, like the maritime church of holy tourism, and we were off down the coast.
As we motored south along the coast, heading toward the famed island of Capri, we passed storybook little seaside towns, usually with a single Byzantine domed church in their center, squeezed tightly into the semi-flat bottom land below the looming mountains, with a small rocky beach and a few little fishing boats bobbing at anchor or beached above the tide line. There were few houses. It was all terraced, three storied apartment buildings that seemed to be connected to one another like a brightly-painted Mesa Verde or
The winding narrow coastal highway runs mid-cliff with improbable – almost invisible – switchback single tracks leading down to exquisitely beautiful square Mediterranean villas perched on cliff faces over the sea. They looked like they had sprouted right out of the rock.
Lemon groves contoured across the vertical face of the cliffs in staircases terraces that reminded me of some Impressionist painting by Van Gogh. And adding to the magical nature of the whole scene, there were glass pieces strung on lines of nets that reflected the sun and made the hillsides twinkle in the sun like silvery jewels. These were to keep the birds away from the lemon trees that were in full bloom.
For the first time on the trip, bugs became a problem. Nasty black flies drove us friggin crazy wherever we went. Fall is when all of the fruit trees are in bloom – pomegranates, lemons, oranges, and olives – and that attracts the flies.
The cliffs were covered in all sorts of interesting sights. There was a Christmas crèche Nativity scene in the mouth of a high lonesome cave. Cell phone towers and small power lines ran along the ridges and short, stubby evergreens covered the stony crags like green moss. It reminded me of a train set landscape.
High above this fairly land, clouds engulfed the highest peaks like ribbons of smoke.
In truth, if a dragon, or a pterodactyl, or even God had suddenly come soaring into view, it would have fit right in and seemed like a natural part of the show.
After about a forty-five minute boat ride, we landed in the picturesque
The people of Amalfi were sea folk and mermaid myths are part of their oral history. There was a big wooden board with a brightly colored mermaid near the dock and the shops were filled with a variety of mermaid trinkets. Amalfi was one of the leading maritime trading centers on the Mediterranean as far back as the Sixth Century, predating
Over the years, Amalfi was conquered by the Normans, Saracens, Pisans, Salernitans, and Sicilians. And in 1343, the lower part of town was wiped out by a tsunami. Life in Amalfi has always been a bit tenuous.
The British aristocracy stumbled on the place at the turn of the last century and for awhile it was the happening spot to vacation if you were part of the idle rich. Amalfi is still primarily a tourist town and was officially designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.
These days the
We were given an hour to go exploring and instructed to meet back at the dock by eleven.
There weren’t a lot of choices in terms of where to go. There was only one street in town, running from the sea straight up into the rough mountains. Short yellow busses and large golf cart delivery trucks weaved their way through the narrow winding
Inna and I walked up the steep cobbled street, checking out the funky little shops, the local seafood stores with their brightly-colored fish gaping at us from their icy beds, trendy boutiques sparsely stocked with over-priced men’s and women’s clothes, outdoor cafes getting ready for the lunch crowd, and the always popular gelato stores. Up and up we went, dodging the occasional small car and old ladies carrying their groceries in little wheeled hand carts like luggage, until the commercial area petered out and there were only houses, schools and offices. When
On our way to the harbor, I bought a small cup of limoncello gelato ice cream that was to die for. I don’t normally go in for that sort of thing, but the combination of sweet and sour was really quite mouth watering.
Our group gathered by the mermaid wall and we were soon back on the boat and heading up the coast to
Looking back at our way-too-short visit to Amalfi, Inna and I both agreed that it would be a great place to rent a villa for a week and then head over to
Our bus ride to Pompeii took us around the outskirts of Naples, Italy’s third largest city with a population of 960,000 and another two million people spread throughout the lush valley.
But what totally dominates the entire
There are 18 little towns with 700,000 people currently living in the Red Zone – the blast area likely to be covered in lava when the volcano next erupts. Vesuvius is constantly venting smoke and ash and blows its top with alarming regularity. It’s just a matter of time, and the next big eruption is already long overdue.
As we approached the smoldering volcano I couldn’t help but conclude that only a complete fool would live in the shadow of such clear and present danger.
After lunch, we walked up to the Piazza Porta Marina Pompeii, which had nothing to do with a marina or water – there being no large body of water or boats in the vicinity – and which was actually a plaza of tourist shops lined with vendors in small stalls, hawking souvenirs galore.
Guido led us into one of the larger buildings on the plaza where a friendly guide gave us a tour the Donadio Cameo Factory which opened for business in 1885, selling decorated corals and cameos. Cameo is actually a technique, rather than an object. Cameos appeared before Christ and were found in the ruins of
We watched a master jeweler turn a mounted oval seashell into a cameo depicting some long forgotten beauty, and then we were given about fifteen minutes to sample the lovely wares and buy anything that might strike our fancy.
I have always associated cameos as something worn by granny, and they all look pretty much the same to me, but it’s still one of those crafts that makes you just shake your head at the creative ingenuity of humans.
Guido paid the entrance fee for our group and we entered
Two thousand years ago, in 79 AD, the town of
The ruins of
According to legend, there were some obvious warning signs that went unheeded by the people of
I had heard of
You can book a specialized tour that will get you into some places closed to the great unwashed. Many of the Chinese groups had booked these VIP tours and had handsome Italian guides nattily dressed like movie stars.
As we walked the cobbled streets of the entombed town, our guide Guido bombarded us with all sorts of interesting tidbits.
Frank Sinatra once did an evening show in the Big Theater where plays had been staged in the time of Christ, but the taste police stopped all the shows a few years back, and now its stone seats sit empty. It has amazing acoustics, and I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to see ol’ Blue eyes perform there for the elegant elite by starlight.
There were fast food places and whores working the busy streets outside both of the theaters.
At varying intervals along the wider streets, there were raised stones that functioned like crosswalks and kept one’s feet out of the dirty water running down the gutters. And they did not allow vehicles on the
At the bakeries, which were easily identified because of their large brick ovens that looked just like the ones you might see in a fancy pizza parlor, they found bread still sitting there waiting to be baked. The eruption took place at noon and many people were just sitting down to lunch.
The luxurious baths had a huge boiler room serviced by an army of wood-bearing slaves. The baths also had a gym, just like in our modern facilities, and accommodated hundreds of men and women each day. The baths were the social hub of the town where people shared news and cut deals.
Many of the homes in
At our final stop, we learned that Basilica is a Greek word meaning King's Palace and was usually associated with a place of justice. The Christians co-opted the word for their most important place of worship. At the
We ended our tour back at the tourist village where they sold all things
And therein lays one of the underlying truths we uncovered during our travels: NOTHING is free in
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