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Entries about amalfi

Expecting the worst

We have arrived again on the Amalfi coast...this time south toward Sorrento in the area of Massa Lubrense. I am trying to figure out how it became known as the Amalfi coast instead of the Sorrento coast, because Sorrento is basically a city by Italian standards, while Amalfi is only several streets long. Maybe it has a better ring to it. We only drove through Sorrento but I was surprised at how large and un-quaint it was, compared with Amalfi and Positano. Too much road noise. In Italy, pedestrian zones are like gold. Now when I hear a town (like Lucca, Siena, Positano) has a pedestrian zone where cars are limited, I automatically get interested. Hmm, that sounds nice. Relaxing, quiet, none of the buzz of mopeds and the franticness of wondering if the next Fiat might run over your toes.

Being in Italy is a continual lesson in patience, unpredictability, and surprise. It keeps you sharp, because you have to be. It is really no place to be groggy or sleep-deprived. My husband, who has to navigate the narrow corridor streets and avoid hitting any manner of pedestrian, bus, mopeds angling past, the occasional goat crossing... he needs his sleep to have quick reflexes to drive appropriately in this country. There is no such thing as cruise control.

Things we often take for granted, like predicatability and standardization, are totally foreign here. I read a passage in a book by Italian author Beppe Severgnini,about the psychology of Italian hotels.
"Unlike other people, we are not looking for predictability and uniformity in a hotel. We want to be treated as unique individuals, in a unique place in unique circumstances. The model Agip chain was Italy's boldest attempt at standardization. It was an interesting cultural experiment with a hint of nationalistic self-sufficiency, but today hotels have taken another direction.....boarding houses are even more Italian if that were possible." When things do not work, they see it as a challenge. It is part of the experience when a toilet does not flush, the lights do not turn on, the TV doesn't work. To me, I think, Why on Earth didn't they check the room before we checked in to make sure everything was in working order? But here, it is not expected that everything be just so, in fact, it is basically expected that things will not be standardized and functional, that changes will have to be made.

Remember my post about the Ischia hotel, about the air conditioning not working? Well, here, at our new villa, it is the Internet connection. I tell the owner my husband must have internet to do his job. I ask if he can have it fixed by this evening, because my husband has to be online by 4PM. He smiles at me, shrugs, and says, "yes, I hope it is possible". I am used to "it will get done"; but here, everything is somewhat left up to the forces of nature, and the whims of the only person in town who has the authority to fix something. If he gets back from his lunch break by four, then yes, perhaps it will be possible. I try to remain calm, but inside I have been infuriated again and again by this process. Checking into a new place that says WIFI, Sky TV, air conditioning, etc, and having it not be so. Waiting one or two days until the right person can fix it, hoping for the best but expecting the worst. The internet did in fact get fixed, by 6pm, which is in fact quite an impressive job, so I thanked the owner for obviously pulling some strings to get it solved.

Posted by globalmomma 12:20 Archived in Italy Tagged hotels coast air italian amalfi sorrento chain conditioning internet ischia patience massa lubrense Comments (0)

The Q8 and Arriving in Ischia

What a wild, hairy, skin-of-your-teeth kind of day it turned out to be. We left Amalfi today (I apologize....I know I am behind on adding the entries!). It seemed a basic enough task - drive 1.5 hours from Amalfi to Napoli, take the hour long ferry to Ischia, and check in to the hotel we booked last night.
First step was to haul all of our bags and groceries down the eight flights of winding staircases again from our apartment "perch" on top of Amalfi. We labored down slowly. The lady we were renting the apartment from was sincerely sad to see us leaving...I think she considered us house guests. Every day she would bring us something...today it was caffe' on the terrace, while she had an excuse to hold Bodhi and we sipped the juice. Clearly the best contribution Italians have made to society is their amazing espresso. I have not had a bad one yet... In fact, every one seems better than the last...but I digress. While we are sipping, she is trying to coerce us to stay another night, asking why we must leave. These are the moments I am glad I am not fluent because I really have no solid excuse for going, other than I am getting antsy and we feel we should move on. But I tell her best I can, so she will understand, that we need to meet family in Caserta, so we must go. I didn't tell her we aren't meeting them until the 5th...

She carries a bag down all those stairs for us... A retired woman in her seventies shlepping our bag, and giving us kisses goodbye. I kinda do wish they would adopt us so we could come back every year. I think they were definitely taken aback that I had found them again, and asked to stay at their apartment. They clearly weren't advertising it. Maybe they don't even rent it anymore, I don't know. But they were clearly pleased to have us, and it was nice to be welcomed so kindly.

So off we went in our little Fiat heading up the winding road again back to Vietri, since that was the direction the gps was pointing us. About ten kilometers in, I say to Chris, don't we still need gas? Oh no. The orange gas light is glowing, and we remember it had been on when we arrived in Amalfi days before...but we hadn't remembered until now. Utoh. There is nowhere to get off the Amalfi coast highway. It is no highway. It is a small winding road dug out from a rocky cliff line, with steep overhanging sections,and not much chance to pull off the road. I check the gps for a gas station. Next one is in Vietri (a lovely town by the way). We could turn around, but we'd have to backtrack PAST where we started from to find gas, so we press onward. Chris is attempting to coast in neutral whenever possible, as well as avoid passing motorbikes, oncoming tour buses on hairpin turns, and pedestrians walking alongside the road. It is a stressful enough stretch of road without thinking about abandoning your car along it and hiking to the nearest town. We consider stopping at a safe point and calling for reinforcements. But there aren't any safe looking spots to stop. The needle of the gas gauge actually passes UNDER the orange light, and I begin to get worried, as we are really below empty now. I am expecting the sputtering and stuttering of the engine any minute. Both of us are holding our breath. Both of us thinking, how could we let this happen? And Bodhi already getting hungry in the backseat, unaware of the current predicament he is in. I am doing a countdown as I grip the gps: 4 kilometers left, now 3.5. I see the town approaching and think, well, good, if we can get close enough to town, at least we can walk and not hitchhike to the station. We reach within 500 meters of where the gps is pointing us and think, yes! we made it, but no, that is just to another turn onto the highway. Another kilometer and a half to the final destination at a Q8 station. Another few minutes of silence as we hope for the best, and then we see the station around the corner. Shew, made it. We aren't cheering though, just sighing, thankfully exhaling our breath. We fill up the car and head to Napoli. That was more stressful than it had to be. I tell Chris - "That was a healthy dose of daily stress", but he doesn't laugh. It is one of those times you hope will become funny in a few days time but we are too close to it to find it funny now.
On to Naples. We drive into the center of town, toward the bullseye that designates European town centers, and I realize why this is the Italy everyone fears. There are piles of trash by the side of the road bigger than any I have seen outside of India. There is more trash strewn along the roadside. There are men loitering and winding their way through traffic trying to wash windows and sell plastic objects. A brush and dust pan, some children's toys, some other useless looking things. This place makes you feel on edge. It has a reputation for being dangerous, for pickpockets, thieves and scams. For noise, pollution and chaos. Driving through, I definitely feel no urge to stay. We head directly for the harbor, keeping our eyes averted. After a few misdirections, we reach the harbor and I venture in to fumble my way toward tickets to Ischia. The man says, "With a car? you must go to the OTHER harbor." So I hop back into the car and we go to the next row of boats, people, parking lots and trash. I go inside to buy tickets again. The man tells me, you have documents for the car? It is a rental car, I tell him. Yes, he says smugly, documents??? Just a minute. I run back to the car. We have only 15 minutes before this boat leaves. We thought the boat was at 14:30, but that was the passenger-only ferry. The ferry for cars leaves at 14:00 even. It is now 13:45 and we have yet to have lunch, feed, Bodhi or figure out how to get on. I grab everything in the glove box and bring it to the man at the ticket booth. Here. "See", he says, pointing to his eye, "documenti". I feel the urge to smack his glib little face. uh, huh, who knew you would need such a thing? I tel him, in America you just drive onto the ferry in your car. No document-i. He ignores me. I pay the 50 euro and rush back to the car. We literally drive onto the boat while it is idling, and five minutes later, we are enroute. It was good timing, after all. Somehow, it worked out, and we were able to eat a somewhat shabby sandwich lunch onboard a ferry bound for the island of Ischia. It is a reliief to get the heck out of Napoli...it doesn't seem a place to bring a baby. Too much ugliness, garbage, seedy-looking characters, strange stares. There aren't the kind smiles here that you get in the country. There are hardened looks. I feel a little bit sad to think our new friends from the terme are living here, in a cramped apartment filled with noise from the city. It's not a nice place, or a congenial place. The accent here I am starting to pick up, since I am hearing more words now that I understand. They chew on the ends of their words. Everything sounds like "brioche" or "schoch". It makes me hungry and I can't concentrate. Instead of capito, it is capisch. Instead of carciofi, carciof. Words end in a harsh chewing sound that makes the language sound ugly and slurred. This is definitely Italy's underbelly, and has a reputation that I think the rest of the country is trying to transcend. It is the old Italy I remember hearing about from guidebooks years and years ago, with stories about handicapped gypsy children stealing wallets and not entering a train station at night, or letting a stranger hand you something, because then they will demand money and make a commotion until you hand it over. All these stories I remember hearing abut Italy are coming back to my memory as we pass through Napoli and see the hoards of salesman, homeless, and the general chaos of the city. We are glad we are aboard the ship, putting miles between us and the city for at least a few days...

Posted by globalmomma 00:53 Archived in Italy Tagged coast highway language station amalfi naples gas crime napoli vietri accent Comments (1)


Lest anyone (especially me) begin to think romantic thoughts about this journey we are on, let me reassure us that it still has all the regular smatterings of life's ups and downs. There are days I still struggle to get out of bed when I hear my child stirring. There are moments I want to quit, get off, and go home. There are moments we are having much less than a good time.
I tend to do this...I hype expectations to the extreme, idyllic realms, and often reality falls quite a bit short.
Today is one such day. Bodhi is still recovering, so he is sleeping the majority of the day; hence, we are in the apartment stewing around most of the day, getting cabin fever.   When he is not sleeping, he is hanging on my pant leg and whining.  We are still struggling to work out the logistics of a plan, figure out finances from afar, and do all the other regular housekeeping from thousands of miles away. It can be taxing to be so far from any comfort zone, or not to have one at all. The key is to find it inside. We are teaching Bodhi this, I hope, to find his comfort spot inside of himself, but sometimes, this Buddhist trait does not make it through the murkiness of the self. However, even on these worst of days, there are bright spots. And those breaks in the clouds are the parts of days we should remember every time, travelling or at home. For instance, after arriving back at our apartment this morning from getting groceries, whiny baby in need of a nap, feet sweaty from the trek, our 'landlady' from downstairs knocks on the door and presents us with a gorgeous platter of fried fresh anchovies she has labored on this morning. It is quite a gift. We are like house guests here and are treated as such, with daily gifts. And the difficult morning evaporates in a flash of generosity.

Posted by globalmomma 12:49 Archived in Italy Tagged travel house amalfi guests anchovies Comments (0)

Church bells

Well, I am still only managing to shower once every three days, but at least now I am writing. In my spare time with a baby, I still don't get basic hygiene done like at home, but instead of cleaning the house and running errands, now with free time I write and hand wash our clothes. This morning, as I was hanging our clothes out on the clothesline on the terrace, the church bells were ringing and chiming, and it was magical. It was late morning and all the families were headed to church on this warm summer Sunday in Amalfi. The birds are chirping, our clothes are swinging in the breeze, I am listening to the songs of hymns and many people's voices as they sing. It give me a spiritual feeling, and I want to head over to the church to be immersed in the music and the bells. Bodhi is napping, Chris is cooking, and I dress to go down to the piazza but I don't go. I just listen from our perch above town, right next to the church, literally I am adjacent to the singing, and the ringing bells.  I could get used to this. My husband and I are already contemplating asking the owners to call us if they consider selling this place. But these places never go on the market here in Italy - they get passed down generation to generation over a long time. As we found out in Ostuni on an old olive farm, we asked the man how he came to own this beautiful place. He said, my grandfather's great grandfather bought this farm from a friend. exactly. and every son has owned and worked it since then, and forevermore. That is part of the mystique and allure of these old farms and villas, I think, is their unattainability and the generations of family that have slept, ate, cleaned, worked, washed, created, birthed and died here. You can literally feel the cycle of time and that you are but a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of the place, that has been there and will continue to be there for a long long time. Italians just do not replace things and move on with the frequency that we do - there is a rich tradition and they hold onto everything. The apartment we are in probably has been unchanged for at least the lifetime of the current family...definitely nothing has changed since we were here eight years ago, and this is pretty typical situation here in Italy. If you like a place, and send your children there when they grow up, it will probably basically look the same as when you were there 30 years before.  Maybe this is part of the reason Italians do not mind waiting - their sense of time is different from ours - they are just not in any rush to innovate, to renovate, to get things done. They know the good things last.

Posted by globalmomma 23:01 Archived in Italy Tagged church bells morning terrace amalfi laundry Comments (0)

When life gives you lemons, make limoncello

May 20

Yesterday, my son was still on and off with a slight fever and needing more rest, but overall much better. Today is back to normal with rolls of laughter, eating hungrily, and sleeping soundly. We are in Amalfi now. We had a frustrating day yesterday trying to decide where to go, how to find an apartment with what we needed (a fridge, a terrace, Wifi), and finally I decided it was worth a try to check the place I had been dreaming about. A little apartment in Amalfi center right next to the beautiful bell tower, up several flights of narrow stairs, to a panoramic view of ocean, lemon trees, mountainside, town lights. So I walk into the town center (while Chris and Bodhi idle in the car) and use my intuitive senses. We rented this small apartment eight years ago, on our last trip through Amalfi in April 2003. I remember we rented it from a man named Andrea, who worked in the town photo shop, who was a photographer. So I made my way to the photo shop and asked for him. Oh yes, they said, we know who you are talking about - he worked here before, and he is around town but no longer working here. His sister Maria works in a small souvenir shop by the bus depot. I walk over to the bus depot and inquire: Maria Lucebello? until I find her and explain that I would like to rent an apartment from her family, if possible. She looks a little puzzled, like obviously they are not advertising this place much, and calls her brother. Yes, you can stay, she says, and it is a nice price. Brother Andrea comes to meet me while Chris tries mightily to find a place to park the car (quite difficult in Amalfi in the summertime). He takes me to the apartment and I am realizing that you really do, over time, emphasize the good parts and forget the hassles of past travel experiences; and when you go back to a place, you see all the good and the bad aspects again. Like the million stairs we have to climb to get to the apartment with the nice terrace by the bell tower. I guess I remembered the two flights up once you reached the family's home, but forgot about the 4 staircases leading up to it. Utoh, Chris is not going to be pleased with how far he has to haul all of our gear. Traveling with a baby, you also are aware of a different set of foci than prior to a baby. Like my god, the terrace is totally unsafe. I have to watch him constantly as the slats are wide and it drops down two hundred feet to the beach & town below. Babyproofing new places all of the time takes ingenuity and STAYING IN OLD ITALIAN APARTMENTS REQUIRES VIGILANCE.  For example, today, I saw our son pulling on the gas hose behind the stove. We had to cinch two wooden spoons between the cabinet doors to keep him from being able to get the cleaning supplies. And like I said, the front door stays shut at all times, due to the precarious stairs and the loosely fenced terrace.

But ahh, we are in Amalfi. And life is good. After the bags are all settled and the baby is sleeping, Chris and I are sipping our ice cold glasses of limoncello overlooking one of the best vistas in the world.

Posted by globalmomma 10:57 Archived in Italy Tagged apartments terrace amalfi babyproofing Comments (1)

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