Monday, August 29, 2011

And so we came to Rome....again.....

Thursday, May 26, 2011:

Devouring the final breakfast at our favorite table in the corner of the dining room where we sat spellbound by the glorious view of Sorrento below and Naples in the distance, we prepared to say goodbye to the blue waters of the bay.

I used the guest computer to check email, packed my last minute items and we thought we would wait outside in the fresh air for our faithful driver, Ciro. He was already there ten minutes ahead of schedule. We found him seated at one of the outdoor tables in front of the hotel, and he jumped right up to transport our large suitcases to his taxi. We had thought that perhaps he would bring a larger vehicle, but that didn't happen. For a moment, it looked as though he wasn't going to be able to secure the back of the taxi, but with some squeezing, squishing and rearranging, he accomplished the daunting task. With collective sighs of relief, we were off to Pompeii.

The agreement had been that he would take us to Pompeii and wait for us while we toured the ruins. He would then deliver us to the Naples train station, where we would catch our train to Rome. He inquired as to whether we had already purchased our tickets to Rome, which we hadn't. He proposed to us that with the shipbuilding strikes creating uncertainty with the trains, did we want him to drive us all the way to Rome, which would mean that we wouldn't have to wait for a possibly delayed or canceled train and also this would eliminate our having to deal with our luggage collection numerous times? We discussed it and decided that it was worth the price when you consider the fare for the train ticket and then trying to catch a taxi or two from Termini station in Rome to our hotel. Actually, it was a bargain.

Ciro deposited us at the entrance to Pompeii, where we purchased our tour tickets and then also agreed to a guided tour for a small additional fee. For one brief moment, a peculiar feeling suddenly gripped me as I came to the realization that Ciro's vehicle contained all of our belongings. I almost felt a sense of panic. Could we trust him with everything we possessed in Italy? What was to prevent him from simply driving away in his little taxi with all of our personal effects? After discussing this as a group, the girls reminded me that: #1-we had his business card with all of his official information on it, including his cell phone number; #2-he would surely want to be paid and would likely prefer cash rather than our underwear, shoes, jammies, etc.; 3-after all, he did meet us promptly as prearranged and even dressed up in a nice jacket and special gray, shiny, stretchy looking pants. I would have to relax and cease worrying unnecessarily.

Pompeii is situated on a plateau of Vesuvian lava and overlooks the Sarno river valley. The oldest reports of its origin date back to the 6th century BC. Once again, this tour was just a fraction of the time one could take to explore these archaeological areas. The walking tour seemed like a whirlwind, but it was H...O...T outdoors while we were covering a substantially sizable territory.

One unforgettable display was called the Garden of the Fugitives. It is a large space which houses plaster casts of some of the victims from the 79 AD volcanic eruption. Giuseppe Fiorelli, director of the Pompeii digs from 1860 to 1875, used liquid plaster to pour into the cavity left in the bed of ashes by the decomposition of the victim's bodies. The plaster would solidify, reproducing the body's shape--an eerie sight to behold, and it was easy to ascertain that their arms were positioned in a manner which demonstrated futile attempts at protecting their heads from the spewing, hot lava.

It was interesting to see that so long ago, this culture actually had sliding doors, as was evidenced by the grooves in the rock. They also had running water with lead pipes. We walked through the ruins of brothels, viewed original mosaic tile floors and many ruins and remains from a zillion years ago.

I know--it's really rather creepy, isn't it?

Upon our initial exit from the ruins site, there were several police vehicles blocking the road. We were told that their presence was related to the protests regarding the strike of the shipbuilders.

Ciro had told us to meet him across the street when our tour was complete. There were numerous cafes in the vicinity, and as soon as we exited, we made a beeline to the first cafe directly across the street. Ciro was not there, but we were hot, thirsty and ready to sit down. Taking a walk to locate Ciro so he would know where we were, I spotted him at a different cafe just down the street. I told him where we were seated, and he strolled over to meet us. We asked him if he'd like to join us for lunch, and he briefly sat at our table. We quickly sensed that he felt uncomfortable for some reason. As hot as it was outdoors, he insisted on wearing his jacket while sitting with us. We protested and said, "No! Don't put your jacket on--it's too hot!"

In his broken English, he explained that he wanted to wear his jacket to cover up the tattoos on his arms. Laura said, "It's okay--I have one, too!" We believe that he had wanted us to eat at a different location where he had familiar connections, but he really hadn't initially made that clear to us. We had just headed for the first available cafe that offered shade and refreshments.

Ciro sat with us for a very short time and then returned to the cafe where his friends were located. We waved at him as we walked past on our way to his taxi. The vehicle was parked exactly where we had left it, along the side of the narrow road, and our belongings were undisturbed. Ciro quickly joined us, waving goodbye to his friends. As he turned the ignition key, we heard an unsettling grinding noise. After several unsuccessful attempts to start the vehicle, he said that he must have left the flashers on too long and that had drained the battery. At least that was what we think he said. We were beginning to feel uneasy about the possibility of missing our 6:00 tour in Rome. Did Pompeii have AAA?

Our angel driver jumped out of the taxi and ran back across the street to the cafe where his friends were seated. Within single digit minutes, they juggled a vehicle next to our taxi and used jumper cables to start the car. It was actually an older grandma-type lady who had accomplished the jump. We all loudly clapped and cheered for our efficient rescuers!

As we began our ride to Rome, we were completely exhausted and each one of us slept at one point or another. It began to rain, but Ciro was doing an excellent job of navigating through the heavy traffic and along the wet roads. I seriously believe that I completely passed out as soon as we were on our way. I would wake up periodically and see the traffic and rainy conditions and then promptly nod right back into dreamland.

Parking across the street from our Roman hotel, Caesar House, there was momentary confusion because the sign on the building actually said La Belle Hotel. Caesar House is located on one floor of the building on Via Cavour, and is actually a boutique-type hotel--almost like a bed and breakfast--within walking distance of many important historic sites. Ciro had gone the extra mile and had run over to the hotel first to confirm that this was the correct location.

He then dodged relentless traffic several times to transport our luggage over to the hotel for us, and it was quite an ordeal. He made sure that we had removed all of our belongings, thanked us for our payment, and was on his way. As previously mentioned, Ciro was truly our angel, as his initial appearance at the train station in Naples paved the way for saving us a tremendous hassle throughout this entire leg of the trip. He was polite, honest and dependable, and if anyone is ever traveling to that region and wants a driver, I'll be overjoyed to share his contact information with you.

Our building's elevator was one of those small, antique-like lifts that you see in the movies. It would require several trips with only one or two people able to fit in the elevator to bring everything we owned up to the second floor. On a severely tight schedule since we had already prepaid for the 6:00 p.m. Heart of Rome tour, we rushed to freshen up and regroup. We were to meet our guide from Angel Tours, as signified by a tan umbrella with angels all over it, at the foot of the Spanish Steps.

After our peaceful days in Serene Sorrento, Rome seemed like sensory overload with the tons of vehicles and people everywhere. We located our guide, swift-footed Ben, and followed him for two hours along the trail of the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, etc. etc. Also on our tour were a mother and daughter from Ohio. The daughter had just graduated from college, and this trip was a gift from her mom. How fabulous that this mother and daughter could share these memories! The problem with us, however, was that we were extremely hungry and tired. Although Ben was knowledgeable and a very nice young man from Wales, we were not in the greatest of shape to fully appreciate the walking tour. Toward the end of the two hours, Sharon said, "I can't hear what Ben is saying, and I don't care!"

Ben suggested that we might want to walk across the bridge to locate one of the several good restaurants for dinner. We crossed the bridge over the Tiber River when it was nearly dusk and came upon Antica Osteria Rugantino. At first, we were seated outdoors next to tourists from South Dakota, but it was incredibly hot, noisy and crowded. We asked to be seated indoors where it was cool and quiet. The hostess/manager was from Missouri and told us that she loved living her life in Rome. Dinner was reasonably priced and delicious, though we were so hungry at that point, we could have eaten anything presented to us--including the table cloth.

Before the evening was over, Sharon and I both bought small, stylish, rolling semi-duffle style bags in order to rearrange our suitcases, lighten the loads and transport our Italian treasures. The cost was 20 Euro each, and we were proud to have negotiated that price. As in Florence, if one displayed an interest and then walked away, the price magically descended. Laura had already purchased an extra bag for her acquisitions in Florence, and although another piece of luggage is the last thing I need to be storing in our garage with all of the others we have collected, it would absolutely lighten the weight of my large suitcase and be easy to pull both pieces.

After dinner, it was getting late and dark so we took a cab back to our hotel instead of walking around late at night in unfamiliar Roman territory. We still had unpacking to do and needed to get settled in our rooms. We were all ready for a great night's sleep, as we had covered substantial ground today. Tomorrow will begin with breakfast to be delivered to our rooms and then we'll be off for a 9:00 a.m. tour.
Crossing the Tiber River at dusk

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Basking in Serene Sorrento!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011:

The buffet breakfast at the hotel is wonderful because it takes all of the guesswork out of "what's for breakfast and where are we going to go to find food?" The cuisine does not make us feel lethargic and overstuffed. We eat just enough to provide fuel until lunchtime.

During our travels across Italy, we frequently noticed laundry hanging outdoors on clotheslines that could be accessed from the residents' windows. Sharon, who was the smart one in packing far more lightly than the rest of us, needed to do some laundry also. Since she had no clothesline, she improvised in a brilliantly resourceful manner!

In the late morning, we hopped onto the city bus to hang out in Sorrento for the day. The narrow side streets of the town are lined with shops and cafes, and the pace is unhurried but filled with anticipation as we attempt to explore each and every store. We didn't want to leave Sorrento thinking that we may have missed something exceptional. There are also stores specializing in gigantic produce, particularly lemons. This photo demonstrates the actual size of a lemon held in Marianne's hand. The store owner was not pleased that we were handling the produce merely for the sake of a photo shoot and didn't hesitate to let us know.

Sorrento offered shops with quality leather goods, and any leather item that Laura hadn't purchased in Florence, she made up for in Sorrento. Regarding the number of leather items she had already collected during the trip, she remarked, "I think I have bought the equivalent of an entire cow!" Before returning to the United States, we intend to count every scarf, handbag and pair of shoes that this group has acquired.

On occasion when we might be undecided about buying a particular item, Laura's answer was, "Are you going to be back here again?" As a matter of fact, I made a list of what I call "Laura's Logic" with regard to shopping in Europe:
  • Do not convert into American dollars. It might be discouraging.
  • Put a portion of the cost of the item on your credit card, and pay a portion in cash. That way it won't seem so staggering when the credit card bill arrives upon your return to the real world.
  • You only go this way once.
  • No regrets! Never experience buyer's remorse.
  • If it's an item you'd never find in the United States, go for it!
Don't you just love her rationale? I know I do!

We considered going to visit Pompeii today, but we would need to take a local train and there is a shipbuilding strike that is creating a negative impact on the local train system. We'll wait until tomorrow for that tour.

Lunch was delicious at L'Abate. We walked around Sorrento for the better part of the afternoon and encountered a store named "Gabriella." I definitely needed to stop and take a photo of this store to show my oldest granddaughter, Gabriella, that this store must have been named after her. Becoming slightly weary from the hours of walking, we decided to take a tour on the "City Train." It wasn't that we felt that we necessarily needed a tour, but we had walked all day and it felt wonderful to be sitting and seeing the sights at the same time.

Our hotel shuttle arrived at 7:00 p.m., and we were ready to bring the shopping day to an end. At the hotel, we prepared to go to dinner at a nearby restaurant that was within brief walking distance. This was our strangest almost-dining experience. When we arrived, the host seemed rather reluctant to seat us, but finally ushered us to an inside table. The dining room was filled with elderly folks from who knows where. It appeared that they might be having some type of family style dinner. The room was extremely noisy with chatter, so we asked if we could be seated outdoors where there was a balcony area with tables. Acquiescing to set us up outside with a table cloth, place settings, wine glasses and napkins, we sighed with relief as we took our respective seats.

We were immediately skeptical when Sharon's wine glass was grimy dirty, and as we reviewed the menu, it contained many weird items with unappetizing descriptions. Mutually agreeing not to stay here, we quietly stood up. I said, "I guess we should bring the menus inside with us." Marianne said, "Should we bring our dishes in, too?" Laura said, "No!"

I gathered and carried the menus, and we tried to discreetly slither through the crowded dining room. No one even looked at us or asked us where we were going. Sharon was walking behind me and said, "Just keep walking....drop the menus..." I deposited them on the last table we encountered as we made our speedy exit.

We walked back to our hotel and opted to have dinner there, where the dining area was filled with German tourists. Once we were back in our rooms and enjoying the fresh evening air from the spectacular vantage point of our balconies, we could hear the sounds of the German band with the "oom pah pah" music drifting up to us from the lounge below.

Sharon and I marched over to Laura and Marianne's balcony in order to participate in a scarf tying demonstration with Laura as the scarf stylist and Marianne as the model. I actually wrote the detailed steps so I would be able to recreate Laura's methods. I hope I can follow these directions once I am home and the atmosphere of breathtaking Italy is merely a faint memory. Following the scarf tying lessons, we all once again began the packing process. We needed to rearrange our personal effects, which was a challenge due to our new acquisitions.

We reviewed our thoughts about Sorrento, Sant' Agata, Capri and Positano:
  • It was interesting that open burning is permitted. Because we kept our balcony doors open when we were in our rooms, we could periodically smell the odor of burning. It wasn't disgusting or unbearable, but just odd.
  • "Cockadoodle do!" Roosters woke us up bright and early every morning.
  • Dogs and cats roamed everywhere completely unrestrained. No leash laws here! We often heard dogs barking in the distance at night, but it didn't keep us awake.
  • We loved the amazing view of Naples and Sorrento from the Grand Hotel Due Golfi, and particularly from our balconies.
  • This location was a welcome combination of tranquil, scenic, and peaceful after a busy and heavily populated Florence.
  • Piazza Tasso, Sorrento's main square, was a lovely location for dining, shopping and people watching.
  • This leg of our trip has been especially relaxing and pleasant.
  • We did find that some sales people in stores were not inclined to be overly helpful. For example, in one store I saw a pair of shoes on display, but couldn't locate them in the supply on hand that was available to sort though. As I sifted through the boxes to attempt to find them, a rather rude female clerk barged her way in and said, "I'm working here." A few minutes later after exhausting all possibilities from my own search, I asked her nicely, "Where would I find these shoes?" Her curt response was, "In the box." I looked all over that store and was unable to find those shoes in any boxes. This girl was not big on customer service.
  • It reminded me of the Internet store in Florence. I overheard someone complaining to the clerk about lack of information. He said, "Why didn't you tell me that when I was here before?" She replied, "You didn't ask." Several clerks were similarly chilly. They would not volunteer information, and if you didn't know the exact question to ask, you were out of luck and would not be the recipient of their words of wisdom. We found this to be a surprise because we assume that they welcome tourism and enjoy the benefits of our hard earned money. I suppose you run into grouchy people in any setting!
  • There were many exceptions to this, and one was Giuseppe, our tour guide in Capri. He was very explicit in his directions to us and also very organized. He knew he was dealing with disoriented tourists and made every effort to be as helpful as possible.
  • The desk clerks at our Grand Hotel Due Golfi were as informative as they could be in dealing with four American women who initially looked like lost puppies until we gained some working knowledge of the area and a vague concept of the lay of the land.
  • We were amazed at the beauty of the walled town of Sorrento with its gazillion steps that one has to walk in order to reach the harbor. This photo clearly shows the steps we traversed.
  • As we wandered the narrow streets and alleyways of Sorrento, we couldn't help being impressed with the tastefully landscaped terraces that hovered overhead. These residents perform magic with their flowers and foliage arrangements in spite of being restricted by limited space.
  • Our overall evaluation of this location is that it is truly an artist's or photographer's dream to visit here. Marianne and Laura suggested that this would be an ideal place to rent a villa and spend a month touring the spectacular nooks and crannies that this region offers.
Tomorrow will be the big day for our trip to Rome via Pompeii. Ciro, our driver, has been contacted and will be picking us up bright and early at 9:00 a.m. If we weren't so looking forward to exploring Rome, it would be difficult to say goodbye to Serene Sorrento!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Having the Time of our Lives in Sorrento

Tuesday, May 24, 2011:

Since we have had a string of days stuffed full of activity, we chose to relax by the pool this morning and simply chill. The pool area was lovely with comfortable lounges, and we spent our "down time" reading books, magazines, Kindles, Nooks, and listening to our iPods. We were the only guests at the pool, so we felt as though we had our own private recreation area. I found it to be so peaceful to lie back and allow the music from my iPod to flow through my ears and seep into my brain. I had downloaded some Italian selections by Josh Groban, so I enjoyed soaking in the melodies with Italian lyrics that resonated so perfectly with the surroundings.

With the arrival of a few clouds and a brief sprinkling of rain, Marianne and I walked to the little grocery store in Sant' Agata. A short time later, we all took another walk, turning right at the end of the road in Sant' Agata and exploring an area that we had missed during our initial venture into town. We located an adorable restaurant where we enjoyed another outdoor dining experience for lunch. The bruschetta was delicious with toasted bread that tasted as though it had been generously buttered. Yum. We walked all along the residential streets of hilly Sant' Agata, became momentarily disoriented, but spotted our hotel way off in the distance and managed to wind our way back into familiar territory so we could find the main road that would lead us back to the hotel.

After a quick stop at the Grand Hotel Due Golfi, we took the shuttle into Sorrento, where we shopped all afternoon until dinner. It was so difficult to make purchasing decisions because of the great unknown. How many potential treasures are awaiting us during our upcoming shopping days in Rome? We did, however, buy more scarves and ate dinner at Syrenuse in the square. This restaurant is next door to the steps leading down to Daniele's, the karaoke location for tonight. Just as we finished dinner, our new Australian friends, Scott, Julie, Peter and Sandy, arrived and sat at the table next to ours. We all chatted for a while and then walked down to Daniele's. At first, we were practically the only people in the establishment, and we wondered if we would be singing to entertain only ourselves for the evening. Shortly thereafter, the people began to wander in and the room began to fill. Since we had arrived so early, we had captured prime seating right in the vicinity of the stage and microphone.

We girls performed "Dancing Queen," "I Feel Like a Woman," and during "New York-New York" we were joined by Scott. He was right there with us every step of the way for the kick line. Marianne, Sharon and Laura also sang "Mustang Sally." The unfortunate aspect of karaoke is that the participants cannot choose the key in which the song is played. Consequently, unless the song is recorded in a key that is within your comfort zone, reaching some of the notes can be a mighty painful stretch. (Painful for the audience, that is.)

There was a gigantic pole in the center of the room, and we girls had been eyeing it all evening. We knew we couldn't leave until we posed for a photo with us surrounding that silly pole. It was just one of those photo ops that is difficult to pass up.

We all spent the entire evening singing our little hearts out with everyone in the place. The owner or manager of Daniele's sang a few numbers and really had a very nice voice. When he sang "I Had the Time of My Life" from Dirty Dancing as a duet with one of the customers, it was extremely entertaining. We couldn't stop laughing when the girl dashed to the other side of the room and then ran full blast toward the male singer, jumping into his arms just as Baby (Jennifer Grey) had done with Johnny (Patrick Swayze) in the beloved movie. We were especially tickled by the fact that the guy was so tiny and she was a fairly stocky gal. We really thought she was going to knock him over!

A group of approximately ten or so young women from....well, I'm not sure where.....came in and sang some songs in a foreign language, so that was our cue to leave. If we couldn't join in the singing, it was time to go. We said our goodbyes to our Australian friends, who were absolutely delightful. We had exchanged email addresses and I promised to send the photos I had taken of them.

This was our latest night out in Italy up to this point. We ordinarily cram so much activity into the days, we are in bed reasonably early at night. We left Daniele's at 1:00 a.m., having called a driver who was recommended by our hotel. He was extremely prompt in retrieving us and bringing us up the winding road to our current home away from home. We were all exhausted from our performances of the evening, but it really was a hilarious and memorable time.

When I stop and think about the fabulous experiences we have enjoyed so far and the wonderful people from all corners of the world that we have met along the way, it seems more like a dream than reality. I am so blessed to have these friendships with my traveling companions and to have been able to accompany them to Italy. I know we will sleep like hibernating bears tonight, anticipating tomorrow's new adventures!

I'm closing this post with one final photo to commemorate the evening. Let it not be said that we failed to have an amazing time!!!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Fascinating Day in Picturesque Positano

Monday, May 23, 2011:

We slept like corpses last night after the busy day in Capri and then capping off the evening with our dance fest with the French tourists. The breakfast buffet at the hotel greeted us this morning and consisted of scrambled eggs, some type of sausages that looked like miniature hot dogs (the girls said, "Think Charlie's Hot Dogs"), cereals, peaches, pineapple, freshly squeezed orange juice, a variety of coffee cakes, and croissants that were stored in a device which keeps them warm, tomatoes, salami, cheese, rolls and yogurt--something for everyone.

As we were told that the SITA bus stops directly across the street from our hotel, we waited and waited for it so we could go to Positano and perhaps on to Amalfi and/or Ravello. We chatted with a couple from Ontario, Canada, who were also awaiting the bus. We discussed packing tips, and these were the suggestions that they, as frequent world travelers, offered:

1) Buy the largest Ziploc bags you can find, fold and pack items in the bags, remove the air, and seal
2) Pack shoes around the perimeter of your suitcase, alternate waistbands and legs/shirts on either side, toiletries in center, and fold the clothing like an envelope over the toiletries
3) Buy used clothing for the trip and dispose of the items along the way. Your luggage load lightens each day and you make room for all of the treasures you will buy.

We thought these ideas were certainly interesting, with #3 being an unusual perspective.

One bus passed right by us, and every seat was full. People were also standing in the aisles, so we waited for the next bus--not that we had a choice since this bus didn't even stop. The Canadian couple chose to resort to Plan B and engage in an alternate activity for the day. We waited for quite some time, hoping that the next bus would contain fewer passengers. When it arrived, it stopped, but it was very crowded. A nice man motioned for us to enter a side door in the center of the bus. There were no seats available and very little standing room in the aisles, but if we hoped to see Positano some time today, we knew we should give this bus a shot. Sharon and Marianne ended up standing in the area on the steps where we entered the side of the bus. They were hanging on, but because they were at a lower level than everyone else, they had no air to breathe. I stood in the aisle, trying not to fall over as I braced myself by holding onto the seats next to me. There were two couples traveling together who seemed very nice. They said they were also going to Positano.

The curves in the road ranged from treacherous to actually frightening. The cliffs were a straight drop down, and the path was so narrow that when two buses met, it was a tight squeeze. It was difficult to keep our balance, but we didn't want to put our armpits in the faces of the people who were seated. At the very first stop in Positano, we quickly exited. We couldn't wait to get off of the bus, as we were all feeling rather queasy.

Positano is a vertical village with an approximate population of 4,000 residing on the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast. In 1343, the small fishing village was destroyed by a tsunami and the town has a history of being attacked by pirates during the 15th century. At first glance, it looks as though the pastel colored residences have been airbrushed onto the face of this enormous precipice.

We looked through a few shops on the upper level of the cliffs and then wound our way down, down, down to the village. We stumbled upon a charming restaurant, Max, and enjoyed a substantial lunch. We were seated in a small courtyard area, and there were two young American girls from NYC seated next to us. We witnessed and overheard the entitlement theory at its finest. Our delicious lunch was served on white plates, which were accompanied by brightly colored charger plates.

In many stores, we saw an interesting collection of stretchy rings placed on scarves and also some of the ring-decorated scarves attached to handbags. We bought some unusual striped wrap garments for 10 Euro that you can style different ways on your body. It should be interesting to see what we can do with those! I saw several people who have paired navy blue with green, and it looks very fresh and classy. It is giving me ideas for a nicely tailored navy blue sheath dress with a green scarf.

I also saw cute, delicate ribbons or tiny flowers attached to stacked bracelets. The Italians really know how to accessorize. Laura was wearing a similar bracelet one day that belonged to Marianne. It had an adorable ribbon tied to several bracelets, and it beautifully accented her outfit.

We saw one beach where people can actually stretch out on lounges for sunbathing, but it is very different from the beaches to which we are accustomed. The sand appears to be a dark gray mixture, but I guess it would be preferable to sitting on a jagged rock.

When we were exhausted from all of the walking and the hot sun, we waited on the appropriate corner in Positano for the return bus. It finally arrived, but to our disappointment, it wasn't the one we needed. There was a taxi driver with a van who was more than willing to take us back down the hills for a very hefty price, and as tempting as that was, we resisted the urge because he refused to negotiate. When our bus finally appeared, we were so relieved! The only problem was that it didn't take us to our hotel. It went directly to Sorrento. During the bus ride, there were two young girls and two young boys from California who were seated in close proximity to us. They were beyond obnoxious--very loud, just seeking attention. Laura finally asked them to lower the volume because they were disturbing everyone, and amazingly, they listened and complied.

We exited the bus in Sorrento and walked to the town square, where we enjoyed dinner at Fauno Bar. As we sat there eating and discussing the events of the day, we noticed the two couples who were on the bus to Positano with us. Seated at the table next to us, they asked how our day had been, as they remembered us as well. We visited with Peter, Sandy, Julie, and Scott from Australia for a while and discussed going to a place for karaoke tomorrow night.

Laura and Sharon wanted a photo of an attractive Italian young man for their daughters to drool over, so we were all trying to capture a photo of this striking guy on a bicycle. I got up and walked over, pretending to take a photo of a large pot of flowers, but managed to feature him in the shot. They used their zoom lenses to capture their photos, something I hadn't even thought about doing!

We caught the 9:30 p.m. shuttle back to the hotel and called it a day. I ran downstairs to the guest computer to catch up on some emails before bed.

One thing we all agreed upon was that we couldn't have spent another minute in that bus to Positano, and there was no way we were going to go even further on that road to Amalfi and then possibly Ravello. Perhaps if we had started earlier in the morning before the buses were so crowded, it might have been easier to deal with the curvy road from a seated position. I kept remembering that my friend, Gail, actually drove these roads when she toured Italy! I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that this is one scary path--I shouldn't even call it a road. A boat to Amalfi might have been a more viable option!

Something that surprised us was seeing cactus growing on Positano. We expect this in New Mexico or Arizona, but were definitely amazed to see it in Italy.

At the end of this day, we were all dragging. There would be no dancing tonight, as we left all of our energy on the cliffs of Positano! The photo below is the doorway of a private home that we passed on our walk from the upper level of Positano to the village below. I can't imagine living on the side of a cliff and waking each day to the spectacular view that these property owners enjoy!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Isle of Capri by day--Dancing with French Tourists by night

Sunday, May 22, 2011:

Today is Marianne's birthday and a sunny, magical day to behold. We met at 9:00 a.m. to indulge in the hotel's buffet breakfast, which is included in our room price. Each room is given 3 free Internet access hours on the hotel's guest computer, so Laura tried to send photos to Snapfish but it just wasn't happening and she had to abandon the project.

Taking advantage of the hotel's complimentary shuttle, we forged into Sorrento. We located the port, which involves walking down 100 steps, during which the knees feel as though they might cave in at any moment. Once we arrived at the bottom of the hill, we reviewed our options for visiting Capri. There are ferries, fast ferries, and hydrofoils that frequently depart Sorrento for Capri, as well as other destinations. Interestingly, during April through October, Capri is closed to non-resident traffic. A visitor might bring a car on the ferry during those months, only to discover that they cannot drive on the island. Without a vehicle to be concerned about, we purchased our round trip tickets for 30 Euro and boarded the boat that would take us to one of the most gorgeous settings imaginable.

Sharon and I opted to sit inside while Laura and Marianne were enjoying the fresh sea air on deck. I happened to recognize a lady who was on my flight from Charlotte to Rome, amazed to see a familiar face during the boat ride. I stopped to confirm that she was indeed on my flight, and we spent some time chatting. Millie was traveling throughout Italy for a month with her husband and two young adult children. Although they live in Florida, she was originally from the Bronx. They were a delightful group, and I thought about how special it must be to bring your family and travel together in such a fascinating location, creating memories that will last a lifetime.

While I was visiting with Millie, Sharon was approached by Giuseppe, who guides a Capri tour for 20 Euro, taking visitors throughout Capri and Ana Capri (translation-above Capri) which are the only two towns on the island. Sharon assured him that we would confer with our friends to see if this was something they might like to do. He gave us stickers to wear, designating us as part of his tour group, and told us that if we decided not to join the tour, we could just dispose of our stickers. That was pretty cool. We thrive on flexibility. Presenting the option to Laura and Marianne, we all decided a tour might just be the ticket since we had no clue where we were going when we arrived on Capri. It paid off in more ways than one. As our boat entered Marina Grande, the island's main harbor, we could readily see that Capri's reputation of vast beauty was not overstated.Giuseppe's group consisted of about 15 people (including Millie and her family) in a comfortable, modern tour bus. Giuseppe was a native of Capri and told us that the highway to Ana Capri was appropriately named "Oh, my God!" for a reason. He didn't exaggerate. It was a high, narrow, winding path on the side of a cliff. As a victim of height issues, I honestly couldn't look off the side during a great deal of the ride. We stopped at a particular restaurant recommended by Giuseppe, where we ate bruschetta (I'm sampling it in every town), pizza, salad, melon and prosciutto. Millie's family was dining at the table next to us, so we had another opportunity to chat. I thought it was so crazy that I talked to her as we were exiting the plane in Rome, only to run into her on a boat in a very different region of Italy. Talk about a small world!

We walked all over Capri, visiting some mighty upscale shops on Via Camerelle. These were budget-busting stores, and we did more looking than buying. We also took some fabulous photos from our cliff-side vantage point. Limoncello, anything made from lemons or sporting a lemon theme, handmade sandals, ceramics and perfume are the prevalent items offered on Capri. We ventured back to La Piazzetta, the central square, lined with cafes and touristy shops. Deciding it was time to give our fatigued feet a well-deserved break, we sat at one of the outdoor cafes and enjoyed a beverage. For some reason, the waiter was collecting writing utensils and wanted my pink pen. With all of the notes I am feverishly writing so I don't forget anything of importance on the trip, I wasn't about to relinquish my trusty pink pen. We said goodbye to exquisite Capri and were not really surprised to see Millie and family on our boat returning to Sorrento. I have a feeling that their day was just as memorable as ours.

In the main square, known as Piazza Tasso, there are numerous restaurants, outdoor cafes, and shops from which to choose. We ate dinner at Light Aurora Ristorante, where we chose nice salads, dessert and wine. Since it was Marianne's birthday, Laura arranged for the waiters to bring her a special dessert with a candle while everyone serenaded her with "Happy Birthday to You!" We presented her with a Limoncello-designed apron from Capri. Now when she is in her kitchen at home, slaving away, chopping onions and garlic in preparation of spaghetti sauce, she can protect her clothing with this apron that reminds her of great times in Italy.

We walked back through Sorrento past three live statues to reach the store, Lucky Cuomo, which was our landmark for catching the shuttle. Recovering from the winding, treacherous road to our hotel, we suddenly heard music as we entered the lobby. Curious, we peeked into the lounge area and noticed a singer/guitar player and a handful of dancing couples. We intended to sit down and listen to the music for a few minutes, but somehow we got a second wind and before we knew it we were singing with the music, and then one thing led to another. The music got the best of us and soon we were on the dance floor and the room became filled with the French tourists who were dining here last night. Before long, we were ALL singing and dancing to every song, enjoying a lively, spirited atmosphere. These adorable people couldn't understand a word we were trying to say to them and vice versa, but apparently music is the international language and dancing can be a path to global peace. We had a blast with these people for hours. We requested "New York, New York" and loved the fact that some from their group joined our kick line, while others watched and urged us all to kick higher.
We danced genuine disco style to "Night Fever" and formed two lines to let two people at a time dance through the center. Then Laura started a Conga line, and almost everyone there joined in. It was totally hysterical and such an enjoyable time with these nice people. According to their affable photographer, Girard, who was from Versailles and spoke enough English for us to be able to communicate, these were all neighbors from the French Riviera who were vacationing together. I'll bet that during the rest of their vacation, they didn't experience another night quite like the one they had with us! They were sweet and adorable people, and we enjoyed their company in spite of the language barrier. At the end of the evening when the musician was exhausted, we all hugged and said goodbye. We'd like to offer a warm and special thank you to Girard, who provided the dancing action photos. We all agreed that when our reality show is aired, it would work wonders for foreign relations!