Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Italian Way!

Back in time we will go to the day we left Rome. What a saga! So many adventures, so little time to tell them.
Sunday 17 June
We packed our bags, met the CJs and walked through Porta Portense where the Sunday markets are held. These are overwhelmingly huge and obviously impossible to cover in just over an hour which is all the time we had remaining before collecting our bags and leaving our respective apartments in Rome. On our return to our apartment we met Luca who owns the apartment and is also the artist who painted the Cuban cars and other paintings all over our walls. He was gorgeous and we had quite a chat to him. He even posed for a photo beside one of his paintings. We bade farewell to our apartment in Trastevere and met up with the others for a final cappuccino before catching a taxi to the airport to collect our rental cars. Disappointingly Mr B missed out on the new Alfa he had hoped to hire and instead we have a Mercedes Sedan classed as a luxury car. It's very nice in silver with wooden panels inside and all the the mod cons but it's not an Alfa! The CJs also have a Mercedes - a 4-door hatch - smaller than ours but a little newer and it includes a GPS system to help guide our way!
And so we set off towards the Amalfi Coast quickly adjusting to the left hand drive. For Steve it was the first time and he felt some trepidation. We stayed on the autobahn until Naples where we headed towards the coast road. Suddenly CJ sent me a text message - they had a flat tyre! We pulled into a safe rest area as soon as possible and the boys attempted to change the tyre. Now you may think this is a simple task but in the CJ's car there was no jack and in neither car was there a wheel brace! Impossible task. So there we were stuck on the side of the road with horns tooting, motorbikes whizzing past with their passengers pointing and laughing. Mr B spent 30mins on the mobile (at $5 a minute) trying to explain to the emergency number our location. Eventually after repeating himself over and over we were told the mechanic would be along in 30mins. And so we waited and waited - the CJ's suitcases on the roadside, not in the most salubrious location, just outside of Naples which is renowned for thieves. The roadside had needles and glass beside us and we felt very vulnerable. Then about 20mins after that the 'polizei' came past, saw us and stopped to help. Never have we felt more relieved to see a policeman. In their boot they found the much-need wheel spanner and they waved us out of the way as one donned leather gloves, rolled up his sleeves, knelt on a piece of paper and with the help of his colleague managed to change the tyre for the temporary spare in the boot. They were happy to pose for a photo opportunity and just as they returned to their car our mechanic turned up on his motorbike. Explanations were given but he was not a happy chappy!
We continued on our journey at last heading once more to the winding coast road. Now here was an adventure! The road was narrow, winding and steeeep! The views were magnificent and the sheer cliffs beside us were nail-biting. The Lonely Planet Guide describes this as a 'white knuckle' drive and I think that pretty well sums it up! Being Sunday and now late in the day due to our delay, the traffic was heavy as everyone was returning from a day at the beach. The number of motorcycles was mind boggling. They drove in bunches all over the road past the huge buses and cars and we had a few near misses. They were tooting and woo hooing as they whizzed precariously down the steep hills often on the wrong side of the road and obviously very used to the hair raising roads. Mr B soon got into the swing of it tooting with the best of them but I think poor Mr CJ wondered what on earth he had got himself into and indeed whether we would arrive at all let alone in one piece. However we did arrive and it was just beautiful and well worth the effort and dramatic drive here.
We found the landlord and were assisted with our luggage down over nearly 100 steps to our apartment. Obviously the Italians like their steps. There are hundreds of steps and steep roads to the beach or the shops or in the other direction to restaurants. It is a very long steep walk to anywhere from our apartment but the breathtaking views make it all worth every step. The water is a sparkling blue, houses are scattered up and down the hillsides, some so high on the cliffs that we can only wonder in amazement as to how anyone can reach them. The views are stunning from our location so from way up there how much more stunning they must be! Our apartment is perched on the side of a cliff overloking the view. The gardens are stunning with terraces of grapevines, lemons, herbs, tomatoes, zucchinis, eggplants, strawberries and flowers - geraniums, orchids, bougainvillea of deep pinks, purple and white climbing the stone walls. We are allowed to help ourselves to the fresh vegetables from the garden.
On our first evening here we climbed many steps to the road and walked down a long steep hill to a lovely pizzeria/restaurant to eat - delicious pizzas of course although a little different from Rome. Again we enjoyed the local wine and after dinner we drank limoncello to which we have since become quite addicted.
Mr B and I have also been drinking freshly squeezed lemon juice from the never ending supply of fresh lemons.
Monday 18 June
To run here will be a challenge. There will certainly be plenty of hilly walks though!
Today we walked heaps to discover our local area and we climbed down, down, down, to the local beach where the water was clear but salty and the surface stony. Our swim was beautiful although at first the cold took our breath away. Our days ever since we left Canberra have been hot and sunny. Everyone here is very friendly and we enjoy the peaceful lifestyle and the slow pace - so different from Rome.
That evening we caught a bus to Positano to browse through the gorgeous little shops set into the rocks and cliffs and to walk along the beach watching the sun set over the water. Here we ate dinner selecting the pasta of the day and sharing yummy grilled veges and of course complementary limoncello after the meal. While at the Amalfi Coast we caught the bus often as the drivers seem to easily negotiate those narrow cliff-hanging corners even in the dark, tooting at each blind corner as motorcyclists and cars whizz past. We even saw a number of cyclists ploughing up those steep winding hills no doubt training for some amazing Italian road race.
Tuesday 19 June
I need to abbreviate these entries a bit more as I could describe endlessly the amazing time we had here. However this morning CJ, Mr B and I did go for a run! At 8am the sun was already bright and intense. It was an up up uphill run but at the 4km mark I unfortunately had to detour back to the apartment for a loo stop. It was an extremely tough 4km averaging 7mins per km - no way could my legs go any faster up that gradient!
Later CJ and I caught the bus into Positano while the boys attempted to have the tyre repaired - no luck as it was the wrong sort of tyre! However we did have a little retail therapy in some of those lovely little shops. Gelati here is absolutely divine and we are enjoying the different flavours.
Later after lunch and returning to our apartment in Praiano we went down for another lovely refreshing swim at the beach. After lengthy calls to the car hire place a mechanic came out to our parking spot and towed Mr CJ's car away to have the tyre fixed - one car now and the saga continues!
Wednesday 20 June
Today we drove to Sorrento in our car to see if the CJ's car was ready - no luck - so we continued in our car to Pompeii. Mr B and I hired head phones so we could follow some of the history of the buried town after the eruption of Mt Vesuvius. We last visited this in 1974 which was so long ago that a lot of it seemed quite fresh to us. It was a very hot scorcher of a day and very exhausting, so difficult to take in so much awe-inspiring history. We even visited an ancient brothel with erotic paintings of sexual positions that could be tried!! It was a big day and we were so tired that we ate at the hotel opposite our apartment. The meal was probably the most ordinary so far but we were tired and just glad to eat. We did manage to become rather sunburnt in the intense heat today.
Thursday 21 June
This was a very different day to the one before. We took a boat trip from Positano to the Isle of Capri. There we were given 3 1/2 hours to explore. However, a lot of time was spent queuing for the funicula (cable car) and buses to Anacapri and back. The shops were very cute but very touristy and we really needed more time to explore the scenery. The cable car ride was straight up and good fun. It was a shame it was all so rushed. We did enjoy stunning views on our bus ride from Anacapri back to Capri to catch the boat again. The boat took us to the Grottos (caves) to view the gorgeous green and blue waters and we had the opportunity for a beautiful swim in the clear water. It was absolute heaven.
In the evening we cooked our own dinner. CJ made spaghetti with Italian sausage, I made basil, tomato and mozzarello salad (ingredients from the garden), Mr B grilled eggplant (from the garden) and we ate yoghurts and chocolate for dessert followed by limoncello of course courtesy of Mr CJ. We had copious amounts of local wine and later a Baileys. Mr CJ did the dishes. It was a superbly successful meal and great teamwork!
Friday 22 June
This was not a good day! It was another scorcher and the boys took off to collect the CJ's car from Sorrento. CJ walked round the local Praiano shops then decided to catch the bus to Positano. It was a very very long wait and we arrived just as the boys did in time for a late lunch! The boys eventually did manage to collect the car but not from where they left it. Instead they took it to a different mechanic who did it for them straight away - dramas and lack of communication was a very frustrating experience for them!
In the evening we caught a bus to the town of Amalfi itself where we explored heaps and heaps of shops (again) selling ceramics and limoncello! I managed to buy two cute cool tops. It's difficult to dress lightly enough in this weather. We ate dinner in a lovely little restaurant overlooking the water. I chose calamari this time with grilled veges and a delicious almond and chocolate dessert. Late in the evening we all packed our bags for the long trip to Tuscany beside Umbria tomorrow.
Saturday 23 June
Today was a very long drive from Praiano to Camucia near Cortona where we are staying in a farm house apartment (agriturismo). We arrived at our apartment just after 6pm after stopping several times on the way at Autogrills for a drink and a rest stop. We spent a little time at a lovely little place called Ravello where we had lunch. Ravello is the location for many classical music concerts throughout the year and there were lots of tourists there. It was very pretty with lovely views.
As we approached our farm house we noticed the country smells and the different air. It is definitely different countryside here. Our apartment here is quite pleasant with the bedrooms and one bathroom upstairs and the other bathroom downstairs. We walked into the little township nearby to buy some supplies and for a meal we just bought fresh bread, ham, cheese and tomatoes. Our landlord brought us along a number of bottles of wine from his home made supplies and has promised us more when we run out - a lovely welcome indeed! This local wine is very pleasant and easy to drink!
It's very pleasant and peaceful here and we have a lovely little swimming pool. There are however lots of mosquitos so we bought some spray!
Sunday 24 June
At last a run - oh how we have missed it. We have walked and walked up steps and hills but here we can run. We started out at 8am and ran along a farm road until we saw some dogs and turned and run back the way we had come (not taking any more risks thank you) and instead ran up, up, up towards the old town of Cortona. Although it had felt lovely and cool at first we became very hot very quickly.
Distance: 8.5km
Time taken: 57mins
Average pace per km: 6.4
Calories burned: 474
Yes, it was slow but we were running up hills again. I took my camera with me so that we could take a few photos of our first views of Cortona - the place where 'Under the Tuscan Sun' was filmed. It's such a pretty town with amazing architecture.
We returned to our apartment for shower and brekkie then we all walked the 5km up to Cortona - a very steep walk with endless hills and magnificent views. We had a lovely coffee and browsed round the cute little shops. We walked and walked up and up visiting gorgeous churches. On the way up the hill a group of classic motorcyclists (obviously in a race as they were all wearing numbers) came whizzing past us racing down the hills followed quickly by a large stream of classic cars. It was a real bonus and very exciting. I managed to catch a few photos but they were going very fast. It was awesome.
In Cortona we found a little market full of antiques. It was fascinating with all sorts of knick knacks. We saw the steps and the piazza where part of 'Under the Tuscan Sun' was filmed. It's certainly a delightful little town with lots to see. On our long walk back to our apartment we stopped at the local bar for a cold drink. Back 'home' we changed into swimmers and jumped into the swimming pool to cool off. It was heaven.
In the evening we drove back up to Cortona to find a delightful restaurant tucked into a little street where we enjoyed a yummy meal. I had tagliatelli with porcini mushrooms and CJ had hers with truffles. The boys had steak and pork. We shared a delicious antipasto to start and grilled veges with our main course. Great bread, great local wine and a delicious local dessert called zuccotto with chocolate, almonds and cream in a sort of trifle coating. This is a typical Tuscan dessert and was truly delicious. After all these calories we walked some more and discovered a theatre where all sorts of young dancers were performing interesting movements. We watched gratis for quite some time. It appeared to be some sort of school eisteddfod. Whatever it was, it was great entertainment. By the time we drove back to our apartment it was almost midnight and we were very tired.
Monday 25 June
Another stunner of a day. None of us slept well last night. It was very hot but we didn't open the windows in the bedrooms due to the onslaught of mosquitos. However tonight I think we'll cover ourselves with repellant and take the risk. It was a bit of a struggle to get moving today. We wrote a few postcards and walked to the local shops to stock up on food and to find a post office. However, we truly experienced the Italian way today!! After finally locating the PO we found we had to take a number then wait patiently until they decided to call us. We waited 35minutes just to buy stamps!
After lunch we decided to drive to Perugia to tour the chocolate factory there. It seemed a good idea at the time. Perugia is about 40km away and we went in the CJ's car with the GPS to guide us. Once there we discovered they were filming the chocolate factory as it was celebrating 100 years of existence. Now that seemed exciting at first. However, once inside we were stuck. We watched a movie in English then wandered round the museum and waited patiently (or perhaps not so patiently) for our tour. After two groups of Americans arrived more than an hour had passed. We were not allowed to leave as filming was in progress outside. So we were stuck there. Finally we were all rushed through the factory after asking to join the English speaking tour. Not a word was spoken in any language and it was all over in seven minutes!! There was a basket of lollies and chocolates which we were allowed to pick at while waiting for the tour but there were no free samples afterwards or during that whole seven minutes (!) as promised in the leaflet. That was certainly a big disappointment for those of us who are chocolate lovers!!
And so we drove back to our farmhouse having experienced rather a frustrating day. Tonight I think we are heading out for pizza. It's now 9pm and I've had to omit a lot of details in order to catch up but I think we are now up to date!
Suffice to say we are experiencing very hot weather, lots of interesting driving and laid-back Italians but we love them and we are having lots of amazing times. The architecture here is so very different from other places so far - lots of variations - stone and terracotta of all colours and styles. Tomorrow we will run again!


  1. Those Italians know how to enjoy life - riding motorcycles, eating dessert, drinking wine and limoncello. You're making me jealous!