Viva Italia!

4 11 2016

Scottish Wife and I have just got back from a visit to Europe. Three weeks ago we flew in to London Gatwick and I immediately headed west to see my family while she headed east to see hers. One week later I joined her at her sister in law’s in Essex to be told that we (SW and I) had two days to plan a trip to ‘somewhere warm’. The following day we’d settled on the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy and 24 hours later we were on an EasyJet flight to Naples.

Here’s the Coles Notes version of our trip:

1. We stayed in a very friendly, family run hotel in Pompeii, about 100 yards from the nearest train station. Unfortunately, the bridge you had to cross to reach it (the Ponte Persica), which had been there since Roman times, was closed for repairs and so every day we had to use the next station, a mile down the line, and brave the traffic without the benefit of any sidewalks. We quickly learnt that Italian drivers are very skilled at missing pedestrians – by a couple of inches.

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Up Pompeii! And yes, that is Vesuvius you can just make out in the background..

2. The guided tour of Pompeii was my non-culinary highlight of the week. We spent two hours hanging on our guide’s every word and then went off to do some exploration of our own. Brilliant! We also visited the less famous (but better preserved) ruins of Herculaneum and of course made the mandatory hike up Mount Vesuvius.

3. All these places (as well as Naples to the north, Sorrento to the south and all points in between) were easily reachable by train (once you’d got to the station, of course – see 1. above). And the maximum fare was 2 euros 20 (about $3.30). Say what you like about Mussolini and fascism, but he did set up a decent railway system. (Let’s hope they’re not saying the same thing about Donald Trump 80 years from now…)

4. On the down side, train etiquette seemed somewhat lacking. Some people (I’d like to claim they were all American tourists, but that may not be wholly true) would literally shove their way onto the train before passengers had a chance to disembark. However, one of our best train encounters was with two elderly, non English speaking ladies from Naples. We tried French, Spanish and mime without success until a young couple in the seats across from us started to translate for us. We covered family, tourism and Brexit and were well on the way to world peace when the young couple had to get off. By now everyone else in the carriage was looking on and a young lad offered to take up the role of translator. We eagerly resumed, only for the youngster to interrupt us 30 seconds later to say “I not understand. I no very good at English. Maybe 5 out of 10?” “Er, maybe 2,” I said, and the whole carriage cracked up.

I like me full English breakfast, but only Italians start the day in this style!

I like me full English breakfast, but only Italians start the day in this style!

5. Real Italian pizza is every bit as good as you imagine it’s going to be. Ditto for ice cream and espresso coffee. However, I’d never heard of sfogliatelle (pastries filled with sweet ricotta cheese) before last week. Now just typing the word has put my salivary glands into full flow mode.

6. What with me being a bit of a polyglot an’ all, I figured I’d be able to learn basic Italian on the 3 hour flight from Stansted to Naples. That kid on the train who I rated a 2/10? Put me down as a 1.5. Just enough to ask a basic question and then have no idea what the answer means. “Sono inutile!”

7. See Naples and die? We had beautiful weather for 7 days out of the 8. The one day it rained and blew a gale was when we went to Napoli. We traipsed up and down the cobblestones of the admittedly cool (but slightly scary) back streets, me singing the Peter Sarstedt hit “Where do you go to, my lovely?” all the while, getting wet feet while trying to avoid the detritus all around us. Naples: city of dog sh!t and broken umbrellas.

Positano. Wow indeed!

Positano. Wow!

8. Capri and the Amalfi Coast on the other hand were spotless and very, very upmarket. Also, given the narrowness of the winding roads in both places I would say there’s a case to be made for the bus drivers there to be as talented as any in their profession world wide. And Positano? Wow indeed!

9. SW and I slept through the tremors that rocked central Italy. On hearing the news that the earthquake’s epicentre was only 100 km from us, my perfectly innocent question as to whether the earth had moved for her during the night was met with a snort of derision.

10. Co-winners of the Nicest Italians award were our lovely hotel receptionists for their unendingly enthusiastic suggestions for our day trips; the translators on that train trip from Sorrento to Pompeii; the restaurant owner who, when he learned that we knew Pasqualina at the Hotel Costa, cancelled our expensive taxi ride back from the restaurant and told one of the waiters to take us back in his beat up Fiat 500 instead; and finally, the brothers who ran the fruit and veg stall just down the road from the hotel. They’d already endeared themselves to Julie by insisting she try one of their fresh figs for free before buying and then gave her half a kilo for 1 euro 50. When I asked where the nearest wine shop was one of the brothers tapped the side of his nose, disappeared through a curtain and returned with an unlabelled bottle of red: ‘vino di casa vero’, he said. Real house wine, from his own house!

Grazie mille, Italia!

Dave B.

And, just in case you’re struggling to remember that Peter Sarstedt song, here it is:

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11 responses

4 11 2016
Len Doyle

Thanks for sharing Dave. Always enjoy reading about your trips with SW. Not sure what answer you expected other than a snort when you asked her about the earth moving ??? Anyway, Rick leaves Sunday for Arizona so I am most pleased to hear your back and ready to take over the card checker duties. If we play tomorrow the cards will be at the club house in time for a 9; am breakfast on Sunday.
Cheers … Len

4 11 2016
Bagger Dave

Ah. Slight fly in the ointment, Lennie. We’re off to Nanaimo on Saturday pm, grandson sitting. I’ll be back to do the cards on Monday though.

4 11 2016
Len Doyle

10-4

4 11 2016
GtheSBer

Sounds as if you had a wonderful trip. And to waltz down the street singing that good old Italian classic must have been quite the treat for the locals.
But you didn’t take the clubs along!!! Inexcusable.(next time)
cheers- Gthe SBer

4 11 2016
Bagger Dave

Thanks, Luigi. I could have done with a golf club to fend off all the fans. Not.

4 11 2016
Martin

Really enjoyed your post Dave. It was good to read about Napoli, Herculaneum etc. It’s always a huge bonus when you have experiences like yours with the locals. Cheers.

4 11 2016
Bagger Dave

That’s so true, Martin. Those are the things I always remember most.

5 11 2016
mapike2013

Hi. Enjoyed reading about your experiences in one of our favourite places. Hope the rest of your trip went well. M&G

5 11 2016
Bagger Dave

It all went well and was quite an adventure!
D + J

6 11 2016
peter507c

Multi bene. Good blog. Glad you had such a great time. Did SW?

6 11 2016
Bagger Dave

Yes, Peter, she did (but see ‘Quake tremors: earth didn’t move’).

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