Monthly Archives: July 2012

Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast

Sunday night Sorrento, a cacophony of church bells, local brass band, excited waiters, more bells, an accordion player, enthusiastic locals and tourists, Italian, small children brandishing their latest toy, sundry Brits, an occasional American, it’s all a feast for the eyes and ears. The narrow alleys are jammed with people and, of course, it’s dark 9.30. It’s even cool er then last night in Naples, which was actually oppressive, I was oppressed, so hot, even at 2am, 3am and all through the night until I gave up and cranked up the air conditioning, something I rarely do, can’t stand the noise, convinced self that it was the sound of a gentle breeze, it worked. Probably achieved a total of five hours sleep, funny condition, jet lag, looking forward to getting over it. There is one good side effect, I am constantly hungry, so I get to eat, frequently, Italian food, in Italy.
Sorry to jump about a bit but this paragraph is from downtown Amalfi. Lovely old church dominates the square, hugely wide steps up, probably fifty or so, dominated by tourists of course, but again mainly Italian, some mad dogs and Englishmen, out in the mid day sun, a smattering of Americans, met a Canadian couple, nice as always. Taking refuge from the sun at an awninged cafe with a lemon soda while taking a ninety minute break from a mini cruise down the famed Amalfi Coast from Sorrento. It very much lives up to its reputation, high craggy cliffs with villages perched precariously low down or impossibly high up. What do they do if they forget the milk? We left Sorrento reasonably at ten, headed out to Capri, saw Tibirius’s Palace high on a crag, stopped at a famous grotto for the swimming and then to Positano for a photo op’, and on down here. My waitress just blessed the Queen when I left her a tip, gotta love these Italians. Ok, back to the boat and Sorrento.
Made a decision to not go back to Naples tomorrow, Sorrento suits me, very calm and good natured, breezy on account of the height so not sweltering. It is also the first town I have ever been to where, upon arrival at the port, one takes a lift/elevator up into downtown. I actually did like Naples in a way, you just have to watch your back, it being the pickpocket, random theft capital of Italy. So, not having anyone to watch my back, I’ll stay here in Sorrento and get the ferry back to Naples for the train to Rome on Wednesday and thence to Pisa, leaning tower and all.
I am somewhat pleased to have an Italian phone number, at last. There is a problem with arriving in Italy late on a Saturday night, everything is closed until Monday, so the first twenty four hours were a tad frustrating, and of course the hotel’s internet connection was unreliable, to say the least. Very friendly cell phone shop, fluent English, of course, and my carrier is TIM, most gratifying. Unlimited Internet use for the first month, a SIM card and cheap international calling, all for twenty Euros, about fifteen dollars.
Let’s see if I can back this up with some photographs:

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Alleys of Naples

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Vesuvius looms over the Bay of Naples

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The Isle of Capri in our wake.

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Street scene in Amalfi.

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An alley in Sorrento

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There is cake for breakfast !

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Market scene.

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Italy, Rome and Naples.

A jammed BA flight on a Saturday afternoon to Rome, it’s as if I am already in Italy. My neighbor has just spent a month at Oxford University studying English, suitably clad in an Oxford sweatshirt. Incredibly well dressed passengers abound, male and female, young and not young. Looks like I will be the Ugly Duckling again, just like last time I was in Italy, a frump. Its not as if each and everyone has just visited one of those expensive fashion houses, they just look fabulously chick, without looking like million dollar clothes horses. They appear to have this talent, totally alien to me, of throwing things on, tastefully. Of course Italian is the dominant language aboard, I am finding it all delightfully foreign.
Heathrow was great, all of a minute in line for Immigration, pounced on by London 2012 persons offering to help, um, wait, do I look like an athlete ! No seriously, the stops have been pulled out in the old town and good cheer is everywhere, strangers talk to strangers, unheard of. I took pictures of giggling helpers, none of that surliness so frequently encountered, one even said “are you going to put me on Twitter” Ha. Yes. There where Welcome Desks scattered about, at one point I strayed into the Press Accreditaion Area but no one snarled, I just wanted to take a picture of the HUGE Welcome Mat. Fine. No problem. Wait. What. Is this England ? Has Churchill been reincarnated to lead the peoplery ? There seems to be “That” spirit loose in the land. Well, the Heathrow bit of it anyway. Oh, and everyone is talking about Mitt (the twit), and Michelle ( born to say yay, let the yaying begin”.
Gues what, my phone worked. My SIM from the previous trip had all of 84p (a buck) left on it so I was able to talk briefly to family, send one tweet, then it died. A miracle may occur at Rome Airport and I will find an Italian card so people can call me on an Italian phone number, very exotic if you ask me.
I am over the City of Lights, Joyce, Mont Blanc coming up, Switzerland , Alps, Pisa. Plus of course, this being Europe, it all happens quite quickly, London to Rome takes two hours. The cultures change just as quickly too, more of that as we go.
Well maybe Europe is having a love Fest’ because here I am in Rome after riding the train into town from the airport and everyone seems to be beaming. Me, stupid foreigner, asked the conductor if I was getting on the right train to Napoli, oh, si si and proceeded to take me to my seat ! It’s clean, it’s fast and it has electric blinds on the windows. What more could you want. Yes it even has the wifi, tho I haven’t figured it out, yet, and a moving map showing where we are. Outside there are hill towns, red roofs, big and small villas painted that classic yellow, is it ochre, cyprus trees, vineyards, harvested fields, ripening crops, wooded hills and valleys. My fellow passengers are all texting on their phones or Facebook ing on their laptops, the children are talking, quietly, sounding like Angels. The ticket collector comes round and its all grazie and prego, smiles and gesticulations. In the words of a commercial for a rather nasty soft drink “I’m lovin it”. It’s kind of Italy by the numbers. All we need is for someone to start singing Puccini . Now I want pasta, a Peroni, a glass of vino. Please. Maybe a bed would be good, I have been going since yesterday at 10.00am Pacific so that’s, let’s see, twenty three hours and thirty seven minutes. He yawned !
Now crossing a wide plain, very very fertile, ploughs are out, do they a two crop growing season round here ?
Naples and what can only be Vesuvius. That is definitely, up there.

Going over the pond.

Sorry I didn’t give you advance warning of this trip, it was organized with little time to spare, unlike the trip last winter that was a year in the planning. But off I go it is. Solo again though will be meeting up with family here and there and hopefully friends too. This, an American Airlines flight to Chicago, has the feel of stepping back a decade or two. No individual screen therefore no map or movies. There are those tiny screens up front that you can’t really see plus of course what ever is playing is garbled by static. Why can’t they show London 2012 ? There is a lack of food. I feel like a sardine. There is a surfeit of laptops. Maybe I have been spoiled by flying Virgin America and Alaska but really American, time to upgrade these planes.
It’s more interesting outside ! We are over the Badlands of Nevada, I want to say “there is so much of nothing to see” (Barbara) but its not really like that train journey. I drove through this wasteland a couple of years back with Sister and Neice on what has come to be known as The Epic Trip. We did four thousand miles in nine days, driving from Austin Texas back to San Francisco. It was really really fun. The Great American Roadtrip. One forgets just how vast the USA is until you fly over it. Miles and miles of nothing tho’interestingly there are those circular green fields dotted about. Having seen them close up I can tell you that they are situated above an aquifer, the water comes up out of the ground and is piped into wheeled irrigation devices that circulate like the hands of a clock, hence the round fields. Interesting init! On across the Rockies to the Great Plains. Seems there’s a problem down there, no rain. The corn crop is withering away and the stilted stalks are being ploughed under. This is all very bad news for Ethanol, not to mention grocery store prices which are set to rocket in early 2013.
A pause at O’Hare Airport in Chicago then that magic moment at the end of the runway when a 747 cranks it’s engines to full power and we launch into the dusk out over Lake Michigan. Chicago’s twinkling lights below. Quite wonderful. Not so many on this flight, flight crew seem jolly, guess I will take a free gin then sleep my way to London. At seven hours this is marginally shorter than the SF flight but even so, I got a cab from the house at 10.00am and there is a long way to go yet, a long day already. Come on where’s the gin ! The map has got going and we are going due West, over Flint and Detroit and other Rust Belt Cities. Shan’t be seeing Greenland on this flight but funny to think that some seven hundred and fifty miles or so North,out of my port side window, J is rushing along on a parallel course on a Virgin flight, we land thirty minutes apart, I wave.
Thirty six thousand feet at six hundred and sixty three MPH half way between Toronto and Ottawa it’s sleep time. See you on the other side.
Landfall at Killarney (SW Ireland) and with fifty five minutes to go our pilot sure had better step on it. It’s so green down there, with all the tiny fields, quite unlike the huge pastures of the mid west before Chicago. I can see Cork. A short aside: a good friend and I went camping in this part of the Emerald Isle once, great, except we forgot the tent. Slept by the roadside one night in the fog. Woke to find we were in a garbage dump/rubbish tip. We still chuckle about that one. It’s a lovely day in Southern Ireland and all my friends in California are asleep. Good morning to those on this side though. Out over the Celtic Sea, may touch Wales. Yep, just the southwestern tip, it’s sunny, then Swansea, Cardiff and now Bristol. Engines change and we descend. If we stay on this course we shall fly right over me Mum’s house, I wonder if they will look up.
Sorry, just go to say before they make me stop, Blake, Jerusalem, those feet in ancient time, England’s green and pleasant land. Always happens when I fly in from the West. I guess I’m home, but not for long……….

Reflecting after a RTW trip

I have been back in California for a month. I cannot even begin to tell you how difficult it has been to get back in the swing of it all. I seem to have been surrounded by an enormous, blanketing fog, a fug even. I can’t see anything, I can’t do anything, everything just seems different, a blur.
After I had been back in Ca for just about a week I was driving down Sir Francis Drake Blvd into our small town when it struck me, where are the ladies collecting cow dung to fire up the cooking for their evening meal, where are the endless smells, some good, some really really bad, where are the bright colored clothes, saris, turbans, where is the endless din, traffic, horns, shouts, where are the tuk tuks, where are the Holy cows? Why is there nothing to see, no jaw dropping forts, no endless vistas stretching away to the horizon, no sand, no dirt, no dust, no crowds and crowds, ha, no heat even? There is not a pot hole within miles. There is hardly even a decent curry, unless I go to Berkeley. I can park easily, I can walk into a shop and know where everything is and what it costs. I am not the remotest bit scared. There is no chanting, there are no bells, there are no Temples to marvel at, no Muezzins calling the Faithful to prayer, there isn’t even a train whistle. There is no new town, city or village for me to explore tomorrow, not even a new street. I know what is going to happen next with crashing certainty, I even know where the next meal is coming from. I am not anxious about talking to people, or even not talking to people. I am not fixated with Internet accessibility concerns for emails, Skype or blog posting. I just about know where close family members are and what they are doing, up to the point where I need or want to know.
Did I really ride a tuk tuk into downtown Vientiane, did I really take an hour’s ride in a sampan on the Mekong river in Phnom Penh, is it possible that I spent a week roaming the Western Ghats without seeing or speaking to another Westerner, did I really stand on the walls of the forts at Jaiselmer, Jodhpur or Udaipur, was that really Ankor Wat, Hong Kong ?
But yes, I guess I did those things and more besides and now I am back, I know I am back as I just went on a lengthy walk (hike) with son the younger, he told me I was back ! Thank you Sebastian.
People said very kind words about my blog posts and now that the fog is clearing I may take it up again, blogging that is. It is also interesting to note that my site is still getting some twenty or so hits a day, from all over the world, they can’t all be from my Mother!
There are a number of events missing in my posts, I may try and cover them before the memory fades. Notably getting sick as a dog in London, of all places, after all that, I get sick in London, it was quite unpleasant and most embarrassing, I didn’t eat for a week and felt dreadful. There was a night in Lincolnshire that was uproarious, my thanks for the hospitality.
Today, July 27th 2012.
I’m reviewing a number of posts that I wrote for my blog after returning to the West Coast, or the Edge as its sometimes known, but you know what, they all seem a bit whiney, wingeing even. Hope the above does not fall into that category. It’s been three months now since I returned and quite honestly I can’t sit still. Jump up every time a plane flies over, where is it, where’s it going, who is on it ? Why am I not on it ? Saw a lady in town yesterday in full sari regalia, it’s the little things. Here I am, on the day that everyone seems to be planning to watch the Olympic Opening Ceremonies, OFF, outa here. In twenty four hours I hope to be checking into a(n) hotel in NAPLES. Wow. See you there or en route.