Italy never lets you down! After having visited this marvelous country several times, we chose to celebrate my retirement by devoting almost 7
weeks to nothing but Italy from Tuscany down to the Amalfi Coast. We were scheduled to leave on September 12 but then the terrible events of
September 11! Although it seemed strange to be leaving the US while we and Nation were trying to cope with the shock and tragedy, we decided
that staying home didn't make a lot of sense. We were able to leave on September17--the first day regular flights were operating. Flights that day
ran perfectly although the three planes we flew were only about a third filled. Because we were told to be at the airport so early (which as it turned
out wasn't at all necessary that day) and because we had a five hour drive from Malpensa to Montepulciano, it was 30 hours between the early
alarm clock call and arriving at our apartment. We slept for a couple of hours and then started normal operations--at this point let me give a plug for
the No Jet Lag stuff. For us it truly worked wonders. Other than being tired until we had a night's sleep, we experienced not even a twinge of jet
lag. On the return trip, I had one day of being dopey as compared to the usual 4-5 days it normally takes me to once again become human.
The first morning we woke to the most incredible sunrise I think I have ever seen.
This was just the beginning of enjoying the celebrated "Tuscany light". Truly God
does something different there --mornings and evenings are magical! Even the thunder
and lightning storms we had for 2 nights seemed to be bigger and better than
The first 11 days we spent in apartments in Montepulciano and Assisi and made day
trips to surrounding villages and towns. In Montepulciano we rented an apartment at
wonderful Case Vacanze Sant' Antonio. We truly enjoyed coming home to our own
place at the end of each day. Sometimes our timing would be right and it would be
market day so we would buy fresh fish or scampi, vegetables, tomatoes, buffalo
mozzarella, etc and fix our own dinner. With olive oil from Pienza, pancetta from the
local butcher, spices from the little shops and fresh bread from the bakery, our at
home meals were fit for royalty! And then they were made all the better by using one
of the famous cutting boards from Montalcino.
From Tuscany and Umbria we drove to and into Rome!! Actually, the hotel had given us good directions and so it wasn't so bad but wait until I
get to the driving in Naples experience. We were at the Westin Excelsior which was across the street from the American Embassy -- maybe not
the best place to locate during these times. The embassy was pretty heavily guarded and there appeared to be some important meetings going on.
This was when the first meetings with the king of Afghanistan were taking place so maybe that was what was happening.
We enjoyed Rome and
repeated some things we
had done before and then
covered areas that we had
put off last time we were
there. I would not
recommend the Excelsior
which is a lovely hotel but
is way up on the Via
Veneto and so is not well
located for many things.
We went there only
because we were using
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From Rome we drove to Naples by way of Ostia Antica. We arrived at Ostia Antica before it opened at 8:30 and so had the place to ourselves
without tour groups for a couple of hours. It was a delightful experience being alone with the ghosts of the past--you could almost hear and see the
activities in the homes, forum and market places. I like to try to picture what was and see in my mind's eye the whole from the remnants and this
was a good time to do that. I like to imagine that I would have been one of those living in the frescoed villas but the reality is that I probably would
have been one of the fruit vendors or some such thing.
Napoli is a place like none other and we would recommend that you go there. I know there is a lot of negative stuff written about the city and
probably rightly so but it is vibrant, alive, and pretty neat (not clean neat -- it is really quite dirty.) Visiting the archeological museum is a real must if
you are going to Ercolano or Pompeii -- absolutely fascinating. I am not sure whether it would be best to go to the museum before or after visiting
the ruins but at some time -- go.
Now -- driving in Napoli! If you like living life on the edge and danger is your thing -- then you'd love
cavorting with the drivers of Napoli. The only thing which is more heart stopping is putting your life in
the hands of a taxi driver there. In Naples people drive any direction which they feel like pointing so if you
are on a 2 way street, there will be cars driving from a dozen different angles -- this includes fitting 6 cars
(at different angles) into two small lanes. Of course, the common communicator is the blaring horn
which serves to tell you that if you don't somehow get out of the way (which would take an extreme feat
of magic), I will sideswipe right into you. All of this is done at bizarre speeds and never includes planning
ahead when you know you will need to turn right from the creative far left lane. Occasionally a traffic
light is heeded which totally results in every car within two blocks leaning on the horn to establish the
incomprehensible stupidity of the person who stopped.
Taxis know more than the usual motorist and have learned how to maneuver at the
speed of sound down a two-foot wide alley filled with natives, tourists, dogs and
bicycles. Our driver (who didn't know that one is supposed to use hands to drive)
hated the policemen, the pedestrians, intersections and all vehicles except other taxis
driven by his friends -- he spoke English and freely communicated this to us the whole
From Naples we drove to Pasteum to see the Greek and Roman ruins. They are
well-worth going to if you are not cramped for time. While there we were sitting at a
cafÃ© for a dose of espresso down the street we could see a procession coming with
a couple of old carts completely covered with paper flowers and other decorations.
Suddenly the shop owners hurriedly pulled down their roll-up doors, closing everything
up tightly. As the procession passed, we saw that it was a funeral. The carts which
were lavishly decorated led the parade, followed by the hand carried red, decorated
coffin and then scores of people walking behind. As it went by, everyone stopped
whatever they were doing and bowed their heads. All traffic was stopped as the
procession wended its way down the road to the cemetery. As soon as the last
mourner walked by, the stores reopened and business was reestablished. It was very
interesting and fascinating to observe what must be a very old traditional way.
We left Pasteum and drove to enchanting Ravello for two nights. We stayed at the Villa
Maria which was lovely -- beautiful view, charming facility. Ravello is like being a part
of a fairy tale. It is way up high and makes the rest of driving the Amalfi Coast seem
rather mundane. It is a very small village and so I would not want to stay more than 2
nights as there is not much to do there for the casual traveler. If one lived there, it
would be different. We ended up buying or should I say investing in a complete set of
ceramic dishes there but since that had been a planned purchase, it wasn't like
succumbing to temptation -- which I can't say about my leather jacket from Florence.
The truth is -- this is all rather exciting and if you have nerves of steel a challenge
worth facing. The key is to begin to be one of "them", in no way be timid or
intimidated, practice reflexive use of the horn and close your eyes and pray. We made it
to the hotel, parked the car and from then on walked or used taxis.
Interesting side note: Our hotel concierge
would not let us leave the hotel with our
watches on. He made us take them off and
put them in the safe. And then a little old lady
who was sitting in a little side street where I
was taking pictures, was very concerned
about my camera and through sign language
told me to be careful with it and hold it close.
So --- what one reads about being on the alert
in Naples is clearly true. I should say,
however, that we didn't experience anything
negative or unpleasant there.