Thursday, 29 May 2014

Roman sunset and farewell Roma…

Sunset over Roma on our last night
I am writing this blog post as we travel by train from Roma to Firenze (Florence) before we complete our journey to Castellina in Chianti for our workshop. The tourist activities and the shopping are over and I am sure we will be working hard for the next ten days.
Yesterday began in a minivan hurtling down the Autostrada del Sole (literally Motor Way of the Sun) with Marcello the driver to my left, and Andre the Armenian dentist from Pasadena on my right. It was an interesting experience. I set off on my day of Amalfi coast exploration in this minivan with eight passengers … no engine in front of me and the road flashing past at 140 kilometres per hour! Bronwyn and Fiona were heading off on a tour of Ancient Rome which turned into something else but more about that later.
By the time we stopped for the first coffee of the day at a service centre an hour south of Rome, I had relaxed into the trip and was becoming quite complacent  with the chopping and changing of lanes between large trucks and slow cars at the speed of light with no use of indicators. I was being entertained Marcello’s conversation, both on his mobile phone and with other drivers who upset him by tooting their horn as we sailed past. Italian hand gestures were a major feature of the conversations between drivers…and I learned some new Italian words.
We set off toward Napoli and the rest of the passengers were introduced to each other. Andre from Pasadena was on a quick visit to Italy, Kelly from Washington State and her son Eric from Arizona were visiting Rome, Istanbul and Amsterdam to celebrate his graduation. Two couples from India completed our group.
The Amalfi coast was inspirational.
Many scenic views
Words do not do justice to the amazing landscapes which met us as we wound our way around the coast. Hopefully the photos I took that are scattered through the blog will give you an idea of the scenic beauty.
 We stopped at Amalfi for a quick visit and tour of the shops and I had my first taste of Limóncello. The icy cold burst of lemon on my tongue was soon replaced by a pleasant warmth in my throat as the alcohol content kicked in. A wonderful taste but probably not a drink you should have for morning tea every day! I had to purchase a bottle or four to take home, and also one to share with the girls in Tuscany.
We spent an hour or more travelling along the coast past tiny villages where houses clung precariously to the cliff side and huge lemons hung from branches that were trailed along timber supports. 
The cliffs were covered with wire to stop rock falls hitting the cars on the narrow winding road on the edge of the cliff.  Occasionally we would pass a beautiful ceramic urn set into spaces in the cliff side along the road.
We drove thorough Vietri sul Mare, Cetara, Maiori, Tramonti, Minori, Ravello, Praiano and other small villages with the magnificent vista of the sea to the left and the houses and cliffs surrounding us. But the jewel in the crown was Positano. The churches, the fortified towers and the stunning views made it a place to come back to. 
Shopping in Amalfi
A week hiking the hills through the lemon groves would be an amazing holiday. The streets were steep and to paraphrase John Steinbeck, ‘you don't walk to visit a friend here, you either climb or slide’. 
After Marcello parked the car and led us to the very bottom of the hill to a beachside restaurant for lunch, we did a lot of climbing and shopping. A lovely meal with Kelly, Eric and Andre… more Italian food…gnocchi today… and of course the obligatory vino. 

Lunch in Positano..on the beach
The next two hours were spent climbing the hill and visiting a plethora of wonderful shops. Lemon soaps and pretty little dishes will now have to be rammed into the suitcase…along with the Limóncello. If my suitcase is overweight, Bronwyn and Fiona have offered to drink the Limóncello to lighten it. True friends are always willing to help out.
After we farewelled the Amalfi coast, the group set off with much anticipation for Pompeii. Marcello’s hand gestures and Italian phrases kept us entertained as we were caught in a traffic jam on the outskirts of Sorrento and spent almost two hours to complete a thirty minute trip. Nevertheless we arrived in Pompeii and met our wonderful tour guide for the next two hours. A third generation guide shared his passion embellished with a keen sense of humour.  I am sure we would not have noticed the phallic symbols above the brothels without his commentary.
Pompeii with a passionate guide

The sheer scale of the Pompeii ruins and the state of preservation was something I had not expected. Having a guide for our group and listening to the anecdotes made the town come alive for me. Inspiration for a story set in the Roman times began to tug at my writing mind as we walked through the houses, the shop, the brothels and the square.
So far Pompeii has been the highlight of the trip for me.
Mt Vesuvius and Pompeii

A three hour trip back to Roma… as we were caught in another  traffic accident on the motorway was lightened by a text from Fiona asking me what I would like for dinner! I do love travelling with this pair!
A lovely (faux) candle light dinner awaited me as I stumbled from the lift at 9.30 pm. The tour and the travel had begun at 6.30am so it was a long but satisfying day. The girls had prepared a lovely meal, and waited dinner for me lingering over their entrée of vino as they waited…and waited. It was very kind of them to save one glass of Prosecco for me.
I enjoyed listening to the description of their day… the tour of ancient Rome which turned into a small part of the day after they discovered a dress shop with a proprietor who said ‘wow’ every time they each tried an outfit on. Between them they told of getting many wows, and their suitcases are now significantly heavier after their expedition to ancient Rome.
The train trip to Florence is delightful; we bought our tickets separately and I am enjoying first class as I write this post… I hope the girls are having a good trip four carriages away from me.  We will be in Castellina in a few hours and will report in as soon as we have internet access.
Our home for the next ten days

Post script…we have  arrived, had our introductory talk from Eloisa and the place is humming with creative energy. More tomorrow…
Our group


  1. I'm enjoying the guided tour, Annie it all looks amazing!

  2. What a cute cottage. Have fun.

  3. Hope one of those Limoncello bottles is for us! Sounds like you're having a ball.

  4. Now you know why I raved about the Amalfi Coast! And Pompeii, and first class train travel, and Tuscany and... (I know, I just raved!)