A Tale of Two Cruises - early winter 2009 travel blog

Amalfi coast

another view

Amalfi town

Amalfi cathedral


another view

Mt. Vesuvius







ceramic bench



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inlaid wood

We've docked in Naples before, but each visit we immediately get whisked out of town. One might guess that this third largest city in Italy doesn't have much to offer a tourist. From what we saw out of the bus window, this appears to be true. The contrast in cleanliness between Munich and Rome was dramatic, but the contrast between Rome and Naples only 100 miles sail away, was equally stunning. The city looked filthy with papers and garbage floating in the breeze. The buildings looked old and tattered, in need of repair and paint. Buildings were jammed together without the appearance of zoning or regulation and between them people utilized every inch of earth with little gardens or a few olive trees. Dominating the landscape was Mt. Vesuvius; the volcano destroyed Pompeii in 79AD and has seriously erupted as recently as 1944.

But we were here to visit the Amalfi coast, a beautiful piece of real estate. The road was an engineering masterpiece, chipped into the sides of steep hillsides. Drivers were courteous and we often had to back up or take turns to make it around the sharp curves. One wrong move and we would have tumbled into the sea. Before tourists discovered the place, agriculture was the primary business and the farmers chiseled terraces into the steep slopes. The soil is especially fertile because the volcanic ash has mixed with the limestone in the cliffs. Olives and citrus products are still grown here today. The olive harvest is finished for the season and the farmers are burning the left overs. This generated thick clouds of smoke that obscured our views of the coast at times. The EPA would not approve, but the farmers might argue, “We've been doing it this way for thousands of years.” Things that happened 500 years ago are yesterday's headline here.

The tour stopped in Sorrento for lunch which began with champagne, moved to wine and fortunately finished with strong coffee. We had time to wander the streets of this picturesque town and taste the locally produced lemon products- cake, candy, and lemoncello. The shop keepers were quick to offer samples; a good sales technique judging by the quantity of bags that came back to the bus. We especially enjoyed the salesroom which featured amazing furniture decorated with inlaid wood. It would have been nice to purchase the game table that had lids that flipped over to play chess, backgammon, craps, etc. but settled for a lazy susan instead.

The town of Amalfi showed signs of the Moorish (Arab) development that is even more pervasive in Spain. The local church was decorated with golden mosaic tiles, with the distinctive black and white striped arches over the walk ways. The final stop was at a cameo factory where elderly men were painstakingly scraping away layers of seashells to create the profiles of beautiful women with curling tendrils of hair. This trade is dying out because young people today are not willing to do this tedious art work.

The Amalfi coast is clearly a tourist mecca, judging by all the hotels and villas and swimming pools we saw hanging on the edges of the cliffs. It would be fun to return with our own (small) car and take this drive again.

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