S: Our Great Big Italian Adventure - 2007
BC: The End
FC: Carol Thomas Joan Moulton Beth Phelps | Our Great Big Italian Adventure 2007
1: This book is dedicated to the loving memory of Carol Ann Thomas 1941 - 2007 | Photos and journal entries by Joan Moulton and Beth Phelps
2: April 22: Beth: Pete reminded me to make copies of my passport. I packed all the copies in my bags and off I went to NJ to get Mom and catch the flight from Newark to Rome. Because I got there so early, there was nothing to do. It was an excruciating wait; we were so excited. When we got to the airport, the ticket counter line manager told us we would only need our passports to check in. While digging for mine, my body got cold, and I could feel the blood draining from my face and arms and legs. I could feel a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, and my knees getting rubbery. No passport! I left it on the copy machine. I was crushed. We would have to leave the next day so I could go back and get the passport. Meanwhile, Joan is on her way to Italy, and we won't be meeting her. Joan: Alitalia Airlines flew me from Chicago to Milan on a 737. The trip was tiring. The groups of Italians on the flight to Milan were a talkative bunch. Quiet during the movie but afterwards they chatted loudly long into the evening even after cabin lights were dimmed.
3: April 23 Joan: Once at Marco Polo Airport, I got a call from an operator on the cell phone Beth rented for us. She notified me that Beth could not get through to me to say she and Carol would be arriving a day late. Briefly I was disappointed but then realized I could do whatever I wanted to do in Venice for the next 24 hours. I left the airport and was off to find the dock, a 10 minute walk, to get the boat to Venice. For 12 euros you get a lovely ride through the Venetian lagoon, marshy at first then out into the open. There were stops at several islands such as Murano before arriving in Venice, entering at the San Marco stop. | Arriving at Venice was amazing. It almost made me cry. The view approaching the bell tower, the Doge Palace, and St. Mark Cathedral on the boat was stunning. I found the Hotel Flora using the Travel Info office in a corner of St. Mark Square. It was only a five-minute walk from there. The hotel was small but beautiful. Exhaustion set in as soon as I saw the bed, so I napped for a couple of hours. That gave me energy to go out walking to get dinner at a small café, then wander the back streets at night (very safe I think) and see St. Mark Square at night. Wandering the dark streets over small bridges over a canal, I looked at the back of the Doge palace, the Bridge of Sighs and gondolas! I took photos of St. Mark Cathedral with the setting sun gleaming on its gold and mosaics. | Venezia
4: April 24 Beth: We finally made it to Italy! Despite the frustration getting to the hotel -- most, I feel, caused by sheer exhaustion, we freshened up. Not wanting to lose any time and not knowing when we would meet up with Joan, Mom and I trekked over through huge crowds to the Doge Palace. It was fantastic. Venice is a photographer's paradise. We walked back to the hotel. I was struck by the number of pigeons in the square and how tame they are. Tourists buy bags of feed from vendors, and the birds have a frenzy around the person with the food -- right up to landing on the person as though they were a statue. | The Doge Palace
5: The Doge Palace
6: Joan: I had breakfast in the small, lovely courtyard of the Hotel Flora -- croissants, jam, café au lait, fruit -- yum. I toured the church of St. Zacharias and saw Bellini’s painting of the Theotokos and Christ in conversation with saints. An Englishman put in the money to light the painting. He told me that the blue in Mary’s robe inspired artists ever since to paint her in blue robes. We both commented on its beauty. I decided to do an RS tour that should have taken me to the Rialto Bridge. I got lost but found the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George. It was closed, but its magnificent icon museum was not. Wow! I bought the catalog to remember it.
7: Hotel Flora | Joan: Carol and Beth had arrived at the hotel when I returned but left to tour the Doge Palace. I didn’t want to waste time trying to find them in the crowds of the palace or St. Mark’s Square so I set out to the Frari church and the Scuola San Rocca. The most direct route was a tragetto, a cheap gondola ride for half a euro and in which some locals ride across the Grand Canal standing. So of course I had to try it that way too. I thought for sure I would have to grab the shoulder of the guy sitting nearby if I lost my balance, but I never did. I just crunched up my toes tightly, for whatever good that did, and swayed with the boat. When we passed through the wake of another boat I thought I might be done for, but all was well. This event is one of my life’s major accomplishments. I am grateful that God didn’t let me take a swim in the Grand Canal!
8: Joan: The second adventure of the day began when I tried to find the tragetto to take me back across the Grand Canal to shorten my walk back to the Hotel Flora. It was not meant to be. Finally I decided to just follow the signs to the Rialto and San Marco. Oh my feet! But along the way I saw a lot of back streets and more kinds of shops than you would think could exist in this city of 65,000 residents. Some interesting ones were an elite chocolatier, a model boat maker and his workshop, and an art supply shop with a window full of open containers of powdered paint pigments. I found Carol and Beth for a great reunion at the hotel. We drank wine in the hotel’s courtyard just to catch up and relax before dinner.
10: Beth: We finally made it to the restaurant. It was La Faluca Ristorante. This was the meal (or possibly one of) that Grandmom wanted us to have on her and to think of her while we toasted and dined. Joan ordered the fresh mozzarella and lasagna bolognese with chocolate mousse for desert. Mom had a steak and mushroom dish over a bed of lettuce, and I had sopressa and polenta, which is a sausage (of what type I didn't know nor did I want to) and gnocchi with prawns. I found the sausage to be very strong in salt, but tasty nonetheless. My prawns were a little fishy tasting, but the gnocchi was delicious. I think I was too tired to eat. We also shared a bottle of Soave house wine. Poor Mom fell asleep at the table, and it was all we could do to keep her awake enough to get some coffee in her and get her back home. The night walk through Venice was stunning. I am sad that we only have the one night, but I know now I want to come back here and see more of it. | Joan: The waiter in the hotel courtyard who served us our wine recommended a more local restaurant, The Felucca, small, with beautiful woodwork, and discreet mirrors on the ceiling that let me see another table’s great looking antipasto plate.
11: April 25 -- St. Mark's Day: Joan: I got an early start and saw San Marco Square without the crowds at 8 am. I walked down some of the back streets, called calle and saw gondolas being wiped down and spruced up for the day. I don’t think the gondoliers were the ones doing the work. They looked like teenage boys. Some of the boats are covered with blue tarps overnight, and some have dedications as well as their name on a plaque.
12: Beth: We started the day with a wonderful breakfast in the hotel courtyard. It was a national holiday -- one to celebrate the end of WWII. The Venetians were also celebrating St. Mark's Day, so it was extra crowded in Venice. Although crowded, it was not unbearable. The San Marco church service was in session, so we couldn’t see it until later, but upstairs, the mosaic ceiling was indescribable. The church was lit up for service. I could not take pictures, so I bought some mini postcards. The museum also had the gilded horses that are protected from damage. They had been brought in from Constantinople in around AD 1200. When the city was sacked, they were taken out and mock-ups made and put in their original places on top of the balcony of the cathedral. We took many pictures from that balcony. We walked around the city for a while shopping. We stopped for an eat-while-you-walk lunch -- Joan and I got pizza, and Mom got gelato.
13: Joan: Back at the hotel, Beth and Carol were up, and we packed up to leave Venice and had breakfast. The hotel stored our bags so we could do a bit more sightseeing. The three of us toured the St. Mark Museum located in the choir loft area of the church. A choir sang at the front of the church, beautiful antiphonal music during the solemn mass for St. Mark. The music was glorious, Palestrina perhaps? I wanted to clap or cry; they sang so beautifully. After the museum tour, Beth and Carol went to a nearby shop, and I found a way to get onto the floor of the church at the very end of the mass. I prayed for Carol in front of an icon, painted on wood, of the Theotokos, and attributed to St. Luke! | Views from San Marco Cathedral
14: Views from San Marco Cathedral
15: Joan: I bought Mark a lovely leather-bound journal with the symbol of St. Mark on this, St. Mark’s Day, in Venice. How’s that for a confluence? Beth, Carol, and I walked and shopped our way to the Rialto Bridge where we shopped some more. I don’t consider myself an avid shopper, but it wasn’t hard to buy in Venice. I found several gifts for the family.
16: En Route to La Fattoria degli Animali | Beth: It took us a long time to get on our way. We decided to rent a Garmin navigator to help us find our way. The ride seemed to take forever. We had driven through Bologna and then stopped for a light dinner at a rest area. The rest areas in Italy are beautiful. They are akin to fancy delis with supermarkets. They had cheeses, salamis, European cookies, and biscuits. Back on the road, we drove another hour. It was getting late, and we decided to pull over at the next rest area to make a call using the pay phone because our cell phones didn't work.. I called the Countess, explaining we were 100 km north of Siena, and she was a little surprised. We were a good 3.5 hours away. UGH. So we continued on our way and the road got worse -- curvier -- as the night set in. What fun driving through a foreign country for the first time and taking on those curvy mountain roads. Thank God Joan was in the car helping me navigate. We also had the GPS guiding us . There was a long stretch of road after Florence that was slow going. It was a one-lane highway for each direction, and passing was difficult to impossible.
17: Rest area on the autostrade
18: April 26 Beth: The room and the farm are gorgeous. The owner is Countess Bianca Maria Lovatelli. She keeps alpacas, goats, prairie dogs, donkeys, chickens, geese, and several dogs. The Countess has the fiber from her alpacas spun for her rather than sending it to the Italian co-op, because she doesn't like the quality of the co-op fiber. She has gardens with olive trees, artichokes, herbs, tomatoes, and assorted lettuces. She has a beautiful swimming pool designed for doing laps. It's a wonderful place with a wonderful view of the hilltop town of Manciano. She says Manciano is an ugly town. Judging from the pictures I took, it's hard to imagine that! But she says other towns in Tuscany are prettier. | Manciano
19: Joan: The Contessa is our hostess. What a charmer. She is 73 years old, based on the family tree I read in her office. She looks 10 years younger, has freckles and no make up. She is full of stories, is hard of hearing, and is very helpful with our travel plans around Tuscany. Her English is excellent because her mother was English. Her father must have been an Italian count. She said that this area of Italy is called the Marema Toscana. She had this farm built herself in the last decade. | La Fattoria degli Animali
20: La Fattoria degli Animali | Joan: We had the use of a lovely living room in the main building for relaxing together. We also had breakfast at a long table in that room. Breakfasts were very filling, always scrambled eggs from her own chickens, croissants, fruit, spreads, great coffee with hot milk, breakfast cakes that were delicious and blood orange juice, also delicious. Everywhere we stayed in Italy they had blood orange juice. What a treat.
22: Beth: After we took a walk around the grounds, I settled in the Countess’ office to go over the official paperwork required by the Italian government. Joan joined me later, and we discussed an itinerary. She talked us out of going to Florence because of the distance. She suggested, since the day was half shot, that we take a ride to Orbetello and Monte Argentario, a large peninsula off the Italian coast. She made reservations for us at the Gamberi Rossa in Porto Ercole, a very nice restaurant where she had to mention her name to get us in. Joan: The food was delicious but a bit expensive. We were given hors d’oeuvres gratis and were a bit taken aback by octopus with celery and vinaigrette, anchovies in oil, squid, and finally something we knew we liked, breaded fried shrimp. | Beth: I was very brave and tried all of them. The octopus had its tentacles still attached, so that was a little challenging, but I got through it. I ate some anchovy which was very strong and salty. I had to wash it down with bread and wine. The squid was the most harmless and went down easy. It didn't look or taste like anything objectionable. Joan: We ate our first grissini (breadsticks) in Italy. They were great. I had risotto with asparagus and shrimp. The best, I think, was the strawberry sorbet followed by espresso with lots of sugar and crema on it like Latsa used to make. This meal was set on a patio overlooking the boats in the harbor of this upscale town. | Orbetello
23: Beth: Mom and I ordered a shrimp and pasta dish. It was all very good, and we topped it off with espresso and sorbet. Mom and Joan had strawberry; I had lemon. Both were not too sweet and tasted like they were homemade. After lunch we headed off for a drive around the island. | Joan: The drive on the road around the island was one more Italian adventure. I seemed to have about one a day here. Beth was driving, thank goodness. The views of the land and the Mediterranean were magnificent. We stopped several times for pictures and just to gape.
24: Joan: Toward the end of what turned out to be a 4 km ride, we passed a fenced estate, an expensive fence, with plantings along it and irrigation tubing to water it. I could only see some of the buildings and got the impression that someone wealthy – say, mafia or movie star or industry tycoon -- lived there. Later the Contessa told us it belongs to the queen of the Netherlands. She knew the former queen, had dined with her and had a funny story about the queen getting her a glass of water before bedtime. | Beth: Sure enough, the pavement ended, and there were dirt potholes, washouts, sheer cliffs, rock outcroppings, and all sorts of impediments for about 4 km. Mom stayed quiet in the back and upon asking if she was okay, replied "No!" She was though, and we got through it. We all laughed about it later. | Joan: Finally we came to a point where the asphalt ended and a triangular sign with an exclamation point in the center appeared. We wondered what it meant but had the feeling that it couldn’t be good. At this point we believed we were about three-quarters of the way around the island, and we really didn’t want to turn back. It was getting late in the afternoon. So Beth, with our agreement, decided to plow on and see what that exclamation point meant.
25: April 27 Beth: We decided to take a drive to Pitigliano and Sovana. There were some geocaches in both those towns as well, so we prepared for that. Our first town was Pitigliano. The Countess warned us about the traffic going into the town. She said that cars new to the area tend to stop in their tracks right before approaching the hairpin turn because you see the town suddenly as you approach the turn, and it takes you by surprise. Sure enough, traffic slowed to a near stop. I don't know exactly if that was from the striking view of the town or the startling hairpin turn. | Pitigliano
26: Joan: The town is built upon a huge pile of rock, tufa rock, we were told. Homes and buildings seem all a jumble. Beth aimed the car for the church via the winding road that seemed to lead to it. We parked and wandered the streets. In a Jewish ghetto neighborhood I bought some honey. There is a geocache in Pitigliano, according to their web site, so we searched for it in the town itself but had no luck.
28: Joan: We ran into no people. Finally we got within 10 feel of the cache according to the GPS. The weeds were four or five feet tall along the trail, and the base of the town was to our right. Beth decided to plow into the weeds, cobwebs, nettles and all. I wimped out and stayed on the trail. She found a cave but we had no flashlight, so I suggested the camera flash to get an idea of what was there. She saw only the remains of a party -- old wine bottles, etc. Maybe it was a teen hangout. She said there was a secondary cave but didn’t go in there. We never found the cache though we know we were so close. That was hard but the search had been interesting. | Beth: We looked in town for the geocache, but it wasn't there. We thought maybe it would be outside the walls of the town, so we got in the car and drove out where we thought it might be. Mom rested in the car while Joan and I hiked up a trail that looked like a possibility based on the GPS. It was interesting to say the least. On this unlikely trail were cages attached to caves in the walls which made up the base of the town. The caves were possibly homes made by the ancient Etruscans thousands of years ago. In the cages, the townspeople kept chickens, geese, pigs, and gardens (not in cages). We never would have seen this if we didn't go looking for a cache. | Pitigliano
30: Joan: Next we drove to Sovana, another nearby medieval town experience. Unlike Pitigliano, Sovana does not have the view approaching the town. What it has are two churches, one built in the 11th century on Etruscan remains. The wall paintings were badly faded and damaged but still beautiful. The ceiling was a lovely series of arches. The Contessa said that in Sovana you can hardly move or add a stone because they want the town to remain as it is. It was a beautiful town that I will remember. | Sovana
32: Beth: We drove to Sovana, another town built in the tufa rocks. The ancient people made their buildings and dwellings in carved out hollows in the caves. The church was stunning. It was one of the only pre-Catholic churches built by Etruscans that was not "done over" by the Catholic Church. We walked around again and had lunch at Albergo Scilla.
33: Sovana | Joan: There was a geocache in Sovana , and there we had better luck. Beth was the one to actually find it in the wall where it was embedded. I got a nice bottle opener out of the deal, and we left American stamps and a dollar coin.
34: Beth: Afterwards, we headed out and stopped at La Cave Vie, a cave road with a neat trail that goes through a sunken trail in the rocks. That was beautiful, but the terrain was a little tricky.
35: Joan: Then the fun began! We went to a nearby site of some Etruscan tombs -- paid the 5 euro entry fee -- and followed the path to an incredible cleft in a piece of rock about 50 feet high. It was huge, like the earth split the rock open leaving a path just wide enough to climb to the top of the rock. The footpath required us to walk like models, one foot in front of another. Then Beth, God bless her, thought we should keep going higher because the map at the bottom of the hill had indicated a circular path that we hoped we were on which would loop around to the beginning of our trek so we would not have to go down that trail again. So we did a little rock climbing, well almost. At the top were tombs or at least Etruscan caves with ledges and alcoves. We never did find a way around that looped around to the beginning and had to retrace the way down, very carefully.
36: Joan: We drove back to the farm where I slept a couple hours. It had rained on the drive home from Sovana, a fairly heavy rain, but there was also a glimpse of blue sky on the horizon. Beth knocked on my door and got me to come outside after my nap to see a rainbow. I photographed a huge complete rainbow. The late afternoon light was ethereal. This must be what they mean by the Tuscan sky. At the Contessa’s suggestion we tried a pizzeria in Manciano. The owner has won awards. It’s called Osee’s, meaning “heat,” the young waitress said. The theme of the restaurant is a circus with very well executed décor. We had two thin crust “Trapezios” with good mozzarella, pancetta, and smoked provolone. Very good!
37: April 28 Beth: Drove to Montalto di Castro to catch a train to Rome! The rolling, green hills in Tuscany are gorgeous. We asked directions to the train station in Italian to a young boy on the sidewalk and understood the gist of what he was saying! Took train to Rome. We were going to get off at the Termini station, but we got off at St. Peter’s Basilica instead. Saved us lots of precious time that day! | Roma
38: Beth: At St. Peter's Basilica, we waited in a huge line to go through security and got approached by several tour guides trying to sell us 25 euro tours of the church and the museum. Too much money, and we didn’t have time to see the museum anyway. The Italians thought nothing of cutting in front of us in the line. Joan was bold and tapped one guy on the shoulder and yelled “hey” at him to challenge him a bit. He just told us to relax. No one else cut in front of us. | The Vatican
39: Joan: We had to go through an airport-like security to get into the basilica. First of all, St. Peter’s is larger than any church I have ever seen. Just immense. No one would ever describe it as intimate. Secondly, the Pieta is the world’s most beautiful statue. I can’t say any more than that. Words do not do it justice. Thank you, Michelangelo. Thirdly, the Catholic Church, as is its right, turns away anyone in shorts or with bare shoulders who wants to enter. However, in the chapel of the Holy Sacrament there are sexy nude women with legs posed gracefully. The pope should return the church to proper decorum by putting that art where it belongs, in a museum. | The Vatican
40: Joan: From St. Peters we walked to the Pantheon, crossing the Tiber. The Pantheon is an amazing, huge building built by ancient Romans. It is in perfect condition with no crumbling ruins. A ball as wide as its dome would exactly reach its floor and fill the dome perfectly. | Beth: We walked to the Pantheon, a long walk. This was an incredible building. Its age and grandeur are breathtaking.
41: Beth: We walked to Trevi Fountain. We were wearing out by the time we got there and threw Grandmom’s coins in the fountain. Yes, Grandmom sent Joan a little piece of cardboard with three coins marked with our names taped to it. We took our respective coins and threw them in with Joan videotaping it as proof. | Joan: The Forum was our next stop and looked to be too long for us to walk. There was no cab available so we asked a horse and buggy driver. 100 euros! No way, so he asked us what we would pay. We wouldn’t even dicker and walked away. Another driver approached and offered 40 euros. Still we said no and soon found a cab that cost 10 euros, with tip. Beth thought even that was too much based on her book.
42: Joan: The Forum and Palatine Hill were somewhat confusing to me, especially trying to identify the various buildings in our guide books. We could identify some things but not everything on the map, and I like to what is what. We climbed many steep, uneven stairways. By the end of the day my calves, already sore from the Etruscan ruins at Sovana, were throbbing with every step and the right foot was as painful as it had been in weeks. | The Forum
43: Beth: We walked up to the top of Palatine Hill into a beautiful orange grove with trees loaded with oranges. We walked around among the ruins of – I think Caligula’s – palace.
44: Joan: The Coliseum was a challenge for our sore bodies, but it humbled my spirit to remember St. Ignatius being torn apart by the lions there, that gentle man of God. And Saints Peter, Paul, Alexis, and our own Cyril walked these streets. How truly humbling, and I complain about my feet. Except for the taking cuts incident in St. Peters, the people of Rome were universally kind to us; a man showed us how to stamp our bus ticket; a boy told us when the bus got to the Termini; a woman saved my food log book when I dropped it from high above on a ledge in the Forum.
45: Beth: We finally found our tickets and walked to the Coliseum. Words cannot describe the grandeur of this place, even in its decaying condition. We took a city bus to the train station. Joan was the brave one in this adventure. I guess my fear was interpreting all the signs and being able to find the right place to go. It took a little while, but we managed to get to the train station. I think I was too tired to think. | Joan: We returned by train to Montalto di Castro and had another pizza meal at Ozee in Manciano. I ordered the Belle Napoli which I didn’t realize had anchovies. I took them off but they ruined a very good pizza. So I had dessert, a chocolate mousse.
48: April 29 Joan: At the Farm we met a family, Stephan, Ada and teenage son Andrea, who had just arrived from Rome. They were very nice. The son and dad spoke English, though I don’t think Ada did. Stephan had suggestions of the towns to visit around Amalfi. After breakfast we drove to Orvietto. It was a long drive but oh so worth it. This drive took us through gorgeous Tuscano to Umbria. What vistas! We had no words for how beautiful it all was. Finally all we could do was laugh at each amazing scene. There were hills and farms, olive orchards, vineyards, wheat fields, green everywhere, a lake, a winding two-lane road most of the way to Orvietto. Beth said she has never been happier than driving today.
49: Beth: We drove to Orvieto today into Umbria. It was a stunning drive with scenery to behold at every turn. The land was so green, and the hills and winding roads provided a surprise at every turn.
52: Joan: The first church I went into was small and unassuming but still has a spiritual feeling. About 10 people stood around | a table with “stuff” on it and a priest conducting a service. The people were singing. I soon was amazed to realize that he was an Orthodox priest and guessed that the service was a panikheda, a memorial, for all | love! How do these things happen? Only by God’s grace. I was ecstatic. Carol and Beth patiently waited | the 10 minutes or so until it was over. The people sang vichnya pamyat and Christo | a anviat and received his blessing. He didn’t speak English but asked if | I spoke Russian. I wished the people “Christo a anviat” too, and they responded. As the three of us walked out, one of the women pressed a napkin with a red egg, bread, and candy into my hand. It was wonderful!
53: Beth: We did a lot of shopping and tried the local wine. There was a view from Orvieto to the valley below that couldn't be described in words. For the first time, I felt a bit choked up, just to be in this beautiful place and knowing I would have to leave it. | Orvieto
56: Joan: The many shops in the town were wonderful. There was much colorful pottery. I bought two pieces that were not the conventional bold sunflower pieces. But I like them even better. We also tried their famous white wine. It was very good, and we bought several bottles to try later. We also bought cheese and prosciutto, sliced directly from the ham, very patiently with a long knife into very thin slices. We ate and drank to our heart’s content back at the Fattoria that night. Beth, Carol and I had two lovely evenings in the living room of the main house, talking and eating food we brought back with us. This is just what I hoped would happen on this trip.
58: Beth: The town of Orvieto is built upon a mound of tufa. Their real claim to fame, though, is a cathedral -- or duomo -- and it is a sight to behold. No words I write here could possibly describe the feeling of awe I felt, first upon seeing the facade of this cathedral, but then upon entering. Only the pictures I took could give some idea, and then I'm sure the pictures will not do it justice. | Joan: I got into the habit of entering every church that day, because I never knew what surprise there would be. All but the great Duomo were unassuming on the outside, but they were surprising inside. One had an icon of Pentacost propped up in front; the inscription was in Italian but it was unmistakably Orthodox. Even the Duomo, a church more beautiful than St. Peter’s, IMHO, was Orthodox, and covered on the walls by “icons.” | Orvieto
60: Joan: It was very large inside but at the same time spiritual. The relic that is celebrated in the feast of the Corpus Cristi is housed here, a communion cloth on which blood dripped from the Holy Eucharist in front of a doubting priest several hundred years ago.
61: Beth: On the way back to La Fattoria, we decided to drive into Saturnia which was close to Manciano. Saturnia is famous for its hot springs mineral water baths. I was hoping to wash away the aches and pains of the week's hiking, but the crowds around the springs and the hour did not bode well for an enjoyable dip. This will have to be a trek for when Pete and I come back for our 20th. | Orvieto
62: April 30 Joan: We left the farm with regrets. It is such a beautiful place, with a gracious hostess and lovely, helpful Brazilian staff. We drove south to Amalfi that morning. In Civitavecchia, we think we nearly boarded a ferry to who-knows-where. That was a close call. Dad (Grampa Yarbrough) would have gotten a kick out of that because he knew the town from his days working on steamers around the world as a young man. In the end, we managed to crawl with the traffic to exit the city. Beth was given a ticket from a man at a booth at the ferries. We still don’t know what it was for. We were in Civitavecchia because we were avoiding the autostrada tolls, but finally we had enough of traffic jams and re-entered the autostrada. It rained much of the drive to Amalfi but we still had a view of Vesuvius with the city of Naples creeping up its slope.
63: Beth: We made the long drive from La Fattoria today to the Amalfi Coast. Nothing spectacular until we got to the Naples area, and then the volcanic mountains began to pop up. "Pop Up" is an understatement. South of Naples, it really got beautiful, and then the roads became a little more challenging. I took a wrong turn and ended up in a small town, but no worry. Our GPS guided us easily out and on the main highway.
64: Beth: Not long after we rounded a bend and behold -- the first town of the Amalfi coast appeared, and the fun began. The roads are SO windy -- tighter than Tuscany, and with many more cars and BIG tourist buses. The roads were busy with traffic today because it was Monday, and it was a long weekend for Italians -- Labor Day or May Day. The towns had traffic guides stopping the cars to allow large buses to make the turns. Occasionally you heard a loud horn honking, indicating a bus was approaching from the other side. I quickly learned to stop or crawl and wait to see what was coming. The locals and the motorcyclists thought nothing of passing as curves approached. Very brave souls. | Amalfi
65: Joan: Driving fun began for Beth in earnest at about 5:00 on the coast road north from Salerno to Amalfi. Traffic of the very winding two-lane road high above the sea was crowded. The worst of it was when tour buses approached us. Beth handled it with nary a scrape to the car as she hugged the inner landward side, a rocky cliff wall carved into the hills. Many Italian drivers are incompetent! They take their half out of the middle, they pass on these dangerous winding roads, and much more that my terrified mind has had to blot out.
66: Beth: Our hotel, the Marina Riviere, was fantastic! We all shared a room with a view out onto Amalfi. There was a hot tub with a little window that opened up onto the mountain. How relaxing! | Joan: Our Hotel Riviera Marina in Amalfi is lovely, a building also hanging on a cliff with a warren of rooms off the winding halls. The coast road runs by a couple of stories below the hotel. | Amalfi
67: Joan: Dinner that night was at the Restaurant Eola, a small dining room with immaculate service and wonderful, tasty food. The view at night out of the open balcony showed the town sparking and the waves rolling in below. Seafood was the specialty. I had a salad on an irregular green glass bowl, or so I thought until I realized that the bowl was really thin strips of cucumber laid end over end and curved into a bowl. I was amazed at the illusion. The salad itself was large and delicious. My main course of red snapper was superb with chopped grilled vegetables. A variety of rolls was served with olive oil or butter and a “free” cream of garbanzo bean soup with rosemary -- just a taste -- and very good. I must try to copy it. We weren’t quite stuffed so we sprang for dessert and tea. I had a fruit mousse custard and three cookies. Then they brought us a platter of more cookies, and we had tea. It cost 177 euros for us three and worth every euro -- but not to be done too often.
68: May 1 Beth: It's Labor Day/May Day here in Italy. Today was our trek to Pompeii which took us through some tiny villages higher up on the cliffs above Amalfi. The cliffs are incredible here, and the villages are precariously perched. During our drive to Pompeii, we wound through some very small villages. Most of the villages have a dirtier feel to them. There is definitely a difference in how Northern Italy treats its environment compared to Southern Italy. Several of the towns appeared to have a garbage strike going on, as the trash was piled up and spread out in the streets. Joan: We rose early at 6:30 to drive to Pompeii, another adventure. No one will believe that so much happened to us. This was the most amazing drive yet. We drove north on a route we had not yet taken toward Naples. It rose higher than Cape San Sebastian on the Oregon coast. The height and winding road got a bit scary for me. | To think I volunteered to drive on this trip before we left home. At some point high above the Mediterranean we headed inland towards Naples. We went through a tunnel and there before us was Vesuvius, Naples, and the Bay of Naples spread out before us. Another WOW moment! Then as we descended, the view changed. The suburbs we drove through had communist posters on some of the walls, things like Mao, Stalin, Lenin, and Che, and probably some local heroes side by side along with the sickle and hammer. Add to that piles of uncollected garbage and it was a real mess. We got through that and made our way to Pompeii. Beth’s north Jersey driving skills came into play at an uncontrolled intersection. Cars just piled into it and muscled their way through. It was a mess, but Beth played right along with the big boys, getting us through there in no time. I was so proud and amazed at her. | Pompeii
69: Mt. Vesuvius
70: Joan: At Pompeii we found parking near the entrance where the attendant told us there was free parking. And it was under an orange grove, for all love! For me the site was such a sad place, a city destroyed suddenly, thousands killed, and an even larger city, Naples, sitting ominously in the shadow of Vesuvius today. I pray the city always remains safe. Leaving the orange grove parking lot, Beth was surprised to learn there was a 10 euro charge. How could that be? It turns out that the Italian attendant translated libero as free, where it really means free in the sense of available. We couldn’t be too upset though because it was a charming spot, close to the site’s entrance, and we did save 30 euros on the entry fee.
71: Beth: We arrived in Pompeii Scavi, and the price of admission was only one euro; usually it is 11. Apparently they were celebrating the holiday with reduced admission. Thank you, Italian tax payers! I've wanted to see Pompeii since 4th grade when my teacher, Mrs. Tanzola, told us about it. I was so impressed by the fact that people were frozen in time by the hot ash that fell on them. At Pompeii, there were only two human remains. Most of the remains’ casts and pieces are at the Archeological Museum in Naples. All the books say how Mt. Vesuvius looms menacingly over the cities and villages, and they are right. It is huge, and it is menacing, although it was shrouded in cloud cover that day. | Pompeii
76: Joan: We drove back by the tamer route, via the autostrada and the southerly coast road to Amalfi. After a late lunch, we strolled the shopping district of Amalfi. It consists of the town square in front of the cathedral and one road that rose up the hill above the city for a short ways. Still there was much to look at.
78: Joan: My next amazing Orthodox event was to learn that the remains of St. Andrew are in the Amalfi cathedral of St. Andrew. They were brought here after being stolen from Constantinople during the crusades in the 13th century. We saw where they were in the crypt, and I said a prayer for all the Andrews in our family, especially Father Andrew. Two great crystal containers flanked the tomb which contained the myrrh given from his relics. There were paintings (not really icons) of St. Andrew all over Amalfi, so I wanted to find an icon of him. Finally in a shop in the square there were icons, and I found a beautiful one, hand written with a silver edge.
80: May 2 Beth: The weather looked threatening. This was concerning to me, because we were to spend the day in Capri. Yet I remember reading that Capri is eternally sunny, and I wanted to take the chance that the rainy weather was simply a product of the land features where we were staying. So we went. I sensed that Joan was doubtful. Mom just tagged along, willing to do anything. We got our ferry tickets and hopped on board for the hour-long ride over there. The cliffs were striking along the way, especially with the clouds mixed in among them.
81: Beth: We arrived at Marina Grande in Capri and immediately booked over to the ticket booth to get passes onto the boat that took us to the Blue Grotto. It was about a half-hour ride to a little hole in the side of the Capri cliffs. | Capri
82: Beth: When we got there, several other boats like ours which held about 25 people were waiting their turn to be serviced by the smaller row boats that actually took people through the hole. These boats held anywhere from two to four people, and you had to lie down to get through the hole. The oarsman oared up to the hole, and then grabbed a chain to pull the boat through the hole. This had to be carefully timed between ocean swells that rhythmically narrowed the hole, making it smaller. What fun!
83: Going through the hole, it was probably two meters long, and then it opened up into a fair-sized cave with about 12 other boats rowing around inside. Because the bottom of the cliff did not touch the ocean floor, the sun from outside shined through the underwater opening making the water appear glowing blue. It was truly incredible. We circled around while the oarsman sung O Sole Mio. | Blue Grotto, Capri
84: Beth: Back we went to Marina Grande. My first impression was TOURIST TRAP. We got onto the funicular which is like a trolley car that goes up the side of the steep mountain to get to the town of Capri. This part of the island was less honky-tonk and offered more high-end shops.
85: We strolled around and decided to go up to Anacapri by bus. The bus ride to Anacapri was incredible. These are short buses that can maneuver the hairpin turns along the side of the cliff to the top. The view out the side of the bus was creepy yet thrilling as you look out and see ocean straight down and an incredible view of the port. The driver maneuvered the curves well as I'm sure he has done thousands of times. | Capri
86: Beth: Anacapri was a quieter town but quickly filling up with people. We walked some of the back streets, mindful that we had to catch the last boat to Amalfi at 5:15. Mom bought herself a pretty top. She looks really good in it. Joan bought a beautiful scarf for Elizabeth with colors that look to suit her perfectly. I bought Sarah a necklace of Venetian glass, of all things. We had lunch at a quiet outdoor restaurant surrounded by lemon trees. It was good and somewhat reasonable. | Capri
87: May 3 Beth: With a long day ahead of us, we checked out of the Marina Riviere and started the drive out of Amalfi. Again, I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. The view and the tight roads, the curves beyond belief, the crazy drivers tailgaiting and passing around bends -- all made for a thrilling experience and a fantastic drive. The rest of the nine-hour journey was uneventful. We stopped several times for stretching and lunch. The traffic was much heavier with many trucks. I feel as though I blended in well with the Italian drivers. I was not the slowest on the road, nor was I the fastest. I wondered on several occasions if I would have any speeding tickets courtesy of Italia waiting for me in the mail when I got home. All was well getting to the airport to return our car with the help of our GPS. What a great thing to have and the best money we spent. We got to the rental car check in to find out we returned the car with six minutes to spare, and the cost of our rental went down by 150 euros. What great luck!! The shuttle came to take us to the hotel, and then we sorted through our goodies to make sure we all had the right souvenirs. Dinner was at a weird place called Crazy Pizza. They served menu items with horse meat in them. I certainly was not going to eat a horse. Mom and I just had mushroom pizza, and Joan had lasagna. I didn't trust the lasagna not to have horse meat in it. | Back at the hotel we popped open the last bottle of wine we would drink and sat on the bed laughing about the trip and recollecting motherhood and breastfeeding. It was fun and a nice way to bond with each other. All in all, the trip was one of the best experiences of my life. Joan was great to have; her confidence in getting around and interpreting Italian -- even though she doesn't speak it – really helped me with the driving. Mom was quiet and willing to go along with just about anything we did and seemed to enjoy herself. I imagine her lack of communication was because of her difficulty finding words sometimes. And other than some minor foot discomfort at the beginning and end of the trip, she was a quiet trooper through some interesting experiences. The countryside in Tuscany was my favorite for its peaceful but striking beauty. The ancient towns on tops of cliffs are fantastic. The rolling hills were the greenest of green, and farms of olive trees and grape vines prevailed. I loved the Amalfi region for its volcanic mountain formations and the greenery there, like the lushness of Hawaii. The weather was not as stable , but we managed to dodge the raindrops. The top of Mt. Vesuvius was never in view because of the clouds, but you could feel its presence. This truly was the trip of my life, profound in so many ways. I am eternally thankful to have had this special time with two people whom I love dearly.