Summer in Sorrento

This week, the One & Only flew to Europe. I am calling it his ‘Gap Year,’ as I am not remotely convinced by his return ticket at the end of March.  I have every expectation he’ll stay away till Christmas – partly to manage expectations (mine), partly because he has been grounded for over two years and has had ants in his pants for months. So, he will be in Florence for my birthday and our anniversary. I’m jealous, of course, but not annoyed. I could have gone, too, but I had other things to do.

It has, however, dredged up memories of our early days of backpacking, which was also the last time the One & Only saw the Medici’s glorious city. I look through old diaries and discover, not Firenze, but a trip to Naples in the summer of 1991. We were on our way to meet our newly married friends. As we hadn’t been able to make it to the wedding, I teased them about crashing their honeymoon instead. They accepted the challenge with surprising enthusiasm. So, we set off across Italy, a journey of some 750 kilometres from Verona to Salerno, on a sluggish train that took a lazy ten hours to get us there. From Salerno, we piled onto a bus that would scoot us around the Amalfi Coast to Sorrento.

We are on a local bus, driving along a precariously steep and winding coastline with jagged cliffs dropping into deep blue sea hundreds of feet below. Houses perch perilously close to the edge, reached by long flights of stone steps. Bougainvillaea and large purple wallflowers grow up every retaining wall and rock face. Grape vines stretch across spindly frames that look as if someone tossed a packet of matches over the edge. The road twists and turns like a serpent, and the bus seems only inches away from disaster. Tiny beaches on narrow spits of sand are covered with neat rows of navy blue umbrellas, and rocky outcrops on which sun bathers balance nervously. Palm trees. A flotilla of small sailing boats. Pedestrians of all shapes and sizes, who meander along the promenades in minimalist garb. Ruined forts lean out over the sea on every rocky point.

I remember stopping for a break at Amalfi, that tiny pink and white town wedged into a ravine between vertical cliffs. As we climbed queasily from the bus, we saw a wedding party stepping cautiously down the steep stone staircase from the 11th century Duomo (a staircase clad in red carpet for the occasion). The bride was a veritable bouquet of frills and flounces and heavy makeup. A video camera followed her along the boulevard recording every step of her new life as a wife, draped ostentatiously over her husband’s arm. We found a café on the piazza where we sat and observed the procession of wedding guests promenading along the quay.

As I write, another bus offloads its passengers, who all converge on the café where I am sitting, and settle down for the afternoon. One family pushes several tables together, lays out a pretty pink cloth, and brings forth a huge dish of lasagne and two bottles of homemade wine, sandwiches, fruit, and no qualms whatsoever about upsetting the staff. Who would dare argue with a four foot, fiercely voluble Italian Nonna?

I am mad about Italy. The people are so warm and friendly and love to help. There was that kind lady in Milano, a mother hen who hurried us like chicks through the traffic to catch the tram. Then, there was a long queue of Veronese waiting at a bus stop, debating endlessly about which bus we must catch to il campeggio. I think we would have got there quicker if we’d walked. Back on the bus, we careered around the coast, our driver obviously determined to break all speed records, tempting fate at every sharp turn not to tip us into the sea. And somehow, we arrive in Sorrento in one piece, although our stomachs might beg to differ. I felt decidedly sea-sick, and the One and Only was a ghastly shade of pea green. Life quickly improved, however, and we were soon comfortably ensconced above the sea in our little two man tent..

It’s a lovely cool evening in Sorento among the orchard of olive trees at our campsite. Our tent site overlooks the Bay of Naples and when the heat haze lifted this evening, we could actually see Mount Vesuvius across the water. We will visit Pompei when we have recovered from the heat and those wriggly roads. Tonight, we will stay close to home, as the campsite has a bar and restaurant with a pizza oven, where the tables are set beneath a canopy of wisteria.

We did make it to Pompeii, although in my diary, the heat got almost as much airplay as the historic ruins. Nonetheless, it proved a fascinating place to visit. I had never realised Pompeii was a whole town and not just a few decaying ruins. I remember being particularly keen on the cobbled streets, with stepping-stones for the ladies to get across without dirtying their feet, and deep grooves in the stone where 150 years-worth of carts had passed by. Sadly, our northern European complexions wilted fast in the midday sun, and none of us had the wherewithal to climb up Mount Vesuvius. One day I will go back in winter…

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