An unforgettable day. For some ridiculous reason, many hundreds of years ago, people saw the steep rocky cliffs at the edge of this part of Italy and decided it would be good to live there. Why is beyond comprehension. So then they had to build roads right along the cliffs, presumably for donkeys or mountain goats. NOT FOR TOUR BUSSES! But that’s now what those incredibly narrow winding roads, cut into rock on the edge of the cliff, are full of – that, and tourist drivers in rental cars who have no idea what they’re doing, and insane Italians driving extremely fast and passing each other on the curves, and motorcycles speeding through everything – oh, and the big local bus, which is what Bruce and I were on.
7 euros round trip, Sorrento to Amalfi and then on up into the mountains, to Ravello, and back. Alive. What a deal. Though at the beginning, I didn’t think so.
We got the 9.30 bus which left at 9.45, overcrowded – and then I discovered that first, someone standing in the aisle was blocking my view one way, and then that my view the other way was completely obliterated by a foggy window. So I was not a happy traveller for a bit there, desperately craning my neck to try to see beyond the woman in the aisle or through the muddy fog on my left. What I could see was stunning and I did manage to take some shots anyway. The ride feels death-defying, as our bus would come upon a bus going the other way and somehow get by.
We hit a logjam at unbelievably picturesque Positano – it took a very long time to get through. The bus cleared out a bit and I went to the back where Bruce had made friends with an English family who were very funny. The son of the family said sourly, as the traffic congestion continued, “This is where their way of driving doesn’t work: Now it’s my turn, and now it’s my turn again!” And the father said, as we continued around the hairpin curves, “These drivers must go into therapy once a month, to build their forces up again.”
Finally, Amalfi, a gorgeous seaside town, but we were not to rest there, no, onto another bus for Ravello, where our friend Richard had recommended some sights and a restaurant. By now it was 1.30, and we were ready for lunch. Again, a stunning village clinging to the side of a mountain – Gore Vidal lived here, and there’s a famous arts festival – and it contains a gourmet restaurant of the highest order, reasonable, friendly and fantastic. We would never have known if not for Richard, but once there I read the reviews on the wall and was knocked over. It was owned by the patroness’s father and now by her – and there she was, taking orders, giving fresh oranges to children …
And then the food came. I’d told Bruce that I’d like to treat him to dinner one night, to thank him for the work he did preparing for this trip. He decided on the spot that this would be the meal. And a huge treat it was for us both. At one point, I told her that her cannelloni had nearly made me cry – who knew cannelloni could be so extremely tender and full of flavour? – and she brought us another, so Bruce could try it too. At the end, she brought us a tiramasu free. It was heaven. Oh fresh pasta – ribbons of fettucine so tender … oh. Oh. OH!!
So then to walk off some of that food, Bruce said we had a treat, we were going to see “two villas.” Because we have mostly gone to see paintings, I assumed he meant two works by some painter called Villa, and was mystified – why hadn’t I heard of this guy before? But – actual villas, with amazing gardens and incredible views. Stunning. And then hanging around the piazza.
Finally time for the hair-raising bus-ride back down. Bruce read on his iPad that the duomo in Amalfi is a must-see, so we climbed all the steps and saw … a wedding taking place inside, with a priest from India talking in English about “cheeses.” I thought it was a sermon about cuisine until I realized he was talking about our lord. There’s a “cloister of paradise” there, but it cost 3 euros and by now we were done. Bruce sang about “a cloister in paradise” to the tune of “Stranger in paradise” and made me laugh very hard.
The ride back was – well, our driver was a macho daredevil, who at one point swung the bus very close to a young woman standing near the cliffs to wave to her, and I thought of the playboy ocean liner captain who sank his boat – also Italian, as I recall. We nearly crashed several times. But they’re incredibly skilful, these guys. Though I didn’t like it when our driver, sailing along the sheer thousand foot drop and swearing at the other drivers, started to talk on his cell phone, and gesticulated with his hands completely off the wheel. As we pulled into town, he lit a cigarette. I was glad to get out.
And have a glass of rosso di Montepulchiano in my hotel room, and recover. From a day of gorging on beauty and on food, and, just a little bit, on danger too.