Saturday, April 28, 2012

Italy: Irena, Irena

The second day of our Amalfi Coast tour came with a local tour guide named Irena. Irena surpassed any other tour guide I'd ever met. And, I've had a few.

For starters, we had no idea how old she was. She looked about 80, but moved like 60. She obviously spent every free minute in the sun because she matched my brown leather purse and had tons of wrinkles. She dyed her short hair platinum. 

Irena probably had her lips done hours before meeting us because they were swollen and hardly moved. In fact, her mouth never really moved, even when she talked. We had to block out all environmental sounds and strain our ears to decipher what she said. Still, her shiny, Chapstick coated lips memorized me.

Irena jingled whenever she moved thanks to a hundred oversized bracelets, necklaces, and rings. She shoved all of our ferry, bus, and food tickets into a fake Burberry purse that she slung over her shoulder. I loved Irena because I will eventually look just like her if all goes as planned.  Ben agreed.

As a New Yorker, I also loved Irena because she did not mess around when it came to getting our group:
1) First in line
2) First to eat
3) Free stuff
4) Shots of limoncello

We had one day on Capri, and she optimized every minute on the island. We definitely got our money's worth. For that reason alone, Ben really loved her.

Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of Irena, but that's okay. I like my memory of her, and I doubt any photo would do her justice. So, to end this post in true Irena fashion, I raise a glass of limoncello to toast the best tour guide ever.

Ben waiting to get on the ferry from Sorrento to Capri.

Views of Sorrento from the ferry deck.

Remind me again why we live somewhere made of concrete with cold winters.

Hazy view of Sorrento.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Italy: Humble Abode

We traveled to the Almafi Coast with a tour company, so they booked our hotel in Sorrento. I had no idea what to expect. Would the hotel be rundown? Would it be gross? Would it be in a shady part of town? Or, as a New Yorker, I worried... would it have bedbugs? Such questions plagued my thoughts, though Ben didn't seem fazed one bit. He remained glued to the window, soaking in the surroundings.

The bus unloaded a few tourists at the first hotel. Their hotel looked nice, really nice. All bedbug fears subsided. Ben and I started to get excited. We hoped that we would have such luck.

And, luck we had.

The bus turned onto a cobblestone drive and drove through palm trees and wild vegetation up a hill to The Capodimonte Hotel. We walked though large wooden doors into the hotel and the upper class. I waited for a tropical drink to appear and a handmaiden to wheel my suitcase to our room. I looked to Ben and knew he felt the same. He puffed his chest and strode to the front desk. We acted as if staying at fabulous resorts in exotic locales was the norm.  Four stars... no big deal.

We reveled in the space of our room. The bathroom was 3x the size of our bathroom in NYC. The balcony sure beat our fire escape. And, unlike our small bed in NYC, Ben's feet actually fit on the king size mattress.

Ah, nothing beat our life of luxury.

Surprise 4-star resorts and no bedbugs make me happy

View from our room's balcony at the hotel

View from the 1 of 4 pools at the hotel

Outside our room at the hotel

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Italy: Entering Heaven

After Pompeii, our tour guides announced the final stop and our home for the next several days... the place in my dreams, my Heaven... the Almalfi Coast, an incredible stretch of coastline dotted with cities and towns. I sat on the edge of my seat with my face pressed to the window. I couldn't wait. Mama was home.

The bus careened around corners as we drove higher and higher on a narrow road bordered on one side by a mountain and on the other side by a cliff. A little nerve-wracking, but I had complete faith in our driver - a man I had never met and had no knowledge of his driving record. He seemed like he knew what he was doing. At least I convinced myself of that. If things turned ugly, I figured the tour guides had a bottle of Italy's famous limoncello liqueur on board to calm us.

Entering the city of Sorrento in the Almalfi Coast (from the bus window)

Notice the traffic and immediate dropoff from the cliff (from the bus window)

Looking out and down (from the bus window)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Italy: Party in Pompeii

After Naples, we headed to Pompeii, the city destroyed by Mount Vesuvius and covered in ash.  The tour guides warned us to wear sunscreen and protective clothing because the tour through Pompeii lasted several hours and there was no shade.  I, of course, took precautionary measures.  But, for some reason, a group of older women made it their mission to protect my fair skin.

They told me to carry an umbrella (no way), slather on sunscreen (did that), and wear a sun hat (not available).  I told them I tan well. Years of suntanning at Cave Run Lake had prepared me for the three hour tour of Pompeii.  They couldn't let it go, though.  I eventually snaked through the tour group and walked next to younger people who didn't care if I burned, let alone fell into an undiscovered pit of ash.

The artifacts and buildings left behind in Pompeii impressed me. They had tiled floors in Pompeii.  They painted beautiful murals on stone walls. They had sidewalks. They had sliding doors. Who knew?

The people of Pompeii also offered "after hours" enjoyment. Enjoyment that centered mostly around... the celebration of love. Only certain buildings provided this type of entertainment. To prevent confusion, they carved symbols into the stone walls to alert people. They also painted vivid scenes on the walls for the people who missed the symbols. While much artwork was lost or destroyed, the paintings in the "adults only" buildings somehow survived a thick coat of fiery ash and thousands of years of bad weather.

Why was I not surprised?

Entering Pompeii (Mount Vesuvius in the background)

Entering Pompeii

Gathering area in Pompeii (probably where they sacrificed improperly dressed women...)

Where the streets have no name

A street in Pompeii (it has curbs and sidewalks) with Mount Vesuvius in the background

Big kilns (I think)

Pompeii royalty

A Pompeii God

View from Pompeii

Paintings on wall

More paintings on walls

Tiled floor

Tiled floor

Tiled floor

Sign etched in stone on an "adults only" establishment

Bed made of stone (rather firm)

Painting in the "adults only" establishment