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Beechlog
 
The on-line magazine of the Burnham Beeches Radio Club.

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July 2002 Edition, Page 3

Travels in Italy

Thursday 30th May

I get up at 3.00 am. While I set my Psion to wake me, it didn't because I had forgotten to set its clock to summer time! Luckily I don't rely on just one gadget, so I set the alarm on my mobile, which duly woke me up on time.

This day is going to be interesting, because I don't have any tickets for my holiday. I've been pushing the travel company for the last two weeks, and been given four or five different dates for ticket issue, so I don't really believe the tickets will be waiting at the Alitalia ticket desk at Heathrow. As you know by now, I'm a funny bloke, and didn't want to fly from Stanstead ot Gatwick, and spent the extra £10 for a local flight. The problem is that you can't get direct flights from Heathrow to the places I like to holiday in. So in this case I need to swap planes at Milan to get to Naples.

Well, Alitalia have my tickets - great relief all round. The flight leaves roughly on time and gets to Milan OK. This time we took Alex, my 10 year-old son; it will be his first flight. He was rather nervous, and was not sure about the take-off. But he greatly enjoyed the landing. The flight was exceptionally smooth, no vision-blurring turbulence or sudden drops in height to upset him. The sky was clear over the Alps, and he enjoyed looking at the mountains as we approached Milan.

Arriving at Milan Linate, we followed the signs for transfers which of course disappeared at the difficult bit. We asked, and were directed to exit through customs and immigration, then go upstairs to what I assume was the domestic flight lounge. Yes they said, your baggage will be transferred to this flight too, they said, but more about that in later on.

The Naples flight also left on time (last time we changed at Milan, we missed our connecting flight and spent hours in a minibus). Alex decided he'd dare the window seat this time, and was much happier.

So at Naples we collected our baggage, minus one case which had become lost somewhere en route. I had already left the keys for the case padlocks by the metal detectors at Milan, so we only needed to break into one case! Most holiday flights are met by a coach which drops off the passengers at their respective hotels, but being different, we get a Mercedes from Marios Executive Cars to drive us to Sorrento. The driver points out all the sights on the hour long drive, and eventually we arrive at the Hotel.

Our hotel is pretty smart, and devoid of lively holidaymakers. No night club, disco or people like my daughter to disturb our sleep. Our room is on two levels, a huge double bed upstairs, and a single downstairs for Alex. The porter neatly chops the padlock off our lone case, and we settle in. There is time for a quick investigation of the local streets. It's not yet the main holiday season, so it's not too crowded. The streets are narrow, and the drivers enthusiastic, especially the scooters which have riders completely oblivious to their safety. No crash helmets, children sitting on the riders lap, they drive on any side of the road, nothing slows them down.

Italy is famous for ice-cream, the stuff you get in the UK is a travesty in comparison. It's not cheap, but good things never are. We locate the best local source, and test the product. Yum, but far more testing is required. Back to the hotel. It's right on the seafront, although there is a 200 foot to the 'beach'. I could sit on the terraces all day - blue sea, blue sky, and relative peace. We went to dinner, the restaurant windows have views of blue sky, blue waters, and Vesuvius. After lunch we try to find the ferry terminal. This involves going round in circles, and walking down steep steps, which we later have to walk up again. Next day we discover the hotel has a lift right down to the sea, so next time we use the lift and do the five minute walk along the sea front.

Finally back to the hotel, crash out and sleep for 11 hours.

Friday 31st May

Capri

Down to breakfast at 10.00 am. Thanks to the two air-conditioning units in our room, we all slept comfortably. The intention today is to visit Capri, an island further out in the bay. Down the lift to the 'beach', which has sparkly grey volcanic sand. Not many people down here, just as well because it's very small and probably artificial. It is surrounded by piers with sun-loungers, bars, etc., and very quiet and peaceful. Along the path to the 'Porto', we are lucky because a hydrofoil is leaving in five minutes time. It's about a twenty minute trip to Capri. The island is quite small, with only two small villages besides the port. On arrival, we are immediately encouraged to eat by numerous cafe owners, the marina is crammed full with such places. There is not much else here, so we catch the funicular railway to Capri town. This is full of tourist shops, selling a lot of jewellery and the usual stuff. It's quite crowded, goodness knows what it's like during the holiday season. However most tourists don't venture far, you only have to walk a little way along any street and it gets much quieter.

The main method of transfer is by tiny buses. These seat about a dozen people, with at least as many standing. Most passengers are Italian holiday-makers and locals. It's an interesting ride, as the streets are narrow and wind tightly up and down the rocky island. When the bus meets something larger than a scooter coming towards it, the vehicles seem to manage to pass with an inch or so clearance. Now and then there is not enough room, so both vehicles stop and the drivers gesture at each other until one of the reverses until they find space to pass. This is a difficult manouvre, since traffic soon queues up in both directions! Strangely, the sides of most vehicles are undamaged!

The other town on Capri is Anacapri, mostly narrow traffic-free streets. The town centre has the usual tourist shops, but you only have to walk up any side track to lose the tourists. Capri has many of these tracks running across the island, they are well-maintained, but very quiet - you don't meet many other walkers. Scenery is quite dramatic for a tiny island - and in spring the island is green and covered in wild flowers, very pretty.

At Anacapri there is a chair-lift to the highest point on the Island. It's only about 2000 metres, but it looks a fun ride. The chairs never stop, so you have about half a second to get on and off! Alex looks at this with horror, so we give it a miss. Instead there is a path which runs to the villa of some famous German author, so we join the Germans and walk along it. Just past the villa there is a fabulous view of the rest of the island below.

Capri has a long history. The Romans had palaces here, Augustus bought the island and called it Aprogopolis. His successor, Tiberius, turned the island into a land of decadence. He is reputed to have thrown people off the cliffs for entertainment. Capri was the capital of the Roman Empire between AD 22 and 37. Later on it was all but abandoned. Capri came under British rule in 1806, and was fortified like Gibraltar, but was lost to the Napoleon two years later.

Anyway, we continued along the path in the cliff. It turned into steps, and wound it's way down towards Capri. We must have walked down many hundreds of steps, my wife complained bitterly - her knees weren't up to the trek. Alex wasn't too happy either.

The complaining came to a crescendo just as the path crossed a main road.There was a bus stop, so we gave up the steps and hopped on a bus. The bus ride was not without its drama, as we met a large van at a narrow part of the road. Both drivers refused to reverse, but traded gestures. After a while the van driver relented, and the long line of traffic behind him had to move back too. We finally passed with about two inches to spare, and soon we were on our way back to the 'bus station'.

Back down the funicular to see the hydrofoil leave the jetty. There are various other ferries waiting there, but they all seem to going to Naples. However about 20 minutes later a large jet boat pulls in, so hundreds of people swarm on board, and before too long we are backin Sorrento.

That evening we had gained enough energy to go out for a walk. Like in Florence, all the locals promenade in the evening, so it's pretty busy in the streets. Most of the tourist shops are still open, and the bars are packed. But after 30 minutes we turn back and crash out for 10 hours good sleep.

Saturday June 1st

A quiet morning relaxing on the 'beach'. There is a little sand, but we sit on the hotel jetty, where there are rows of deckchairs and sun beds. It's very quiet, just a few bikini-clad girls that my wife failed to notice. Alex got pretty bored with this, so in the end we had to go out on the water in a pedal boat. I wasn't dressed for this, and got rather damp, and exercised my knee-joints which had just recovered from the steps at Capri. After an hour of this, we went back to the hotel to shower off the salt water and change into something dry.

In the afternoon we go to Pompeii. It's about a 30 minute trip by train, but first we have to find the station. Having done that, it's easy because Sorrento is a terminus, so all trains go to Pompeii. It takes about half an hour to get there. A single track line, the trains pass at the stations where the tracks split into two. One station is located in an almost unlit tunnel, another is on a viaduct high across a valley.

Pompeii Pompeii was a large town. Much is yet to be excavated, but what has been revealed is enough to wear you out, especially in the hot sun. Most houses are empty shells, although enough remains to get an idea of Roman living. Most of the contents have been removed to museums, but some buildings have been partly restored, with rebuilt roofs to preserve wall paintings. I took numerous pictures to show this, but for reasons yet to explain, these have been lost.

Pompeii has two theatres and a large amphitheatre. Here the gladiatorial contests took place - there is a preserved Roman painting showing one of these. Alex enjoyed running through the various tunnels under the seating - some were big enough for crowds to walk through, and others small and very dark. Next to this a huge stadium where the gladiators trained. (See the photo opposite) There has been some restoration here, the whole effect is very impressive.

Unfortunately Pompeii is decaying away, due to the effect of the elements, and the constant contact with the visitors. It's such a huge site that the cost of proper maintenance must be prohibitive. Something needs to be done here - the plaster is falling off walls and the masonry decaying. Thankfully much of Pompeii is still buried, and excavation will not restart until the problem of looking after what's already uncovered is solved.

We return on the train covered in dust and worn out. It's an early start tomorrow - to see the Roman artifacts in Naples, and the Solfatara.

Sunday 2nd June

Up at the crack of dawn, as today we need to be on a tour bus at 8.15 am. At the car park where the coaches start, a succession of large coaches arrive, goodness knows how they will fit down the narrow streets of Italy. But ours does, although almost immediately we are held up by a funeral procession. First two pickup trucks pass, laden with skyscrapers of flower arrangements. Then the hearse, and the family and friends walking behind - those in front are dressed very smartly, and those at the rear are in their working clothes. In Sorrento the dead are buried in the earth, but after eight years they dig them up again and interr the bones elsewhere. This way the graves in a small cemetry can be re-used so they never get full.

The roads out of Sorrento are lined with fruit trees. Oranges, lemons and olives. The lemons are caged in with fine plastic netting; this is to keep the rain from damaging the fruit, and to give some shade. It is so humid here that the fruit stays healthy and does not dry up - lemons that are the size of footballs give the proof.

On entering Naples we are told to remove jewellery etc., before we leave the coach - 30% of the Neopolitans are unemployed and street crime is rife. We are dropped outside the museum, which is first on our list.

Atlante After seeing the ruins of Pompeii, I was amazed by the quality and condition of the artifacts removed from there. We started with the sculptures and bronzes. Here were Roman emperors, Greek philosophers and the characters of Greek and Roman mythology. The figures were life-size, smaller, and really huge. Although nearly two thousand years old, many were in perfect condition, although with some the odd arm or head was missing. It was really quite something to see Athena, Plato, Ulysses, etc. I didn't really expect to be moved like this. On the next floor were the mosaics removed from the floors of Pompeiis villas. Once again, some of these were almost like new. Like the statues, workmanship was often fabulous, the colours bright and vivid. The Mosaics removed from each villa were displayed together on the walls of the museum. This was a pity in some ways, the Museum of London shows some mosaics on the floors of rooms contructed to house them, along with real and models of Roman furnishings. All the same they were impressive. I want mosaics at home!

Next we saw Roman glassware and ceramics. Some of the glass was obviously not of the standard of the statues, as glassmaking was not as well established. There were also displays of Jewellery and Silverware, from eating utensils to necklaces, all marvellous stuff. Finally we looked at Roman paintings.

I didn't know that such things existed, but here they were. The techniques were very different compared to renaissance and later periods, there were no oil or water colours as we know them. The guide explained about a multi layer base being built up, then colours being applied in a layer less than half a millimetre thick. This apparently dried in a few minutes, so artists had to work quickly. But the colours were sometimes vivid, although many were less so. The paintings showed scenes from mythology, although there are a few paintings from life, including the scene of gladiators at the amphitheatre I mentioned earlier.

Having spent a couple of hours in the museum, we were then given a tour of ancient Naples. Not much survives from its early days around 500BC, but this part of Naples contains buildings from the Grand Tour era - although we did see a clock tower built about 800AD. The streets were very narrow, but this didn't seem to stop traffic from using them. There was a mix a Fiats of various ages, scooter, mopeds, and the strange three-wheeled vans and pick-ups. These mixed in with us pedestrians, ignoring all road signs, traffic lights, but avoiding hitting each other somehow.

Walking briskly behing the energetic guide, we saw how closely people lived together, with their washing hanging out over the streets. We finally rested our weary legs at a cafe, where we eat magic pizza, entertained by England vs Sweden.

Afterward, it seems that the coach cannot pick us up outside the cafe as arranged. So we have to walk about half a mile uphill to the coach. Oh woe. Here I drop my guard in the rush to reach the coach, and feel my bag being ripped out of my hand - a passing scooter driver and passenger see an easy prey, and there goes my digital camera and all the holiday pictures.

While I dream of revenge to all scooters, the coach takes us out of Naples to the Sulfatara. This is the mouth of one of Europes only two mainland active volcanos. Although the last eruption was about 600 years ago, this is an eerie place. All around are little jets of steam escaping from the ground, the smell of sulphur is very strong. The guide throws a rock into the air, and when it lands there is a hollow sound and the ground shakes! It's OK he says, the ground is fifteen metres thick here. A few brave types jump up and down and shake the rest of us.

Further on we reach an area of much escaping gases. The resident volcanologist takes the children, including Alex, into this 'danger area', and waves rolled up newspapers over the vents. These burst into flames, and somehow stimulate the emission of gases. Phew, lets get out of here into the fresh air.

So back to the coach. If Italy was run by the British, none of this would be possible.

We are pretty worn out by now, and nod off on the coach. In the evening we eat and relax, and sleep well again.

Monday 3rd June

Well today we are to see Europes other active volcano, Vesuvius. The whole of the region around Naples is built on sixty-five volcanos, all but two are inactive. Just as well, millions live here. Several towns are built in the crater of the largest, and the main roads run through it.

This region is also subject to earthquakes. There are many buildings which have been damaged beyond repair, the last major tremor being only a few years ago. The railway viaduct we crossed when we went to Pompeii was also damaged - and the centre concrete support no longer reaches the bridge! They have just pushed a few bricks into the gap, the guide explains that this is Italian style bridge repair technique.

Vesuvius Vesuvius is not a big volcano, it's a little over 4200 feet high. The crater is huge, nearly 2000 feet across and 650 feet deep. The coach takes us up most of this. On the way, the guide explains how building is illegal in this area, but there are plently of houses around the foot. A villa here costs less than a garage in Sorrento, she tells us. We are then turfed out of the coach to climb the rest of the way on foot.

The climb is not too bad, and takes about 40 minutes. The view from the top is stupendous. You can see the Naples region stretched out before you, miles of it. Several million people to spew rock and lava on to. The local government has evacuation plans, but accepts that the narrow roads are not up to it. They are either prepared to die, or believe that Vesuvius will not erupt in their lifetime. The ground is scientifically monitored here, so maybe the people will get enough warning.

All around is volcanic rock, much of which glitters in the sun. There are lizards, and insects - flying beetles, little flies, butterflies. Not much vegetation at the summit, but a few hundred feet down there are grasses and wild flowers, lower down there is undisturbed woodland.

I would have taken a few megabytes of pictures here... (When I get back to Sorrento I buy a cheapish 35mm camera - the instructions are in Italian, Dutch, Greek, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Russian, but not English). However I buy a few postcards of the views I wanted to photograph, they must have been taken from aircraft or by someone with very long legs. I looked around for the fancy coloured bits of rock that volcanos are supposed to spew out, but they'd all been collected up for the shops to sell.

You can walk all around the crater of Vesuvius, but since it's over a mile, we only walked a little way round. But it had been well worth coming up here. Alex had been a little concerned that an eruption might have started, but it didn't. If you looked carefully you could see wisps of smoke down in the crater, but there was far far less than at the Solfatara. The air smelled clean too.

Going down to the coach was easier than walking up, but we were pleased to sit down and rest our legs. The trip back was uneventful.

In the evening I bought a sturdy shoulder bag to replace the one ripped off me in Naples. The shops have interesting opening times here - although the tourist shops are open all the time, the 'normal' shops have more restricted hours, something like 8.30 am to 1.00 pm, and 5.00 pm to 7.00 pm. We had a look round the local supermarket - Fresco - hoping to see super cheap Olive oil to take home. The best stuff was about €5 to €6, a little cheaper than at home, but generally it was no cheaper than in Tesco. Most products seemed about the same cost too. Maybe they are cheaper in out of town grocers?

Tuesday 4th June

Today we have booked a coach trip for the 'Amalfi Drive'. Although this can be done very cheaply on the local bus, we get a guide and a boat trip too. The road and views along the other side of the promontory are reputed to be most spectacular, and it certainly lived up to its expectation. Along here live or lived many film stars and other wealthy types, no more building is permitted and prices are sky high.

The Bay of Salerno is sunnier that the Bay of Naples, as it faces south. There is no plateau however,and the villages are built into the sides of the rock. There was no road here until the 1960's, but the villages have been here for hundreds of years. Using man and donkey power, building materials were taken up the cliff faces and somehow fastened to the rock. The road starts off narrow, and gets even narrower. There are about 1200 bends, many of which require the coach to move back and forward to get round. The road is partly built on solid rock, and partly glued onto the side of it. The brakes and hooter are in constant use, not unusual in Italy, but more so here.

The coach takes us south through the mountains, it takes only a few minutes to the other side. The sea is blue, with two islands not far from the coast. One of the islands was owned by Rudolph Nureyev - it is small with just the one villa. As the coach travels along the road, I wonder why the Italian did not build it wider. Luckily the coaches are only allowed in one direction, although we meet one with a permit to travel in the other direction. Vehicles pass with fractions of an inch to spare, and they say that drivers are taught to reverse before being allowed to drive forwards.

The view is really amazing. This coast is very fertile, and all along there are terraces growing oranges, lemons, olives and walnuts. The terraces were hand built, and the regions volcanic soil carried up there. They are not watered, as the humid atmosphere provides all that is needed.

Positano The first main town is Positano. Built on steep rock faces hundreds of years ago, it is a jewel. Houses and shops cover the steep cliffs, they all seem to be built on top of each other. The locals reach their houses by steps which climb skywards for hundreds of feet. There are, of course, all the usual facilities. There are shops along the road (no pavement though), electricity, fresh water, and presumably drainage. There is some sort of sewage treatment, as nothing nasty goes into the sea, but I couldn't see anything. Perhaps it is hidden in the rocks somewhere?

The coach carries on to aother village where we stop for 30 minutes or so. The view in all directions is fantastic. The bar/shop that we stop at seems to be much bigger inside than it looks, cut deep into the rocks. We stop here because the road is wide enough for about three coaches to park without stopping others from passing. It's first come, first served, so if all the space is taken, the coaches have to carry on to Amalfi.

When we get to Amalfi, there is a proper car and coach park. There is enough flat land for wider roads, and more buildings on the same level. There is another shop lined street too. Some buildings are about a thousand years old - there is even a cathedral.

Amalfi is not so pretty as Positano, but it's a more practical town, there's much more room. Hundreds of years ago Amalfi was a republic, and much larger, with a population of about 80,000, but in 1343 most of it collapsed into the sea. It has a small harbour, and we were taken for a boat trip to see the region from the sea.

Here we saw the old villas and monastries in between the towns. Most of these have been converted into expensive hotels, some of Italys best are along here. Others are owned by successful writers, artists and film stars. We saw Roger Moores fabulous place, converted out of four buildings from the Norman period. This was at sea level, but many homes were hundreds of feet above the sea, often solitary or in small groups. Some were originally monastic, which explains their isolation, but how do todays occupiers cope with this? Getting to these places seemed almost impossible, the home of Gore Vidal, the American writer is one such remote villa.

Scala The boat trip over, it was time for lunch. Our Norwegian guide took us a little off the beaten track to a village called Scala, just outside Ravello. Scala has no tourist facilities, save a restaurant. This is a family concern, staffed by three generations of the owners family. They grow all their own food, make their own fresh pasta (southern Italy generally uses mass-produced dry pasta), and even grow the grapes for the wine. The simple meal we had there was probably the best I have eaten in Italy, and cost just £7 each, including a litre of wine between us. Mary couldn't quite manage to finish the bottle (Alex and I don't drink).

Having eaten, on to Ravello. This town also has enough flat ground for a conventional town square. There were some mysterious rules for coaches, it seems that if they stop at the wrong place the driver gets fined €150. Although Italians don't usually pay fines, this one is different somehow. So the coach drives through a tunnel illegally and drops us off. We then walk along the road, with fantastic coastal views, and through another tunnel into the town. Ravello

The only views of the coastline from here are from hotels and villas. Here is the thousand year old villa where Richard Wagner wrote most of Parsifal - you can get in the gardens for €4. Since my cash situation is rapidly declining, instead I found a villa garden with an open gate, and builders in residence. As I say, there's a wonderful view here.

There are many old buildings in Ravello, although like most of southern Italy it's difficult to tell, as repairs are rarely done here. Besides farming the fertile soil, there are a few crafts carried out here - pottery and jewellery making can be seen in action. Soon it's time to leave, and we go back to the pick-up point, the coach leaves just as the police arrive. Since the roads around here are one-way for coaches, we follow the road back over the mountains. Still spectacular views over woods and forests, down into deep valleys, along narrow roads. A couple of times we meet a large vehicle coming towards us. The drivers exchange gestures and colourful Neoplolitan language, but our driver never gives way! Whole lines of traffic have to back up to let us pass.

So, a very good day. Tomorrow we planned to rest.

Wednesday 5th June

The general idea was to take it easy. It's rather cloudy in the morning, but still quite warm. There is some rain, a few drops now and then but nothing to require coats. Alex decides to try catching fish with a net, but has no luck. He sees the fish, crabs, shrimps and the like, all just out of the nets reach. I wandered along the rocky shore - there are many tunnels in the rock, some modern, and others centuries old. One large one is faced with Roman brickwork. Most lead nowhere, although it looked like they were the outlets for rainwater drainage from the town above.

As there is no direct sun, we decide to visit Herculanium, an excavated Roman town near Naples. It's about twenty stops on the train (costs about a pound), and takes about an hour. The site is located in the modern town of Ercolano, which looks like a dodgy Naples backwater. It's a few hundred yards walk to the 'Scavi' and we get there without being robbed, pay the €10 entrance, and enter an amazing place.

Herculaneum Herculanium was covered in volcanic mud when Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. The town was on the coast (now some way inland), and the part now excavated consists of many expensive Roman villas. They are generally in better condition than those at Pompeii, although like at Pompeii, the site is bearing the strain of public access and deteriorating. If a site like this was found in the UK, the public would be kept at arms length, but here in Italy they can walk around a good deal of the dwellings, and write their names over the Roman wall paintings.

Having said that, you can get a real picture of the wealthy Romans life. You can walk on the very same mosaics that the Roman elite walked on, and look at the wall paintings that only existed in the finest villas. There are private shrines in many villas, almost totally intact. You can see the same wooden clothes press that was in use almost two thousand years ago. One shop has its upper floor lined with amporas (large containers for liquids live olive oil and wine). The bakers has its mills still in place. Some rooms have ornately modelled ceilings, and in others you can see that typical wooden door construction has changed little over time.

The baths are still quite intact. There is a cold bath, a circular room where you can step into the bath (now empty!) and look at the paintings on the walls. The hot bath for the men and for the women are larger and still show their decoration, the ceiling plaster still above you. There is a changing room with many alcoves for the bathers clothes.

Herculaneum Only a little of Herculanium has been excavated, the rest lies under the modern town, whose buildings seem to teeter on the edge over the Roman town. some rooms are still solid with the solidified mud, but little new excavation is taking place. Three or four years ago, when my wife lasted visited, they were slowly removing the mud from a boathouse. Inside could be seen the bodies and bones of inhabitants who tried to hide from the mud. Some scrolls have been excavated from what seems to have been a private library, most of which is still buried. We saw some of these scrolls in the Naples museum, they looked completely distorted and black, but using a process of examination using different light wavelengths and filters, many have been deciphered.

Although the day had started dull and rainy, by now the sun had broken through and it was quite hot. Alex soon tired of our boring visit, and our feet were also tiring, so we returned to the station. Walking back was a bit unnerving, as various eyes followed us, and children shouted things and even tried to trip us up with their feet. We were quite relieved to get to the station to the relative safety of an uncrowded platform.

There was a fifteen minute wait for a train, and we surveyed the lives of the local inhabitants of Ercolano. The station was surrounded by blocks of flats, generally with crumbling balconies, even though they are all quite modern. It was pretty noisy, people shouting and scooters scooting. We got on the first train, even though it was the wrong one, and had to get off and wait for the next. Interestingly, we did this at Torre del Greco, the site of the British Army hospital for those who suffered from mental injury during the Second World War. Spike Milligan stayed here in 1944, as one of the lesser 'loonies'. During the 1944 eruption of Vesuvius he actually visited the deserted Pomeii not fat away, it must have been quite eerie.

The stations on this part of the Circumvesuvia railway are pretty basic, no timetables, no train indications, nothing but about three forms to sit on. The track is pretty new and looked well maintained, something pretty unique in Italy! Pompeii station is better equipped, more seating (just), and station announcements in Italian and English.

Thursday 6th June

Today it's cloudy, but no rain. We have to be at the Porto to go on the Green Cruise at 9.15 am. Of course there are passengers waiting in groups everywhere, but little indication (unless you have done it before) of what boat goes where. After been accepted by one tour guide, and almost going back to Capri, we realise in time and find the right crowd (of two) to join. Marine Club The MN Marine Club is a modest-sized vessel, with one fully enclosed deck, a sun deck and a covered deck at similar levels, and a top sun deck, the latter being closed. The sun deck has four rows of deck chairs, facing each other, and covered deck has deck chairs down the sides, and tables and chairs down the middle. There is plenty of room to move around, which I do, as does Alex, not who stays still for long.

The first landing point is on the Island of Procida, it's about one hour fifty minutes to get there. There is a wind today, so the boat rolls a little, not enough to upset anyone.

Procida is a small island, fairly flat and so unlike Capri. We have an hour here, not much time to do anything but get something to eat, and buy a few postcards. It's a typical Italian port, the buildings looked like they needed attention, and it was dotted with restuarants and cafes. We walk up and down the street a bit, and go back to the boat. While we do this, our boat has to sail outside the little harbour to allow a huge car ferry to come in. This it does, unloads somecars, loads up some different ones, and sails away.
Procida
The Marine Club returned to pick us up, and soon we were away again. Next stop is a bay on the other side of the island. Here the anchor is dropped for half an hours swimming. A platform and steps was lowered, and then slowly the victims appear. Initially three men in their fifties appear, and gallantly dive off into the water below. They seemed to enjoy themselves, so after ten minutes a man of about forty follows them, then a much younger man dives in. Shortly after this, lo and behold, the only female volunteer, an English girl in a bikini. She jumps off into the water with a scream, and then out-swims all the men with a very powerful front crawl. All the swimmers were accomplished, the men did effortless breast strokes, not needing to use their legs - it reminded me of the years I spent at Maidenhead Swimming Club, trying to swim - and discovered I was a born non-swimmer. Sea-water is denser, so maybe I would have fared better in that, but there's no way I would jump in to a sea that might be a thousand feet deep! Anyway the swimmers eventually all return, so off we sail again, this time for Ischia, a rocky Island just a short distance away.

As we leave the bay and turn towards Ischia, the boat rises and crashes down again, The passengers on the sun deck were drenched by the sea rising up and over them, and those sitting at the tables on the covered deck found themselves tipped over and surrounded by a mass of sliding tables and chairs. After a minute the waves abated, and people were helped up again. The boat slowly moved in to the little harbour at Ischia Ponte.

We were then told of a change of plan. It was originally intended to leave here later and sail to S. Angelo, where tenders would take us ashore, but the sea was too rough for the tenders. So we had a coach tour of the little island instead.

Ischia is a very green island, with a lot of vines, oranges, lemons and olives. There are hot springs and gas blow-holes - the spring water is radioactive! There is an old castle, started about 500BC, and looking like it would last for ever. We have several stops to see local attractions, and to taste some lemon and lime liquer. Ischia used to be independent of the mainland, but now the water and electricity comes from Naples, and there is a steady stream of people to and from Naples.

Ischia has a strong connection with the Germans. I'm not sure why, but boat loads of them were on the island.
Procida
Sir William Walton, the composer of our Queens coronation music, lived here, and his widow is still a resident. Many of the other villas are now five-star hotels, so presumably this is a place people want to stay at. The climate is pleasant, and there are good beaches, sparsely populated when we visited. I had intended to have a good nap on the return two-hour voyage, but it was not to be. The cause of the problem was the Scirocco, a strong warm wind that appeared today. About five minutes out of the harbour and it hit us. This Mediteranean mill-pond had grown waves. When we hit the first one, the tables, chairs and those seated at them were sent flying, only the deck chairs remained in place. The sea was flying over the bow, where Alex and I were sitting. After fifteen minutes like this, sick bags were handed out. Mary, Alex and I were OK, but Alex was getting fed up with being washed by the sea, and a little frightened by the waves.

This continued for a good deal of our trip, it was only when the coast started coming into view that the sea eased up a bit and we could move around upright again. Several sick-bags were in use, and one poor girl had her head in a bucket all the return trip. Alex had disappeared down to the enclosed deck when it became safe to descend the ladder. I stayed on top - I need to see the horizon to keep me feeling OK.

During all the action, my phone rang. It was Mary, who was on the sun deck at the far end of the boat. Though no land was in sight, mobile phones still worked OK. One English woman had her office phone her. Strangely it was the Italian women who were being sick. Most people were fine, but I must say that after over two hours of being tossed around I was glad to get back to dry land.

Alex and Mary were fine, and I soon felt up to going for dinner, although the land was still tossing about for the rest of the evening as far as I was concerned. Generally it had been a good day, with a bit of excitement on the way back.

Friday 7th June

OK, so today we will do very little. This meant we could get up when we felt like it, in practice about eight-thirty. After breakfast, we explored the town a bit, and found the Marina Grande, where the local fishermen kept their boats. There is a beach here, although there are small boats pulled up on it, it is certainly a genuine working beach. There are a few small shops, and at the far end, the restaurants. These are large concerns built on wooden platforms over the sea and sand, and more-or-less deserted. I presume that they fill up a bit in the summer season.

There are many paths around here, usually narrow and often with slopes and steps. We were considering walking to a ruined Roman site, not far away, but Alex was complaining about it so in the end we decided otherwise. He doesn't like exploring, he gets afraid that we might get lost. The sun had come out, so we went back to the hotel 'beach' where he happily tried to catch the fish that kept well clear of his net. Mary and I sat around reading. It's likely that we will go to Amalfi on the bus tomorrow, as Mary saw something she liked in a shop there. It's about an hour and a half ride along the coast road, but very pretty. Must remember to sit on the seaward side of the bus.

Saturday 8th June

As intended we went to Amalfi on the bus. We could have gone by ferry, but Alex was none too happy about that. The bus goes along the coast road, serving various towns including Positano, Praiano and Amalfi. Amalfi is about eighty-five minutes away, and the fare was €2.12, about £1.40. That's about the same as the bus from Langley into Slough!

Thus it's a cheap way to visit these towns, with picturesue scenery on the way. There are a few things to do in Amalfi, although it's only a small town. There is a proper beach, boat trips, and some historic buildings, including a cathedral dating back a thousand years or more. The cathedral is normally closed except during services, but today the doors were open so we went in. Like many Italian churches it is ornately decorated inside and out. There were a small group of very well-dressed people up near the altar, and we soon realised why the church was open when the organist played the Wedding March! Cathedral organs are impressive instruments, so we stayed and listened for a few minutes before we left the silly fools to tie the knot!
Amalfi
There must have been other weddings that day, as a photograher was posing another couple in wedding outfits around the town square and by the sea. We had some lunch, and obligatory ice-creams, and explored a little. Along this coast there are many watch towers built by the Normans, and there's one here. They were built as part of a defence against invaders, I forget who. Some have been opened to the public, and others are part of expensive dwellings owned by film stars. There are also some sea-grottos, caves in the rock where the light and water are very pretty.

Anyway Alex was a bit bored so we left earlier than intended and went back to Sorrento. I did a bit of reading, and Alex caught a starfish with his net. Our holiday was now drawing to a close, in less than 24 hours we would be on the way home. So we will pack our bags tonight, leaving us free for some last minute shopping and Italian ice-cream in the morning. We are due to be picked up at 1.00pm, whether by another posh taxi, or a coach containing Beryl and Arthur from Grimethorpe and the Hartlepool bowls team, I do not know (when we went to Malta the summer after we married, we shared the flight with Reading Football Club!).

Sunday 9th June

This morning we got up at a reasonable hour, and went down to breakfast for the last time. We had planned a brief walk around the town to get a few last minute things, and we had a few hours to do this in. So I had a cooked breakfast, plenty of it, in case I didn't get another decent meal today. Well, the trip around town was curtailed, because it was pouring with rain! But it kindly stopped for an hour, so we got all we needed, and had a final Italian ice-cream. Back at the hotel we finished packing, and cleared our room.

We were provided with a taxi to the airport, and enjoyed the torrential rain on the way. This didn't seem to deter the Neopolitans, because at the autostrade toll-booths there was a huge queue stretching for a couple of miles. The driver told us that on Sundays they head out of Naples, for a day in more pleasant surroundings.

Anyway, we were soon at the airport, checked in, and made sure our luggage had the correct tags so that it was transerred to the Heathrow flight at Milan. It was about twenty minutes to boarding, so we had some more food and drink just in case. No worries, the flight left on time and we were soon in Milan.

There was no rain at Milan, but we were inside anyway, and had a two hour wait. Malpensa airport had a good selection of shops to look round, including a so-called "duty-free" shop where the prices were higher than anywhere else in Europe. However there were plenty of goods that never make it to the UK, Italian style was very evident here (as elsewhere). However we soon got bored and sat down and read 'till we could board.

The flight home was fine, and we got a meal on board. We were a bit late leaving Milan, and missed our "slot" at Heathrow, so we spent half an hour circling round London. There was little cloud, and it was still light, and we were able to see Londons landmarks - the Dome, the Eye, Big Ben, etc.

Well, back home now, and nothing to look forward to. Except that the washing machine has packed up, I've got a St. Bernards School uniform price list to deal with (Blazers at £85+), new outside doors and windows to be installed (this entails re-routing TV and telephone cables, and no doubt demands for re-decoration...), Chris to be brought home from Uni along with three years worth of huge paintings, and back to work.

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