Friday, September 2, 2011

Living Like Movie Stars

Travel fatigue is slowly starting to wave teasingly our way, battering it’s eyelashes and looking on with a come-hither gaze.  When we were in London, we would leave the hostel at 10am and be home 11pm. Granted it was to avoid the horrible hostel we were staying in but it was easy done and we loved our time there. We planned our trip so that there would be plenty of slower rest stops among the busy see-and-do cities, which is probably why it’s taken 3 months for the 22 stops we’ve made so far to start affecting us. This last leg of the trip was planned at a slower pace than the first leg was, anticipating the tiredness we might feel, but even so, we’re getting lazy.

After our little holiday in Cormatin it was hard to get back into the swing of things and I anticipated Santorini to be the same. I mentally readied myself to jump back into exploring Italy, wanting to make the most of our time there. On our first morning though, Courts was not budging. We bought a pile of second hand books for 2 Euro each at the hotel in Athens and I’ll readily admit that while engrossed in them I would forget all about Italy. Courts is in the middle of the Wheel of Time series though and it will be a long time before he emerges from the depths of them. While I showered, he read.

When I was clean and talking about breakfast, he decided he wasn’t going anywhere without clean undies, and unbeknownst to me, he had none left. This was non-negotiable so as he kept reading, I took the washing up to the shop (nasty uphill walk through the massive camp we’re in) and got milk for breakfast as well. I made breakfast, he ate while reading. I made coffee and hot chocolate, he drank while reading. Eventually when the washing was due to be finished he closed the book for a minute – there was no way I was walking all the way there again when he could ride the bike.

While he was up at the laundry, I packed our daypack and then had little else to do but read myself, knowing once I started I’d be in an uphill battle to stop again when we wanted to leave. Our plans of getting to Pompeii were about as long gone as the sunrise but we were still wanting to get out and explore the Amalfi Coast. We eventually left at 1pm and set the GPS to take us to Positano, the closest of the well known towns along the coast (and the setting for the scenes in Under the Tuscan Sun when she follows the hot boy to the white terraced houses on the beach).

The GPS hates me and I’m deleting it off the phone the second we drop off the bike. It would tell me had driven straight past our next turn when the only thing we had passed was a foot wide alley between grape vines. I told it we were a car instead of a bike and it set us off in another direction. Despite thinking we were car-width it still took us down a cobbled winding alley that two bikes would have barely managed to pass each other in, let alone a single car fitting one way. When it broke out onto a main road, it was the same main road we had left 10 minutes earlier, just further down. Eventually, with little thanks to the GPS, we found the windy road that runs along the coast.

I was terrified of this road prior to leaving for our trip. The roads are narrow, corners sharp, drivers insane and cliffs steep. The guy at reception however said the best way to see the coast was bike because the bus was slow and hot and the stops just outside each town with a walk to get down into them. He said people hired scooters from him to ride the road so we would be fine. He was right, if only because Courtney is a good rider and, being the week after the 2 week Italian national holiday, the road was not too busy.

We intended to stop in Positano but it was stupidly difficult to find a parking spot on the windy one way road through town, with all the obvious spots already full of scooters. We kept going, past Praiano and eventually stopping for something to eat 1km shy of Amalfi town itself. Outside the eatery we were accosted by a very outgoing Italian man and his 3 much shyer friends. He fed us chips and got excited about New Zealand (the only two words he understood) and after I escaped to get us a table, he also grabbed Courtney’s crotch not once but twice. The man’s friends told Courts he was an Italian TV star, which I guess we’ll never know for sure.

Lunch was awesome though, real Italian pizza followed by real Italian gelato. We discovered for the first time that many Italian eateries charge a cover charge of 2-4 Euro so everything is not as cheap as it seems. We ate overlooking a bay with crystal clear water we could see through from the top of our cliff. A restaurant rented out loungers on the beach and we found out from our waiter the whole bay was only accessible by boat. We watched, slightly amused, as a couple found this out the hard way, walking down the steps that lead ¾ of the way down the cliff only to discover that after this point the steps had been washed away.

Continuing on to Amalfi town we found ourselves in the midst of a unique traffic jam. The narrow roads and arrogant driving of the Italians meant there were two busses trying to be inside a one-lane tunnel. One bus, the one facing us,  was more successful than the other and so we found ourselves backing up the road to create enough space for passing. Police were involved, directing the traffic, and one of the bus drivers in particular was rather vocal when cars were slow to back up.

We made it through the tunnel soon enough and finally found easily accessible beaches, near the ferry port. With full intentions to swim we looked for parking but needed to turn around to do so. Before we could, I spotted a sign for Ravello, a small town we wanted to visit and so it was up 5 km of windy roads into the mountains that we went. The entire coast is covered in lemon trees, clinging to the steep terraced cliffs and mountainsides, but nowhere moreso than Ravello. We wandered into the village’s main square but ended up sitting somewhere down an alley way nutting out the ramifications of the bad moods that had plagued us since the ferry incident.

There is no better way to resolve a tense discussion than free Limoncello. We had been told it would be far different than what we had tasted at home and they were right – it is way stronger. We spent a long time in the little Limoncello shop, picking out gifts to take home and watching them bottle the liqueur in the back room. An English family with 2 small boys came in to look around and we described the taste of Limoncello as they waited for someone to give them a taster.

Courts and I spent a good 10 minutes being entertained by their confident little boys, one of which turned to Courtney without so much as an introduction and said in his spritely English accent “Boys are supposed to be taller than girls!”. We spun stories about how he had stopped eating his vegetables and therefore stopped growing and were repaid with indepth discussion on the contrasts between each boys appetite. One ate eggs, one ate cheese, no one ate zucchini and so on. There was also debate as to why, if the younger boy ate more veges, he was still shorter than the older of the two. Eventually with little English and much arm flailing we were essentially told to purchase or leave. The English family left, and we purchased lots of carefully wrapped goodies.

The Amalfi Coast features in lots of movies, Under the Tuscan Sun and I think maybe The Talented Mr Ripley too. Kim Kardashian left her honeymoon on Capri two days before we arrived and Tara Reid left Santorini just before we got there too. Living the lives of the rich and famous are also animals galore. Just like our other Mediterranean experiences, there are strays everywhere, and friendly ones too. There are thousands of lizards, who happily pose for photos before scuttling off.

Still, even living a taste of the lives of the rich and famous, it’s the simple pleasures that make it worth it. The strays lie in the shade of monuments and in the way of tourists photos, not a care in the world. We meanwhile video the sunset as we drive away from Ravello, sip Granite di Limon (like a slushy) in the shade of the cliffs, and cook chicken on the Billy for our sandwiches at dinnertime, with views of the Bay of Naples. It’s hard to find fault in it, if you forget about the Italian drivers.