Southern Italy

April 13 – 27, 2016

We spent two weeks in Germany with Kerstin, Julian and the family.  Since they would rather I not include pictures of the children, I will just skim over some of the things we did.


The first week or so the weather was lovely; we reveled in the fresh smell of spring.  Not having experienced spring at this latitude in a long time, I loved the crisp, clean air and all the flowers, wild and cultivated, that had recently burst upon the scene.  Spain had a dry beauty about it, whereas central Europe of course was greener, moist and I wished I could bottle the aromas.

Julian works from home when he is not traveling and since he was not able to take any time off work, we decided that we would disturb the running of the household less if we stayed in an Airbnb  (of course the children were still in school and kindergarten) .  We found a very nice one just a couple of kilometers away (1.2 miles) and it was right next to a forest with a stream, meadows and walking trails.  And the kids enjoyed one of the many playgrounds dotted around the area.

We tried to help out by picking the children up from school and being involved in their afternoon activities.  They have grown and developed so quickly between visits, it always takes us a while to “catch up” with them !

DSC_6362 After about 10 days we decided to take a little break to travel into the countryside.  Having last visited Heidelberg in 2002 when Kerstin & Julian had got married, it was a good place to start and stopped for a coffee…

…..and then we followed the Neckar River, driving through sleepy towns and lush countryside.


At lunch time we stopped in this beautiful little town and I enjoyed the white asparagus which was in season (I can’t remember what Jouko had!).

Unfortunately the last week was cold and rainy and before we knew it, it was time to say a temporary “good-bye”; we’ll be back in August.  A few days before we left, I picked up a bug from Alina.  Although she just had a runny nose, to those of us no longer accustomed to these childhood bugs, it was lethal.





On the day we were to leave, April 27, Lufthansa went on strike.  Fortunately we were able to redirect our flight to Milan. As we flew over the northern Italian Alps, the clouds parted to give us this beautiful, tantalizing glimpse of their majesty.  So convenient!


Unfortunately the rain followed us down through Umbria, where we spent our second night.  Poor Jouko!  I wanted him to stop every time I saw a hilltop town, not realizing that we would be seeing hundreds more.  Now, although we are still enchanted by them, we take them a little more for granted, but I hope to never lose the awe of first spotting one in the distance and then marveling at how they managed to lug the building supplies up those hills all those centuries ago.


We were so fortunate that the rain held off for our visit to Assisi, which dates back to the 13th century.  (It was designated a World Heritage Site in 2000.)  For decades a concrete St Francis commanded a prime spot in our garden!  I have treasured it and now was our chance to visit the city where he was born in 1208 and lived such a remarkable life.


Starting our visit on top of the hill, at the ruins of the castle, gave us a bird’s eye view of the city nestled into the hillside.


Basilica di San Francesco – construction began in 1253.


Ooops!  One is not supposed to take pictures inside, so I dutifully put my phone back in my pocket but managed to get this one shot.  Of course this was right at the beginning of our trip, and I was afraid that I might never see anything so beautiful again………boy, was I naive!

Many pilgrims visit every year, but some were especially note-worthy.

Despite the throngs of visitors, it remains very much a functioning place of worship. In 2013, Pope John Paul ll hosted a peace conference here.

After getting a panini sandwich for lunch, we knew we had to leave if we wanted to make it to our next B & B before dark.  Hopefully we can return some day to spend time in towns like Spoleto. The beautiful countryside continued all the way down to Avezzano,where we were to spend the next 2 nights.  East of Rome, it is in beautiful valley surrounded by mountains.


Again we had chosen the place through the Airbnb website, but chose to use the Bed and Breakfast option since we would only be there a couple of nights (in other words, we did not want to have to stock a pantry for such a short time).  The place proved to be a huge disappointment; the pictures on the internet were much better than the place was in reality.  Oh well, all part of the experience!  Also, I was now running a low-grade fever, so not feeling too well.


Our host’s son suggested we go to Celano for dinner, a hill town across the valley and he offered to call ahead to make a reservation.

The restaurant wasn’t easy to find, tucked away up on the side of a hill, in a cave-like setting.  This was our first real experience in an authentic Italian restaurant.  The chef came to our table and with his limited English and hand gestures, he decided what we would have to eat (we witnessed him do this at every other table, too.  There was no menu).  And the servings just kept coming and coming!  Some of it we tried and others we enjoyed.  Altogether it was a memorable evening we shall never forget.


And the view wasn’t bad, either.

Over breakfast the next day, the young man again gave us a suggestion of somewhere to visit. (I have to interject here that the young man, in his mid 30s, had alopecia.  We had a good chat!)


In 2009 the beautiful mountain city of L’Aquila experienced a horrific earthquake. Over 300 people died.

We walked around a large area of the Old City that was like a ghost town in an iron girdle!  The beautiful buildings were being held together by external metal scaffolding, so that they could be repaired from the inside out.  There are heart-breaking accounts of the elderly being moved into new housing outside the city; the corruption of the officials over-seeing the reconstruction and the length of time it is taking to get the repairs done.

DSC_6698Consulting the map, we decided to take the scenic route back and it was well worth while; very austere in places.


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That night was probably my worst.  I threw up and was very disoriented.  But the next morning we moved out and while Jouko expertly navigated our way south, I slept in the car.


Salerno is either considered the gateway to the Amalfi Coast or the end of it, either way it lies south of the peninsula and seems oblivious of the famous and touristy coastline sprouting off to it’s west.


Unable to park any closer than 1/2 hr away from the pedestrian-only Old City, our host met us in her car and transported us to the apartment. Over the next 3 weeks, whenever we used the car it meant a 1/2 hr healthy walk there and back!  And free parking spots were not always easy to find, but as we have come to say,  “It’s all part of the adventure”!

Situated on the 4th floor, it was a very nice, modern apartment with everything one needed, including a washing machine.  Via Mercanti was the main thorough fare through the Old City.  As we exited the building we were always fascinated to look around and see the flow of people meandering through the streets.

One interesting thing we had to deal with was the disposal of the trash.  The city wanted everything separated.  Our hosts had printed a schedule of  when plastics, glass and paper should be taken down – by 9pm on the stated day.  Taken down where?  Our host informed us that we should just dump the bag outside the main door downstairs and it would be collected by the next morning.  That seemed very strange but for the most part it worked.  Occasionally the collection took a little longer.

Fortuitously, the first 4-5 days we were there were cloudy and rainy.  Since I was now dealing with a hacking cough, I could rest knowing that it wouldn’t be pleasant to be outside anyway!  We did venture out for short spurts and discovered, in my opinion, an authentic old city still retaining it century’s old charm.  I loved it’s grittiness (Jouko was not as taken with it as I was , although he certainly enjoyed our there stay).  The fact that we seemed to be the only tourists was also nice and  we tried to blend in the best we could.

Whether it was the coughing or just general weakness, I did something to my back which set me back a few days.  Rest was the only solution.  It continued to be cool and the weather unpredictable, so we didn’t feel as though we were missing anything.




The first sunny day that came along and I was feeling up to it, we took off for a visit Ravello.  It sits high above the town of Amalfi.

IMG_7096It has been a destination for poets and artists and the rich and famous for centuries.  And I can see why – with views like this!


The little alley-ways, filled with shops and restaurants were overflowing with tourists, so in an attempt to escape the crowds, we visited the gardens tucked into the mountain side.



The Bay of Salerno spread out before us as we drove back.  It is stressful driving along those narrow, twisty roads with scooters, cars and buses all vying for space.  So, we decided that we would try taking a boat the next time we wanted to visit!



It was a great idea to take the boat (even though they allowed far more people on board than they should have!); it was breath-taking to view the rugged coastline from the sea.


Like all the little towns along the coast, it is tucked into the mountainside and just looked so comfortable sitting there with a view over the Mediterranean.

Once again, although we thought that May was early enough to avoid the crowds, others didn’t get that message and the narrow, quaint streets with their shops and restaurants were jam-packed.

So we climbed up and up to look for somewhere quiet to get a bite to eat.


I found a place to sit in the shade while Jouko popped into a barber shop for a much needed hair cut.  He got a great hair cut, eyebrows trimmed, plus mustache, ears, nose – the lot!

Right across from where I had been sitting, we had a nice quiet lunch and even got to see the chef come out to greet his young son.


As we made our way back to the harbor, I was fortunate to get to this shot just has the bridal pair were exiting the church!  And those rounded roofs are filled with sand, which acts as a barrier against the hot summer sun.


The light was just right as we made our way back along the coast.



Again we stopped at the town of Amalfi, where some folk disembarked and others got on.



It lies on the north west side of the peninsula, so we thought we would make a loop in the car, returning along the Amalfi coast.  At first Jouko was going to go on the motorway and main roads, but I suggested we follow the back roads and so we took off.  Well, it took us 2 hrs to drive the “back roads” which proved to be more like one long, busy town.  No quiet lanes!  But we will always look back on this particular adventure and laugh.

 Drivers in southern Italy are a breed all their own.  We had already figured out that all road rules and signs are just “suggestions”; a stop sign just means that the other driver will stop (and when you stop, the line of cars behind the one you let through, just keeps coming).  Speed limits are just “suggestions” – drive at whatever speed you like!  Solid white lines down the middle of the road are just “suggestions”.  It actually means that you can overtake – whether or not it is safe!  “No parking” signs really mean that you can park anywhere – even double park.  If the driver on the inside needs to get out, he’ll honk until you turn up! And pedestrian crossings seem to be for parking.  But if you are crossing the road on a pedestrian crossing – cross quickly.  You suddenly become a target (I wondered why Jouko usually let me cross first……..!).


Fortunately Jouko always took it easy when navigating the streets and roads.  By the time we arrived in Sorrento  it was late and since it was my suggestion that we take the “back roads”, I let him chose whether he wanted to return along the Amalfi.  Guess what? We returned on the motorway!


Needless to say, we didn’t spend long there and it was rather misty, anyway.


The day after an all-day excursion, we take the “day off”, pacing ourselves and resting.  After all this is not a marathon and we are retired!

Here are some of Salerno’s graffiti, which I think is creative and well done.



Time for some pizza – after all we are in Italy. IMG_7238

But the elevator is barely big enough for two people AND a pizza box.!

I loved the design of the box and the pizza was pretty good, too.




Our half hour walk to and from the car always took us along the oceanfront, which was decorated with tiled pictures depicting beauty spots in the area.  This one is of Paestum.


We had heard that the crowds were horrific in Pompei and that in comparison, Paestum lay in beautiful green fields where crowds were non-existent. That sounded much more attractive.

It was delightful and the mild, crisp air made it even more pleasant.


Paestum dates back to 650 BC – hard for me to wrap my mind around a date like that. The link gives some good information on the history of the area.

We asked a tourist if he would take our picture with the temple in the background.  Before we knew what was happening, he had us in all these different poses and I thought “Oh my goodness.  Get me out of here!”  But the pictures turned out to be fun.  He asked where we were from;he was from Russia.


We continued down along the coast and saw some beautiful scenery.  Here, looking back north to the Amalfi.


Again, the Amalfi in the background.  On the way home, we stopped by a stand selling fresh fruit and vegetables.  There was no one at the stand, but soon a lady came hurrying across the field to serve us.  Bought some delicious fresh zucchini and strawberries.


Much to everyone’s irritation, I’m sure, I continued to hack. My cough not showing any signs of getting better.   But fortunately not at night.


Salerno was a great place to people-watch.  We especially enjoyed “La passeggiata”, the time in late afternoon and evening when folk come out to stroll. To promenade.


And so often there were 3 men strolling.  This always fascinated me.  Why 3?  Wasn’t it hard for the one at the other end to hear what was being said?  Perhaps that is why they speak loudly and gesture?


And Italians really do know how to dress better than the rest of us!


And my dear one always wears heals – even when strolling on the beach!


Here is a young one taking note of how it is done.




The weather in Salerno did not look promising for any outdoor activity, so we looked East.


I had seen pictures of Matera – oh, so long ago I can’t remember exactly, but it has always been a dream of mine to visit the “sassi”, cave dwellings dating back to prehistoric times.  The above link to the Smithsonian article is well worth reading.


So we headed East.  We were once again surrounded by majestic beauty. Some gentle and undulating and some sharp and jagged.


Gradually, as we approached our destination, it leveled out to undulating hills and meadows.


We made our way to “centro storico”, the historic center, and stopped at a Tourist Information center.  And this is when we got “high-jacked”!  This very friendly guy, knowing some English, took over our lives.  It was surreal.  Immediately he was on his cell talking loudly to someone and then another one and at the same time telling us that he had a tour for us…..but oh no!  “We have not eaten yet!” ” No problem, I take you to very good restaurant.”  Off we went across the square, with him saying “ciao” to everyone he came across – he knew everyone!  Was that good or bad? And I knew he must have a share in the restaurant, plus it looked expensive!

But oh wow!  This was the real deal.  Soft, fresh olives and bread served while we waited.  I had fresh pasta with local mushrooms and Jouko had grouper encrusted with potatoes and thinly sliced vegetables.  Yummy!  AND it was NOT expensive.DSC_7546

Also, the view from the window was intriguing!

Sure enough, in the corner I spied our “kidnapper”.  Indeed, he was eating, (probably free on the house) and exited right after us and once again we were whisked off – this time to a car.  “Where are we going?”  “Your…….not take long….wait here!”  And we were unloaded outside a small bar/restaurant.  “He come in 5 mins – not long”.  After 10 – 15 mins I was edgy.  “We haven’t given them any money yet, have we?”  Well, you get the picture.  The guide eventually meandered up, probably irritated because he was not going to get his siesta.   Total opposite to the first guy; this one was a full-blown phlegmatic.


Our first stop was at a high point, looking out over the ravine to a hill dotted with caves. These caves had been used, but not developed like those on this side of the ravine.DSC_7557

This model gives an idea of how the dwellings developed. Roofs double as sidewalks and chimneys pop up in sidewalks.  The front of the caves were given facades and entrances and they were developed on top of each other.  Finally on the very top is where they buried people.


How the settlement looks today.  It is facing the undeveloped caves


Another view.  Pictures do not do the area justice.  One really needs to see it in person!

These old photos were hanging in the restaurant.  It shows the livestock living in the same area with people.  Apparently the humidity created by living and breathing in the same space was then absorbed by the hay and compost which was then used in the fields.  But, as you can read in the article, by the 1950s it was a squalor area and the government came in and resettled the occupants.  Squatters then took over and then it was discovered by hippies and artists and today one can find galleries and boutiques.

The movie, “The Passion of the Christ” was partly filmed here as were other movies.

Our guide also pointed out some of the building materials……


I guess that could be called early recycling?

Just one of the churches discovered with intact frescoes.

At one point, our dry almost lifeless guide cracked a joke.  He said that to have a horse back then would be like owning a Ferrari.  To own a donkey would be like owning a Fiat!

If you are ever in the area, we would definitely recommend a visit.  I would have loved to travel further east to Apulia and Puglia, but there was no time



The island dates back to Roman times and it had always been a place I wanted to visit.  However, I had also come to realize that everyone else in the world had the same idea.


The Faraglioni certainly are picturesque as one approaches the island just west of the tip of the Amalfi peninsula.


Looking down on the Capri Harbor with the Amalfi in the background.

We took the funicular up to the heart of the town and lined up to get a bus ticket to Anacapri, which we had heard was less crowded.  Well maybe at 3am it is less crowded, but not at 11am in mid-May!

We headed to the chairlift which would take us to the top of  Seggiovia del Monte Solaro.

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It gave us great views over Anacapri.  I can imagine that back in the 18th & 19th centuries it was an idyllic hideaway, conveniently positioned off the mainland.


It is not often that one can look down on birds flying in and out of the cliffs!


Here are the  Faraglioni again and what a busy place it is.  Oh, and the low clouds are moving in.



Back in Anacapri we wandered down the narrow lanes, passing shoe makers at work and..


..artwork on display at the swanky restaurants.  We found a lovely place to eat, tucked away off the main path, surrounded by trees and bushes.

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Note the beautiful tile work.


And a gracious balcony with closed doors – keeping us from seeing into an elegant room, I’m sure.


We visited Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo where the entire floor is made of the majolica tiles depicting the creation of the world.  One can only walk around the floor on the narrow wooden ledges, not on it.


Looking over the bay to Vesuveus.


Rick Steves’ guidebook says that it is just a 20-30 min walk back to Capri, so we decided to do that, rather than pile into a crowded bus again for the 10 min drive.  Between these hairpin corners, were steps for pedestrians.


At times it was tight; here is Jouko sharing the road with an Ape, one of those fancy convertible taxis & a Vespa.  What diversity!


And at one point he had to get out of the way to let a car by!

We were not in time to get a seat on the return boat, so we stood at the back and enjoyed the view.  Eventually, when folk disembarked at Amalfi, we were able to get a seat.



As usual we took a day off from heavy travel and this time decided to take a look at the Salerno Castle.DSC_8045

Castello di Arechi dates back to the Byzantine period.


It was so lovely and peaceful sitting up there, we decided to enjoy the view a while longer and ordered a panini sandwich for lunch.  We had observed the little town of  Vietri sul Mare from Salerno.  Sitting right at the beginning of the drive along the Amalfi, we decided to give it a closer look.


On the way down to the car we heard bells tinkling in the woods.  I said to Jouko, “that sounds like sheep or goats!”  Sure enough, after scaling a wall, I looked down on a heard of goats.  It seemed so out of place; so unexpected!


But wait a minute – does this one have an identity issue?

They spilled into the parking lot and proceeded to eat whatever they could find.  The younger ones got into the trash and had a riotous time!


And there were no shepherds or people looking after them – just these dogs.  5 or 6 of them, and they wouldn’t let me get any closer to photograph them, either.


After that interesting diversion, we drove to Vietri sul Mare and discovered a jewel of a little town, which has a ceramic museum and has made great use of ceramics in decorating their buildings.


Here you can see ceramic art decorating store fronts and churches.



It also recounted the history of the area in tile formations.


And they were ready for the holiday-makers.!  Unfortunately the weather hadn’t got the message.  It was overcast but not cold.  We had expected sunny and warm, but it didn’t stop our enjoyment in exploring the area.


We continued to walk around the town, exploring the narrow alley-ways and stairs leading – to yet another alter.


Ceramic art. Laundry. School children on an outing.  It all came together in the most natural mid-afternoon stroll.


And then we turned a corner – and in front of us was a photo shoot.  Parents capturing the beauty of their daughters against the picturesque backdrop of the Almalfi.  I asked if I could take a picture and quickly took a shot……..


We said good-bye to  Vietri  and their ceramics and left in the late afternoon glow.


To return to the warm alley-ways of Salerno.



About 10 days earlier we had visited a palace in Caserta, which had World Heritage designation (turned out to be a waste of time). We then drove on to Santa ‘Agata dé Goti, to this gorgeous town I had seen in pictures. Because it was raining, we decided to return when the weather was better.

Entering Caserta that day, the road narrowed going under a bridge so that only one lane of cars could go through at a time. This was controlled by traffic lights.  However, our lane had been at a standstill through several green lights because the opposing traffic just kept coming. So I got out of the car to see what was going on.  I walked under the bridge to see that the opposing traffic was ignoring their red light.  I waited until it turned red again for them and then stepped out in front of the next car – with my back to them.  As the traffic started to flow in the opposite direction, and those cars saw what I had done, they started to applaud!  When I took a peek at the car I was standing in front of, he was waving his arms and doubtless calling me some choice names.  Sometimes it is better not to understand!


We returned to Santa ‘Agata when the weather was sunny. This beautifully tree lined street leads over the bridge and into…..

a sleepy little town which is only just starting to clean itself up because it probably recognizes it’s tourist potential.

In one of the squares, there sat a group of 3 men, of course, working on solving the world’s problems, no doubt.


Jouko has come to realize that I want to see inside any and all churches.  This is where one gets an idea of the wealth and history of a town.  And sometimes one comes across real treasures, like here.



A beautiful church with a painted ceiling in dire need of restoration.


We were getting hungry, so stopped at this pizzaria with an outdoor terrace.  After chatting with the waiter/owner, he told us that to get the best picture of the old town, we should go down these stairs and around the corner……


Well, looking at these “stairs” should have given us a clue – but we didn’t want to look stupid!


Jouko bravely led the way.DSC_8368

I, always ready for a challenge, trudged through the brush in totally inappropriate shoes (and developed a blister which a week later would really bother me in Rome).


And, really, the view was not that great!


He seemed really pleased on our safe return or maybe he was just relieved that he didn’t have to send out a search party 😅 ?


We made our way through the town toward the bridge.

Managing not to get run over by a ’60s era Fiat!


I could have stood at this spot and gone into a trance.  Somehow it seemed so “story-like” – unreal.  And when one looks closer, there are stairs going down into the ravine…which is all overgrown now, but in Medieval times, where did they go?  To do their laundry?


It was time to go home.


The other side of Santa ‘Agata.

The Campania region of central Italy is also known as the heart of Italy.  It certainly was beautiful.



Our time in Salerno was running out.  In a few days we would be packing up and heading to Rome.


But there were still a couple of places we wanted to see, like the Minerva gardens,  one of the world’s first Botanical Gardens. The Medical School of Salerno was one of the first medical schools in Europe dating back to 10th-13th centuries and they had their own medicinal herb garden, which had been beautifully restored. I was particularly interested in seeing it since the building in which we had our nursing classes in London, was called Minerva House!



And then there is the church San Pietro a Corte, named such since there is evidence that Peter and Paul worshiped in this spot where a church was then built.  Excavated under the church and street are these frescoes and Roman baths.


Jouko pointed this out to me – on the left, the original  SMART car!

It was time to say good-bye to our local coffee shop where they had come to know us and had taught us to say  “buona giornata”.  We had also discovered a delightful deli with new homemade dishes every day.  Here, spinach and feta torta, sauteed brussel sprouts and I threw in olives, avocado and some buffalo mozzarella. ◊



Oh……my……goodness.  There’s that man again!      “Come on Hilary.  Let’s go!






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