Red Ribbon for the Blue Ribbon Drive

Friday was our last day in Italy for this trip. We lingered over another excellent breakfast and our last morning cappuccino. 20140310-053557.jpgThen we gathered up our belongings, reunited with Fiesta whom we hadn’t seen since Monday, and bid ciao to the wonderful town of Sorrento and the lovely Hotel Antiche Mura.20140310-054011.jpgThe streets were busy as we headed out of town. The motorcycle parking really tempts one to try out the domino effect. 20140310-054411.jpgThis morning we were headed up the Amalfi Coast. We were about to tackle the ‘Blue Ribbon Drive’!20140310-055454.jpgThis drive follows one of Italy’s most stunning and dramatic roads. Completed in 1853, it winds it’s way along the Amalfi Coast’s entire length, snaking around impossibly tight curves, over deep ravines and through tunnels gouged out of the sheer rock cliffs. It is a magnificent feat of civil engineering but was originally designed for horse-drawn carriages. It has been described as a ‘severe test of driving skill and courage’, ‘hair-raising’ and ‘a white-knuckled drive’. There are numerous switchbacks and plunging drops to the sea, often with only waist-high barriers between you and oblivion! Needless to say, Harvey was looking forward to checking this drive off his bucket list with great anticipation. I on the other hand was hoping it wouldn’t be the last thing off our lists!20140310-062706.jpgOf course, Harvey handled the drive magnificently, without any near misses and all the while commenting on the scenery. This is definitely the time of year to do this drive – traffic was light and there was minimal bus traffic. The thought of meeting a bus around each corner is somewhat terrifying!

The views are spectacular! Stunning scenery, towns hugging the cliffs and spilling down to the sea and the beautiful blue waters of the Mediterranean greet you around each corner! 20140310-062336.jpg20140310-062409.jpgFinishing the drive near Salerno, we hopped on to the Autostrade and headed north. We stopped for a panini lunch at an Autogrill and toured some of the countryside around Naples. Then it was time to head for the aeroporto and Budget rental car. We are proud to say we returned the car with no additional scratches, scrapes or dents – which is quite an accomplishment in Italy! 20140310-063341.jpgIt was now time to start our interesting trip home. We arrived at the Naples Airport around 6 pm – a mere 12 hours before our 6 am flight. The rental car depot closed at 8 and we didn’t want to be driving in the dark. A complicating issue to the night is that there are no hotels within a reasonable distance of the airport and we really didn’t want to be trying to catch an Italian taxi at 3 am. So we decided to be crazy and spend the night in the airport. A dozen other travellers made the same choice. The night actually went quite well – we napped a bit, snacked on the various food items we had brought along and read a lot. This fellow really didn’t help the napping, but I guess you have to replace floor tiles in a non-busy time. 20140310-064101.jpgOur journey from Naples took us to Munich, where we spent 4 hours, and from there to Toronto for another 4 hour layover. Many in-flight movies, on-time & uncrowded airplanes and airline food that was actually pretty good and we arrived in Edmonton at 9:30 pm on Saturday night. By the time we hit our beds, it was over 48 hours since we arose in Sorrento on Friday morning – with ~5-6 hours of various naps. But we were home safely and all was well at home. 20140310-064738.jpgWe had a great trip and once the jet lag has passed a bit, I will post some final reflections.



History and garbage…..

Naples is an interesting area. Perhaps not all because of great things – but definitely interesting.

On Monday morning, we arose just in time to catch the end of the hotel breakfast – apricot correttos, yogurt, cereal – and of course, cappuccino. We then headed towards Napoli centro. The hotel desk man on Sunday had suggested that we could drive to Piazza Cavour and find a parking garage. He failed to mention the craziness that we might encounter with traffic in that area. We set ‘Sally-Sue’ for that destination. Those of our readers who have travelled with us have made the acquaintance of Sally – our trusty Garmin GPS. Now Sally has many good points – one of which is her excellent grasp of Italian pronunciation – but one of her faults is that she occasionally chooses travel routes that are challenging. Today was one of these occasions.

We were led into an area with narrow streets, a number of one- ways resulting in switchback turns and a very large volume of cars, scooters, buses and random pedestrians. Italians do not really follow any traffic laws or etiquette – they pretty much go where they want, when they want. I had a bit of a meltdown, fearing for our rental car. I didn’t think the speed was great enough to fear for our lives, although I wondered about some of the pedestrians and helmetless scooter riders. Luckily, Harv remained calm, cool & collected, even professing to somewhat enjoying the chaos. He did become a bit agitated when a siren blasting police van came up behind us and there was nowhere to turn. Apparently, Italians don’t worry about moving for emergency vehicles either…. 20140225-211259.jpgWe finally determined that we might never reach the intended destination so reset Sally for the airport. The drive there was much less stressful and we settled the Fiesta in a nearly deserted parking garage and hopped on the Alibus, which would take us directly to the Stazione Centrale area we wanted to reach. 20140225-211411.jpgAfter a calming bus ride, we arrived in central Naples and took some time to randomly wander the streets – checking out the chaos from a sidewalk. We then hopped on a metro train to the Museo stop and entered the Museo Archeologico. Housed on the main floor is the Farnese Collection, a grand collection of restored statues excavated from Rome’s Baths of Caracalla. We were once again amazed at the detail of these amazing sculptures. 20140225-212053.jpgWe then climbed the grand staircase to the top floor. Here we found the statues, artifacts and art found in Pompeii, as well as numerous bronze statues from Herculaneum. It was so interesting to envision these items in use when Mount Vesuvius stopped time in 79 AD, as well as to imagine the painstaking work it must have taken to excavate and recover so many items. 20140225-212415.jpg20140225-212208.jpgReturning to the mezzanine level, we admired the mosaics recovered from Pompeii 20140225-212311.jpg and then visited the Gabinetto Segreto. This so-called ‘Secret Room’ houses a sizeable assortment of erotic frescoes and bawdy statues. I won’t post any photos, but just will comment to many of these men from ancient Pompeii – “you wish….”

Leaving the museum, we followed Rick Steve’s self-guided walk, which he titles ‘A Slice of Neapolitan Life’. We travelled down through the principal shopping area, with a couple of impressive structures used as shopping ‘malls’. 20140225-212920.jpgWe detoured off the main thoroughfare to wander a bit through the Spanish Quarter, known as one of Naples’ rawest, poorest and most characteristic neighbourhoods. 20140225-213019.jpgWe admired the exteriors of the Royal Palace and Teatro Di San Carlo.

It was time for a gelato break – and it was as good as we remembered! 20140225-213254.jpgWe took in the harbour view and passed by the Castel Nuovo, which houses civic offices and the civic museum. Close by, we found the Alibus stop and headed back to the airport, the car and and to the hotel. We stopped at a likely looking restaurant down the street but of course, it didn’t open until 7 pm, we decided on pizza again at the hotel. It was delicious and I had time to prepare for Tuesday’s assessment. 20140225-213514.jpgUp early on Tuesday morning and after a quick breakfast, Harv whisked me to the US Naval Support Site, where I spent a delightful day with the hospital blood bank staff performing their AABB & CAP inspections. Harvey spent the day seeing a few of the neighborhood sites here in Guiglianano. 20140225-213837.jpg We returned to the hotel and following our pattern of relaxing, decided to eat here again. Delicious caprese salad, spaghetti bolognese, wine & limoncello. 20140225-213601.jpg We will be sad to leave the Hotel Agora tomorrow as they have treated us like family – but on to new exciting sites….

Interesting facts about the Naples area –
– it is apparently acceptable to just drop your garbage bags at the side of the road as it seems to be done everywhere. Quite disgusting!
– it is also apparently acceptable for hookers to stand/sit at pull-offs along major thoroughfares. And at noon, throughout the afternoon, etc. – guess that’s why there are prolonged lunch hours….
– the potholes in side roads are worse than Edmonton – and that’s saying something.
– Monday is laundry day in Naples! 20140225-214345.jpgAnd finally, why would anyone eat this? 20140225-214438.jpgAll in all, Naples has been interesting and worth a visit but it certainly wouldn’t go on my list of return vacation spots!



What day is it?

We are in Italy!!

This comes almost as a shock to us. Having been fortunate enough to vacation in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic in October, the grand plan was to return to Europe in a couple of years. And then ~10 days after we got home, I received a request to perform a laboratory inspection in Naples, Italy. Well, how can you say no to that offer – and Harvey wasn’t staying home while I went to his favorite country. So here we are back in Europe – so blessed. (and yes, thanks Maureen for getting me into this assessment business!)

We had a fairly long journey here – Edm to Vancouver to Frankfurt to Naples. But all our flights went well and Lufthansa dined and wined us quite well. Upon arrival, the friendly gentlemen at Budget had our Ford Fiesta all ready for us. We followed the hotel’s directions and with just one short detour for a missed corner, we arrived at the Hotel Agora. This hotel was recommended by the hospital and is great. The staff are extremely friendly and helpful and they cater to North Americans as they are close to both the U.S. Naval Base and the NATO Headquarters.

After settling in, we took a test drive to the Naval Support Site where the hospital is located in preparation for my visit on Tuesday. Then it was pizza and wine for dinner at the hotel. The nice waiter brought us chilled limoncello at the end of our meal – so yummy. 20140224-205721.jpg
We chatted with some Brits and Americans who live nearby and had stopped by for the 2 for 1 happy hour. After receiving their congratulations on our country’s prowess in curling and hockey, it was off to bed. We had been up for 31 hours with just brief plane naps so it was time!20140224-210045.jpgCheers,

B & H