Naples 5: Hairpins, mussels and a marriage certificate

January 7, 2011

DSC_1307.JPG Well the sun came out and I braved the hairpin bends and suicidal drivers of the Amalfi coastal road followed by even more scary climb to Ravello and the cross mountain return to Naples. Overall the drive was easier as there was less traffic. In summer lorries, buses, cars and scooters weave a complex dance in which only the locals know the rules. In summer the freedom means they just drive faster so its a marginal call which is the more dangerous. The main reason its better at this time of the year is that you can park in the towns and stop at the view points, which aside from the beauty and interest allows the otherwise over stressed driver to rest between periods of high concentration.

We stopped many times at the side of the road to take pictures, but parked in Amalfi for lunch. I was in a state of heightened tension following two near misses in the streets of Positano and a near head on collision in one of the tunnels so I fell for the Italian parking con. For those of you not familiar with this the rule is simple. If someone frantically tries to wave you into a rather obscure parking spot, drive on. Around the corner will be a public car park at half the price. In this case it was on the other side of the harbour wall. However the old man who waved us into one of his spaces was charming, kissing my daughter’s hand with a complement or two which sound so much better in Italian. He also recommended the Ristorante Lo Smeraldino which was a real find. Mussels with Spaghetti as the primo were followed by baked fish in a lemon sauce. Both dishes revealed multiple layers of flavours and it was the best meal we have ha so far. Also the location was outstanding. The picture is Eleanor (well its about time you saw her) at the end of the meal. The expression is a slightly superior look designed to teach me a lesson for firing off a sequence of portraits.

Amalfi is one of those special places. From the 8th Century it was a major trading nation with a substantial navy until with the coming of the Norman it was subordinated to the needs of the wider Kingdom of Naples. Now it is fishing and tourist centre with a cathedral which springs out of the square in a glory of colour. Unfortunately it was closed, or we could not find the entry! We walked around the town and harbour, then returned to the car and with some trepidation I started off again.

I had determined to go to Ravello, which is one of the places that inspired Wagner and has a annual music festival that I plan to attend one of these days. If I had realised what the road would be like up to Ravello from Amalfi I might have thought twice about the visit. Hairpin pends were a constant terror as buses would come round them at high speed with little or no warning Slow down and the cars behind you would hit the horns and drive within inches. During summer they are tolerant of tourists, in winter driving an Italian registered car there was no mercy. We finally made it and parking was remarkably easy. However the instructions for the car park were hysterical. The car park ticket became a marriage coupon. One starts to think of the metaphor here, but I leave that to your imagination.

The views down the coast and the sun going down behind the mountains made the trip worth while. The drive back was at least on roads that now seemed wide in comparison with what had gone before. The descent into Naples with the sun tinting Vesuvius was incredible and the journey was enlivened by the odd flock of sheep with bells around their necks. I realise now that I should have made a note of the hotels and restaurants that hung over the edge of the mountain with views over Pompeii to Vesuvius and Naples. Any of them would make a great place to stay for a night.

I have never been more relieved than when I switched off the engine in the hotel car park. I took myself and my cold (daughter has recovered from the one she brought, but I now have it) to my room for a beer. Tomorrow we walk down to the harbour to get the ferry out to Capri. Scene of the debaucheries of Tiberius and to a lesser extent Caligula, then a place of exile and now the playground of the super rich. It will be a first visit for both of us and our last full day. Sunday we return home, but on an evening flight and we will have a choice to make between climbing Vesuvius and visiting one of the three star restaurants at Marina del Cantone. Somehow I think the latter will win out, but we will see how Capri goes tomorrow and if I am willing to undertake another set of hairpins!

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