Grand Tour of Italy

Sun 27 May 2007 17:32
Thanks in part to a broken fridge, the past two weeks has been spent in a whirlwind tour of coastal Italy. After four days in the totally tourist-free areas of Basilicata, we've been travelling north at a fairly rapid pace so that we are now on the island of Elba whose claim to fame was that Napoleon spent time here in exile. It has been fascinating seeing the country change from the generally poor and sleepy South (the Mezzogiorno-- the 'afternoon') to the distinctly yuppy North of Italy. The food has changed too, with fewer delicious cakes, which is probably a good thing. And as some English guys on a yacht said, the closer you get to London, the more expensive things become. At Positano we were charged 70 euros just to anchor off the town, although the guys did provide us with a shuttle service to and from the shore.
And in Naples a night in a marina cost 150 euros, in a distinctly seedy part of town. 
From Maratea we went to Agropolis, close to Paestum, one of the most intact ancient Greek sites in the world. We were quite knocked out when we came across the the three stunning temples standing in a field of bright red poppies. Best of all, the day we visited, there were no coachloads of tourists-- only a few school groups with vivacious young teachers who really got the kids interested. As in many Italian towns, the train station at Agropolis was several kilometres from the town centre--but when I asked some old chaps where the station was, one of them went and got his car and drove us there. Having a bit of Italian has made a huge difference, as in many places English has not been spoken.
From Agrigento, we went to Salerno, a distinctly non -tourist town that is just starting to see the beginnings of gentrification. There was certainly nothing gentrified about the marina which was an assortment of broken down pontoons in the middle of a giant construction site in the local commercial port. As I picked up the ancient, smelly, mooring lines horrid substances oozed out of the marine life cling to the lines, some of it squirting straight into my mouth. They even cut through the gloves I wear, but the rapid application of dettol prevented any life- threatening infection. Despite the grotty harbour, Salerno is an interesting town, and a great base for exploring Paestum to the south, and the Amalfi peninsula to the north. With our friends, Ray and Helen, we took the ferry to Positano where we stayed the night. In spite of the tourists, Positano is a charming town, and well worth visiting.
During this period the Louis Vuitton Cup semi finals have been on between Luna Rossa, the Italian boat and Oracle, and Team NZ versus Spain. Every time we come into a port, the first thing anyone says is 'Luna Rossa', and we've spent many happy hours in bars watching the races with the locals.
In Salerno, my sister in law, Pam Neville, joined us, and she will now do a busman's holiday account
of our travels from Salerno up to Elba, via Capri, the Bay of Naples, and Rome, where we met my nieces Cleo and Sophie. The gals have certainly added a touch of spice to proceedings, if not class.( I keep telling Sophie I won't be seen with her in public if she persists in buying the Daily Mirror.)
Pam here... My friend Lyn Carthew and I enjoyed Salerno with its narrow lanes of shops selling good quality clothing, bags and shoes at non-tourist prices. We had a long but, in hindsight, informative day negotiating an Italian train strike which turned into a bus strike as well during a day trip to Paestum.  In pouring rain, we asked the information office how to get back to Rome and were told: "Pray!" I guess the prayers worked as we finally made it back by local bus.
We sailed the Amalfi coast, anchored off Positano (but still had to pay 70 euro for the privilege!), and visited the beautiful hill top town of Ravello where they obligingly staged a funeral in the cathedral as we sit in the piazza drinking expensive coffee.(18 euros for 3 coffees and pastries.) Shutters come down over cafes and souvenir shops, and life stands still as the priest chants the coffin to the hearse, and it moves off followed by a line of black clad mourners. Check out the Villa Citrone at Ravello if you have money to spare and want a very special hotel experience.
Naples, we loved! Despite being crime, grafitti and rubbish-ridden (it was in the midst of a rubbish collectors'strike) it has a slightly crazed charm and vitality. With Mt Vesuvius threatening to blow up and smother them at any time, the locals live for the day. Healthy diet is not a consideration - the local speciality is deep-fried pizza. We had a marvellous day eating pizza (it was invented in Naples), drinking coffee and eating gelati in between riding an open top bus between the washing lines and daily life of the historic centre of Naples. Lasting images: the elderly north Italian visitor in shorts and braces singing lustily to the Neopolitan music piped through the bus; and the motor scooters which sometimes carry mum, dad and the kids as well as the groceries and the family dog. Two young women on one scooter each clutched a toddler in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and somehow managed to drive and dodge cars and pedestrians. Said Sue: "The only surprise was that they weren't talking on the phone as well."
The island of Procida, an hour away, was an oasis of calm.  Pastel coloured houses around pretty harbours and a slow pace. Roy and Helen stayed there at the beautiful La Casa sul Mare ( for less than 100 euros a night.  On the way we sail past Capri (the most beautiful island in the world, according to somebody famous) and marvel at its beautiful silhouette from the sea, but are happy to stop at its smaller, quieter and lesser known sibling, Procida, where we watch a DVD of Il Postino, The Postman, a movie which was filmed there.
Picked up the daughters in Rome where the new tourist marina is fortuitously close to Ostia Antica, one of the larger and more complete sites of Roman ruins.  The bottom half of most buildings are intact because they were buried in silt from the Tiber for centuries.
Next stop, Isola di Giglio. The Island of Gigolos, according to the girls, and there were certainly some well honed bodies to gaze upon. This is part of a marine reserve around the islands off Tuscany and popular with diving tourists who come to look, not fish. A waterfront seafood restaurant hosted John, Sue, Pam, Cleo and Sophie ... and group of about 20 men from Siena enjoying a big night out.  The singing was wonderful, though it did degenerate as the evening went on and it was as well we didn't understand the lyrics. 
From the gigilos to the island of Elba, from whence I now write. Here we discover a little known fact: this year is the 50th birthday of the Fiat 500, commonly called the Bambina, and several hundred proud owners and their cars have descended on Elba to celebrate. A couple of Bambino break down on the wharf where we are moored, prompting John to remember that Fiat stands for Fix It Again Tony.   Tomorrow we will visit Napoleon's house, where he lived in exile for a year or two before escaping back to France.  "I can't imagine why Napoleon ever left," said Rod Heikel in the Pilot book he writes for sailors in the Med.  Elba is certainly worth a visit, though apparently it's bedlam in July and August. From here, the girls and I catch a ferry to the Tuscan mainland, then bus and train to Rome and fly to London, where C and S live.
It's been wonderful!  We're very lucky to have a couple of sailors in the family whose hospitality, as many of you already know, is more than generous.  Thanks Sue and John!
Hello, Sophie here. Just a few points to add. Firstly, Sue's horror at my reading the Mirror is quite irrational, anyone would think I had bought the latest Playboy or National Front magazine by her reaction! I'm trying to convince her that there's nothing wrong with a spot of tabloid-reading on holiday, but she's deterimined to hold out for The Times or the Herald Tribune. John, who also claims to have no interest in low-brow reading materials, has been quite engrossed by the copy of celeb rag Closer magazine (which I happen to write for)... Cleo and I are planning to organise a subscription for them as thanks for the trip. haha.
Secondly, Pam failed to mention a very amusing episode involving a Borat-style translation on the night at the restaurant with 20 male revellers. After they had eaten, the waiter brought out the most intriguing receptacle any of us had ever laid eyes on. The jug came complete with male genitalia, with a you-know-what for a spout. As the blokes took turns drinking from it, the group chanted, and our very helpful waiter tried to translate for Pam... She didn't seem to grasp what was quite obvious but the earnest waiter went to great lengths to explain with diagrams and spelling out words that can not be repeated in this family-friendly forum.
Anyhoo, it's been another marvellous trip aboard Storyteller. Looking forward to the next one at Christmas in the Caribbean.