South Italy Tour 2011 Buttons

South Italy Tour 2011

Day 8 Monday October 10, 2011

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The luxurious bathroom of room 408.

Who is that in the mirror?

I got up a little before seven. I could hear noise outside, a combination of the gusting winds and the sound of traffic and other activities on the street.

I worked on the journal for a while.

The computer’s battery needed charging. I was forced to switch to the battery that came with the computer, but I knew that it would only last for a few hours. A little later Sue let me use the simple adapter to recharge the bigger battery.

Sue and I ate breakfast with Ed and Charlotte. Ed regaled us with a few more of his stories. The first was about how he and Charlotte had been in the Alps (or maybe the Dolomites) on a ski vacation. The chairlift was not working, so they were stuck in the lodge. He picked up a magazine with an ad promoting skiing in Sicily. He convinced Charlotte that they should fly there. As soon as they landed, they rented a car and tried to find the ski lodge. They learned that it had been closed for ten years! Ed had neglected to check the date on the magazine.

Sue’s Czech relative, Martina, designed the tee shirt.

Benino enjoyed Positano; it was his kind of place.

The second tale concerned their first trip to Cuba. During the Castro regime Americans were not allowed to visit the island. They let Ed in because he said that he was an engineer who was doing research or consulting or something. Charlotte said that she was doing religious research, but when they found out that she was Jewish, the authorities would not allow her in. She had to fly back to the States by herself. Evidently their son was persona non grata in Russia, as well, but I missed some of the details of that story.

The breakfast room at this hotel was much larger than any we had yet encountered. The spread for breakfast was very nice as well. They served some kind of muslik that I found very tasty. The cappuccino was quite good, too.

Positano is great vacation spot for mountain goats.

Rainer ratified my idea of going to Vesuvius instead of touring the ruins of Pompeii. So, my plan for Tuesday would be to accompany the group to Pompeii. Then I would take the bus from Pompeii to Vesuvius and back. I would meet up with the group in Pompeii if I could make it back before they boarded the train for Sorrento. If not, then I would take the train by myself and meet them in Sorrento at the hotel or the gelateria.

I had read and reread the entry in Rick Steves’ Italy book about Positano. In addition, before we left for Italy Sue and I had had supper with one of her bridge-playing friends who was born and raised in Positano. Nevertheless, nothing about this town caught my interest. It seemed to boast virtually no historical or cultural attractions, at least as far as I could discern. In addition, it might be one of the most inconvenient places in the world, simply because it was built into the side of a cliff. There was only one road, for heaven’s sake, and it ran in only one direction. Don’t even ask about the cab fares.

The road in Positano is one-way.

Of course, Positano has the sea, but the natural human yearning to be near water may have been lost in my family, both sides of which several generations before my birth settled in Kansas City, which, as the saying goes, is equally close to both coasts. The nearby villages reportedly offered stunning views, but we had seen so much beautiful scenery the previous day that I just could not summon up any enthusiasm for a sightseeing trip.

Sue and I had visited the Amalfi Coast eight years ago. We enjoyed Sorrento, and the trip to Capri was one of the highlights of the trip, but there did not seem to be much to do – except shopping, of course – in the other towns. The Amalfi coast did not seem to me to fit in with the rest of Italy. Other Italian towns had done a terrific job of making life comfortable for foreigners while retaining their traditional character, but the towns on the Amalfi Coast seemed designed solely for the purpose of separating the visitors from their excess cash.

These windows all offered views of the sea.

If Tom had been here, the two of us would probably have gone hiking. Sue was not up to it, and I did not feel like taking a hike by myself. Neither Sue nor I felt like taking another boat trip.

On the other hand, our room at the hotel was very nice, and the hotel’s lounge area was quite comfortable. So, for the first and only time in my four visits to Italy, I decided just to hang around the hotel for the entire day.

“Look, honey. There’s the water. Isn’t that cool?”

I certainly could not blame the weather for my decision. It was cool, quite breezy, and sunny, ideal weather for just about any kind of outdoor activity that did not involve swimming.

After breakfast I went up to our room and retrieved my computer and all of the stuff that I needed to work on my journal. I brought Sue the pamphlet for a villa that held musical concerts in the evening in nearby Ravello. She spent quite a bit of time investigating what it would take to get up there and back. We determined that the cost would be well north of what I would consider outrageous. Also, we would probably miss the group supper in Positano, the only activity to which I was looking forward.

I sat in that yellow chair by the lamp.

It is important to transcribe the notes quickly. After a little while they becoming meaningless scribbles.

I found a comfy chair in the lounge area with an electrical outlet nearby and signed onto the Internet. I downloaded a passel of e-mails, all of which turned out to be useless. Then I settled in to work on the journal. When David Jones came in, I helped him find the combination of keys needed to produce the @ sign on the hotel’s computer, which had an Italian keyboard. After only about an hour of working on the journal I grew very sleepy and retreated upstairs to take a nap.

Sue felt sorry for this old guy and invited him to lunch.

Just before the yellowjacket arrived.

Sue reportedly knocked on the door while I was recharging my body’s batteries, but she could not rouse me. The bed was a pretty good distance from the door, and I have always been able to sleep through just about any noise.[1] Fortunately, the person at the reception desk was willing to give her another key to the room.

Sue then walked back to the Delikatessen and bought the makings of a very nice picnic lunch. She purchased some shrimp and a salad of lettuce, corn, tuna, and a few other things. She arranged everything very elegantly on the table on the balcony, and we were just about to start enjoying them when a yellowjacket appeared. Sue is allergic to their sting, or at least she suspects that she is. In the thirty-nine years that I had known her she had never been stung.[2] At any rate, she hustled inside to eat. I had already started eating, so the bug and I shared lunch. We both had broken cookies for dessert.

Leftovers went in the mini-bar.

Another bored tourist.

The maids, who, in my estimation, were quite cute,[3] wanted to clean the room, so Sue and I left. She went shopping to pick up some cards for Patti. I went back down to the lounge to work on the computer.

Rainer and Judy were both already in the lounge area when I arrived. Judy told me that she had Googled me and discovered my travel journals on my website. I asked her if she had read about my arm-wrestling feats in Maryland. Rainer, who had Googled himself, admitted that he was not the Rainer Metzger who had written a book about Van Gogh. Rainer and Judy both left after a few minutes. I spent a little over an hour transcribing the notes from my spiral notebook.

I could not log onto the Internet because I did not have the user ID and password. I went back up to the room and looked for it in Sue’s computer case, but I could not find it. After about an hour of typing in my journal I relinquished the lounge to the three flies that apparently had been attracted to the smell of shrimp on my fingers. Upon returning to room 408 I ascertained that the cleaning had been completed.

The TV even received satellite channels ...

... until Sue tinkered with it.

I worked for a little while in the room. I was just about to take another nap[4] when Sue walked in. She told me about the stuff that she had purchased on her shopping excursion in Positano. She also showed me that she kept the signon information inside her computer, that is, between the screen and the keyboard. I went back down to the lounge and signed on to the Internet. I had received very little e-mail, and none of it was worth reading, much less keeping.

At least I knew enough to turn on the computer.

The Hotel Bougainville was named after this plant.

I tried to help Charlotte sign on to the hotel’s computer. I did determine that the primary impediment was that it was not turned on, but once that problem was overcome, I could not figure out how to select the Net Gear network. She asked the waiter from the bar for help, and he gladly provided it. She also had trouble with her e-mail program. I looked at it, but I was completely unfamiliar with how it worked. Fortunately, she was resourceful enough to work around her difficulties. This episode made me feel pretty incompetent. I was supposed to know my way around computers.

Back up in the room Sue had been fooling around with the television set to see if she could persuade it to show on its screen the movies that she had taken with her malfunctioning videocamera. She does this kind of thing all of the time; to her the primary purpose of a television is to act as a movie screen. Somehow her manipulations had messed it up so that she could only get one channel on it. She called the desk, and they sent someone up. It took him a pretty long time, but he finally got it to function properly.

The harbor in Positano was busy.

Seaside Positano.

The group gathered at 5:50 for an early (by Italian standards) supper at Bar Bruno Ristorante, which was only a short distance up the street. Before we left I let David Jones know that I had investigated the matter of which writer first labeled Peter as the Bishop of Rome. He was right; it was Eusebius. I had discussed this in the first appendix of my book.

At dinner I sat between David Jones and Sue. Across from us were Rainer, Jeff, and Robbie. The antipasto was a pair of large raviolis. This was followed by a pasta that was much thicker than spaghetti with seafood. The secundo was fish and potatoes. The dessert was very rich and chocolaty, but I am not sure what it consisted of. One part was a sort of creamy cake; a second part was a creampuff; the third was rich flavored cream. They also served us white wine. I tried to take a photo of the label, but my camera absolutely refused to focus on it.

Bar Bruno had fancy plates.

The guy who took this was sitting in the empty chair with the blue jacket draped on it.

I had a really good time talking with Rainer about experiences that we had almost shared, such as the free Andrea Bocelli concert that Sue and I had attended in Siena in 2003. He said that he had been guiding a tour that was staying at the Albergo Cannon d'Oro there a week or two earlier and that there was a lot of buzz about the upcoming concert. I got to relate how the A.C. Siena[5] soccer team had qualified for Serie A that evening for the first time in the one-hundred-year history of the club and how the throng of fans had unwittingly disrupted the end of the concert with celebratory blasts on their air horns.

Before supper Rainer made a little speech explaining the plan for Tuesday.

At Bar Bruno ...

I did not remember it as being a dump, but Rainer said that many people had complained to him about the conditions of the Cannon d'Oro. Rick Steves himself popped in on one of Rainer’s groups while they were was staying there. One of the tour members asked His Worthiness in which hotel he was staying. Rick Steves, without missing a beat, replied that he was staying at the youth hostel and that he always stayed at the youth hostel when he was in Siena. Rainer still wondered whether he had been telling the truth.

... arguments were settled the old-fashioned way.

Rainer also reported that he had once led a tour group that insisted on attending Il Palio in Siena. They had arrived early enough to secure a position down in the Piazza del Campo itself, the site of the famous twice-yearly horse race, near a group of residents of the Porcupine contrada. As luck would have it, the Porcupine horse was one of the two contenders on the last lap. Rainer had been secretly rooting for the other steed, but at the very end its rider made a serious misjudgment, and victory ultimately went to the Porcupines. Rainer, certain in his knowledge that the Porcupines would go nuts in celebrating the victory, quickly gathered his troops into the testudo formation, and they narrowly escaped with their lives.

We learned at supper that Jeff carried scissors with him wherever he went.

Cultural note: The bar had on display a sword that was more than a foot long. I cannot imagine any institution that served liquor in the United States that would dare to leave any kind of lethal weapon lying around like that.

On the walk back to the hotel I took a few shots of Positano by night. I had to admit to myself that I did not give Positano a chance. The hotel, despite its quirks, was superb. Supper was a lot of fun. Something about the town itself really rubbed me the wrong way, however, and I could not wait to move on to Sorrento.

[1]  In 1970 part of Uncle Sam’s training regimen was called bivouac. Two guys shared a tent. During the night the pair slept in shifts of two hours. My tentmate, however, was overweight, so he was assigned to the headquarters tent. Don’t ask why; I am telling a story. I had to decide whether to guard an empty tent or just go to sleep. I chose the latter. My friend A.J. Williams decided it would be fun to pretend that we were being attacked. He held his M-16 outside of my tent about a foot from my head and fired off eight or nine rounds, all the time shouting curses at “Charlie,” the army’s name for the Viet Cong. I, of course, pretended to sleep through it and never mentioned the incident.

[2]  Early in our relationship I killed a yellowjacket in the car while driving on an Interstate. This was considered extremely heroic.

[3]  I apologize for the lack of photographs. However, I did get a stalker-quality shot of a lady playing with her phone on her balcony.

[4]  I ordinarily take three naps per day. Doesn’t everybody?

[5]  A.C. Siena was relegated to Serie B at the end of the 2009-2010 season but qualified for Serie A again the following year.