Thursday, February 25, 2010

Somewhere over Naples

Dear Rowan,
It seems these folks out in blog land have something called Show and Tell that they do each Thursday. I have not participated in the past because, well, I don't know why but I decided to participate today. You can find other participants and info at Stirrup Queens.

So, Rowan, what shall we show?
Oh, I know. The rainbow over Napoli. It's sort of a metaphor for this IF journey. The road is long and twisty and sometimes it makes you sick. You experience things along the way you never imagined you'd subject yourself to, but you keep going. If you're lucky, a rainbow appears at the end of your journey. If not, well, you've made the journey nonetheless and you're a different, somehow better person for having made the trip. Here's hoping you're my rainbow.

And, if you're curious about this photo, here's the blog that I wrote that day:

Costiera Amalfitana. The Italians have a way of making everything sound more beautiful.

We were warned about the drive. A friend of Greg’s said he turned back after one too many close calls with tourist buses. He was driving a Mini Cooper.

We are driving our big Buick Rendezvous, the car we bought a few weeks before moving to Italy. Greg liked it because it had reverse assist. A ding warns you when you’re within 10 feet of a car, a wall, a person. When you get within five feet – ding ding ding! I’ve always been terrible in reverse – in driving and in general. I prefer to move forward. Reverse assist seemed a good thing at the time, but in Italy, you’re always within ten feet of backing into something. Now, I’m immune to the dings.

The Amalfi Coast presents a different driving challenge. It’s not what’s behind you that matters. The road winds precariously along the mountains overlooking the sea. If you can stop worrying that you’re going to die (or vomit) the views are unbelievable.

My trusty Rick Steves guide book calls this “one of the world’s greatest white knuckle drives.” Greg laughs when I tell him this because my knuckles are indeed white. There’s a reason it is called the “oh shit handle.”

Greg is a good driver -- defensive, attentive and at times aggressive. He is a master at parallel parking and backing – two things I have never been able to grasp. Even so, I’m worried the Amalfi Coast might be more than he can handle in our big American SUV.

“Don’t worry, honey,” he says, “eighteen years in the service driving tractor trailers in Saudi and Kuwait have prepared me for this.”

He’s almost giddy. He loves a challenge. I try to sit back and enjoy the view.

Before we left Aviano, I considered cancelling this trip. The forecast called for rain. I’ve been on enough sightseeing adventures at this point to know that rain ruins everything. But, after looking at the calendar we quickly realized there won’t be another opportunity.

So we loaded the car and hoped for the best. The day we spent in Naples started out overcast and dreary and ended up sunny and warm. We’re hoping for the same as we drive along the coast. It looks promising at first.

We stop to snap a few pictures and an old Italian man spots our license plate. “Pordenone?” he asks.

“Si, Pordenone,” I respond. He opens the trunk of his car and emerges with a large lemon, with the leaves still attached.

“Benvenuti Napoli!” he says as he hands me the lemon.

I’m humbled. After all those bad things I said about Naples, I feel guilty.

“Grazie. Bella Napoli!” I say and at that moment, I mean it.

Looking out on the sea from our high perch, it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place.

We wave as the little old man drives out of sight. Greg takes my picture with the lemon.

“That would never have happened up North,” I say as we drive on.

Nearly to the town of Amalfi, I start feeling a little green. The hairpin turns and dizzying views are getting to me. Up ahead, we see a couple thumbing for a ride. I press Greg to stop – they are American. I can tell because he wears a barbecue joint T-shirt and she is a little too round to be Italian.

They thank us as they hop in the back seat. As it turns out, they aren’t American at all. They’re Hungarian.

How about that, Kellie Pickler? I’ve got two Hungarians riding in the back seat of my car -- further proof that Hungary does exist.

We see such strange things along the drive. Houses are so precariously perched on the cliffs that the owners park their cars on the roof. Vespas whizz by at breakneck speeds. Tourist buses make turns that seem impossible. But the strangest sight is four small donkeys being used to carry loads of rocks up a steep hill. Yes, donkeys.

The rest of the day, I think about those poor little donkeys. How is it that in 2009these people are still using donkeys for road construction? It reminds me of seeing men in Cancun trimming weeds with machetes. The world does not work the way we imagine.

By the time we drop off our Hungarian hitchhikers and drive out of Amalfi, I’m experiencing full on bouts of nausea. I never get motion sickness – airplanes, boats, cars, roller coasters – but this drive has done me in.

Besides, the view is gone. The gray sky makes the ocean appear to be the color of asphalt. A light drizzle begins to fall.

“We have got to get off this road,” I tell Greg.

We see a green autostrada sign pointing toward Ravello. Frances says she’s always on honeymoon in Ravello. I don’t take time to consult the map.

“Just go!”

The road toward Ravello winds and winds up up up the mountain. Maybe I should have looked at the map. The rain begins.

We get behind a boxy white van. It’s moving slow. There’s no way to pass. We get close enough to see this van is loaded with bales of hay. After the donkeys, I’m not as surprised as I might have been otherwise.

“Surely, we’ve seen it all,” I say.

Ravello. Supposedly, it’s a beautiful little town high in the mountains with sweeping views of the sea below. I wouldn’t know. We spend our time there looking for an open restaurant and trying to stay dry. No luck on either front. The Italians take their afternoon breaks very seriously, even in tourist towns.

I buy a soda with hopes of settling my stomach. The rain has soaked through my shoes to my socks, making a squishing sound with every step.

I’m completely miserable.

We drive on. Twisting and turning, following the green autostrada signs, sure that straight, four-lane road that leads back toward Naples is just around the next turn. But the road goes on and on and on.

We aren’t exactly sure where we are when we see a sprawling city below us. A rainbow stretches over the city. It’s so beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like it. From our high perch on this twisting mountain road, we’re looking down on the rainbow and the city beneath it. I take a bunch of pictures, but I know they will only tell part of the story.

That sprawling city under the rainbow turns out to be the suburbs of Naples. Finally, we’re back on the road to Sorrento. The relatively straight and narrow drive to Villa Oriana is a welcome change, but I'm already missing the view from that high, winding road along the Amalfi Coast.


  1. Wow what a beautiful photograph of a rainbow (and a great story of hangin' in even when it seems like it's not worth it. )

    - Jess

  2. What a cool post.

  3. I rode through La Costiera on a motorino! It was gorgeous. Wow I wish I was back there again. Beautiful photo of the rainbow.

  4. Oh, what beautiful views. And what a wonderful story.