Monthly Archives: September 2018

Exploring Liguria, Pisa and Sardinia…

Buongiorno a tutti,

I hope you’re all well. Following on from my post earlier in the week recounting Leg 1 of my Italian Tour, here’s what we did in Leg 2…

After a week or two at home following the Naples/Amalfi trip, I drove to Santa Margherita in Liguria (near the knee of Italy’s boot!) to meet up with the same friend I holidayed with for Leg 1.

Santa Margherita is a lovely town on the Ligurian coastline. Despite having two nights in an apartment not far from the center we didn’t spend too much time there. Our first evening, we went out for an aperitivo and dinner followed by a refreshing night swim. This kind of behaviour is frowned upon by almost all Italians because a) they believe you will die if you swim after eating and b) it was night and so therefore ‘cold’ (it wasn’t really) and consequently you will get some terrible illness as a result. I’m pleased to say though that it was fabulous and neither of us died or contracted a terrible illness.

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Just after swimming!

The next day we had an unexpected stop in Sestri Levante as our train was delayed on the way to the Cinque Terre. It’s a nice little town with a cute shopping street but the thing that sticks out for me most in that town were the trompe l’oeil effect paintwork on almost all of the buildings. It was so realistic that in order to work out whether the shutters were real or painted or the walls were bricks or flat concrete, you had to change your angle or get up close enough to touch it. Of the pictures below, only the windows and shutters are real. I was very impressed and would love to give it a go when my house eventually gets rebuilt!

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The thing we really wanted to explore was the Cinque Terre. I’d been there once before a few years ago (read about it here). Cinque Terre literally means “five lands” which refer to the five colourful little towns dotted along the lush green coastline. There are several ways to explore it. They’re not easily reached by car so the best ways are by train, walking or boat.

The trains run reasonably often between all the towns and are cheap. There’s a walking route which joins all the towns but unfortunately due to a landslide a few years back there’s a couple of sections that now you can’t walk. They are planning to repair them though and rumour has it that it will be ready for 2020.

We were limited on time and we both love the sea so we decided to go on a boat trip. We were slightly disappointed by the masses of people on the trip we did in Amalfi so this time we decided on a smaller boat tour from one of the towns, Riomaggiore, by a company called Cinqueterre dal Mare.  We were glad we did. The beauty of the smaller boat tour was that with only 6 of us in total it was a lot more personal,  we stopped off and went for a swim a couple of times, used their phone chargers and put our drinks in their fridge. It was a great way to see the towns too. We stopped off in Vernazza for an ice-cream and finished the tour in Manarola followed by an amazing aperitivo overlooking the town in a lovely bar/restaurant called Nessun Dorma. We could have stayed there all evening but there was quite the queue to get in!

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Riomaggiore

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Taken from Manarola’s harbour

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I thoroughly recommend stopping for something to eat and drink here at Nessun Dorma because then you can relax and look out over…

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This at Manarola.

The following day we drove to Portofino just 20 minutes up the coast from Santa Margherita.

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It has to be the nicest stretch of coastline I’ve ever seen and is home to some of the nicest boats I’ve ever seen too. The road snakes around numerous bays and the water is so clear you can almost see the fish swimming by as you’re driving. We wanted to stop off at the public beach / bay in Paraggi but there was unfortunately no parking and we were limited on time. On reflection we should have walked to it in the early morning from Santa Margherita or taken the bus. It looked absolutely idyllic (not the private beach mind, which was filled to the brim with sunbeds and umbrellas).

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Look at this water! It was at least 2 meters deep here.

From there we headed to Pisa to catch a flight to Cagliari in Sardinia. We got there in plenty of time for the flight so as a good tourist, I made sure to prop up the tower.  Pisa is tiny! I imagined it was a big city like Florence or Siena but it’s not like that at all.

 

We got to Cagliari in the evening and headed to our apartment at Poetto beach, a very long stretch of wide sandy beach dotted with beach bars and restaurants.

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It was a bit stormy on the first day when I took this picture.

I didn’t warm to Cagliari as a city, though admittedly we only had one evening wandering around the streets and old town. The locals are very proud of their city so I can’t help but think I was missing something!

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I did discover a great new pasta dish though which is impossible to pronounce, Culurgiones. In my attempts to pronounce it, I come out with ‘coglioni’ which means testicles. Not wanting to order testicles (I’m vegetarian!), I usually settled for doing the typical tourist thing of pointing to the item on the menu. They’re like ravioli but filled with cheesy potato goodness.

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Food photography is not something that interests me so apologies for the blur, I was more interested in eating it than taking pictures of it. One of the great mysteries of Italy: If you order tagliatelle, they give you such a large portion you can barely finish yet if you order ravioli you need to have another 3 courses just to take the edge off your hunger after.

The other thing to try is a ‘dolce’ called Seadas (pronounced say-ah-das). It’s a fried pastry filled with cheese and then covered in honey.

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Filled cheesy pastry. This one was a bit dry, you need to have it with lots of honey!

To continue with our boat theme, the following day we had a trip around the coastline on a sailing yacht. There’s something special about sailing and it was nice to finish our trip on a high like that. We sailed to a bay an hour or two down the coast and then dropped anchor for lunch, a swim (or 5) and a sunbathe on the boat.  All in all it was a great experience but by then I was spoilt by the Ligurian coastline and in my opinion the Sardinian coastline (around Cagliari at least) is dry and characterless in comparison!  If we were staying for longer, we’d have hired a car and perhaps explored the Emerald Coast which is supposed to be more impressive.

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I did like a couple of pictures of the coastline but I’m having problems uploading them. Here’s a picture of a jellyfish and one of his team of fish that we captured and photographed instead! Strangely beautiful I think!

That about sums up Leg 2 of our trip. If you’ve been to any of the places I’ve mentioned and/or got any thoughts about them I’d be interested to hear!

In other news, on the weekend of the 13th/14th October, I’ll be selling my artwork at the Sapore D’Autunno (Taste of Autumn) festa in Montefalcone if anyone is local and fancies popping by!

A presto,

x

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Exploring Naples and the Amalfi Coast

Buongiorno a tutti!

I’ve been on holiday 🙂 A good friend of mine who used to live here for several years came for a long visit to Italy. We both have long lists of places that we’ve been wanting to visit and so we tried to incorporate them all. We had two “legs” to our holiday. We started off in Naples and headed down the Amalfi coast and then our second leg, a couple of weeks later, took us to the Ligurian coastline and Sardinia. In this post I’ll tell you about Leg 1!
Naples

I do love Naples. It was my second visit. You can read about my first one here. It’s so full of life and atmosphere. I drove from my house. It was about 4.5 hours to get to our apartment by the port, skirting around Naples as opposed to driving through the heart of it. That was stressful enough but then I made the mistake of listening to the sat nav to get to the airport to pick up my friend. I think I had more near death experiences in those 20 minutes than in my entire 38 years. People and motorbikes were coming at me from all angles like they were actively trying to get run over. It was like playing a real life game of Space Invaders, continuously having to take evasive action to avoid killing the suicidal Napolitanos that were trying to do death slides under the car. There were entire families balancing on scooters like they were involved in motorcycle circus events and all without helmets. I’ve decided that’s why there are so many churches in Naples (almost every other building!): it must be to cope with the excessive number of road deaths! My advice: Never, ever drive in central Naples.

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Naples is ‘unkemptly’ colourful

We discovered the underground world beneath the church San Lorenzo Maggiore entirely by accident really because we had wanted, and indeed thought, we were going to Naples Sotterranea (Naples Underground) which is another big tourist attraction. It wasn’t until I was writing this post that I realised we’d made a mistake! Anyway, it was an interesting tour all the same. Basically, Naples gets higher as the centuries pass! Archaeologists have dug down a few meters to reveal Greek ruins from the 5th Century BC. These were at some point covered in earth due to a mudslide/flooding and the next population (the Romans) built a market on top using them as a sort of foundation and nicking a bit of the original Greek stonework. After the next covering of mud, the Christians came to the party and built on top of that. I can’t help but think that if I dug down to discover several levels of ancient buildings which had been catastrophically covered in mud, I would reconsider the position of the thing I was building. Between that and the supervolcano all around Naples, I don’t know how they get house insurance.

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The tour also included things above ground including the chapels. One of the things that intrigues me about churches and religious buildings in Italy is how they ask people to cover their shoulders in order to go inside when the inside is often painted with scantily clad women with their breasts out and nude children. Clearly nobody mentioned the “no shoulder” policy to them.

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She doesn’t have a bag… Perhaps that’s where she keeps her keys.

Breasts covered but what about the shoulders!

We also tried a Napolitan delicacy which I’d never heard of before (though my mum has and has apparently made them!): the Rum Baba. Italian’s do a number of things very well, but in my opinion, cakes are not one of them. The cakes are generally dry and bland but oh no, not the Rum Baba! The Rum Baba drips with so much sugary rum that I think you could probably get drunk from eating a couple. It’s so unlike every other Italian cake and biscuit that you can even swallow it without having to dip it in your drink like the others. If you go to Naples, I thoroughly recommend giving one a go.

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This one must be a chocolate one – the traditional Baba’s are made with rum!

From Naples we drove to Sorrento to experience the Amalfi Coast. This will be controversial, but my lasting impression of the towns and landscape here is: dry and arid coastline dotted with the occasional town (not as colourful as one imagines) that are extortionate to park in (25 euros a day) with an unbearable number of tourists and where everything costs 5 times as much as it does everywhere else in Italy. I realise that I am perhaps the only person in the world that isn’t that impressed with the Amalfi coast so take my summary with a pinch of salt if you’re considering visiting!

There are good bits of course. If you ignore all of the above, Sorrento is lovely. There’s one main street with lots of little alleys off it with interesting shops.

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The views over the sea from Sorrento are gorgeous and overlook Vesuvius and Naples.

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We walked down to the harbour and had a nice meal on the seafront. Look at the amazing boat in the middle!

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I think the Cloister of San Francesco was my favourite thing in Sorrento, I even went back to paint there before we left.

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Perspective all wrong and it’s blurry but you get the gist!

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This was taken our first evening when the heavens opened just before a concert was due to start…

The other thing in Sorrento that I thought was quite interesting was this building which I guess must have been an old mill?

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The following day we took a tourist boat along the coast, stopping at Amalfi and Positano.

Amalfi was pretty, but even more bustling with tourists than Sorrento. If you’re thinking of having a swim there, don’t… Not unless you want to pay for a sunbed and umbrella as there are no “free” beaches apart from a thin sliver of pebbly beach and slipway between boats.

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I preferred Positano which seemed cleaner somehow and they had a slightly larger bit of beach, though it was so busy that you could touch your neighbouring beach-goers if you stretched your arms out. Alas, by the time I got to Positano I was too hot and bothered to take any pictures so here is a much nicer one than I could ever take from Pixabay…

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I think that about sums up Leg 1. I’ll report back on Leg 2 shortly.

Meanwhile, in other news, one of my walk reviews got published by Cicerone, you can read it here.

I hope you’re all well.

x

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