ButtonChops had a good summer. Alright, it might have felt like it had been pouring down for the first three quarters of it, but then we dusted the cobwebs off our swimsuits, bought some sunscreen (there were tons left in the shops – it had been raining constantly in Suffolk since the beginning of July) and headed off to Southern Italy and the WARM WEATHER.
It was dark by the time we first arrived in Sorrento; our taxi had been stuck in a traffic jam in the tunnel for nearly an hour and our first view of the town was hordes of people and Vespas coming at us from every direction (including the pavement). This wasn’t good I thought, we’ve made a terrible mistake – everyone we had spoken to back home had told us how wonderful this place was – but it just looked like Oxford Street at Christmas during a Scooter convention. Weary travellers, we collapsed in our hotel room, there was nothing for it, we were here now – we’d just make the most of it. At least it was warmer than Good Old Blighty. And it wasn’t raining.
So the next morning, we pulled back the curtains of our hotel room, looked out over the balcony and saw this…..
And everything was different.
Of course, it isn’t perfect. This is no Nirvana. The difference between North and Southern Italy quickly became quite apparent. For one, the North seemed much more prosperous – the poverty in neighbouring Naples is heartbreaking. Also, the environment: here Mother Nature is never far away with her pursed lips. During our short stay, planes and helicopters were constantly dumping water on the hillsides trying to dampen down bush fires (a recent large fire had burned on the side of Vesuvius for 10 days – a large blackened, scorched scar stamped into it’s side). A guide told us they hadn’t seen rain for so long that the olive industry could be under threat. On the nearby island of Ischia, one person died during an earthquake and there, dominating the skyline, Vesuvius – sleeping…. only sleeping….
Then there is the social infrastructure: here cash is definitely king, which is a surprise to many tourists who are advised not to carry a lot of money on them. We visited a museum and restaurant on Capri, only to be told “no cards – cash only” – even our hotel would only accept cash to pay for pre-booked taxis and excursions. It was also certainly more expensive than our last stay in northern Italy (although that may be more to do with the poor exchange rate – thanks Brexit). And I came to the conclusion that a lot of locals were definitely looking out for No 1 rather than working together as a whole community – tour guides think nothing of openly criticising restaurants or boat trips in favour of others.
The crowds were phenomenal (though to be honest, it was the busiest time of the year) and as for the driving, well that can only be described as absolutely nuts. Stuck in a traffic jam in the middle of a 3km long tunnel? – no sweat, just do a 3-point turn and go back. Stop signs? – hmm, they’re merely a ‘suggestion’. Car horns? – an essential form of communication. Every few minutes in fact. Family of 3 but only one Vespa? No problem, just put the kid in the middle….
Why would anyone want to go there I hear you ask? Because oh my goodness: the place is like no other. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. The town is beautiful, the people are beautiful, the food is beautiful, the sea is beautiful, the boats are beautiful, the wine is beautiful, the weather is beautiful, the sunsets are beauti…. well, you get the idea.
There are lemons everywhere. They can, and will stick a lemon on any and everything. And Lemoncello. And shops. The shops smell of lemons. Or leather, or wood. All beautiful smells. And Art. The artists selling their wares, the churches, the statues. And restaurants. The food is like no other. Italians enjoy their food and it shows. Even the most basic restaurant showed us a pride and care in describing the ‘special dish of the day’ and were concerned that everything was exactly right with our meal. And at night, there is music. Ok, much of it may be catered towards the tourist – Volare and Oh Sole Mio whilst you are eating your arrabiata, but who cares? It wasn’t screaming at you; no-one was shouting to be heard. People were enjoying themselves, the food, the atmosphere – just being there. This was something I felt we had lost back home – sometimes the noise level in UK restaurant are off the scale. What with piped music and people shouting over one another, nobody takes the time just to “be”.
On the Saturday we saw a local wedding: the newlywed couple walked along the street with the all the guests dressed up to the nines, following behind, throwing rice. Absolute strangers from all around the world had stopped to watch, some were even taking photos, although they had no idea who the bride and groom were. The couple rewarded the crowd with a kiss and the crowd rewarded them with cheers and applause. People were smiling. People were happy. For a moment, I think many of them had forgotten what was going on back home – and maybe that is what a holiday is supposed to do.
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