Geoff had a last minute business trip to London and Paris… naturally I couldn’t resist turning it into a vacation…. 😉 so I spent a couple of days getting over jet-lag with my parents in Windsor while poor Geoff hit the slopes running in London (starting off well by acquiring a $150 fine for getting lost in London and straying into the congestion charge zone by accident!) 😉
A couple of photo’s of Windsor are at: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/rzj2ggz1ip7nuhd/6TDbP0SpGl
And then 5 days in gay Pariiiiissss – Gary and Tracey flew out to meet us in Montmartre for a weekend of patisserie and cocktail related debauchery before Geoff had to start work again…it passed all too quickly in a blur of restaurants…..bad french (except for Gary who never fails to impress with his good schoolboy french as opposed to our bad schoolboy/girl french 😉 )…photo op’s extraordinaire……and a tragically touristy two day open-topped bus ride….luckily the kind you can at least hop on and off when you lose the will to live between the interminably long drives from one destination to the next 😉
On the upside it did cover a lot of ground so it saved our delicate feet and it was a lovely view from up top – on the downside it was a freezing 65F…..although only frigidly cold to Geoff and I, it seemed – nobody else thought it was necessary to wrap up in skiing jackets, hiking boots and scarves…..thin Floridian blood I guess 😉
AND…as I discovered once G and T had headed back home and Geoff was doing what he was supposed to be doing there – slaving over his laptop again……..it was still quicker and easier to cover all of Paris on foot – with the added bonus that I managed to successfully convince myself that if I walked from one end of Paris to the other (which, of course, I did :-)!) for 8 hours a day for 3 days I could actually justify the 2 lattes, 2 quiches and 2 apricot tarts I gorged on twice a day for breakfast and lunch 🙂 My motto is, of course, have map will travel …and I didn’t get lost or disorientated once save for an unfortunate and stressful 20 minutes when I walked round and round the Louis Vuitton store – mainly trying to get out again rather than enjoy the very latest in $10k designer handbags….I’ll never make that mistake again simply to escape the cold for a few minutes 😉
We were staying on the Champs Elysees right by the Arc de Triomphe so whereever I was headed to for the day (still clad as though I were setting out on an arctic hike) I had to walk the whole length of the tree-lined Champs Elysees and its parks – which were lovely. It was, of course, in full autumnal swing – which we kinda miss once in a while – so I spent my time skipping through the fallen golden leaves like an 8 year old day-dreaming about the next patisserie stop…I’m not sure Paris gets much better than that in the fall 🙂
You can see our piccies of Paris at: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/effatvj5yffxr23/CcjDm2DTrB
And finally….on to Naples, the Amalfi Coast and Capri 🙂
Geoff and I have wanted to go to the Amalfi coast for many years…which I suppose is why the reality of it was partially disappointing – not totally – but we had to adjust to the fact that this place is largely NOT Italy … 😦 at least Positano where we stayed…..
Positano is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous – from a distance….
It looks every bit the part of a Cary Grant movie …open-top cars..hair-raising blind bends along one of the worlds most famous drives..dramatic bougainvillea clad mountain faces plunging into the sparkling deep blue sea…colourful fishing boats bobbing about on the waves….pastel painted houses piled on top of each other on the mountain sides…. flower covered balconies..fab sunsets….
However….to what should be the eternal shame of the locals it has been scrubbed, polished, buffed and manicured to the point of total obliteration of anything vaguely italian about the place….we suspect some italians may still live in some of the back streets (maybe)..and certainly the shops (all horrendously touristy) are owned and operated by italians….but when the first language you hear in the stores is english and the best pizza in town is barely discernible from a take out from Pizza Hut…and the parmesan is the “grated in a bag” type from the local supermarket you know something truly awful has happened to the place! And, of course, the truly horrible thing which has happened to it is its total americanization for the visitors from the USA who seem to be the only people to spend much time there…..as we fall into that bucket too we felt quite guilty on behalf of our adopted nation that we had, by default, so totally ruined this place :-(…not that the local business owners are exactly crying all the way to the bank but they certainly don’t spend their leisure time there strolling the water front or sitting in the bars and restaurants enjoying the fab food as they would be anywhere else in Italy ;-)!!
Out of desperation I suspect, Geoff developed an inexplicable addiction to fresh anchovies, garlic and lemon-juice and is still in rehab now… 😉
The fact that I endured a particularly hideous bout of food poisoning two days into our visit from the alleged top restaurant in town didn’t endear me greatly to the awful food there. Luckily we were staying at a beautiful hotel – and if you have to be violently sick for 36 hours a renovated palace is certainly THE place to do it..in between hurried dashes from my bed to the bathroom I did get to enjoy the fab view from the patio balcony as the seas breezes wafted in and bedside waiter service from Geoff 🙂
So….unless you like the authenticity of a sanitized Disney theme park this is probably one to pass through ;-)..well…maybe go for 1 night to enjoy the physical beauty of the location…don’t bother with the restaurants by the beach (no Italian would touch them with a barge pole)..and splash out to stay in abject luxury at the Palazzo Murat (in fact, we had by far our best meal of the week there ….pity it was the last night otherwise we might have eaten there every night ;-))…..and then…. get out as soon as possible en route to somewhere you might find some real Italians 😉
On a more positive note we did like Ravello and Amalfi town and its environs a lot more… they are clogged with gelato vendors (who still have an unlikely excellent command of the english language) around the main piazzas …..but we headed straight for the hills so to speak and spent our time wandering the back streets where the locals definitely did live….strings of washing adorning the old facades…narrow, winding staircases running between the houses …..fat happy cats grooming after their fish dinners down by the water in Atrani…. and beautiful piazzas to sit down, relax and enjoy some proper italian coffee, food and wine…. with real live Italians on holiday too!! 🙂
Thank goodness! 🙂
We also liked Capri 🙂 …we bravely risked the ferry crossing the day after my unfortunate 36 hours spent in our palatial bathroom and fared rather better than 50% of the other passengers who spent their time dashing out past me to lose their breakfast (I was distracting myself with photographing the fabulous scenery and concentrating on standing upright while Geoff spent the whole time staring at the horizon so he didn’t have to join the queue for the bathroom!). In their defense it was probably the worst 1/2 hr crossing imaginable…..5′ swell and chop coming from all sides…which was a challenge 😉
Capri Town was very pretty (not the harbor town Marina Grande – unless you like t-shirt shops and the sort of eateries you might expect to find at a London Underground station)…we hiked as far as we could in 1 day round the coast and tried to avoid salivating over the shop windows in the town…when you don’t even recognize the names of the designer stores and they have push button entries to keep the riff-raff out you know they are probably a wee bit out of your price range ;-)…..generally Capri is not for the empty of wallet in any event…..we discovered this at one of the restaurants in the main piazza when the bill arrived for a small 8″ pizza (the only thing they served in case anyone thinks we only ever eat pizza …..we were also STILL at that stage in an enthusiastic search for that elusive creation – a REAL italian pizza!)…a bottle of water, one beer and a small salad…$50…
Time to move on so we crossed the mountains exploring the vineyard towns en route…got unbelievably lost…wished we had taken the GPS option with the rental car…almost got stuck in the centre of some ancient town where the locals stopped to stare at the idiot tourists trying to drive through their town….almost threw the “map” out of the window in frustration as we circled the same town 4 times in search of a nonexistent road…..my fault…..but don’t tell Geoff 😉 …..stopped to ask a passing farmer out picking his grapes for directions to said non-existent road ( but clearly my italian wasn’t up to it and I was far too mesmerized by his single tooth and general mediaeval state of dental hygiene to interpret anything he said with any great effort)…G was highly amused 😉
…..and finally…..having found the correct road out of the mountains by virtue of having already travelled all of the others and this was the only one left….we finally saw the Bay of Naples and a fab view of the monstrously huge Mount Vesuvius looming large over the equally huge (and equally monstrous) city of Naples ;-).
We had a quick stop in Pompeii – not sure why as museums are never on our list – but it seemed churlish to be there and not see it for 1/2 an hour…..so…4 hours later we were still wandering round in the dusty streets and the heat (Naples seems to be 20F hotter than the Amalfi Coast) trying to decipher the worlds 2nd worst map of the day, the appalling “street signs” and the dead ends in a desperate attempt to escape the throngs who poured relentlessly from the tour buses. The reconstruction work of the buildings, courtyards, vineyards and gardens was amazing (if I’m being honest) and the items they found undamaged in the rubble and ash were quite surprising…..the highlight being the carved marble base of a table owned by one of the men who stabbed Caesar…that’s as much history as we could both take in between tripping up over the curbstones and banging into groups of tourists…our over-riding positive thought was how impressive this race of people was – more advanced than many current civilizations in terms of standards of living, access to running water etc..etc…..not bad for AD79. We suspect they could have taught the current inhabitants a thing or two about the state of their restrooms 😉 Pity they have to display the casts of the bodies of the poor souls who died writhing in agony…a glimpse of one of those from the corner of my eye was quite enough to put me off my lunch….is nothing sacred in this world?
And final stop – Naples. Luckily we were only there for one night 😉 To be fair the (old Town) Spaccanapoli area we stayed in was probably the most interesting – it was certainly very colorful….and got more and more colorful as night fell ;-)….it did, however, prove to have the best pizza in the world (at last!!) and was the first time we actually felt we were in “real” Italy….no english spoken anywhere 🙂 . You have to have a strong stomach for the aroma of the warm trash dumpsters littering the streets but if you are careful what you tread in and try to see past the grunge it has some fab old buildings, cute courtyards and was totally authentic (yippee!!) and we loved it!
Photo’s of Italy are at: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/89mtpdz3l1bu890/Bi79ev4ZNn