The Amalfi Coast

5 02 2012

view over Sorrento

In our recent European sojourn (actually it was May 2011 – time flies) we spent not-enough-time in Italy, based in Sorrento. On our first day in Sorrento we thought we were booked into a tour of Pompeii and Vesuvius but turns out it was the second day. So this left us with an unplanned day. We hopped on a tour of the Amalfi Peninsula. If I had but known, I would probably have taken the boat to Capri, but I didn’t work out how close it was until halfway through the tour. Nonetheless, it was fabulous exploring the peninsula, and I do like a tour where somebody who knows what they are talking about tells you what you are looking at.

So these photos were taken from a tour bus touring the Amalfi coast. Unfortunately I can’t remember all of the details of the sights we saw – the lighthouse rocks on Capri (viewed from the Mainland), the islands of the Sirens. But I can clearly remember the lemon orchards, sheltered from the weather by brush structures – and a renowned source of Limoncello, which I came to love so much as an after-dinner aperitif!

When in Sorrento we frequently had lemon sorbet as a dessert (yes I know it is supposed to be an appetite refresher between courses, but, none-the-less) and we have reproduced it at home. Basically the dessert runs like this: lemon sorbet, very finely grated lime zest, couple of spoonfuls of Limoncello. If you don’t have Limoncello, use vodka. This is an amazingly simple and yummy dessert and very refreshing, particularly if you like lemon. Which I do.

So please enjoy some photos from the Amalfi Coast. I am hoping to be back there soon.

lemon trees growing in the shade

hotel up a steep cliff from the road


Capri, with Lighthouse Rock formation on left

tall ship off Sorrento

fruit shop - featuring a giant yellow citrus fruit called Cidra


If you liked this post, you might also like:
A childhood dream (Pompeii)
Sorrento – an after-thought
More Pompeii photos

More Pompeii photos

5 02 2012

gymnasium – change-rooms and storage-rooms are built into the walls around the edge

The amazing thing about Pompeii is how large it is, The town was considered to have a population of anywhere between 12,000 and 22,000. It was a modern metropolis in 79AD when it was destroyed. It boasted plumbing – water piped into homes through lead pipes – storm-water drains, sign-posts on the street corners. The streets were paved and had footpaths and stepping-stones so you could cross the streets without walking in the horse manure. It had theatres, a gymnasium, bars, bakeries, a large fresh food market, and most famously, brothels. This was not a farming community, this was a city. When we visited, our guide was asked why we didn’t visit both of the amphitheatres. His answer was that if we had wanted to visit the other one it would have entailed a hour’s walk from the first one. It is a big place. (It was also quite hot and very humid when we were there.)

So here are a few (OK, really a lot) more photos from our visit to Pompeii last year. You might also like to Google Street-view of Pompeii (which will show you the exteriors of the buildings, but also the massive size of the place). Almost all of the rooves were destroyed in Pompeii, so where you see rooves on buildings, they are probably reconstructions to protect the interiors of the buildings.

And yes, unless you are an archeologist with a job on the digs, everywhere you go in Pompeii there will be tourists. Lots of them. But it was a city, so maybe it was about this busy when Vesuvius exploded in 79AD.

For further information on Pompeii there are plenty of books with fabulous photographs of the site and the treasures that have been found both here and at Herculaneum. Here are a few suggestions:

The Last Days Of Pompeii

Bodies From the Ash: Life and Death in Ancient Pompeii

The Wonders Of Pompeii

The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found

amphitheatre inside the theatre

detail of carvings on one of the columns at the gymnasium


details of the gymnasium / theatre complex

detail of the marble counter-top in the bar

paved street with raised footpaths

stepping-stones to cross the street without stepping in manure. The stepping-stones are wide enough apart to allow the wheels of chariots to pass through easily

some of the brothel "menu"

a stone "bed" in a brothel room. Presumably there must have been a mattress!

more "menu"

more "menu"

menu in the brothel

bar - theatre in the background.. The basins in the counter are for cooling jugs of wine.

shop with oven (possibly a bakery)

water fountain (drinking water)

Sacrificial Altar in the temple of Diana and Apollo

temple of Diana and her brother, Apollo, statue of Apollo

statue in the temple of Diana and Apollo

statue in the temple of Diana and Apollo

statue in the temple of Diana and Apollo

urns and other relics in the storage area, in the former food markets

reconstruction of a body, urns and other relics

cart, body and urns

reconstruction of a dog

plaster reconstruction of a body, surrounded by urns and other relics

not a pleasant death

Fish and wheat market

detail of carving on a column in the storage area of the markets

urns and other artefacts in storage area in the markets

meat and fish markets

paintings of the menu in the markets

row of shop fronts on the street

rain catchment in the front room of a house

a bar - the basins on the counter are for cooling wine

a bakery, with ovens visible

shop counters

wide city streets

lead pipes for plumbing. They presumably didn't know the dangers of lead poisoning.

storm-water drain in the street

tourists on a street

apparently a "good-luck" symbol, carved in the road. These are all over Pompeii on walls and roads.

main square

main square

main square

courtyard entrance to public baths

courtyard entrance to public baths

public baths

public baths

detail of wall carvings inside the public baths

detail of wall carvings inside the public baths

public baths

font inside the public baths

font in the Roman Baths

detail of marble craftsmanship inside the Roman Baths

exterior of private house

entrance to private house, mosaic "cave canem" - beware of the dog

courtyard letting light into the centre of a private house

private house looking to front entrance through atrium with rainwater collector

wall mural inside private house

household altar in the courtyard

household altar in a private house

streets of Pompeii

monument in the graveyard / mausoleum section, outside the city gates of Pompeii

exterior of a farmhouse outside the city gates of Pompeii. The roof is a reconstruction.

machine for pressing grapes

elaborate and bright murals inside the farmhouse. Experts are unsure whether this represents a cross-dressing cult or same-sex marriage....they knew how to party in Roman Pompeii!

atrium with rainwater catchment

farmhouse outside the gates of Pompeii. The roof is a reconstruction.

courtyard in farmhouse

farmhouse decoration - either men dressing as women based on Bacchus, or a woman being prepared for marriage

If you liked this post, you might also like:
A childhood dream (Pompeii)
Sorrento – an after-thought
The Amalfi Coast

Tom Tom abroad

9 11 2011

Just as tourists in Australia love road signs about kangaroos, I loved this one - "remember"

On our recent European sojourn (European sojourn sounds so fab – actually we really only had time for France and a quick trip to Pompeii / Sorrento), we decided to drive ourselves around the French countryside. Paris is of course best done by metro, but if you want to see a lot of different things outside Paris, you will need to drive.

So, cleverly, we bought ourselves a Tom-Tom GPS system and loaded a map of France, with the text and the audible instructions were all in English. So far so good.

And generally it was pretty good. We managed to get ourselves from Gare de Lyon in Paris, where we picked up the car, to Mont Saint Michel on the west coast, down a little to Carnac and Brest, then across to Lascaux, up to Chenonceaux and back to Charles de Gaulle airport with a minimum of fuss.

This of course will be the blog about the “fuss”. not about the “non-fuss”.

The fuss was of course a combination of user-error and Tom-Tom error.

Some of the user errors:
1. assuming that the village of Lascaux would be near to the Caves of Lascaux. (No, it is not – it was very scenic though.)

2. Leaving the seeking of petrol stations until you had less than one eighth of a tank left. (Because we wanted some panic on the holiday – who knows who to call if you run out of petrol in France? Not me.)

3. Assuming that the Tom-Tom would also be helpful as a walking guide. (No, not really – because you aren’t moving fast enough it has difficulty deciding which direction you are going.)

Some traps for new (and possibly experienced) users of Tom-Toms.

1. While most of the roads are clearly as they are in the GPS, some of the inner city ones don’t identify one-way streets – or try to send you down them anyway. Combine this with a fairly rudimentary understanding of French road signs and you can see why tourist drivers are a menace, the world over.

2. We did on one occasion get sent down somebody’s very long country driveway which the Tom-Tom clearly identified as a through-road. There were also a couple of instances where driveways or carpark entrances off roundabouts counted as exits from the roundabout (take the fifth exit…) which was confusing.

3. There was one instance where the road we were being guided into seemed to be an off-ramp for a freeway. Luckily it was permanently blocked.

4. In the middle of the French countryside there are roundabouts at non-intersections. It looks like perhaps they might be intending to build a road through the fields, but at this stage there are just a couple of exits that go a couple of metres in each direction. Sometimes we were being told to take that road.

5. Finding a petrol station (see above for last-minute panic – user-error) was confounded by the Tom-Tom not differentiating between a truck petrol station (providing only truck fuels) and a petrol station that also sold petrol for cars. Likewise many of the petrol stations turned out to be agencies – which were closed.

6. Some of the attractions don’t appear to be listed how you would expect them to be. Parc Asterix (Asterix Parc, Asterix Park, Asterix) would not come up in the Tom-Tom under any spelling I could enter. Luckily we had a brochure which told us which town it was near, and once we were near the town I could enter “nearby attractions” – and hey presto, suddenly it was on the Tom-Tom!

7. Futuroscope was another that we couldn’t find until we were close by. Then the Tom-Tom kept guiding us into the staff entrance, which was quite some way from the public entrance.

8. We did get into a couple of loops, largely because of roadworks. The Tom-Tom gives you the option of saying that you have hit roadworks and then it finds you a way around them. Sometimes this resulted in a loop. You can resolve this by just driving off in another direction and then resettig the Tom-Tom destination again.

Having said all that, would I use the Tom-Tom again? Absolutely. Despite the small annoyances and frustrations, it was a great way to maintain some level of independence in our travels, and also get where we wanted to go without having to spend the journey with my head buried in a map-book. The Tom-Tom freed us up to drive and look around, knowing it would alert us in time to ensure we got where we wanted to go. It also helped us with avoiding toll-roads. By avoiding toll-roads we ended up driving on roads that looked like they were farm tracks – until you came across the tiny village in the midle of the fields. We saw some parts of the country-side that most tourist would not see, and some very picturesque and seemingly untouched villages.

And in fact I was so impressed, that the Tom-Tom is currently in France again with a work-colleague.

Sorrento – an afterthought

1 11 2011

View over Sorrento on the drive from Naples

While we were on the other side of the world, we decided to hop across to Italy to have a look at Pompeii, one of my childhood dreams. An afterthought, almost. But a fabulous afterthought, as it turned out.

Luckily for us, the travel agent suggested we stay in Sorrento rather than Naples. Naples is of course the major city and airport, but is renowned for crime. The air pollution is pretty unbelievable as well, for someone coming from the comparatively clear blue skies of Australia.

Cruise liners and tall ship, Bay of Naples off Sorrento

Sorrento, technically a town about an hour’s drive from Naples, is much safer to wander around day and night, as well as being set up for the tourist market. I say technically a town, because the drive from Naples airport to Sorrento was unceasingly houses – there appears to be no break between any of the towns. They just run on one to another. Quite how you know which town you are in, when one ends and another begins, I don’t know. Anyway, I digress.

more laneways

Sorrento is gorgeous. Its narrow laneways and historic buildings sit atop cliffs that drop sharply into the Bay of Naples. Deep chasms cut their way through the town, affording views out to the Bay from unexpected places. Opposite our hotel was the end of a chasm entirely covered in greenery, with an old abandoned mill at the bottom.

ruined Mill at the bottom of a chasm opposite our hotel

laneways in Sorrento

The main square is lined with restaurants. Nearby the laneways form a permanent marketplace where fine jewellery shops abut tourist souvenirs shops. Exquisite marquetry is available in anything from a jewellery box through to a dining room table. Volcanic rock carved into statues (glitter optional). High class clothes and shoe shops, next to touristy t-shirt shops. Murano glass artwork, hand-painted views of the Amalfi Coast. Limoncello is 12 Euros for a litre – if only I could have convinced Australian customs to let me bring it into the country. The Limoncello here is much more lemony than anything I have tried back home.

Sorrento Town Square

The children loved our quick stop-over in Sorrento. The people were very friendly, seemed to love children and loved talking to them – and spoke English. This is the benefit of hanging around a tourist area! The boys were quite over struggling to understand another language by this stage.

The best restaurant we tried was a new one called Refood. It is owned by the same people who owned the hotel we were staying in – they talked us into trying their restaurant. We were very glad we did! Great atmosphere, some amazing Murano glass light fittings. Really fresh top quality food, and a wide variety. My only criticism of Sorrento restaurants is that generally they tended to serve a fairly standard “Italian” fare – lasagne, pasta, pizza etc. A little bit “same”. Re-food was different – a wide variety of really unique modern cuisine. The entree Trilogy was spectacular – swordfish and salmon, stacked in a salad with a lovely creamy dressing.

My only regret – somehow I didn’t realise how close to Capri we were. We could see it from the coast, even see the town on the island. Had I realised, we would have had a day-trip there as well. Never mind, we’ll just have to go back!

The Island of Capri, viewed from the mainland

If you liked this post you might also like some more travel posts…..
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
Napoleon’s Tomb
Galeries Lafayette

A childhood dream

24 07 2011

Vesuvius looms over the town square at Pompeii

In about 1974 or 1975 an exhibition of artefacts from Pompeii toured Australia. I visited it at the SA Museum in Adelaide. I was probably about 9 years old. I still have a postcard of one of the statues, carefully stuck into the back of my childhood photo album.

I had been fascinated to hear that when they were excavating Pompeii they kept coming across holes in the ash with bones in them. They tried filling the holes with plaster before they exposed them – and discovered that they were producing plaster casts of the people and animals who had died when Vesuvius erupted.

My lasting memory of the exhibition was of the plaster cast of a dog – arched around on its back with its legs in the air.

Fast forward to 2011.I am in the main square of Pompeii. Vesuvius looms large in the background, ever the reminder of why this town is the way it is. Pompeii is massive. They estimate between 12000 and 22000 people lived here. It is also remarkable not just for the preservation, but for the things we can find out about Roman life. They had plumbing throughout the town – lead pipes. There were water fountains and wells. The houses each collected water for the central use. Storm-drains funnelled rain away from the footpaths.

Stepping stones enabled people to cross the road without stepping in manure from the chariots. Deep ruts have been ground into the stones paving the roads – evidence of the iron-rimmed chariot wheels. This is one of the most amazing things I saw – evidence of actual human activity worn into stone.

inside a Pompeiian house

The houses were large with spacious rooms. Bars, bakeries and shops lined the paved streets. The most popular visit for tourists these days is the brothel – complete with paintings on the wall – our trilingual guide explains in Italian, English and French, that it is “like the menu in MacDonalds – you point at what you want”. Peppe is not only fluent in three languages, he is witty in them as well.

The plaster replica of a dog from Pompeii that I remember from my childhood

The baths were made of marble, as were the counter-tops in the bars. Houses had tiled mosaic entrances and brightly coloured murals on the walls. Pictures of Vesuvius show a forested pointed mountain, very unlike the denuded flattened top that exists today, post-explosion.

The plaster casts are eerie. Some of them, you can see the bones through the plaster. They apparently died from gas prior to the town being covered by ash. It wasn’t a pleasant death – the bodies are contorted. Some hold their hands over their faces. Families lie together – parents cocoon children.

In the afternoon we climbed Vesuvius, a very steep climb. The crater at the top is large and still smoking. The volcano overlooks Naples. They say another explosion is overdue, but that when it happens they will know in advance.

evidence of life - ruts from Roman chariot wheels

This was my childhood dream, to go to Pompeii. Next time I want to see Herculaneum, the other town lost to the same 79AD explosion.