ALLORA….

Italia, here I come.

Rome, we know was not built in a day, but where are the Gladiators? There are carabiniere – armoured vehicles only. Forget about strutting, these chaps don’t like being photographed.

 

A ‘Night by Rome’ tour was a great idea. It was semi walking through city sights via narrow lanes & by lanes with little or no traffic & small crowds. The historic places – brilliantly lit up – appeared to have better visibility too.

So also a boat ride down the Tiber, music, food & wine included. We started at the bridge near Castel Sant Angelo & finished at Isola Tibertina near another historic bridge, the Ponte Cesare.

 

On the go, meet – eat –shop one must & no place better than the newly opened ‘Mercato Centrale’ (Roma Termini) Its size & scale will astound. What absolutely caught the fancy was a leisurely day out in Trastevere. Absolutely enjoyable wandering aimlessly – gelato in hand –scouting the Sunday Flea market & riding a tram back to the train station.

Trastevere: Steps                                                 And the tram

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Ponte Cesare

Most people visiting Italy make it a point to include Pisa & Pompei in their itinerary but they make day trips, basing themselves elsewhere. That, I think is a mistake for both towns deserve better as they have much to offer. Sleeping – awaking in a place is in any case an entirely different experience. Little things like having a cappuccino – croissant at an outdoor café as the town comes alive. Or watching the streets swept & washed. In Pisa they did it everyday.

A word about ‘M Gorkij’. Having checked in I was handed a set of 3 keys – entrance, corridor, room – & shown around before Elena vanished never to be seen again. Neither she nor any other hotel staff, all the days I was there. Not even when I finally checked out. I simply deposited the keys & whamooshed. But, who’s complaining. It was a nice, quiet place. Room cleaned & linen changed every day.

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Doors, Florence

                         Roof tops, Pisa                                               River Arno, Pisa

Pisa, was my base for day trips to Chianti /Tuscany & Cinque Terre. The small towns of Siena, Luca, Castellani & Monteriggone were a delight, more so with generous amounts of Chianti red wine, cheese, salami, olives & balsamic. All of it, followed by more wine & 3 course meal at a country resort.

Luca, with its old Renaissance walls is especially memorable. It was a lovely day. I had missed the 10.20, it was an empty platform & I had it all to myself so, a few yogic stretches & bends seemed perfectly in order.

(Luca to Pisa is a mere 30 minutes & the train brings you right inside the ancient walls.)

Monterosso, Cinque Terre

Renaissance walls, Luca                 Monterigione

Chianti, wine country

Traveling solo is ideal but a little company gives variety. We were a group of 7 doing Cinque Terre along with Amy, our young, vivacious guide & we ended up using every mode of transport – minivan, train & ferry. Starting at La Spezia, a port town from where the hill climb begins ( also famous for the white Caracas stone used by Michelangelo) & onwards to the 5 picturesque towns wedged between mountain & sea. The first of these was Riomaggiore where we switched from van to train, journeying along the Tyrrhenian coast to Vernazza & Monterosso with brief halts everywhere. Monterosso is the largest in the region but Riomaggiore, with its quaint little train station & murals is special. A break for lunch, some souvenir shopping & a ferry, to Porto Venere, going past Lord Byron’s alcove (he liked swimming there), bidding goodbye to the gorgeous coastline. Cinque Terre or the Italian riviera is stunning, the landscape more real & authentic than its counterpart on the French side which, comes across as a cluster of ultra rich towns & designer villages. 5 Terre is a UNESCO heritage site hence any new construction or alteration is forbidden. Consequently, there are no lifts or elevators. Flights of stairs that look like gateways to heaven lead to precarious homes atop cliff hanging villages. The inhabitants, all old, retired fishermen continue to toil up & down,visiting friends & neighbours et al.

 

A small, mixed group is also jolly good fun. And Americans are outrageous fun. Naïve, simple, generous, Robert hated walking. He was, quite obviously there on account of his wife who nagged him – sweetly & constantly.

“ Rob – Bert. Where arrrr U Rob-Bert,” she’d drawl, looking around.

“O, F—k off”, he’d respond.

Robert was of Italian origin & mouthed aphorisms like – “a happy wife is a happy life,” & “water for lungs/wine for the heart.”

Said with a straight face, his favourite was, “ Italians never divorce their wives. They simply murder them”

There was this other wearing flimsy, skimpy clothes & fanning herself on a cold windy day.

“you must be cold?” I say.

“No Dear” she replies. “I have the hot flushes”

 

Cinque Terre

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Train station, Riomaggiore

Pompei can only be described as picture perfect. Mute witness to the splendour of the Roman empire, a smoking volcano in the background, it has the most spectacular ruins anywhere in the world. And Iside, the lovely family owned property was precisely 10 minutes away from the Scavi. It was a boutique hotel, gave personalised service & breakfast that included an assortment of fresh fruit, juice, home-made cakes & jam.

Pompei Scavi

The pleasures of strolling in traffic free Venice – best place ‘tween earth & sky – can only be experienced not described. One easily gets lost, then miraculously finds the way again. I soon got a hang of it, which was that Venice essentially revolved around 3 major pivots – VSL station, San Marco Square & Rialto bridge – One simply followed clearly marked arrows leading to either of these places. Venice is in any case too small. Getting lost is therefore an impossibility. It is quaint, it is strange, it is above all like none other.

I did a Chichetti /wine, walking tour of the Jewish ghettos walking from Osteria to Osteria & Bacaro to Bacaro tasting wine & small eats that can hardly be termed small.

Venice: San Marco, Bridge of Sighs & Rialto

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Capri’s iconic swimmer

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Murano:  glass blower in action

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Burano

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Torcello

Naples, a city I hardly researched or expected anything from turned out to be full of surprises. From the moment of setting foot all & sundry warned – ‘do be careful’. Total strangers even, setting off a panic scare but the reality was something different. Anything untoward can happen anywhere. Lets just say that Napoli is as safe or unsafe as any other city. It is vibrant & full of energy, with fair amounts of noise, speeding & honking. It has, to top it all, Mt Vesuvius – the best view by far. There are other memorable vignettes, like the eye-catching metro at via Toledo & the balcony singer on via Trebunale who had every passer-by enthralled. There definitely is something in the air that spells music, soft breezes, romance, abandon & laughter. No surprise therefore that it was the scene of movies like ‘Yesterday,Today, Tomorrow’ & ‘Scent of a woman.‘

My one big regret? I did the unthinkable. I did not have a Neapolitan. This, in the birthplace of pizza is an unforgivable sacrilege. ‘Antica’ Trattoria, Pizzeria & Frigettoria inundate the place, so what was I thinking?

 

Naples cannot be signed off without a big thank you to Gabrielo, Cristina & the team at ‘B & B Sweet Sleep.’ Go for it guys! This B&B is money’s worth. Not just the breakfast & service but rooms on the top floor with balconies overlooking Piazza Garibaldi. The terrace with a roof top garden had a jacuzzi, restaurant & bar & a tantalising glimpse of Vesuvius.

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Mt Vesuvius from Naples sea front

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via Toledo, Naples – adjudged best metro station in Europe

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Naples, Balcony singer

I arrived at Salerno on a feast day – the feast of St Mathew, patron saint of the city. There were marching bands, firework displays, tableau, crowds & an entire city decked up to witness the saints taken out in procession.

Salerno was meant to be a spring-board to Amalfi, because of its proximity & because it was budget friendly. It is a city of churches & fountains & has a long, arching promenade. There is a ferry to Amalfi, Positano & Capri by the hour. Avoiding hair pin bends & traffic jams this is the best & least tiring way to enjoy the beauty of the coastline.

Sorrento, Amalfi, Positano –  all lovely, albeit touristy & overwhelming. The real steal is Ravello. Gem of a mountain town Ravello assaults the senses. The bus from Amalfi climbs steeply up the sea-coast offering sudden & breath taking views. It boasts a beautiful Duomo, castle & square & has cafes, bars & ceramic shops along with quiet corners & walks. Only 30 minutes from Amalfi, it is neither crowded nor touristy.

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Salerno

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Positano

Ravello: Ceramics galore

Hotel vs Air B&B vs Home Stay, what should it be? What would Salerno have been without Annarossa?. She met me on arrival, hauled luggage up 40 stairs, served a bountiful Feast day lunch & opened hearth & home in the most generous of ways. Anna was bohemian & care free & spread good cheer much like Amelie who gave every visitor a friendly ‘meow’ before settling on the sofa. Anna was like, ‘ prego…….make yourself at home…. all yours….’

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Amelie on her perch

21 days in Italia. What does one make of it?

May or may not make sense but Sophia says it best

                                     “ Everything you see I owe to spaghetti”

 

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Single Jingle

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Travel we all. Except that some of us enjoy doing it alone. But the strange thing about going solo is that one is never really quite alone. You are single & by yourself, not alone. As for fears of getting lonely, don’t even think about it, for there is no such thing.

 

Wandering off on your own allows freedom ‘to be’. To be completely & honestly yourself. Nobody knows you. Nobody judges you. Which is also to say that, you are not carrying any ‘baggage’. Meet people at will or shun them altogether. Talk if you must. Walk the streets or join a local tour. The choice is yours. There is no one you must humour, or pander or make compromises with. You are your own.

 

All I ever need is a room with a view, a journal to scribble upon & a book, related to the place – no matter how remotely. Preferably, a work of fiction.

 

After months of research, sifting through facts & details & sorting out travel nitty-gritty it is well to loosen up & relax. Therefore fiction. A book of your choice. Always the perfect companion.

 

My trip to Cameron Highlands, Malaysia would surely not have been the same without Tan Twan Eng & ‘The Garden of Evening Mists.’ Tan turned out to be the perfect soulmate & that greatly enhanced the experience.

 

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Take F Fitzgerald Scott & ‘Tender is the Night.’ A light, frivolous companion to anyone traversing the playgrounds of the rich & famous – the French Riviera. It was amusing to hear two characters argue the merits & demerits of Paris vs Rome. Which was more crime infested? The story plays out in the first decades of the last century & here am I  – France 2015 – robbed & taken to the cleaners over a 100 years later.  Clearly some things never change.

 

At another, more sober level is Graham Greene’s ‘The Quiet American’. A novel set in French Indo-China. A different matter though that Vietnam (2016) does not care about wars long past & forgotten. Buddha-like almost. Talk of living in the present!

 

Closer home, if visiting Kerala, I suggest taking along Arundhati Roy, if you can stomach her or Salman Rushdie. ‘God of small things’ & ‘The Moor’s last sigh’ are both excellent reads & will give that extra zing & flavour.

Amitav Ghosh did just that to Gangasagar – Sunderbans – 2013.

‘The Hungry Tide:’  Boy O Buoy, did it shore up EQ! (emotion quotient)

 

Where to next? You may ask. And, with whom?

Italy this Fall. With Buzzati.

Dino Buzzati & his “strange & haunting novel” ‘The Tartar Steppe’ that has been described as “an eccentric classic”.

Eccentric?  Let me read it first.

 

Note: Russia is in the pipeline for 2018. I have heard of a Russian tale where the protagonist collects water from the major rivers of the world & stores it in little bottles, all kept in a row. Book, author, story writer – unfortunately unknown.

But it’s what I have set my heart upon & will take along to read.

Help! Anyone out there? Would be ever so grateful.

 

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