Atlantis Alumni

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Last Excursion

Patti LaPone entertains aboard the Celebrity Solstice

At the port in Naples

The spectacular Amalfi Coast

We came to Sorrento!

After a day at sea, the ‘Solstice’ arrived in Naples. We had not visited the third largest city in Italy for twenty-five years. At the harbor the ship was close to the Castello Nuovo (or New Castle,) an old Medieval fortress which is one of the landmarks of Napoli. But we did not re-visit any sights in Naples, instead having opted for a tour along the costiera Amalfitana or Amalfi Coast. On a long drive, our bus took us first to Positano, a jet-set town on the sea. It was crowded and full of shops, but set in a beautiful series of cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean. The bus then headed to Sorrento, in an equally beautiful natural setting, and even more crowded with tourists hunting the innumerable shops. Our tour guide Margot insisted that although the French had the Cote d’Azur, the Amalfi Coast is more spectacular. It is on higher cliffs, but both seem equally beautiful to me.

The highlight of Sorrento was a leisurely lunch in the most famed hotel in the town, the Hotel Grand Excelsior Vittoria. In 1921 Enrico Caruso died in this hotel, and it was fascinating to see its Victorian grandeur. We dined in a separate dining room with amazing views of the Bay of Naples. First we ate a salad with fresh shaved Parmesan cheese, then pasta with zucchini and white sauce, followed by a sea bream in a light tomato sauce, accompanied with roasted potato nuggets, all washed down with Prosecco, white and red local wines from Campagna, and mineral water. These courses were followed by a plate of fresh fruit alongside a slice of mocha cake drenched in amaretto. As one might imagine, many fell asleep on the bus after such a repast. But I struggled to keep my eyes open; after all, how many times will I visit that gorgeous coast?

By mid-afternoon the bus reached Pompeii. Jim and I had visited the ancient city 25 years ago. But it seemed larger than ever, and there are reports that excavations continue. Though unable to visit some of the finest villas, due to time constraints, we did see the training ground of the gladiators, the forum, the brothel, and a market place surrounded by paintings. It was amazing to see the remains of such a vibrant civilization that existed and thrived over two thousand years ago. Dust swirled up from the ground, but the wind made the ruins seem less hot than some spots we had visited when in Rome. Saddest of all were the plaster casts of those who perished in the explosion of Vesuvius all those centuries ago. They included a slave with a belt bearing his owner’s name still around his waist, and a contorted dog: these were vestiges of ancient Roman life. Those who did not escape Pompeii in time were suffocated by the poisonous fumes from the volcano.

Currently Vesuvius is considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, and the geologists expect it to explode again. Yet many farmers living nearby will not move, despite offers of cash from the government. Our guide told us they consider Vesuvius to be their ‘big brother.’ Some brother!

After a last dinner on board the ship, we rose extremely early the next morning and took our bus transfer from Civitavecchia to Rome’s Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci Airport. Soon we will fly back to Philadelphia and resume our normal lives. But we will remember our Mediterranean trip and the new friends we met aboard the ship. Thanks to Jim’s photos we’ll also have fond memories of this extraordinary trip.


No comments: