Friday, August 26, 2016

La Dolce Vita Along the Amalfi Coast

Gazing out onto the rich blue waters of the Mediterranean below, the boats floating on her calm surface, the pastel colors of the houses built into the sides of the cliffs which spring up nearly vertically from the ocean, I stop for several minutes in great appreciation of the beauty around me.
Positano and the vibrant blue waters below

pastel colored houses going straight uphill
The steep coastal mountains prevent any large population centers from forming and make traversing the area by land a slow and difficult ordeal. A single windy road snakes its way
through Italy's Gold Coast and at multiple points is simply too narrow for large vehicles to pass one another, each lane having to patiently wait its turn, as one looks at their window at the 500 foot drop below.

Tourism fills the coffers here, and the Amalfi Coast's mild climate, topography, and limited space makes any marketing of the destination extraneous.
Beaches are few and far between (literally) and all of them very rocky. Still, the small areas available are absolutely packed during the summer.

a restaurant in Positano- note the lemonsFood here is farm fresh, with most of the vegetables and fruits served from no more than a few kilometers away. The local specialty is a lemon liquor called "limoncello." It's often sold in bottles imitating Italy's boot-like shape in the atlas.
Prices here are far more expensive than the rest of Italy as prices are marked for tourists, coupled with the fact that commerce in the area takes more resources.
one way to get goods through the narrow + steep streets is still mules
with narrow + steep streets mules are still used to transport goods

Within each population center rests at least one ancient church, containing paintings and frescos still on the walls from almost a millenia ago. The church was what society at that time plowed its limited resources into so its not surprising that these are the structures which have survived.
video: interior of Amalfi's 13th century church

But being here, where life is so easy because of the natural beauty and ancient relics which are magnets for tourist dollars, it also shines a spotlight on Italy's economic problems. In Salerno consumed by thirst and hunger after a hike, I walked down the the city's main street at 2 PM on a Thursday; all the businesses were boarded up- siesta time.
the geletaria, the caffe, and another business all shut-down during the early afternoon on a weekday
I don't blame Italy for wanting to lead a good life full of sleep and drink- it's human nature. But honestly, the expectation of the countries of Southern Europe (Spain, Italy, Greece) to subsequently be bailed out by their better to do, more industrious Northern cousins is hypocritical and I completely understand the pushback from Germany and the Netherlands. The flip-side of human nature and why socialism on a mass scale simply doesn't work.
Video: gorgeous views along a trail of the Amalfi Coast

Video: a tiny town above the cliffs of on the Amalfi Coast

Nevertheless, the Amalfi Coast is well worth visiting and one of Europe's most beautiful destinations. Just make sure to carry your own water during siesta time.

Video: in Italy, we have water, but we don't waste it- unlike Los Angeles

Video: Thirsty in Amalfi vs. Flint Michigan

sunset in Sorrento
sunset in Sorrento

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Beauty all Along the Amalfi Coast of Italy

"Die on the Amalfi Coast and your soul need not travel to reach heaven." -- Bishop Nokrabi Thailandino of Ravello, 1536

The most well known towns on Italy's Gold Coast are Positano, Amalfi, Ravello, and Salerno, which, along with small villages and farming communities dotting the steep hills which seem to spring vertically from the sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean, comprise the Amalfi Coast.
The topography and sheer verticality of the cliffs allow for only small communities, and only Salerno at the end of the coastal range could possibly be considered a city, with it's shipping port and larger population.

Below you'll find photos and a couple videos of the beautiful area for your visual enjoyment. 

approaching Positano from afar
a restaurant in Positano- note the lemons
a restaurant in Positano- note the lemons. vegetables + fruits very fresh and local
one way to get goods through the narrow + steep streets is still mules
one way to get goods through the narrow + steep streets is still mules

apartments in Positano
the street down to the beach in Positano
the street down to the beach in Positano
church has beachfront property in Positano
crowded beach (albeit rocky) area in the summer


Amalfi- from the sea
Video: Thirsty in Amalfi vs. Flint Michigan (fun)
All towns have an ancient church, built back in the Middle Ages with art adorning their walls from the same period. It's easy to transported back in time when entering one of these structures. 
St Andrew's church in Amalfi
St. Andrew's of Amalfi- worshippers gaze at their technological God
chapel of Amalfi church
Salerno, the city coast line
Salerno, the city coast line
the boardwalk near the ocean in Salerno
lab drinks from a fountain
a yellow labby on his hind legs drinking from the fountain! Gosh I'm a sucker for labs!
the port of Salerno
Salerno coast beaches are very small
castle atop the hill of Salerno
the port of Salerno from higher up the hill
the ancient Salerno church from a higher elevation
the beach club of Salerno- the Amalfi Coast's beaches are all Rocky!

The Surrounding Countryside
on the hike from Amalfi to Positano

agriculture steps in the side of the cliff - almost Incan
agriculture steps in the side of the cliff - almost Incan
the windy road below

hiking around Amalfi
the coastline 

Ravello interestingly sits atop a mountain, and has a fabulous view of the surrounding area. The town is famous for it's intricately decorated ceramics, which are not featured here as the stores requested we not take photos of their work. 
flowers in Ravello
high above the water in Ravello
sitting on the edge high above the water in Ravello

Video: cliffs with holes + view of the coast from up high in Ravello
From the Boat- the better way to travel the Coast
a small town at water's edge
around Salerno
bon voyage to the Amalfi Coast

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Fact Free History of Pompeii + Modern Day Tour

Pompeii from outside

As a noted historian, I was recently asked to give a guest lecture at an Ivy League school which, for reasons of confidentiality, will remain nameless, about the history of Pompeii. Caring dearly about my readers, and even more so reducing my work load, here is a transcript of my talk at Harvard University:
remnants of Pompeii- thought to be a bakery
remnants of Pompeii- thought to be a bakery
"Standard sunny summer Southern Italian day in the year 79 AD, and you're walking around drinking from an aqueduct which brings you water via a lead pipe, when, with all that toxicity affecting your brain, it suddenly dons on you, that, in fact, Italy has not been invented yet!
ruins of Pompeii
ruins of Pompeii

Tragically, before you can share your epiphany with anyone Mount Vesuvius erupts and buries you under tons of scalding volcanic ash, which, frankly, serves you right."

(murmur from the crowd as I adjust my papers and glasses which have fallen down my nose)

"So 25 meters (80 feet) of volcanic ash buries Pompeii, kills you, your family, and everyone you know. Of course The Huffington Post which doesn't believe in personal responsibility will tell you that Ash is the victim as he was birthed to volatile and fiery family.
But now, Ash Vesuvius has an attack of conscience over his mass murder (HuffPo: "No Ash! Volcanic society made you this way!)  and decides to to physically protect what little remains of Pompeii.
And so Ash wrap protective arms around the city preserving what he didn't destroy by keeping the ruins free from air and moisture, which turned out to be a pretty stupid move, a guilty killer preserving the evidence of his crime, because a millenia and a half later, it was pretty easy for detectives (archaeologists) to know whom exactly was responsible for the destruction of the ancient Roman city.
Today Ash has largely been cleared, and as punishment, ends up in toothpaste at the dentist's office, hence the origin of the aphorism, "ashes to ashes."
Pompeii courtyard- statues added and worn down for effect by the Italian board of tourism
Pompeii courtyard- statues added and worn down for effect by the Italian board of tourism

So, despite its sordid history, Pompeii is still a great place to tour, and that honestly, while not a fan of Ash's original actions, I was a huge fan of his caring and preserving heart. Enjoy the below videos and photos below of remnants of the ancient city.

original frescos of Pompeii still preserved today! 

One of the genius archaeologists noted that some of the blocks of ash excavated seemed hollow, both by sound and weight, so he decided to test his hypothesis by injected them with liquid plaster, and thus discovered shapes of bodies which, though had long ago disintegrated, the ash had already hardened around the shapes of their bodies.
Video: the exact position where a poor Pompeiin perished, trying to protect himself from the molten ash

boobs in Pompeii
boobs! Right? guys are expert spotters!
Pompeii stadium seating- original amphi-theater
Pompeii stadium seating- original amphi-theater
Another incredible place to visit was a Pompeii brothel, which had a stone erection carved into the wall to denote the establishment. 
look in the center above the small window and see the marker of a Pompeii brothel
inside a Pompeii brothel
no language barrier: just point to your desired sexual position
Inside the brothel you'll find a stone bed, upon which a very thin mattress was placed. This was designed to insure the customer (usually named John) cleared out quickly to let new ones in. If you didn't speak the language, no problem, just point to artwork on the wall for your preferred sexual position.
Video: inside a Pompeii brothel- pretty cool, though the service was lacking

reproduction of a million piece fresco found in Pompeii's wealthiest home.
Original in Naple's museum
the central square of Pompeii- with the criminal Vesuvius in the background
the central square of Pompeii- with the criminal Vesuvius in the background
original decorations still on the walls- was very cool!
On the whole I would say that if you're around Southern Italy/ near the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii is a must see. Oh, and as described above, no need to worry about the language barrier.
an ancient drinking fountain

The Acropolis + Remnants of Ancient Greece

Use your imagination, Ancient Greece, founders of democracy and principles the world still cherishes today (well, some of it.) They sit on these very stones, expounding and theorizing; Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Zeus, and Apollo!
Remnants of this civilization remain, and you can visit the ancient stone structures, high up on the hill overlooking the rest of Athens. Down below you'll find the Acropolis Museum, and artifacts remaining millennia past.
the Acropolis of Athens, Greece
pillars removed from the Parthenon (Temple of Athena-) warrior women meant to protect 
you are only allowed to take photos in certain areas of the museum

video: the Acropolis
more Greek antiquities
a handshake agreement- Do NOT try in Hollywood

ancient amphi-theater of the Acropolis
the acropolis viewed from below
olive trees- Greece's symbol around the Acropolis
what remains of the Parthenon- Temple to Athena. Note female warrior proetctor on left side

The Acropolis and her sister museum were undoubtably the best part of being in Athens. If you must go to city, head over there for a few hours and then Split- maybe to like Croatia. Hah.
the sun sets over the Aegean Sea and Athens, Greece
the sun sets over the Aegean Sea and Athens, Greece