A Near Perfect Day

In the darkening purple light of a disappearing day, we wound down toward the Amalfi Coast via the pass that cuts from the northern side of the Sorrentine Peninsula to the southern, hugging hairpin turn after hairpin turn.

This photo is not from the Amalfi coast – it’s the Bay of Naples approaching Sorrento

“This is curvy, but I didn’t think it would be this bad,” Lisa groaned, “This is like something out of my nightmares.”

“This is great!” I replied enthusiastically accelerating around another corner, ensuring I could feel the force of the turn.

In retrospect, I probably wasn’t helping.

Truth be told, I wasn’t going too fast: this part of the Amalfi coast has a speed limit of 50 kph (31 mph), a number I found to be largely aspirational – a goal to be reached; something to be accomplished. Most normal humans probably don’t really approach this, although I’m confident that the Italians driving the coast try to maintain that as a bare minimum.

Confession: I’ve been nervous about driving in Italy. It’s probably been more than a decade since I’ve really driven here. And I might have been more anxious about making this particular drive at night, but yesterday afternoon I had driven to Tarquinia and back, with the entire drive home taking place in full darkness. So I knew I had this.

This morning was perfect: a perfect series moment in every way I could have hoped for.

We began by bidding a fond farewell to Flora and her farm. She has an enchanting home here and has been an extraordinary hostess. Lisa and I have felt welcome from the moment we arrived, and I’m going to miss her and the conversations we had over my morning espresso.

We followed Flora down the road to the Autostrada (she was going to Rome) and with the higher speed limit there I was on my way. The highway speed limit is 130 km/h, or 81 mph. The rental car was OK at this speed, but seemed to prefer something slightly slower, in the 123 range.

After about an hour on the road, we exited (quickly learning how to use the automatic tollbooths) and headed east, toward Tivoli. There are two primary attractions here, Villa d’Este and Villa Adriana. The former is a 16th century villa in the center of town. Apparently the terraced estate and fountains are quite beautiful.

Instead we targeted the second site, the ancient summer home of Hadrian. Apparently, wealthy Romans have long had retreats away from the city, especially important during the hotter summer months.

This site was just as spectacular as I hoped.

Climbing the gentle slope from the entrance, a wall seems to demarcate the beginning, and for the visit at least this was true. Just beyond lay the pecile, Hadrians swimming pool. It was once covered but now is open to the bright late-morning sunlight, and it is enchanting.

Next we pass by the Aigyptikà and Hundred Chambers, built after Hadrian’s visit to Egypt.

I didn’t really need the map to identify this next structure, I guess. If you had dropped me here and asked “what is this?” I might have taken a moment to think about it, but it clearly matches so many baths I have seen elsewhere in the past. There were three baths here, and this was the largest of them.

Beyond was the Canopus. Sadly the signs here have a lot to read, but don’t actually indicate the function (I’d love to get a job rewriting some of these sign to be more concise and useful). According to some later reading that I did, however, it was a recreational area.

With a calm pool ringed by graceful marble statues, it is breathtaking.

From above we are able to appreciate the area more completely, as the glare of the sun was somewhat difficult at ground level.

So it continued, exploring the site, gasping at the floors (always, the floors seem to impress), and even getting lost.

We found the Temple of Venus and the Greek Theater, a few steps away from the main site, although the theater was less than impressive.

As we concluded our tour, we both decided we were hungry, and although we had been considering an expedition into Naples, instead we settled for meal on the Autostrada, leaving Naples for another time, and proceeding directly to Positano and the Amalfi Coast. Even with the slightly foreshortened plans, this worked out for the best, as we still arrived at our hotel well after dusk.

Neapolitan Pizza still calls, I’m still just working on the timing.

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