Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Ohhh, I have coughed enough. Every time I cough, the back of my head hurts, my brain's tired of rattling around in there.

Ready for Chapter 2? Am I being too detailed? Lots of people come back from holiday and they say, "It was great! We saw a sunset. I want to go back." The end. But noooo, Olivia has to tell stories.

Wednesday 21st - a Lake of Islands

We awoke to some excellent views of Lake Maggiore in the pale orange tones of a winter sunrise.
It was a freezing cold day, but the crazy English tourists had a guide and a boat and we went out to Isola Bella. Here the Borromeo family, lords of Lake Maggiore for the past 700 years, built their summer palace in the 18th century. Today they have come down in the world. No longer lordly rulers, they are mere financiers who nevertheless still own their titles, islands, and land nearby. Heck, they're in banking and they collect rent.
The palace is unfinished and has a rather forbidding air. Silence reigned as all is closed up for the season. What's worse the palace is unfinished, even though work continued into the 1950s! The ballroom is done in a nice Wedgwood blue.

We went on to Isola delle Pescatore, the island of fishermen. We saw the chapel (with a 12th century apse) dedicated to San Carlo Borromeo, who was pope in the 17th century, I believe. When his elder brother died and he inherited the title, he refused to leave the church because unlike most second sons, he really did feel the calling.
There are only 12 winter inhabitants on this island and every shop door announces their reopening in March 2006, a common occurrence across the Amalfi region, which is now majorly supported by tourism.

This was the day my little campaign succeeded in shaking the oaf - what the Victorians would have called "cutting" someone. And I brought us into the more amiable society of some lovely older couples. However, civilities continued and he never completely went away as he sat at our dinner table from then on. Everyone tolerated him because he had only 2 topics of conversation: 1) his daughters never visit him (I don't blame them) and 2) anything related to coach tours as he is a seasoned coach traveler and is buddies with all the drivers from all the companies.

Leaving Maggiore, we trundled onwards to Chianciano Spa near Rome, to a horrible hotel. I can't even remember the room.

It was just a stop so that on...

Thursday 22nd - From Roma to the Goal

...we could visit the Vatican! Yes, we went into the Basilica San Pietro with our exuberant guide Antonino. He showed us that every "painting" in the Basilica is actually a fine mosaic, and that the building is completely symmetrical.
He told us that the lettering in the gold mosaic friezes under the clerestory are 6 feet tall. And other jaw-dropping facts related to its scale.
Out in the piazza, after asking my name, he made much of the fact that Livia was the wife of...some emperor...neither of us could remember which one. [Note: Livia, wife of Augustus and first Empress of Rome]
And he pointed out the webcam, the chimney where the smoke comes out when a pope is elected, and the window of the Pope's private apartment.

Then we were off on a quick drive across Rome past the Memoriale Vittorio Emanuele II, the Colosseum, the Imperial Forum, and shot out of Rome and on to our main destination of Vico Equense near Sorrento in the Italian region of Campania.
As soon as we arrived at dinnertime, the staff began their attentive hospitality, which has kept the tour company with them for 20 years, even through a move to a new building.

We sat at a table for the next 5 days with the two couples we'd met the day before at lunch and dinner. S&D, a funny pair who keep buying coffee for Mum and me. G&P, a kind woman with a very impish husband. And the oaf, but he was at the other end of the table and it was poor D who had to endure his repetitions.

After dinner the night manager Nino, who looked like a young James Brolin only with the same colouring he has now, said to Mum, "Are you Melissa's mother?" A moment of laughter and confusion while we take in the fact that someone knows, and is using, my middle name. As it dawns on me that he's read our passports, Mums says, "How'd you know her middle name?" He replies, "I know her from London." She's always walking into these moments. P had great delight pulling her leg for the entire trip.
And so, to Nino, for the next 5 days, I was Melissa.

1) There are orange and lemon trees EVERYWHERE on the Amalfi coast. The streets are paved with....citrus fruits. I remember seeing maybe one olive tree?

2) Now I will give you the quick overview that I emailed to Vanessa this morning. She asked a load of questions, including one on Bernini and the Baroque, but actually, off the top of my head I could tell her more about the eruption of Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii because that knowledge is older.
Did you know that Michelangelo designed the Swiss Guards' uniforms? It is the oldest uniform design in use today. He also designed the dome, a feat of engineering.
The statue of St Peter began as Jupiter; in fact it was ancient Roman pilgrims who kissed his toes shiny before he was converted.
The circular shape of the colonnades surrounding St Peter's Square represents the arms of the Mother Church welcoming the world.
The immense baldacchino was created by Bernini and the wasps encircling the twisted columns were the family symbol of the Pope in office at that time.


M. said...

So where do the other inhabitants go during the winter?

It's a lot of fun sharing some time with people whom you've just met on the trip, especially if they're from far away. Can also be quite handy too if they speak the language and you don't. :)


MattJ said...

Wish i was better at recording what i did with photos and stuff but i am totally lame! lol! Next time i go somewhere interesting I am going to take thousands of photos! :-p

Who was this oaf of which you speak? How did you end up with such a barnacle like individual?

Olivia said...

Hm, my comments were not emailed to me until just now. How odd. Anyway I am up coughing...herbal cough syrups don't seem to work because they don't knock me out.

M - they leave their holiday villas and go home.
Ha! As to other members of the group speaking the language, refer to the next post.

Matt - with a fandangle new camera like mine, I have no excuse for not recording events.

This oaf was a big Glaswegian guy who'd lived all over the north of England for 40 years and is currently living in Bethnal Green. Get the picture? Earring in one ear, tattoos, and gold medallion rings on nearly every finger. He wouldn't go away because we were the only 3 people picked up from London by the coach company, and had spent 2 hours waiting together.
Sort of got stuck that way, and I got tired of him buttonholing us, felt isolated from the rest of the group and wanted to meet them. I started avoiding him and the decisive move was choosing to sit with a nice couple at lunch that day.
From then on, it seems he regarded me with a sort of awe. Mum and I speculated that, you know, they're both divorced, and he hadn't realised she and I were so close...
One of the wierdest social situations I've ever navigated.

Rox said...

Hey for your cough try Vicks Medinite. Not exactly for coughs but for colds but it eases the symptoms and it usually makes me sleep like an angel. But be warned, it is NOT a taste that compares in anyway to anything even remotely nice! In short it is disgusting! At least in my opinion.
Am enjoying your blog and look forward to hearing about Pompeii. I loved it sooo much, I wish I had had more time there than just a day.