Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Janet & Stephen and a visit to the Certosa in Padula 2.21 - 23.07

Photos to follow if time allows.
After a lovely string of emails with our friends Janet and Stephen in the U.K. and much deliberation about whether we could afford to go there for a visit, to see them as well as some of our other friends, we decided we just could not put it all together and so Janet and Stephen, who own a place in Umbria, said they would just come here to see us before we left for America. They planned to fly into Naples from Stanstead, rent a car and then, after visiting with us, drive up to San Feliciano to spend some time in their home there before returning to England. We met them when we were living in Perugia. Janet had corresponded with me through the “Expats in Italy” website originally and she had enjoyed reading the blog and I always enjoyed her very amusing and always entertaining emails about her life in Great Britain. She and her husband Stephen are about our age with grown kids and grandkids and share the love of living in Italy, travel in general, gardens, history and the like. They were anticipating coming to stay in their newly acquired property when we were living in Perugia and we finally met face to face at an Expats gathering there. They found a book I had mentioned on the blog (I wrote about this when it happened) and brought it to me as a gift, a very touching and thoughtful thing to do. We have been friends ever since then and keep in touch via periodic emails. They have had a busy past year with family responsibilities that included the death of her father and the birth of a new grandchild, among other things. They had planned to visit us in each of the places we've lived and promised to do it before we returned to the states. Time was running out! It was just a short weekend but it meant a lot to us that they went to all the trouble to come all the way down here. Perugia and Lago Trasimeno are several hours’ drive from the Amalfi Coast.

All day we anticipated their arrival! We had expected them to call when they arrived in Naples so that we could walk up to centro and greet them. But they had had some difficulties getting out of the airport (not a surprise, the area around the airport is quite crazy to navigate) and never managed to be able to call. We began to worry that they had missed their flight or had some other difficulties. When they finally called it was from the piazza in Vietri and we scurried uphill to meet them. By this time it was late and raining and the Locanda, where we had planned to go for dinner was closed! Plan B was to go downhill to Butera, where we sometimes have a pizza. It seems like a chain restaurant but the people are always friendly and the pizza is good. We don't have to go far from our apartment and if we are lazy on the way home from a day's travels, it's easier to park the car in Marina than up in Vietri. It didn't disappoint. They were still open and we all ate a hearty meal. They were quite tired by that time and everyone went off to bed. It's been nice having a spare bedroom for our guests, affording them more privacy than just the sofa bed we had in Verona and in Perugia.

The weather report was iffy for the next day. It had rained for a few days with more expected. Our plan had been to take the ferry to Procida and spend the day exploring that island. But we were all worried that it might not be the best idea if it rained since the sea would be rough and the boat ride less than pleasant. Our friends Marco and Annalisa from Perugia (originally from Naples) had written to us only days before suggesting we visit the Certosa di San Lorenzo in Padula, in southern Campania before we left this area and everyone thought this was a better idea. We consulted our maps and books and the internet for opening times, locations and what have you and planned to rise early and go straight there. Afterwards we could drive a short distance along the Cilento Coast. They had never been to this part of Italy and were excited to see it.

Up early, a simple breakfast and coffee and we were off. The day started off a bit overcast but the promised rain did not come and we were happy to be able to wander around without need of umbrellas. With the help of our GPS system, Padula and the Certosa were relatively easy to find. Stephen offered to drive and Bob navigated, allowing Janet and I to sit in the back seat and enjoy the scenery and catch up a bit on each other's lives. The views are breathtaking all around driving through the interior of southern Campania and we really enjoyed the drive. Unfortunately there was also a bit of roadwork that slowed us down and the drive took longer than anticipated.

The Certosa itself was lovely. A huge complex of buildings and our research told us that the Certosa, or "Charterhouse" in English, is a Carpathian monastery, with the Carpathian monks being a very wealthy but extremely strict, cloistered religious sect who spend their lives in silence and prayer and tending their individual and communal gardens. This particular Certosa is no longer an active one, but more of a museum, while many are still active around the world. It was fascinating to see the various rooms and private apartments as well as the enormous cloister with the city of Padula directly behind it, climbing up the hill. The basic structure of the monastery was begun in the 14th century but as with so many of these buildings, over the centuries it underwent many changes and the Baroque decorations definitely were added on with abandon. The chapel was especially glittering with gold and dripping with baroque details. Bob got yelled at for taking photos of the beautiful wood inlays but couldn't resist! The huge kitchen was fabulous and my favorite part of the tour. Giant tables where the monks prepared their food and ate together and the colorful ceramic tile covered oven in the center of the room were quite wonderful.

Our favorite part of the complex was a gorgeous marble staircase, a sort of atrium with openings that afforded views of the countryside, like giant landscape paintings framed in white marble. It was definitely worth the trip and we all learned something about this religious order and the influence it had and the way these monks lived, lives, we think that were structured and peaceful, but not exactly Spartan.

The drive around the Cilento Coast, as always, was filled with beautiful views. The Cilento Coast has rugged cliffs and little bays with gorgeous beaches. The day was getting late and we headed for Sapri, a walk along the Lungomare and a gelato and we even ran into a couple of other Brits who told us they have a house nearby in Maratea and wished us all well as we headed back towards Salerno and home! We stopped a few times to enjoy the views and watched as the setting sun lit the sky with streaks of pink and red.

By the time we arrived back in Vietri it was well past 8pm and we parked the car and walked up to the Locanda where Ferdinando welcomed us warmly and served yet another scrumptious meal of – they enjoyed his fresh fish caught that very day in the waters off the coast of Vietri: polipo (octopus), seppie (cuttlefish), calamari (squid) and gamberi (prawns). As always when friends share a meal the wine and the conversation flowed easily and we all stopped to enjoy the view of the glittering port of Salerno as we rounded the curve towards our apartment halfway between the sea and the city and returned to talk about what would do in the morning before they headed off for Umbria.

In the morning we walked down to the sea and shared a coffee and cornetti at Martine’s bar and sat outside and enjoying the lovely weather. We took a little walk around centro, peeking into the ceramics shops but as it was still early many were still closed. We showed them our little Duomo, not too exciting, but there is one lovely old altar piece that appears to be from the Middle Ages. I always enjoy the little piazza in front of the church and the beautiful majolica tile decorations on the fa├žade.

By 11am they were on the road again and we were left waving goodbye with promises all around to visit again, whether in Umbria, Britain or the states and we hope we can all keep these promises. This is the hardest part of leaving here. We have made so many wonderful friends that we will hope to see again. We have extended many invitations for them to come visit us in America and hope they know we are serious and look forward to showing them around and returning some of the favors shown to us during this incredible sojourn we have been living.

Now I must close. Jessica leaves here tomorrow after spending two weeks with us. We have tried our best to show her all the important stuff and have been on the go literally every day in this quest. Today we plan another day in Naples and look forward to seeing some things even we haven’t seen yet so it should be fun. The day after tomorrow we will get on a plane and fly to Sicily for five days to visit with our friends there, a happy thought and one we hadn’t anticipated doing until a few weeks ago when Giovanna called and invited us. The last 10 days will be spent without a car (we sold ours and will return the rental when we bring Jessica back to the airport) so we will be as we were in the beginning of this trip, taking buses and walking (not that we haven’t continued to do that!). We will keep attending our ceramica lessons and walking on the beach. The weather has warmed up now, the flowers are blooming and the trees are turning green. The tourists are returning too as we have seen many more busloads on the Amalfi Coast road. It is coming time for us to leave and I am filled with so many emotions I can barely sleep these days. Sad to go, looking forward to returning. I have felt this way each time we have moved in these past two years, from Phoenix to Perugia to Marina di Ragusa to Verona to here and now on to Delaware. How will we ever say goodbye this time???

Rosemary & Roberto

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