Beginning in mid-September of 2017 I spent three weeks in Italy – my fourth trip to this apparently irresistible country. My fellow travelers for the trip’s first two weeks were four other gay men who live in Atlanta: Bill, John, Randall, and Randy.
Exploring the Amalfi Coast
We began our second week together in Italy in a rented apartment in Ravello, perched on the cliffs above the half-dozen towns along the Amalfi Coast.
The front door of our place in Ravello:
We arrived in Ravello via the notorious Amalfi Drive, although since we got to the coast after dark, I was blissfully unaware of the vertiginous views from the edge of “the road with 1,000 curves.”
As with our villa in Tuscany, the spacious apartment in Ravello would’ve been a fine place to spend the week without going anywhere, the view of the sea from the patio was so spectacular:
The views from our patio at sunrise and sunset were particularly mesmerizing:
The view from my room in Ravello:
Randall hanging out on the patio:
The view from our apartment compensated for the fact that the town center was at least 500 steps higher up. Highlights of our exploration of Ravello (home for many years of, among other famous writers, Gore Vidal) were tours of two villas and gardens restored by different Englishmen who had settled there in the 1800s. Both of them were stunning, as were the views from their living quarters and their gardens:
…and the Villa Cimbone
Hiking High above the Amalfi Coast
A major highlight of my trip to the Amalfi Coast was the half-day hike I made along a donkey trail dubbed “The Path of the Gods.” I took a bus to a remote village located at one end of the trail, and walked for approximately three-and-a-half hours along the cliff’s edge to another remote village where I left the path and took a bus down to Positano, and then a ferry back to Amalfi, where I took another bus back up the mountains to our base in Ravello.
I encountered only a few other people on the path, and the views were as breathtaking as had been advertised. (Before the trip, I watched a lot of videos, like this one, that others had taken while walking the trail. Here are a few of the views (obtained from Mr. Google) I encountered along the way:
We spent a total of four days and nights exploring the Amalfi area from our perch in Ravello, getting around via foot (lots of stair-climbing!), via buses, and (the most fun), via ferries:
The only time we used one of our rental cars in Ravello was the day Randy and John made a day trip to Pompeii.
Despite the fact that we’d timed our visit to avoid the height of the tourist season, the number of other tourists I encountered in the steep, narrow alleys of Amalfi’s most popular town, Positano, was rather daunting. On the other hand, it was easy to understand why so many people flock here: it is a stunningly beautiful town.
Reluctantly leaving the Amalfi Coast – it would take a lot more than four days to see all the coastal towns we’d like to have explored – Bill, John, and Randall drove to Rome to the apartment we’d rented there, and Randy and I took off for points south, traveling first to Paestum (a Greek temple site) and then to the cliff town of Matera, before joining the others in Rome.
Did you know that one of the best-preserved complexes of Greek temples is in Italy? Besides the impressive remains of these large, remarkable temples themselves, which are surrounded by the foundations of an entire Greek town. Paestrum exudes an awe-inspiring aura, and, as Randy remarked at the time, Paestum is one of the quietest places we’d ever visited, despite the legions of tourists who visit it.
The site also features an excellent museum of artifacts found at or near the site. Among the remarkable things on exhibit are paintings found inside the sarcophagi of several excavated Greek tombs, including the unique and exquisite Tomb of the Diver:
Reluctant to leave Paestum, Randy and I extended our visit there by having lunch at a nearby restaurant before heading northwest, to Matera.
Easily the most unusual place I saw this trip was the formerly abandoned town of Matera. Perched on the side of a deep gorge, the town’s structures were carved out of the limestone that forms the cliff-face. Decades ago the Italian government relocated the entire population of the town, although it is slowly being repopulated (largely by artists, it seems), and although a modern city adjoins it.
The bizarreness of the cityscape in the ancient part of town is difficult to describe or to capture in photographs.
Scenes from dozens of movies – some of them based on Biblical tales, but also including the recently-released Wonder Woman – have been filmed here, and both Randy and I definitely felt like we had stumbled onto some other planet.
You can get a better sense of the weirdness of the town by scanning through these images of Matera posted on the Internet. Even better are the various videos on the Internet that showcase the amazing architecture of this town – for example, this one and/or this one.
We stayed in a hotel whose rooms are built to resemble the cave-like dwellings of the town, and we wished we could’ve stayed several days in Matera instead of a single day and night. Especially since, the night we arrived, it was raining so heavily that the steepness of the town’s flooded alleys made it impossible for us to do any exploring until the following morning.
Reluctantly leaving Matera after a walk through two of the historic quarters and a brief amble into the modern town next to them, we headed across the vast midsection of Italy toward Rome to join our fellow travelers who had already arrived there two days earlier.
John had found an AirBnB for us all to stay in, located in the middle of town. Randy and I slept on the fold-out bed below the loft in this spacious, modern, and conveniently-located apartment:
With only two days to spend in Rome, Randy and I chose to re-visit a few of our personal favorite tourist spots instead of venturing into new ones. It was wonderful to see again the Piazza Navona, the Treve Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Borghese Gardens (especially the belvedere overlooking the city), and, of course, the Pantheon.
I also enjoyed, during our schleps around the city, stopping to take photos of a few of Rome’s remarkable door knockers!
As our two weeks together as a fivesome came to a close, it was a bit difficult to say goodbye to my fellow-travelers. (It was particularly difficult for me to say goodbye to Randy, for reasons that will be made clear in some future blog post.) We parted ways outside our rented apartment, with Bill, John, Randall, and Randy grabbing a cab and heading for the Rome airport and with me striking out on foot toward the railroad station to catch the next train for Trieste, where I would be spending a final week in Italy solo.