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Classical Italy and the Amalfi Coast 16.5.2019 to 23.5.2019
Our outward trip went without a hitch. All of the logistics were ably marshalled by Margaret, and we were seamlessly transported to our destination, the Grand Hotel Due Golfi, a 4 star hotel with a 5 star view.
On our way there we eased through heavy traffic in Naples, a metropolis with a population of 3 million and all the entanglements of modern city life. Vesuvius loomed large above it, a brooding threat of apocalyptic destruction which the locals have managed to ignore for the best part of two millennia, apparently secure in the knowledge that they will have 10 days notice of any eruption.
We passed by signs to ‘Ercolano’ and ‘Pompei’, a reminder, if one were required, of what a somma-strato volcano can do when it decides to blow its top. Soon enough we would see some of the glories of antiquity that had been excavated from layers of ash, pumice, and lava to a depth of about 10 meters which had been deposited on those towns when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.
The roads around Sorrento, and onward to the Amalfi coast cling to the sides of the coastline, and wind like spaghetti rising from the blue bowl of the bay as they climb up from sea level to the commanding heights of the Lattari Mountains of the Sorrento peninsula. With each twist of the road new views appear.
The hillsides when not rocky and sparse, are terraced with gardens of vines growing on pergolas, and within their shade there are olive and lemon groves, and everywhere, signs of human habitations, ancient and modern. The gardens and orchards which once graced Herculaneum and Pompeii may have looked much the same, as do the Neapolitan people, an admixture which in ancient times was less Roman than Greek.
The days passed quickly, full of interest and activity, during which we learned so much. Each of us may have their particular favourites, whether the Archaeological Museum where the unobtrusive security allowed us to be immersed in the sculpture hall and other treasures there, as demonstrated by our guide, or the delightful terraced gardens of the Villa San Michele on Capri.
The Villa Poppaea, Herculaneum and Pompeii were no less fascinating, though each raised different questions, often not without difficulty, as to how to give access to the wonders of Roman civilization in their everyday setting, without risking damage to the fabric of the buildings, or losing the precious frescoes and mosaics which look a little sad after long exposure. Or more poignant still, the remains of those who were caught out waiting to be evacuated from the docks of Herculaneum, undiminished by the knowledge that we were looking at plaster casts.
We all enjoyed the conviviality of the very pleasant dining in the hotel, and Martin voiced all our appreciation for the sterling work done by Margaret and Allan to make it such a wonderfully enjoyable trip. The Greek influence of the area was still with us as we stoically withstood an unexpected delay on our return caused by the need to repatriate a passenger from a previous plane and a diverting trip to Southend on Sea because a hole in the runway had closed Stansted. Throughout Margaret kept us informed and oiled the wheels so that a replacement coach was to be had. Thus we returned home, tired, but triumphant.
 Paul and Meg
Mamma Mia Moments on the Amalfi Coast
Twelve years ago, we sailed along the amazing Amalfi coast and thought – beautiful scenery; fascinating history; dangerous coastal roads carved into precipitous cliffs - we have to go there one day ....
Our U3A-adopted hotel was near 5* and perched very high (just below satellite level) on the Sorrento peninsula.  We looked down (and I do mean down) on Sorrento and across the bay to Vesuvius and Naples – 30 miles by road.  To reach the hotel our coach was obliged to climb narrow winding roads clinging to the edge of sheer cliffs.  Every day for a week, wherever we went - Pompei, Herculaneum, Amalfi, Naples, Sorrento – our coach driver had to negotiate these dramatic roads.
As the Maitre d’s other half, I got to ride shotgun – high above the driver on the front seat.  I had first hand experience of every twist and turn in the roads as we hurtled towards oblivion on every hairpin corner (and the faint cry of ‘Oh, my God’ coming from behind me).
Having wound our way round a series of bends, I was often surprised when we slowed down on a relatively straight bit of road.  Our driver was simply easing off to allow faster traffic to overtake.  At school-closing times this included hordes of school kids on their Vespas, buzzing past like flies.  On these difficult roads the actions and reactions of all the drivers as they squeezed past each other, overtook or gave way was little short of symbiotic.
They say that getting there is half the fun.  Well, getting back continued to be hair-raising.  Due to a hole in the runway (!) at Stansted, our return flight was diverted to (wait for it) Southend … where we waited until the hole was repaired before resuming our journey.  After a mad dash along the (shortish) runway we roared up to 7,000 feet before (“cabin crew – clear for landing”) we started our descent into Stansted: a whole 15 minutes flight!
Allora, andiamo.  Eh. 

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