Thursday, 1 November 2007

Wow. It’s the first of November. We’ve been gone three months. We calculated it today. We’ve slept in 31 different beds since we left three months ago. That’s a lot of beds! Today we got on a train in Rome and headed south. We changed trains in Naples. After reading that this is a crime-infested city, we decided not to linger too long with our baggage and just hopped on the next train to Sorrento.

I sat next to a sweet woman named Laurie who was also headed to Sorrento. She was from St. Louis, and we chatted about our plans for the next few days. We had a lot of stops between Naples and Sorrento, and at one station I looked out the window to see a teenage boy in the street below pointing a hand gun at me. That’s right, a hand gun. Laurie was certain it wasn’t real. I wasn’t so sure, and kept pushing myself closer and closer to my newfound buddy. Clay and the kids were sitting on the other side of the car and didn’t notice. The boy holding the gun was talking to another teenage boy, who was also holding a gun, but wasn’t pointing it at the train. All I could think about was that stupid movie Babel. I hated that movie. In it, a woman is shot while on a tour bus in Morocco.

The train pulled off and the boy didn’t pull the trigger. Maybe it wasn’t real. It looked real. Laurie asked, “Were you hugging me?” I declared I was only leaning on her, and lamented the fact that I think I am a big weenie chicken. I would like to think that I am a brave soul who laughs in the face of danger, but I don’t think you can choose what you are. I think you just are, and circumstance will bring who you are to light, whether you like it or not.

Sorrento is a beautiful place. It will be even more beautiful if the sun comes out. Even through the mist we could see the Bay of Naples, our rooms in the hotel look right out over it. We opted for a nap this afternoon, at least Clay and I did. I coaxed Benji to come and join us (he was sad because Laney and Nate wanted to read instead of playing with him), so the three of us all had a lovely time all cuddled up in bed. Benji zonked out in the middle, his cheeks rosy and his little mouth open and breathing deep, in and out, completely asleep. When we woke up, the sky outside was almost dark, and lights twinkled from across the bay. Gorgeous.

We headed into town for dinner, feasting on pizza and gelato. Then back home to bed, hoping for clear blue skies tomorrow. We plan to visit Pompeii from here, maybe Vesuvius. We want to take a bus ride along the Amalfi coast, maybe a day trip to Capri. We only have a few more days left in Italy, a few more days of pizza and pasta and wine that costs the same as a soda or a bottle of water. Almost time for bed number 32.


Friday, 2 November 2007

I woke up early this morning and pulled back the curtain, rejoicing. Clay was not rejoicing from his lazy side of the bed, but when he saw the sun rising in a clear blue sky he joined me for a look-see. This is the kind of place you would honeymoon in, it is that beautiful. Steep cliffs, blue water, a killer view. Our hotel is located way up the side of a cliff above the main city of Sorrento, but they have a free shuttle that goes into town and I’d trade view for convenience any day.

We got the kids up and ready and after breakfast, got on a train to Pompeii. A man got on at the next stop with his saxophone and played the Macarena, hoping for a few donations. It was a cheerful way to start the morning and we dug into our pockets for a little change. Kids hopped on at different spots, honking on accordions, also hoping for donations as they wandered from train car to train car.

When we arrived at the front gate to Pompeii, there were hordes of people waiting around. I was surprised, my guide book said it opened at 8:30 AM and we were there at 10:15. For whatever reason, it didn’t open until 10:30 so we pushed and shoved with the rest of humanity to get to the ticket booth. I was beginning to have misgivings about Pompeii, were we going to be sucked into tour group hell where we couldn’t move and got jostled along? We rifled through the Pompeii guide book and decided to do the suggested route backwards, thereby skipping past all those big tour groups that would start at number one.

Once we did this we found ourselves in a whole city of ruins. Like a really old ghost town. We ambled down skinny streets, explored little houses and stores, and looked for the occasional bit of paint still left on the wall, sometimes a full mural. Pine needles blanketed many of the paths and huge trees towered over our heads. Some of the paths were covered in a light, black dust, probably remnants of volcanic ash. We tucked a pumice rock in our pockets for Benji’s rock project in 3rd grade.

The kids scrambled all over the place, jumping from stone to stone across streets. These stones were originally put here so the residents of Pompeii wouldn’t have to walk in the filth that ran through the streets. They had a system where their fountains overflowed all the time, washing the trash into the sea (that beautiful blue sea!). We were surprised by the sheer size of this place, so much bigger than the Roman ruins. We hiked all the way to a huge amphitheater and then made our way back. While we tried to find things according to the slightly inaccurate map we’d been given, it was most fun to just wander and happen upon things.

We spent over three hours at Pompeii, finished up at a café where we got sandwiches and ate them on a curb, in the shadow of all those ruins. Stray dogs are the only inhabitants of this city now, and one particularly sweet one watched us from a safe distance, accepting any bits we threw his way. They don’t appear aggressive, just a little hungry, though I’d guess with all the tourists they are well fed, until it gets too cold.

On the way home we ran into Laurie on the train. We also chatted with a couple from Dublin, Ireland. The spunky older woman had taken off her shoe and her husband was helping her wrap a bit of Kleenex around her toe. As we were leaving the train, Benji asked me for a Kleenex and she handed him the other side of the one she had been putting on her toe, promising it hadn’t touched her foot. He wasn’t so sure, and blew in it a little half-heartedly.

We went back to the room where the kids helped me wash some socks in the bathroom sink, then I carried on with the rest of it all, hanging it out to dry in this beautiful sunshine. Clay fretted over a Fed Ex package he’s been expecting since Tuesday in Rome, but hasn’t arrived yet. It was two days late in Rome so we had to leave without it and was told today that it would arrive in Sorrento on Monday (after we are gone). We are discovering just how different everything is in Italy. Slower for sure. We are at the mercy of strikes and siestas and All Saint’s Day, and who knows what else. In the package is a new phone because his other one flaked out.


Saturday, 3 October 2007

Another day dawned sunny and clear when we woke up to a tiny knock on the door. The kids are sleeping next door to us, and we leave their curtain open in their room so the moonlight can come in and give them a little night light. Unfortunately, Benji wakes up at first light streaming in through those open curtains, so he came to see if anyone in our room is awake since Nate and Alayna were still snoozing. “Are you awake?” he asks, his poofy hair poofing, when I opened the door. Now how could I be anything but charmed by a cute little barefooted six-year-old boy with poofy hair in camo pajama pants standing at my door, no matter what time it was. So, he joined us for a while until the big kids got up.

Benji is having a hard time with Nate and his interest in Harry Potter. Nate is now reading book number four, and Benji can’t stand it when Alayna and Nate are both reading and not playing with him. He brings his big dino book to me or Clay and we read to him for a while until he can coax Alayna or Nate from their books. He is really loving having his big brother and sister all to himself for nine months.

We decided to take a boat ride to Capri, and as we were running out the door we got a phone call from the front desk. Package arrived. Fed Ex. Clay ran to the desk and came back beaming. We couldn’t believe it actually came! We didn’t have time to open the package, the hotel shuttle was leaving, so we shoved it in the safe to open later.

We took a hydrofoil to get to Capri, and once we disembarked we were asked several times if we wanted a boat ride around the island. Our original thought was to rent a boat ourselves and for Clay to drive us around, but Allesandro, the most persistent and pleasant of the boat owners, explained that boats were not being rented in November. He followed us down the dock as we checked this out for ourselves, and once confirming that this was true we decided to pay Allesandro for a ride.

We grabbed a quick picnic lunch and climbed on board the small motor boat. It was a beautiful two hour ride through crystal clear water. Allesandro took us close to grottos carved into the cliffs that rose straight up from the ocean, and while we didn’t get to see the famous blue grotto because the water was too choppy and the tide too high, we saw the green one and the white one. We also admired the bright orange coral that grew along the rocks, statues we came across at the tippy-top of cliffs, mansions built along the top, and the clear water. The kids all laid on their bellies at the front of the boat and held on while the waves bounced us up and down, immensely enjoying the fact that they weren’t wearing life jackets. I wasn’t immensely enjoying this fact, and kept reminding them to “get down on your bellies!” Clay got soaked while helping Allesandro bring in his bumpers and we all got a good laugh.

It was the best part of our trip to Capri. We took a funicular up to the town center, which was full of women’s boutiques and restaurants. Nothing very interesting. We decided to head back down to the water and go back to Sorrento for the afternoon. We clambered around on a beach and made too many trips to the public WC, where a heavy Italian woman watched her soap operas in Italian and sipped her limoncello while taking our .50 euros.

It was a day full of sunshine and blue skies and clear water and wind in the hair. When we came back, we climbed about thousand steps to get back to the center of Sorrento. When we got back to the hotel it was like Christmas morning for Clay as he opened his Fed Ex package and began to play with his new “toy”. He wasn’t able to get it working before dinner, but there was a determined glint in his eye and I knew he would figure it out sooner or later.

 That night for dinner we ate pasta (again), and sampled the delizio, a cake filled and smothered with lemon cream. Sorrento is known for its lemons. You can buy lemon juice, lemon liquor, lemon candles, lemon soap, anything that can be made in the shape of a lemon can be found. The lemon trees grow everywhere, we got our first glimpse of them from the train but notice them everywhere.

That night we got the kids into bed, I read a book, and Clay hung out in the stairwell with his laptop and new phone, the only place he can get internet access. I fell asleep before he came to bed, but I heard him talking in the hall on his Skype phone to someone at ATT, his voice echoing. It is a strange world we are in, where we can be on a stairwell in a small town in Italy, talking across hundreds of miles of air to someone in the United States, who can push some sort of button and activate a phone that was once dead.


Sunday, 4 October 2007

We saw Pompeii, we saw Capri, but we hadn’t seen the Amalfi coast in all its scary splendor. We explained to the kids that the bus ride would be like a roller coaster ride, and no, they couldn’t bring their DS’s or their books. That the bus trip was the destination and they needed to look out the window and enjoy it. Clay did bring his phone, and for the boring parts, before it got steep and scary, they played “brickbreaker”, a game they’ve discovered on his phone.  Clay did, by the way, get it working before he laid down his head last night. He was able to check the weather and the Longhorn score when he woke up the next morning. He is very happy.

We’re talking about the fruits of the spirits with the kids, trying to come up with something we can talk about on Sundays since we never are able to find a church that speaks English. Anyway, we talked about how Daddy wasn’t happy about the Fed Ex, but he could still be joyful with the help of the Holy Spirit. I’d have to say this morning he was happy and joyful and all plugged in to the world again. Hallelujah, Praise the Lord!

The bus ride did not disappoint. We drove along the edges of cliffs that dropped straight down. The bus honked at sharp turns to warn oncoming traffic that it was coming. Cars had to stop to let us pass sometimes, or even back up so we could swing out and turn. We decided to get off in Positano, a small town about forty-five minutes down the winding road. Once we got off, we went down, down, down to the beach. This was a great beach, and we all lamented the fact that we didn’t bring our swimsuits. The day was very warm, the water was cold, but not freezing. The sand hurt a little, it was full of sharp little rocks, but we limped along to where the water hit and the sand was smooth.

We hunted for bits of glass that had been tumbled in the ocean and were no longer sharp, amassing quite a pile to be sent home. I’m not sure what we’ll do with all those pretty green and orange and yellow rocks, sometimes a rare blue one, but I’m sure Alayna will have some good ideas. She also found a tooth, we’re convinced it belonged to a shark. Clay pulled off his shirt, we all rolled our pants up as high as they would go, and I rolled up my top to try and get a little sun on my alarmingly white stomach.

We stayed and played for an hour or so, then hiked back up to the bus stop to catch a ride home before all the busses went on siesta. If we didn’t leave by 1, we’d have to wait until 4:30. That afternoon the kids stayed behind while I took a load of laundry back into town. The bus ride into town was beautiful. The sun was setting and all the buildings along the hillside were a soft shade of pink, like the inside of a seashell. All of them, whether house or office or restaurant, were the same color. I don’t think I’ve seen a painting that has quite captured how pretty it was.

 I found myself behind five loads of wash and some very chatty Italian women (I wish I knew what they were saying!) and it took three hours to get mine done, but I didn’t mind too much. I had a good book and just about finished it before the drier finished. It was warm and cozy with the driers spinning, the night outside and the lights on inside.

As we were getting the kids ready for bed that night I reached around to scratch my back and felt something bumpy all over it. I pulled my shirt up, wondering what sort of strange disease I had acquired at the beach, and realized I had brought home a bunch of tiny little black rocks, imbedded in my skin. They popped off and skittled all over the tile floor, and I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to have any special skin ointment Fed-Ex’d from home.

Tomorrow we leave Italy and fly to Zurich, Switzerland, via London, England. It will be a long travel day, we’ll get some school done, we’ll read our books and the kids will play their DS’s and Clay will play with his phone. I got to level 5 on brickbreaker on my first time, by the way. Everyone was very impressed.