I have been to Italy once before, an impetuous and unforgettable whirlwind week through Rome with my cousin. Since that time, I have been captivated by the country and the culture. However, I’ve always wondered if I’ve embellished my memories of Italy. After all, I was only there for a week, and furthermore, it was my first truly independent trip away from home. It couldn’t possibly be as enchanting, as mysterious, as indescribably beautiful as I remembered.
But as it turns out, it could be.
After two solid days of delayed flights, missed connections, and lost luggage, we landed in Naples and immediately boarded a bus south to Vietri sul Mare. We were travel worn, jet-lagged, and bewildered by trying to communicate in Italian (it is NOT just like French and Spanish, FYI!) Yet our first glimpse of the Italian coast captivated us as thoroughly as I had anticipated.
Vietri is little more than a tumble of bright houses nestled in the mountains along the Amalfi Coast. It is renowned for its ceramics, which are evident everywhere from the tiles lining the boulevards to the ceramic pots crowning each block on the highway overpass. The air is lush and fresh with the smell of salt, jasmine blossoms, and freshly baked bread from the caffeterias in the town’s one piazza. Shops open late and close early – maybe because it wasn’t yet high season, or maybe because the town knows that they’ve been around for hundreds of years, and they’re not about to change their schedule drastically for tourists now.
The larger town of Salerno is just a bus ride away, and Josh and I dutifully went one day, and then wondered why we did. There is something ingrained in us that when there is a city centre, one needs to check it out! If there was something specific we were interested in seeing, that would have been a good idea. But I finally realised that city centers for the sake of city centers – shopping, different restaurants, the possibility of a show – don’t actually interest me that much.
For me, the beauty of Italy lies in its eternal beauty, in a golden landscape and an ingrained sense of reverence for all things lovely and elegant. It is a country where one can thoroughly absorb the culture merely by sitting still and quietly observing. “Doing Italy” can be accomplished by drinking espresso in the sunshine in the town’s piazza, talking about travel (in the most simple sentences possible!) with the bartender, and being silently overwhelmed by the ancient hills cradling you. It is accomplished by slipping through waves in the Mediterranean, then digging your toes in the sand as you review the Italian for “I would like” – necessary for ordering dinner that night; which, incidentally, is another way to “do Italy” …especially when a dinner location is chosen based on which waiter takes away the menus and simply tells you what to eat (“Pizza? Non! We are on al mare! You eat from el mare!”) and then proceeds to bring you roses as you dine, serenading you all the while.
That last one may be my favourite way to do Italy 🙂
I’m sure there will be other towns where we will throw ourselves into the fantastic madness of the city. Vietri, however, was the perfect way to begin not only our time in Italy, but this trip in general. It reminded us that sometimes, the best way to travel is to simply sit still.