Driving Italy’s Amalfi Coast had long been on my ‘bucket list’, so when my teenage son decided he needed some down time, I left him in our hotel and hopped on a bus bound for the cliffside towns of Positano and Amalfi.
It wasn’t so much the villages I wanted to explore… I was simply interested in enjoying the scenic drive.
The Amalfi Coast is world famous for its villages terraced into vertical cliffs, sweeping views of the azure sea, and precipitous and narrow roads travelled by Italian drivers who all seem to have ‘Bravado’ as their middle name.
We drove by tiny produce stands at the edge of the road (how is it they haven’t yet toppled into the sea?) selling big bunches of cherry tomatoes, dried red chilies, and fresh fruit of all kinds. A pickup truck was laden with lemons for sale.
As we drove through small towns, bougainvillea and geraniums spilled their brilliant colours from wrought-iron balconies.
In Positano, we came face-to-face with another bus on a particularly narrow and curvy part of the road.
Neither vehicle could advance; one would have to back up. But which one?
There was much discussion and waving of hands by the locals on the street. It seemed everyone had some wisdom to impart on the subject.
Finally the other bus slowly retreated. Our driver said something in Italian, which caused a great outburst of laughter on our bus.
Note to self: make more of an effort to learn the language of the country I am visiting.
Head-on collision averted, we drove on, our driver now humming a happy tune.
Upon arriving in Amalfi, I settled into a seat right behind the driver, on the left-hand side of the bus. I was going to have the best views possible riding back to Sorrento.
I double-checked with the driver. Was he for sure returning to Sorrento? Yes, of course.
Moments later, other people came to board the bus.
“Sorrento?” they asked.
“No,” my driver said. “You must take the bus over there.”
Huh?? I leaned forward.
“Not Sorrento?” I asked.
“No. Other bus,” he said.
Totally confused, I gathered up my things and went off to find the correct bus. I wandered this way and that, asking each driver in turn if they were going to Sorrento. They all directed me to the bus from which I had just disembarked.
Back I went. By now there was a long line of people ahead of me.
“Sorrento?” they were asking.
“Yes,” said my bus driver. Good grief!
By the time I got even close to the door, travellers were packed into the bus tighter than a jar of Sicilian anchovies. This was not how I was prepared to spend the next two hours. I backed away and resigned myself to waiting for the next bus.
I’m sure there is some method to the madness that is the Italian bus system. But I was not to unravel its mysteries that day.
Forty-five minutes later, having tracked down a bus that indeed was going to Sorrento, I sat beside an American woman who looked to be about my age or a bit older.
Turns out she is studying culinary arts at a community college in Maryland and would be in Italy for the next two-and-a-half months apprenticing at a restaurant. This was her day off.
We spent our entire time together talking about food. We mused at how Italians can make the simplest ingredients taste so delicious. Surely, there must be some celestial sorcery at play.
We discussed how women in Italy manage to stay slim in spite of substantial doses of pasta, pastries and gelato.
She shared with me some of the secrets of eating here… yes, it really is OK just to have the antipasto plate and one other dish. No, it’s not considered a crime to forego either the primo plata (pasta) or the secondo plata (fish or meat). Phew!
We talked about cheese and wine and olives, our stomachs periodically adding their own punctuating growls and squeals to the conversation.
She told me one of her best memories from a previous trip to Italy was helping with the olive harvest in late October. She said a new batch of olive oil has a sublime, peppery flavour that only lasts for the first few weeks of its life.
So it seems another trip to Italy is in order, this time in the fall.
Thank goodness I threw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, assuring my return to this amazing country.
Whitehorse writer Janet Patterson was runner-up in this year’s Foreign Correspondent competition. She and her son recently vacationed in Italy.