Friday, December 4, 2009

Rome: Day 4/The Amalfi Coast (November 22, 2009)

On our last morning in Rome we decided to finally visit the Pantheon. Since we could see it from our hotel window I guess we always felt that we would be able to drop by any time. On the way out of the hotel I was finally able to capture some photos of the glass chandeliers which had been amusing us all week. They just look so much like octopus! I'm guessing they feature Murano glass and they are quite nice, but they do look like something from the sea. :)

After a quick stroll across the piazza we soon found ourselves stepping inside the Pantheon. Even though we had visited it before, it was still awe inspiring. Although it was once a pagan temple, it is now being using as a church and it definitely gives you a reverent feeling. It is one big room that would be quite echoy except that everyone talks in whispers out of respect for the church. The ceiling is beautiful and in the very center is an open hole to let in light. Of course, it can also let in rain and it is quite fun to be inside during a downpour. If you look closely you will see drain holes in the marble slab flooring directly below the hole.

The walls are very elaborately decorated and are covered with all sorts of beautiful marble. Below is a picture of the main entryway.

We were very lucky that we visited when we did. Since it was Sunday morning, the Pantheon was set up for a church service and as we left we noticed that they were closing off the entranceway so that the churchgoers wouldn't be disturbed during the service. Below, a small organ was set up near the front of the chapel and we assumed that it would be used during the service. It was quite a nice looking old organ.

When we left the Pantheon we waited a bit in the piazza until Woodley's mother joined us. Near us stood this nice looking horse who was patiently waiting. There are several of these horse drawn carriages around Rome but we have never tried one.

After meeting up with Woodley's parents we hopped into their car and set out to navigate our way out of Rome. Since the Roman streets don't follow any particular grid this can be a bit of a challenge. Fortunately Woodley did an excellent job of map-reading and we were soon on the A1 highway heading  south!

Rome has a very nice highway system called the autostrada on which you can travel quickly throughout the country. However, you must pay to use the highway system and the amount you pay is relative to how far you have traveled on the highway. When you get on the autostrada you pick up a ticket which you must carefully keep safe somewhere until you are ready to exit. When you exit, you present it to the ticket agent and they let you know how much you need to pay. Apparently, if you are so unfortunate as to loose your ticket, they assume that you have traveled the farthest possible distance on the autostrada system (say all the way north and then all the way south again) and charge you accordingly.

Each time you get off the highway you must pay the toll which means that on most trips, you want to stay on the autostrada for as long as possible. Since you normally would not want to get off the highway to visit local towns for food or restroom breaks, the Italians have provided a network of Autogrill, the equivalent of rest areas along the autostrada. At the Autogrills you can find basic food items, maps, gas, and restrooms. Unfortunately, the quality of food is not very high and there are not many options. But still, they are fairly evenly spaced and it is quite nice to know that there is an easy solution if you do need to make a stop.

We took the A1 Autostrada all the way south to Naples and then headed over to the Amalfi Coast Drive. Sadly it was quite hazy and the hours of daylight were rapidly dwindling as we started the drive but we enjoyed the view as much as we could until it got dark.

One of the things that amazed us was the use of the steep hillsides for farming. The coast is somewhat similar to the Big Sur Coastline in California but while the land around Big Sur has been only sparsely developed (as most of it has been reserved for state parks), every possible space on the steep Amalfi Coastline has been used to provide food or housing. The very steep cliffs have been transformed into a series of narrow terraces on which grapes and citrus trees are grown. During our visit the groves of citrus were apparent mostly because they had been covered with black fabric to prevent birds from accessing the fruit. In the photo below you can see the black coverings in the bottom left corner.

Like the Big Sur Coast road, the Amalfi Coast road is very narrow and curvy. At times it takes you high above the water so that you can get an excellent view down the coast and at times you drop down into a town right at the level of the ocean.

It is amazing how the houses appear to be built right into the edge of the cliff  and some seem about to fall off.

When we reached the city of Amafi we decided to stop for a snack and a look around. After a bit of maneuvering we found a parking spot down by the water. There was a lovely boardwalk going out into the ocean with charming lamp posts! It looked like the perfect spot for a romantic stroll.

We headed away from the ocean and strolled into the city via one of the many narrow streets. Soon the street opened out into a square facing the local cathedral. It was beautifully decorated with differently colored stones and mosaics. The visitors to the local sidewalk cafe appeared to quite enjoy staring up at it.

A little further along the street we found a cute little bakery where we stopped for a drink and a snack.

They had the most delicious lemon cake. The part I liked best was the tart lemony glaze covering the cake. Woodley's parents bought one cake which we spit into 4 pieces - one for each of us. We liked those pieces so well that we ended up buying another cake to take home with us!

Another feature of the bakery (and indeed it seemed a popular item around the town) was very very large bars of nougat candy. In the photo below you can compare the size of the nougat to the size of the pastries. I would guess that the nougat was at least 6 by 6 by 12 inches.

After our refueling stop we continued on the coast road. Before long the sun had set and we headed away from the coast to the city of Herculaneum where we were planning to spend the night. We made it safely to the hotel where we had a delicious dinner before falling fast fast asleep.


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