Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Aviano Reunion--Post 2

My Facebook photos and updates seem to always be ahead of my blog posts--sorry! It‘s just been hard to find time to write during this busy cruise. Outside our window now looms the hilly terrain of Sicily across from the toe of Italy as we sail through the Messina Straight toward Rome and disembarkation. This itinerary proved better than we even imagined, and I look forward to filling you in. First things first, though!

On our last full day in Sorrento, our reunion group took a boat cruise along the Amalfi Coast. Several years ago, Ben and I boarded a regular Italian bus for the drive along this incredibly scenic, winding road, stopping in Positano for a day of shopping, browsing, and lunch at a restaurant on the beach. A few years later, Diane Lane lunched with her new Italian flame at this same restaurant in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun.

For the boat cruise, however, we began with a cruise around the southern edge of Capri--not stopping, but enjoying a close encounter with the gorgeous villas and grottos and spotting a Club Med masted ship in the harbor. Then we headed for the picturesque town of Amalfi, where we toured the lovely Baroque cathedral and took advantage of some shopping time. Probably the most expensive ice cream we‘ve ever eaten!

On the return, the boat took us closer to Positano, which lies along a much steeper terrain than Amalfi, but also has a great little beach, which was visible from this distance.
The next morning we departed the Corallo for Matera, a town steeped in more history than I can recount here, so watch for links after we return. In short, there are two sections of this town--modern Matera and the ancient Sassi portion, which is basically a village of caves with stone fronts, doors, and windows. Construction began in the 14th century in an area close to the Appian Way. At its height, the town boasted 30,000 residents, but the number now lies only at about 4,000. Interestingly, because of a government program aimed at preserving the dwellings, young people are settling the area and renovating (sort of) the dwellings. Some old-timers remain, too, but have not yet bought into the 1968 government mandate requiring installation of city water and sewage. Oh, to hear our guide talk about that.... It was easy to understand why people in Pompeii lived better in AD 60 than those in Matera lived just 50 years ago.

Our hotel was the beautiful Albergo Italia, where Mel Gibson and his crew stayed while filming scenes for The Passion of the Christ. The Sassi area has been used for other films, too, such as Christ Stopped at Eboli. Photos from these and other films are on display in one of the dwellings recreated for tour groups.

If the Pompeii/Matera contrast wasn‘t enough, we visited yet another ancient dwelling site in Arborobella: the Trullies. This village of cone-shaped dwellings was created with limestone, but without mortar; hence, their shape. It was interesting to learn about the town‘s connection to Spain and that it was not granted independence from that country until 1787. The dwellings have served different purposes over the years. Portions are still used as small one-room homes (a resident allowed us to tour his), but one section serves as Bed and Breakfast rentals--and not cheap ones, either.

En route to our final stop of this tour, we visited the Melfi Castle. The site originally served as a fortress, but King Charles V gave it Andria Dorea who constructed the castle on top. (A famous ship was later christened with his name.). The castle is steeped in history. In 1040, the Normans came here. In 1099, Pope Urban II created the first crusade here. In 1231, the constitution of Melfi was the first of such broad scope in the Middle Ages, granting laws for the protection of women, the right of fair trial, and the right to study. In 1957, the Dorea family gave the castle to the state, but specifically for use as a museum. Incredible place.

Our final stop was a tour of the Cantina del Notaio winery, made interesting because of the village and nativity scenes created in the original caves of the winery.

The lovely 5-star Grand Hotel Vigna Nocelli welcomed us for our final reunion night and wonderful farewell dinner. Then we bade farewell to many in our group, while the rest of us headed to the Port of Civitavecchia and the Norwegian Jade!

Click here for Part 2 of Ben's Aviano photos.

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