It is becoming increasingly clear, even to me, that ‘Loving Italy’s Gardens’ may not have been the best choice of names for this blog. I know I started off with the best of intentions. But then, somewhere along the garden visits, I obviously got side-tracked. Sviata (zvee-ah-tah). Via is road. The ‘s’ in front makes it ‘unroad’. Distratta (dees-trah-tah). For when our path gets ‘dissed’ and we end up ‘distracted’.
I’ve decided that the colpa – think ‘culpable’ – lies with Italy. It has a way of landing you, literally or figuratively, where you didn’t plan to go. In places that were not on the itinerary. This can be terribly exasperating if you let yourself think about the enormous amount of time you spent coming up with your itinerary. Fortunately, what with all the wonderful places and experiences that you end up having, for which you can take no credit whatsoever, it all comes to a draw. Maybe more than a draw.
All this by way of introduction (rationalization?) to yet another post that has little – OK, nothing – to do with gardens. But who knows? Who hasn’t had a brilliant idea for their garden, or anything else for that matter, that as far as we know, didn’t have anything to do with what we were up to, or where we were at the moment inspiration struck?
This last trip, it didn’t take long for my plans to start going by the wayside. On my second day in Sorrento, after a leisurely stroll around the city centre and lunch along Marina Grande, my plan was to hike along an ancient path to Punta Campanella, the westerly tip of the Sorrentine Peninsula. The views of the Amalfi coast and nearby Capri were said to be spectacular. Sergio, the padrone at the B&B, had said it would take about an hour each way. Plenty of time. From the train station there was a bus that would take me to the village of Termini and from there to Nerano and the start of the path.
Things started to go fuori strada (off road) at the station. Even after I showed him the departure time listed on the official SITA schedule, the bus driver insisted that official or not, it was sbagliata (zball-yah-tuh). Wrong. The bus left at 15:30, not 15:15. Normally a 15 minute delay would be no big deal, but according to my now suspect schedule it took 55 minutes to reach Nerano and the last bus back to Sorrento left at 19:15. If I walked fast, and Sergio was right, and I limited the stops for photos, I could make it. Just.
We ended up having two bus drivers. The second was young and kind, and talked me out of going to Punta Campanella, which saved me from what would have been a really disagreeable experience. But things didn’t started off well with him.
About a half hour after our delayed start in Sorrento, the driver pulled over, in what looked to me like the middle of nowhere, got out of the bus – leaving the engine running and the door wide open – and disappeared into a small building on the other side of the road. As the minutes rolled by, the passengers, locals and tourists, started to rumble. Most, me included, assumed this was the end of his shift – adding insult to injury, we had watched him drive away – and the next driver was late. Finally a young fellow drove up to the compound, swaggered over to the office, oozing with ‘attitude’ – at least that is how it looked to me at the time – and a while later reappeared and sauntered over to the bus, took his time adjusting the driver’s seat and with no apology to the passengers, not even a Buon giorno, we set off again.
The silence was broken when one of the passengers, a local, asked when we would be arriving in Termini. We’re not going to Termini, he snapped. I could feel my blood pressure shooting up. I managed not to have a full-blown melt-down, but I did inform him quite forcefully that, even though I was a straniera, I had no problems with Italian and the previous conducente had told me very clearly that even though the departure time for this bus was sbagliata, the destinazione – Termini -was not. Perhaps sensing an imminent ruckus, the signora across the aisle from me leaned over and said to the driver, ‘This bus has always gone to Termini’. There was a bit more to and froing, with me getting hotter and hotter and then, out of nowhere, the driver said, ‘Allora, ti porto a Termini.’ (Fine, I’ll take you to Termini.) That stopped me in my tracks. ‘What?!’ I spluttered. ‘You want to go to Termini, I’ll take you to Termini. Per me è lo stesso.‘ (It’s all the same to me.)
It turned out that the driver who was supposed to be waiting for us hadn’t shown up and/or the first driver had taken the wrong road and jumped ship at the office. The boss had called this young fellow, yet another time, to fill in at the last moment for somebody else who had ‘screwed up’ (his words). What I had taken for ‘attitude’ was annoyance – totally reasonable, given the circumstances. A reminder (obviously much-needed) of why it’s a good idea not to jump to conclusions.
After he offered to go to Termini, things got very amicable between us. When I explained why I wanted to go there – the least I could do in the circumstances – it was his turn to get agitated. He had been remarkably calm during the previous exchanges – totally at odds with the stereotypical image of the hot-blooded southern male (another note to self!). ‘Non c’è la fai. Tre ore minimo!’ I wouldn’t make it. It would take me three hours minimum. He was a bit embarrassed to admit that he hadn’t been, but he had no doubt how long it would take. What about the Bay of Ieranto? I asked. This was another place Sergio had mentioned. That, he smiled, was very doable. And very beautiful.
And so I went to the Bay of Ieranto.
I was surprised to see a group of school children playing on the tiny beach. They were very young. I wouldn’t have thought they could have managed the hike over the mountain. Do we coddle our young too much, I wondered.
I left the bay shortly after 5:30. It was still light, but it had taken me an hour to get there and I had already seen how quickly dusk fell. I’m a pretty fast walker and eventually caught up to a group of ragazzi, who I at first thought had just run ahead of their group. They were fooling around under a sign that they found as preposterous as I did. We chatted for a bit and then I asked if I could take their photo. They thought it was a great idea. There was no mistaking who was the leader.
Then I continued along the path. It was already a lot darker than I liked in the shadow of the mountain. I guess the sight of what, to their young minds was una signora anziana getting ahead of them on the trail was too much for them and they were soon flying by me. We played catch-up all the way back to Termini.
I never did make it to Punta Campanella. The closest I came to it was the little stone ledge from where I took the photo at the beginning of this post.
The hike I took instead, to the Bay of Ieranto, would be the first of many times my itinerary would get sviata by Italy. And the first of many wonderful, totally unplanned experiences.