Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Trip to the Amalfi Coast

Positano. Amalfi Coast. Sorrento. Magical, seemingly mythical places I had heard about but thought I would perhaps never see. Until yesterday.

I left Rome on a high-speed train around 7:45 with a group of 14 other people on a small-group day tour, bound for Naples. At speeds often approaching 200 mph, we made the trip in a little over an hour, passing by the famed Abbey of Montecassino and other sights along the way. 

As we approached Naples, I saw a mountain off to the left and was surprised when our guide pointed it out as Mount Vesuvius. From the angle at which I saw the famous volcano, it seemed a lot smaller than I had imagined. It was only once I saw it from the south that I could get a much better sense of its size.

Mount Vesuvius as seen from our van as we passed through
Castellammare di Stabia (see map below)

Upon arrival at the Naples train station, we transferred to a 16-passenger van for the drive to Positano. I had heard about the immense traffic jams that are sometimes encountered on the busy road to the Amalfi Coast, but it wasn't bad at all. The weather, after the storms that had passed through the area over the weekend, was picture-postcard perfect - blue skies with temperatures in the low 70's.

Our first stop for photos was at Vico Equense. At the time, I thought we were actually on the Amalfi Coast, but these pictures were actually of Sorrento and the Bay of Naples (I think).

From there, we continued our drive along the breathtakingly beautiful coast to Positano, a town that is crammed onto slopes than plunge down toward the water. It was also crammed with tourists. 


We had a couple of hours of free time here. I was tempted by many shops, including some men's clothing stores (thinking of my still-missing main suitcase), but in the end only purchased a couple of bottles of rosé (rosato) - one from the Amalfi Coast and the other from Puglia, a bottle of "Five Roses." I had learned about this wine in my Italian Wine Scholar course. It was the first Italian rosato to be commercially produced and sold in Italy and exported to the United States, discovered by an American general during World War II.

At lunch in Positano

From Positano, we boarded a ferry that took us to the town of Amalfi, providing us an opportunity to see the famed coast from the water instead of the busy road cut into the sides of mountains:

Once in Amalfi, we walked past the beaches and then up, up, up the side of a steep hill to visit a lemon farm built onto the terraced hillside. The area is famous for its lemons and limoncello, and we sampled both at the farm we visited.

The beaches in Amalfi

Climbing up the lemon farm terraces

Members of our group sampling lemons, lemon cake and limoncello

After visiting the lemon farm and taking in the views of Amalfi it offered, we descended to the town square - dominated by the beautiful Cathedral of St. Andrew - and again had some free time to walk around, browse in shops and take pictures.

From Amalfi, we took another ferry to Salerno - the site where (I learned following my visit) Allied armies launched their invasion of mainland Italy in September of 1943. It was immediately apparent that the city's buildings looked fairly new, so I assumed that Salerno must have been flattened during World War II. I've got some reading to do when I get home. 

From Salerno, we took another high-speed train back to Rome. It was a long but enjoyable day. Today's itinerary includes a foodie tour in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome and a wine dinner tonight. Hopefully, my suitcase will turn up today!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Wine, Men and Memories

Two years ago, Mark and I went on our first and only gay cruise together, on a beautiful ship - the Royal Clipper - in a beautiful place: the coast of Croatia. We made wonderful memories together and met guys who became good friends. It was a life-changing experience.

One of those friends was/is Dan Karslake, pictured above in the green shorts with Mark, me and another friend. Dan and I hit it off instantly and have became very close friends. I affectionately refer to him as my BFF. He is an independent film maker whose award-winning documentary, "For the Bible Tells Me So" (dealing with the intersection of homosexuality and conservative Christianity), had a profound effect upon me as I was coming out. 

A few months after Mark died, I became involved in the production of one of Dan's current film projects, "For They Know Not What They Do," Last year, I went on a cruise in Tahiti with Dan and other friends where we raised over $25,000 to help finance the production of "For They Know." 

Dan and me with new German friends after whale watching in Tahiti 

Tomorrow, I will leave for Rome to join another gay cruise on the same ship Mark and I were on - the Royal Clipper - where I will see many of the friends Mark and I met in Croatia as well as a few more I met last year. We will also be raising funds on board for "For They Know," and will hopefully meet or exceed the amount we raised last year.

Last year's cruise was far more triggering than I had anticipated, there being a number of guys on board who had met Mark the previous year. It was a bittersweet experience that was in some ways emotionally very draining. This year, more time has passed, and I look forward to seeing those friends, being with Dan, meeting new people, having fun and seeing amazing places.

Now for the wine part. After the cruise, I will spend a few days in the Paris area, taking day trips to wine regions in Burgundy and Champagne that I learned about in my recently completed French Wine Scholar course. Though I served my Mormon mission in Paris many years ago and have visited the city a couple of times in the last five years, I will be seeing and experiencing new things on this trip. I'm looking forward to those experiences as well as celebrating my birthday later in the month with Dan and his husband, Russ, in their new home in Berlin.

Thoughts as I prepare to leave:

Change is inevitable; growth is optional. I choose to grow. It's scary sometimes; but in the end, what other choice is there? 

Sometimes, I think about experiences that Mark and I had together, and I think, "Wow, I (emphasis on  "I" - who had lived a very different sort of life prior to coming out and meeting Mark) experienced that (emphasis on "that"). Like the night we danced on the beach on Maui under the light of a super moon. 

How lucky am I? Very. I'm grateful for all the life I lived with Mark and for all the life that I have yet to live. I'm grateful for memories made and those yet to be made. I'm grateful for my children, for my friends - near and far - and for the opportunity I now have to make this trip. 

Let the adventure begin.