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This is the blog of Steve Burkett of Italy, Our Italy

Amalfi Stairs

If you want to shop, this is not the path for you! But, if you want to get home quickly and without being run down, this way is perfect.

This week, it's back to Amalfi. We've been there before in One Fine Day! and Staying in a Convent Retreat. But today, I want to tell you about the stairs and passages of Amalfi. 

Amalfi is situated in a ravine that comes down from the mountains to the harbor of Amalfi. The buildings of Amalfi are situated up the slopes of the ravine. At the very bottom of the ravine, there is a small road -- and this road is the main thoroughfare through the town, as you can see in the photo below.

[click a photo for a larger view]

As the buildings were constructed centuries ago before automobiles and trucks were envisioned, the roadway is very narrow. Here is a photo of this main street through the heart of Amalfi -- yes, that is THE street.

The roadway is so narrow that there is a traffic light that queues traffic wanting to travel one direction, whilst the traffic going the opposite direction works its way through the crowds. As you can tell from the photo, this is really a pedestrian-mall-roadway combination.

 

Here is another photo with vehicles making their way through the masses.

When the buildings were constructed many years ago, a number of alleyways were set aside within the structures. Some of the alleyways parallel the path of the roadway, while some work their way up through the buildings that cascade down the sides of the ravine. 

Here is one of the alleyways that traverse the same path as the roadway, but under the protection of the surrounding buildings.

If you want to shop, this is not the path for you! But, if you want to get home quickly and without being run down, this way is perfect. You just have to know the hidden-away location of these passages.

 

These hidden-away passages are the subject of today's article, and I will be focusing on the stairways that travel up the ravine-situated buildings. And, at the same time, I am giving you a two-for-one article, as you also get one of my photo transformation articles rolled in. 

Stairway #1

Here is a snapshot of one of those stairways. It's a long way up there.

By now, you know that I have a bit of an OCD issue with modern bits and pieces in my dream-world of an Italy of another time. To satisfy my compulsion, I just have to remove these items. 

Here is the photo with modern matters resolved. 

And, to get that age-old look that I am after, I've added a sepia tone and worn-frame look. Here is the final version of this very long stairway.

And, what might lie waaaaaay up there at the end of this stairway? The photo below tells us that to the right is a pizzeria and to the left is the Patrizia (Patricia's) Esthetician Center, of course. Only a local with well-formed calves would know.

Stairway #2

In the passage below, you can see that there was just a bit of wrought iron and stair railing with which to deal. It's zapped away in the second photo and the final sepia version is at the right.

[click on a thumbnail for a larger view of the photo series]

Stairway #3

In this series, you can see that there was a panel to the left, a person entering the door at the top of the stairs, and a plethora of electrical wiring in the arched alcove. In the second photo, all is gone and the sepia version ages this passage a bit.

Stairway #4

This stairway was the most challenging. In the archway to the left is a sign for another pizzeria and a scooter -- maybe for pizza delivery? On the right are a number of panels and several electrical conduits. Working up the stairs are other detriti that I felt compelled to remove. In photo two all is cleaned up, except the ages-old grime that has worked its way down the stairway. 

 

To bring home the compactness of Amalfi and the forced interaction of pedestrian and vehicle that stems from the old working its way into the new, here is one more photo. This one shows my wife, Ellen, as she walks the 'sidewalk' along the main Amalfi Coast highway on the way to a Michelin-starred La Caravella restaurant (which will be the subject of a future article).

 

I hope you have enjoyed seeing some of these hidden, secret passages of Amalfi. When you go, how about wandering around up there a bit -- we may run into each other!

 

Ciao for now,

Steve

Transforming the Cathedral of San Andreas

Today’s transformation contains a bit of a history lesson. This transformation is one where my original, very weak looking snapshot of the Cathedral of San Andreas in Amalfi, Italy is renovated into a much nicer photograph.

It is typical of photos taken aiming either up or down, that there will be a good bit of distortion. Aiming your camera up creates a convergence of lines toward the top. Aiming your camera down does the opposite.

But, did you notice that I am publishing this article on Monday, rather than the usual Tuesday. Well, there's a reason for that. You'll have to read down a bit to find out why I did this.

Original, yucky, unaltered snapshot

But for now, here is my original, blah snapshot. Pretty pathetic, huh?

Remember two weeks ago when I discussed JPEGs vs RAW photos. What you see here is the unaltered RAW snapshot – none of the JPEG’s alterations have been applied, as this was not saved as a jpeg image. If you are a bit confused by this, go back and read that article from two weeks ago.

So, Who is San Andreas?

Before I show you the transformation of this snapshot, I think you will find it interesting to know more about the man for whom this cathedral was named. You probably know San Andreas by his more common English-naming version of Saint Andrew. Yes, he’s none other than Saint Peter’s brother. Both were fishermen who became disciples, called by Jesus at the same time to become ‘fishers of men’.

Oh, and there’s a geological formation in California that was named after San Andreas – though through no fault of his own. I’ll pause for just a bit to let the laughter die down before continuing.

 

 

Detail of Saint Andrew and brother, Saint Peter

In this enlargement from the still-drab snapshot, you can see Saint Andrew (with a stringer of fish) and brother Saint Peter (with the Keys to the Kingdom) as they appear with the other disciples on the facade of the cathedral.

 

Statue of San Andreas in the Cathedral's piazza, with saltire cross

And here is a photo of the San Andreas statue that sits in the piazza in front of the cathedral in Amalfi. Note the diagonal cross? That’s pretty significant to the death of San Andrea (and to Scotland it turns out – but more on that later).

 

That diagonal cross is called a ‘saltire’ cross. Saint Andrew – as was the fate for all of the disciples – was martyred. But their martyrdom, unlike many of those today, was personal, as they were the only ones to perish in the process. Saint Andrew's martyrdom was in the form of crucifixion on a saltire (or diagonal) cross.

 

Here is a depiction of that crucifixion by the artist Juan Correa de Vivar, painted about 1545. Not a very pretty sight, but I think that was probably the point, wasn't it?!

Artist's depiction of Saint Andrew's crucifiction, by Juan Correa de Vivar

The Scottish connection?

In 832 AD, a leader called Óengus II (in what is now called Scotland) led an army of Scots into battle against the Angles (the Angles were one of the Germanic tribes who settled in Britain after the Romans left, and they founded Anglo-Saxon England – so basically, they formed what we call today 'the English'). As Oengus was heavily outnumbered he engaged in prayer on the eve of battle, and vowed that if granted victory he would appoint Saint Andrew as the Patron Saint of Scotland.

On the morning of battle white clouds forming an X shape in the sky were said to have appeared. Óengus and his forces, emboldened by this apparent divine intervention, took to the field and despite being inferior in numbers, they were victorious.

Flag of Scotland

Having interpreted the cloud phenomenon as representing the saltire cross upon which Saint Andrew was crucified, Óengus honored his pre-battle pledge and duly appointed Saint Andrew as the Patron Saint of Scotland. The white saltire set against a celestial blue background became the design of the flag of Scotland. Here is that flag of Scotland. 

Flag of the United Kingdom

And that same cross was then incorporated into the flag of the United Kingdom, as seen here. 

So now you know why there is an X in the flag of Scotland and the United Kingdom, including Australia.

Back to Amalfi

OK, back at the Cathedral of San Andreas in Amalfi.

You’ve heard of the Crusades, right? There were four of them. The first three had to do with the Holy Land. But the fourth was a bit bizarre in that, when the Crusaders arrived in Venice to get onto ships to head off to the Holy Land once more, those conniving Venetians talked the whole gang into going off to sack their financial rival, Constantinople, instead. So, that’s what they did in 1204. As Constantinople was the seat of the Eastern Catholic Empire, there were many relics of the saints ensconced there, including a good part of Saint Andrew's body.

Then, in 1208, following that sack of Constantinople, some of those relics of Saint Andrew which remained in Constantinople were taken to Amalfi, by Cardinal Peter of Capua, a native of Amalfi. A cathedral was built, dedicated to San Andreas (as is the town itself), to house a tomb in its crypt where it is rumored that most of the relics of the apostle, including an occipital bone, remain. FYI: Saint Andrew's skull is said to be housed in one of the massive pillars of Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. 

As a side note, the room at the entrance to that crypt is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. Here are a couple of photos of that marvelous room. 

So, that’s how the Cathedral of San Andreas that sits in the town of Amalfi came to be. Now back to the transformation.

The Transformation

It is typical of photos taken aiming either up or down, that there will be a good bit of distortion. Aiming your camera up creates a convergence of lines toward the top.  Aiming your camera down does the opposite. So, as you can see in the original photo, the real-life vertical lines of the Cathedral are skewed. Additionally, as I was not standing straight-on to the cathedral, the horizontal lines are also a bit skewed. And then there is a bit of scaffolding. There is always a bit of scaffolding.

Photo with distortion alterations, only

So, my first job was to make vertical lines vertical and horizontal lines horizontal and then to remove the scaffolding. After removing the scaffolding, I had to borrow a bit of the facade from the left of the cathedral to balance out the right of the cathedral. Here is the result of this first step.

Now that things are straightened out, it’s time to work on the color elements of the photo. Like in the discussion of jpeg images, I needed to add color saturation, contrast and sharpening to this RAW image. So, that’s what I did. Here is the spruced up photo as it stood then.

Almost completed transformation...that sky is a bit blah

Artist Bob Ross liked 'friendly little clouds', and so do photographers. A photographer's best friend is often a cloud – we do have other friends, but clouds usually add a good bit to photos where the sky is visible, where our human friends do not. See this photo, and this one, to see what I mean. So, as I didn’t particularly like the plain, blue sky of this nice Amalfi-Coast day, I went to my cloud file (yes, I have many, many photos of clouds that I’ve taken over the years) and selected clouds that I felt really added another dimension to the photo. So, here you have the final version of the photo.

The final image, complete with friendly clouds

And here is an enlarged segment of the façade which reveals some interesting things. One is that the façade is actually a very well done, and colorful, mosaic.

Detail of mosaics, bowing kings, and Apostles

Another is the depiction of kings, who are bowing down and offering their allegiance to Christ through the offering of their crowns.

Finally you will note three animals and one man, all winged and haloed. These are the traditional symbols of the Apostles. To Christ’s extreme right is Mark, who is always shown as a lion (and as he is the Patron Saint of Venice, it is called ‘The Lion City’). Then there is an ox, which represents Luke. To Christ’s left is a man, who depicts Matthew. And finally we see an eagle, which is the symbol for John. You will often see these animal effigies of the Apostles in various forms of Italian art.  

So there you have it. Another example of transforming a blah, lifeless image into a fine-art photograph. If the original image, all skewed and lifeless, had been saved as a jpeg image, there would have been little that could be done to improve it beyond straightening it out. When I first looked at my original snapshot, I actually considered deleting it...but then I thought, 'hmmmmm'.  And, since the photo was saved in a RAW image format, there was a lot to be gained in transformation from the original photo.

I hope you enjoyed this transformation. Feel free to leave a comment. 

Why on Monday Instead of Tuesday?

And oh, I almost forgot to tell you why I released this article for my blog on a Monday instead of a Tuesday. That is because today, November 30th, is both the 'Feast of Saint Andrew Day', as well as 'National Day' in Scotland, both related of course to the subject of today's article. 

Ciao for now.

Steve

 

 

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Staying in a Convent Retreat

The Grand Hotel Convento Amalfi -- Ahhhh.

I hope that you have a ‘place’ you can go when you are feeling a bit out of sorts. A place of escape from sometime and somewhere that has comforting memories for you.

The convent from which this hotel sprang was originally an abbey of Cistercian monks beginning in 1223

I do, and I want to share it with you in hopes that you might think to dwell on such a place from your own life. And if you don’t have such a place, staying at this fabulous hotel will give you a place where your mind can go to settle for years to come.

In September, you saw the article titled ‘One Fine Day’. That article was about a fabulous day on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. Today’s article is about our base of operations while we were in Amalfi.

History of the Convent/Hotel

That's the Grand Hotel Convento at the top left

First, you need to understand that in modern English usage since the 18th century, a convent refers to a community of women. However, in much earlier times, it referred to a community of either brothers or sisters. The convent from which this hotel sprang was originally an abbey of Cistercian monks beginning in 1223. In 1583, it passed to Capuchin Friars who were there for two centuries until they were expelled in 1813 (I’m sure there’s a great story in there somewhere). It wasn’t until 1885 that it began to be used as a hotel, and it experienced a series transformations to keep up with an increasing tourism demand.

Here are a couple of photos of what remains of portions of the old convent. White plastered walls with intricate stonework make for a contemplative scene.

Getting There

The Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi, sits at the end of, and high above, Amalfi Town. You can see the hotel in this old photograph that seems to pre-date elevators and today's roadway, which you can see in the next photo.

To get to the hotel, one parks their car in the right lane of a two lane road just as that road enters a tunnel (and the Italian drivers give your parking in the roadway not a second thought -- its just the way its done along the Amalfi Coast), as that’s where the hotel entrance is located. You can see the tunnel entrance along the main highway in this photo, taken from the hotel pool.

A bellman comes out to greet you and unload your bags. They then maneuver your car into that small lot you see in the photo -- if there is a space, that is. If there are no spaces, who knows where your vehicle winds up? 

The hotel entrance is a cave-like opening in the cliff through which you walk to an elevator. That elevator takes you up a couple of hundred feet where you disembark (the glass elevator structure can be seen in the photo) to another elevator within the hotel proper where you then go to the lobby on the fifth floor.

A prosecco awaited our arrival...and you can tell we needed it!

Now, if you had been smart, you might have arrived in Amalfi by boat. Or maybe you arrived by car driven by a professional. And then there’s a bus. But we drove ourselves from Salerno along the most terrifying road on which we have ever been. When we arrived, we were given a complementary prosecco as seen above, complete with goose berry, to calm our nerves. See that guy in the background? He’s an Australian who said after learning that we had driven ourselves along the coastal road, “I admire you!”

The Hotel

Our room, with balcony and lovely whitewashed walls and ceiling, looked out over the blue Mediterranean.

An evening view of the Mediterranean from our balcony

The grounds were dreamy. Bougainvillea arbors covered the dining patio, where we had both breakfast, lunch and dinner whilst eating at the hotel. And the weather was superb!

The Amalfi Coast is noted for its lemons and its limoncello. Almost everywhere you look along the coast, you will see arbors of lemon trees, like these in the hanging gardens of the hotel.

 

The reach the pool, you walk along this loggia for a bit.

This loggia leads from the dining veranda to the pool

And then you come to the most dramatic pool setting that we’ve ever seen.

A dramatic cliff-side pool location

The infinity pool, with an infinite view of the Med

The view from the hotel’s terrace is spectacular, whether it be sunrise, midday, sunset or evening. The town of Amalfi sits just below. In this photo, you see the sunrise we experienced from the roof of the hotel.

Sunrise comes to the Amalfi Coast

Here is a view during the day of Amalfi and its harbor. The pool cabana can be seen in the middle-left of the photo. And the ever-present lemons can be seen along the lower edge.

Lush vegetation and Amalfi Town

The view towards Sicily 

I’m not sure if ‘what goes down, must go up’ is part of Newtonian physics, but if you’re staying at the hotel and want to go into town, that’s the reality of the situation. The good part is you don’t have to walk all the way up – just to the roadway where you can go to the hotel entrance and then up the rest of the way to the hotel by elevator. But still, there are plenty of steps to negotiate for you to get your exercise. 

It's a long way up to the GHCA

Want to go to the beach? Here is what you find just below the hotel…with crystal clear waters.

The beach below the hotel...a nice place to relax and get wet

And this shot from the hotel shows the ‘beach’ of the hotel just past the exit of the tunnel mentioned earlier. The Italians make creative use of their resources, don’t they?!

An architects dream...a stone workers nightmare

The Food

Now, if you’re like me, and I certainly know that I am, you are probably wondering about the food at the hotel. Rather than me telling you how scrumptiously delicious it is, just take a look.

The breakfast buffet – scrumptious.

Poolside lunch – scrumptiouser

Dinner – the scruptiousest.

And of course, at each meal we had either our favorite ‘Coca Cola Lite’ or wine – or sometimes, both.

A nice bottle of Amarone, all the way down from the Veneto

And how did the food get to our table? Well, it was usually Alfonso who took care of us, and he did a marvelous job!

Our outstanding waiter, Alfonso

After our evening meal, with this being Amalfi and all – home to the world’s best limoncello -- Alfonso brings us a bit of the yellow liquid to finish off a perfect evening.

The end to a perfect evening

 

I hope that you have your own special place where you can go to dwell on happy times whenever you need such a diversion. If you don’t, feel free to borrow ours!

Here is a link to the website for the Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi:

http://www.ghconventodiamalfi.com/en/

 

Ciao for now,

Steve

 

 

 

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One Fine Day!

In my July 28th article, I shared with you a wonderful day of discovery in the Lake Como area. Today, I want to share with you another day that my wife and I will always cherish…it’s one of those Top-10 Days…maybe even a Top-5 Day! It just might be in the Top 1! 

Gian-Carlo’s Blue Angel is a 38’ Itama, built in Italy – a gorgeous boat with a rear deck comprised of thick, fabric-covered pads for our lounging pleasure.

The Day's Details

  • Where: The Amalfi Coast of Italy.
  • When: The time is early June.
  • Who: My wife, Ellen, and me.
  • What: An unforgettable day boating along the Amalfi Coast on the way to the Isle of Capri.
  • Why: Well, why not?! It was high on our Italy bucket list and here we were.
  • How: We asked our concierge at the beautiful Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi to give us a hand in figuring out the best way for us to make a day trip to Capri. She came through.

The Day's Events

Our base of operations on the Amalfi Coast was the Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi, sitting high above the town of Amalfi. This former convent has been converted to a gorgeous white-washed hotel that can be seen spread across the top left in this century-old photo.

[click on any image for a larger view]

Old photo of the town of Amalfi

Our concierge scheduled a pickup at the Amalfi’s marina at 9:00am, where we were met by, Gian-Carlo – the captain of the Blue Angel

Our Captain, Gian-Carlo of the Blue Angel

Gian-Carlo’s Blue Angel is a 38’ Itama, built in Italy – a gorgeous boat with a rear deck comprised of thick, fabric-covered pads for our lounging pleasure.

In the two following photos, you can see how our day started as we headed out of Amalfi Town. You can see the modern day Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi in the left-center of the photo below.

(BTW, the building dead center in the photo above is Amalfi's cemetery/mausoleum)

Here is a typical view of the coastline with villa after villa going up the hillside. See the horizontal rows of vegetation?

Lemons. Lemons. Lemons. The whole of the Amalfi Coast is covered with lemons. And what does one do when given so many lemons? They make limoncello, of course. Amalfi is the center of the limoncello universe.

Our journey found us slowly traveling the coast with views such as those below. Stone roadways and buildings have been erected over hundreds of years, and seaside restaurants are in abundance.

A History Lesson

And there are dozens of stone towers (torre) like the one below all along the Amalfi Coast.

These towers were erected as an early warning system to alert the coastal towns of invading Muslim pirates, who captured and sold as slaves over 1,000,000 people, including many US merchants. The United States had a big part in defeating these marauders, as President Thomas Jefferson sent the newly formed US Navy, carrying the US Marines in their first battle, to defeat these pirates. We were successful in 1805 after the Second Barbary War. This is where the line in the Marine Hymn “…to the shores of Tripoli” originated. OK, that’s the end of today’s history lesson.

Getting to the Beach

Each of the hotels along the coast has access to the water’s edge – not necessarily to a beach, as they are few and far between. Here is a beauty-of-an access stairway. You really, really have to want to get to the water to challenge these steps.

Positano

Next up, we see the stylish town of Positano, as seen below.

By road, Positano is 9 miles west of Amalfi. As it takes about 40 minutes to drive from Amalfi to Positano, you can see that your average speed will be about 15mph. If you ever plan to drive the Amalfi coastline, keep this in mind. We have never been on a narrower road with more bends, blind curves, buses, autos, motorcycles, joggers and women with baby carriages.

If you stay in Positano, your hotel will more than likely be located somewhere on the hillside. Like a bit of exercise getting to town or the beach? You’ve got it!

And the beach sits right there with the town. Hope you’re not shy!

Now, we say goodbye to Positano, as it’s time to head to the Isle of Capri.

And along the way, Gian-Carlo continues to take care of our needs.

Isola di Capri

Capri is both the name of a town and the island upon which it sits. Capri (pronounced ‘cap-ri by the Italians, with emphasis on the first syllable) is an island located in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the Sorrentine Peninsula, on the south side of the Gulf of Naples in the Campania region of Italy -- got that? 

As we made our way to the Piccolo Marina (Small Marina) on the east side of the island (the Grande Marina is on the west side of the island), we passed by the rock formations named The Faraglioni, or The Stacks.

The natural opening in one of the outcroppings is called ‘The Tunnel of Love’. Couples sailing through that opening are promised blissful love for all time, or something of that nature, so I think my wife and I are pretty well set, now.

One of my clients who has the following photo in her office lyrically says that “it graphically portrays her fondest memory of the coastline of Capri -- with the colorful towering limestone cliffs meeting aqua waters”.  

As we motorboated along the coast of Capri, were able to stop and take a swim in the White... 

...and Green Grottos. Chilly, but super refreshing!

The Best Lunch Ever!

We’ve been sailing for about 3 hours, so it’s now time for lunch. Here is our lunch spot. The Torre Saracenas Restaurant is open for lunch from April to October, so we’re in luck. 

As we're arriving by a large boat, they sent a smaller skiff out to shuttle us to their dock.

As we look back, Gian-Carlo is preparing our boat for the afternoon return to Amalfi. Nice boat, huh?

At this restaurant, you get to pick out your lunch from these tanks.

Here is Ellen taking stock of the available wares, caught just that morning.

We started with a bit of vino bianco.

And some fried zucchini.

While we were enjoying the view from the seaside table…

…our lobster arrived.

And then there was a bit more vino bianco…

…until our fish was presented to us.

After being deboned…

…we dived into our scrumptious lunch.

Now, let’s finish that bottle of wine and head up to the town Capri.

A Short Visit to Capri Town

Our waiter called us a taxi and we were whisked away.

OK, so the town of Capri is pretty much like many other small Italian hill town, except that the ‘streets’ are really, really skinny, and they have to use these really, really skinny carts for deliveries.

We were able to find a couple of souvenirs as we shopped Capri style.  

As we waited for our tender to take us back out to our boat, I snapped this photo of the green waters of the harbor.

The End of One Fine Day

Now it is time to head back to Amalfi town to end our day on the water and the Isola di Capri.

So, how was our day? Does this seem to be something that you would like to do? Well, I can tell you that we sure enjoyed our day exploring the Amalfi Coast.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. So, I will try no further to express to you our feelings about this memorable day.

I will let the photo below be that expression.

 

Here are some links to help you plan your own fine day:

Have you been to the Amalfi Coast or to Capri? Leave a comment with your own experiences, below.

 

Ciao for now,

Steve