Italy, November 2

Wednesday, November 2nd

We left Assisi in the morning and made the longish drive toward the Amalfi coast.  At one point we were traveling the wrong direction on the autostrade, but we don’t need to talk about that.  We stopped for a visit to Monte Cassino along the way.

The vineyards on Monte Cassino, just outside the abbey

The vineyards on Monte Cassino, just outside the abbey

The town of Cassino, over which the Monte is perched, is a sad little place.  It’s a small town that seems like time forgot.  There’s some kind of factory looming over it and lots of angst-ridden graffiti around.  Perhaps it’s because we drove through it on a gloomy day, but honestly, I just wanted to get out of there.  Once we got through the town and made our way up the hill, things looked a little better.  The monastery was quiet and more pleasant.

The central courtyard of the abbey at Monte Cassino. The statue of St. Benedict is down on the right side of this picture.

The central courtyard of the abbey at Monte Cassino. The statue of St. Benedict is down on the right side of this picture.

Hopefully I don’t need to go into detail about how Monte Cassino has been destroyed multiple times.  Probably the most significant is when it was bombed by the Allies during WWII.  That basically leveled the place, but not everything was destroyed.  In particular, the main statue of St. Benedict, whose relics are kept under the altar, remains intact in the central courtyard of the abbey.  The whole statue.  Survived the bombing that destroyed the monastery around it.  The fact that the St. Benedict relics also survived is another miracle.  In the literal sense.

The statue of St. Benedict at Monte Cassino, one of the very few things to survive the allied bombing during WWII.

The statue of St. Benedict at Monte Cassino, one of the very few things to survive the allied bombing during WWII.

Inside the cathedral, one may note the empty spaces along the ceiling that would normally be filled with sumptuous frescoes.  As part of the ongoing rebuilding and restoration work, those ceiling frescoes have yet to be painted.

The interior of the cathedral at Monte Cassino, showing empty spaces for future frescoes.

The interior of the cathedral at Monte Cassino, showing empty spaces for future frescoes.

One striking bit of artwork that is complete is in the crypt below the church.  The entire ceiling is done in a beautiful and intricate mosaic.

Mosaic ceiling in the crypt under the cathedral at Monte Cassino

Mosaic ceiling in the crypt under the cathedral at Monte Cassino

It’s down here that we see the actual final resting place of St. Benedict.

The crypt at Monte Cassino. The ceiling is entirely mosaic.

The crypt at Monte Cassino. The ceiling is entirely mosaic.

After touring the abbey, we headed back down the mountain and through the sad, little town, on our way to the Amalfi Coast.  I don’t know what town it was where we entered the “Amalfi coast area” but here was definitely a demarcation point where we started driving on the infamous Almafi coast road.  If driving The Beast in Rome shored up my confidence, driving on the Amalfi Coast aged me.  It aged me hard.

The Beast contemplates the Amalfi Coast Road at a rare quiet spot.

The Beast contemplates the Amalfi Coast Road at a rare quiet spot.

The road is narrow.  It would be narrow for a one-way alley, but, honest-to-God, they drive in both directions AND park on it.  It goes up.  It goes down.  There’s blind curves.  There’s dumb and blind curves.  It’s got more twists than a Chubby Checker sock-hop.  And we were apparently there in the down time.  We missed the busy season when you’re not even supposed to attempt this drive.  If that was the easy version of the drive, you can keep it.  The Amalfi Coast is something to see.  It’s pretty and all, but I’ve done it now.  I don’t need to do it again.

The coast is a series of small and medium towns built into the shear face of a tall, rocky cliff.  We often speculated on what the first settlers were thinking when they decided this would be a good spot for a bunch of towns.  This was not stroller country, and that piece of hardware remained in the vehicle.

A stretch of the Amalfi coastline

A stretch of the Amalfi coastline

Upon arrival at our villa in the town of Praiano, on somewhat shaky knees, we entered a wonderful and spacious apartment with a magnificent view of the sea.  Somehow, with all responsible people standing right there in the living room, Tommy managed to climb onto a chair and then fall off of it straight into the corner of the coffee table.  He was hurt.  He lost a chunk of skin right next to his eye, but if it had been just an inch closer we would have been spending time in the hospital.  He recovered quickly but was a little dinged up for the rest of the trip.

Arrived in Praiano just in time for sunset

Arrived in Praiano just in time for sunset

Walking around Praiano that evening, we went to the local grocery store, which is a bit of a town meeting place.  In front we met a salty gentleman named Genarro who negotiated with Valerie to take her to the airport the next day.  Val would be leaving our group in the morning and needed to secure the ride.  Genarro ran the town taxi company and seemed like a very friendly individual.  The following afternoon we found out from Val that he was very friendly indeed and looking for some amore.  I guess his hands were all over my mother-in-law during that ride, but she made it safe and eventually got back home.

We had dinner that night at the restaurant Genarro recommended, which, oddly enough, was called Trattoria San Gennaro.  The food and staff were both great, and we would eat there again more than once during our short stay.

Next:  November 3rd (Amalfi)

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