The In-Betweens [Tuscany + the Amalfi Coast]

I suppose much of this year has been an exercise in navigating the in-betweens. Perhaps not the majority of Thailand, where we settled in and truly drank of the present. But other phases have had a distinct before and after, eyes looking forwards and backwards, in spite of my renewed morning meditations. Here now, even more so. Looming return to real life, what's-next musings and taxes, weekly place hopping, one of many tourists sometimes on and sometimes off the beaten path.

Several days ago, we left the sweet security of our agriturismo in Tuscany where the kids were able to run free, truffle hunt with dogs (a surprising favourite for all), horseback ride, make pasta, play soccer, foosball, and ping pong, meet some other kids, and generally drink in the Tuscan countryside. 

We day tripped to towns that dotted the rolling hills – Volterra (atmospheric, enshrouded in fog, downpour led us to wander through the eerie Museum of Torture), San Gimignano (epitome of an adorable Tuscan town, climbed a tower, alabaster abounded), Siena (explored the upper recesses of a gothic cathedral, saw lots of relics, bones and a severed head!), and Pecchioli (our fave, juxtaposition of ancient town and modern art, interspersed in the most surprising of places) – and generally appreciated the open countryside, blooms of scarlet and yellow flowers, surprise thunderstorms, and labyrinthian (and sometimes unpassable!) gravel roads. It was pretty dreamy; there were definitely a few tears upon our departure.

We are currently staying in Sorrento, a town on the Amalfi Coast populated with upmarket tourists and freakishly oversized lemons. You can see on their faces (the tourists, not the lemons) a frustration with what has been an uncharacteristically cold and wet Spring. For many in Italy, though, it's been more than inconvenient; disastrous flooding in the Emilia-Romagna region has left tens of thousands homeless. Happily for all, the weather has been slowly turning. Each semi-cloudless day in Sorrento unleashes troves of brightly colored sundresses and strappy sandals, the colorful fruits of months of outfit planning. I don’t blame them – I would if I could! – but the tattered garb of our Southeast Asian travels exposes me as a total fraud. The city is sweet and perfect, expensive, and touristy. We hiked down to some ancient Roman baths which were more off the beaten path, and have generally wandered through the polished kitsch in the little streets, tasting limoncello or granite here and there. Not a huge amount of interesting things for the kids, but they roll with it.  

Yesterday we went to Napoli, a city that - my lord - is ridiculously polarizing in the online traveler world. We fell into the 'loved it' category. And like all travelers who spend such little time in a city, I am aware of how my fragile opinion is simply a concoction of mind, intention and luck. We felt more relaxed in this city – surrounded again by Italians and forced to recall our fading Italian vocabulary, watching people across the socio-economic spectrum living their lives, the place emanating a distinct vivaciousness. We took a shortcut and found ourselves on a narrow cobblestone street off the busy avenues; with all of the safety warnings about this place, we wondered if we should be concerned. But it was the perfect caricature of a city at work on a weekday morning. Uphill cobblestone steps, old women leaning on balconies surveying the scene below, younger women wringing out their laundry, animated conversations between neighbours, a lone man smoking a cigarette, dogs wandering, celebratory banners and streamers of the football team’s victory strewn across every step. It was real life. And of course we ate delicious pizza. When in Napoli...

Here are a few photos/videos from a tour of Napoli's underground tunnels, which have 2400 years of history from the ancient Greeks to the Roman aqueducts to WWII safe havens. Tight passageways 40 meters down into the ground. Our kids of course wanted to lead the pack and regaled the guide with their many global adventures navigating caves, dark passageways, and hundreds of stairs up and down.   

And how are we? I would say we are good, but stretched by these in-betweens. It’s almost like we are not fully here in the way we once were. The kids are more checked out. We wander the streets and they immediately depart into a fantasy world of conversation that only the three of them can inhabit; once in a while, Chris gently nudges them to notice their exquisite surroundings. They are still taking it all in, and we still have moments of growth – like Emmet’s newfound identity of cold water swimmer in the currently frigid Mediterranean waters (anyone missing Sri Lanka about now???) or Asa’s slow emergence as the philosopher in the family or Obie’s adolescent growth spurts – but these moments of pause feel fewer and farther in between.

Also Obie's new favourite thing to do - creepily lurk behind and crouch when we are taking pictures of the two of us. Here are a few winners.

From here on out, we have a few more days in Sorrento, where we will travel to Pompeii and perhaps another nearby town, and then move on to our second and final stop in the Amalfi Coast – Atrani.