Today is the first morning I have eaten breakfast recently without the noise of high pitched chatter, running feet and giggles. We have been in grandparent role for the last few days, and our little grandson constantly reminds us of the art of playing and enjoying the moment.
Back in the UK for a week now, and we’ve seen a lot of rain, and felt the drop in temperature.
Today the heavens opened just as a group of us were congregating at our local museum, The Priest’s House Museum in Wimborne. The Museum hosted two Writing for Wellbeing groups which I run, Colehill Writers and Just Write. We had the use of their lovely modern learning centre, strategically placed next door to the cafe, which serves excellent teas and cake.
We wrote initially from objects from the museums collections which could be handled and appreciated physically. We wrote firstly from our senses, descriptive writing. And then allowed ourselves to follow trains of thought, memories, and imaginings generated in our minds by the same objects. We dug to a deeper level when we then wrote about the feelings and emotions stirred by the objects.
This “Body, Mind, Soul” approach to writing from collections is included in the year-long action research project, Museums, Health and Wellbeing and it is great to have a chance to use the rich resources of our own local museum.
We may have started with a cold drenching, but our afternoon soon warmed up and as the sun came out we had a lot of fun and laughter exploring the fascinating and quirky objects in the Museum galleries and the beautiful gardens. Then we reconvened for teas and delicious cake, while shaping and sharing the word sketches we had made around the Museum.
I certainly enjoyed the afternoon, and it was a lovely example of the way our local museums can offer great spaces for writing, and enable communities to access their heritage as well as build new connections.
Today we left Sorrento by coach to visit the archaeological site of Herculaneum. Progress was slow in the Italian morning rush hour traffic. And then we stopped. Stuck on the narrow mountain road. It took us close on an hour to get through a road blockage caused by tree cutters at work.
Sitting there helpless in a traffic jam, with Vesuvius dominating the horizon, we gazed out to sea to the volcanic island of Ischia, made of tufa, surrounded by green waters, and Procida, with its volcanic spas and mud baths. In 79 AD the people of Herculaneum looked out to sea, and waited for boats to escape the volcano which was threatening to destroy them. Initially the smoke and ash spewing from Vesuvius blocked the sunlight, but did not fall on them. But then volcanic mud, loosened by torrential rain, poured down the mountain and engulfed the town of luxury villas and bathhouses. The accompanying fireball carbonised everything in its path, including the inhabitants.
When our coach eventually arrived at Herculaneum we toured the remains of the town. Painstakingly uncovered, dug out of the volcanic mud which had solidified 2000 years ago, the houses contain beautiful mosaics, and amazingly preserved wall frescoes.
A spa town of its day the mud bath it received was fatal, and we saw the poignant skeletons of victims huddled in the boat arches on the shore. No rescue came for them. They were trapped. It was fascinating and sobering to see evidence of the sophisticated and glamorous life of the Roman Herculaneum, and its sad end.
Thankfully we did not get engulfed in the flood of traffic on our return journey, and escaped to the luxury and comfort of our hotel.
We set the alarm for 6a.m. in order to catch the early ferry from Sorrento Port, and make the 30 minute crossing to the Island of Capri. There we transferred to a smaller motor launch and as the early clouds dispersed, we set off under clear blue skies on an azure sea. We paused to view fantastic geological formations around the coast, and to gaze at unimaginably expensive villas, belonging to the rich and famous, perched on the clifftops.
Our cruise around the island completed, minibuses took us up the winding narrow road to Anacapri, with ever widening views across the bay of Naples to Vesuvius. From there it was the single seated chair lift, suspended over rocks where wild orchids grow, which carried us all the way to the top of Monte Solaro. More view gazing at the top, across Capri and along the distant Amalfi coast. Vesuvius and Naples and the islands of Ischia and Procida clearly visible in the other direction. After a quick cappuccino it was the quiet beauty of the return chair lift to the town to find lunch.
We caught the minibus to descend the hill to Capri town, where we wandered the narrow streets among the beautiful hotels and designer shops. Traffic free it may be, but it was still congested – with huge numbers of tourists. We had designer priced Cokes sitting in the piazza, and watched the world go by. A day of natural beauty and designer glamour.
A day of wonders from the past, this morning we visited Naples Museum to see treasures saved from the archaeological sites of Pompei and Herculaneum. Amazingly fine marble mosaics, rescued from the floors and walls of the city buried in ash, along with wall paintings, sculptures and other artefacts of poignant beauty.
This afternoon we travelled on to the site of Pompei itself, where in 79 AD the town and its people were buried under metres of volcanic ash as nearby Vesuvius erupted. Some were asphyxiated by the toxic gases, other burned or buried. It was moving to see the size of the town, and its beautiful villas, shops and public buildings. Many original wall colours and paintings to be seen, and grooves from the carts and wagons still there in the roads. So long ago and yet so present.
From Amalfi our coach driver took the hairaisingly narrow and winding road away from the sea and up into the mountains to the small town of Ravello. Some bends were so tight that the coach drivers had to manoeuvre forward and backwards to get around. At the top Villa Ruffalo with its terraced gardens offered cool shade and views of breathtaking colour.
Then the route over the mountain ridge brought us back to the plains where Vesuvius reared up, its summit wrapped in cloud (not smoke) and brooding across the vast conurbation, just as it did in Roman times. But the only fire we saw erupting was from evening fireworks in Sorrento harbour.
It was an early start today as we set off to be driven along one of the most famous roads in the world. Subject of numerous films and adverts, the Amalfi drive clings to the cliff edge and winds torturously along the mountainous coast. Progress was slow and stunningly beautiful.
At first the skies were grey and everything was cast in a silvery light. Sun was breaking through the clouds at Positano, and by the time we reached Amalfi the Duomo and the square were under blue skies.
The Duomo was full of noise, singing and applause, packed with Italian families in their Sunday best. It was a confirmation service and the enthusiasm and joy was infectious as everyone celebrated, crowding out onto the steps for photos. Inside the building was filled with music and a golden light. The peaceful cloisters and crypt held fascinating reminders of early Christians, and relics of St Andrew, the first disciple to respond to the call of Jesus.
We bought handmade paper at the old paper mill and drank iced drinks in the square soaking up the happy atmosphere.