topics: delicioso limone (food), Amalfi Coast, compass, Roman gods, Mount Vesuvius; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: May 11-12, 1998

Food of the Day: delicioso limone

Once again, we missed a golden opportunity to try a regional specialty. However, our loss should be your gain. What you learn here you can profit by when you have a chance to go to the Amalfi Coast (our Place of the Day).

Lemons grow in great abundance all along the Amalfi Coast. It should then come as no surprise that many of the regional specialties use lemon as a base ingredient. This is the case with the "delicioso limone" or "lemon delicious." A simple dessert, it consists of a lemon pound cake topped with a sweet lemon spread. When ordered, fresh cream is then smeared across the top. We really do regret having missed a chance to taste it.

Person of the Day: the Roman gods

As many people who read or study mythology know, there are two great ancient Mediterranean cultures whose gods are still very much a part of our lives. Of course, we don't mean that they continue to walk among us (although who really knows?), but their names pop up again and again in our modern cultures. We have already listed the most important attributes of the Greek gods, and now it is time to meet their Roman counterparts.

Jupiter, or Jove (the counterpart to Zeus): ruler of the gods, son of the god Saturn (whom he overthrew), worshipped as god of rain, thunder, and lightning, as the protector of Rome, as the guardian of law, defender of truth, and protector of justice and virtue
Juno (the counterpart of Hera): queen of the gods, wife and sister of Jupiter, protector of women (especially those in childbirth), and special counselor and protector of the Roman state
Vulcan (the counterpart of Hephaestus): god of fire and metalwork
Minerva (the counterpart of Athena): goddess of handicrafts, patron of the arts and trades
Apollo (the same as the Greek Apollo): god of agriculture, light (the sun), truth, poetry, music, and prophesy; special protector of young men; taught humans the art of healing
Diana (the counterpart of Artemis): goddess of the moon and of the hunt, guardian of springs and streams and the protector of wild animals
Mars (the counterpart of Ares): god of war, father of the Roman people because he was the father of Romulus (the legendary founder of Rome)
Venus (the counterpart of Aphrodite): goddess of gardens, fields, love and beauty, bringer of good fortune and victory, protector of feminine chastity
Vesta (the counterpart of Hestia): goddess of the hearth
Neptune (the counterpart of Poseidon): god of the sea
Ceres (the counterpart of Demeter): goddess of agriculture
Pluto (the counterpart of Hades): god of the dead
Bacchus (the counterpart of Dionysus): god of wine and vegetation

Place of the Day: Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana) and the city of Amalfi

The Amalfi Coast, or Costiera Amalfitana, is a 50-km (31-mi) stretch of steep limestone cliffs click to view a photograph, small soft-sand beaches, and elegant isolated towns. click to view a photograph Once an important naval hub, the coast is today one of the most popular tourist destinations in southern Italy, dotted with resort areas and packed to the gills during the summer months. The one and only road - a narrow track that winds along the cliff's edge click to view a photograph - can be very congested when traffic is bad, and is notoriously perilous as a result of tourist buses and inattentive drivers.

The coast takes its name from the city of Amalfi. Amalfi is a very small port today whose primary industry is tourism. However, it was once the capital city of the first Sea Republic of Italy, a powerful maritime force (especially in the 11th century) whose strength rivaled that of Pisa or Genova (its enemies to the north). In fact, Amalfi's role in Mediterranean history is far greater than it appears today.

Its 9th century navigation tables and maritime code - the Tavole Amafitane - are the earliest known and were followed throughout the Mediterranean well into the 16th century. Also, its interest in trade after the fall of the Roman Empire (5th century) made it the first city to open relations between the West and the East. Thus, it is largely responsible for having introduced paper, coffee and carpets into Italy. As an interesting point of curiosity, in the 11th century, Amalfi put up the money for the building of a very large hospital in Jerusalem. It was this very hospital that in 1112 saw the birth of a military and religious order of knights called at first the Knights of St. John (or the Knights Hospitaliers), then the Knights of Cyprus, of Rhodes, and, in 1530, of Malta. This order still exists today and has its headquarters in Rome.

One of the few remaining symbols of Amalfi's power is the elegant 9th century, two-tone cathedral of Saint Andrew click to view a photograph click to view a photograph towering above the main square at the top of a wide sweep of stairs. click to view a photograph Today, during the day, the hundreds and hundreds of tourists zipping through town all take a moment on the steps to ponder the town. click to view a photograph A cloister/museum (the Chiostro del Paradiso) next door to the cathedral houses restored artifacts, like frecoes click to view a photograph click to view a photograph and mosaics. click to view a photograph The crypt of the Cathedral contains the remains of the Apostle Andrew. Eventually, Amalfi was defeated by its northern adversaries, the Pisans, who sacked it in 1135 and 1137. Following this, it fell into decline and its once burgeoning population of 70,000 fell to the fewer than 10,000 of today.

Tech Fact of the Day: the invention of the compass

The "inventor" of the magnetic compass, Flavio Gioa, made his home in Amalfi, our Place of the Day.

As you know, a compass is a guide for finding direction that uses the magnetic properties of the earth as a guide. A piece of magnetized iron, when placed on a piece of wood in a pool of water, will turn until the metal is aligned north-south. Although it was not really "invented," in China and Europe during the 12th century, the magnetized iron naturally found in lodestone was used to make such "floating compasses." Soon afterward, people learned that a metal needle touched to a lodestone behaved the same way. Thus, smaller compasses were created using these needles placed on a pivot.

Group Dispatch, May 11-12
photograph of Ethan

A few months ago, when we were in the Middle East watching our precious time disappear due to passport, visa and border problems, we knew that we would have to make sacrifices later in the trip if we were committed to finishing on time. Well, we have remained convinced that finishing on time is important, and so we have been forced to cut some of our time in Italy short. Yes, it's true. As much as we would have like to complete the full coast of Italy, it is just too long given the time and funds we have available to us. Thus it was decided that once we reached Pescara, we would grab a train and leave the Adriatic behind us, heading across the mountainous spine of central Italy to the bright sunshine of the Tyrrhenian. Our first destination there would be the famous Amalfi Coast.

Unfortunately for us, the train service heading west from Pescara did not offer an abundance of possibilities. The only train that officially took bikes was one that left in the afternoon, traveled via Roma, and would leave us in Salerno very late in the day. However, there was a very early morning (5:14 a.m.) direct train from Pescara to Napoli from which we were told there would be no problem making bike-taking train connections for points south. So we decided we would chance the early morning option and hope for a sympathetic conductor.

Well, our gamble paid off. And after a gorgeous but delirious ride that we remember little about (we were all nodding off), we all arrived in Napoli. We thought that the hardest part of the ride was behind us. Well, we thought wrong. Contrary to what we had been told, until much later in the day, there was no train service heading south that officially accepted bikes. So late, in fact, that we could actually bike to where we wanted to go and get there before the train would even arrive in a station not as far along the route as would have liked.

So, always ready for a good challenge and a fun ride, Ethan, Anthony and Corinne changed into their bike clothes and prepared to assault the streets and avenues of southern Italy. Padraic, on the other hand, did not feel like tackling the traffic of urban and suburban Napoli or the notoriously unsettling road of the Amalfi Coast (which he has already visited), and so he opted to remain in Napoli.

The ride south out of Napoli was one of the more unusual rides so far on the trip. First, the traffic was... different. Italians everywhere seem to know - and drivers in Napoli love to remind their passengers - that traffic signals in Napoli are only a suggestion. In other words, red lights and stop signs are no more than urban recommendations that stopping might be a good thing. The real problem is that many people from Napoli don't follow these recommendations. So, being on bikes in the wild, wild west of traffic civilization was not comforting. Plus, the road we followed was almost obscenely complex, twisting and turning through odd combinations of coastal streets and alleys that took us through the hearts of the coastal communities. Add to that the large, uneven, and truly treacherous paving stones that were used to make the roads in the area, and you begin to get an idea of the ride we had.

Of course, this ride began at 1 p.m., after the early morning awakening and long dream of a train ride across Italy.

Perhaps the more fantastic scenic element of the ride was the dark mass of mountain that towered over us once we hit the outskirts of Napoli. Yes, Mount Vesuvius, the great volcano responsible for destroying (and preserving) the likes of Pompeii, stood in splendid isolation free from the nearby mountains and daunting by virtue of these fierce potential wrapped up in its size alone. We were relieved that nothing calamitous occurred while we were in its shadow... but we will be back when we return to Napoli.

Turning inland around the volcano, we, for a short distance, followed the spine of mountains that lay in our path and then turned straight into them, electing to go over rather than around. We had decided that we should get as far along the Amalfi Coast as possible so that the next two days would be less challenging. This meant that instead of heading around the mountains to Salerno and saving the whole coast for one day, we would cut across the mountains straight for the city of Amalfi (see the Place of the Day). Of course, any ride straight across a steep range of mountains will involve a climb. But, also, as we have learned, every climb is rewarded with excellent views. In our case, we had splendid vistas back toward Vesuvius click to view a photograph click to view a photograph and the land around it click to view a photograph and forward toward the cities tucked into the nooks of the Amalfi Coast. click to view a photograph

So, up we went, and down, and then up again, and down again, until we hit the main coastal road just a few kilometers/miles from Amalfi. We didn't stay in Amalfi, which was packed with more tourists than we have seen in a small place in quite a while. However, the small town click to view a photograph click to view a photograph just before it (a ten-minute walk away), Atrani, had a pleasant hotel/restaurant in a lovely little square click to view a photograph within a sprint of the beach. click to view a photograph

A shower and pasta dinner at the hotel was followed by a stroll into Amalfi for a pizza follow-up and ice cream closer. The hills above Amalfi were atwinkle with the lights of buildings of greater and lesser importance. It was a gorgeous front drop against the back drop of stars and the sea and postcard perfect vistas of seaside buildings and gently lapping waves.

The following morning we were up fairly early for breakfast. Breakfast included in the cost of a hotel room will do that every time. And then, after a moment of preparationclick to view a photograph, it was back on our Wheeler bikes click to view a photograph click to view a photograph for the ride up the coast.

Of course, we stopped first in Amalfi to admire the town click to view a photograph click to view a photograph click to view a photograph, especially the famous cathedral of Saint Andrew click to view a photograph and the great cascade of steps before it. click to view a photograph In fact, it was as enjoyable to walk through the church as it was to sit on the steps and watch the horde of tourists enjoy the architectural splendor. click to view a photograph For more about Amalfi and the church, see the Place of the Day.

Finally, when we realized what time it was click to view a photograph, and that Anthony had barely moved from his Selle Royal saddle click to view a photograph (so struck was he by the hordes of tourists), we struck out along the coast, the great and famous Amalfi Coast (see Place of the Day). Ethan could not help feel a little worried about the road. Padraic's decision not to go with them (seemingly motivated by a concern for safety) as well as the warnings we had all received from guidebooks and people about drivers and the hazards they represent... all this combined to make Ethan think about the perils of the road ahead. However, like so many of the challenges about which we have been warned, the road turned out to be no worse than the many more serious traffic challenges we have faced (see more about our battles with traffic in Egypt and Beirut). In fact, other than the narrowness of the road and the loud-honking but slow-moving behemoth tourist coaches (that Ethan feels should be banished from that road), it was quite pleasant.

From vista click to view a photograph to vista click to view a photograph we went, over bridges click to view a photograph click to view a photograph and through tunnels, propped up against cliff sides click to view a photograph click to view a photograph with plunging views down the blue waters below, past steeply terraced hillsides click to view a photograph and majestic rocky outcroppings. click to view a photograph It was a wonderful ride along one of the most famous stretches of European coast. We certainly think that it deserves the attention it has received, but we also think that we have seem much better Mediterranean coast in Mediterranean Turkey and in Croatia.

We made only one real stop... at the top of the village of Positano... for lunch. Ethan, whose sinuses have reacted rather explosively to his arrival on Italy's west coast, could barely breath between his sneezes so the break was welcome. We slipped into a grocery store and bought the generous makings of yet another ham-and-cheese sandwich lunch. This we ate in a small park just off the road that leads down into the town.

We had already examined Positano as we had approached it and on the map in our guidebook. These were both enough to prompt the decision that we would not be paying a visit to its center or beachfront. One of the few inconveniences of traveling by bike is that when confronted by a big hill, one is not inclined to want to go down voluntarily if one must obligatorily climb back up. Such was the case in Positano. Perilously perched up and down the length of a steep slope click to view a photograph, it is a picturesque village. click to view a photograph It seems to flow down the rock face in a controlled cascade of pastel buildings built virtually one on top of the another. click to view a photograph But for us, the view from afar would have to suffice. There was just no interest in braving the descent into town just to have to labor up back out of it.

Back on our bikes in the warm afternoon sun, we did, however, have to make one last climb over the ridge above the Amalfi Coast. It was not as bad as we thought it would be, especially since it pushed up through lemon tree glades and past fruit stands of all variety. So, over the top and down the other side, we were soon in the midst of the city of Sorrento, a famous departure point for the island of Capri in the Bay of Napoli and within sight (on a clear day) of Napoli across the bay. Unfortunately, the heavy humidity and rising temperatures deprived us of views of both the far coast and Mount Vesuvius.

In town, we took a while to orient ourselves and then find the youth hostel which had changed locations. When we did locate our home for the evening, we were surprised to find that Padraic had not stayed in Napoli, but had left in the morning and biked down the coast to join us for the trip through Pompeii. (Little did he know how lucky he was; on our trip south from Napoli, due to the late hour, Corinne, Anthony and Ethan had almost opted to ride around the spit of land via Sorrento first and then Amalfi.) It was a happy reunion.

Despite the wildlife click to view a photograph, deciding not to indulge in the pleasures of Sorrento click to view a photograph, we all set to work on our computers, took a break to eat, and then slipped into slumber land. We wanted to get a fresh start the next day for our visit to Pompeii at the foot of Mount Vesuvius.

Go to Previous Rider Notes PageGo to Next Rider Notes Page

Questions? Ask Ethan Go To Ethan's Page!

Return to Fast Facts

BikeAbout Itinerary & Journal Discussion Groups About Italy eDscape Projects BikeAbout Scrapbook
Discussions About

About BikeAbout Mediterranean Journey BikeAbout Partners Resource Library

ITNet Internet access in Italy was provided by ITNet. Internet access in the Trieste region of Italy and hosting for the Italian version of this site have been provided by Spin. Spin

Daedalus Design Group Computer Curriculum Corporation Compaq

Copyright 1997-99 BikeAbout. All rights reserved.