The End of the Season

Amalfi Lido delle Sirene Beach - Laura Thayer

The empty beach at Lido delle Sirene in Amalfi

Like clockwork, the end of October often brings with it a big storm and an abrupt change in the seasons. One day the beaches will be dotted with sunbathers enjoying the last warm autumn days while holding onto summer for as long as possible and then the next the beaches will be barren and covered with debris washed up from the rough seas. We’ve had a few intense storms pass over the Amalfi Coast recently, and they brought with them the official end of the summer season. During a break in the rainy weather last week, I was out and about and was struck by the sudden change. Where not long ago there were rows upon rows of beach chairs lining the rocky Lido delle Sirene in Amalfi, now the beach is empty for the winter.

Amalfi Coast Fishing Boat Harbor - Laura Thayer

Brilliant blues in Amalfi

The colors were brilliant, even more so after the recent storms. The rough sea had churned up a spectacular turquoise that only shows up after bad weather. Besides the Amalfitans coming and going, the walk along the harbor was quieter than usual. After seeing the empty beaches, the other indication that the season has ended is the empty port. The boats have been loaded up and driven away on big, traffic blocking trucks to safer spots for the winter. Even the docks that are lined with boats all summer long are pulled up to protect them from rough winter seas. They’ll become scenic perches for the seagulls for the rest of the winter.

Winter in Amalfi Harbor - Laura Thayer

The Amalfi harbor without boats lining the docks

Perhaps the strangest sight at the beginning of winter is seeing the Marina Grande beach, the largest in Amalfi, completely empty. If you’ve been swimming here during the summer months you’ll know just how odd it is to see it without the rows of beach chairs and candy colored umbrellas. It will look like this, besides the odd group of visitors having a picnic on a sunny day and those rare locals that swim all year round, until next spring.

October at Marina Grande Beach in Amalfi - Laura Thayer

All is quiet on Amalfi's Marina Grande Beach

The season has ended, but with it another has begun in Amalfi. While it’s different for everyone, for us this is the time for catching up after a busy season – for running all those errands that there simply hasn’t been time to do and for trying to find some much needed moments of relaxation at the same time. The Christmas holidays are around the corner, but for now I think I can use just a little bit of time overlooking an empty beach.

This is Winter in Amalfi

Winter on the Amalfi Coast

Like any good story, a place has multiple sides, fascinating characters that draw you in, unexpected twists, and moments that make you fall in love. You can’t know a story from only reading a few pages, just like you can’t know a place until you’ve been there turning the pages day by day – being surprised by the twists and turns and falling in love with the people.

Right in the middle of the chaos of morning traffic in Amalfi’s Piazza Flavio Gioia, I stepped out of the car and walked over to watch the waves crashing against the beach and the sunshine on the water. Much better than the view waiting in the car. I looked over to the other side of the beach where I saw these two men from Amalfi strolling along the edge of the water. The umbrella, the sunshine, the silhouette – a perfect winter moment. I felt that familiar feeling in my chest as I fell in love with Amalfi just a little more watching this quiet scene. This is winter in Amalfi.

Finding Home on the Amalfi Coast

Home on the Amalfi CoastIt doesn’t take long to feel at home on the Amalfi Coast. I imagine many travelers experience the same feeling of familiarity and comfort when they first arrive, just as I did in February 2007 when I first visited Amalfi. There’s a warmth, openness and curiosity for foreigners in many of the locals on the Amalfi Coast, which is an undeniable part of that welcoming feeling so many people find here.

Speaking only a few words of Italy, it was certainly very welcome to me when I started spending more time on the Amalfi Coast! With a smile and a few words scribbled down in Italian on a piece of paper, shopping soon became a little less scary as the lady in the shop nicely corrected my pronunciation of “CI-polla” to “ci-POlla” when I needed onions. I didn’t understand anything anyone said to me, but slowly I began to learn a few words.

It was hard, however, not to feel like an outsider when I didn’t know how to do simple things that I’ve never had to put much thought into before, like interpreting the bus schedule or buying herbs at the market. Every expat goes through these feelings, I believe, and I imagine everyone deals with them in different ways as well. I chose to focus on the little victories – the first time I got up the nerve to go into the butcher on my own, the first time I carried out a transaction at the post office in Italian, the first time I felt confident enough to start up a conversation with a stranger, actually being able to figure out that blasted bus schedule. With each success, I felt a little more at home.

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on that very feeling. What is it that makes a person feel at home? It’s a familiarity that comes only with time, but it’s something much more than simply living in a place for a certain period of time. For me, it has more to do with the way a place resonates within you through its sights, sounds and scents. Whether it’s the “invisible scent of lingering lilacs,” as it was for Proust, or simply the comforting view of the street where you grew up playing and laughing as a child, its those very personal experiences and memories that define home.

But, more than anything, I’m starting to realize that home is where you’re happy. Yesterday evening I was out running some errands on the motorino before coming home. As I was riding along a beautiful road in Ravello overlooking the Amalfi coastline, I saw very clearly how, without even realizing it, my life has become interwoven into the panorama of daily life here. That even though I’m still a foreigner, I have started nevertheless to find my place. I smiled as a swerved around a vigilessa (a local policewoman in charge of traffic and city regulations) who had stopped in the middle of the road to take a picture of a nicely dressed couple with the stunning backdrop of the Amalfi Coast behind them. I smiled and beeped the horn as I passed Gaetano, who sells the sweetest peaches I’ve ever tasted. Around the next corner came a tilting Piaggio Ape, one of those tiny three-wheeled Italian vehicles, loaded at least twice its width and three times its  height with bales of hay. I laughed out load hoping that he would make it to wherever he was going with all that hay.

This is it, I thought. It doesn’t have to be complicated or philosophical or romantic or any of the thoughts that have been going around and around in my mind lately. Although I read Michelle Fabio’s words back in February this year, they suddenly clicked. “It really is the simple, stupid,” I thought. As I parked the motorino and walked down the steps to home, I smiled realizing that I had already found my home on the Amalfi Coast without really even knowing it.

Watching the Tenders

Oceania Cruise boat Insignia in Amalfi

The first cruise ship of the season came into port in Amalfi last Friday on a beautiful morning. Oceania Cruises has several luxury cruise ships that stop in Amalfi, including the Insignia that came on Friday. I love to watch the cruise ships arrive early in the morning. Once the anchor is dropped, it’s not long before the tenders are plopped down in the sea and start bustling back and forth from the ship to the port to bring in the first crew, the signs and all the supplies for the welcome booth. Soon the tour guides arrive and are assigned their groups, each receiving a packet with numbered stickers to match the numbered “lollipops.” Once everything is prepared on shore, the tenders make their way back and forth bringing in the groups of tourists ready for their daytrips along the Amalfi Coast. It’s a well choreographed event that’s fascinating to watch.

Seagulls in Amalfi

While waiting for the first boat to Positano, I had some time to watch the tenders bring in all the groups and watch them be led off by their guides to the waiting buses, boats and private taxis. Occasionally, one of the seagulls watching the same morning events in Amalfi would let out a cry that would turn my head their direction to see the excited dances up and down on the rocks. The start of another spring day in Amalfi.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Amalfi Coast!

Ciao Amalfi Coast Blog Autumn Scala

While Thanksgiving Day isn’t a holiday in Italy, many Italians do know about the holiday. Here it is called il giorno del ringraziamento, which literally translates as “the day of  thanksgiving.” As an expat, it is always hard to be away from family on important holidays. I feel this even more so when those holidays aren’t celebrated here in Italy. The first years I was here in Italy we didn’t do much to celebrate Thanksgiving. Why would I go to all the work to cook a big meal to celebrate a holiday that only had significance to me? Last year on Thanksgiving I realized exactly why I would this year – because it’s enough that the holiday is important to me! Part of being an expat is finding the balance between old traditions and new ones, and holidays are some of the most meaningful traditions to remember each year.

This year I’ll be preparing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner … or at least as close as I can make one here in Italy. We’ll be having turkey, cranberries (brought from America!), homemade stuffing,  mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. The pie is a special treat made by some our of very good friends who will be joining us for dinner. And just to throw things off a bit, Thanksgiving this year will be over the weekend. What did I tell you about old traditions and new ones?!

Wishing everyone … in Italy, America and wherever you may be celebrating  … a wonderful Thanksgiving Day!