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Timeless Atrani

The cry of a gull overhead pulls me back into the moment. But it wasn’t the moment I left behind. Beyond me the quiet piazza stretches to the infinity of the sea. On a day like today the horizon is gone, playing a game of hide and seek – and winning. The church is quiet today, taking a well-earned break from its Sunday duties. Two ornate street lamps stand out in silhouette. One lantern cocks its head slightly, as if beckoning my gaze on. A light is what is needed to lead the way to what is past and what is present, but they stand as only guardians to the gate of that journey.
 
Time stands still in this piazza, despite the hourly ringing of the church bells. The bells have always rung out the hours here and they always will. Something so regular to define time actually defies it. How many people have heard those bells ring out over the village? While hanging laundry out in the sunshine, while feeding their families, while making love, while crying? Those people are all still here and will also all be here soon.

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Here there are the echoes of other sounds, too. Of children chasing a small orange ball across the piazza. A cat’s pleading meow, asking for something to eat. Of wind howling down the mountain valley on a stormy winter night. The click of my camera’s shutter as I capture this moment full of invisible sounds.
 
But most of all, it’s all the voices I want to listen to as they float through the piazza. There are stories caught in this piazza, countless stories. Not the kind you read about in the newspaper. These are moments of daily life, the moments that make a life, the moments that are forgotten, but nevertheless left behind. Stories crated day after day, lost to time except in the memories of those who stopped to listen.
 
Listen.

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There’s the hum of a fisherman early in the morning making his way down to the beach. He’ll pull his small wooden boat, blue paint chipped off around the edges, down to the edge of the sea. He’ll give it one last push as he hops aboard, perhaps with the hope about what he’ll catch filling his mind.
 
That hope floats through the maze of tiny, shadowed streets back up to the piazza. It finds an open window and settles into a kitchen – still quiet except for the sound of a moka pot bubbling its dark, intoxicating scent into the morning air. A new day has begun, and with it comes the thoughts for another day ahead. Another menu to prepare. While tying an apron around her waist, a woman wonders, “What catch will the fisherman haul in today?”
 
The clattering of steps brings new life into the piazza. Children with bags slung over their shoulders and sleep in their eyes run across it on the way to school. Always late, always running. Across the piazza they go and down the steps to the future, a future that is unseen and unknown from here.
 
Unknown and yet the same. An old man sits at his window and watches the children run, just as he once ran to school. He knows the future, he’s seen it. But now he watches the future of others, sitting there. The steps are cruel friends. They take you where you want to go, but they take their toll with every step as well.

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And steps are what this village is made of from top to bottom. The sound of heavy steps carries through the labyrinthine staircases. Finding your way is like walking through an M.C. Escher drawing come to life. Even he was here, lost in the alleyways, inspired by the alluring confusion of this place. There he is in the quiet piazza, setting down his sketchpad, mind swirling in the haze of yet to be visualized designs. He stops for a moment of respite. Maybe he sees all the stories, too?
 
My feet are tired. I look down at the honey leather loafers battered by the steps of the Amalfi Coast. Glancing over my shoulder, my eyes land on a cement bench. There’s a spot to sit and watch the stories unfold. Settling in uncomfortably, I look up expecting to find the same scene, the same voices, the same time and place.
 
But it’s all gone.
 
A seagull’s taunting call fills the piazza, seemingly laughing at my confusion. The church bells ring, slowly eleven times. I’m going to be late. I grab my bag and throw it over my shoulder, hurrying off across the piazza and down the steps to my own unseen future. But before going, I stop to turn and look up at the balcony, half expecting to find the old man watching me. And he’s there. As my feet carry me swiftly down the steps, I know they’re all there.

________________

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– A short story by Laura Thayer inspired by Atrani.

A Bird’s-Eye View of Naples, Italy

Flying into Naples, Italy on a clear day is a treat. The airport is located near the city center and the landing flight path often goes right over the Naples. Sometimes it’s too hazy to see clearly, especially during summer months, but over the years I’ve spotted the gardens at the Royal Palace of Caserta, the islands of Ischia and Procida and enjoyed some great bird’s-eye views over Naples. Last week on the way back from London it was a beautiful day with blue skies and a fairly clear view thanks to north winds. I was glued to the window as the plane made a large bank coming into the Naples airport. I caught a glimpse of Ischia out the opposite window and knew soon I would be able to see Capri. As the plane leveled, I squinted my eyes into the blue.

Landing in Naples Airport Island of Capri

The faint outline of Capri in the distance

There in the distance I could make out the faintest outline. My eyes traced the familiar curves of the island from the peak of Monte Solaro down to Capri town sitting in the saddle and over to the sheer cliff dropping off from the Villa Tiberius. The view was faint, but I knew it was there. Not long after I looked down to see the oddly shaped islet Nisida. It is of volcanic origins, which is what created its circular shape and the round little bay that make it so easy to spot from above.

Flying into Naples Airport Nisida Island

A glimpse of the island of Nisida near Naples

It’s fun to try to spot as many landmarks in Naples while flying over on a clear day. That little port there on the right is called Mergellina, and it’s a pretty part of the city overlooking the bay.

Landing in Naples Airport Mergellina

The pretty port at Mergellina in Naples

I try to see how many castles I can spot in Naples while flying over. Below you can see the Castel dell’ Ovo in the late afternoon sunshine.

Castel dell' Ovo Bay of Naples

The Castel dell' Ovo jutting out into the Bay of Naples

And then there’s Castel Sant’Elmo in the Vomero above Naples. Can you spot it below? It was clear enough that I could make out the white facade of the church at the Certosa di San Martino. What a view!

Flying into Naples Castel Sant Elmo Certosa di San Martino

Flying over the Castel Sant' Elmo and Certosa di San Martino

Coming over the centro storico, I always look for the glass dome of the Galleria Umberto I and the green roof of Santa Chiara. Can you find them below? (Hint: The dome is on the right and Santa Chiara is under the wing of the plane.) How many other sites can you make out in the photo?

EasyJet flying into Naples Italy

A bird's eye view over the centro storico of Naples

There were some very large cruise ships in the port of Naples last Monday, but one was exceptionally large. I think gigantic is appropriate. I couldn’t believe how big it looked, even from so high and far away!

Cruise ship in the port of Naples Italy

Now that's a huge cruise ship - even from the air!

As the plane came in to touch down, there was Mt. Vesuvius in the distance. It’s always there to greet you when you land in Naples. It would be more reassuring, I suppose, if it was a dormant volcano. But I’m awfully fond of it nevertheless.

Mt Vesuvius landing in Naples Italy airport

Mt Vesuvius while landing in Naples

What has been your favorite or most memorable experience flying into Naples?

Photo Friday: Running Back to Paris

Paris rue Mouffetard

I can’t believe it’s already time for another Photo Friday. Two weeks ago today I was out exploring the 1st arrondissement in Paris, from the l’Orangerie Museum in the morning, along the rue de Rivoli to the Palais Royal, shopping on Place des Victoires, the late Gothic magic of St-Eustache, vin chaud on rue Montorgueil and the evening chaos of the Les Halles metro. I’ve hardly had time to enjoy my photos and finish writing about everything we did in Paris. Life is simply too busy! This morning I thought back to this photo I snapped while strolling along the rue Mouffetard market street in the 5th arrondissement south of the Latin Quarter. I would go running back to Paris in a heartbeat!

Photo Friday: Paris Métro

Paris Metro Sign

This morning I’m waking up in a different place, one that is both familar and foreign all at once. Parigi! (That’s how you say Paris in Italian.) Last January I visited Paris for the first time with my boyfriend, and we loved it so much that we were thrilled when I had the opportunity to visit for work again this winter. Warm weather or cold, Paris is always a good idea! Last year we had a beautiful dusting of snow on our first night in Paris, and I’m excited to see what beautiful memories this trip has in store. A plus tard!

Paris in the Snow

This year was a rainy Christmas on the Amalfi Coast, but a few wet days are nothing compared to the snowstorms and cold weather that have hit northern Europe. The news has been full of stories of flights cancelled and even the Eiffel Tower in Paris closed because of the heavy snow. I feel sorry for the many families that were not able to be together for the holidays this year because of the bad weather.

As I see the snowy pictures from Paris, however, I’m reminded of a very special travel memory from when I visited Paris last January with my boyfriend. It was my first time in Paris, and our first time traveling together. Our sweet studio apartment that we called home for a week was just a couple of blocks from the Champ de Mars park and the Eiffel Tower. It was a dream! We arrived after dark and immediately went out for a walk around the neighborhood. It was a quiet January night, and it seemed like we were alone in the Champ de Mars park under the warm golden glow of the Eiffel Tower. The first delicate flakes of snow were starting to fall. Magical doesn’t even begin to describe what it felt like to see the Eiffel Tower surrounded by snowflakes glistening in the cold night air!

Eiffel Tower in the Snow

The next morning we woke to find Paris covered with a light dusting of snow. Wrapping a warm scarf around my neck, I hurried to the windows and threw them open to see the view – the Eiffel Tower against the somber grey sky and the Champ de Mars garden completely white. Down below in the street parents were hurrying their children, bundled up from heat to toe, into the school nearby.

Champ de Mars Snow

Looking toward the Champ de Mars Gardens

It wasn’t long before we were out exploring the white city. The crisp, cool air felt so good as we walked along the Seine, listening to the crunch of the snow under our steps. We made our way toward the Musée d’Orsay and spent the morning exploring the museum. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw Gustave Caillebotte’s Vue de toits (Effet de neige), an impressionistic rendering of the rooftops of Paris covered in snow. It looked wonderfully familiar!

Seine River Snow

Snowy riverbanks of the Seine

That afternoon, as the snow melted away, we walked along the Boulevard St-Germain. We stopped at a quaint café looking out toward the Paris’ oldest church, St-Germain-des-Prés. Sitting there, sipping vin chaud with the person I love and watching the hustle and bustle on the white sidewalks, I realized that the dusting of snow had made our first day in Paris even more romantic than I could have possibly imagined. Head over to this post to see the rest of my photos from Paris last January.