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Queensland, Australia
I'm an Australian author of Contemporary Romance, Romantic Action/Adventure, and Historical fiction. I live in Queensland, Australia. www.noelleclark.net

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Amalfi Coast: Positano

Under the Campania Sun

"Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone." John Steinbeck, Harper's Bazaar, May 1953

  Ask any of my friends what my favourite chick flick is, and they will tell you: ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’. It’s a wonderful story of courage, adventure, new beginnings, and for a woman of a certain age, it is most uplifting. It is based on the novel by Frances Mayes whose own adventures in Tuscany are well documented in her many books. You should visit her web site or subscribe to her blog. Frances is one of my favourite authors and her books are a sheer delight to read.

However, Positano is a town a long way away from Cortona, Tuscany. It is, in fact, a town stuck like a limpet to the sheer cliffs of the Amalfi Coast in Campania. Apparently the perpendicular town of Positano was founded by Neptune for his beloved nymph, Pasitea, after whom the town was named. It has been inhabited by the Greeks, Romans, Saracens and Normans – plus plenty of others. In the Middle Ages, Positano was an important trading port. It went through hard times, as did all this region, but then in the early 20th Century, it became popular with writers and artists from Germany and Russia. Following on from this, Positano was discussed in a seminal essay by John Steinbeck in Harper’s Bazaar in 1953 which brought about an influx of writers, artists and other bohemian types who extolled the virtues of the town. A tourist boom followed.

For me, Positano is the place where Marcello takes Frances to meet his family. They share a meal and some homemade Limoncello. Later, they walk along the Spiaggia Grande – the main beach of Positano, and here they have their first kiss. They also adopt a little black kitten here. For those who have not watched "Under the Tuscan Sun" this may sound like gibberish. But this wonderful setting, plus a drop dead gorgeous Italian man named Marcello, a beautiful American recently divorced girl named Frances…well, Positano was the most romantic and beautiful place on earth.

On this trip, we were spending a few days in the beautiful town of Sorrento. Using it as our base to explore the Amalfi Coast, we took a bus from Sorrento to Positano. This proved to be an amazing adventure in itself. A scary, exhilarating drive along a road which clings precariously to the sheer cliff, snakes left, then right, then left, and the drop down the cliff to the ocean is breathtaking. Much horn blowing and skilful driving bring us eventually to Positano. No cars, let alone busses, are allowed down into the town. We alight the bus at a spot where the view is priceless. After many photos, we walk down the steep narrow roadway to the town and to the Spiaggia Grande, the main beach. I tell my companions I simply MUST walk on the brown sand beach that Marcello and Frances walked.

The steep road that led from the bus stop down to the township and beach was lined on one side with curious looking antique stores on one side, and a sheer drop down to the beach on the other, with buildings stuck precariously down the rock face at all angles. Only mopeds are allowed here, and their constant buzz was quite noticeable.

We reached the bottom and there were stalls and shops on every square inch. We were really interested in a footpath vendor who was selling bright blue turquoise jewellery, along with bright reddish coral jewellery. My son bought me some carved coral earrings. I loved them. I spotted a black cat looking up at the jewellery and took a great photo. One of my favourite memories.

We walked out onto the Spiaggia Grande. There were boardwalks over the sand to reach the beach. By Australian standards, this beach was nothing to write home about. However in the context of the surrounding scenery of sheer cliffs with pastel coloured houses and villas clinging precariously, the cobalt blue of the Mediterranean Sea, the whole Italian thing….well, this was paradise.

We walked along the beach where Marcello and Frances dallied, found a lovely little bar/restaurant, and ordered a carafe of Italian white wine. Bliss. Or should I say, 'Bellisimo’. A cute beach boy (don’t really know his job role) was at our beck and call on the beach, but we were not really interested in the water sports on the beach, just walking on it. We were also just interested in relaxing and enjoying our wine.

We craned our necks to look above us at the houses that seemed stuck onto the cliff with Blu-tac. Pink, blue, yellow. Some white balustrades on little verandas. Every house in Positano must have a view of the blue Mediterranean sea.

After a time, we wandered through the maze of laneways and narrow streets, exploring the shops, and admiring the range of clothes and tourist wares for sale. We thought Positano was a fairybook town in a wonderful setting.

Time to climb back up the hill to catch the bus from Positano over to the towns of Amalfi and Salerno. We climbed the steep climb easily, as the view is just so stunning that it is a pleasure to take it slowly and enjoy the view.

We reached the bus stop. More and more people came along and the bus shelter was filled to over flowing. No bus. We waited for 3 hours. Eventually a bus came from the other direction, heading back the way we came from Sorrento. Earlier this morning, we had checked out of our accommodation in Sorrento and had train bookings for this evening from Sorrento back to Rome. We had to go.

We were disappointed that we didn’t get to explore more of the Amalfi Coast, and the towns of Salerno and Amalfi. However, we did get to see Positano and it was time to return to Sorrento, collect our luggage, and catch the train to Pompeii where we intended to explore the ruins before continuing our train journey up to Rome where we had accommodation booked.

The time spent at the bus stop at Positano was not wasted. I have yet to see another bus stop in the world with such a view. What a gorgeous town; what a gorgeous view. Arivaderci Positano. Marcello, my phone number is …..


Recipe for Limoncello from Zia Maria’s authentic Italian recipe http://www.squidoo.com/homemade-limoncello-recipe#module147777976 

The Ingredients
• 8 organic (yellow) lemons.  
• A 750 ml bottle of Vodka
• 3 1/2 cups of white Sugar (about 25 oz or 800 grams).
• 750 ml of Water.
  • The first thing we have to do is take the lemons, wash them with a lot of water and peel the zest off.
  • The lemons must be yellow and not green
  • Stay away from the pith (the white part); we will just use the coloured part, because the pith will give a bitter flavour to our Limoncello.
  • I usually use a vegetable peeler for that, but you can use anything you want.
  • Now we need to put the lemon zest inside the alcohol, and let it macerate for about 48 to 72 hours. You may probably want to separate the alcohol in two bottles, otherwise the zests will not fit.
  • Put a cap on those bottles, they have to be closed hermetically, and keep them away from sunlight. And now, we wait...

  • Zia Maria's Italian Limoncello recipe continues like this: Put the 750 ml of water to boil on a pot, turn the flame off and then add the sugar.
  • We just want the water and the sugar to mix together, we are not making any caramel here.
  • Let it cool for about 5 to 10 minutes and then add the alcohol from our macerated lemon zests to the pot. You can use a strainer, since we do not want the zests here.
  • Combine everything, put it in bottles and wait for it to cool off.
  • Once is cool, put those bottles in the freezer. Limoncello is best served chilled after a meal as a digestive liqueur.
Buon Limoncello!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Amalfi Coast - Capri

An Italian Love Affair  

I have had a love affair with the Island of Capri since I was about 10 years old. It started with a book that I borrowed time and time again from my local library called “Secret of the Blue Grotto” by Kelman Dalgety Frost. This book fired my imagination and probably was the catalyst for a lifelong love of adventure, travel, and wonderful places.

I did not own a copy of “Secret of the Blue Grotto” until nearly 50 years later, when I was able to find it on Amazon. I cannot describe the excitement I felt when I received the email from Amazon telling me that a copy had eventually become available. The weeks I waited for that parcel to arrive were akin to a child waiting for their birthday, counting down the days, even hours.

When I got the parcel, I was touched deeply by an inscription written inside the hardcover in a childish hand. “Will the new owner of this book please phone Lisa at 825354. Date: 2nd September 1986”. My eyes misted over. To think that there was another young girl out there somewhere who, 24 years ago, was sad to part with this book.

Lisa read this book 20 years after I did. I read the book that very night. It was so familiar, yet there were bits I didn’t remember. As I finished reading and was about to turn out the light, I hugged the book to my chest, much as I would have, I imagine, back in 1965 when I first read it. To Lisa, wherever you are, thank you for this book and I will treasure it for as long as I live.

In 1977 I first visited the Isle of Capri. I discovered that the Italians call it Capri – with the emphasis on the CAP only sounds like CUP. So romantic the way they say it. I was 22 and I loved it. The whole time I was there, Kelman Frost’s book was at the forefront of my mind. All I wanted to do was to see the famous Blue Grotto, or La Grotta Azzurra.

Visiting the Grotto is dependent on the weather and sea conditions on the day. The entrance is so low that if there is any swell at all, no boats can enter. Luckily for me, that day back in 1977, the seas dropped by lunch time, enabling me to visit this special place for the first time.

Fast forward now until 2007. Thirty years since my first visit to the Blue Grotto, I visited again, this time with my son Matt. I regaled him with my love of Kelman Frost’s novel (at this stage I had not yet become an owner of the book). We lined up on the Marina Grande, Capri’s main harbour, and waited for over an hour for tickets to see the Blue Grotto.

The launch, holding about 12 passengers, motored around the island’s rugged high cliffs until it reached the low hole in the cliff face which was the entrance to the Grotto.
We transferred here, two to a boat, into a small, low dingy. The oarsman skilfully manoeuvred the boat outside the entrance, waiting for our turn to enter. Many little boats were jostling in the choppy swell to maintain their position in the queue.

At last it was our turn. We were told to lie down in the boat. He propelled us forward with a skilful thrust of his oar, then he quickly lay down kind of on top of us as the right wave came and swept us through the low entrance on its swell, and into the most surreal, most beautiful and wondrous sight that you could imagine. The pristine, iridescent blue waters of the Grotto Azzurra. This place was once visited by the Romans way back in 79 AD and was a favourite resort for several Roman Emperors, including Octavia, Augustus II, and of course, Tiberius.

Our oarsman told us to sit up. It took a moment or two for our eyes to adjust. There were several boats like ours in there. The magnificent cavern echoed with the voices of our Italian oarsmen, singing Italian opera, each trying to out sing the next in volume. I stuck my hand over the gunwale and saw how the water made my hand look white, really white, glowing.

The light from outside squeezes in through the low cave opening that the boats come through. There is also, apparently, a lower opening down under the water. The refraction of the sunlight coming through this little opening causes it to glow upwards through the water, thus giving it the eerie but beautiful blue glow.
All too soon, we were out in the bright sunlight again and being ferried back to the Marina Grande. We walked around the little port and eventually decided to stop for lunch at one of the restaurants. We had a lovely meal with an unbelievably wonderful view of the harbour.
Time to head up to the main town, Capri, which sits perched atop the high cliffs behind the Marina Grande. There is a funicular (cable railway) which climbs steeply up the 250 metre high cliffs to Capri. There is also a very steep, very narrow road, which zigzags its way up there. Only a local would attempt to drive up. The queue for the funicular was long, as the perfect hot, sunny day had drawn more than the usual large crowds of day trippers to the island. We opted for a taxi. We climbed into an open top Volvo with a jaunty coloured stripe canvas awning over the top and tassels hanging from its edges in a fringe of colour and jauntiness.

The drive up the steep, narrow road was an experience. It was like being on a roller coaster ride at Dreamworld. Occasionally we would pass a pedestrian who obviously did not value their life. Hairpin bends, horns blaring, a sudden stop as we would encounter another taxi wanting to come down the one lane roadway. It was fun. It was soooooooooo Italian!!

The taxi dropped us at the busy town square of Capri. The view down to Marina Grande, to the blue Mediterranean and across to Naples was magnificent. We could see Mt Vesuvius standing majestically out from the hazy shadow of the mainland.

Capri town is a thriving, bustling place made of white washed buildings, cobblestones, narrow alleyways, and designer shops. No cars are allowed in the town, and the cobblestones are well worn by the feet of millions
of visitors. It is crowded and expensive; designer shops are not for us. We see the well heeled rich people shopping, and indeed many celebrities make this their summer vacation town, including the likes of Elton John who is a regular visitor. We wanted to see beyond the tourist things, and hopefully get a taste of the history of this place.

Way back in 29 BC, Caesar Augustus visited this island. He loved it so much that he bought it. Well, actually he traded it for the island of Ischia which he owned. His successor, Tiberius lived on Capri and was responsible for building many villas between the years 27 and 37 AD, the ruins of which are still standing.

So, instead of following the glitterati, we followed a steep and winding cobblestone path upwards through the town, passing villas and homes, stopping to look at breathtakingly beautiful scenery overlooking the island and the Bay of Naples. We had no map, we just wanted to explore. It was one of the most exciting days of our trip. It was hot and sunny, making us feel homesick, as the weather was reminiscent of our gorgeous Queensland.

We bought bottles of water and walked for hours. Bougainvillea, majestic in its purple, draped everywhere, over high white walls, over wrought iron gates. Flowering oleanders in pink and white added to the colour.  Combined with the blue of the sky and the intense cobalt of the sea beyond, our walk was an intense photo shoot to try and capture the beauty of the day and the place.

We found a sign saying Arco Naturale. Hmm, Natural Arch. That sounded good. So we set off to find it. We walked for a couple of hours, every now and then seeing a sign post. We passed no one. It was quiet, firstly in the outer ring of homes and then into the bush. We passed many little devotional grottoes with statues of the Virgin Mary. The Italians are very devoted to her and they leave flowers at these little memorials along the roadsides.

A peaceful walk, no traffic, the hot sun beating down. How wonderful to be in this place. Out of the blue, we came upon a cafĂ© carved into a rock cliff along our track. It had little tables with white cloths. I stopped a waiter. “Si si, Arco Naturale” and he pointed for us to keep on walking. Eventually we found it. A magnificent arch of rock, suspended over a drop of several hundred metres, right down to the blue water below. We spotted some tourist boats bobbing way, way down, so tiny they were mere dots. We stayed in this place for an hour. We took photos and soaked in the view and the peace. A little kitten came to talk to us. Other than that, we were alone.

Time to head back. We were tired now from our long walk, but the walk back was easier as it was more downhill than up. We arrived back in the town of Capri and bought a gelato before catching the bus back down to the Marina Grande. Time to board the hydrofoil back to Sorrento. I was sad to leave this place that has been so fascinating to me all my life.

It had been a long day, but Mother Nature was to leave us with one last parting gift. As we stood on the back deck of the hydrofoil as it sped across the Bay of Naples to Sorrento, she put on the most spectacular golden sunset that we had ever seen.

A fitting, regal end to a wonderful day of beauty, adventure and a trip down memory lane. I imagine that Kelman Dalgety Frost also stood on the back of a boat, staring back at the monolithic shape of Capri as she rises up out of the sea with her sheer rock cliffs. I imagine him also being blessed by the sunset of Capri, and standing out on deck until it could no longer be seen.

Ciao Capri. Ciao Kelman. Ciao little Lisa, who has bequeathed her book to me.

Map courtesy of www.planetware.com

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Four months ago, to the day, the beautiful city of Toowoomba was devastated when a so-called inland tsunami – a massive wall of extremely fast moving water, swept all in its path and inundated the Central Business District.

Toowoomba, which has a population of 90,000 people, and which sits majestically high on the edge of the Great Dividing Range about 700 metres, or 2300 feet above sea level, is about 120 kilometers inland from Brisbane.

People scratch their heads, wondering how on earth such a flash flood could occur so far inland, and so high up on a sharp precipice which is only reachable by a very steep, winding road from the plains of the Lockyer Valley below.

Yesterday, whilst looking out of my 4th floor hotel window in Ruthven Street, Toowoomba’s main street, I could see why. All around me, just out of the CBD, is a ring of hills. Toowoomba, apparently, is situated in an ancient volcanic crater. And the Central Business District of this thriving, bustling city, is smack in the middle.

Several creeks meander through Toowoomba – Gowrie Creek, East Creek, West Creek – and they all lead to a very obvious depression in the landscape. This depression is filled with beautiful parkland, and car parks for the many businesses.

On 10th January 2011, the rainfall was so heavy. The weeks preceding had also had heavy rains. The ground was saturated. The rain that day just bucketed down. It was too much for the normally little creeks. They burst their banks and inundated the city streets, businesses, homes.

Furniture from a major furniture store was floating down streets that were now a 2 metre deep muddy brown, raging and deadly torrent. Within seconds, the city centre was effectively split in two by the swollen and raging creeks that were sweeping cars and four-wheel-drives before it at an amazingly fast speed.

The video footage of this horrendous event was shown on all the TV news shows. Who could ever forget seeing the family of three sitting atop their small hatchback as it hurtled at a great pace down the main street, rocking and bucking, desperately waiting to be rescued. The footage was replayed over and over. People clinging to trees as vans and cars standing on their ends swept past them at who knows what speed. Hands reaching out to hands, people being plucked to safety. And the inevitability of hands slipping away, never to be seen again.

The main western train line that runs into Toowoomba from Brisbane, and then out the other side to service all the towns of the Queensland outback, was cut off because of the track footings being washed out from under the rails, and because of cars that had been smashed hard up against the rail until their brand and make were unrecognisable.

Of course, as we know, this devastating flash flood, or inland tsunami as it was called, was not the end of the road for this massive, angry, rushing wall of water that was hell bent on wrecking lives and homes, of wiping out towns that got in its way, and of eventually contributing to the flooding of the third largest city in Australia, Brisbane. So many lives lost

As I travelled up the Warrego Highway from Brisbane towards Toowoomba, I passed through all the towns and crossed all the waterways that, back in January, had me transfixed to the television. The news broadcasts showed places I knew so well, suddenly non-existent.

I passed through the black fertile plains of the Lockyer Valley whose crops, farms, homes had all been destroyed. Once I got to Helidon, another town that lost many of its homes, and saw the turnoff to Ground Zero – the little township of Grantham – I was surprisingly reminded of a drive I did through the north-west of France and through Belgium, passing town after town with names such as Ardennes, Amiens, Villers-Bretonneux, Ypres.

I remember wondering, as I was driving along the highways of that faraway land, at the marvellous resilience of humankind. To rise from the worst, to rebuild, and to once again live peacefully, even after enduring such horror and losing so many loved ones.

Between Helidon and the foot of the range, is the little town of Withcott, until now famous for the fact that there was always a copper sitting just inside the 60 kph zone as you passed through, waiting to zap you. Everybody, absolutely everybody, makes sure they reduce their speed to 60 kph as they enter Withcott. Well, now Withcott is famous for being one of the towns that was hit with the raging wall of water that spilled mysteriously over the lip of the Great Dividing Range at Toowoomba, and flew down the mountain, wiping out little hamlets such as Postman’s Ridge and Murphy’s Creek. It also tried to wipe out Withcott. As I was crawling through the town – the main highway is the one and only main street of this little farming town – I could see wrecked buildings, all unrecognisable except for a wrecked petrol station which was no longer open for business.

I climbed the range. A lovely dual carriageway of black that winds very steeply to the top that always has large semi-trailers crawling up at snail pace in the left lane, and cars cautiously making their way past them in the right lane, this piece of highway is famous for the fact that the large semi’s often cannot make it to the bottom of the range without losing their brakes and flying over the side of the cliff and into the gullies below. It is also famous for its bellbirds. I remember as a child, we would climb the range in our very old, burnt out VW Kombi Van that barely made it up, and would go so slow that we could easily hear the beautiful call of the bellbirds, our windows wound right down, letting in the glorious sound. But this day, it was also famous for being the carriageway that carried some of the massive wall of water that flew down and through Withcott, then kept going, flattening all that stood in its path, particularly the town of Grantham.

For anyone who has ever climbed the Toowoomba Range, as it is called, you will know the sense of surprise when, all of a sudden, you pop out of the steep climb and into the verdant green, beautiful city of Toowoomba, the Garden City. This part of the trip never fails to make me happy.

As I stand at the window of my hotel room, I see the volcanic crater rim, I look down into the streets that were shown on television, and I shake my head with a total lack of comprehension at the fearful might of Mother Nature. Mother Nature - one minute so generous, the next meting out punishment to innocent people with rage and fury so violent, so unstoppable, that one wonders why.

I doubt anyone will forget that day. To the memory of those who died in the terrible tragedy that hit this beautiful city on 10th January, may you all rest in peace, and may your families eventually find comfort. To those who risked their own lives saving others, thank you.

ABC news footage of the minutes when the inland tsunami hit: http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2011/01/10/3109884.htm

These photos courtesy http://www.couriermail.com.au/