This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.
I had seen the one attraction in Amalfi, the Paper Museum, in under 15 minutes. I wandered back toward the center of town, then saw a little sign that said “Ancient Stairs.” Of course I had to follow it.
Whoever wrote the sign wasn’t kidding. The stairs were stone, worn concave by thousands of footsteps. They were also slippery as hell—at one junction my left leg slid left and my right slid behind me, leaving me face down, arms splayed in the “worshipful peon” position.
Having torn my knee ligament two years ago, I was relieved to get up and feel okay. I was also reminded of one of the pitfalls of traveling alone. The town was deserted. Who would have helped me up, then down all those stairs if I had torn my MCL? I began paying more attention to my steps.
The stairs led up and around and up and back and down and up and around. Here are a couple scenic views along the way:
These mailboxes may seem unremarkable if you are Italian, but in Minnesota everyone is named Johnson, Swanson, and Anderson, so they were charmingly exotic to me.
There was another sign that pointed to a Cimitero. I love cemeteries and, having no other plan, decided to visit.
There were no more Cimitero signs, just crude arrows hand-painted here on a wall and there on stair. Some of the walls were so close together that the sides of my umbrella brushed against them. I climbed, and climbed, and counted steps: 200, 300, 400 … every so often the view would open up before me:
Heartbreakingly beautiful, eh, even with the rain?
There were more lovely mysterious entryways. I would have loved to be invited in for lunch:
500, 600, 700 … Here’s a tip: Go while your knees are still good.
800 … I wondered why the cemetery was at the top of the mountain. Wasn’t that kind of unhygienic? I had not seen a single human until now, when a couple came my way and said with in rough English, “The trail is closed.”
I figured they couldn’t possibly be headed for the cemetery. Only I was weird enough to hike 800 stairs to see headstones. So I smiled and kept going.
“But it is still beautiful,” said the woman over her shoulder as they hiked down. And it was:
This was as far as I got because when I turned around from shooting this photo I saw the sign for the cemetery, which had closed five minutes earlier. FIVE minutes! Again, this is one of the hazards of traveling in the off season, many sites have limited hours.
The hiking couple had been right, there was an orange plastic fence across the path just beyond the cemetery entrance. I stood there a moment, waiting for some special feeling and, feeling none, turned around and walked back down the 800 steps.
All that hiking had helped me work up an appetite, and not for a protein bar. I found a hole-in-the wall pizzeria (it seemed like every restaurant in Italy was a “pizzeria”).
For 4€ I got an enormous sandwich with grilled red peppers, eggplant, and onions smothered in melted mozzarella, and a Coke Pink, which was everywhere.
Since I come from a land where we must huddle inside for six months of the year due to the cold, I always sit outside when I’m traveling, even if it’s raining, which it still was. I pulled up a café table under the awning, leaning in to stay dry.
There was a bored English middle-aged couple sitting nearby, and a pair of middle aged Italian women. Suddenly one of them said to me in perfect English, “You made a joke.”
“You made a joke in the museum. I’m an English teacher. I understood.”
We laughed and chatted about languages; it was nice to have a little human interaction. Then the English guy asked me what I thought about Donald Trump. What a buzz kill. I made a noncommittal comment, wolfed down my food, and walked off.