Land of contrasts
Amantea is a great place to stop, and shake off your worries. Fantastic beaches, a slower pace, and wonderful food.
On one hand you've got water and sand, ten minutes later, you're winding your way through deep valleys along narrow mountain roads.
Hot, hot days, cooling breezes off the water...
Our preference for baggage are back packs. A year ago, we wouldn't be caught dead with one, now, our luggage is in storage. Best for travelling on trains, buses, and small cars. If you feel the need for a proper suitcase, be sure to purchase one that is narrow enough to roll through the train aisles. When packing, be sure you can lift the (full) case above your head with relative ease. Storage on trains and buses is mostly above head height. Be aware too, most train stations have numerous flights of stairs you must navigate, often on the fly because frequent last minute binari changes (platforms) will keep you guessing. Formal attire is not required. Sports jacket...why? Just cotton shirts or blouses, shorts, loose skirts, sandals, T-Shirts, and numerous changes of underwear...very hot and muggy, nice to change frequently. Advil, because it's not available in Italy, sunscreen, and a powder if you are prone to chaffing (due to perspiration). We discovered Vagisil to work exceptionally well, as suggested by Anna at the local pharmacy. Guys, don't be embarrased, nothing else will work as well. Just remember to place it on 'her' side of the bathroom shelf while on vacation, or remove the label if travelling alone.
Suggest Tums, because meals are often served late in Southern Italy (nine is early...) and the food so good, over eating is common. Lots of film, or large capacity memory for your Digital Camera, and spare batteries. Unless you plan on sitting on an isolated beach somewhere (you'd miss the 'view' and the life of the beach), chairs and umbrellas are widely available. If you're staying at La Gran Savana, grab a spot, and the beach guy will eventually come and save those particular umbrella and chairs for the duration of your stay. Bring your 'Happy Face', because Southern Italians enjoy life. You can expect wonderful Southern Hospitality, the same as in the States.
Amantea, a different 'kind' of Italy
Ma Kettle and I were meeting her mother and sister here (from Toronto), and had booked an apartment which had been highly recommended by 'friends of friends' of the family. It was a luxury condo, situated just a few meters from the beach.
We were the first to arrive in Amantea, and we were told just to ask for (lets call him 'Harold' ) and someone would direct us to the condo. As he had told Ma Kettle during the booking procedure, "Everyone knows me". Well, no one seemed to know Harold. Even worse, we arrived at 2pm, just as everything was closing (as is usual for Italy). The phone number we had been given was going unanswered, so we just wandered about the town.
This was the next leg of our journey, which we had started two weeks earlier having travelled from Athens to Naples the day before, and by train from Naples to Amantea that morning. Our back packs were mysterously swelling as we visited each city, mostly containing bottles of wine from various regions. Needless to say, more wine was not necessary, but we found a grocery store enroute to 'our luxury condo', and bought two more bottles to celebrate Ma Kettle's reunion with family, and to ask if anyone there knew our elusive 'Harold'.
We were in luck. Harold existed, but we had an additional seven blocks to walk, further inland from the beach. Didn't look good for Kettles and company. (we had been told by Harold that our apartment was located 'right' on the beach)
We thought we'd splurge, and take a taxi, as our load had just increased by another 2 litres of local vino, plus 1500 ml of decaffinated cola for my mother-in-law. However, to be honest, we'd just lost that amount of fluid during our trek from the train station.
"No taxi service", we both echoed, (actually Ma Kettle had to interpret for me first). Yup, no taxi service in Amantea, however we could order one from Cosenza, but it would be over an hour, if one was available. We elected to walk. "Just go straight up the hill to the grey dumpster on the left, past the vacant lot, not the first one across from the billboards, or the second one, and not as far as....", get the drift?
Not a very pretty area, or respectable one, but there were streetlights...most of them intact.
We found the street, we couldn't find the address. We couldn't even find any people on the street. However, Ma Kettle spotted movement on a third floor balcony, and called out in desperation (my hero). "Harold", the lady in a flowered frock replied, "sure, he lives in the next block", pointing, "but I haven't seen him for a few weeks". Anyway, we thanked our frock lady and continued on down the street.
Sure enough, our numbers matched (almost like checking our lottery numbers, and almost as satisfying), but what apartment do we ring? Harold hadn't given us the number of his apartment, he had told us just to check for his name beside the buzzer. Blank... they were all blank.
We pushed them all. No answer. Pushed again. Still no answer.
Our flowered frock lady from down the block appeared, "Wrong building", she said. "Next door".
Same number, different apartment block... another of the worlds mysteries. Checked the buzzers. Blank. Frock lady said, "Harold lives on the third floor, press the second button". (huh ??).
"Hello" ??? Harold answered.
Bingo... Harold was home. Finally, we could dispose of our back packs, have a long, cool shower, eat a quick snack, and begin to feel like human beings once again, not like pack horses. We practically salivated in anticipation, but we had no fluids left in our bodies to perform that simple function.
"Come up, come up", Harold said over the intercom. We waited, but he forgot to buzz us in. We buzzed again, no answer, buzzed twice more, to no avail. Suddenly Harold threw open the door and said, rather exasperated, "I was waiting for you at your new apartment. What were you waiting for ? Come in, come in". Harold was drunk...
"Damn, we've arrived..."
Four floors up, no elevator, and a foul musty smell.
The apartment was a mess. The second bedroom was actually the living room, with a badly stained mattress. One fan with the wrong sized prongs for the wall plug, but no other furniture. The kitchen had a wobbly table, two chairs, and a small bag of garbage left uncollected in the corner.
Harold was beaming, and he wouldn't shut up. "I've cooked pasta, come down stairs and eat. I put vino in the fridge, coke, bread, and I've left you sugar, coffee...look".
Harold was wearing an undershirt, stained worse than the matress, his shorts were minus the usual underwear, as was evident with each arm gesture, and he was slick with perspiration. Harold also began each sentence with a very disturbing clearing of the throat, and he spoke while leaning towards you at a forty five degree angle. He tilted worse than the Tower of Pisa. Teeth were huge, and yellowed, belly protruding beyond the coverage of above mentioned shirt.
Did I mention that he was drunk?
This apartment was innocently suggested by my mother-in-law. Ma Kettle and I were rapidly thinking of reasons to escape, without giving offense to anyone, especially to M.I.L. Nothing came to mind, and Harold wouldn't leave in order for us to discuss a game plan openly.
I decided that I would let Ma settle the price, while I used the facilities. Flies, dirty towels, sticky floor, and remnants of previous use met me as I opened the door to the washroom. My decision to escape this hell-hole was immediately made as I rapidly shut the door again, and returned to the kitchen in time to hear my wonderful wife use her 'TEACHER'S VOICE' on someone else besides me. Oh, I was so proud. I also knew that I now had an ally. Price still had not been determined.
Ma Kettle finally wore Harold down, and she got mad enough that he retreated to his flat downstairs.
We looked at each other in total disgust, and after very little discussion, decided to go look for
Our quest had begun. We took a chance and left back packs behind, knowing that this would be the eventual meeting place for the rest of the family.
We tried the first hotel we came to, but it was full, however the desk clerk directed us to La Gran Savana, located down at the beach.
We had considered this hotel originally, but with personal recommendations from friends of friends of family, Harolds luxury condo seemed too good to pass up.
La Gran Savana was situated within in the beach area. Easily found, air conditioned, restaurants abundant in immediate area, and located on the main street. Maria and I were almost afraid to ask in case we heard that dreaded word 'FULL'.
Vacancy...plus cheaper by a third of what the Internet had indicated months earlier (bonus). We booked two rooms, and returned to hell- hole to do battle with Harold.
No sign of family yet. We didn't want to return to the apartment, because, in all seriousness, we were afraid to sit anywhere. Harold had not given us a key, and suggested that we wouldn't need one, all we had to do was buzz and he'd let us in. Fat chance...
We walked the block again, and again, gradually widening our circle of knowledge. Each cycle convincing us that, although safe, the immediate surroundings were not for us.
At long last, upon our next pass, we saw everyone had arrived and were gathered on the balcony outside (for the same reasons Maria and I wouldn't sit down).
Fortunately, family from Cosenza had met my mother-in-law at the airport in Lamezia, Calabria's main airport (most international flights are summer only), and were waiting to greet Maria and me (they had a car).
After introductions, and reasonable time given for pleasantries, I explained that we had booked other accomodation, and would not stay in hell-hole for one more moment.
Harold was still hovering, so I gave him the excuse that my mother-in-law had a bad heart and the stairs simply would not do, slipped him 50 euros, and escaped.
Poor Harold, as we were leaving, he kept trying to get us to remain for dinner. A very lonely man, but...