Life

Yes, it's a double edged sword but I'm now officially in love with Italy

It helps if your other half has had a year of whispering sweet Italian nothings in your ear. He has been addicted to a Teach Yourself Italian app. I also bought him a tear-off calendar – he learned a phrase a day and can now shake his head and mutter sagely, “It's a double edged sword” in Italian

Ah, Napoli – the city and bay of Naples, with Mount Vesuvius in the background

THE heat pounces on you when you walk out of Naples airport. Open the big oven door and stroll in – there is no escape.

It’s Napoli to the Italians – like the tins of tomatoes and, being strictly Factor 50, we just about avoided that sun-dried look.

But, oh, what a holiday it was.

It helps if your other half has had a year of whispering sweet Italian nothings in your ear. He has been addicted to a Teach Yourself Italian app.

I also bought him a tear-off calendar which was a great help – he learned a phrase a day and can now shake his head and mutter sagely, “It’s a double edged sword” in Italian.

Still, he was like a native – great for locating the toilets, of which, it must be said, there are precious few. Italy... ah, it’s a double-edged you know what.

Andiamo. Picture a wide bay, the crystal blue of the sea twinkling in the sunshine, the shadow of Mount Vesuvius rising up on the horizon.

And here we are on our holiday coach, weaving our way down dusty roads edged with old crumbling buildings painted orange and burnt sienna, admiring the pink bougainvillea tumbling from rusting iron balconies.

There were oranges and lemons growing on the trees along the narrow streets. You could reach out and pick...We were smitten from day one.

Mind you, it all had a bit of a crumbly look about it.

“There appear to be a lot of men stirring buckets of cement on street corners,” observed my other half. He had a point.

And every rose has a little thorn. Sitting on the veranda at night, sipping our drinks and looking down over the flickering diamond lights of the bay of Sorrento, there was still the matter of the odd Wotfit. (Regular readers will understand that this is the term we use for large unidentified flying insects, as in ‘What the f is that?’.)

“That,” gasped my other half, watching a large black winged thing steal out from the bells of a pretty pink flower, “That is the size of an A380 Airbus.”

He wasn’t wrong. Happily it took off into the night.

What a time we had.

We struggled up to the top of Vesuvius and peered down the big crater. Once or twice, a tiny puff of white smoke could be seen drifting into the sky, as if a little man was sneaking a ciggie behind a rock down there.

The slopes were yellow with gorse and the smell was sweet and beautiful. Little red and blue butterflies flitted about.

We walked around Sorrento, rolled our tongues around words like stracciatella and fragole, then cooled them down on the resulting ice cream cones.

There were a lot of aging Tony Curtises and Dean Martins meandering about the streets and there were more churches than you could shake a chasuble at. The cool silence was heaven when you stepped off the dusty streets.

And one day, we took a trip along the Amalfi coast, and thrilled at each town, clinging for dear life on to the side of the cliff; little white buildings looking out across the azure blue.

Here was Sophia Loren’s house – her husband Carlo bought it for her, as you do – and here was Franco Zefferelli’s home.

And here were the kind of nightmare hairpin bends that cut a few years off your lifespan.

You have to have a special licence to drive a coach along this coastline, said our guide, and we could see why. Our driver took it in his stride, honking the horn at bad corners, hardly noticing the beautiful young men and women breezing by on their Vespas, weaving and twisting along the way.

He even braked and jumped out at one point, to help a woman who could not manoeuvre her car out of his way on the narrow road. In two seconds flat, he was in behind the wheel of her car and sorted it. Grazie, Valentino!

There was so much to love – Ravello; the wonders of Herculaneum and the realisation that cement bollards are no modern invention – there they were, just the same, in ancient Italy to keep the chariots out of the main square.

There was the brothel in Pompei – you just picked your fancy from a series of tastefully explicit mosaics on the wall – a bit like a fast-food restaurant.

In so many moments, one stands out. We had returned to the medieval cloisters of the old church of Saint Francis. And just by chance a wedding was about to begin. We watched from an old archway in the corner as the sun poured down on the beautiful bride stepping along to meet her groom beside a tree in the little enclosed garden.

A harpist was playing an Irish tune – Down by the Salley Gardens.

How beautiful it was – how very special. And here was a Belfast boy marrying a Liverpool lass. We don’t know them but thanks, Neil and Jenna – it was your day but it made ours a little magical too.

Italy... we’ve fallen in love with it. We’d go back in a heartbeat.

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