Monday, April 29, 2019

Imagine ever changing seas of steely grey to turquoise blue, dramatic clifftops and gorgeous greenery along the Amalfi Coast in Italy.

You can see all this and more when you choose to hike what is considered one of the most spectacular hiking trails in the world – the aptly named Sentiero degli Dei or “Path of the Gods.” The Path of the Gods is named after a mythological legend, which overlooks the path where Ulysses in Homer’s The Odyssey encountered the singing sirens that were on the island of Li Galli.
During the long Easter holiday weekend, we visited our cousin who is studying in Sorrento, Italy. He arranged our hiking tour of the Path of the Gods through a fantastic tour group called Sorrento Hiking. Now, normally, hubby and I aren’t big fans of organized tours, but our cousin’s mother had done the hike twice this spring so we trusted her opinion.

We were not disappointed. In fact, at the end of the day, I was literally blown away by how organized and knowledgeable our guide, Nino, a native of the Sorrento area, was. But I shouldn’t be surprised as Nino started Sorrento Hiking with a group of friends who enjoy hiking and showing people the lesser known and wild Sorrento peninsula. When someone has such passion for the Italian countryside as Nino, it shows.

Our hike began at the trailhead in the small village of Bomerano, a fraction of Agerola. The Sentiero degli Dei follows several routes and alternatives, but the most famous is the trail that leads from Bomerano to Nocelle (high above Positano). Nino picked us up in Sorrento and drove to Bomerano in about an hour, but by public transport, if you take the Sorrento-Amalfi line bus, you must transfer in Amalfi to the Amalfi-Agerola line, which takes about two hours. Since we only had a couple days in the Sorrento area, hiring a private guide made the most sense.

Definitely wear proper hiking or walking attire.
The hiking poles were a huge help in some steep areas too.
Though the grey skies threatened to rain at any minute, we set out on the rocky trail, which hugs the steep cliffside overlooking dozens of terraced farms and vineyards. The views over the Almafi coastline are amazing!

Abandoned Houses
As we hiked along the Path of the Gods, we saw many crumbling stone buildings which are the remains of old farm houses. Farmers along the Lattari Mountains used to produce grapes, lemons, olive trees and other local produce as well as raising goats. The area also was known for its production of silk from silkworms for hundreds of years until the unification of Italy in 1821. Nino explained that after World War II, some people just abandoned their homes high up in the hills for an easier life in town or for other reasons as you can imagine.

Can you imagine the hardships people must have endured to live up here?

The circular stones on the left are the remains of an old limestone furnace.
Farmers used to make a "cement" in these furnaces to build the walls of their homes and fences.
Antonio’s Goat Farm and Lunch
But the hillsides are still alive today. One of the highlights of our hike was stopping at Antonio’s goat farm for a snack of goat cheese and homemade Italian salamis. Well that “snack” turned into an impressive spread of Italian Easter bread, charred bread dripping with local olive oil, fresh goat cheese (similar to a ricotta) and even homemade wine. Everything was so delicious, and the flavors even amplified knowing that everything was homemade.
Antonio, a 30-year-old farmer, raises his 30 or so goats along the steep cliffs here high above the Almafi Coast. He milks his goats twice a day and makes cheese that he sells in the local villages. But like most farmers, he found it hard to make a living with this trade. He was about to give up until Nino and his business partners said, “hey, we’ll bring the people to you.”

Now, as part of the guided hikes with Sorrento Hiking, groups stop at Antonio’s farm to have a delicious snack and see the traditional way of life. There’s no electricity here, but that adds to its charm. I could just imagine setting up a tent here and spending a night on Antonio’s farm – an idea that I heartily recommended to Nino.

If you stop by, kindly leave a couple of euros to help cover Antonio's hard work and hospitality.
That view!

The small black specs in the rear of this photo are Antonio's goats.
They were either trying to hide from all the hikers or the incoming rain.
Of course, we had to take a selfie with the goats!
Wildflowers and Herbs
When you’re hiking with a native Italian, he is bound to explain the local flora and fauna. Nino served us up an edible buffet as we hiked along – several different varieties of thyme, rosemary, wild fennel and the most peppery arugula (wild rocket) that we’ve ever tasted. As a chef and someone who loves the outdoors, I loved learning about the local landscape. You wouldn’t get this same experience if you did this hike on your own.
The Path of the Gods trail ends in the village of Nocelle where from there you must hike down approximately 1,500 steps to reach the center of Positano. A little ways before we reached Nocelle, we made a loop and started walking a trail slightly higher above the way we came so we could return to our starting point at Bomerano.

In Bomerano, we took refuge from the rain at the small café of Il Caffé degli Dei where we had an espresso and homemade lemon granita. What a sweet way to end our spectacular hike along the Path of the Gods!


Friday, April 12, 2019

After the pink magnolia trees, the cherry trees begin to bloom in London, making bits of this city look like fluffy cotton candy dreams for a few fleeting weeks.

Cherry blossoms are normally supposed to appear in March and April, but I saw my first pink blooms in late February. Actually, our spring weather this year has been pretty wacky. In fact, late February was warmer than the entire month of March; and now in the middle of April, we are still experiencing near freezing temps at night. What is going on?

Different varieties of cherry trees blossom at different times. I also think that certain neighborhoods in London have different weather patterns or temperatures that effect when certain things bloom.

Well, read below to learn where to find some of your own pretty cherry blossoms, either right now or for next season.

Eltham Palace and Gardens
At the end of February, we cycled 13 miles from Clapham Junction to Eltham Palace and Gardens in East London, which is probably best known as the childhood home of King Henry VIII. Today, this English Heritage property is a unique marriage between a Tudor palace and a 1930s millionaire’s mansion. Surprisingly, the nearby neighborhoods and around the palace were already awash with cherry blossoms.
Regent’s Park
In mid-March, I re-discovered the beautiful grove of pink-blossomed trees at the southern end of Avenue Gardens in Regent’s Park. There are lots of photo opportunities here! If you continue walking north through the green park, you’ll end up in Camden, where it’s mandatory you grab a pint at one of the many local pubs.
St. James Park
At the end of March, I finally had a chance to get over to say hello to the Queen. Just kidding. But I did walk past the Buckingham Palace and then wandered around nearby St. James Park to admire the cherry blossoms. While this park is quite pretty and filled with all sorts of birds, I usually avoid going here because there are too many tourists. Don’t miss the pretty pink pelicans if you stop here as well.
Kew Gardens
Since we’re members, I’ve already been to Kew Gardens three or four times this year. My recent visit in April meant a surprise sneak peek at the amazing exhibit of Dale Chihuly, an American artist that specializes in blown glass. The exhibit officially opens tomorrow (April 13th) and runs through October, so I can’t wait to return and see more of it.

Don’t miss the cherry blossom trees near the Temperate House. You’ll also find Chhuly’s striking, fiery Cattails and Copper Birch Reeds sculptures here.
Greenwich Park
Besides attending a concert at the O2 center in the autumn, I hadn’t been to Greenwich for two years. Getting to Greenwich is a trek from where we live – more than an hour involving two trains or a train and a bus. But I finally went this week to take photos of the cherry blossoms. Coming from Blackheath station, you’ll be entering Greenwich Park from the south where you’ll find several pretty cherry trees awash with pink and white blossoms near the old Deer Park.
Approximately, 100 selfies later taken by my camera remote in Greenwich Park.
Wearing my red and white cherry dress that I bought in Istanbul when we lived there. 
However, the main event at Greenwich Park is a Japanese-style cherry blossom tunnel, which is located on a straight path to the west of the Observatory and Planetarium. If you have the patience, you’ll have to wait a long time to take a photo without people in it or edit them out later. These cherry trees are super popular on Instagram if you search for recent photos of #greenwichpark.
Battersea Park
Since we live near Battersea Park, it’s easy to check out the changing seasons here. There’s an area in the southwest corner of the park which I like to refer to as cherry blossom row. My husband still doesn’t understand what area of the park I am referring to when I tell to meet me by the cherry trees. Sigh!

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