Wednesday, 22nd August, 10.56pm and I’m sat on the stairs of Cattedrale di Sant’Andrea in Amalfi. To my left are a group of local lads and to my right some more Italians. Suffice to say, I definitely don’t look like I grew up around these parts. My newly sun lightened hair is a shining beacon of blonde that radiates ‘foreigner’.
I don’t speak the language, I can’t eat pasta more than three nights in a row without having a crisis over how many hours it will take me to burn off the carbs, and I certainly don’t have a penchant for shiny patent trainers.
I yearn to be the proud owner of a perfect pair of legs and a peachy bottom, that all the Italian girls seem to have inherited. And, no matter how many days I sunbathe for, my tan will never be as dark as theirs.
There is literally zero resemblance between your average Italian and I. I’m yet another blue eyed, blonde haired traveller as far as most from around here are concerned.
Except, I don’t feel that foreign here. I’m on my fifth visit in four years, and the very thought of not seeing this paradise every summer sends me into a mild panic.
You see, from the very first time I set eyes on Amalfi, or to be more specific, the nearby village of Atrani, in 2008, something inside me lit up. It’s magical. For me anyway. I’ve been to more than 30 countries, and goodness knows how many cities and towns in each of those, and I love NYC to the moon and back, Tokyo makes me feel like I’ve swallowed the worlds best drug and the Greek Islands are beautiful. But Atrani feels like home. Each time I step off the coastal bus, and descend the stairs into the piazza, I can almost feel the weight of London’s day to day stress fall off my shoulders and a much more relaxed me suddenly appears.
As I trundle my bag up the cobbled street, and drag it upstairs to my home away from home, I know once I fling back the door I will receive a welcome akin to that of any trip back to NZ. The owners of my accommodation Filippo and Gabriele, two brothers, will be there with smiling faces and exclamations of ‘Ciao Ana-Maria! Ciao New Zealand! Welcome back’.
Bags dropped, bikini on, and beach bound, it would almost be a crime not to make a pit stop en route at Bar Birecto, one of the cafes that line the piazza. I barely make it half way across the square before the owners, two cousins, both called Luigi, spot me and I’m embraced and smothered in kisses.
After turning a couple shades darker from sunbathing and my hair taking on a life of its own with it’s sea salt beachy look, it’s tradition to take a late afternoon stroll over to Amalfi for lemon granite and fruit salad. One step inside the store, a glance up from it’s owner and I’m greeted with ‘Hey! Ciao! Welcome back to Amalfi, every year you are here!’.
And guaranteed, every trip, there are new friends to add to the list. Those new friends do tend to be male, as the men around here light up when they spot a female they haven’t yet met. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but believe me you get used it, they are harmless.
London, the city which holds my heart like no other, is so very fast paced, and to survive there, you need to learn to keep up. I’m like the Tasmanian Devil on crack in my day to day life there. A normal day means I could work until 7-8pm, head to the gym for some ‘me time’, eat dinner at 10pm, and then sit down to finish off some work or write.
In Amalfi, I’m more sloth like, finding it difficult to do much more than drink coffee, and work on my tan. (Though I must admit the London in me means I still power walk everywhere, overtaking people and sighing loudly when they get in my way! Oops). But Atrani is like a week of rehab, where you leave shiny and new at the end of each vacation.
What a dream it would be to own a little apartment here, hidden away amongst the labyrinth of stairs that make up Atrani. I would need to curb my shopping habit, and so far Ive had zero success with that. So I guess for now, I will settle for my shared accommodation. I’m not complaining, as long as I can get myself here each year, that’s all that matters.
Atrani, I’m so glad we discovered each other in 2008. You’re cheaper and more effective than any London therapist could ever be. How lucky I am to count you as a home away from home.