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If you want to get high, go to Maiori
In a blog delayed a tad by circumstance, Slarek wonders why he keeps going on holidays that end up placing him so far above the ground, and finds that it's sometimes nice to leave film alone for a while | 6 July 2014

OK, I'll admit, the title of this overdue blog may be a little misleading, but only to those with a fondness for recreational drugs. In a literal sense, it's right on the money. If you've never heard the name, Mairo is a town in southern Italy, which is where I disappeared to when the site was on hold for a week last month. Yes, this is a holiday report, and yes, there is a small film angle to the story if you make it to the end.

When I've selected holidays in recent years, I've tended to do so based on a combination of cost, timing, and the desire to visit somewhere I've never been before. I've used the same holiday company for a few years now because they sort out all the details, always seem to pick decent locations and hotels and arrange interesting excursions, and – really important this – they fly from my local airport. Cool. At least they did until this year, when the obscenely wealthy businesswoman who bought the airport for one pound last year decided to shut it down with the intention of selling the land off for real estate. But that's another story.

The thing about my holidays is that, having selected an attractive location and a well-reviewed hotel, the one thing I never check is the geography of the area. It shouldn't really matter, but I'm not good with heights, and every single bloody holiday I go on, I end up in a coach travelling on roads that seem designed to induce vertigo in even the most fearless of travellers. But I hit a small jackpot with Maiori.

I'd checked the area out in advance on Google Street View, so knew where the shops were and how close the hotel was to the seafront. What I failed to realise is that this attractive town is situated in a bay surrounded by mountains. To get there from the airport involved climbing a long, winding mountain road at night, a route with an increasingly terrifying drop on one side and a two-foot high stone wall as the only protective barrier. As the admittedly beautiful lights of the Bay of Sorrento fell away behind us – or perhaps that should be below us – the view was closer to one I'm used to inadvertently catching sight of when coming in to land (in case you were wondering, I don't like flying either).

Even before we reached the hotel, it occurred to me that any excursion I elected to join would take me back along this dizzying road. To my surprise, this was not the case. On the first trip out, the coach drove instead to the seafront and headed along the coast. Excellent, I thought, blissfully unaware just how surrounded by mountains we were. The coastal roads out of Maiori in either direction do not stay at sea level, they cling to the cliffs and climb steadily upwards until the view through the window serves only to remind you of the fragility of your mortality. And these roads wind tightly enough to require the driver to hit the horn every few seconds to warn oncoming traffic of a potentially imminent collision. Fortunately this never occurred, despite a couple of near misses. Italian coach drivers are masters of their art and can pass other vehicles at speed with only a pencil-width gap between them and do so with reassuring confidence. Nonetheless, I figured a boat trip to the island of Capri would be a little less harrowing for someone with my particular phobia, but to reach the departure point required climbing that same damned cliff-side road in the other direction. And as soon as we landed at Capri, our tour guide bundled us onto a local bus and announced that we'd be heading straight for the very highest point on the island, up another winding road with a sheer drop on one side. Oh great.

There was, however, one high place that I knew I would be visiting before I left home, an excursion to the top of Mt. Vesuvius with the option to join a walk to the crater's edge. Despite what I had no doubt would be a terrifying drive, I really wanted to do this and had (kind of) prepared myself for it. With the sort of irony that seems to follow me around like a devoted dog, this particular trip – the only one I was geared up for – was cancelled at the last minute because an accident closed the mountain road and a worrying looking cloud had enveloped the summit. And the clouds that week were not just bringing rain. Previous to my arrival, Maiori had enjoyed something like fifteen weeks of unbroken sunshine, but my first day there concluded with the most violent thunderstorm the area had seen all year, which brought torrential rain, hailstones, and this worrying little fellow...

And that wasn't the end of it. Over the next four days the town was hit by a further fourteen thunderstorms of varying length and intensity, though thankfully none was as ferocious as that opening cannonade. The prospect of one developing at the highest point in the region doubtless contributed to the police decision to keep the mountain road closed even after the accident had cleared.

But I went there to relax, to get away from the things that bug me about work and daily life, and on that score my mission was well and truly accomplished. But I did experience one surprise. As I tend to do when I go away, I loaded up my iPad with viewing material, a mix of films and extras for review and stuff to watch just for the pleasure of doing so. And for the first time I can remember, I didn't touch a frame of it. Much as I love film, I became acutely aware while away that just occasionally it's nice to turn your back on it for a few days, to enjoy the location, to eat, drink and go for long walks, and to spend four hours on the trot reading a good book in the shade of a tree looking out onto a vivid blue sea. Just for one week, I had no desire to watch a movie or listen to a filmmaker's commentary track or even read an entertaining essay about a favourite film. Now I'm back home and I'm back to watching a film or a set of extra features every evening. But like any relationship worth its salt, sometimes spending a little time apart helps you fully appreciate just why you fell in love in the first place.