Wednesday, May 9, 2012


The Amalfi Coast – Day 36 – Friday

I had great intentions to get up early and go to Capri today, but my body just refused to get with the program.  My alarm went off at 6:30, but I just rolled over and slept until 8:00.  Rome and dragging my bag to the hotel had exhausted me.  I needed the extra sleep.  The other excursion that I didn’t want to undertake with weekend crowds was the trip down the Amalfi coast.  I decided to tackle that instead.  After a substantial breakfast of yogurt, a croissant and a hardboiled egg, I caught the 10:00 bus down to the bus station.  The bus I was on was actually headed to Amalfi, but they made us all get off at the station and there was a long line to get on the bus for Amalfi.  I didn’t make it onto the first bus, but another one came right away.

I sat next to a Romanian gentleman named Konstantin.  We talked quite a bit on the two hour ride to Amalfi.  He told me that the economy in Romania is doing okay.  If you can tell anything about economics from who is traveling, then it is the Australians, Germans, French, Russians, Polish, Ukrainians and Scandinavians who are doing well.  I have seen no Spaniards or Greeks and few Americans or Japanese.  It was interesting to hear Konstantin’s opinion of Italy.  He sounded just like an American from a red state.  He complained that the pizza was thin and didn’t have enough toppings and was dismayed to see all the African refugees.  He did tell me that he got a flight from Romania to Naples for 72 Euros round trip.  Such a deal!  Too bad nobody told him not to stay in Naples. 

The famous road along the Amalfi coast is unfortunately closed between Sorrento and Positano due to a landslide.  To get to Positano, one has to go to Amalfi and then head back along the coast.  Sorrento is located on a peninsula between the Gulf of Naples and the Gulf of Salerno.  To get to Amalfi, the bus first headed back towards Naples and then crossed the peninsula to join the coast road past the landslide and Positano.  That coast road is pretty amazing.  It is cantilevered out along the side of a sheer cliff a thousand feet above the water.  The view is stunning.  There are the ruins of old signal towers sitting atop pinnacles of rock.  These towers were once used to signal imminent attacks by the Saracens.  Lemons are planted on terraces everywhere.  Homes and hotels grow straight out of the rock.  In many places, the main road is the only one navigable by car.  Other arteries are simply stairways cut into the stone.  The road is only just wide enough for two buses.  Sometimes the drivers had to pull in their mirrors to pass.  One turn was a hairpin so tight that it simply turned around a fence.  The buses had to back and fill to get around that corner.  We finally arrived in Amalfi about 1:00.

Amalfi Cathedral

There isn’t a lot to do in these towns if you aren’t a shopper.  I don’t need anything, can’t carry anything and the shops are so tiny that I always feel like I’m going to break something.  I try to stay out of them.  Amalfi does have a beautiful Moorish influenced cathedral.  Spain ruled this part of Italy from roughly 1500 to 1800 and you can see their influence in the architecture.  Much of the cathedral complex is now a museum.  I stopped in and took a look around.  The crypt is especially beautiful because it houses St. Andrew’s (otherwise known as San Andrea) remains and much effort was put into making Amalfi a pilgrimage site.  Apparently, tourism has been the main business of Amalfi for centuries.

Amalfi Waterfront Panorama
The North Sails Shop

Being a sailor, I had to check out the marina.  There were only a couple of sailboats there, but there were a lot fewer tourists.  I stopped and ate some lovely bruschetta with loads of bufala mozzarella at a restaurant on the pier.  I did solve one mystery (to me, anyway) while I was in Amalfi.  Ever since I arrived in Rome, I have seen people wearing North Sails gear.  I thought it odd that there should be so many sailors about, but figured it had something to do with the America’s Cup races that had been held in the Bay of Naples last month.  It seemed strange to me, however, that most of the people wearing the gear seemed to be Italian and didn’t really look like sailors.  In Amalfi, I discovered a shop selling nothing but North Sails clothing.  Apparently, it is like a designer brand here in Italy.  I have since seen ads on bill boards.  I guess I’m just ahead of the curve.  I would also recommend that all my American friends dig out their old Ray Ban wayfarer sunglasses because they are all the rage in Italy this year.  Too bad I didn’t bring mine.

After lunch, I stood in line for a while to catch a bus to Positano.  Positano was another hour away along the gorgeous and terrifying Amalfi Coast Road.  Every house in Positano is a cliff dwelling.  The bus can’t even get into town.  It drops you on the highway at the top of the town and you have to walk down.  Aside from great views and interesting architecture, Positano is just one clothing store after another.  I made straight for the harbor to determine the boat schedule.  I didn’t want to spend three hours taking the bus back and wanted to see the stretch of coast where the road was closed.  I got to the harbor at 4:45 and the last boat for Sorrento left at 5:00.  I bought a ticket and stood on the pier waiting for the boat and watching a group of sunburned young Americans who had spent the day drinking on the beach.

I’m glad I took the boat back because it was nice to be on the water and it was definitely faster, but the scenic part of the coast is really from Positano to Amalfi.  Past Positano, the hills are lower and slope down to the water without the dramatic cliffs.  It was also interesting to arrive at the new harbor in Sorrento.  The ferry holds a few hundred people and all of them packed into three minibuses to ride up the steep switchbacks that climb up the ravine to the main plaza.  I definitely do not want to be a bus driver in this region.  I don’t know how those buses made it up the hill carrying so many people.

At the bus station, I waited for about 15 minutes and then realized that I had been looking at the wrong schedule and would have to wait another half an hour for the bus to my hotel.  It was getting cold, so I elected to take the bus that went a different way to Sant’ Agata and walk back to my hotel.  I got to see the town of Massa, which sprawls all the way to Sant’ Agata.  It was interesting.  I had heard that it was a 5-10 minute walk from Sant’ Agata to my hotel, but it was more like 20 minutes.  Fortunately, it was all downhill and would have been pleasant if it weren’t so life threatening.  The road is very narrow, there is virtually no shoulder and all of the curves are blind.  I made it down and only had to flatten myself against the wall a couple of times to avoid getting smashed.  I was happy to get to my hotel, drink a couple of glasses of wine, watch CSI Miami in Italian (the dubbed voices are really funny) and go to sleep.

Capri – Day 37 – Saturday

Marina del Cantone
Entrance to Blue Grotto
Green Grotto
I had planned to go to Capri on Monday when I thought there would be fewer people, but the weather forecast was for rain on Sunday and Monday, so I made a last minute decision to join an excursion to Capri from the hotel.  This turned out to be very economical because I got a boat trip around the Island included for the price of the bus to the harbor and ferry to the island alone.  It was also a bit more interesting because we left from the town of Marina del Cantone, on the other side of the peninsula, instead of from Sorrento.  We passed by the entrance to the Blue Grotto, but it was too rough to get in and so cloudy that the grotto would have been the grey grotto, anyway.  We also stopped at the Green Grotto.

My Chilean Friends

I hooked up with three women from Chile because all the seats were in pairs and I was alone.  One of them spoke good Italian and we managed to communicate just fine in a mix of Italian and Spanish.  I didn’t speak a word of English all day.  It was great.  Finally, my languages paid off.

Our guide, Vincenzo, was a tall, handsome Italian guy who spoke English with an accent so thick that I found his Italian easier to understand.  We all joined him for a private tour of Capri.  Everything in Capri is very expensive.  The public transportation just from the harbor to the towns of Capri and Anacapri costs four Euros more than I paid to go all the way to Amalfi and back.  I paid three Euros for a small bottle of water at lunch.  Under the circumstances, 20 Euros for a private tour seemed like a good deal.

Krupp Villa
Krupp's Beach

First, we went to the town of Capri and Vincenzo took us on a little walk around town and then gave us a couple of hours of free time to explore.  During the 19th century, Capri was a haven for wealthy homosexuals who found it hazardous to be out of the closet in other places.  Consequently, there are a number of gorgeous villas with beautiful gardens that were left to the public upon the deaths of their childless owners.  The heir to the Krupp fortune was one of these men.  He built a gorgeous villa tucked into a cliff about the sea and a beautiful garden with an impressive steep pathway down to the sea and a small beach.  Walking down there and back for a morning swim would definitely keep one in good shape.

Anacapri is on Top
Casa Rossa - Moorish Influence

My Chilean friends weren’t big walkers, so I left them for a bit to take a walk and then met up with them for a coffee before we rejoined the bus to head up to Anacapri.  In Anacapri, Vincenzo took us on a walk to another villa with a fabulous sea view, the Villa San Michele, which was built by a Swedish doctor named Axel Munthe.  In his day, he hosted the likes of Oscar Wilde and D.H. Lawrence.    It must have been quite a scene there before 10,000 tourists a day invaded.  Once again, I left the Chileans who were drifting through the shops, and had lunch in a pizzeria recommended by our guide.  I had a Pizza Marinara, which was unique in that it had no cheese whatsoever.  Then I walked through the old section of Anacapri, which was pretty and interesting.  The thing to do in Anacapri is to take the chairlift to the top of the mountain for the view, but the cloud was covering the top of the mountain, so there was no point in paying 7.50 Euros to go up there.  I bought some postcard stamps and a hat a rejoined the Chileans to wait for the bus.

The sun came out about the time we boarded the boat to return to the mainland.  The ride back was very pretty.  We visited the Faraglione Rocks (pronounced like the Farallon Islands and no doubt the source of the name, since they look very similar.)  One of them forms a natural arch and our boat sailed through the opening.  We then poked our nose into the White Cave, with its stalactites and stalagmite that resembles the Virgin Mary, before completing our circuit of the island and returning to Marina del Cantone.

By the time I returned to my hotel, I was ready for a glass of wine and a nap.

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