Subject: Italy questions forwarded by moderator
We were in Sorrento and Positano for a week in January, 1999. Here is what my husband wrote about this part of the trip; his account was originally listed in the shared files section of this List.

Sorrento Peninsula, Positano &Amalfi Coast Next day, the weather was still dismal, so we decided to delay the Amalfi coast for a day, and explore the Sorrento peninsula, close to base, instead. We took the bus out west to Massa Lubrense but, not knowing what we were looking for, we asked to be dropped off too early, and had a fairly long but pleasant walk into town. Once we were there we found the tourist bureau and gathered up a sheaf of free handouts. After sniffing out the long, long road down to the Marina d. Lobra, we decided there wasn't that much to see and took the next bus uphill to S. Agata sui due Golfi. After a pleasant lunch and a look at the church, we had some trouble finding the right tobacconist for bus tickets. The bus schedule gave us trouble, as it featured prominently a junction, Bivio Titigliano, which we could not find on any map. We thought we had the service to the beach at Nerano di Cantone (on the Amalfi coast side) worked out but we waited for ages, and finally saw a bus labelled 'Nerano' rush by without stopping -- it looked as if it was going off to the garage. (We probably needed to take a Massa Lubrense bus to the mysterious junction) Heading back to Sorrento, we got dropped off at the Capo di Sorrento, and walked back, or rather up and down, past the Marina Grande (which is the little one). We found the 'Emilia' trattoria, recommended by the guidebook, was closed, so we went upscale a bit for our last dinner in Sorrento at the Sorrento Inn, which was good.

The next morning the weather looked better, so we headed off to Positano. There was some uncertainly about which of the blue busses outside the railway station was the one we wanted -- Turkey does this better -- but eventually after a few Positano?'s we settled in. The route heads back towards Naples to Meta, then hits route 163 over the ridge and along the cliffs east to Positano. No. 163 is a masterpiece of Italian engineering and has the Big Sur highway beat. The sheer limestone cliffs drop a few hundred meters below you into the turquoise sea, and rise a few hundred meters above you and for the most part the road prefers to twist rather than use tunnels

We guessed right and chose the first Positano stop to get off. Positano is a cascade of white and pastel houses down the sides of a not-quite precipitous valley to a fine beach, but not a whisper of a harbour. How it supported a fishing fleet, much less became with Amalfi a sea power which in the early days rivaled Venice and Genoa, is hard to imagine. Half a pocket handkerchief of flat land behind the beach is occupied by a church with a dome of gold, green, and blue tiles, which is about all you can see of it from the town. Before World War II Positano was discovered by artists, and after it, by film stars. Its main contribution to western civilization was the invention of the 'bikini' bathing suit. The tourist literature call it the 'city of romance' and lists the romantic people who used it. Rosellini was listed but not Bergman -- still a sensitive spot after all these years?

We headed down from the bus stop along the switchbacks of the one-way Via Pasitea. The first three hotels were closed, but we found a nice room with a balcony and a beautiful view, at the Hotel Pasitea. Here we had a short walk up to the highway or a long one down to the beach, which was lucky. The city bus does a circuit, down the Via Pasitea to a back alley near the beach, where it rests for half an hour, then across to the east side, up a short stretch of one way to the second bus stop on 163, which has come a long way down towards the beach, up 163 to the Via Pasitea, and down again. This must be the only bus in Italy where you can buy tickets and get change on the bus.

We walked down to the beach and along to the east end, which in season is doubtless a private beach, with gated steps straight up the cliff, onto which cling the beautiful houses of beautiful people (Zefferelli among them). Here we had a picnic lunch, which got a bit chilly as the weather started to have second thoughts about that sunshine. We then headed west along a corniche past the Torre Trasita (there are watch towers against Saracens on every point) to the next beach, the Spiaggia del Fornillo. There is a little Madonna in a niche of the cliff here, with a pile of beach pebbles at her feet. Apparently if you present her with a beach pebble with a hole in it, this is very good medicine. Tom looked and looked for one, but could not find any. Indeed, they must now be rare, because most of the pebbles at the foot of the statue did not have holes in them. Next time, we'll bring one with us, or would that be cheating? I am willing to bet that this custom goes back a long way, before Christianity and the Catholic Church..

A looong series of public steps take you up to a bend in the Via Pasitea and back to our hotel. The weather was quite definitely going bad now. Over in the sunset lie two small islands, Li Galli. It was from them that the syrens sang sweetly to Ulysses. More recently Nurayev bought them and was going to turn them into an arts centre before he came down with AIDS. Showers and sunbeams, forming dark patches and bright spots on the sea, came chasing each other towards us. We had a nap; Tom was quite puffed with the climb up those steps and thought he was coming down with Ann's special, heavy duty cold (but it was a false alarm). We had a nap and found the rain had tapered off, so we hiked up to 163, and down along it, past the Montepertuso, a huge natural arch. We had dinner at Bruno's, on the east side of town, well placed to take the bus back to our hotel. It featured good but unpretentious home cooking. The only other diners were an ethnic Italian from Argentina on his first visit to Italy (it was interesting to hear his comments) and a lady who looked like a relative of the management, and her two bratty sons, squabbling over a computer game. Italians spoil their kids.

The next morning we woke to thunder, lightning, and pouring rain. These paused a little, and as we hiked up to the bus stop on 163 even a little weepy sunlight peeked through. We had coffee and a brioche before catching the 900 AM bus to Amalfi at 915. The Amalfi drive continues on the same line as the road into Positano, with the same vertical cliffs, but a bit lower down them. The sea was wild, a bit darker than turquoise, and marred here and there with brown where runoff fanned out. Occasionally, you can peep over the edge at a small pocket beach, with boats pulled up. On every point sat a watch tower, on the look out for Saracen invaders. Most of them seem to have been taken over by yuppies, and often the tower had a cable car running up to the level of the road. Here and there a handful of olive trees, or a terrace or two of grapes, clung to the hillside.

At Amalfi, the rain was threshing down and we sheltered damply for a while in a crowded bar, where we bought coffee and bus tickets to Ravello. The rain let up and the little bus went up and up about 400 meters, dropping us off on the east side of Ravello. Here the Villa Ruffola is a showcase of modern sculpture (mostly in terracotta and not that bad, says Tom, no fan of modern art). It has a formal Italian garden in front, on the brink of a breath-taking view down to the sea. It was here that Richard Wagner wrote his last opera Parsifal. We headed out, looking for lunch, but there did not seem to be anything. What we did find was another bus stop on the west side of the ridge. Somebody seemed to be waiting there, so we decided this was the place to catch the bus back to Amalfi, not the place where we had been dropped off. Then the somebody was picked up by a car and we started to worry. Soon we saw a little yellow bus toiling up the hairpins towards us. Then it hung a left (instead of a right for us) and toiled some more up to the village of Scala on the next ridge. There it rested for a while before it turned around and puttered down to the junction. We saw it briefly out on a bend coming our way, and then it didn't appear again. We started to worry again, but figured out it was going first to where we had been dropped off, and then it came for us.

Back in Amalfi, we had lunch in the San Andrea Restaurant, which was OK. Downtown Amalfi has a piece of flat land the size of two pocket handkerchiefs. The cathedral is up a flight of 62 steps and is of elaborate brown and white a little like Siena's or Pisa's black and white, and is relatively recent in its present form (Amalfi was severely damaged in times past by tsunamis). The crypt is very elaborate and dates back to 1253, although the main statues are by Bernini. The Cloister of Paradise, from 1266, has sharply pointed Moorish style arches. The harbour is artificial and looks recent; the book says the old one eroded away. We saw an amusing sign on a veggie stall selling jalapeno peppers: viagra naturale. Back at Positano, we had dinner at Le Tre Sorelli on the beach. We were the only diners.

Next morning, we woke to a beautiful morning, with the view from our room washed in pink. We had a great deal of trouble getting through on the phone lines for using our credit cards to pay our hotel bill, but finally the fourth one worked. The bus to Amalfi was only a few minutes late. This was now the third time we had taken the trip and it was still a great experience (if somebody else is driving). Tom could see Ann starting to dream of a retirement yuppified tower on this coast, with her own olive trees and vineyard, and steps down to the sea. Tom muttered that water was bound to be a problem on these limestone cliffs. We had a comfortable connection in Amalfi for the Salerno bus. This bus drops you off on the waterfront (nice park) with no sign of the railway station. However, if you walk a couple of hundred meters east, you will see a sign stazione pointing inland. Salerno station does not have a central concourse or any of those electronic displays telling you which platform the Rome train is on, we had faith in the posted information and caught it OK.

Ann Widdowson Victoria, BC