|Subject: Amalfi Coast, Capri,|
Weather was warm to hot (probably high 70's). Even evenings quite balmy.
Gavin (Sydney, Australia)
Saturday 13th May 2000.
Guess what? Traffic in Rome starts before 7.00 am, that#s if it ever stoped from the day before. It is hard to believe that we packed so many experiences into this one day-probably the most memorable day of our holiday so far. We drove out of Rome in a reasonable amount of traffic, however the route was fairly straightforward. What we hadn#t realised was that along the Via Nuvo Appia, the outer suburbs of Rome blend into a string of villages that seem to go on forever, all with narrow streets packed with Saturday morning shoppers. It took an hour and a half to travel about 60 km. As we had left before breakfast, we eventually just bit the bullet and parked in the main street of a village and walked until we came to a bar. We had a #viennese# pastry and a coffee before resuming the slog through windy hill roads and settlement after settlement with the bare minimum signage. Apart from the fact that most signs appear literally at the street you have to turn, with no early warning, they only seem to have them at the beginning of villages (particularly allowing for you to bypass the village), and we had to assume that if we came out the other side of the village, we were on the right road. This got us into trouble later in the day.
After four hours we came to Ninfa. It was supposed to be just a four hour drive to Naples, and here we were just 70 km south of Rome. Arrived at Ninfa to find that it was only open one day in May and that was to be tomorrow (Sunday). It is a medieval settlement that became overgrown by dense vegetation but has now been partially restored and surrounded by gardens. We eventually discovered that a special tour had been organised for a group coming from Rome, but they weren#t due until 10.30. As it was now 9.45, I figured we were already so far behind schedule, we couldn#t afford to wait.
We headed on for Sermonetta, a walled medieval town. Driving along the base of the mountains with a vast coastal plain of mixed industry (lots of chemical companies), we came to the base of the mountain on which Sermonetta is perched. The castle is right on the top, with the village spilling down on side. Found the turnoff, and climbed the winding road to the top, where we parked outside the walls and walked in. Spent an hour or so walking all the side lanes. This is not really a tourist town, other than for Italians. While there was a busload of families visiting for the day, there was no evidence of any other tourists, and we found ourselves drawing attention, particularly when we wandered into lanes where women were sitting having a chat, and most people were going about their Saturday morning business. The surrounding hills covered in Olive trees, and grazing large sheep. Could hear bells and now assume they were on the sheep.
On leaving Sermonetta, we must have take a wrong turn. We spent several hours wandering some pretty uninteresting country roads, up mountains and down hills, through market garden fields, and eventually ended up back on Via Appia, just short of Terracina. We drove through town looking for Da Buffone, which is on the waterfront. The guidebook is probably technically correct, in that it is in Terracina, but is really on the outskirts, so far out, you a sure you are just driving a stretch of coast between towns. We missed it originally, and when we came to a maze of new roads heading south and inland, we retraced our steps, an discovered it, literally right on the beach. Quite a large restaurant (could probably seat 100 or so), but there was just a couple and their child sitting in one corner, and it was 1.30 pm. Eventually another elderly group arrived and later in the meal we had the enjoyment of listening to them #gum# their food. We had a fantastic lunch. Shared a beer and mineral water. Ches had Risotto, which she said was much drier than we make, loaded with Mussels, baby clams, baby prawns an calamari. I had basically the same but with pasta. The prawns were in the shell, and I think they were probably cooked in the olive oil because they were loaded with it. Probably steamed or pan fried the shellfish, added the chopped fresh tomatoes and parsley, then the prawns and drizzled extra olive oil over the whole lot. It was brilliant, and proof that quality olive oil adds a flavour that is stunning. We followed with fresh strawberries and ice cream. In an empty restaurant, when it take them half an hour to serve your meal, you know it is being prepared fresh-no pre-cooked sauces etc. Don#t know if it was under new management or if they had been closed for winter, but he said they were just re-opening and didn#t yet have credit card facilities. Fortunately we had our stash to pay. He advised that Sorrento was an hour and a half#s drive, maybe an extra half hour if traffic was bad on the peninsular. He also recommended that rather than head inland to the main motorway, we should run down the coast and right around the Bay of Napless.
As it was now close to 3.00 pm, we decided it was time to head for Sorrento with no more stops. The road down the coast is a mixture of motorway and country road. Both provided unique experiences. On one stretch of country road, where there was some fairly dense vegetation beside the road, there were perhaps half a dozen prostitutes. All were African, and most wore very brightly coloured short shorts and half tops. Just standing on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere and waiting for passing trade. One of the motorways was elevated on pylons, perhaps 10 meters above the ground, and it ran for three or more kilometres through the countryside. It didn#t appear to be a floodplain, and we conjectured that they just couldn#t take the land from the owners, so they build it over their farms.
I thought I had made it clear that we would stick to the motorways, of which there are dozens enveloping the entire Bay of Naples area. Ches thought we were looking to avoid the motorways and use small roads to run right along the beach front. Big Mistake, Big Adventure, best mistake we have ever made. We exited the motorway at Pozzuoli, and for the next 25 kilometres or so, drove along the waterfront and its suburbs, right around the bay of Napless. Cook#s Tourist#s handbook of 1884 declared #Napless is ill-built, ill-paved, ill-lighted, ill-drained, ill-watched, ill-governed and ill-ventilated city# This is a quote from the Lonely Planet Guide to Italy, which goes on to say that Napless has made big strides forward since then. As far as we could see, not this part of Napless. It was heavily bombed in WW2, and while some of the original tenements remained, most were replaced by #jerry built# rectangular tenements on the same blocks as the old. So the streets are frightfully narrow, traffic is chaotic and we have never witnessed such rubbish anywhere. If they were to have #Clean Up Napoli# day, they would require a month rather than a day, and the rubbish tip would need to be about the size of the Olympic Stadium (now that#s a good idea). I had heard that Napoli is largely controlled by crime #families#, rather than the Mafia, and #Midnight in Sicily# hardly prepares you for the reality. The congestion, the filth of the place, and the open defiance of all laws. The families make there money in various ways, including the sale of contraband cigarettes (mainly American). We saw a young guy with a box on which he had a tray of cigarettes. He was set up into the street, so that vespa drivers could stop and purchase. On the sides of the street were numerous stands that consisted of large timber trays-like a dozen fence palings fixed together. On these where huge piles of fresh mussels. The traffic didn#t observe a left or right hand side of the road protocol. You just aim at any empty space in front of you a drive into it. The traffic just weaves in and out of itself. Ches filmed parts of our drive, but she missed the best bits, as she was desperately gripping the door handle. Toward the end we came across a wedding-with the bride on the front steps of the church in the Piazza. What a contrast-all dressed up in a huge white wedding gown. All this driving is done at speed. Well, dodgem car speed. What a fantastic experience. We had no idea at any time, for at least an hour, as to exactly where we were. We knew that the Bay of Naples was to our right, a couple of hundred meters away. We knew that we were heading south toward Sorrento. We knew that there were at least five major motorways inland around and through Naples, and that we would have to run into one sooner or later. We did. Paid our 1800 lira, and asked if this motorway lead to Sorrento. Don#t know what we could have done if it didn#t. You can#t exactly turn around or back off. He advised we should stay on for 20k#s or thereabouts, and take the Castellammara turnoff.
We did. Well signposted to Sorrento, and we had a lovely drive out the peninsular. Great views back to Napoli, and all across the Bay of Napless. We had been warned about the drive along the peninsular. Narrow road, traffic and steep cliffs right beside the road. After driving Napoli, it#s a piece of cake. We reckon that Italy is just made for Peter Mac#s driving-he would be at home. Pulled in to a tourist office on the outskirts of Sorrento, where we were given a map. Couldn#t have driven through Sorrento, let alone find our hotel without it. It is just a maze of narrow streets that runs for 10 k#s or so along the cliff, with sections of one way streets. Eventually began the long climb up the mountainside at the back of Sorrento, to find our hotel perched almost at the top, with stunning views down on the town and over the bay. Booked in, unpacked, and made the biggest mistake of our trip so far. We went into the dining room. It turns out that this hotel primarily caters for package tour from the UK, organised by Thomson#s. The food and coffee has as much right to claim to be Italian, as I can claim to be Scottish; related, but distantly. Bloody awful and expensive. Beer at 5,000 lira a pint, the recommended red wine was just OK (but we poured the last of it down the sink, which is a first.), the spaghetti was not aldente, and the sauce was something housewives in Australia cooked thirty years ago. The pan fried veal was reasonable, but the baked potatoes -forget it. In fact, forget the entire experience. We would never return to the dining room except for breakfast.
17th May 2000 at Sorrento Sunday 14th May 2000 We decided it was time for a holiday from our holiday. We took the day off. While I sat on the verandah and caught up (only so far) with this journal, Ches took the afternoon bus to town for some window shopping. More like reconnoitring. She identified the shoes and the shoeshop for a later trip. She also returned with a bottle of #Anglianico Pomperano#; an excellent red. We also had a morning run up to Sant Agata, the little village at the top of our mountain-about 10 hairpin bends or so. Bought some tomatoes, fennel, radishes, fresh peas, cucumber, ham, bread and smoked mozzarella, #Cacio Donce# (interesting in that unbeknown to us, at the core of each little ball, were stuffed olives and the occasional chilli.). We enjoyed eating most of this for lunch and dinner out on the verandah, which looked down on the northern end of Sorrento, four hundred feet below. Ches also bought me some tomato seeds. I think she couldn#t handle the thought of me extracting seeds from our tomatoes and drying them on the verandah. Before dinner, we sat on the terrace at the front of the hotel, and had a cooling ale and G &T. It was the last day of a week long festival that they hold every 10 or 14 years (we couldn#t get the story straight). Lucky us. We missed the parade, where they come and bless all the hotels, but we got the on going fireworks display Saturday evening and all day Sunday. While on the terrace, we had the grand stand seats for the finale. Italians are more into #bang# than beautiful fireworks. Infact, they aren#t fireworks, they are explosives. For fifteen minutes in this little exhibition, they threw up enough explosives into the air, to make the place resemble a war zone. The goats next door took off up the hillside, the birds vanished, and shreds of paper from the explosives drifted up the mountain to us. The explosions were such that you could feel the shock wave hit your chest. Amazing.
Friday 19th May 2000 Monday 15th May 2000 We decided to spend the day in Napoli. We took the bus down the hill, and it terminated at the Sorrento station, which is also the end of the Napoli/Sorrento line, known as the Circumversuvio line. It was a good hours run into Napoli. The entire run into Napoli, when not through tenement suburbs, is through market gardens and orchards. Lemons are grown the length and breadth of the peninsular, and primarily used in producing lemon liqueurs. Every second shop sells #Lemonchello# or some such. Their are also plenty of olive trees as well, but primarily lemons. They are grown on terraced gardens stretching up the mountainsides. Each plot is surrounded by trellises made of long rough poles standing vertically, with the horizontals lashed on, to form a huge frame around the plot. In many cases, the outside frame supports grape vines, and in most cases they use large sheets of either black or occasionally green shadecloth to cover over the top. In many cases the shadecloth is rolled back and lashed to one side, like a furled sale on an old square rigger. We assume it is then rolled out and stretched over the tees, to slow down the ripening process, and regulate their supply. We initially thought it might be to protect from birds, but while there seem to be thousands of birds, they are mainly small and I can#t imagine they really have a diet that involves lemons. The other market garden crops seem to be peas, beans, tomatoes, asparagus, potatoes and corn. Whole families working these plots, including young children (on a schoolday???). Also lots of flower glass houses-carnations, strelitsiers and lilies. An inspector accompanies the train, checking tickets and controlling its departure from each station. We also experienced the unfortunate side of tourism. Two middle aged American women had backpacks, which they placed on the facing seats. That was OK on leaving Sorrento, but by the time we were half an hour out of Napless, the train was full, and no matter how many locals on their way to work stopped and looked at the seats, they failed to remove them, and remained standing while two backpacks had a comfortable seat.
After experiencing Rome#s central Termini, we expected similar in Napoli. The same vast open space for the massive bus network which also terminates our front, forming a huge central square. We thought Rome was dirty and grubby, but even central Napoli is almost as dirty as the dockside suburbs we drove through on Saturday. For the first time in Italy, we saw shops with chicken rotisseries out front, and decided to get one on the way home for dinner. We window shopped a kilometre or so to the National Archaeological Museum. Occasionally I took us off into a shortcut, and would stop to film these amazing back streets, only to terrify Ches, who thought we would be mugged any minute. On reflection, many days later, it probably wasn#t the smart thing to do. I had just forgotten how much of Napoli is controlled by crime families, and how tourists in this city really are expected to limit themselves to the main tourist streets and sites. It was only late in the day, when we stopped a policeman to ask directions back to the station, that we appreciated what Napoli was. He was wearing a flack jacket, and was heavily armed. There has been a three year or so lull in the constant bloodbaths of Napoli and southern Italy and Sicily in general, and they normally try to keep it among themselves and not involve tourists (other than to target them to either pickpocket or steal handbags and cameras from the back of vespas).
Anyway, we arrived unscathed at the museum. This has the largest collection, and most significant collection of everything ancient in Italy. The collection of Farnese marbles (plundered by the Pope, most from the historic sites of Rome including the Baths of Caracala and Hadrians Villa), passed on to his relations, Charles of Bourbon in the late 1700#s who established this museum. They also added many of the frescoes, mosaics and other relics from Pompei and Herculaneum, and the Borgia collections of Etruscan and Egyptian relics. Put it this way, we spent some three hours, and while footsore, weren#t overwhelmed or suffering sensory overload, which is becoming a regular problem. The highlight would have to be the Farnese Bull , carved in 150 or so BC (a Roman copy of a Greek original), featuring larger than life bull, two men and two women, carved out of a single block of marble. Michelangelo restored it, inserting new marble into the sections that had been broken. This theme of the death of Dirce, Queen of Thebes, (who was tied by the hair to the bull, by two brothers as punishment for her tormenting their mother), we were to see often at other places including Pompei, in paintings, frescoes and mosaics. The other highlight for me was the fresco of the Battle of Alexander; a fresco some four meters by three meters. From the photos in guidebooks, I had thought there was only a remaining fragment depicting Alexander in armour. It was a wonderful surprise to find it such a vast mosaic, with only a small number of sections missing, and also picturing King Darius???? , leading his Persian troops. Archaeologists were working in the museum, we believe on new items. Several large mosaic columns were being wrapped in strips of linen, over which a white liquid was being brushed. Having read that a restoration process had been the use of papermasche and some other liquid, we assume this is the latest process. It would be left to dry and then peeled off, lifting with it all but the mosaic. As is usual in everywhere we have been, half the rooms are closed for restoration or re-arranging exhibits, and for the last time, I will note that everywhere is overrun by groups of schoolchildren on excursions.
>From the museum, we assume we walked through the University district. Assumed because both schools and tertiary institutions are just buildings like every other building you pass in the street, and we only discovered the schools because of the noise every classroom in the world generates. The number of young people in groups with bundles of lecture pads and books was the first clue, and then when we came across a medical bookshop, and a street of educational bookshop, it was the clincher. I introduced myself to the manager of the medical bookshop, and he said if we need any Italian language tests, they deliver anywhere in the world in two weeks. Should be a good contact for us. Yeah, right!!! In my determination to only experience the real Italy, not the touristico Italy, we decided against a cross city walk to Antic Pizzeria Brandi, supposedly the birthplace of the modern Pizza. I have convinced myself that this is just propaganda to lure American tourists anyway. We instead sought out the real pizza place; the place where the local Neopolitans eat; the Pizzeria that featured in a local newspaper article on community eateries. In a back street, which turns out to be one of the main streets, Via San Biagio del Librai (we didn#t realise that the main streets are only 5 meters wide), we discovered Pollo Alla Spieda. On a corner with a narrow street (maybe three meters wide), we sat in back and had a sensational Pizza each. Ches had Tomato, mozzarella (sliced from the ball and set as little puddles over the surface of the pizza) and fungi. I had tomato, mozzarella and sausage. A large local family also dining, so we knew we were at the right place. Throughout lunch (2.00 pm) vespas used the side street at a hundred mile an hour, and we could constantly hear the sounds of suburbia from the flats that line the street. On leaving, we looked up this side street, to see that the verandahs almost touched across overhead, that a young boy had tied a shopping basket to a rope, attached to a pulley some five floors up, and an elderly woman was hauling it up. As we walked on down V S Biagio dei Librai , we noted that every fifty meters or so was an illegal cigarette stand. Often two or three people sitting on chairs half into the street, with a tray on their laps, containing American cigarettes. Police just ignore them.
Collected a chicken on the way back to the station, and with rain threatening, returned to Sorrento, where it was still sunny. Sunny isn#t exactly true of the peninsular. It#s certainly warm, but the sun is always shrouded in mist, as is the entire countryside. If my geography serves me correctly, warm air from northern Africa crosses the Mediterranean, where is becomes moist, and on reaching the Italian coast, with mountains rising out of the sea, the warm, moist air rises, and condenses, creating mist?????? Whatever, everything is shrouded in mist, and you never see the horizon. On the return train trip, we had an altercation with the ticket inspector. He takes our tickets, and then just stares at us. I shrug my shoulders. He says #Pompei#, I shrug my shoulders. He says, you haven#t paid to go to Napoli. I say, that#s not my problem, I specifically told the ticket seller #Napoli# and Ches even questioned the fare-if it was enough to Napoli (9.600 lira for us both). He continues to stare, I continue to shrug my shoulders. Ches says #do you want us to pay extra?# Of course he does, including a 6,000 lira fine for fare evasion. Me being me, every ticket inspector from now on receives an indifferent response, which embarrassed Ches on the train to Pompei, when he was trying particularly hard to be pleasant to me. Also spent most of the trip trying to avoid eye contact with an Aussie couple; she of the loud variety (we suspect from Tasmania). On the rare occasion she wasn#t holding forth, she was looking away disinterestedly. Poor English couple bore the brunt. #long way from home...# #large country you know. Fly from Sydney to Darwin for four hours and you are still over the same continent/country#. Stopped in Sorrento for Ches to buy shoes! Also bought bread, tomatoes etc. An icy beer on the verandah, brief chat to a couple of Poms-he is in Engineering at Bath University, and a soccer fan, she is a rugby fanatic who bears only a little illwill that us Aussies denied her darling Jeremy (Guscot) the glory he deserved. etc etc etc. Picnic dinner on our deck; the chicken and the usual fare. On extracting the chicken from its bag, we noticed that the bag said #pollo alla spieda#. Who feels like an idiot now???? The pizzeria back in V.S.Biagio dei Librari was Trattoria something, that also happened to sell fresh roast chickens #pollo alla spieda# We will never know the name of that great little Pizzeria, but it#s about half way down on the left heading back to Garibaldi Square (the station). Finished with strawberry tart and custard pastry we brought back from Napoli.
Tuesday 16th May 2000 Ches started the day at breakfast by declaring that my feet/trackshoes were beginning to smell. Really offensive.
Life in Sorrento is extremely seasonal for the locals. Today is the day for clearing the hillsides-all among the lemon and olive trees etc. From sun-up, there is the constant whine of brush cutters (big wipper-snippers). Must be backbreaking work, as they are still going at sunset. This is followed by days of burning off the mostly green foliage they had been cutting. Makes for smoke to blend in with the mist. I initially questioned the poor practice of burning off, and wondered why they hadn#t learnt to compost and mulch. You#d think they would have learnt something after two thousand years.
Having given up on the coffee at the hotel, and resorted to tea with breakfast, we took the bus to Sorrento, and I made a dash to a bar for a cappuccino-my caffeine levels were going to be low all week in Sorrento. Also stopped at a bookshop and bought a replacement copy of the Eyewitness Guide to Italy, which I had lost on the way home from Napoli the evening before. Made me even more peeved with the ticket inspector. Queued with masses of Poms on the dock at the marina, and caught the catamaran to Carpri (for the final time, it is pronounced #car-pre# not #cap-re#). Harassed at the marina in Capri by taxi drivers offering tours of the island in open top cabs. We decided to take the funicular up to the main town, a bus to Anacapri, and the chair lift to the top of Monte Solaro. Best decision we ever made. Well, the bus trip to Anacapri wasn#t! Jampacked, standing, we set off along a very narrow road which wound up out of town, around the top of the cliff face. I made the mistake of looking down. I suddenly realised we were on #that# road I had seen from the marina. It was built on pylons for a considerable section, out over empty air, several hundred meters above the water. My bowels turned to water. Survived the bus trip, like several million people before me, only to find that Anacapri was as cheek to jowl with people as Capri. People at the hotel had said the day before, that Capri was just a mass of humanity.
We immediately took refuge in the chair lift, a good 12 minutes from bottom to top. Most of the way I spent calculating how if I tied my shirt to my belt, and my belt to my shorts, and my shorts to my underpants, I could create a line to get me within 50 meters of the ground. That#s a hell of a lot better than a 52 meter drop to the ground. At the top, I gave a blessing to David Dale. This was another of his must see#s in Italy. Wonderful views of the entire island, and in particular the Grotto Verde. Didn#t mind it so much when later in the day, we found it was too late for the Grotto Azura. We had a beer on the verandah of a bar, on the very top of the mountain, with only a dozen or so other people up there. Far from the madding crowd, we were in no hurry to come back down the mountain. By the time we did, it was 2.30 pm, and time for lunch. I accidentally discovered #Il Solitario#, down a path between two houses, that vanished into the middle of houses and vine covered fences. Later found that the Lonely Planet Guide to Italy had also discovered it. Now they featured it for pasta at L7,000. We had Lobster with Fettuccine (for two) at L50,000. I don#t think that#s what they had in mind. There were only a few diners left when we arrived. We had a beer and mineral water while they prepared the lobster, which she talked us into, saying it was the special of the day, fresh locally caught. Insisted we both give her a kiss to thank her when we had our first mouthful. Happy to oblige. The place was well and truly empty when we left.
Now being 4.00, we thought to head off for Grotto Azura, which a local guide had advised that morning, that we leave until after 3.00 pm when there were less crowds. Guess what? We left it a little too late. They close the Grotto at 5.00 pm, so you need to be on the water by 4.00 at the latest (that#s from Anacapri), and probably by 3.00 pm, from Capri itself. Who cares, we had a fabulous day on Capri, largely avoiding the crowds. Then again, there was the bus trip back from Anacapri to Capri to contend with, and the hoards trying to board the catamaran. Back home, we showered and changed and drove up to Sant Agata at around 8.00 pm. By now I have grown bold-no main street restaurants for us. We went down the grottiest looking street, and again up a back passage, which turned out to the main way in to a local eatery, Tavola Colda de Mimi. Primarily a take-away Pizza and Calzone and Arancini etc. Out back with a lovely tiled floor, and bamboo walls and roof, were eight or so tables. A family of mum, dad and miss two, a group of local kids (2 girls and five boys around 16), and a solitary local guy in his fifties, were already into it. We left it to the owner, who served two balls of pasta, filled with linguini, peas, sausage pieces, hard boiled egg, an topped with rich tomato and cheese sauce. Wouldn#t have a clue what to call it, but #twas great. With a beer and mineral water, simple and satisfying.
Wednesday 17th May 2000 Over breakfast in the hotel dining room, Ches once again suggests I need to do something about my smelly feet/shoes. After a little while, when she sees a cat under another table, she relents a little, and allows that perhaps it is an animal kind of smell. A little while later the cat appears from under the tables, climbs into a pot plant, and pees. I#m innocent!
Pompei. What to say! It is vast. We bought the Big Guide Book, with map, and for the first time we knew where to go, where we were, and what we were looking at. We made reasonable progress from 11.00 when we arrived, till around 3.30 when we became extremely footsore, and unfortunately only had time to see about half by the time we left at 5.30. We did see all the major sights, including the House of Mysteries, the brothel and the Amphitheatre. As I look back through the directory it occurs to me that I can#t single out any one sight, other than perhaps the House of Mysteries and the Amphitheatre. Everything was interesting, and had we known how vast it is, we would have been there at 9.00, and have already read the directory so we would have known where to go immediately. Yes, you do need to carry a water bottle with you. It#s hot and open to the sun most of the time. We did discover some of the old water taps were working, but that was only in some sections. These are the big rectangular water troughs, mainly at intersections. They have a spring loaded tap attached. In many sections, the original lead water pipes are exposed on the footpaths (that#s why Caesar held Britain, for its lead from Cornwall). Amazed by the huge stepping stones at most intersections, to allow pedestrians to cross what were dirty roads, often running with water. The axels of the wagons and chariots were high enough to pass over the stepping stones, and the gaps between them wide enough to allow the horses through. And of course the permanently worn track through the stone paving, worn by the iron banded wheels. What more to say. You need to read and re-read the directory to bring it all back.
Caught the train home again. Same Aussie couple as the other day, same story about #four hours flying from Sydney to Darwin etc etc etc#. Then again, I#m becoming repetitious in telling everyone about driving through Napoli. Well, I was for a week. Now I will be repetitious in telling people about driving along the Amalfi coast. Next week it will be something else!!! We were extremely weary when we returned to our hotel, to pack in readiness for our Thursday run along the Amalfi coast down to Paestum, and back again to Positano. Picnic dinner again on our verandah.
21st May 2000 Thursday 18th May 2000. We decided to leave Sorrento as early as possible (7.45 am as it eventuated), to avoid as much traffic as possible for our drive over the mountain, through Sant Agata, and onto the coast road down the southern side of the peninsular, from Positano to Paestum. It#s never early enough. The trip down, driving on the right side of the road, means you are driving beside a cliff face of some hundreds of meters to the water below, with only a meter high fence between you and oblivion, and every oncoming vehicle trying to send you into it. It was an exhausting drive, with adrenalins starting to pour out my ears. I needed a caffeine stop 15 km down the road, and another one when we cleared Salerno. To hell with cappuccino, I now need constant transfusions with espresso. I#ve had eye washes with more liquid than they serve in their espresso#s, but there is more caffeine than you#d get in four cups of regular coffee. Makes the coffee Anne and Drew make at work taste like dishwater.
Survived the drive to Paestum, and despite the poor signage, found the archaeological site. It is more than just three Greek temples, which is all that most of the guidebooks tell you. At the entrance to the site, there is the oldest of the temples, still in excellent condition. Between this, and the other two temples, both of which were covered in scaffolding and undergoing major restoration, is approximately half a kilometre of the city. Residences, theatres, forums etc. Not as spectacular as Pompei, because there are no mosaics or frescoes, and in most cases, the walls remaining are only up to several meters in height. Nevertheless, even without a map or guide book, we gained a good idea of the extent of the city. It is all surrounded by the original city walls. The excavated area of approx 500 meters by two hundred meters, forms only about 20% of the entire area enclosed by the walls. Most of the other space is farms, and the main road runs right through the middle of the amphitheatre (only half has been left, the rest is under the road.) That#s how they rediscovered the site-putting the road through. One of the local snack bars has a great array of photographs of the site; being cleared, overrun by men in military uniforms that look extremely fascist, and finally of soldiers with rifles at the ready walking up both sides of the road-I suspect American troops after the landing in WW2. We also spent an hour in the Museum, which has a fabulous collection of 600 to 200 BC Greek artefacts from the site.
We retraced our steps back up the coast, and noticed that much of it is flat scrubby coastal land, with all the big tourist hotels scattered along the main road. Plenty of signs indicating camping grounds down the streets leading toward the beach, which we surmise means that you can camp along the beaches, but the hotels/resorts must be set well back from the beaches. Also drove beside an extensive timber plantation for five k#s or more, all Australian Gum trees. Here we noticed for the first time, the major contradiction in Italian driving. They have a need to overtake anyone in front of them, and will do so on blind bends, over double lines, whenever. But they also have drivers, that on a main road with a speed limit of 90 kmph, insist on driving at 50 km/h. Talk about infuriating. After the changing in driving culture in Australia over the past thirty years, it is difficult to revert to the dangerous old ways of trying to pass them with a constant stream of oncoming traffic. What we have learnt however, is that the roads may only be one lane in either direction, but they regard the middle of the road as up for grabs. If you want to overtake, you do so, and the oncoming traffic simply moves over onto their shoulder of the road. Just leave your indicator flashing to let the oncoming traffic know that you are out there in the middle. Ches still occasionally makes some sort of reference to the #laws#. I#m sure she will get over the idea in the next week or so. In Italy, there are no laws, they are just #suggestions#.
Anyway, we made it back up to Solerno, and negotiated our way along the waterfront and around the docks, onto the Amalfi coast road. Solerno is hemmed in by the mountains behind, so it has just expanded along the coast. Without a city road map, as we are finding in just about every city we have driven trough, you just have to have a vague idea of where the motorway is, and your relationship to the coast, and you can muddle through. It just doesn#t pay to get stressed. In most cases, the main road (as opposed to the motorway) simply passes through the town and emerges the other side, in a relatively straight line. On occasions, traffic volumes have meant that they have turned the main road into one way (which is the case in Solerno), but they invariable turn a parallel running road into one way in the other direction. In Solerno, the road is one way for around 7 km or so (at a guess). Don#t look to follow the signs (in this case saying Amalfi or Positano). Just have faith; the water is on the left and the mountains on the right. Not only are signs a rarity, as previously noted, particularly in the countryside on minor roads, but when they exist, everyone who runs a business seems to be entitled to attach a sign to the post. Down around Paestum, there must have been twenty or so sign posts, some directing us to the archaeological site, but they were lost among up to a dozen other signs on the same post. In most cases, the concession is to have the historic/tourist signs in a maroon/brown colour, the town signs in blue on white, and everyone else brown on yellow. It#s probably a good idea to stop and familiarise yourself with the colour coding early on, so that later when you are in traffic, and trying to find your way, your eye know the colour to look for. If you don#t, there isn#t time to read every sign on the post looking for the one that is relevant to you.
Back on the Amalfi coast road, it is 37 km to Positano. One and a quarter of an hour later, we arrived at Positano. Let me repeat that, it#s no typo and we double checked, 1 hour and 15 minutes to cover 37 km. On two occasions, I had to reverse back around a hair pin bend to let a bus through. At least I was on the inside cliff face, not looking down on the #oblivion# side. Not only does the road run along the edge of cliffs almost the entire road, but that inside lane, is in most cases, overhung by the cliff above. The locals continue to overtake. The best example of the total disregard for safety we have ever seen was in passing through a cluster of restaurants/hotels clinging to the cliff faces, just around a blind corner, three guys had an extension ladder up the side of their building, with the foot of the ladder several meters into the roadway. By this stage I was beyond either laughing or crying. I just wanted to get to Positano, and not move from a sun drenched balcony for 24 hours.
I got my wish. Found the main road into Positano (it is one way, and the entrance is on the western side of the town), and our pensione, with little difficulty (thanks to the map in the #Lonely Planet Italy#). We had to empty the car in minutes so that they could drive the car away to a parking station for the duration of our stay. At L25,000 per day, it#s the most expensive parking we are likely to encounter anywhere in Italy. Considering the limited space, and cost of real estate in Positano, it is to be expected. Our pensione, Villa Rosa was stunning. Beautiful large bedroom with domed ceiling, patterned tile floor, and a huge sundeck (a good 4 meters by 4 meters) with views out on the western side of the town. Ches immediately lay down on our bed (4.00pm), and slipped into a stress induced coma for two hours. I immediately exposed the body beautiful to the sun on our balcony, overlooking the half of the town that remained clinging to the cliffs below us (the other half was above us).
Sevenish, we showered and headed down through the village, window shopping our way to the beachfront, where most of the restaurants are located. You won#t find a non-tourist restaurant in Positano. Most of those clustered around the beachfront are staffed by uniformed waiters. We walked around the headland that links Spaggia Grande (the main beach in Positano proper), with Spaggia del Formillo, the adjoining beach. Right on the end of the headland, beside the path, is a round turret/castle tower. Someone has converted it into a residence, with an outside staircase from the second floor up on to the roof, which serves as their garden/sundeck. If ever I have seen anywhere that I would love to live for the rest of my life, it is in this place. What am I talking about! I#ve given it a second thought. Provided I could have the 20 meter yacht moored just off shore, and a motor boat to get in and out of the place, fine. If I ever have to drive that road again, I#d have to think twice. We walked just around the end of the headland to Lo Guarracino. It is up a dozen steps, and built in to the cliff face. Half the restaurant in enclosed, with plenty of glass, and obviously the section used in winter or cooler weather. We elected to sit in the section that wraps back around toward the Spaggia Grande. It is primarily bamboo walls at the back (against the cliff face) and a bamboo ceiling. Black plastic is over the bamboo on the outside, which obviously makes it water proof in the event of rain. Again, it illustrates that our health department and the controls they exercise over restaurants/cafes is probably excessive. Very rustic, an just what we were looking for. We later discovered it listed in the #Lonely Planet Italy# guide (pub. 1998), recommended for past at approx L7,000. We didn#t find a pasta dish for under L10,000, most L12,000 to L16,000. Ches had Penne with Melanzane (eggplant); very tasty. I had linguini with Gamberetti (lobster type crustaceans about the size of a large prawn. It was disappointing in that the flesh had that pulpy texture that you get with frozen seafood. For mains, Ches had pan fried Calamari tubes which were fabulous, and I had an excellent Fritto Misto. For the first time, we encountered a L6,000 charge for the bread, and a 10% service charge. All other places where we have eaten, have had these charges included in their individual dish prices, but we recalled that we had been warned. With a bottle of Mineral Water and a huge jug of the local red (which was very smooth, and went down very easily), it worked out at just under L100,000 (approx $A85.00). On a par with Leichhardt in every respect, except the view. We enjoyed the meal with a view up and down the coast, and at 8.45, a full moon rose over the headland next down from Positano. With a cloudless sky, no wind and consequently a mirror like sea, the moon threw its light in a wide path across the surface of the water, right to our table. We didn#t have a camera. That fixed it, on leaving, we advised the owner we would return the following night. She was trying to be the bright hostess (her 17 y.o. son waited tables, along with dad), but explained that her glands were all swollen (huge puffy throat and cheeks), because at this time of the year, with the arrival of humidity and heat, the hour of sea breeze that picks up at sunset, causes this reaction. Unlike Sydney, where the breeze drops at sunset, it lifts along the Amalfi coast.
Back at the main beach, we waited while a 30 something American male embarrasses his partner by insisting that he have a small spoon of each type of gelato before he would order. By my calculations, given the cost of gelato in places like Positano and Sorrento, a couple of spoons is around L500 worth. Where is the spirit of adventure anyway? They gave up on him, and served us. Again it was good; but we are yet to experience anything that is sensational. We must be spoilt in Leichhardt! I have to remind us that our Gelataria in Leichhardt is owned by an Italian who only emigrated to Australia 5 or so years ago. His is as good as anything we have eaten in Italy, and he normally has more variety. We have only struck a couple of places that stock any more than say ten types of gelato, and most of them mass produced commercial brands.
We headed off back up the mountain/cliff to our pensione. Ches had noted that there was a boutique next to our pensione, and that there were signs down at the bottom of the town, pointing up back alleys. She figured it was a shortcut. Some time later, we found ourselves in a labyrinth of corridors and staircase. Eight floors or so up, we realised we were in a hotel, that continues in steps and stages, halfway up the mountain. Fortunately, it did eventually lead out into our street. The boutique, was the hotels boutique! We didn#t try to repeat the exercise. We would have been far less exhausted by taking the winding road back up the hill, rather than five hundred steps.
Friday 19th May 2000 We didn#t go anywhere. I read and sunbaked on the deck most of the day. Ches window shopped in the town. Brought back bread rolls, tomatoes and ham for lunch. For dinner, we returned to Lo Guarrocino, armed with video and camera. Ches had linguini with zucchini (no flowers this time) and I the Gnocchi. Both were good. Shared a pizza. Basically a plain tomato pizza (no cheese), loaded with calamari and octopus, and still in the shells; prawns, mussels and clams. Unfortunately, the high clouds had built up during the afternoon, and there was to be no repeat performance by the full moon. What we had instead, was a luxury yacht (around 50 meters long) make the journey across the same stretch of water that the moon had traversed the previous night, and pass us around 100 meters offshore. It was the most massive craft I#ve ever seen. A gelato on the beach back in the heart of Positano, and a leisurely walk back up the mountain.
We had decided on an early night, and an early start in the morning, for our drive to Assisi. In the foyer of the pensione, we met an American who introduced himself (Barry). He was with cousin Paul (who had just attended a two day driving course at the Ferrari track) and several other female cousins. He said they had taken eight hours to drive down from Firenze, having encountered very heavy traffic, and four major smashes on the motorway. When Paul arrived in the foyer, he declared he had enjoyed the drive. Guy must be nuts.
We departed the next morning very anxious about driving on the motorway. This was to be our first experience of the A1, and in particular, I figured if we were to encounter fast and furious traffic anywhere in Italy, it must be between Napoli, Rome and Firenze. Turned out to be an anti-climax. With sound advise from the manager at the pensione, we didn#t bother to drive down the Amalfi coast to the motorway. We just ran 10km back out the peninsular, then up over the mountain to the eastern end of Sorrento, along the coast to Castellammare, where we entered the motorway, and headed north. It was a largely uneventful trip. Most of the way we travelled at between 140 and 150 km/h. Let it be recorded that we passed a Porche,( and were passed by another Porche), and that we passed more often than we were passed. Don#t bother looking for signs on the motorway, telling you how far to where-ever. They are few and far between.