Tag Archives: Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast: The way it was meant to be seen…

5 Oct
© 2014 - pithypants.com

Positano, photographed by my sister.

To appreciate the Amalfi Coast, you really have to see it from the sea – or at least, that’s what people (by which I mean “friends and guidebooks”) told us. We decided to heed their advice on Friday and join a small private charter to Capri.

Visiting Capri (which is pronounced similarly to “khaki” in terms of where the accent goes) was always part of our agenda, but we’d planned to get there via ferry. Thursday night, however, I went online to explore other options – in no small part because I was so traumatized by our initial bus ride that I was eager to avoid another ride to the port where the ferry departs.

As usually happens, I ended up on TripAdvisor, looking to see what the top Capri attractions were – when I saw a slew of glowing reviews for this boat service. I checked the forecast for the next day (80 degrees and sunny), then reached out to see if there was room for us to join. There was!

© 2014 - pithypants.comThe next morning, we walked five minutes over to the town pier just in time to see a boat speeding up. We hopped on, the last pick-up of a group of ten people spending the day together. The others were also Americans and over the age of 55, so by comparison Alicia and I were spring chickens.

Apparently the first mate (Alessandro) was relieved to have some “younger” women on board, because he kept winding his way over to talk to us. “It is my lucky day,” he said, “To have such beautiful women on the boat.” We rolled our eyes and said, “You actually just mean it’s nice not having retired women on the boat for a change, right?”

Regardless, he said he would open special wine for us on the trip – then later popped the cork out of a bottle of Prosecco. Sorry, Alessandro, you’re going to have to try harder – that’s no Veuve Cliquot. 

He also asked if we had toured the Amalfi Coast roads at night – to which we told him we had, by bus, and we had found it terrifying. He shook his head, “No – by scooter! I take you by scooter – very romantic!” Sorry, Alessandro, now you’re trying TOO hard. Go steer the boat.

Isn't the water unreal?

Isn’t the water unreal?

Once Alessandro was in check, we spent the next two hours zipping along the coast – first over to the Green Grotto (where I learned other peoples’ tricks for distinguishing stalactites from stalagmites), then past the Lovers’ Arch, which newlyweds pass under in a rowboat for good luck after getting married. Then up past Amalfi and Positano before cutting over to the Isle of Capri.

Along the way, a friendly woman who had no filter became our friend. We were all sprawled out on a cushioned sundeck when she introduced herself my reaching over, pointing at my mom’s shin and saying, “I also have those white spots on my leg.” Without waiting for a response, “In Florida they told me they’d go away if I rubbed kerosene on them…” Did they also suggest you should strike a match? 

Among her other quotes from the day:

My son’s wife has fake breasts. They just look like two little melons cut in half and stuck on her chest. Whatever – he seems to like them.

Once you have kids your breasts look like bananas. It’s like someone let all the air out. 

My daughter was a real hellion growing up. Lied about everything. Now she’s an angel. She said she never wanted kids but she’s the best mom. 

© 2014 pithypants.com

Us, swimming, in the middle of no where.

Once we hit Capri, we did a slow loop of the island, threading the needle of the Faraglioni Rocks with our boat before finding a calm place to drop anchor and swim. It was about 80˚ and sunny and the water was still balmy enough that it felt refreshing but not breath-taking. In high season the island is apparently mobbed by boats, but we only ever had a couple boats within our line of sight, which was great.

When we climbed out of the water, the ever-faithful Alessandro was waiting on deck with a hose to spray the salt water off us. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I think he enjoyed that part of his job just a bit too much. That, or the salt just really tends to stick to your boobs.

After toweling off, we continued around the island, stopping briefly at the Blue Grotto. The waves were too choppy to enter (we would’ve had to go by rowboat and the entrance doesn’t have much clearance, which makes it weather-dependent) so we continued around to the Marina Grande, where we hopped off to explore the island.

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The Isle of Capri itself was underwhelming. I mean, it was very pretty and the views were spectacular, but the mainland of the Amalfi Coast spoils you to such an extent that by the time you hit Capri, it would take a unicorn farting a rainbow to take your breath away.

We puttered around, taking the funicular to the center of Capri, then checked out various shops and gardens, finally walking back down to the marina by way of a winding alley dotted with small shrines to the Madonna.

On our return to the the mainland, the wine was flowing and our fellow tourmates repeatedly sang “Volare” (think Gypsy Kings) at the top of their lungs. It was a big party until we pulled up to the pier in Amalfi, when we started waving goodbye to our new friends. About this time, the captain said, “You leave now too…” to which my sister replied, “Joke? You joke?” while nodding her head.

Turns out, we’d arranged for a special pick-up in Minori, but had failed to specify that we needed a special return. Oops. While I was momentarily miffed (mainly because I thought was going to NOT ride a SITA bus for a day), it ended up working out great because it gave us a chance to explore Amalfi while only taking the bus one way.

In any case, we lived to see another day. And all that advice about seeing Amalfi from the water? Glad we took it.

© 2014 - pithypants.com

The Amalfi Coast in One Word: Terrifying?

2 Oct
Something older than us...

Something older than us…

Finally – on Day Six, my internet works. Relief or curses? I don’t know, but I DO know that I’m glad my company adopted a two-step verification process for our email, because it means I can’t access it until I’m back on US soil with a working cell phone. Now THAT is what I call vacation!

As for what the Italians call vacation (vacazione?) – I have no idea. I usually prep for any international trip by learning a bunch of phrases that I think I’ll need, but when we were dividing tasks for this trip, my sister volunteered to take on the language and be our translator, so I decided to play the part of “lazy American” and just rely on her or point at things while nodding. (Never mind that I’ve been to Italy twice before and yet somehow didn’t manage to retain any vocabulary.)

So far, the pointing and nodding is working pretty well.

Regardless, I’m sitting on balcony in Minori on the Amalfi Coast, overlooking the start of the pedestrian area lined with markets as I write this. We arrived last night from Rome by way of a stop in Pompeii.

If you’ve never visited the Amalfi Coast, let me tell you share the Truth about Ruth on a topic the guidebooks dismiss with wink and a smile: The local SITA Bus. This bus runs pretty much the full length of the coast of the Amalfi from Salerno to Positano. Along with the Pacific Coast Highway and the Cabot Trail in North America, it’s one of the most scenic drives in the world.

It is also one of the most terrifying.

Granted, I’ve only attempted it once, and that was when we arrived last night and it was dark out, so it might just be our driver that made it insane. But I’m not exaggerating when I say I thought we would die. Were I religious, I would’ve prayed to see my fortieth birthday.

The road itself would cause people with a fear of heights some anxiety, because it winds around the sides of cliffs very high over the sea. In places, there is no guardrail. In other places, the two lanes (one in each direction) collapse into a single lane and traffic must negotiate which direction will yield to the other around blind curves.

All of that, however, simply makes the road potentially scary. What made it actually terrifying was our driver.

I am pretty sure the guy fancies himself the next Mario Andretti and has an axe to grind with the Formula One racing commission for being rejected as a driver. That, or he was in a hurry to finish his shift and clock out.

Either way, the speed with which we tackled the road was unbelievable. We sung around hairpin turns so tightly that that looking down, you couldn’t even see the road – just the sheer drop to the sea. There was zero margin of error – had the brakes failed, a tire blown or even his hands slipped, we would’ve been off the road and soaring into the Mediterranean.

I kept having flashes of Grace Kelly plunging off a cliff, thinking, “Hello!! It DOES happen. I’m not being unreasonable.” 

I love the thrill of rollercoasters, so had I imagined we were hooked to rails, I think I would’ve done better. Instead, my mom and I just kept looking at each other with huge saucer-like eyes. My sister – two rows ahead of us – kept her eyes shut and her head back, resigned to whatever fate the traffic gods dealt.

Around us, the locals looked bored by the experience. Teens sitting near us softly chanted an Italian rap. The old man next to us slumped in the corner, smiling as if day dreaming. Or maybe that’s the look of peace and tranquility of someone who knows he is walking into the light.

In any case, this is how we’ll be getting to Amalfi, Ravello and pretty much every other town we want to explore this week, so I’m hoping we just had a rogue driver on our first run. But in case that’s the norm, we just did a load of laundry so we’d have an extra change of underwear for each ride. Here’s hoping we don’t need it.