At last, we have reached the final leg of our trip. Our foray into the southern part of Italy was a much needed break from the endless duomos and museums of Rome and Florence. Don't get me wrong, I get just about as geeked out as possible at the thought of museums filled to the brim with history and art, and just the first sighting of a Renaissance cathedral is enough to send me into raptures, but after nearly two weeks straight of the aforementioned, we were in desperate need of a break. And five days in southern Italy gave us that perfect respite.
We woke up early in the morning on the 15th, and after checking out of our charming hotel, began our trip to Positano. I mentioned previously that public transportation in Italy is very easy to use and will take you most anywhere you want to go with just a few exceptions. Once you start traveling out into the farther reaches of the Italian countryside or into the smaller southern villages, your public transportation options become a bit more limited, and it may be necessary to either rent a car, or hire a driver. In our case, we could have taken the train to Naples and then caught the Circumvesuviano to Positano, however, we opted to shave a couple of hours off the trip, and for a bit more money, hired a driver to take us from the Naples train station to Positano.
Tip #1: Your hotel is more than just a place to stay at night--it is also a trip planning resource. Most hotel owners or concierges are happy to assist you in organizing day trips, setting up transportation, and recommending the best restaurants. In our case, I emailed our hotel in Positano and asked about our transportation possibilities, they replied promptly with our options, and then arranged our driver for us. All we had to do was get to the proper train station and then take the escalator up the stairs to find our driver waiting for us with a smile on his face!
Tip #2: There are actually 3 separate train stations in Naples--the central station is called Garibaldi and it will be the third stop in Naples if you are coming from the north. Make sure you pay attention to the signs at the stops so that you'll know when you've arrived as quite frequently the announcements are either nonexistent or a bit garbled. Naples was the trickiest station for us, just because we weren't aware in advance that there would be three stations to choose from. Consider yourself warned!
The traffic in Naples was absolutely horrific and based on what we could see from the back seat of our car, the city has none of the historical impact of Rome or picturesque charm of Florence. While graffiti was a constant plague everywhere we went in Italy, it was absolutely unavoidable in Naples. On top of the graffiti and traffic, down just about every alley there were piles and piles of garbage due to the unfortunate rubbish crisis that has been going on for quite some time. I try not to judge cities based on brief encounters, but after just 15 minutes in Naples, I can tell you that I have no desire to ever go back.
Aside from that experience, the ride to Positano was beautiful, and thank God I had Colby's hand to grip onto as we careened around bends in the road practically hovering in space over the beautiful Mediterranean along the Amalfi Coast. We arrived at our hotel, the lovely Punta Regina a little after 1:30 pm, and after dropping off our bags and letting out a gasp upon seeing our gorgeous view, headed out in search of lunch.
Positano is a simple, stunning village. It seems as though the brightly colored houses and shops have sprung out of the side of the cliff they cover, and when looking at it from the coastline, it seems impossible that the town manages to hang onto the rock. When the sun is shining on the town it is as though you have never seen a brighter white than the white of the shop fronts or a bluer blue than the sparkling ocean.
It is difficult to recap this part of the trip in any detail because really so much of our experience in Positano was just sitting and watching. Watching the waves lapping on the shore. Watching the town dogs bounding and romping on the beach. Watching the locals meet in the middle of streets to talk about their day and whisper town secrets. For dinner we splurged a bit and decided to eat at one of the open air restaurants overlooking the beach. Our dinners were amazing and dessert even better, but the best part was watching the waiters attempts at keeping the dogs that ruled the beach from encroaching onto restaurant territory. It was like a cartoon--a dog would slyly slink over the top of the bench that enclosed the dining area and sneak across the floor to lie by a space heater, a waiter would spot him and with an outraged cry chase the dog out flapping a menu for added emphasis, and then the process would begin again.
The next morning dawned bright and clear, any chill from the day before chased away by the brightly burning sun. We caught to 10 o'clock ferry to Capri, and after the one hour boat ride, my stomach had had all it could take and I practically ran onto shore when we docked. We left our luggage with some porters at the Marina Grande and then caught the Funicular up to the main piazza of Capri.
Tip #3: Capri is pronounced with an emphasis on the "Cap", rather than the "ri" as we tend to say in the states. So it should be spoken, "CAPri" with a long "a". We perplexed more than one Italian when we told them we were headed to CapRI, and were corrected with the proper pronunciation in short order.
We made our way through the town center and down Via Camarelle toward our hotel, taking in designer store after designer store. D&G, Versace, Gucci, Fendi, Pucci, Ferragamo--anyone who is anyone as a designer has a store on Via Camerelle, and I was entranced by all of the beautiful clothes in the window displays that I will never be able to afford.
We checked into the Hotel La Minerva, and since the sun was shining, I immediately took up residence on the lounge on our private balcony. After a short rest, we went in search of lunch and then began the search for Marina Piccolo. We weren't entirely sure how to get there, and once again the maps were doing their best to outsmart us, but we trekked down a long and winding road in what seemed like the right direction, and eventually ended up on the small beach.
We collapsed onto the pebbly beach, exhausted after our long walk, and just stared, mesmerized by the ocean for nearly two hours. Rather, I stared, mesmerized, while Colby hid his prized, alabaster skin beneath a sweater and bemoaned his lack of sunscreen. He is such a Southern belle. After Colby convinced me that he was about to break out into freckles on the spot, we began the climb back up to the top of Capri--this time taking the stairs straight up rather than the long and winding road (dun dun, that leads to your door). I'm still not convinced it was any easier, but it was a bit quicker.
That night we had dinner at Faraglioni after a much needed nap. One thing that took a bit of adjusting to, was how much more expensive Capri was than the rest of Italy. We'd grown quite accustomed to our 30 to 40 Eur dinners that included an appetizer, two entrees, dessert, and wine, whereas in Capri the bill nearly doubled.
Tip #4: In Italian restaurants there will almost always be a cover charge of 1-3 Eur per person (approximately), although some restaurants will advertise that they do not charge this cover or coperto in hopes of luring in more tourists. Sometimes they will only charge it if you eat the bread that is placed on your table, but since we were never sure if we were going to be charged anyway, we generally just ate the bread and expected the charge (if you prefer, you can always just ask). Also, from what we understood, a 15-20% tip that would be the norm in the states is not expected in the Italian restaurants--although I'm sure the waiters would love to accept it! We typically would leave 1 or 2 Eur over our bill, depending on the service.<
Our next day in Capri we had another lie in, not getting out of bed until 9:30, and then pizza at the delicious Isodoro (we liked it so much, we went back for dinner the next night and I had the most amazing porcini mushroom risotto) when we finally made our way to the town center. Following lunch we hiked up to the Belvedere Canon, getting only slightly lost on our way, for a beautiful view of the Faraglioni rocks (the cluster of three rocks pictured above). Once we'd recuperated from that uphill climb, we began an even more exhausting one to Villa Jovis, Emperor Tiberius's retirement home.
The ruins were interesting enough, and it was horrible to imagine the insane Tiberius retiring here to lovely Capri and then when he would become bored, throwing his slaves off of the cliff upon which he built his villa. However, the best part was the walk up to the ruins and seeing the beautiful gardens that the Caprese people cultivated. Everything was in bloom and I have never seen or smelled so much wisteria. It was an exhausting uphill trek, but the gorgeous fauna made it completely worth it.
Our last day in Capri we had hoped to do a boat trip around the island, visiting the various grottoes and soaking in a little more sunshine, however the rain clouds had other ideas in mind for us. The boat tours were shut down due to the rough seas, so instead, we did a little souvenir shopping and then headed back to our hotel to take full advantage of the numerous English language television channels that Sky TV so generously provided.
The next day we rose bright and early and took a much larger, and therefore, much smoother ferry to Naples where we caught the Circumvesuviana to Pompeii for the day. We arrived in Pompeii a little after noon and went on to spend the next 5 or 6 hours wandering through the remains of the city. I was completely blown away by how different Pompeii was from what I'd expected. Before, when I thought of Pompeii, all I imagined were those horrible plaster casts of dead people. But what I didn't realize was that there was so much left of the city that once was.
I couldn't bring myself to even look at the plaster casts after seeing the agony on the face of the one that I did happen to see, but the villas were absolutely beautiful, though crumbling, and seeing the forums and temples and even a brothel, really brought the city back to life for me. I would absolutely rank our trip to Pompeii among the top five experiences on our trip, and would really encourage everyone to try to fit it into their Italian vacation.
That night we caught the train from Naples back to Rome, arriving back at the Hotel Alimandi Vaticano a little after 10:30 and then making one last visit to the Gelateria Millennium for one last chocolate and Nutella gelato treat! It was amazing how much we really felt as though we were coming home, and of course, when we woke up the next morning to leave for the airport, the sun was shining brightly and the temperatures were in the mid-70s. Just in time for us to leave, Rome showed us how beautiful she could be!
And so ends my reminiscences on our trip to Italy. Thank you so much for indulging me while I share all of my experiences with you. I'm sad, writing these final lines, because now it really feels as though this trip is behind me. A trip that I spent years dreaming about and a year and a half planning, already gone and in the past. I still have a scrapbook to finish, and I know that between my handwritten journal, and these online entries, I'll never forget our trip, but still, I'll never again have that experience of stepping foot on Italian soil for the first time, and I really don't think it's possible to be quite the same again after experiencing Italy. Fanny Burney said it best: "Traveling is the ruin of all happiness! There is no looking at a building after seeing Italy."