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Pompei - Positano - Amalfi

ITALY | Sunday, 24 March 2013 | Views [633]

Pompei (the Italian spelling)

 

On our second full day in Sorrento, we didn’t stay in Sorrento either. Instead we took the little trolley train half an hour to Pompei. Yes, Pompei; the city buried in ash and preserved for 2000 years. The trolley trains are slow and a bit sketchy, and they run through some not so nice areas of the towns they stop in. The sides of them are covered in graffiti and the people on board are an interesting mix of scared looking tourists, teenagers, elderly women who talk to themselves, heavily perfumed middle aged women, and overweight men. I look at these overweight men and can’t help but wonder if they have any affiliation to the mob, though likely not if they are riding the trolley. We sat next to a mother and her daughter from Philly, and we exchanged travel stories. I’ve noticed that there are quite a few women my age traveling with their mothers, maybe it’s because it really is a good time to go with them, as they aren’t too old yet and we aren’t too burdened by responsibility. I’m not sure the reason, but as much as she drives me crazy, my mother is a great person to travel with. I think it is because we appreciate the same things when we travel, like history, wine and food.

We arrived at Pompei and the ruins were right across the street from the station so we didn’t have far to go. We were expecting rain on this day, but until we arrived at the ruins we had only seen sun. By the time we were inside, it was raining. Pompei is enormous, after all it is an entire city. We wanted to take a tour but it was outrageously expensive so we opted for the audio guide, which was horribly confusing. None of this really mattered once we got inside and started to wander the uneven stone streets that would likely have killed us had we been drunk.

Every doorway we peered into was a 2000 year old story. The front hallways still had their mosaic tile in different patterns and pictures; men fighting, a sleeping fawn, a fox, a clamshell pattern, or a floral pattern. Some of the walls still had their frescoes of different gods and goddesses, animals, trees, the faces of beautiful women, or just an elaborate pattern. There were columns and archways everywhere. At one point the rain really started to come down so we ducked into a doorway and came across the inside of a house, complete with courtyard garden, different rooms, frescoes, and the entire intact mosaic floor. Most of the doorways were gated off or undergoing renovations for the summer crowds, so we were lucky to have discovered this house. We stayed in there for quite a while admiring the very old marble, and the intricate mosaics. It’s impossible to believe that this work, and this home have not been lived in for 2000 years. In another doorway we found an old bakery, complete with brick ovens and stone grinders for making flour. On one side there was a stable where they discovered a completely preserved mule, likely used to work the flour grinder. Everywhere we turned was something amazing, and we only saw a small fraction of what was there to see. At the end, close to the exit there was a villa where they think wine was made. The columns here were decorated in geometric patterns, and the floor had coloured tile among the white mosaic. One room at the end had an almost perfectly preserved full mural covering its walls. If you followed it from left to right it told a story, in full colour and detail; a 2000 year old story.

We were in Pompei for probably 5 hours so when we left we were exhausted. We went back to Sorrento, and took a cab back to our hotel. Our cab driver was very friendly and was asking us what we were doing, to which we replied that we were hoping to visit Amalfi and Positano the next day. He told us that he would take us on a tour of those places in a private car. We thought that sounded great (albeit a bit sketchy), and he told us our driver Rafael would pick us up in the morning. Once back at our hotel, we asked our hotel front desk to recommend somewhere for dinner. He suggested Filipo’s, a place with shuttle service to and from the hotel. We were picked up and taken to a large trattoria where we had very good wine, delicious seafood and complimentary limoncello. Our waiter was very friendly, as we find most of them to be, and he was joking around with us. A man at another table kept giving him the evil eye, and when he went over the man whispered something into our waiter’s ear. Mom and I both all of a sudden wondered if this place was owned by the mob and there was about to be some sort of Godfather-kiss of death-shootout scene. It didn’t happen, but man that would have made a great story – if we survived.

 

Amalfi & Positano

 

We awoke to beautiful sunshine and went downstairs to breakfast. I’ve tried to reserve hotels that have free breakfast buffet, and as such our breakfasts have been similar throughout our entire trip: croissants, fruit, bread, yogurt, ham, cheese, mozzarella, coffee, cereal. This hotel had very nice coffee, and an unparalleled view.

Our driver showed up exactly at 10:30 like we had planned, and he was driving a Mercedes. We learned that Rafael was the son in law to our cab driver from the night before, and that as a weird coincidence he met his wife while working for her father (the cab driver), before realizing that she was his daughter. He told us that he went to her house for dinner to meet her parents, and there was his boss! Kind of a funny story. He was very friendly and made sure we stopped at all the places we asked, and also some that he knew about that we didn’t.

I can’t really explain what driving the Amalfi coast feels like. There is nothing else like it in the world. To say that it is breathtaking is an understatement, though it does take your breath away. The colour of the sky, the waves crashing, the gravity defying houses, the towering cliffs, the clear wind, and the soaring birds all just feel like paradise. I don’t know how anyone gets sick of living here. Rafael drove skilfully along the winding cliff roads and turned down into Positano, our first stop. We wandered the quiet white-washed streets, poking into shops filled with lemon paraphernalia: aprons, ceramics, soap, liquor, wine corks and candies. We eventually made it to the shoreline, where the houses piled up behind us like a wedding cake topped with whip cream clouds. All along the coast waves crashed against the rock and shot straight towards the sky. I tried to see if I could spot the Dread Pirate Roberts climbing one of the cliffs, but no such luck. We spent a lot of time just wandering the beach, admiring the surf and staring in disbelief at the pastel spirals of houses lit head on by the morning sunlight. We climbed back out to meet Rafael where we’d parked, and we headed on to Amalfi.

We stopped a few times on the road, first to visit a ceramic factory where we wandered the sales floor admiring the many beautiful hand painted patterns, and second to buy lemon slush from a stand on the side of the road. Rafael assured us it was the best lemon slush on the Amalfi Coast, and though I have no comparison, I’m inclined to agree. Rafael drove us down to the water’s edge so we could admire the cathedral, which he told us was ‘very good.’ On his word we climbed the steps toward the black and white striped arches, and into the church. Like most of the churches we have seen in Italy, the interior was grandiose and beautiful, but what was most amazing about this particular church was its crypt. Here, bright and ancient frescoes were intermingled with marble archways decorated with inlaid stone patterns. The frescoes had originally been covered in a renovation hundreds of years ago, but they have now been re-revealed. The mix of styles in the crypt is fascinating, made only more so by a Michelangelo sculpture (originally thought to have been done by an apprentice) dominating the centre of the room.

When we left the church the sun was shining, so we grabbed some calzones and sat on the steps leading to the beach. While we sat and ate, a speckled lizard wiggled its way onto the stairs near where we were sitting. He let me get close enough for a picture, eyeing every move I made, and then he wiggled away. After eating we wandered down the beach, watching the throngs of people catching buses, walking or hailing cabs to go for lunch. In Italy, shops are closed from around 1pm to 4pm while the merchants take their lunch. This is how important eating is in this country. Unlike the beach in Positano which was sandy, the Amalfi beach was covered in rounded stones mixed with terra cotta and ceramics with soft edges smoothed by the waves. Nestled among the smooth stones, I found these pieces of terra cotta and ceramic to be fascinating, almost magical. Some of them still had the paint on them from whatever they were, whenever they were. I took a handful of them with me, and I think they are one of my favourite things I’ve got in Italy. I love it when things tell a story.

We met up again with Rafael and started the long drive back to Sorrento. Rafael talked to us about the job situation in Italy, about growing up in a small town (something I can relate to), and about his dog Sheila (yes, Sheila) who he had recently lost. It was really cute when he started talking about her, and then had to stop because he was getting upset. He dropped us back at our hotel, and we spent the evening watching BBC’s coverage of the Pope’s first public appearance. It was strange to think that we had been there, in Vatican City, just over a week before. Then it was to bed, without dinner because we got distracted by the Pope. Until next time!

Tags: amalfi, drive, pope, positano

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