It’s a tragedy for someone to go to Naples and not see the Amalfi Coast. If you’ve got at least three days in Naples, then you must see the Amalfi Coast, considering how easy it is to get there, especially if you’ve a regional Arte Card, which gives you free access to transit all the way across Campania, and that includes everything to, from, and in the Amalfi Coast.
We woke up in the morning and went over to the train station, which was conveniently next to the hotel. We jumped onto the L2 metro. This is where maps are confusing. They show the L2 as ending at Gianturco, but actually it goes on to Salerno. It’s a super comfortable metro/train car, and many of the cars are double deckers, so if you’re lucky enough, go up. The metro is really an endless series of surprises. Remember in my last blog, where we went on a tour of the underground aquifer 60 meters below the city? Imagine then, when they built the metro, I suppose they had to go below that even! There’s just layer upon layer of stuff going on underneath that town.
We rode the train to Salerno, not sure if we wanted to get out and walk around. Since our next Amalfi bus wasn’t until noon and we were there thirty minutes early, we decided to walk around. We grabbed a couple of huge scoops of really delicious gelato and walked down the pedestrian mall, which was right out the train station. After spending some time milling around, we went over to catch the bus. I can’t say how Salerno is, but I can tell you that it wouldn’t be a bad spot to base your visit to Naples. Since the L2 takes you to the main station, and to the old town, it’s really quite accessible. Also Salerno is fairly flat around the old town, has really long beaches, and is relatively cheap, especially compared to the Amalfi Coast. So to any visit of the two regions, I might even recommend staying in Salerno. These were, of course, my thoughts before I went to Sorrento.
random view from the bus
The bus fills up even in the winter months, though it’s at a greater frequency in summer. There’s also no way to reserve your spot. So be warned.
The Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast is composed of a mountain range that ends abruptly into the sea. At some point in ancient history, some crazy bastards decided to put villages on the sides of these mountains, which not only became marvels of civil engineering, but also easily defensible as they were impossible to get to by land. It’s really amazing visiting these places, and just riding the bus down across the coast, as not only the buildings seem impossibly built, but also the road. The ancient dwellers here must have been quite skilled at terracing, and actually, having been in many places across Italy, I can say that perhaps this is just a skill that Italians must have possessed to an advanced degree throughout their history. The Amalfi Coast is perhaps the most impressive display of this though.
We rode the local SitaSud bus, the fare included in our Arte Card. It was easily marked to Amalfi, right outside the train station. Then we just sat back and relaxed, catching in all the amazing sites.
The tight curves were pretty crazy. The buses all have a tactic that, when they come to a sharp turn, they’ve got to honk to make sure people knew they were coming. The streets all had mirrors, and were well marked about where a car should stop to give way to buses making the corner, since the bus often needed the whole street to turn. Though it seemed fairly apparent to me that Italians are in no condition to worry about silly street markings!
I would love to stay in Salerno or Sorrento, bus in and visit a couple of the villages each day, spending the days soaking up the sun on the beach and drinking coffee and writing in the coffee shops. But we didn’t have time for such leisure, which meant we had to enjoy them from our window.
We did get out at two places though. Our first stop was actually the bus’s final destination: Amalfi.
Amalfi is also the name of a little village that’s basically right in the middle of the coast. I suppose the coast could have just as easily been named the Castiglione Coast, or the Conca dei Marini Coast, but Amalfi happened to be in the middle, so it's the Amalfi Coast.
looking up the main street
Amalfi dates from about the 6th century, when it was a bustling trading port, exchanging gold from Egypt, slaves from Europe, and salt from Sardinia—back in that time Africans were keeping Europeans as slaves, and Europeans mostly other Europeans, and Arabs just kept everyone as slaves. True story. Why anyone is surprised that Europeans took Native Americans as slaves is beyond me. There was a point of decrease in slavery in Europe, when the Pope said you can’t keep a Christian as a slave in the 9th century, which meant that the only source of slaves would be non-Christians (pagans, Muslims, or Jews). Though to be fair, most slavery occurring in Continental Europe was abolished by the 15th century, and the rest of the world lagged quite a bit behind in that.
exploring one of the upper roads
Anyways, Amalfi is a really beautiful gorge of a town. It goes straight up and straight down, and you can follow it up the gorge for about half a kilometer or so of solid buildings that all cling to the side of mountains. There are a great mix of cafes, some cheap places to eat, lots of expensive places to eat, you only have to open your eyes and look. We found a place to the back of the village, that was a fairly cheap bistro. 6 euros for a plate of pretty delicious pasta, and 5 euros for a bottle of wine. When we arrived, we realized there were two ladies we had seen on the train and on our bus. Small world.
enjoying some local wine
There's a really interesting church in the main square. The church dates back to the 9th square, and has some key aspects from all across the Mediterranean fusing into it. It's just an absolutely beautiful building, and a perfect place to find peace in an already peaceful place.
Amalfi Cathedral from the main square
the front steps of Amalfi Cathedral
If you want a really expensive place to stay, then it’d be Positano, which is apparently where all the Hollywood stars vacation. And who can blame them. We thought Amalfi was incredible, Positano is perhaps even moreso, though it’s also that much moreso difficult to navigate. Where at least Amalfi has a flat interior, Positano is just built on the side of a mountain. We got off the bus at one end, and walked through the town all the way to the other. There is a lot of climbing in that town, I won’t lie!
arriving in Positano
starting our walk
Looking down at the cathedral
Positano was founded in the medieval times, and came to its peak in the 16th century, and by the 19th century, it wasn't doing so well, so most people from there had moved to a New York City tenement, wondering why the hell they moved. So they got angry, joined with the Sicilians, and started the mafia. Also true story.
St. Francis with a view
no need for a stairmaster in this town
Positano is not for people who like things easy though. If you hate stairs, skip the town. The whole city is climbing. But it’s also well worth it, in my point of view.
Our last stop was Sorrento. On the bus, I was thinking that Salerno would be the perfect place to stay next time we visited Campania. Sorrento made me change my mind.
Sorrento has got a cute old town, flat and up against the sea, bright narrow streets and alleys that must have been how Naples had looked hundreds of years ago. It was in much better condition and much cleaner than anything that I had seen in Italy before.
Though something weird was going on in Sorrento. Though it was late January, they were appearing to have Christmas holidays. There was a huge Christmas tree still up in the main square, lights over every street and hanging in all the trees. What was going on?
the Sorrento Christmas tree
Even weirder was that everything was closed! I know that happened to us already in Ischia, but this was different. It was already after 6. Places should be open. Restaurants should be open. I looked on my Google maps, hitting up one restaurant after the next, each saying they were open, but upon physical investigation, appearing that they in fact weren’t. Was there a time vortex at the train station, or what? But then, why was my GPS and cell internet working? So that couldn’t have been it.
it's looking a lot like Christmas
The only thing that was open were souvenir shops, all full to the brim with bottles and bottles of limoncello, which is the local drink and is also popular throughout Campania. It’s a lemon aperitif, served cold, and tastes hardly alcoholic even though it is quite so, so it’s great to buy for the ladies.
a street in Sorrento
We were just about to give up when we finally found a restaurant, the Ristorante Pizzeria Tasso. Don’t be fooled by its name, despite its “pizzeria” title, it’s by no means the cheap restaurant we were looking for. The first menu item was a seabass for 20 euro, which is actually a good price for seabass, but a bit over the bar food kind of thing we were looking for. But as they did put “pizzeria” in the title, we felt no shame ordering pizza, which actually wasn’t that expensive, at about 8 euros each. Expensive for Campania, but not expensive for the restaurant.
A short rant on pizza
Pizza is from Naples. If you come to the Campania region, you have to eat pizza. Everything else is second. The pizza there is beyond pizza that you’ll have anywhere else. I don’t really know how to explain it. It’s like every kitchen in the region has a special brick pizza oven that just makes awesome pizza. I was told to go to this pizza restaurant or that in Naples, but I’ve learned, it doesn’t really matter. Everywhere is going to have great pizza. And that was true here. And that was true everywhere. And the pizza is cheap. The standard item on the menu might be 30 euros, but they’ll still have pizza for under 10. There’s no rhyme or reason. Why should a fancy place even have pizza?
I never remember to take a pic before starting...
There are two ways to go between Sorrento and Naples. That old rickety train I mentioned in my Pompeii blog, or by boat.
By boat, you can take the high-speed ferry provided by Caremar, with a transfer in Capri. It’s 20 euro to Capri, and 20 euro to Naples. There’s also a high-speed hydrofoil thru Alilaura that’s direct and only costs 13 euros, but that’s still double the price of the train. You can check all those times here or at their individual sites.
As we had the Arte Card, the choice home was obvious. We’d just take the train. And then wrap up our visit to Naples with wine on the rooftop of our hotel.
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