Saturday, August 22, 2009

Amalfi Coast

A few years back, when I visited St. Thomas for the first time, I told my buds that if I ever disappeared, they should look for me there. I was totally in love with the climate, the pace of life, the color of the sea and sky. Well, move over, St. Thomas, because Amalfi has bumped you from first place.

Such a day we had there! First of all, we were all chomping at the bit to get back onto dry land after the extra day at sea. During the night, the water had calmed considerably and returned to the beautiful blue we remembered from Monte Carlo. There were two parts to our tour for the day; a drive along the Amalfi Coast, followed by a visit to the ancient city of Pompei. We arrived in Naples very early in the morning, and were soon on our way.

Within 30 minutes we were looking out over one of the most beautiful places on earth. The Amalfi coastal highway (and I use this term loosely, as it is mostly only 2 lanes) rises high above the sea, making for breathtaking views at every turn. Did I mention there are over 1,060 curves on the highway that we covered? Very little of this road is straight for more than a few dozen yards. To this, you add lots of huge tour buses (ours included), lots of fast moving small Italian cars, and two gazillion motor scooters, some being driven by tourists who have never been passengers, much less operators, of such a bike. The locals call them the kamikazee. Somehow, everyone gets along just fine for the most part, As a tourist on the bus, you can distract yourself by just taking in one jaw-dropping view after another, and not have to worry about who is driving or what their credentials for the job might be.

When your home is hanging off the side of a cliff, it creates a unique challenge for parking your car. Thus, many of the residents park their car on the roof, mostly at street level. Others park their cars in the smallest possible space available, wherever that might happen to be. The no parking signs, our guide explained, are more of a suggestion than a rule. I recalled our experience in looking for street addresses in Florence, and then I understood-- we were in Italy!

We wound our way around the many towns and villages, the guide pointing out highlights such as the little island off the coast that was once owned by Rudolph Nureyev, and Sophia Loren's villa when she was married to Carlo Ponti. Watchtowers along the coast, no longer needed for protection, have been converted into private homes or businesses. One of them has become a disco for the very rich; you enter the tower and an elevator takes you down to the fun. Oh, and you'll need an invitation to get in. Apparently the sultan of Brunei is a regular there, so you get the idea.

Our bus took us through and around Sorrento, Positano (did you see Under the Tuscan Sun? That's where Diane Lane wore the white dress to visit her beau.)
We made a stop in the town of Amalfi, known for centuries of making incredible handmade paper, so of course there was paper shopping, which I'll share in a future post. The town is absolutely charming. It is closer to the sea than many of the coastal towns, and has a very useable sandy beach in place of the usual large rocks found in this area. There were plenty of tourists, but the crowds were smaller and friendlier than those we encountered in the large cities.

Our guide took us to a small hotel restaurant for lunch. Imagine my delight to learn the building was a former paper mill, owned by one of the older families of the area. The photo of the large stone wheel, which I believe was used in the pulp making process, was taken there. There is a paper museum in Amalfi; alas, our schedule didn't permit a visit, but it is so on the list for next time. And there will definitely be a next time here.

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