A Travellerspoint blog

Amalfi Coast, scenery and adventure

sunny 26 °C

Friday 22nd July
Amalfi Coast and mountains.
Another glorious day in Positano, lovely morning, still and warm, breakfast watching the boats in the harbor getting ready for a day of messing about in boats.
Our day wasn't really planned except for a ferry ride in the morning and by days end I would not have imagined all the fun we had and how much adventure can be had taking a bus ride!
We took the slow ferry to Amalfi, sitting above deck, with very calm conditions and took about 35 minutes following the coastline from Positano, showing some of the spectacular hills and cliffs and remarkable houses, hotels and farms that are seemingly glued to the sides of the hills. Just happened to sit amongst 3 other groups of Aussies on the ferry so we all chatted about our trips so far and everyone was having a great time here.
Arrived in Amalfi, the largest town along this part of the coast, what to do now we wondered? 2 of the other Aussies had heard that there was a very nice town up in the hills called Ravello so after seeking out some bus tickets and locating a nice looking bus and calm looking bus driver, we took our seats, not realising this was to be the first of 5 thrill seeking bus rides for the day.
As soon as we took off the bus driver morphed into a death defying stunt driver, one handed sweeping around hairpin bends on the wrong side of the road, waving at other bus drivers, playing a significant tune on the bus air-horn and taking us up mountains that are covered in lemon groves. The trees are all trellised, I suppose to stop them falling down the mountain. In what seemed just minutes, we pulled up on the outskirts of Ravello. There were no vehicles allowed into town as they were preparing for a annual musical festival.
With no plan we wandered around the quiet town and got some amazing views of the Amalfi coastline on 1 side and cloud topped mountains on the other. Not really much else to do there, we made our way back to the bus stop, jumped on the next one going down and the driver this time made our 1st one look like a driving instructor. Even more extravagant gestures at one time when a French tourist car was in the wrong place, blocking our progression, our driver, all at the one time, yelled at him, waved at him to reverse back up the road and tooted madly at him all the while swearing at these "stupid foreigners who don't know how to drive". Hilarious stuff. Then shortly after, on another hairpin bend, the bus pulls up right next to a little truck on the side selling fruit & veg. Our man jumps off, selects a bunch of Basil and some fruit, pays the man, cracks a couple of jokes and resumes his seat. With the bus smelling sweetly of fresh Basil, off we go again, back to crazy driving!
Somewhat unsteadily we get off the bus, admiring both the scenery we have just seen and the driving skills of the now calm bus driver who is munching on the fruit he just bought.
Checking out Almalfi it didn't take long before the crowds and numerous souvenir shops were too much, apart from the Cathederal and narrow streets, it was just another busy tourist town. We found out the next ferry is not for another 2 hours, so we got our bus tickets and almost immediately the bus took off, with another crazy driver taking control. This time we were on the ribbon of road, glued to the mountains. Our seats were on the sea side so we got to look straight down hundreds of metres into the brilliant blue ocean below. More fun than on a roller coaster ride. The "journey" of about 15km took just under an hour and we were well pleased to get off at the top of the main street in Positano.
After a quick bite to eat and comfort stop at the apartment, we decided, what the heck, while we are at this bus game we will go to Montepruso, a village at the top of the nearest mountain, overlooking Positano. Maybe it was the incident where our bus was going up the mountain and an ambulance with emergency sirens & lights was coming down and met on a bend that was too small for both vehicles. Very calmly our driver indicated that he would back up but there was traffic behind him. Somehow a pillion passenger on a Vespa behind,gets off and directs traffic so the bus could back up enough for the ambo's to get by. With enough room, cheery waves all round and we are off again. However we missed our stop and just stayed on the bus until it terminated at Nocelle, a car park located WAY up on top of another mountain, and after walking around a bit, decided it would be a long sit down at the bus stop, waiting for the next bus in an hour. Sue was doubtful another bus was actually going to come here, but after chatting to some local ladies, yes another would be along in an hour, and yes she did own the little store we noticed and would be along directly. So we went to her store and waited and took some great photos overlooking Positano. The owner arrived and after bringing us a beer each, came outside with us and chatted to Sue about life up here, her family and so on. She told us there are only 120 permanent residents in Nocelle the numbers increase during tourist season between April to October. During the winter months the B&Bs and restuarants close down and the locals find casual work.All good until we saw / heard the bus coming up the other side of the valley. Paid and wandered back in time to get our returning bus all the way back down. Later, we were told it is only an hour or so easy walk back down, but on those narrow roads, it is very unlikely to be easy at all.
Kicking back at our apartment with a nerve tonic or two and laughed about how the day turned out, not what we imagined and a few more stories to tell later on. Chatted with our neighbours and then settled in for a quiet meal on the balcony and enjoyed watching the town lights and yachts come on as darkness fell. La Dolce Vita, the sweet life!!

Posted by Susan23611 09:58 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Positano, 442 steps down to the beach

sunny 32 °C

Thursday 21 July
Positano, 442 steps to the beach!
Awoke to a glorious seaside morning, watching the sun sneak over the mountains behind the town and highlight the bright colours of the houses across from us. Looked like it was to be a warm day so we began our expedition early, taking the tiny path (also called a street here) along from the apartment, then down some steps, round a corner, down more steps, then same again until we found our way to the "beach". Never in my imagination would I have ever considered such a beach, it was only about 100m long and consisted of small to large (cricket ball size) black rocks and the most brilliant Aquamarine blue water and the cafe people setting up deck chairs and beach umbrellas of all different colours. No one in the water at that time. Rather than return up all those stairs we found a narrow path following the coastline back towards the main town area. Quite a few stairs here as well but not too bad and a very pleasant stroll to the town which was just getting going with delivery people on apes (3 wheel motorised utes) or with hand trolleys taking goods to the shops. By the time we wandered about, the streets were getting very busy with people just emerging from their hotels, some we learned later, charge between €500 & €3000 per night for a room. Given the number of Porches, Mercs and other prestige vehicles around town, I guess the price is not too high for some.
No fun to be had here so we returned to our place, got into our swimmers and had another go at the 442 steps leading down to the beach. There is a very little public area on one end of the beach where the patrons, for free, get to sit on the hot black stones and get to swim amongst to rocks and any rubbish caught in the little bay. So believe it or not we PAID €7 each to hire a comfy deck chair and big orange and black striped beach umbrella and were allocated a prime spot the second row back from the water. Almost every other customer appeared to want to get value for their money, staying firmly put on their chair, only moving occasionally to move into the sun / shade as desired. Peter was pretty quick to get into the water after hopping like a drunk kangaroo on the hot stones, plunged in to find the water very brisk indeed and within about 5 meters from shore the water was over 3 metres deep and crystal clear. This was magic stuff and well worth the €7. Hardly any swell, no surf to speak of and no other brave swimmers game to go further than about 20 m out. Obviously the beach is all about lounging about with the odd dip, not for serious swimming. Pretty funny watching people walking along trying to look "cool" when they can hardly walk on these stones. Sue even ventured in for a quick dip.
By mid afternoon the wind came up and the cafe attendants scurried around and put down all the umbrellas and this seemed to give most people the hint that it was time to go home for a Siesta, after sleeping on the beach for 3 hours I don't know why you then need another rest! So pretty soon we had almost the whole place to ourselves and made the most of it with a nice long swim before tackling the 442 steps, this time UP. By the time we got to the apartment we felt like going back for a refreshing swim!

A quick lunch then we tackled the LOCAL bus, supposedly goes around the town in a loop. We were not sure if it was running today (supposed to be on strike) and even the locals had no idea. Anyway after a short wait at the bus stop / grotto (a cave on the roadside with little shrines) the bus came along and the driver told Sue he could take us anywhere, what an offer, so on we hopped and paid the €1.60. After about 5 mins the bus (is about 1/2 size of a normal bus due to narrow streets) pulls into a small siding and the driver turns the bus off and gets out. "Will go again in about 5mins" the driver announces and sure enough, off we went with the driver resuming tooting his horn, waving arms and generally only missing cars, pedestrians and walls by mere millimeters. Maybe the stop is for him to regain strength. Sue struck up a conversation with an elderly lady who it turns out has lived here for 12 years but came from New York. She provided us with some local info while the bus careened round corners, scattering people and generally having us doubt the prospect of a long future life. They say here that solid centre lines on the road are a guide only and that whoever is in 1 lane, owns that lane. So after going up the "hill", then down the "hill" we were back to town, shaken and stirred!! Needed a refreshment to get over the excitement and found one right on the main beach, where we noticed beach chair hire was €12.50. We got a bargain at our little beach it seems. 
Watched the beachgoers and marveled at some of the massive boats/yachts out in the harbor, the locals are quick to name some of the celebrities that cruise by or are seen here in town.
On the way back, UP THE HILL, to our place we stocked up on more supplies and watched the sunset from our balcony, chatting with the owner and some other guests. Sue rustled up some Tuna pasta and had the other guests envious of our modest but enticing fare, but with home cooked pasta, wine, good company and a spectacular view, how much better can it get?
Seems all pretty quiet in the town tonight but I assume the restaurants will be doing a brisk trade. Apparently it is very seasonal here with most shops closed over the winter months.

Posted by Susan23611 12:23 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Ciao Roma! Benvenuti Positano!

sunny 26 °C

Wednesday 20th July 2011
Ciao Roma! Benvenuti Positano!
Packed our backpacks,paid our bill and Kate wished us a lovely stay in Positano looking forward to our stories when we returned on Saturday. Thought we'd do a it easy this morning so we caught the bus to Aurelia station and then the Metro to Termini station. Termini station is the main Rome Station,people rushing,others meandering and us trying to make sense of the ticket machine. The machine cooperated so having secured our tickets we checked the necessary platform and waited to board our 10.00€ train,we were travelling lower class as this was cheaper than 2nd class.
Time to board,our train looked like it had been around since Julius caesar and Trenitalia Rail had forgot to take it out of service. The train was packed and after 2.40hrs we arrived in Naples, then a connecting train to Sorrento (almost 1 hour). Whilst waiting for this old train, we were constantly warned over the PA to beware of pickpockets, and sure enough as we were all trying to push onto the train an older man on the train, stood in the middle and obviously trying to frisk everyone going past, he got a good old shove from us and he forced his way off the train before the doors closed. There were some other dodgy characters on the train so it was a very uneasy trip and clutching our bags closely.
We arrived in Sorrento still with our valuables,the directions from Paul (the owner of the apartment) said that we needed to purchase a bus ticket from either the train station or a Cafe. For the first time we knew what we were doing and felt rather confident we had inside information! We went to the Bar, only to be old that they had run out of One Way tickets go to the train station. So back to the train ticket counter where we stood in line and when requesting 2 One Way bus tickets to Positano the reply from the Clerk was that of confusion. Lucky for us his coworker directed him to the safe where he pulled out a seal pack of bundled tickets. After sorting through them he told us he only had 1,there are no others. So either only one of us was going to Positano or we'd search at other Bars. After a requesting tickets at all possible outlets and receiving No Help, we returned to the Bus stop. A conductor type fellow said that he also had no 1 way tickets but could sell us a return / 24 hour pass for x 2 the price, yep here we are in Italy, home of the scam, even by officials! The bus was leaving at 3.30pm,even though it was only 3pm we hopped on board as there were only a few seats left and the Conductor was not counting. 
Time to leave, all seats taken maximizing the € for the journey, there were also passengers accepted on but they had to stand,they obviously were not aware of journey ahead. The bus ride was scary as the view was spectacular, all of a sudden the tourists went quiet, bottles started rolling around the floor maybe some passengers pulled out their rosary beads. Unnervingly some of the locals started talking to the driver and as we were rounding some of the hairpin bends, overlooking sheer drops, the driver responds by talking back, which also involves serious hand waving. Then as another way to instill some extra fear, the driver takes a mobile phone call, albeit handsfree, but there is no such thing as talking and keeping 2 hands on the wheel. The trip took about 40 mins and climbed up one side of the peninsula offering grand views back to Sorrento / Naples and then wound down the other side clinging to the cliffs, giving us on the right hand side of the bus a direct view straight down to the crashing waves hundreds of metres below. When coming to a blind corner, which seemed to be most of them, the driver would toot his horn, maybe this was to make him feel better as it did not seem to slow down any oncoming vehicles and sometimes 1 vehicle would have to back up or both would creep past each other with millimeters to spare on each side.
Then to top it all off, there was a bushfire running up the side of a mountain and there were plenty of emergency service people gathered around on the road, not actually doing anything except chatting and lounging about. The real work was being done by 2 helicopters and 2 plane water bombers who were swooping down to the ocean, filling up on the go and then climbing back up to dump their loads on the fire.
Finally after a stand off with another bus on an impossibly tight bend, we were into Positano where the bus stops in the middle of the road and passengers alight, into the traffic. Actually we didn't notice the traffic as the views across the little valley to Positano township was breathtaking to say the least.
Next leg of the journey catch the local bus and ask the bus driver where to get off. After a short wait and being entertained by the antics of the many motorists we hopped on the bus and 5 minutes later we were chatting to Paul the owner of Casa Maresca an Englishman who has lived in Italy with his wife Lucia for 34 years, with his dry sense of humor went through the workings of the apartment,a little info on what to see,where to eat and swim and whatever else came to mind. Casa Maresca was originally part of a Hotel it is now made of up of 5 apartments,some with cooking facilities. The apartments have a shared balcony that overlooks the Tyrrhean Sea a blissful view and all for 110.00€/night and 360 steps to the nearest beach. We were allocated the room that one of the Cardinal's from Rome books out twice a year (we felt quite blessed!). The room has a double bed joined by 2 singles, simple furnishings,a kitchenette, no TV or radio however it has 2 coffee percolators,a spectacular view of the Tyrrhenian Sea and you can listen to the Italian music playing in and around the surrounding restaurants.
It was now time to explore this amazing place that is often frequented by the rich and famous (which one are we? The rich or the famous?)
Positano was established as a small fishing village and today it is a popular tourist attraction and one of the most photographed places in the world. The cubic style coloured residences are vertically positioned up the hill.The purpose of the different colours dates back to the early fishing days so that the fishermen could pin point their home to send and receive messages.Whilst there is a main one lane road that meanders up,down and around the town it is shared by motorists,pedestrians,tradies,porters,vespas and dogs. Whilst this is the main road that links all parts of the town, hidden behind homes and businesses are 1 metre wide Vias,that are actual streets that are stepped pathways either going to the lower/upper levels of the town and then with shopping bags, stepping your way back. There is no avoiding this,you can't get a lift unless someone piggybacks you, there is no way around it,I guess this why you do not see many elderly or people with mobility problems living here,they would be a prisoner in their own home. 
The shopping area is made up of stepped alley ways with small boutiques meandering in all directions and eventually you find your way to the Spiaggia Grande (main beach),where you can go for a swim, catch the ferry to the other coastline towns or join one of the boat tours along the Almalfi Coast or take a seat at the many restaurants or bars and have a drink,meal or snack.
Still plenty of daylight and the shops starting to open after their Siesta break we browsed and got a feel of what it is like to walk around this town? Enough browsing time to find the local grocer buy some supplies and beverages and head back to our apartment. After snacking on freshly cut proscuito, Asiago cheese,crusty bread with a cool drink we ordered a pizza from il Fornilo ordered and cooked in 5 minutes. We went back to our apartment and for an Al Fresco dinner overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Posted by Susan23611 12:20 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Rome, ruined in the morning, saved in the afternoon

sunny 32 °C

Tues 19th July
Ruined in the Morning, Saved in the Afternoon
Deciding to forsake the crowds of Rome we made to bold decision to "learn us some history" and were soon headed to Ostica Antica, an ancient Roman city, only about 1/2 hour by train from Rome, assuming that you can figure out how the railway stations change their name from one name for the station when the train arrives to a different one for departures and no signs for direction. That figured out we soon arrived at what seemed a country village, no ruins apparent. However we followed some signs and soon came upon the entry to what looked like a abandoned park.
Paid the modest entry fee and 2€ for a walking map and off we went, first things to see was a pile of rubble and broken walls, but then it developed into a wonderful city structure, dating back to around 2 AD. Briefly the city began because it was on the Tiber River where it went into the sea and became an important trading city and military base. It continued to flourish for about 200 years before the river silted up and the trade moved elsewhere. The silt and earthquakes covered the ruins until they were discovered in the 1800's. It is only partially uncovered and only a few signs are scattered around describing specific buildings or roads. One can only imagine the city at its peak, it was quite a modern place with bakeries, theatre, council chambers, gymnasium and athletes area, inns, separate latrines, a shop that sold hot and cold take-away food and bath houses with hot and cold baths. The hot water was created by circulating hot air from fires under the baths. They had 3 storey apartment buildings and palatial villas. Sue was looking for the "condensed version" a 1 hour trip that covers all the basic stuff, Peter was quite happy wandering down each alley, looking at the each of the buildings. Finally we compromised and called it quits and bought a book in the gift shop to complete the picture. And the best thing was NO CROWDS, there were a couple of school guided tours but mostly there were just a few people scattered around. Did see an Archeology group being very intense about the whole thing. Some reports say that it is a smaller but suitable substitute for Pompeii if you don't want the crowds and the travel.
Having some time left in the day we took the train back into Rome with the aim of checking out Santa Maria Basillica, that was the plan. We ended up in an industrial area, not even on our Rome map. A kind gentleman showed us the correct route and soon we were on a tram heading the right way. After wandering some narrow streets and alleys, we came upon the church, the oldest in Rome. No crowds again and free entry, and this was a very nice quiet respectful place, able to sit and look at the amazing roof and murals on the walls. No security guards here.
On the way out we were confronted by a old crone, covered in black, with deformed feet and back, or so Peter thought only to be informed by Sue that the skin on her hands was smooth and normal, it was all an act.
Found a cool little piazza to have a refreshment, then wandered off to find a train to get "home". On the way, near some restaurants, we saw some street sellers running for their lives and a little while later we saw why. 2 guys, selling bags, had been nabbed by some undercover police and were being given the 3rd degree. After much to-ing and fro-ing the police let them go, but keeping most of their bags. Maybe a few months work down the drain for them and one of the risks of the trade.
Back to our apartment for our ritual drink, snack and recount of the days outing, each with different highlight, for Peter it was the ruins at Ostica, for Sue it was the Santa Maria Basillica, at least both of us had a good event to remember for the day.

Posted by Susan23611 22:17 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Rome, special Monday

sunny 32 °C

Monday 18th July
Rome, special Monday.
No drama getting up early and keen for more sightseeing around the Vatican area before our "appointment with the pope" at 1pm, at least that's what I thought it said on the ticket!
Arrived at the Vatican area before the shops opened so we had a cappuccino and watched the masses heading to the Vatican although I think there were almost as many "official guides" offering their premium services for a guided tour or tickets to bypass the queues. We had a casual look around the side streets away from the crowds but Sue managed to attract the worst in Roman service:-
1) asked a shop owner what time he closed in the evening and he burst into outrage claiming that he was always open, was open now and if we wanted his products we should buy them now as the prices were ridiculously low ( they weren't in fact lower than other shops);
2) when not offering correct money in a small supermarket, the check-out lady complained in Italian to other customers about these tourists always wanting change;
3) pretty slick scammer having a go at us, whilst walking along the riverside we were stopped by a motorist in distress, he was lost and needed help with his map. Being the kind hearted folk we are, Sue goes over to talk and we proceed to show him the way. He is so grateful and being an important businessman ( dressed in suit & tie & smart car), the owner of a famous fashion label, Pieroni, ( he had the catalogue and business credentials to prove it) he would like to reward us for helping him in this city he is not familiar with. Pulling out a flash looking handbag he explains that it would be worth $1000 in George St or Collins St ( has done his homework!). However as he is running short of petrol and the gas stations wont take his credit card, so if we could just help him out with a few €, we can have the bag. When I suggested €20 he said that he needed more than that he suggested that he needed at least €50 to fill his tank. At that point we said enough is enough and no deal, so off he went, looking for some more tourists I suppose. Thought this was a pretty neat scam but when we Googled it, has been around for a while, damm, thought we were targeted by a "special" scam!
Sue was pretty fired up by now and pretended to buy some rosary beads, I think to calm herself down. Continued walking to Castle of St Angelo, but, you guessed it, closed on Mondays!
Kept walking and found an amazing store that sold every food stuff imaginable, including Vegemite. 
By this time it was time to prepare to see the pope so we bought some salad rolls and a big bottle of water and found a nice little park to take lunch, even cleaning ourselves up in the fountain, got to look presentable at the Vatican you know!
As expected we walked straight past the LONG line of plebs without tickets outside the Vatican and walked straight up to the guards at the ticket line and after a quick scan of our tickets, says to us, "in you go Sir", happy days! 
Then once inside the penny drops, it is just us and about 10,000 of the popes "other closest friends" and we just happened to turn up at the same time! Never mind, it must get better once we get truly inside, but after scanning our bags and taking another €7 for an audio tour, I began to get suspicious once I realised the pope had not left me a pesonalised tour message, but it was a "Telstra, have a nice day voice". Then it was just like Wagga sale yards on sheep sale day, every room was packed, tour guides yelling to their flock in a range of languages and Vatican guards, quietly herding everyone in the right direction, at a brisk pace. No time to pause and ponder the amazing statues, tapestries, paintings and architecture, keep moving people, except when you come to one of the 20 or so "gift shops". Who are they a gift to?
The most disappointing was the Sistine Chapel which was chock full of people all talking and the guards yelling at everyone to be quiet and keep moving. Not even 5 mins in there before we were pushed out.
Then it was stairs, half empty rooms and another 1/2 dozen gift shops, 2 walks through the Vatican Post office, return the audio tour and we were released onto the street, just like the homeless people we saw around the corner, deprived of some cash and very little in the way of an enlightening experience. Frankly it is a very nice museum but no more, maybe with smaller crowds it may be better but it is all so busy that there is no opportunity to take it all in, nor to understand it.
However it is a must see and an essential part of the Rome experience, just take it for what it is, not what you hope it is.

To recover from this we found a cafe nearby and had a cool one, before getting lost again, found again, a long walk, a short train ride, a trip to the supermarket and we were back on our balcony enjoying a cool breeze, a glass or 2 of sparkling Rose and munching on some local produce, again.
Sue whipped up a quick stir fry for tea and we settled in early, if 10.30 is early ( is by Rome time). Survived another Roman day !!

Posted by Susan23611 22:47 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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