All the Views
These are the pictures that Instagram totally sells you out on the Amalfi Coast. They are the high, teetering houses above the plunging cliffs, the colors vibrant in the sun. The promise of a view from the top and the water one of the most unique colors of blue you have ever seen.
And anticipating all of this… I can safely say I was not disappointed. Despite the fact that our weather was iffy, and very questionable on one day in particular, the views still amazed.
We stayed in Salerno, which is a bit more off the beaten path. This option also affords cheaper housing- our Air BnB was a Bed and Breakfast and super affordable with breakfast to boot.
Salerno is your typical beach town. The Italy here is very different from the Italy we experienced in the north. We took the train from Florence down to Salerno. (The train runs right into the central part of Salerno.) The tickets were a bit expensive, but it can’t be beat when you are cutting your travel time in half. Four hours later we stepped off into weak sunshine and the glistening waters of the Mediterranean.
We spent the first day of our journey adventuring along the pathways of Salerno. An old coastal town, there are some old castles and a bay that is dazzling in the sunlight. We wandered the pier, full of people selling things and down towards the end where there is a beach, steps, and an outdoor bar. The place was packed stiff with locals and young people. It was obvious this was the spot, and so we sat down and admired the confidence of some who dared to wear a bikini in this semi-cold weather.
Getting Around the Coast
There are two ways to adventure: the ferry and the bus. Both should be done as each is an experience. A very varied experience.
We took the ferry to Positano (this is the town most pictures and clichés of the Amalfi Coast come from.) It was about an hour journey for twelve euro. But so worth it for a look at the cliffs and toppling houses along the coast. Our days were, sadly, a bit stormy and overcast, but the pictures were all that more dramatic for it. It is the most direct route, the quickest, and probably the safest. Which brings me to the bus ride.
Only in Italy could they get away with the drive that the buses undertake. The roads are jutting off the cliffs, often with nothing more than a small wall dividing the road and the plunge into the water below. The roads are narrow, and at some points become a single way, give-and-take journey. And the buses you ride, they are full size. So how do they do it? A combination of endless honking, really tight squeezes, a few curse words in Italian, and some close calls.
The bus was way more of an experience in terms of fearing for your life. Our last day, we took the bus home. The ferry hadn’t been running that day, which made this bus ride one of the worst. The bus was ten minutes late, and when it arrived, it was already packed full. So what did those waiting do? They cut and shoved and forced their way in before the others that had been waiting longer. And then the bus driver cut it off when the last person managed to shove themselves onto the steps and the door could still close. #notlegal
I was pressed up against the back of the driver’s seat with about twenty other people standing down the aisles of the bus. Standing, packed, and the driving conditions well you can just imagine what a joy that ride was. But the best stories always come from the most questionable of experiences.
Let’s also take a minute to talk about the mopeds. It must be the most exhilarating ride of their life, because there seems to be a lot of risk in which they might lose it. They pass the buses every chance they get, taking hairpin curves at a speed that blows my mind. It’s probably the fastest way to travel though, and beautiful, I have no doubt.
That time we were sitting on the beach and a tornado formed out of the storm clouds on the water…
Path of the Gods
One of the days we decided to hike the Path of the Gods. It goes from a small town of Bomerano to Positano. The day promised rain, but we were so lucky in that it never fell, and the clouds cleared out to reveal incredible views.
It was probably one of my favorite parts of our time on the coast. The hike was about four hours from start to finish, and every corner there was something amazing to see. We ran into goats being led by locals and other hikers, but that was it. This is mostly nature, and that was what I loved about it. Away from the chaos of the many small towns and all the tourists. We ate with our feet dangling over a ledge, gazing out at the incredibly blue waters.
The last thirty minutes though, were the real highlight. You reach what you think is the end- a beautiful little plaza with a fresh lemonade stand, bathrooms, and everyone relaxing. But this is not the end. Stop for that lemonade and do some stretches, because a descent via 600 steps is coming your way. My legs have never shaken so much in my life as they did after that descent down to the road towards Positano. We both ended up in pain and hysterics. At the end, I couldn’t walk straight.
Our final day on the coast, we took an easy train to Pompeii. Pompeii has been a long time desire of mine to explore. Growing up, it was one of the stories of history that always stuck in my head. A town buried by a volcano and very little scientific understanding to comprehend what was happening. The people of the town thought they were being punished by the gods. Though most of the 20,000 occupants got away, 2,000 were caught in the ash and molten lava that descended upon them.
Tickets were a little bit expensive, 13 euro per person, and no chance of a discount unless you’re an EU citizen. But the city takes most of the day and there is plenty to learn because it is, after all, an entire city. You can walk through homes that are still intact, see shops and fast food places that used to serve wine and snacks to the huge population of Pompeii. The Colosseum is still fully intact and there is a cemetery towards the end that gives you the creeps and a great view of the ruins.
The streets have the original stone that was laid during Roman times, and in some parts you can see the ruts where the wheels of the carriages used to run. The huge mountain of Vesuvius towers in the distance, its peak long gone so that it appears more like two separate mountains then one. You can almost imagine what that day must have been like- to see smoke billowing up into the clouds and not comprehending the chaos that would fall when it really started to erupt.
One of the most interesting, and most morbid, parts for me were the body casts. During the unearthing of the city, archaeologists devised a way to fill the cavities of decayed human bodies that had been captured in the lava and rock. Using plaster, they created life-size casts that captured the bones of the dead and display an unreal amount of details. On some, you can see their expressions, others the layers of their clothes and the weaves of their sandals. An impression of their life and death pressed into earth. It’s amazing.