I have not yet become used to the fact that I can finish work in London, and fall asleep later than evening in Italy. On this occasion we landed in Rome and joyously sprouted out the little Italian we knew (courtesy Cromer Primary School) i.e. uno, due, tre and cosi cosi. It did the trick and we soon found ourselves cruising down the autostrade in our Fiat Panda. Our destination was the gorgeous Amalfi Coast which is a famous peninsula strutting out into the sea below Naples. The drive was breathtaking for two reasons 1. The exquisite views of villages perched and built into the cliffs 2. The fear of buses as we squeezed our Fiat around countless bends not made to accommodate two vehicles at once! Thankfully Joel was grinning ear to ear, probably imagining that he was a rally car driver, whilst I hyperventilated beside him.
In saying this, we drove the whole peninsula over the course of our visit, and by the end you have to admit that the roads are an attraction in and of themselves. The engineering is ingenious considering it wasn’t too long ago that the only way to reach the villages was by foot or sea. This poses a problem for parking and one downside of having a car is attributed to the impossibility of understanding the Italian parking system. It is a miracle of the Lord that we walked away without a single fine or scratch to our trusty Fiat.
Our arrival in Minori was like being embraced by a warm Italian hug. Our airbnb studio was cluttered with old family photos and bric a brac collected through the generations. We were opposite a local fruit market with swelling tomatoes and a jovial shopkeeper who insisted her son use his limited English to converse with us about the most important topic – football! It wasn’t long before the merry-natured woman in the village shop knew our bread and speck order before we even placed it! Europe is starting to feel like our backyard and the different nationalities less foreign and more like cousins. Growing up surrounded by countries instead of oceans means that speaking another language comes more naturally than swimming to most. I am still begging Joel to take a language class with me, but no luck so far as his indignant shame at only speaking English diminishes quickly upon our return to the UK.
As you would expect in Italy, the sun was ever shining, and drew us in like a moth to a flame. It was so bright on our English complexions that it was like being caught under a burning spotlight, hunting down every bit of white skin it could find. We weren’t complaining. We could have stayed on the beach in Minori all afternoon, but we hauled ourselves into gear and conquered 2,000 stairs to the hilltop town of Ravello. We were duly rewarded by scoops of mouth-watering gelato, a towering church and a sweet square flanked by willow trees. We congratulated ourselves on our victory whilst watching local boys dominate the town square with their football.
After we lost track of the score and flying Italian insults dished out by the football game, we descended well worn rocky paths into Atrani. From the moment we caught a glimpse of the church turrets through the wildflowers, we were in love. This love was further cemented as we observed the local life from the balcony above the square, a kaleidoscope of colour and animated hand gestures. As if this wasn’t enough, we were served two glorious pizza’s by a beaming chef for a total of 8 Euros all up. Grazie! They were gone in a flash as we consumed them from our very own ocean-restaurant perched on the rocks. As the sun went down, and the street lamps sparkled reflections on the sea, we were more than satisfied with Italia! As a parting gift for a perfect day, the sky was illuminated with fireworks during a midnight swim. It was as though the mountains themselves were dancing.
It was very amusing over the following few days to observe Joel slotting right into Italian life. Another side of his personality was unleashed and my eyes widened as Joel started honking his horn at every opportunity. Not only were there legitimate honks for misdemeanours, but there were honks for undeserving citizens and unsuspecting tourists. Thankfully the Italians are not ones to hold grudges (unless you’re in the Mafia). Joel’s R’s started rolling, and his hand gestures became exaggerated. His voice became louder, and my name became ‘Lolita’. There were also outbursts of random Italian names such as ‘Mario’, ‘Alfonzo’ ‘Maria’ ‘Antonio’ ‘Fabio’ ‘Lorenzo’ at any given moment!
We explored the turquoise waters on the ‘spaggia’ in Amalfi town and floated in contentment, gazing up at the colourful facades whilst church bells echoed up and down the valley. One afternoon we hiked through lemon-groves and ancient ruins in the hills beyond Amalfi, bumping into a goat-herder half way around a mountain who felt our intended route to Scala was a little too ambitious! His flurry of Italian followed him around the bend, chased by the tinkling bells of his herd of goats. I felt my legs becoming stronger as we pursued the dying sun to the tops of mountains, thankful to be alive and immersed in another way of life. For this I am always grateful, it prevents me from being one-dimensional.
One of the highlights of the Amalfi Coast is Sentiero Degli Dei (Path of the Gods), a high mountain trail from Prairano to Positano. It was aptly named as it was believed the path was so beautiful it was only worthy of the Gods. After completing it, I tend to agree. The vista was so spectacular you had to question whether you were actually there in that moment. I took a moment at the top to let it sink in, and I thought of my brave dad, who will never be able to accomplish a walk like that again, and I dedicated the view, and that moment to him and his fighting spirit which is more beautiful and astounding than any view I will see in my lifetime.
Arriving in Positano and seeing the cheerful hillside town built like a house of cards into the side of the mountain, was a delight. The town is well known for a reason, it is visually stunning. Although we enjoyed breezing through the streets, we found it to be over-touristed, over-priced and lacking in the authenticity we found in other Amalfi Coast towns. Nevertheless we proceeded on our pizza-gelato rampage with gusto!
Another moment worth a mention I recall fondly as I can still feel the sense of peace and isolation shared with my best friend. It was a hike on the end of the peninsula from a small town called Nerano to Leranto Bay, a picturesque crystal sparkling cove with a vista stretching out to the Isle of Capri. An earlier flash-storm drove away everyone but the most hardy locals, and we were rewarded for taking refuge, by an afternoon of comforting sun, and the whole world to ourselves. We chased the sun to the north to bid it goodbye at it set over sweet Sorrento in a splash of oranges and pinks.
Sorrento was alive with music, colour and sun-kissed holidaymakers. Swirling waiters broke our pizza streak and served us up towering bowls of seafood pasta. Belissimo! Although if I had one last taste of Italy left on my palate, it would be the natural gelato that made explosions in my mouth. The shopkeeper clearly loved his gelato more than life, with every scoop sculpted to perfection atop its lofty cone. I sampled the milk chocolate and the ricotta, walnut and honey. The latter flavour was so darn delicious that I was wreaked with grief and remorse to consume the last bite. I think it is unlikely that I shall ever again be so delighted and satisfied with ice cream for the rest of my life…. These are my feelings about this!
In a haze of bliss (a mixture of sun, gelato and buffalo mozzarella) we departed the Amalfi Coast, via the hairpin turns we had become accustomed to. As the last view of the towns slipped from our view we had heavy hearts. Thankfully our adventures were not yet over as we could not leave the region without paying due respects to the infamous Mount Vesuvius… check out our post on Herculaneum if you’re interested!