The weekend south around the Bay of Naples was a trip of entirely my planning. I had heard so much about the area and the Amalfi coast, and seen so many pictures of gorgeous cliffside towns and beaches, that I felt it was a must see. We reserved high speed train tickets for a small fee of 10 Euro with our rail passes, and took a mid morning train to Naples. As usual, I enjoyed the countryside of Tuscany and Lazio–the region of Rome. We arrived in Naples at a little after noon, and went off to try and find the port to take a ferry to Capri. I have yet to hear a positive thing from a traveler about Naples, and after walking through parts of the town, it wasn’t too hard to see why. The city itself is rather dirty, especially through the residential areas we were in. There are a lot of poor souls wandering about asking for change and sleeping on the side of the road. And the traffic of the city is an absolute nightmare. Constant loud trollies, honking cars, and buses move chaotically about. By far least pedestrian friendly city of the trip. I’m sure there is plenty to love about Naples and a lot of great sights, but it wasn’t what we saw traveling through it.
We were staying in Sorrento, a small town on the other side of the bay of Naples. Originally I had planned for us to go to Sorrento right away, and then hit the island of Capri in the early morning, but Jacob convinced me that heading to Capri from Naples made more sense. So after a 40 minute or so walk, we found one of many ports, and wandered in an area for cruise ships until we were told by some nice Italian officers where the ferries were. We hopped on the ferry for 20 Euro to Capri, which is a beautiful sight to come into. A beautiful town cascades upward from the little port with countless shops going up the street of this main area. We went to buy tickets to Sorrento right away to know how much time we had, and found out that the last one to Sorrento was in a little less than 2 hours. For this reason, Capri was the destination that I felt the most rushed at, and wish we could have stayed even for a couple hours more to explore the towns or some of the hiking trails. But it ended up being alright; as we were aimlessly wandering figuring out what to do with an hour and a half, we passed a boat tours place, where a younger man asked eagerly if we wanted to catch a tour of the island by boat. We told him how little time we had, and he just said “Perfect! The trip only takes an hour, you’ll be back with 30 minutes to spare!” We asked about the cost, and he said “usually its 20 euro, but for you two, I’ll make it 16. Are you students? 13 euro then. So we took the opportunity, and got an incredible tour of the island shoreside surrounded by insanely blue water. We saw the former vacation home of Mussolini for the summers, which was a castle like structure perched on a high cliff, as well as the small cliffside dwelling that use to be Roman Emperor Tiberius’s vacation home. We passed several small towns and port areas, most of which were very exclusive and surrounded by large yachts. There were many pristine coves and sea caves, and I spotted some goats scaling sheer rocks towards the end. The hour was filled with my camera constantly snapping to get the best exposure settings and angles around the island, and when I wasn’t shooting, my eyes were glued to the scenery. I was in full out tourist mode because of the time constraint. But afterwards I took a 10 minute dip off the rocky beach in the clear blue water. I would have liked to spend more time enjoying this beach and exploring the place a bit like I said, but as far as things went it worked out alright and was worth the trip.
The ferry from Capri to Sorrento was just as impressive coming in. Sorrento is a medieval town of sheer cliffs over a several mile stretch with the city located directly on top of them. Stray cats and tourists were scattered all over the port area we entered in along the boardwalk. The view up at the city was indeed breathtaking. We made our way up the hill leading through the cliffs into the beautiful town to get to our hotel, called “Lindas”, probably named after the lady we encountered coming in. She was a sweet lady with broken English and a tired looking dog lazing around the lobby. The man that took her place for a later shift was older as well and had a raspy high pitched voice with similar broken english that sounded like Yoda. He was giddy watching a World Cup game in which I believe it was the Netherlands made some win that apparently landed him some money from a bet he placed, so he told us. The hotel itself was a small wing of an old building among many other floors that looked partially abandoned. The price was fair though, and the location to the bus and train station was optimal. We went out to eat at an incredibly nice looking restaurant with good prices off one of the main squares, and I had hands down the best pizza of my life. It was basically just cheese and some sort of light spiced plant over it, but I swear it was made in the ovens of Zeus.
Saturday morning our start was a little slow because we didn’t realize the buses we needed to take were right next to our hotel, and not down by the port where we walked to. But we got the cheap bus tickets after an hour or so and took the 40 minute ride up constantly winding roads overlooking Sorrento and into the Amalfi coast area. It was incredibly scenic, but by no means a comfortable ride. The coastal cliff town of Positano, the first stop, is tucked away into the cliffs with postcard looking houses and buildings preserved and maintained for vacationing and tourism. To get down to the beach and main area of town, we had to descend down endless flights of stairs. At one overlook, we stopped to converse with some older travelers from England. After telling them where we were from, they said they had frequently been to Wisconsin and the Wisconsin dells, and had family in Minnesota. We told them we were studying in Italy for the month, and they just put the quote fingers up “studying! Right!” and laughed. We all agreed that Wisconsin and London don’t have sites like the view overlooking Positano. At the beach level, I enjoyed a small Banana Kiwi smoothie before heading down to the beach. Like Capri, it was rocky, but which I’m sort of liking better for the fact that you can leave without having sand everywhere. The water was as crystal clear as Capri, but there was a lot of organic matter making the water seem a little dirty. A small boat with two guys in it patrols the waters scooping this stuff up. Nonetheless I hopped in and enjoyed the salty swim, and sat on the shore line for another hour or so. We grabbed some light sandwiches and hiked back up the endless stairs to the bus stop to take back to Sorrento.
From Sorrento we just hopped on a small train that which followed the bay coast towards Mount Vesuvius, (visible and towering from anywhere in the Bay of Naples, and in fact Europe’s only active volcano) to “Pompeii Scavi” the preserved ruins of the ancient city from 79 AD. A 10 euro ticket gets you access to the entire city, which was simply fascinating. Rooms with designs still in tact and colored from nearly 2,000 years ago were in plain view. Villas, homes, squares, and small amphitheaters with slight upkeep were in brilliant condition from their original state. I feel like a lot of what shows and movies depict of ancient roman buildings comes from this site alone, or is at least well reinforced by it. Pompeii was truly a walk into the past. Its a site you could easily find yourself wandering for hours more than we did. After a few hours of wandering certain paths of the city (which is surprisingly enormous), we made our way out because of a bad storm seemingly about to hit. I haggled with a vendor on the streets of the modern city of Pompeii over the price of my soda and pizza, which I got for a euro cheaper than advertised (win), and we hopped back on the small train to Naples.
I had looked up a few things to do in Naples, but we were so beat from the full two days of traveling around that I didn’t bother going to see them. We instead had to wander about trying to find our hotel in the clustermess that is Naples. A security guard I asked for help pointed us completely in the wrong direction, and my map of where the place was wasn’t quite accurate enough for a quick find. But we did eventually, and it was probably the nicest hotel we had been to yet. Fair priced, and with a continental breakfast included! We stayed in Naples so we could wake up and just head right to the train station for our 11ish train back to Florence the next morning to be sure we didn’t get stuck south to miss classes on Monday.
As far as natural wonders go, the areas we saw were paradise. They were very touristy for that reason, and so beyond the beaches, we didn’t have the time or the care to explore every nook and little shop. I found myself wondering exactly how much time was enough in one place like Sorrento or Positano to feel like it was experienced. Surely my sightseeing and swimming was just as good as someone sleeping on the beach all afternoon. It was a comparably short time to what people would usually spend there I’m sure, but I took every moment of it in. The weekend was packed and long, but it was a fun taste of southern Italy, and It’s an area I’d be willing to take a vacation to all on its own.