I feel like the Amalfi Coast, Italy, consisted of trains and some time in between… so not a lot happened that wasn’t just ‘getting there’. I guess that’s the downside of having a ‘home-base’ that requires travel to each place.
Transportation – Rome to Sorrento (Meta)
Our very first train ride using our Eurail pass’ was a success.
When we got to the station in Rome we had to get our pass’ verified. This meant waiting in line for an hour to talk to a customer service representative but all in all it was smooth. Our train required a reservation (10 euros not included in our pass) so we went to one of the machines to book. The home screen of the machine said “Watch for pick-pockets. Only take advice from train employees”. We thought this was strange until 3 or 4 people came up to us offering to help with the booking. One girl was pretty well dressed and spoke great english. She pointed at the screen telling us what to do next. We thanked her but waved her away. The next people looked a little worse for wear. One had very few teeth and they were all badly dressed. They anxiously pointed at our screen saying “continue, continue” (as if we didn’t know how to move to the next screen). We waved them off as well, holding our bags close.
Finally we got our tickets and boarded the train. It was a short ride over to Napoli (Naples) where we switched to the Circumvensia train (Like a bumpy city train or metro) and took that to Sorrento. This is where the problems began.
Turns out that our ‘Sorrento’ hostel was actually in Meta. 2 stops away. The next train was not going to be for another hour to go back from where we had just come, so we were instructed to take the bus. We wandered down to the bus stop and hopped on. Unsure of exactly where to go I showed the bus driver the address of our hostel. He nodded. I asked him if he would motion for us to get off when we hit the stop closest to that address. He said “si, si”. Excellent. We sat down.
The bus ride was a long one. Winding back and forth down narrow roadways and the bus driver hitting the breaks every 30 seconds in nauseating jolts… we were hoping our stop was soon. Eventually he pulled into the parking lot of the Meta beach and turned the bus off. Yes… off. This did not look like a road to our hostel, as we had just done 10 minutes of switchbacks down a steep hill to an isolated beach. Great. I wandered up to the front and asked him, again, where we should go to get to this address. He just smiled and nodded. Thanks buddy. Maybe consider another action when you don’t understand English. There was a lady sitting and talking to him so I asked her. She was a little more helpful, even though her English was not great. She typed the address into her google maps and showed us. I suppose she recognized our confused faces and motioned for us to follow her. She walked us over to another bus, that was evidently leaving before them, and showed the bus driver. She then made a motion that told him to tell us where to get off. He nodded and said “No problem”. We were finally getting somewhere.
Back up the switch backs and Jess and I were turning green. We hoped it was close. The bus driver called us up to the front and pointed at a bunch of signs pointing up a steep hill. Our hostel was not one of the one listed but he said ours was up there. We got off the bus and started the hike up the steep hill. There was no sign of our hostel and we were getting tired. This seemed hopeless. So we stopped into an Esso station at the top of the hill asking if anyone spoke English. No, no, no, no. No English. But then one man pointed to someone cleaning his car. English? “si”. We asked the man if he recognized the address. Turns out he was a cab driver and did know the spot, but he was in no place to take us there since he was still vacuuming his car. He started yelling at another man. After a bit of back and forth he told us that the man (an Esso employee) had to drive a rental car over near our hostel and would take us for free. Well… my mother always told me not to get into cars with strangers but we were getting desperate. I took a picture of him and his license plate (conspicuously of course), just in case, and then we got in. Ten minutes back to where we had already been on the bus he pulled up to a bakery across the street from our hostel. We were finally there… 3.5 hours after Naples.
Hostel – Casa de Stefania
We were about 3 hours late for our check-in time (clearly not our strong point) but it was still only 4pm – she wasn’t mad. She led us into a room only feet from the gate. It was very nice inside. A large bed with a full kitchen and dining room table and an air conditioner overhead. It also had a private bathroom with modern finishes. We were in heaven – or so we thought.
“When you booked, our cheaper rooms were full so you get this one. You had said no to breakfast?” Yes… we had… because 5 euros for a piece of toast seemed extreme. “You cannot cook. I will block the kitchen off. If you use it, EXTRA”. Geeze. ok. No kitchen (though we did use the fridge… which isn’t cooking… or at least that would be our argument). We asked how to use the air conditioner. “You only pay for room. No air conditioner. EXTRA”. But… it said air conditioning on the booking… oh well… “We usually only do laundry (towels and sheets) every 3 days. But you are here for 4. Do you mind if we don’t do it?”. We didn’t mind. But we asked if we could have a new towel possibly, and guess what… “5 euro EXTRA”. So… we said its ok to skip our cleaning day… but we still have to pay 5 euro for a new towel? Whatever.
She then launched into a sales pitch for a tour of Positano, Amalfi, and Capri that she no doubt got a cut of, and we listened to be polite. It was a little expensive for our budgets and we preferred to do the places on different days, so we turned it down at the end. She then gave us the wifi password and told us about a little square to get food at the bottom of the long hill. I mean, she gave some useful information… but could we drink the water from the tap? Is there laundry? What is the check out time? Where can we find tourist information? Looks like we were on our own.
We laid down on the bed, which, thankfully, was not EXTRA and looked around. The room was pretty nice. It was clean and colourful and had some upgraded finishes. I mean, using a purple sheet (that matches the bed) to wrap the lamp and headboard isn’t the classiest, but it was more appealing than some other places. The wifi only worked out in the common area and even then, not well, so we headed to find food.
We ventured down the hill to the square. It was a pretty small square with 3 restaurants and a bakery for food. We were told that one place was especially good and family run and that it would open at 7. It was 6 now.
Desert before dinner? We are on vacation. We got some gelato to eat in the meantime. My very first gelato. I got Nutella. Pretty good, but I don’t know what all of the fuss is about.
It was only 6:25 when we finished. Maybe we should head back to our room and unpack a bit. 15 minutes uphill.
We organized our room and unpacked. 6:50. I guess we could head back down.
7:05. Still closed. We asked a lady next door. It opens at 8:00 now.
We headed up the street to kill time, passing a little market. We stopped in and got food for sandwiches and breakfast. We would be hitting Pompeii tomorrow so we wanted to pack a lunch. The man behind the deli counter was adorable. We showed him our buns and he cut just enough cheese to fill them. How sweet.
We walked back to the restaurant. No sign of life. 7:20. I guess we will put our stuff in the forbidden fridge back in our room. Back up the hill.
Tried wifi. Still doesn’t work. Back down the hill. 8:00pm. Still closed. “oh, must be the day they are closed” said a local. Great.
We went next door to a restaurant we had been avoiding because of the hollering old men. They were gone now at least. We ordered a ‘family’ pizza. ‘Family’ was right. For 8euros we got enough pizza to feed a family of 6. Best thing today. We hauled the pizza box back up the hill (we were pre-burning calories at this point) and settled in for the night with our pizza. We were finally content.
The next day we headed to Pompei. It was a short train ride away. We were at the front of the train, so the first to the ticket booth. We got some audio guides and set out.
It was pretty spectacular and the audio guide was very informative. It read a first hand account of the volcano eruption and painted a picture as to what life was like. I especially liked the casts, though, as a major animal lover, the curled up dog tugged directly at my heart.
We started at #1 and followed the map all around the town. By #18 of 78 we were getting discouraged. There was so much to see and so much sun. We stopped to eat our adorable little sandwiches and looked through our pamphlet. Yea… 2 hours in we decide to read it. Good job us. Turns out there are suggested itineraries since no one can do them all in one day. One for 2 hours, one for half a day, and one for a full day. The half a day one covered most of the ones we had already seen and then had another half, so we opted for that one.
We wandered around a little more and were eventually flipping the map in circles so many times we knew we had lost our path. It was 1000 degrees (approximately) and we were starting to see everything as ‘ruins’. Bakery, home, market, ruins. We headed for the exit happy that we had accomplished almost all of the half day ones and also happy to be heading back.
We got home, ate our leftover sandwiches, struggled with wifi for a while, went down to the beach for a couple hours, and then decided to do laundry before bed.
The laundry was a good walk into town. We had run into some fellow Canadians (actually from Edmonton) who had told us about a little laundromat in another square. Another square? But Stefania had only told us about this tiny one with the always-closed family restaurant, forcing us to make our own sandwiches and eat leftover pizza for 3 meals… Another square? Stefania must get a cut of this pizza places profits as well…
We wandered down to this mysterious new square with our bags of laundry and… it was HUGE. I mean really. We had been wandering around wondering how people can survive in a place like this and all the while, only 15 more minutes down the street is an entirely new square with many restaurants and stores and laundry, and banks, and… LIFE. We just shook our heads. Too tired to enjoy the square, and too anxious to get our laundry done.
We found the laundromat and stuffed our clothes in together to cut costs. There was a dispenser for soaps and bags and fabric softener and bleach and all other laundry things, or so we imagined. But, it was in italian. We had no idea what was what. The only word I know that is remotely close to soap is ‘sopa’ and it’s spanish… for soup… so really not that helpful at all.
We gave it our best effort, popped in some change, and hit a button. Turns out… that was fabric softener… the strongest lavender fabric softener I have ever smelled in my life. Honestly, our nostrils were burning. And yet, we used it because we paid for it (big mistake). We then saw the word ‘liquido’. Likely liquid detergent. We tried it. We were right. However, we had put more money in the machine than needed in the confusion and it turns out we do not get change. So, we got 2 soaps, and a giant plastic bag, leaving 0.20 for the next person.
We started the load up and went for gellato. Maybe if I get a normal chocolate kind I’ll understand the hype. Nope. Good time killer, but still really generic ice-cream tasting. We wandered this new magical square for half an hour killing time before getting our laundry.
Using the dryer was going to be 5 euros so we opted to use our new large plastic bag to bring our wet clothes home (pretty heavy for a 30 minute steep hill walk) and hung them around our room. It looked like a frat house and the room was now instantly 100% more humid. Not the most comfortable sleep but we were 5 euros richer! Right? Bonus? Win? I don’t know…
(also. Maybe the whole laundry packet was not to be used… all of our clothes are now quite starchy… not to mention they reek of lavender, and I think we were slowly poisoned throughout the night because of it).
There are a few ways to get to Positano and Amalfi, all of which start in Sorrento, so we headed there on the train.
There was a rather long line for the bus to Amalfi but it was much cheaper than the ferry (which you can catch by walking to the Sorrento square and down a long set of stairs to the port). We got our tickets and got in line. One hour later a bus came. It filled up quick and we were still on the sidewalk when it left. Well, at least we were getting a tan. Another 45 minutes (which is typical Italian transportation, since they were supposed to come every half hour) and a second and third bus came, one after another. Lucky for the people that just showed up.
We got on the bus, grabbed a seat, and headed off. We decided to go all the way to Amalfi, check it out, and then backtrack to Positano before heading home – getting the longer bus ride out of the way.
The road to Amalfi is a long, windy, dangerous one. The bus was veering around corners, honking every minute, hitting its breaks to avoid crazy scooter drivers, and trying its best to avoid the 300 foot drop off the side of the cliff. Needless to say, I was holding back puke pretty early on. Amalfi better be worth it…
We got off the boat to a mediocre port with mediocre restaurants and mediocre views. We had passed through Positano on the way (which looked magnificent) and wondered why we had even bothered to come this far. We decided that since we were here we would eat. We got some gnocchi and pizza (which we shared) and were disappointed in it’s mediocre taste. In all honesty the sauce tasted EXACTLY like canned ravioli.
We were feeling a bit better after we ate so we headed back onto the bus to travel back to Positano. Lucky that was a shorter ride and my stomach was only starting to feel like a washing machine on spin cycle when we got off.
We headed down a little street and into a maze of markets. This place was ADORABLE. Looking at little stores and checking out some jewelry we made our way down to the beach. Unfortunately, because of our regrettable stop in Amalfi, we had just missed the sun (downside of a mountainous area). We lay in our bikinis in the shade for a while for good measure before deciding we had done it and now we could go. We looked back through some of the stores and as they closed we headed back to the beach to find a nice place to sit. We ventured and backtracked a few times (working off the canned-ravioli gnocchi) before settling on a little port-front patio. We each got a glass of wine (Jess a Pino, and me, the sweetest dessert wine they had) and settled in nibbling on peanuts until our time to catch the bus.
The trip to Capri is an expensive one. Just know that. Especially if you want to see the Blue Grotto.
We started our journey off by paying 17 euros for the ferry over to Capri. From there we opted for a tour to the Blue Grotto (which did a tour around the entire island) and cost 18 euros. Seemed a little steep but for the tour and the ability to go into the Blue Grotto it seemed worth it.
We departed on the tour boat and it sailed around the island, stopping in at a few key points and going through the ‘tunnel of love’ where you are supposed to kiss your lover… I just took a picture of my feet…
When we came around the the Blue Grotto they said that the line up was too long for us to go in but if we wanted to see it we could wait on the boat while they went back and unloaded passengers who did not care to wait. There we were transferred onto another boat full of German high school students and went back to wait. It was about an hour and a half waiting in the sun but the occasional breeze really helped. And we got to tan.
When the little row boats that take you in finally came around we hopped on. It then brought us to a pay station. Excuse me? Did I not just pay 18 euros for this? Nope, apparently to go INTO the Blue Grotto is a whole new charge and is a whopping 13 euros (which they do not tell you about until you are in their row boat and away from your big boat…). I have to say that it is pretty cool once you are in there and Jess jumped in for a swim (which we had to leave a tip for. A small price to pay given that some people were asked to pay upwards of 10 euros to swim). We then laid back down in the row boat and the man hauled us back out through the small cave opening, a pretty neat experience. Worth the whole 13 euros? I can’t decide.
We finally made it back to Capri where we tried to enjoy the beach for a while. The sun was nice but the beaches here were all rocky, no sand. They were also very cowded. After giving it our best shot we decided to find somewhere to eat.
We sat down at a restaurant for the typical pizza and pasta (being entertained constantly by a flirty italian server whom we were certain was gay – though, in Italy, everyone seems gay. Speedos, tiny swim trunks, and pants tighter than mine, I really question if any man here is straight).
We then paid another 17 euros to go home (yea.. thats for one way), made the trek back up the enormous amount of stairs to the sorrento square, and back down to the train. It was done for the day. at 7pm on a Friday… the train had stopped running… HOW DO PEOPLE LIVE HERE. UGH… We caught the bus (our dreaded bus) and managed to find our way. Then, we crashed for the night.
Meta to Florence
We woke up this morning and headed down to the train to take to Naples, where we would catch the Eurail train to Florence.
It was rather uneventful and after dealing with the rudest woman on the planet where we got chocolate croissants and a yogurt (apparently the most difficult task in her daily life) we are now on the train to our destination.
Naples/Almalfi coast (2 days)
- Eat pizza!
- Eat Sfogliatelle (flaky pastry desert)
- Day trip to Pompii & Herculaneum
- Ruins under San Lorenzo Maggiore Church
- Trip to Almalfi coast
- Beach party (Arenile – clubby, or Vibes on the Beach – relaxed and older)
I have been in Italy long enough to make a few observations:
- Italy is beautiful – Even when you are in what seems to be the dumps of the land, around the next corner is some breathtaking ocean view, adorable side street, or interesting ruin. It really is a place to get lost in.
- The italian language sounds like people are yelling. It is very entertaining to watch people have what you believe to be a heated argument and then hug and laugh at the end.
- The pasta here is amazing. Buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes and basil with the thick noodles is my favourite, but they are all good. I think it is the noodle itself. It has its very own distinct and delicious flavour.
- Oil and vinegar. Before every meal. Dies of happiness.
- The people are beautiful. I love their tanned skin and dark hair. It is a very pretty nationality and people watching puts a smile on my face.
- People are always trying to sell you something – this place is like Mexico and if you don’t have a ‘resting bitch face’, you should adopt one. Jess is just so sweet she gets pulled in and ends up with hundreds of cards and people getting into lengthy speeches about their products or lives. I, on the other hand, give less F*cks and often wave people off. A middle ground is likely the best approach.
- Breakfast food is hard to come by – If you are not in the mood for a pastry or donut-like desert at 8:00 in the morning (which, trust me, gets old fast) then you are hard pressed to find some normal, healthy alternative.
- People are rude – I hate to be the one to say it… but people here just do not care. Most of the customer service representatives we have run into (including those in the tourist centres) act like you are the bane of their existence. Eye rolls are more like full head rolls and your presence seems to make them physically ill. I am not sure what it is, but it is not very welcoming. Also, if you are walking down the street and someone is coming towards you, either you move over all the way, or you get hit in the shoulder and get an angry look.
- Pasta is better than pizza – as a person who has been known to say I could live off of pizza alone… I could not do so here. Maybe I am just not used to it (though i generally like the thin, home-made crust) but most of the pizza seems soggy with little cheese. Just something to consider.
- Men here are very creepy. At home you will get a whistle from a passing car, nut here they seem to slow down and follow you with their eyes, head, and body as you pass. They often yell in your direction and call you over or call at you, some even walk towards you. Mostly older men (to which we think “you probably have daughters my age. Go home you perv”) but also some younger ones. I guess it is just part of their forward culture.
Anyway. Onto the second half of Italy with our spirits high and our minds open. I do really love the experience. Rome is still my favourite place so far.
Ps: we just passed a sunflower field on the train. THINGS WILL BE OK! So beautiful.