Amalfi and Capri

Italy

From Naples, we caught the Circumvesuviana train to Sorrento. The plan was to use Sorrento as a base to see the Amalfi Coast and Capri. It served this purpose well – it is the perfect gateway to see both Amalfi and Capri when you don’t have time (or can’t afford) to stay in those places.

Sorrento was mass tourism on steroids. You may think of it as a quaint little place on the peninsula jutting out from Naples, but in reality it’s the largest retirement village in Britain. We had an idea of this before we arrived, but the scale of it was still a shock.

Day one was Amalfi Coast day. We had a few things to sort out in Sorrento first, so we dodged the hoards of tagged and badged tourists obediently following their tour leaders like biblical sheep.

There was a queue to catch the bus to Amalfi, so Em was dispatched to bring back gelato. Brits, Kiwis and Aussies have that innate formality which means they know how to queue. But if you’re Italian, you go straight to the front when the bus comes.

What a bus trip. The road around the coast through glamorous Positano to Amalfi makes the Treble Cone mountain road seem very tame indeed. The driver to Amalfi was fairly easy going and we soaked up the incredible view and the sheer drops below.
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On the contrary, it’s hard to describe the trip back to Sorrento. But imagine that running the country had made Berlusconi late for a bunga bunga party and he had hijacked a bus to get himself there. That was our bus driver. It was much better when it got dark, cause we couldn’t see over the edge.

As for Amalfi itself, we just wanted to have a relaxing day after the perils of Naples. So we found a recommended restaurant on the beach and stayed there for a four hour lunch, finishing with limoncello. Fortunately we had to wait a little while to get on Berlusconi’s bus for the return journey – vital digesting time.

Day two was Capri day. At €34 per person for a return ferry trip to Capri, it’s not a cheap day, but it is a ‘must do’. Once on the island, I was keen on catching the gondola funicular thing from Marina Grande to Capri township, but we inadvertently ended up on the walkway, climbing the steps instead (in the heat). I wasn’t smiling when we reached Capri, as many of the obedient biblical sheep had somehow made it there as well. (I realise we too are tourists – it’s just that we are a little more inconspicuous…) Many of the flock were enjoying an aperitif at the Piazza Umberto for an eye-watering price.

It soon became apparent why there was such a bottleneck in Capri – the bus drivers were on strike for the day (including the funicular thing). Being Italy, there is no way of finding this out until you arrive. This meant that the average day tripper found themselves stranded in Capri and unable to go off and explore the rest of the island. Only the groups/flocks with private coaches and guides/shepherds were escaping.

We ran through our options and decided it was going to be a miserable day if we stayed in Capri township, so we found a taxi to drive us to Anacapri (we weren’t walking in the heat). It meant spending an unforeseen €30 on taxis, but it also meant that we could wander Anacapri with barely any other tourists (the lack of buses keeping the masses stranded in Capri).

We suffered an ordinary lunch alongside a package deal group from Aussie (who we assumed were from Bonnie Doon). Then the day got much much better…

The Villa of San Michele in Anacapri was a standout. Neither of us knew anything about it beforehand, so it came as an unexpected surprise when we sauntered up to the door and had second thoughts about paying the small entry fee.

In the early 19th century, Swedish doctor Axel Muntha visited Capri and had the crazy idea of building his dream home on the ruins of the Emperor Tiberius’ villa. He largely built the place himself, using the help of some locals. I think various artifacts in the place were dredged up from the ocean at the bottom of the cliff, like the sphinx, although it is all a bit mysterious.

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Yes, I took a pretty picture of a pink rose. Frowned on in NZ, but quite socially acceptable in Italy.

This is all written up in his famous autobiographical work The Villa of San Michele (which I purchased on the way out, but am only up to the second chapter). The best part of the villa is the gardens, where we were quite happy to wander. A fascinating bloke and an amazing place…

“It is all too fantastic to be translated into written words, you would besides not believe me if I tried to do so. I hardly know myself where the dream ended and reality began… You may ask the granite sphinx who lies crouching on the parapet of the chapel in San Michele. But you will ask in vain. The sphinx has kept her own secret for five thousand years. The sphinx will keep mine.”

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