The Amalfi Coast
Capri, Toni and Nunzia
We arranged to meet with Nunzia today to have our passport photos taken for the authorities. Toni was out working in the yard. “Buongiorno, Toni” and we were off. He loves talking about anything and everything. We were still talking when Ellen came down. Shortly after Nunzia came out and joined in. Eventually Nunzia photo’d our passports and the conversation wound down. I mentioned Torre del Greco as one of the places we will visit. “Be careful there. Be very careful.” Ominous, a harbinger of doom? I’d have put more credence in this had Toni not been so wary of the Sicilians too. “They’re not true Italians. They have their own government and call us (Italy) the mainland.” Torre del Greco is a few days away. It will take care of itself (I hope).
We grabbed our bags and walked down to the marina. I bought two one way tickets to Sorrento and was told the ferry was already in at port 12. We had thirty minutes, more than enough time for a quick breakfast of espresso and cornetti.
Private Day Tours
I had arranged through Gianluca Savarese of Private Day Tours, http://www.privatedaytours.com/ , to have a car and driver meet us at the Salerno ferry and drive us to Amalfi. I wanted to enjoy the view as we drove the coast and not be bothered by the traffic. I knew the day we would arrive in Sorrento, but not the time. There were too many variables to commit to a specific time. In emails we agreed that I would call ahead once I knew when we would arrive Sorrento and a driver would be there for us. I called Gianluca while we waited for the ferry.
Ferry to Sorrento
It figured, port 12 was the last on one the pier. We boarded the gangway, handing our tickets to an agent as we walked on. The theme for Capri was “almost empty”, it was never crowded. This hydrofoil had three other passengers aboard.
Empty Ferry Capri to Sorento
The crossing was swift. The rhythmic swaying, rocking put me to sleep. I awoke as we neared the dock. Ellen dozed off and on too. Disembarked, we looked for our driver among the tight knit group waiting to board. He was nowhere in sight. We thought, “strange” and continued on toward the street exit. A short while later a tall, lanky blond woman rushed up and asked “Ron”. Here was our driver. There was such a crowd getting onto the ferry that we missed each other.
Inna, our driver to Positano and Amalfi, Private Day Tours
Inna Taking a Turn on the Way to Positano
We walked over to a brand new Mercedes, put our bags in the trunk, and were off. Inna introduced her self. She pointed out buildings of interest in Sorrento and other small towns as we wound our way in traffic toward Positano and Amalfi. The coastline was gorgeous, full of mountains dropping into the sea with enclaves of villas perched on ridges or built together up ravines to form small towns. It was similar to route 1 in California, but with so much more history and architectural variation.
Inna stopped at a scenic view and we took a break from our ride to stretch our legs and take a photo or two. It was a gorgeous location.
A stop on the way to Positano
Further on, Inna stopped in a parking garage in Positano. We were hungry. “Let’s go straight down to the shore, eat something, and walk back more slowly” “OK”. Of course Ellen could not resist taking a few photos along the way. Ellen and I walked down to the sea, passing a myriad of shops, tourists, and shoppers on the way. This reminded me of Capri’s main shopping street. Still we made pretty good time navigating the tourists. At the shore we found a number of seaside restaurants. Had this been peak tourist season, we would never have had time to eat.
On the beach we chose a restaurant with tables in the sun and had a Margherita pizza and a beer. We had just enough time to eat and walk back up the main street. Positano is a shopper’s paradise. I was left wondering what hiking trails were accessible in Positano.
A feel for the crowds in Positano.
Positano, A Steep Stairway.
Inna was waiting for us at the top of the hill. I called the manager of the apartment where we would stay next to ensure someone would be available to meet us. The Amalfi coast is a beautiful drive. I could have driven it with no trouble at all, but it is far preferable to enjoy the dramatic scenery than it is to “enjoy” oncoming traffic. The blue of the sky complimented the blue of the ocean. The cliffs and gorges cut into the limestone were precipitous. Often the roadway was built out from the cliff on stone arches. We passed two small public beaches and did not stop. Eventually at the eastern end of Amalfi, Inna pulled into a street and parked. Romano, our booking agent appeared, Inna, Ellen and I made our goodbyes. Romano now ushered us up to the apartment.
Lemon Candles, Ellen Stopped then Moved On.
View from The Top, Positano
On the Road to Amalfi
Romano and his cohorts at the real estate office all said it was a short walk with not too many stairs. Sounds good, right? Wrong on two counts. It is a short walk if you’re not carrying baggage up the hill, we turned sharp left and walked up a very steep incline for 100 meters, then negotiated 104 steps to the apartment door. Romano stopped by the owner’s flat to get the key. She came out and greeted us; a very warm friendly woman. She then turned to Romano and asked something in Italian and Romano looked sheepish. She then told us she would have been happy to take us and our bags up the hill in her small 3-wheeled truck! Good naturedly, but seriously at the same time, I ribbed Romano about the hike. We had left a bag or two at the real estate office and had to repeat the “ordeal” yet again. All in all the hike was not a problem.
The apartment again was exactly as presented in the photos, though the view from the windows was misrepresented. I assume it’s typical of a real estate agent’s approach to selling; make the property look as good as you possibly can and deal with any fallout later. We did have an expansive view, just not so much of the water. Most of the time we are out anyway.
We Purchased Fruit Here
Classic Meat Market, Amalfi
Early Morning Buying Fruit for the Evening
A leisurely walk down the main road took us past meat shops, cheese shops, fruit stands, a hardware store. As we drew closer to the gulf of Salerno, the shops changed from every day shops for locals to some then more tourist shops. Amalfi, unlike Positano or Capri, developed in a very narrow canyon. This limited the town’s sprawl and also the number of shops catering to tourists. There are no “high end” or designer shops in Amalfi. The town is not the glamorous jet-setter destination we expected. We were glad for that. Amalfi is a rustic quaint town alive today as it has been for decades, perhaps centuries. The rich and famous have expansive villas built into the hillsides around Amalfi, but they are mostly hidden. Sofia Loren’s villa sits along on a promontory between Positano and Amalfi.
Learning from our mistake in Salerno, we found the ferry terminal and the bus stop to points north and south. Amalfi’s seaside is quite small. Back at the apartment with our other bags, I recalled a restaurant that Megan, practically a family member,, had recommended on her honeymoon on the Amalfi coast. Checking my “play book” I found Da Gemma and called them on my trusty Italian phone. Yes they could make a reservation for 7:30 tonight, how many? “Due, per favore”. The Italians just know which language to switch to. It can be hard to practice Italian; I do it anyway. Every now and then I’ll ask something in Italian, and I’ll get a barrage of phrases strung together that could be individual words or could be one big run-on germanic like word. It’s fun. Usually my blank expression is clue enough that that last question I asked might just be the only “good” Italian I know!
We found the restaurant with ease and were guided to a less than perfect table. Ellen asked to be seated by the windows. “ I am sorry but that is not possible.” During most of our nearly 3 hour meal that followed, the window seats remained empty. But about an hour before we left, they filled. It is not unusual for an Italian family or couple to linger for hours at a table enjoying each other’s company. In Italy, you are not simply paying for a meal. You are paying for the table for the night. Tables the appear empty are often being held for a party that could show up early or (more typically) late. That group would rightly be very upset if “their” table was not available. If you read through any restaurant reviews posted by Americans in Italy, many of the poor reviews revolve around poor service or not being seated where the couple expected: no window seat when there were clearly numerous seats available. Dining in Italy is a wonderful experience. “When in Rome…”
We started our meal at 7:30 with a bottle of aqua con gas and a bottle of white wine and some good natured conversation. The restaurant opens at 7, there were a number of people seated already. The waiter brought a small appetizer with compliments of the chef, one for each of us. With a hint of plantain, it was a welcome surprise, very tasty, with not easily recognizable ingredients. Perfect. I had seen a number of scorfano on ice when we entered. This was the fish Toni had raved about. Ellen had the house specialty pasta, Mezzi paccheri alla genovese and I asked for scorfano, one of the special fresh catch of the day. I was told it would be grilled and fileted with a touch of olive oil and lemon on the side. Perfect. The wine improved as it breathed, the meal was very very good. After the main course, the waiter brought each of a mousse to clear our palette for dessert. The bottom layer was a cream with a hint of lemon, the next layer was a hint of strawberry, and it was topped off with small flacks of caramelized ginger. We ordered variations on chocolate for our dessert. It consisted of five chocolate presentations: one was white chocolate with a small egg sized serving of chocolate gelato, another was a small chocolate lava cake, another was a chocolate and chili mouse. All were very good. We were happily considering asking for the check, when the waiter appeared with another dessert dish, this one with eight mini pastries. A very tiny cream puff, another was a cherry cream puff, another candied mango dipped in chocolate, the fourth escapes me. It was now 10:10; the restaurant had filled and was very lively.
First Teaser Appetizer, Complimentary
The first appetizer was a fried cheese with a hint of plantain with a splash of pesto reduction and tangy red pepper sauce.
Half an Appetizer, We Shared
We ordered a mixed appetizer which included hand made sausage, ricotta stuffed zucchini flower, and tuna carpaccio. I had fresh scorfano sautéed in olive oil and served with no embellishment. Ellen had Mezzi Paccheri alla Genovese. Grandma Gemma’s Genovese pasta recipe of short rigatoni stuffed with her special meat. Both were great, though my single serving fish was small.
We Shared a Bottle of White Wine
The wine was very good, but needed time in the glass to develop.
We ordered a mixed dessert of chocolate chili mouse, volcano chocolate cake, white chocolate mousse with chocolate gelato and caramelized ginger, and a scrumptious something.
Palette Cleanser and Chef’s Complimentary Dessert
After we thought we were done, our waiter brought out two orange ginger palette cleansers and a set of pastries: a mini coffee cream puff,, a sour cherry mascarpone soft cookie, butter cookies, and chocolate dipped candied mango. The orange ginger drink was exquisite.
A Representation of Amalfi built into a rock face
In the back of the main street in Amalfi is a representation of houses stacked together much like those in Amalfi. It was fascinating to look at. Going home from Da Gemma, we found that the artwork is electrified and has tiny lights glowing from the house windows.
Stairway to Our Apartment, 1/3 of the way up.
Today was a week day; Amalfi was asleep. There were a few couples walking about, but noting was happening. It felt like the sidewalks had been rolled up. It was a long day for us, coming from Capri, to Sorrento, Positano, and Amalfi. We went home and right to sleep.