Bonjour, my friends! We have returned from the land of pizza, pasta, and gelato a little larger than when we left a week ago, but that’s what vacation is for, yes? I will be hard-pressed to condense a week’s worth of scenery and feeding frenzies to one post, but I think I will try, so go get yourself a glass of sweet tea and get comfortable- this might be a long one.
This was our first European vacation since we made Paris home, and I have to say it was pretty cool to get on a plane and get off two hours later in Italy, with no jet lag. Italy greeted us with a day significantly warmer than the one we left behind in Paris, which suited us just fine. We hopped directly on a bus from the airport to Sorrento, which was a short bus ride that would have been even shorter had it not stopped every 200 yards.
Our Sorrento hotel was very nice, with lovely, authentic painted tile floors and an incredible view from our room.
One morning we took the hydrofoil to Capri, which took about 30 minutes. The island was pretty, and the views from the 12 minute chair lift ride were amazing.
- I took Latin for three years in high school and still remember our class trip to the Pompeii exhibit in Dallas.
I have always wanted to see the actual site, and was so happy to get there, even if it was on a train that seemed to stop more than it rolled.
The weather was not great, but the rain never came down hard, and we had the foresight to bring umbrellas, so it was fine.
When we got back to Sorrento later that afternoon, the rain began in earnest. We ducked into a restaurant for lunch, and then traipsed back to our hotel , hitting locals and tourists alike with our umbrellas, which we are not yet adept at using on narrow sidewalks. After a short nap, we managed to overcome inertia and inclement weather, and got ourselves back on the street and back to the train station, where we jumped on a commuter bus to Positano, a small town just a bit farther along the coast. As many of you probably know from experience or from other friends who went to the Amalfi coast and then bored you with their stories, the road that follows the coastline is breathtaking. Switchback turns and dramatic drop-offs to the ocean are both thrilling and terrifying. I quickly found myself eyeing the driver to visually assess his health, scoping his belly fat and wondering how recently he had his cholesterol and blood pressure checked. The last time I did that was with the pilot of a 7-passenger plane who flew us a short distance in Costa Rica several years ago. That guy got much lower marks on my assessment and we lived to tell about it , so I stopped examining the bus driver and just looked out the window. When he answered his cell phone, however, I began to doubt his mental condition, and when he finally ended the call, I was half expecting him to start texting or playing Words With Friends. Despite all my disparaging thoughts about the driver,however, we did make it to our destination. Yea.
Positano is literally built right into a cliff overlooking the ocean, and is almost completely on a vertical plane. The rain was falling lightly as we walked down the many steps and winding streets descending to the beach. Once there, we installed ourselves at a table for some libation and bar snacks and yes, more gelato.
When we finally were ready to face the hike back up the main road and our return bus, the rain was coming down in earnest. Our ascent was very wet, as water was rushing down the streets and the steps with a vengeance. By the time we reached our bus stop, our shoes and pants legs were soaked. After a short wait, the Sorrento bus stopped for us, and we happily jumped on, and proceeded to congratulate ourselves on yet another successful adventure on the Amalfi Coast.
We had braved the weather and the public transportation and the millions of steps which became a torrent, and we were heading back to our hotel, where we would put on warm jammies and hope our shoes would dry by morning. Or so we thought. Our little self-satisfied celebration was short-lived, as they so often are doomed to be. Not five minutes after Mark and I boldly moved up to the front seats in order to make the ride even more thrilling, we saw flashing lights on the road. An Italian policeman had an exchange with our driver, which we couldn’t understand but which obviously caused our driver no small amount of consternation. He pulled to the shoulder and began trying to make a call, but was unable to get a signal. Finally he resigned himself to our situation (whatever that was- we were still totally clueless) and began the horrifying procedure of attempting to turn the bus around on the perilously narrow road. This maneuver required a 13-point turn, many steps of which saw our bus facing the drop-off to the sea, with our front bumper inches from the short and probably ancient stone wall separating us from the plunge to our deaths, and the driver’s foot on the gas until the wall stopped our forward movement. I don’t know who was sweating more when he finally got us turned around- the driver or the eight passengers who had not made a peep during the entire ordeal. SO we eventually figure out that the road is closed due to a landslide from the mountain that this treacherous road is cut through. We know that our hotel and belongings were in the opposite direction that we then found ourselves going, and we had no idea whether the driver intended to drop us off in the rain in Positano or drive us all off a cliff. He drove a bit to a turnaround area and again tried to get through to someone on his cell phone (his boss, we assumed) and finally succeeded. Within ten minute or so another driver appeared out of the dark rain and they exchanged some lively Italian with each other and on the phone. The result was that we headed back in the direction of the road block. I assumed that someone had succeeded in getting us permission to pass, but who knew? If anyone spoke English on that bus, he was keeping it a secret. Once again we arrived at the road block and the new guy had a spirited exchange with the policeman through the window. I have no idea what they said, but I heard the word “responsible” and in my mind it was going something like this:
Driver: Luigi told us we could pass the road block.
Policeman: No way, dude- you can’t make it!
Driver: Yes we can. We will be responsible for what happens–let us pass!
Policeman: Impossible! It’s a death trap. It’s a suicide rap- you better get out while you’re young!
Driver: Bruce Springsteen isn’t Italian and neither are most of these passengers, so we are willing to risk it. Let us pass!
Whatever they actually said, the policeman won, which meant what? Exactly- we had to do another 13 point turn, but by now it’s totally dark and totally pouring. At least this time there were two drivers, and one of them stood outside and yelled directions to the driver as he moved us forward and back, forward and back, into the mountain and then into the abyss of the black sky, where we knew the sea waited below to gobble us up at any moment. It was horrifying. I was so sure we were going to be one of those awful tourist headlines in newspapers around the world.
Once again we found ourselves headed away from our jammies and our beds and our bottle of local wine , and wondering where we would end up. Eventually we were told that we would go all the way back to the other side of Positano on the coastal road, and then take a longer way back to Sorrento. So for several more hours we sat in our wet clothes and shoes and clung to each other, staring out the windshield at the rain, the abyss, the water pouring off the mountain and down the road, and the stuff that had already fallen off the mountain onto the road. At one point we saw a boulder in the road that I swear looked exactly like the ones that Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner used to push off cliffs onto each other. It was enormous. If it had picked up any forward momentum it would have taken out several houses, I’m sure. A few times it sounded like we were hydroplaning, and there was definitely enough water on the road to float that bus. Are you getting the picture of how terrifying this was? Mark said it reminded him of a ride at Disneyworld, only this ride didn’t end for four miserable hours!
Our driver finally dropped us off at our hotel at 11:30 PM. And one more little sidenote- I hadn’t used the facilities at the restaurant where we drank several (but not nearly enough) drinks before our bus ride to hell, which meant I hadn’t gone since 4:30 or so that afternoon. Yeah. Miserable.
Are you still with me, mes amies? Because as long as this post seems to you, it isn’t nearly as long as that bus ride seemed to me. So get over it.
The next morning we planned to go to Amalfi, which, coincidentally, is the town on the other side of Positano where our bus had to go in order to get us back to Sorrento. We wondered whether the road would be re-opened, and our taxi driver assured us it was , as he dropped us at the bus station and drove away, howling with laughter. I left M and M by the sign for the Amalfi bus and I went up to the station, where I was told that the road was indeed still closed and would be all day, and no there is no train to Amalfi but there is one ferry at 3:00. SOOOOOO we walk, with our bags, to the 300 vertical steps leading down to the ferry port, where we are told that the ferry to Amalfi doesn’t run in the off-season. Perfect. We did manage to get on a bus going back to the station, because there was no way in hell we were going to be able to carry our bags back up all those steps. At the station we tried to find any other people desperate enough to pay a taxi to Amalfi, so we could share the 120 euro cost, but at last decided to do it on our own, as our room there was already paid for and wasn’t cheap. The taxi driver actually spoke pretty good English and loved to practice it, and he was a wealth of local information on the drive to Amalfi. He was able to take the coastal road because it was only closed to buses, not cars, and so we covered the same gorgeous stretch of Amalfi coast we had done several times the day before, but under clear skies and daylight. By the time we reached our destination, we had seen about enough of that piece of road to last us awhile.
Our reward was one night in the lap of luxury at the Santa Catarina hotel.
I can’t tell you how wonderful it was. The bed linens alone were awe-inspiring. We had lunch overlooking the pool/ocean, and imagined how the place must look in the high season, when the deck chairs were in use and the tables were full.
We explored the town of Amalfi a bit before heading back to our decadent hotel, where we enjoyed cocktails and incredible olives in their bar overlooking the water. It didn’t suck.
So we have reached the end of our Italian holiday. The next morning we were driven the hour and a half to Naples, where we stood in endless lines to get on and off the plane and then to retrieve our luggage. Paris waited for us, still beautiful.
Sawyer doesn’t come home from his farm holiday until Wednesday, due to some weird circumstances, but the word is that he is loving it and hasn’t missed us at all.
Wishing you all a spooky Halloween and a good week. Don’t ride buses in the rain.