Monday 17th July 2017 Lucca – Florence – Rome – Naples – Salerno – Positano
We’re off to Positano today, so have a big day with two train trips and a boat ride. We are up before 7AM, packed, cleaned up and out the door, leaving the keys in the letter box, and carrying the last of our garbage, plus the supplies we have decided to hang onto in the reusable carry bag from the big Lucca Supermarket. We drop the garbage with a lot of other bags, Dianne buys a couple of snails (pastries, not the animal) for breakfast from a pastry shop which is open, and we make good time to the station. We already have our electronic tickets, but can’t get the ticket stamping machine to pick up on the box-type code on the ipad, but punt high and take the underpass to platform 4 to wait for the train to Florence which is a Regionali (7.60 euros each) coming from Viarregio. We refer our verification problem to a woman sitting on the same bench, who turns out to be from Melbourne. She is of the opinion if the ticket is dated, there is no problem and we go with that. They were staying in the new city, outside the walls, in a house belonging to friends, who had inherited it derelict, and decided to do it up for friends and family to use. When the train arrives we are able to get a group of four facing seats, put the bags in the two facing to rear, and sit facing forward. The carriage is pretty empty, and there is no safe place to put the luggage without sitting on top of it. Even though the carriage fills at times, there are always some spare seats, and people walk through to other carriages rather than making an issue of the seating. There is a middle aged idiot playing loud computer games behind us for a fair bit of the time, but the African businessman across the aisle shushes him to take a phone call, and he sort of gets the message. We get some reasonable photos of the terrain and hill villages on the way. See a lot of Africans in the small towns, and a lot on the train itself. This is a rural area, with a lot of farming, and they may be farm workers, but this doesn’t explain what they are doing in a train on a Monday morning.
At one station there are lined up a number of rusty old steam trains and rolling stock. Shortly after we see bush fires in the thick scrub on the mountainside. 20 minutes outside Florence we cross a large river with a rocky weir. Coming into Florence, through the forest of supports for the train electrics, we can see the dome of the Duomo looking fairly close, but the Duomo is so large, as we know, it’s could be some distance away.
We exit the train at a station where all trains terminate, so it is level walking to the concourse with arrival and departure boards. We see that our train number for the Italo fast train to Salerno (53.90 euros each) is not up on the board, so Dianne checks out the shops, Murray checks out the loo, and Dianne settles down to wait on the ground at Platform 6, which is not busy, while Murray keeps watch on the boards. When our train number appears, it is shown arriving at 10.25 on the arrivals board, departing at 10.33 on the departures board, but there is no allocated platform, and a mysterious 15 number, which turns out to mean 15 minutes late. This situation continues, only with the 15 changing to 20, and 25 before we get a start on Platform 13, close by. There is a general rush and crush where the passengers have to get their tickets checked, and another rush to get to the right carriage. We get onto Carriage 9, find that the baggage lockers are full, so walk through to our seats, where there is room in the overhead racks for our day packs, and possibly the big packs, but Dianne finds some room, possibly for one bag in the baggage locker, but by judicious repositioning of one existing bag, and a bit of shoe-horning, we manage to get both bags secure enough to get on with sorting out our seats. We were facing forward, hoping the train would not do a three-point turn, and this served us all the way into Rome.
There isn’t much that is worth a photo in suburban Florence, but once outside the city, we got some good record shots of the journey. In spite of speeds up to 300kmh, the photos come out quite well-focused if you crop the blurry section close to the train. Also, in spite of speeds up to 300 kms at times, we continued to lose time, cutting into what we thought was an adequate transfer time (one hour and fifteen minutes!) to catch our ferry at Salerno. A lot of the countryside was similar to Spain, with fields of harvested hay, olive groves, and mountains in the distance. Coming into our first Rome train station we don’t see a lot of interest, but we do see a large Roman wall with square watch towers, and a brand new station. At Roma Termini, near where we stayed in 2001, there wasn’t a lot to see, but our train reversed, leaving us facing backward till Naples, when the process reversed. We see one impressive church tower, Roman walls and towers, and that is about it.
Heading towards Naples, we see what looks like a massive solar collector array on a hillside, and not long after notice Monte Cassino on the maps.me, which was the scene of the difficult WW2 battle, with a massive five or six level single building on an isolated mountain.
Approaching Naples we see what has to be Vesuvius, smoking pretty heavily, but from bushfires on the flanks, reputedly lit by the Mafia using petrol soaked cats to spread fires through the undergrowth, according to a journalist and mafia expert in one newspaper we read.
We come into two Naples stations, straight through the first, then reversing out of Naples Centrale to put us back to facing forward. We get a closer up look at Vesuvius, circling to north and east of it, contrary to Murray’s expectation of continuing past it and swinging east parallel to the coast -high speed trains make their own rules. Leaving Naples, we are running 45 minutes late, but make this up to about 40 as we exit the long tunnel which takes us through the mountains and straight into Salerno station.
We are up and ready, second and third out the door, and take the underpass which brings us out at a small park and statue, right where we were hoping. We can see the port from here, and have about ten minutes to spare, so Murray hurries ahead, with the Ipad which has the e-ticket on it (13.50 euros each), following brown tourist signs. Keeps going past the ticket office to a sign saying Boarding Passes, but this is where they collect them, not issue them. He is called back to the ticket office by Dianne, we show the Ipad and are issued boarding passes for us and our two bags, and hurry to join the boarding queue. Murray finds a secure place for bags while Dianne gets a front row, starboard-side seat up on the top deck. We then settle down to catch our breath and wait for at least 15 minutes for the stragglers to arrive. Note for prospective Italian train travelers – EVERY train we caught in Italy was late. Make allowance for this when booking connections!
The weather is fine, but it is blowing pretty hard from the land, making for a smooth sea, but making it difficult for Murray to keep his “ pirate” cap on, as it has a peak, but no retaining cord. We get good views of the town, including a well preserved or rebuilt castle, and a series of concrete arch bridges carrying The Autostrada, which is definitely new since the last time we were here in 1976. On top of a prominent peak, we can see a cable car station, and a large skeleton cross.
On the voyage, we get good views of the entire Amalfi coast, and spend a long time off Amalfi waiting for a ferry berth. The town looks pretty good, and we will see if we can make it back here while we are in Positano.
Before we arrive at Amalfi, the ferry is less than quarter full. By the time we get moored at the wharf, there are hundreds queued up, and the ferry fills to capacity. What we don’t know is that bushfires have closed the road to Positano, and this is the only way to get to Positano. On the way we pass some spectacular steep coastal scenery and amazing buildings hanging precariously over the sea. Not far past Amalfi we can see a lot of separate fires up on the mountains, and get some photos of a plane water bombing the fires and refilling by skimming the sea. Near Positano there is a helicopter water bombing the fires. There is plenty of smoke in the air, which is a shame as the whole area is so scenic.
When we arrive at Positano we find that there is no sea wall, so the boats anchor off and back in so that a stern gangplank can be landed. The sea is surprisingly bumpy, and not long before we arrived we experienced three large swells in a row coming from nowhere. We waited till the crush had eased before landing with no hassles.
We were in Positano in 1976 in the off-season. We hitchhiked in, and froze to death at night because we’d elected not to have any heating as it was much cheaper. We vowed we’d come back one day, and stay in style, and here we are! We were originally planning to stay high on the hill with the great views, but Debbie found a lovely hotel down near the waterfront, Residence Flavio Gioia (140 euros per night for the cheapest, smallest room with no view).
We have the location on maps.me, and have studied the area on google, so know where we are heading, but are surprised to find there are only multiple stairways up to our hotel. We are sorting out how to handle the steps when good Samaritans descend on us and insist on carrying all or some of the load. It is getting easier to just go along with it rather than say we can manage. Even young women are giving Murray a hand. At the hotel, we have four high, steep steps to get to the large courtyard, then two flights up to the room, where we arrive at 17.17. This number of steps is hard enough, it would have been extremely hard staying high on the hill with Dianne’s ankle.
It has been a long day, and we are pleased to lie and rest before heading out to dinner with Mike and Debbie, who arrived from their week in Rome an hour earlier. Later we go down to La Cambusa restaurant in the first level above the beach, recommended by our hotel, for a reasonably priced meal, which is pretty good – eggplant parmigiana for Murray, pasta with seafood for Dianne, but still comes to a goodly total.
In the evening we walk around, taking photos of the coast and watercraft, the town and the fires up in the mountains above the town.
When we were planning this trip, more than six months ago, we were hoping to walk “Il Sentiero degli Dei (The pathway of the Gods) which starts in Praiano and finishes in Nocelle, which is above Positano. Debbie wanted to do it as well, but we now decide we probably won’t be able to do the whole walk due to Dianne’s ankle, plus the fact that there is a heatwave at present and it’s in the mid 30’s, plus we don’t want to walk near any fires. We decide that we’ll get the bus to Nocelle in the morning, and at least see the path, and walk a bit of it. The alternative of walking from basically sea level to 450 metres doesn’t seem a good idea for three munted walkers.
Tuesday 18th July Positano and Praiano -Bus and Walking
In the morning Dianne buys some supplies at the nearby Alimentari, and we set off up the hill with Debbie to catch the bus to Nocelle. There is a little orange “Mobility Amalfi Coast” bus waiting when we arrive, but it’s the local bus, which follows the meandering, always congested roads, UP and down the hill. Murray buys tickets (1.30 euro each), but it seems the bus to Nocelle isn’t going today, but we may be able to get there by taxi. We decide we may as well get the bus which is about to leave, and see where it leads. We can follow our progress on maps.me and can tell when we are getting close to the turn which takes you to Nocelle. At the turnoff, there are officials controlling traffic, and it becomes plain that the bus is not going to Nocelle because of the fires, so we stay on as it heads past the turnoff and towards Sorrento. Just as we’re getting very nervous about where we’re going to end up, it does a U-turn in the middle of nowhere, and heads back towards Positano, much to our relief. Decide we are close enough to town, and get off just after a great lookout point. There is a man selling small plastic cups of freshly squeezed orange juice for a euro a cup, so have one.
We check out the lookout, take photos down onto the town and across at the burning mountains. View is fantastic, though spoilt a bit by all the smoke in the air. We find we are able to walk on the narrow, winding roads with a certain amount of risk, but everyone seems to do it, so we carry on carefully to where a really steep path, Il Cammino dell’Alleanza heads up the mountain (checking later, we find it is part of a series of walks that cover 700kms in total). If we are really keen on mountain walking, we could take this, but it doesn’t seem like a good idea. Nearby, we check with the local SES men manning the road block, and find we cannot even walk a short way along the road towards Nocelle, so continue down the road until we get to where the loop road which takes you down into Positano splits off.
From here it is possible to walk the road or take stairs as shortcuts between loops in the road. A helpful English speaker tells us where we can find the start of the narrow stairway which cuts out a couple of loops in the road. We pass Pensione Marialuisa where we nearly booked. It has fantastic views, but is a bit old-fashioned, and we would have had to walk hundreds of stairs any time we wanted to go anywhere -very happy with our final choice for about the same price. We follow the road to go past a grotto with small houses set up in it, before taking a stairway which leads all the way down to the second beach, Spiaggia Fornillo. We stop in the main restaurant at the beach for drinks, including a very good value latte Macchiato in a large glass, and get to use the toilets and change room.
Walk along to the corner of the beach which is the public area. The beach is basically a pebble beach of dark, hot rocks, and requires shoes to get you to the water without burning your feet. Murray holds the fort up on a rock at the back of the beach while the ladies swim, mainly to cool down, as well as to be able to say that we did it. Certainly not one of the world’s great beaches, though it is in one of the world’s great locations. Debbie then looks after the gear while Murray braves the chilly water for long enough to start to enjoy the “bracing” conditions.
Murray takes photos of an interesting beach shack and then walks to the fort at the end of the beach, while the girls start the walk back to our hotel. In the hassle of getting into clothes and getting organized, Murray’s glasses were misplaced, but he didn’t find out till he was back from taking photos and a hundred yards towards Positano. Back at the beach, down by the water, they couldn’t be found, even with help, and Murray was about to give up, but just checked back at his sitting rock, and finds them perched on the rock. There is quite a climb in the path that leads between the two beaches, but it is interesting with good views. Back at the hotel, we finish our salami and bread lunch in the room, getting a lot of crumbs on the bed.
In the late afternoon, the two of us take the really packed bus to Praiano, using our spare tickets from the morning, as the Tabacchi shop had run out of tickets. Fortunately they are the same tickets, and we just managed to squeeze on, Murray having a very intimate afternoon with the ticket punch, while facing the back of the bus, while Dianne stood on one foot most of the way, so wouldn’t jar her ankle during the very frequent stops for other traffic to edge past the bus on the very narrow, winding road. Dianne talked to an Australian couple who were staying in Praiano, and driving a car. Every time the bus stopped, the bloke had to look out for the door opening against him. The bus crowding persisted all the way, only easing when we got to Praiano, and we were able to get back seats.
At Praiano, the bus diverted up several viciously steep switchbacks before coming back to the main road and heading further east. We were starting to get worried about how far we were going, so had to make a decision to jump ship, choosing a stop right near the Asciola tower (the Torre a Mare) a cliff side Saracen tower. (The next day we find we got off only a couple of stops before it turns around, at a beach).
The coast east of here is interesting, so we take photos, then head back toward Praiano along the road, use the road tunnel through a bare rock headland. Have a look at a model of the village set in a large cave by the road, and look at the ceramic tiled dome and steeple of the Church of San Gennaro from the road.
We look at the bus stop in Praiano, but decide to keep walking at least as far as Grand Hotel Tritone, the large hotel glued to a rock face, with zigzag stairways all the way to the water. We pass through another, shorter tunnel, take photos of a bronze sculpture at the top of a flash switchback driveway to a hotel, and keep walking. When we reach the Grand Hotel Tritone, we are able to look back to the village of Praiano, and down to the small beach below. A sign at the hotel indicates that there is a lift all the way to the sea. Beyond the hotel we look for a bus stop, find one on one side of the road only, but assume that it applies both ways, even though it is a bugger of a place to stop, just after a sharp corner, so that we can’t be seen until the bus is almost on us. One of the large SITA buses stops, but when Murray waves his ticket, the driver indicates it is for the wrong bus, and drives on. While we wait, a group of four, staying at the hotel, join us, and the woman tells us this is where the hotel told them to wait for the local bus.
We are pleased when it arrives, as it is just about to get dark, and the next bus is an hour away, and we’re pretty weary at this stage. The people from the hotel are an Australian couple with two grown sons, having a “splurge” at this hotel, not usually big spenders. They are from the Peninsular, and have heard about the earthquake at Avalon. They get off early, with most of the passengers, to walk down to the town, but we stay on, soon questioning our decision, but we are already high above the town, so decide to ride it out. We are pleased when the bus takes a left turn high on the mountain to take the same road down we took this morning. The bus takes us all the way back to the starting point at Piazza dei Mulini, and we walk down the ramp to home and a welcome rest.
Later we have a look around the restaurants for inspiration, and settle on the Buca di Bacco, with a kitchen on public view, and some sort of cooking school connection. Food was fair, but not special. Some interesting clientele, including the couple next door where the young man held forth about himself for the entire meal, to the stunned silence of his dinner partner.
Wednesday 19th July Positano – Praiano -Positano
The three of us start out before 9 AM walking up the hill, stopping for a breakfast pastry for Dianne, with the intent to walk to the Grand Hotel Tritone, the flash hotel where we terminated yesterday’s walk. The walking is pretty pleasant once we got to the main road, which is pretty level all the way to Praiano. We are looking into the morning sun, so most of the photos are taken looking back toward Positano. There is still a lot of smoke about, and fires are still burning on the mountain, and have freshened up a bit. It is a bit hard to work out the fire fighting strategy, as they almost had all the local fires out after the water bombing on Monday, but they didn’t do anything to them yesterday.
We pass some interesting resorts clinging to the cliff face, some with grassed terraces and pine trees looking particularly good. We stop at what looks like a church on one of the few wide flat areas on the sea side of the road, turns out to be part of a flash hotel. The staff are OK with taking photos to the west, but not towards the occupied rooms on the other side. As we walk further along the road, we can see right into the rooms with the telephoto, but see nothing to report, apart from some very flash lodgings.
When we get to where we stopped yesterday, the bus stop wasn’t looking any more official than it was yesterday. We took an executive decision to walk to the next bus stop where there was an actual schedule. We were also passed by an outgoing bus which was pretty full, which was a bit of a worry. Knowing the timetable, we were able to walk from bus stop to bus stop, eventually arriving at a stop inside the village where several people, one an Australian man, were waiting. At this point, we waved our tickets at a Sita bus, but got a knock back. Not long after, the real Positano bus arrived, chock-a-block full. It stopped for a while, sorting out traffic problems, but at no stage do the doors open, and it leaves without us.
We walk into the centre of Praiano, to where the route splits to go up the hill. There is a police car here, with a helpful woman who speaks fair English. She is kept pretty busy, as the road to Amalfi is closed because of the fires, and she has to explain to all the through-traffic that they have to take a long diversion to get to Salerno. She advises us to take the next inward bus up the hill and round the loop to avoid being bumped again. We get some pretty good bread and salami, sit in the bus shelter while we eat it, then transfer to where a local woman is waiting for the bus up the hill. The strategy works, and we even get seats at the back of the bus.
The trip up the hill is just as exciting as it was yesterday, with sharp bends, narrow roads and steep slopes below the road. This time we ride the bus to the end of the route, just beyond a very deep gulch with a small beach. Here the bus does a u-turn and heads back into Praiano on the lower road. We get out of the bus at the beginning of the Positano loop this time, and walked back down to the hotel, for a rest before venturing out again.
In the afternoon, Dianne takes a swim at the main beach while Murray sits on an inflatable fender, best free seat on the beach. We use the e-tickets on the Ipad to get boarding passes at the ferry kiosk, for both our Capri and Naples ferry trips. On the way back to the hotel, we solve the riddle of how they get baggage up to the higher town. Just beside the walkway to the ferries is a trench which becomes a tunnel under the city, and is used by electric porter vehicles, pickup trucks and garbage disposal. We have no idea where it exits onto the road system, and it is forbidden to walk in it. We buy a fairly good value pizza at a bar in the town centre, and later in the night, we come out to take night photos.
e really liked Positano and the surrounding areas. There is lots of great walking, and lots of villages we didn’t get to see, partly because of the fires, partly because it was too hot for too much walking, and partly because we didn’t have enough time. If we come back again, it would definitely be later in the season when it was cooler.
Thursday 20th July Positano – Capri.
Today we’re off to the Isle of Capri, where we had a very rushed day-tripper visit in 1976. We head down to the wharf, getting another lift down the steps, this time by a helpful Englishman. At the wharf, Dianne makes enquiries, just to make sure that the ferry at the wharf is not ours. We see Mike and Debbie sitting on seats in the shade and join them. We get talking to an Australian couple. They live in Bathurst, but he stays in Western Sydney during the week, and commutes home for weekends. We sit near them on the boat, and continue discussions on travel and house sitting/swapping.
The boat (NLG jet ferry – 25 minutes -51 euros for two) is fast and comfortable, and we get good photos of the coast and the island of Capri as we approach it, in spite of heavy smoke haze from the fires, which seem worse this morning.
At Capri, we berth in the Marina Grand, walk to where there is a sort-of taxi rank, presided over by a very hassled young policeman, who is trying to keep some sort of queue. He is being harassed by a woman who is strident as only ITALIAN women can be. We are standing in the hot sun, with little prospect of getting to the head of the queue, if there was one, so Debbie goes in search of someone with a phone who can ring the hotel for a shuttle pickup for 5 euros each. She comes back to tell us we have to walk to Wharf 22, not too far to the east, where the shuttles do pickups. By the time we get there, there is a Hotel Weber Ambassador van loading a couple of passengers, who have been waiting for half an hour so. We are not sure if it is for us as well, but hop in anyway, load our bags and are off up the steep streets to Capri, the main town on a saddle in the centre of the island, and down the other side to Marina Piccola. The streets are narrow, with buildings or high stone walls either side, and there are a lot of taxis and short, but wide public buses making driving difficult, but our driver manages, with several back-ups to wider sections for passing.
The view is absolutely fabulous, especially when we arrive at our hotel, which is almost all the way down to the Piccola Marina, which has a short beach of small waterworn pebbles, and an offshore rocky peninsular with a complex of stalls and bars. To the right, the bare rock headland drops steeply into the sea from hundreds of metres up, to the left are the stunning sharp peaks of the offshore rocks known as the Faraglioni. Offshore are moored large power boats, and sailing craft so large you have to see the size of the crew members in the telephoto to really appreciate just how big they are. This is definitely one of the best views on the whole island. The hotel is supposedly five star, but though it has everything you need, décor is a bit jaded, which is the only way we can afford to stay in such a great setting. Our room has no view, and is quite small, and we have no breakfast, for 160 euros per night. The only negative of this position would be that it is a long way DOWN from the main town of Capri, but this is not a problem because the hotel runs a free all-day shuttle up to it.
We are checked in straight away, although it is still only midday. Don’t lose a lot of time getting to the swimming pool, where Dianne swims, and we have a poolside snack of Pizza and drinks. Later in the afternoon, we venture down to the very crowded beach. Again, Dianne has a quick swim, mainly to have done it, while Murray holds the fort. The water is brisk, but swimmable, and Dianne uses the face mask to check out the Med, finding it reasonably clear, but devoid of fish and aquatic plants.
In the late afternoon, we and Debbie take the hotel shuttle to the top of the town, and walk up to the top of the Funicular and then through the fashionable shopping area. We originally planned on going to the Arco Naturale, which meant a lot of uphill, so settled for the Belvedere di Tragara, which has a great view over to the Faraglioni Rocks. The walking track continued from here around the cliffs, or down to the beach, but we are not in the mood for either option, so walk back through the Mediaeval Quarter and the shopping streets. Notable in the shops, apart from the Beautiful People, is a large silver serving platter featuring a large, blue-ringed octopus dominating one side of it. We look for somewhere reasonable to have an evening meal, and finally settle for a bar located beside and below the main road, with a good view over the port, and up to the heights of Anacapri. Murray had a very strange Caesar Salad, Dianne pasta with seafood, and Debbie a large and pretty dry panini. The sun is still behind the massif of Anacapri, but we manage some sunset colour from the bar.
While we are waiting for a hotel shuttle to arrive, Dianne manages to fit in a Gelato purchase, but shuttle arrives before Debbie can get one. Back at the room, it is quiet and dark, and we have a pretty good night’s sleep.
Friday 21st July Capri – Anacapri – Capri
Today, we have planned to go to Anacapri. We remember a cliff-top area with fabulous villas and wonderful views from our 1976 trip, and we think it might be in Anacapri. Murray has been looking at walks in the area, and Dianne didn’t pay much attention to what he’d planned, which was to do some or all of the walk from the Faro at the south-west corner of the island to the Grotta Azzura at the north-west corner. We bought four bus tickets, so we could get back without the need to buy tickets, and planned on getting some breakfast and supplies for the walk in Anacapri. From a standing position in the bus on the way up, Murray manages to get photos of the great garden with a statue looking out over the bay of Naples from two hundred metres above the water. The bus keeps going past both of the commercial areas of Anacapri toward the Faro, (good), but away from food and drink (bad). Unfortunately the bus doesn’t go all the way to the Faro, but drops us at a terminus in the middle of nowhere. There is a secondary bus which goes all the way to the Faro, but no timetable. Maps.me shows us we have about 2km to go, but we see a side track with a sign to “Sentiero dei Fortini”, the track we are looking for, so decide to use the side track to pick up the Sentiero about halfway along, making the total walked about the same as if we were to catch a bus. The track (Via Cannula), shows up as a road on the paper map of Capri, but only shows as a track which finishes no-where on maps.me. We take the punt, and walk down a steeply descending road wide enough for a car until we run out of civilisation, and the road becomes a rocky track beside the fences and walls of rural properties. The rough track is giving Dianne’s ankle a bit more physio than she would like, but we join the main track just near the historic Fortini di Mesola.
We walk out onto a peninsula to inspect the fort and the rocky foreshore which typically drops 20 to 30 metres into deep, blue water. From here we can see the steady stream of boats heading for the Grotta Azzurra (the Blue Grotto) and in notches in the shoreline we see boats at anchor with people swimming. Just near the Fortini there is a property being worked on by a team of workers, planting gardens, making paths, keeping the likes of us out. In spite of Capri being only a small island, the area is pretty remote, although it does seem to have vehicular access.
Further along, we cross deep ravines leading to an inlet with steps leading down to the water, and a large house with a very big swimming pool. Closer inspection reveals the house is not currently occupied, and is starting to fall apart, and the pool is empty. Either someone’s failed dream, or a house owned by someone with no time to enjoy it and keep it in good repair.
The track climbs higher on the coastline, with additional forts, and remains of reasonably new infrastructure which may have provided night lights for the path, and floodlights for the forts. At one lookout, we see three men in SES type gear who make sure we are OK. They may be checking for fires, as it seems to be the ratbag season, and there are signs of a very recent fire at one of the forts.
Getting closer to the Grotta Azzurra, we see more boats, and get onto the main road, Via Grotta Azzurra, which leads down to a bus terminus at the end of the road, just above the actual grotto. Can’t believe how many boats are in the bay. Not sure whether people on board are going to transfer to the tiny rowing boats to go into the Blue Grotto, or they have just come for a look. By this time we are hot, thirsty and starving, so check out the eating possibilities, settling for the bar attached to a restaurant at the end of the path which follows the waterfront, but at a much higher level. Settle for a very good panini shared two ways, and lemon sodas. The bar is too far from the grotto to swim to it for a look from outside (not to mention the fact that you would get run-down by the dozens of boats there) but it is only a short climb down steps to the water, so Dianne changes in the toilet and gives it a go. She is Ok getting in, but has a bit of trouble getting out on slippery rocks with the wash from passing boats coming in, as she was being super careful.
After lunch, we walk to the snack bar directly above the exit from the grotto, get some photos of the organised chaos around getting people from boats and the steps on shore into the skiffs they row into the grotto. We are not tempted, and grab the first bus out, paying on board, to take us back into Anacapri. We get off at the bus depot, walk into the village for a look at the shops and food possibilities, have a look at the outside of one of the churches, then line up at the main bus stop for the bus to Capri. Dianne is of the opinion we should walk to further back on the bus route to ensure a seat, or a place at least, after our Positano experience, particularly as one bus passes us with a lot of passengers and a “Completo” sign, but Murray prevails, as we do have sort-of queue chutes, and there are two routes, one to Capri, and one to the Marina Grande, and the queue does seem to be shortening.
When a bus arrives, we see that most of the people are waiting for the Marina Grande bus, so we push forward, and just manage to get on, being pushed aboard by a woman conductor type. It is a pretty rough ride to the bottom, hanging on as best we can, and firing photos one-handed at the spectacular road with two hundred-metre drops to the sea below. In the haste to get a bus, we forgot to have a look at where Dianne remembers seeing the spectacular views, though she’s not as sure as Murray that it actually was from Anacapri and not Capri.
Back at the top of the town, we get a hotel shuttle back, and take it easy until we venture out in the late afternoon. Get a photo of one of the pink-trimmed convertible taxis that remind us of modern versions of the taxis in Cuba.
Walk most of the way to the north east corner of the island, on a relatively wide smooth pathway, some of it steeply uphill, past upmarket villas. Interestingly, there was a lot of market gardening, plus villas with large ornamental gardens, including some of the largest wisteria bowers we have ever seen. Dianne had hoped to get to the various villas out on the point, but we ran out of time, and energy – will just have to come back again. We take photos of purpose-built electric vehicles for narrow lanes, including a community mobility vehicle, one metre wide and two high. On our outward walk, we checked out Lo Sfizio, a local restaurant with a reasonable menu, and returned to it and had probably the best meal of our entire Italian experience, the old faithful Scaloppini al limone, with roast potatoes, and a lemon Delice dessert to finish off – simple, but with wonderful flavours. We have been choosing restaurants a lot of the time by looking at Trip Advisor, but we just thought this was a local restaurant till we looked later, and saw that Trip Advisor had it 4 out of 100 on Capri!
Heading back through the medieval quarter, we took some good night shots of the streets, shops, beautiful people, and a bit of sunset. Also notable by night was the improbable zig-zag of lights all the way up from the port to the spectacular hanging road to Anacapri. Back at the hotel, Murray walked down to the beach to take some night shots up the hill and out to sea, where the illuminated masts of the big sailing boats looked more like oil rigs than pleasure boats.
Saturday 22nd July Capri – Naples
Today we are off to Naples. We are ready to check out right on the bell at 11am, but there is a traffic jam at the check-out, and we miss the 11AM shuttle, and have to wait for the 11.30, which isn’t a problem as we have to wait for a 12.40 ferry, and it is only ten minutes to the port, and we’d rather wait in air-conditioning than the heat. At the port, we take a while to work out where our ferry leaves from, but after asking numerous people we determine we need the 3 or 4 pier. We walk around in the heat, find a couple of possible ferries, but none with the right departure time. There is an earlier jet ferry leaving at 12.15, and we are told we can use our tickets on it (NLG jet ferry takes 45 minutes, and is 22 euros each) and decide to give it a go. Get an early start as the queue reverses, and we are closest to the boarding ramps when they are lowered. The ferry is pretty empty (unlike the ones arriving with the day trippers) but we are surprised that the open deck at the top has been roped off, so we can look forward to seeing the supposedly fabulous view of Naples from the inside of the boat through salt encrusted windows.
Murray notices that the back doors are still open, and a couple of tourists are out there taking photos in spite of ropes across the doorway, and he does likewise, getting photos of Capri and Ischia, as well as the mainland. After a while, Murray notices that the back doors are closed and dogged down, and he is on the outer, but is later let back in.
We dock where we are supposed to, and are only one-kilometre from our hotel, Il Convento (95 euros per night including breakfast) as the crow flies. We line up at the taxi rank, and are claimed by a driver who seems to be jumping the queue. There is a discussion on whether it is only one km, or eight, as he has asked for 15 euros, while Dianne has asked him to put on the meter. He eventually does so, but with bad grace, and when we arrive at the hotel, the meter is up to 6 euros, and bags are 50 cents each so Dianne gives him 10 euro for his trouble. It is only after he has departed that Dianne notices her prescription sunglasses are missing – she doesn’t expect them back.
We go straight up to the room, and later walk out to check out the older area around us, trying to remember where we were back in 1976, as the narrow streets with old high-rise apartments with washing hanging from balconies were very familiar. There is obviously still plenty of poverty around here, which hasn’t been anywhere near as evident in the other, touristy places we’ve been so far. We’re in the Plebiscito area, the old Spanish quarter, and the hotel is in a building dating back to the 17th century. The Convent of Santa Maria Francesca is right next door, which we become aware of at 7am the next morning, when we are woken by the ringing of loud bells.
We walk through the Spanish Quarter, and up towards Piazza Montesanto below the Castle St Elmo, then in the direction of the Historic Centre towards the Duomo, seeing a number of landmark buildings, but falling short of the Duomo. In general the buildings are massive, and doubtless historic, but not particularly pretty. We have a gelato and make our way down toward the harbour, but are blocked by buildings for a while, before we emerge into the major road, Corso Umberto, which turned into Via Sanfelice, then intersected the local main road and pedestrian mall, Via Toledo quite close to our hotel.
Mike had arranged to eat at a recommended restaurant, Trattoria Del Golfo (67 of 2,450) on Via Santa Brigida, quite close to us, and near the massive cross-shaped Galleria Principe Umberto 1 arcade, which has architectural elements reminiscent of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, and is in the process of being restored. It’s also just up the street from the medieval Nuovo Castle, often called Maschio Angioino (Angevin Keep) which dominates the waterfront.
As we should have known, nothing happens eating-wise here before 7PM, so after arriving about 6.30pm, we had to go up to Via Toledo to find a bar and kill some time. At Luise Bar, right in front of the Funicular Stazione, Debbie asked for a slice of lemon in her sparkling water, but was told it wasn’t possible. She tried asking a few different ways, with no luck whatsoever. When the Cokes arrived they were in a glass with a slice of lemon, but the sparkling water had none! Score 1 the waiter, 0 the tourist.
Back at the restaurant, we rediscovered the fried sardine (alici fritte del golfo di Pozzuoli – 6 euros) a cheap and tasty entree, and Dianne renewed her acquaintance with salt cod (baccala alla Siciliana – baccala freschissimo con olive nere doc e Pomodoro – 8 euros), and reckoned it was better than the Portugese one we had in 1976, mainly because of the tomatoes, but it will be another 40 years before she has it again.
Sunday 23rd July – Naples
The object of the day is to book an underground tour, and to get the funicular up to Castle St Elmo. We set off fairly early after a good breakfast, walking through the back streets in the general direction of Piazza Montesanto and the start of the funicular. We see a home-made blue sign to “Panorama”, and decide to follow it up the hill, through narrow winding streets to a series of flights of steps which ended up on Corso Vittorio Emanuele, a mid-level major road around the mountain behind the city. We take photos over the city and port, and carry on east to the mid-station of the Montesanto Funicular. We try to buy tickets, but the operator directs us through to the platform, so we assume we pay at the top.
We miss out on the favoured seats at the back of the tram, but get a couple of photos in. At the top, we follow signs to the St Elmo’s Castle. We have to walk a fair way downhill to what we think is the entrance, only to find out this is the church and museum, and the castle entrance is all the way back up the hill. Here we have a bit of luck, as there is an Irish family with a child in a wheelchair, and they are directed to a lift which takes them to the top of the castle. We play the crook foot card, and also get to use the lift, which goes to the major level of the castle, and we only have to climb a flight of steps to take us to the ramparts.
There are good views of the details of the castle and massive church/monastery adjoining, and down to the city and port, and back to the high ground north of the city. On the major level of the castle is an art gallery dedicated to abstract art, some of it pretty obscure. The castle itself on this level is pretty uninteresting as it has a number of newer buildings. Walking down the ramps and tunnels to the base of the castle, we see just what a massive structure it is.
We have to walk back up to the entrance to leave the grounds, retrace our steps to the top of the funicular, then head downhill along Via Scarlatti, which is a pedestrian precinct with wide stairs in the centre, and escalators in the up direction only at the side.
We catch the Metro from Piazza Vanvitelli station to Museo, with the idea of changing lines to take us to Piazza Cavour station, only to find the transfer tunnels are so long, they take you (walking!) to Piazza Cavour without needing a train. Shades of Seoul. It looks like it will be hard to get to where the Sotterranea tour starts, but closer scrutiny of the maps.me map reveals some of the buildings in our way actually have arched thoroughfares through them, so we are able to plot a course. Quite close to our destination we see a large tour group lining up at an obscure door. Dianne sticks her bib in, but can’t find out too much. It looks like they are visiting a Roman theatre.
We pick up our tickets for the 2pm Sotterranea tour, and decide that we can walk to the Duomo and back, and still have time for a cool drink. While Murray is taking Duomo photos, Dianne is sitting in the shade, contemplating having a look inside, but when it is time to make a move, the entrance doors are closed. We loop back by a different route to the tour start, and have time to throw down a quick drink, and front up to the entrance, where we are welcomed straight away into the 2PM English speaking tour (10 euros each).
As an introduction, we walk through curtains into a pitch dark room, feeling our way carefully by sliding our feet, find a bench against a wall and get accustomed to the dim light helped along by some UV to pick out who has fancy shoe laces. The girl leading the tour has an Irish accent, not too broad, but difficult at times. The excavations we will be walking through started as building material quarries, reached through vertical shafts in the soft tufa volcanic ash which has hardened to a porous rock. After excavation, the open space was used for water storage, with the porous stone sealed with lime cement, and the individual quarries connected by water channels. Up to four metres of building rubble was tipped into the various wells over the years, and a lot of what you walk on is compacted rubbish.
We descend about a hundred steps to the floor level in the tunnels and open spaces. It was pleasantly cool in the tunnels after the heat outside, but a bit sweaty. The steel handrails were rough and rusted, and wet with condensation. Openings for transport of cut stone and water can be seen from below, but most of the wells were closed in WW2 as the underground was used as an air raid shelter. Only a few wells in churches and monasteries were left open.
When we got to the section which still had water in it, some of the group were issued with candles, as the paths narrowed to just wide enough to slide through sideways, and there wasn’t enough lighting for people to walk safely. In spite of the narrowness of the tunnels, they weren’t too claustrophobic, as they were very high, up to six metres. At intervals the passages had abrupt right angle turns, and dead ends with steel gratings. One of the larger pools was 15-metres square, and over a metre deep, with the water crystal clear.
One exhibit in the tunnels was a garden where flowers and shrubs were growing in soil, but only watered by the high humidity. Some of the plants looked very fresh (we were told they had only recently been replaced) and others had lasted up to a year. In another space, edible plants were being grown. Other exhibits included WW2 bombs, kids toys left from when they spent a lot of time underground, stylised life-sized figures of workers digging tunnel and cleaning water courses,
After the underground tour we emerged at street level and walked to the Roman Theatre, where Dianne had seen the tour group before. The programme included a map of the theatre, which was relatively recently discovered. We use a trapdoor to enter the tunnels under the stage, which was the wine cellar of a woman who didn’t even know there was a theatre. There are arches made from Roman bricks, but you need a fair bit of imagination to visualise the complete theatre (or even part of it). One part of it was a motorcycle workshop, another part is now a showcase for the miniature dioramas they traditionally make in Naples showing nativity scenes and ordinary lifestyle groups. This tour was definitely something different to do to the usual churches, castles and palaces.
After the tour we found our way back to Piazza Cavour which is a new station with some imaginative decoration, and caught the Metro back to Toledo, and walked home.
In the evening we have another meal at the Trattoria Del Golfo, this time sardines for both of us, plus grilled eggplant (only fair), and some interestingly cut potato chips. After dinner we take a constitutional down to Nuovo Castle, then to the West past the Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale). Try to get through the car park without luck, so have to walk back via Via Toledo to the massive Piazza del Plebiscito with a church with a semicircular columned arcade and a circular main building like the Pantheon in Rome. Have a view of half of Vesuvius in the afternoon sunlight, and a major construction site, possibly for another metro line. The Piazza has a large fountain with a lot of sculptures.
There is a serious passagio going on all the way down to the harbour and along the waterfront . Dianne is getting a bit puffed by this stage, but wants to carry on and get public transport back. The map shows a bus route inland, but the topography shows some pretty steep country just in from the coast, and Murray worries the road might be on top of the escarpment. Along the malecon there is a low-walled boat harbour holding traditional small, decked-in Italian fishing boats, and further along is a tightly packed collection of floats and drums with no boats attached. Almost looks like an art installation. We continue walking along the waterfront in the Chiaia district.
We pass the large yacht Marina, inside the protection of the Castel de l’ Uovo, and get some good photos of the castle, and the brilliantly lit large hotel opposite it. We have a difference of opinion in terms of joining a crowd to look at an African busker with a dancing puppet, but give a donation and take a photo with the little camera. Shortly after we cut inland looking for a bus, and a Tabacchi shop, but find neither, but do find the bus route along the foot of the escarpment. Dianne has revived somewhat, so we plot a surprisingly straight course back to Via Toledo which is still alive with wandering tourists and high priced restaurants and bars.
Monday 24th July Naples
We all meet at breakfast, advise Mike and Debbie on easy access to the Castel St Elmo, and tell them we may go to Pompeii or the coastal site of a Roman amphitheatre. Check out how to get the train to Pompeii, as the other possibility is too hard, then at the last minute end up with a mutual decision to do very little, as we are almost out of Italy unscathed, and Pompeii on the train can be a hassle, at the least, as it’s very crowded, and we don’t fancy standing there and back, and we have seen Pompeii, even if it was a very long time ago.
We catch up on homework, and in the afternoon go out for one of the famous Neapolitan fried pizzas at Sorbillo’s, a necessary exercise, but one we are unlikely to repeat. After, we take another look at Piazza del Plebiscito with the semicircular arcade and Pantheon look-alike church, then head up the hill into the mean streets, and find our way back to the hotel, via our local Indian Alimentari for cheap Coke and water.
In the evening all four go out looking for the Trattoria a Pignata, which was highly recommended by a couple staying at the hotel, who always have one of their legendary antipasto when they come to Naples, but at 7PM we find their small terrace off the street empty of chairs, and the curtains drawn, so assume it must close on Mondays! Backtrack till we find something interesting, and settle on Hosteria Toledo Restaurant, advertising “Antica Cucina Napoletana since 1951” (later see was 649 of 2,450) which has some interesting antipasti dishes, which makes us feel a bit better about missing our other restaurant. Settle on a large shared antipasto plate for the four of us, and we have a less than brilliant reprise of the excellent scaloppini al Limone we had in Capri.
After dinner we take a constitutional around the end of Via Toledo and as far down as the enormous Piazza del Plebiscito. There are a lot of young men hanging around, and there are two police vans and a car, so we guess this could be a trouble spot, so keep walking back to Via Toledo and home. We do a partial pack at night, as tomorrow we’re leaving Italy after nearly five weeks, and heading for our homeswap in Colmar in te Alsace region of France.
Set the alarm for 7.30 in the sure knowledge that the church bells would wake us at 7AM. Murray hits the sack early, sleeping through Dianne internetting, and both to sleep before midnight.
Summary of Our Thoughts on Italy
We enjoyed our visit to the Italian Lakes. We don’t feel the need to go back to Lake Maggiore, but we did love Lake Como, especially staying in the very handy Bellagio, and would happily go back to explore the area some more, and do some more walking. With all the cross-lake ferries, it was a very convenient spot to access all the other towns on the lake.
Bellinzona in Switzerland was a surprise to us. We were very impressed with its three UNESCO castles.
It was good staying in Lucca for two weeks, trying different restaurants and exploring the town and countryside. However we wouldn’t recommend it as a base for people who hadn’t already seen a lot of Tuscany. Florence or Siena would be much more central to all the interesting towns. The day trip to Pisa, Cararra marble quarries and Viareggio beach was interesting, scary, and surprisingly easy to fit into one day travelling from Lucca.
We loved staying in Positano, and didn’t have nearly enough time to explore places like Ravello, Amalfi etc. Next time we would come a bit later in the season when it wasn’t quite as crowded, and when the weather was cooler and more suitable for walking, which there is plenty of in this area (and when hopefully there weren’t bushfires closing off some areas).
We loved the position of our hotel in Capri, with its wonderful views. Having been to Capri twice now, we don’t see any need to return.
Naples is interesting enough, but is basically another big city with churches and castles, and we’ve now seen them.
We’ve really enjoyed Italy, but after five weeks we’re ready to move to a different country, and different food, as there’s not a lot of variety in the food. We saw very few Asian restaurants as an example. We love pizza and pasta, but they wear a bit thin when they are the main meals on the menu every day. We were also disappointed in the very basic salads which were available. Some people rave about Italian food, but overall we were disappointed with it, especially in comparison with the wonderful food we had in Spain two years ago