Positano and Amalfi

The Almafi Coast filled today’s agenda. I booked a trip that took me to the towns of Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello.

Every source I’ve seen lists the latter, Ravello, as being on the Amalfi Coast, but it’s actually somewhat inland, up on a hill. But that’s all I’ll say about it here. I’ll save Ravello for a second post of the day.

The tour had, including me, eight customers travelling in a black Mercedes van that could seat at most eight people. Two rows in the back each sat three people. Up front, there was room for two passengers plus the driver. I got one of the seats up front.

“Mercedes” makes it sound fancy. It wasn’t. It was fine enough and perfectly clean. But it wasn’t special. With all of the seats occupied, it was hardly spacious. Closer to cramped.

Mercedes doesn’t seem to have the same luxury image here in Italy as it does back home. At our first stop, which was just a brief one at a lookout high on a hill overlooking Positano, two of what I think were tour groups of a similar size to ours were already there. Both of them also arrived in black Mercedes vans. None of the vans, including ours, had any tour company markings on them. They were just plain, black Mercedes vans.

In addition to me, the customers included a three-generation family group, two from each generation, and another man traveling alone. All of them were from the United States.

For the first part of the journey, the male of the middle generation of the family sat up front with me. After Positano, he swapped out with the other single traveler so he could sit back with his family for the rest of the trip along the Amalfi Coast. But before the switch, the guy up front with me went into a major, lengthy coughing fit.

He swore it was allergies and not COVID. I hope so, none of us were wearing masks in the cramped van. I took some comfort in the facts that, one, his coughing fit ended quite abruptly after a while and didn’t return, and, two, none of the rest of his family showed any symptoms. I hope that my taking of comfort isn’t just wishful thinking on my part.

The driver, Mariano, lives in Pompeii. If you read my post on Herculaneum, you might remember a little rant that I applied to both Herculaneum and Pompeii. In it, I question the wisdom of building cities in places that history has proved are in the path of massive destruction if and when there is another major eruption of the still active Mount Vesuvius.

I asked Mariano if living in the shadow of Vesuvio (the Italian for Vesuvius) was frightening. He said, “No, we try not to thing about that. It’s sleeping.” Um. Okay. Carry on.

Mariano was a nice, friendly guy. He pointed out some sights along the way, and gave us snippets of information. But this wasn’t a guided tour. When we reached a stop, Mariano gave us a couple of suggestions as to what we might want to see, told us when we needed to come back, and then sent us on our merry way to explore independently. I went off on my own at the stops.

Amalfi Coast Road

The coastal road along the Amalfi Coast is such that I’m glad I wasn’t driving. Heck, being a neurotic person, I wasn’t thrilled about being a passenger.

For the most of the way, the road we were on accommodated two-way traffic on what by rights, should be classed as a one-and-a-half lane road. It was a tight fit.

At one point, a full-size bus that provides transit in the area passed us going in the opposite direction. Pretty much the entire length of the bus on the side I could see was covered with thick scratches. Thank goodness I wasn’t enough of an idiot to rent a car here and do my own driving. I would, no doubt, have been responsible for putting more scratches on the bus, not to mention the possible destruction of me and the rental car.

“Destruction,” you ask. “Surely a glancing blow with the side of a bus wouldn’t be fatal.”

True, that. But the roads between the towns are carved into the side of mountain. And the mountainsides are, for the most part, sheer. One side of the road is an almost vertical mountain wall. On the other is a precipitous drop to the sea.

That was frightening enough, but it was a mountain road. It did a lot of sharp snaking.

Neither crashing into a mountain nor plunging into the sea far below is a fate I relish. But I fear those would be the only options if I were the driver.

As Mariano drove along all I could think about was that if I were driving we would have died a hundred times over. On the bright side, I imagine you become accustomed to dying after the first few times.

In truth, that wasn’t the only thing I thought about. I also thought, “What absolutely amazing views of the mountains, the coasts, and the little towns that sprung up wherever they could find purchase on the mountain or beside the sea. I hope it doesn’t kill us.”

Positano

As I said, our first stop was just a brief one to look and snap pictures of Positano from above and away (the pictures are above). It is amazing. And Positano seems impossible. It’s built in an indentation in the mountain where the slope is merely exceptionally steep rather than vertical.

Residences and other buildings start beside the sea and climb a fair piece up that slope.

The view of Positano, the sea, and the mountains was spectacular. Beautiful, blue sea. Predominantly white, but also other coloured low-rise homes and shops, hugging and climbing up the indentation in the mountain. Green, grey, and beige coloured mountains sweeping from the sea, behind the buildings, and back down to the sea. It takes your breath away. Fortunately, it gives your breath back after a while because if you survive the roads it would be a shame to die from the breath-stealing views.

Then Mariano took as in to Positano. He had to park somewhat up from the sea. He pointed us in the direction of the shore and off we went.

Down at the sea, there’s a rough beach and a small pier where ferries dock. Restaurants line the area behind the beach. From down there, I got a beautiful view of one half of Positano sweeping up the mountain.

The route down took me by some colourful buildings beside narrow streets and staircases. I passed an attractive church and ducked inside. I didn’t get the name of it, so I’ll just caption it as the church in Positano under the accompanying picture.

It is a very beautiful, quaint town and well worth the visit. I could imagine spending a two, three, or four days there and maybe taking day trips on the ferry.

Amalfi

In Amalfi, Mariano was able to drop us off close to the shore. Just a short walk back from where he dropped us off is the town square. Much of interest in Amalfi is either on the square or on streets radiating off it.

One of the sights on the square is the Cattedrale di Sant’Andrea. The front of the cathedral is interesting in design. I’m not going to be able to do it justice with my words, so I’ll just post a picture. The tourist entrance into the cathedral is through the “Choistro del’Paradiso” or, in english, the “Cloister of Paradise.” It is kind of small as church cloisters go, but it is quite beautiful. There are also some nice, but faded and partially damaged frescoes in alcoves by the cloister. But the cloister of paradise? I don’t know. I expected more of paradise.

Inside the church the decorations are not particularly inspiring, but there is a crypt below it that has some eye popping adornments.

One of the recommendations that Mariano gave for Amalfi was a bakery on the public square, Pasticceria Andrea Panza. Apparently it’s been around for about 200 years, its origin dating before the unification of Italy.

Mariano particularly commended their lemon cake because lemons are a big thing on the coast and he thought it was their best offering. Before I had to leave Amalfi I stopped in and had the lemon cake and an espresso. The cake was like a white sponge cake on the outside with a lemon cream filling. It was indeed delicious.

I was less impressed with Amalfi than Positano. In Amalfi the road runs almost right beside the coast and there is a small parking lot right there. That, needless to say, distracts from the view somewhat. And even without that, the coast in Amalfi is somewhat less dramatic than in Positano. The town is nice enough, with charming little streets and, what I just said notwithstanding, a decent coast. But, in my view, if it were a competition between Positano and Amalfi as to which makes for the more attractive and pleasing town, Amalfi would win.

You’d think the eponymous town of the Amalfi Coast would try harder. I mean, it does a very good job of being an attractive coastal town, but I don’t think it puts forth its best effort.

I usually end my morning posts with a description of lunch. But Mariano gave us only an hour in Positano and another hour in Amalfi. He suggested we have lunch in our next and final stop, Ravello, where we would have two hours. But, as I said in the introduction, I’m saving Ravello for another post, primarily to break things up and avoid having an overly long entry. So you’ll have to wait for lunch.

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