Monday, June 11, 2012

Pompeii & Amalfi Coast, Italy

Ruins, Rugged Coastline & Tiny Beach Towns

Pompeii Lives
We had heard a great deal of positive talk about the Italian Amalfi coast – rugged little coastal towns set against the back drop of beautiful ocean views.  Bendy and winding roads that take you from town to town perched on the edges of sheer cliff faces.  Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?

Well, couple that with the possibility of seeing the historical ruins of the town of Pompeii – yes, the town wiped off the map by Mt Vesuvius and its volcanic eruption – and a chance to visit an ongoing archaeological dig site.  A once lost Roman city still under the shadow of Vesuvius looming eerily in the background has a rather magnetic pull to the knowledge seeker within me.

Winnie and I planned a full day trip, leaving Rome very early in the morning with the view of seeing the ruins first, then the main towns of the Amalfi – in reverse, starting with the furthest destination and working them back (so we could marry up bus schedules). 

Our itinerary looked something like this:
Train: Rome to Naples
Train: Naples to Pompeii
Train: Pompeii to Sorrento
Bus: SorrentoSorrento (circular via the whole Amalfi coastline)
Train: Sorrento to Naples
Train: Naples to Rome


We planned a “quick” look at Pompeii – we should have done a little more research on how big a town Pompeii actually was and how much has been recovered.   We had given ourselves around an hour to see as much of Pompeii as possible in that time…..Ahem, we underestimated on time here.  Pompeii is not only set on some very steep hillsides, but it is a vast and spread out town.  The ruins unfold before you, as far as the eye can see.  It truly is a wonder to behold – also quite unsettling to think that one volcanic eruption wiped it all out in one hit.  Mother Nature’s power never seems to surprise me.

In the Shadow of Mt Vesuvius
Our 60 minutes were well utilised.  After paying the entrance fee and a glance at the map of the Pompeii ruins (and the jaw-dropping truth of how much ground there was to cover), WinGaz decided to head through the heart of Pompeii, directly to the Colosseum.  We would then walk back an alternative route to the entrance an hour later.  The walk from entrance to colosseum took around 20 minutes; stopping for photos, reading information and sneaking peeks at the archaeological restorations going on behind the scenes PLUS the uphill walk on slightly smoother than normal cobble stones (probably due to their being melted by hot molten lava) took longer than expected.


We spent 5 or so minutes walking around the outside of the colosseum, then entered the main arena – there were schoolboys pretending to be gladiators, imaginary swords in hand thrusting, ducking, diving…funny to watch.  We took a few choice photos (of us posing) and left by the same way.


After exiting the arena, we headed down a tree lined path and followed some of the narrower alleys that interlink the main streets of Pompeii.  It’s pretty cool, really, the Romans were extremely advanced for their time.  Roads had names; well names and numbers (Roman numerical system), towns seem to have a grid-like pattern and buildings were built to suit a class-system of sorts; the more wealth the inhabitant had, the more features, furnishings and the larger the scale of the property…which isn’t too distant to what we all see in today’s society!


A good hour spent in Pompeii, would love to go back for a whole day next time to properly explore and to take a trip up Vesuvius – I reckon it’d be pretty cool to look over the ruins (and a lot of the coastline) from the top!

A short train ride later and we were at our next location.  On arrival Sorrento we had just enough time to get some cash out of an ATM, run to the bus shop and buy our tickets (and run to the waiting bus).

The bus was fairly busy for low season, so if you’re planning a similar trip give yourself enough time to get on the bus and nab some window seats.  You’ll want to sit on the right-hand side of the bus for the ocean views heading down the coast, and the opposite coming back.  We were lucky, we got one on each side and Winnie took the ocean view…I got grumpy and huffed my way to the boring side of the bus…  It wasn’t long before I was captivated on the view, leaning over the people on the other side of the bus!

Rugged Amalfi sits on its cliff edge..
The views as we passed through the various towns, clinging onto the edge of random patches of cliff face, the road teetering on the edge of said cliffs and the bus driver speeding his way along like a getaway driver….Scenes from the original “Italian Job” movie started to flash through my mind…hanging on the edge of a cliff… Needless to say, this didn’t happen and the driver apparently knew what he was doing….


On arrival at Amalfi, the final destination on the bus route, we arrived to a gentle sunshine with a few puffy clouds littering the sky.  Amalfi was a quaint little place, small narrow streets, a beautiful cathedral / duomo set high up on hill, with steep steps leading the way up.  There were pretty, albeit strange water features – I liked the statue of the lady with taps for nipples – she was leaking drinking water into a fresh water fountain….I had to fill my bottle from her!

Leaking Boobies!

Old School cars..

After walking around town, taking photos and looking at the souvenir shops and various restaurant and cafĂ© menus, we decided to eat some pasta and drink a glass of wine.  Perfect.

After this we hopped onto the next Sorrento-bound bus.  We weaved our way back through the same roads as earlier.  With time on our hands we decided to stop at Positano.  We had been recommended this place by our Crustacean Friends (Mr & Mrs Shrimp-Dawg), and when we arrived we were actually short on time – the delays from earlier in the day were catching up with us; we had around an hour to visit this small town…or so we thought.   Positano’s bus stop is only the beginning.  There is a very steep winding road that leads down to the pretty beaches we had been promised.  Unfortunately, with only an hour we had made the decision to walk 20-25 minutes, then turn around to ensure we could return to the bus stop before the last bus (that fit our whole day schedule) arrived.  We were obviously accounting for the steep hills!  What we saw of Positano, it was a lovely place, apparently a season destination since most places were closed or being renovated for high season.

Panoramic Scenes
Back on the bus we continued to take photos of the coastline and enjoy our journey back to Sorrento.  At Sorrento we opted to go for a pizza, and with enough time to spare get onto our train and head back to Rome via Naples.

We had a good day, lots of amazing scenery and some lovely little towns to remember, and hopefully return to in the future (perhaps during summer high season).

Postcard Positano
This was a massive day of sightseeing, without much room for errors or missed trains.  In fact, we’re better than we had first thought.  At Naples there was a delayed train, loosing us about an hour.  How did we achieve a successful day out?  Well we took an early train from Roma that gave us flexibility at the start of the day (about 45mins).  We also planned only 60 minutes at Pompeii, which could lose a whole day, but we stuck to our plan.  We’re divers! Plan the Dive, Dive the Plan… nothing changes here.  We dived our plan.

See You in Madrid!

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