As 2012 is almost over, I should probably finish up writing about my own Honeymoon. My ongoing quest to take back the 6 waist-size points I gave jeans in the last decade has been sucking up a lot of the time that I used to spend writing. A story for another day.
1) The first and most obvious thing about going to Amalfi was the trip to get there. After taking a train to Naples, it’s about an hour drive to the town of Amalfi. You may think you have some idea of what the streets are like if you’ve seen the region in a movie, a Fiat commercial*, or this guy’s video – but it’s a sickening drive. The girl narrating the video talking about feeling sick and not wanting to die; that’s pretty much the entire hour. I can’t really express this enough. The roads are frighteningly narrow and windy while being awe-inspiringly beautiful with a 3-foot stone fence between you and plummeting to death. But, just the drive was enough to make me wish I could move there right then, become a hipster, and start painting and writing bad poetry….. if I could paint……… or draw.
* – The red car starting about 30 seconds in is being filmed from the beachfront of the actual town of Amalfi. This was where we stayed. The beach chairs were rentable by the day and awesome.
2) After briefly tossing around the idea of renting a house in Tuscany (only to find out there were no houses to rent in Tuscany), we decided to look in to renting a house in Amalfi. We found one on the (thus far) awesome Rent Villas. It was our first experience renting a house instead of staying in a hotel and, I have to say, it was life changing. It wasn’t really that much more expensive then staying in a decent hotel and, because of the occasion, we splurged on way more apartment (3 bedrooms, 4 twins, 1 king, 2 couches) then we actually needed. On top of that we got a kitchen stocked with all the equipment we needed and the ability to actually eat in for breakfast (fresh eggs!) and a few dinners. The apartment was clean, airy, brightly lit and awesome.
3) And the best part – the balcony. The shot off the balcony has been my Facebook image for about six months as of this writing. The view from it can be seen here. The size of the balcony can sort of be seen here. We spent less time on the beach just so we could sit on this balcony. I quite frequently went up there after Mrs. P went to bed just to sit there in the dark and have a glass of wine. It was really the apartment’s money shot… the inside could have been about 28 points more abysmal and it would have been fine – just because of the balcony.
4) We stayed in the actual town of Amalfi, which is not to be confused with the entire region that’s called the Amalfi Coast. Amalfi proper is, really, a tiny, one road town which features a church, a beach, one traffic light that is only used to ensure one-way traffic down it’s thousandish year old road, a paper museum, and not a whole lot else. After a week of running around Rome and Florence, this kind of disconnection from any kind of tourist stuff was kind of wonderful. We were told that not a lot of tourists go to the town of Amalfi, primarily I’d guess, because it’s so hard to get to and so wildly small. Listening around town, there were few other Americans (mostly Texans if my accent detector was working correctly) and most of them seemed to arrive via the cruise ships that docked on some of the days. We were told that more tourists went to Sorrento (accessible via train from Naples; so incalculably less terrifying) or Positano (more beaches; more hotels). In a weird way; staying in a place that wasn’t catering to tourist traffic was better. There was no Internet and barely any English television. The bulk of our entertainment was one movie a night that was in English, a decently stocked bookshelf that, I presume, included every book ever left there by previous guests, and a high school soccer practice field that was on a chunk of rooftop across from our balcony.
5) On the recommendation, we went up to Ravello to tour the gardens. We did this on an open air tour bus. In general, I hate heights. So combine this bus with the roads pictures above, plus passing other buses… plus passing cars. There were times we would come around a corner and there would be literally nothing between me and plummeting hundreds of feet in to the Mediterranean except a comically orange seat belt. It was far more terrifying than the drive to or from the airport. That said, the pictures and sights (and food, obviously) from Ravello were amazing. The views from the gardens has the Mrs’s cover photo for a few weeks. Just picture an open air bus and this corner and you may start to grasp how terrifying the drive was.
6) On another recommendation, we decided to take a boat ride to the Emerald Grotto. The grotto is a cave which allows natural light through the water. I’m a bit torn here. The boat ride TO the grotto, booked independently, was awesome. Difficulty finding the correct boat aside (and it WAS difficult. If you can imagine, salty boatmen don’t generally speak multiple languages) I think a boat ride anywhere along the coast would be awesome. The bulk of the pictures are on Mrs P’s camera, but even the few that I took gives you some idea of how beautiful everything is. That said, the Emerald Grotto itself was a cool site, but the “tour” had a heavy dose of cheese. I say that because it’s 10 Euro for a paddleboat ride around a tiny indoor cave to get the one cool picture and it’s over. The tour also features paddlers dressed as Venetian gondoliers who occasionally burst in to song. Everything in the cave is visually cool but the tour was “eh.” However, the boat ride there and back made the whole thing well worth it.
7) I have never eaten better for a week in my life. From Donna Stella; a restaurant under a small lemon grove with the single best Tiramisu I’ve ever tasted, to Gemma; a seafood restaurant where they insisted we do two shots of Limoncello afterward, to Marina Grande; a restaurant/bar on the beach where you could rent a chair for the entire day for 10 euro where I got a pizza piled high with almost more octopus, mussels, and assorted seafood than I could handle; to the tiny little gelato shop where we went almost every night before going home. On top of all this, the “house wines” of each of these places are about 2 euro per litre — most produced somewhere up the mountain from the town — and better than most any higher priced bottle I’ve ever had.
8) Lost in talking specifically about the town of Amalfi is the unbelievably stunning homes that are built all over the mountainside. The entire drive up the mountain and down the other side, while also being a stomach-churning experience, is all small towns and stunning homes. These pictures aren’t mine, they’re culled from some real estate sites, but some of the homes feature infinity pools inside lemon groves or unbelievable balconies overlooking the Mediterranean. In the towns themselves are apartments hidden inside the Escheresque maze of hundreds year old stairs and buildings. After coming home and, out of curiousity, Googling for real estate prices, I came to one of the sad moments in my life after realizing that competing with the world’s millionaires and billionaires for prime vacation home space is not something that’s very appealing… or possible.
9) The walking was tough. Any maps you can see of the area are obviously not in 3D. Since the towns are all built in to mountains, all walking involves stairs and such. Mrs P and I have a disagreement about the value of trying out the walking paths to go to any other places. She is anti and I am pro. It looks exhausting but, if we go back, I am going to try them.
10) Without question, Amalfi was the nicest place I’ve ever been. It’s not even close. The town is hundreds of years old and looks weathered and rugged, but it’s beautiful in an aged way without looking run down. Maybe it’s being distracted by the sheer beauty of the Mediterranean. Maybe it’s being distracted by being constantly consuming unparallelled food and wine. It’s everything I wanted in a trip to Italy while being the opposite of the two “big city” trips to Florence and Rome. There is so much more to the region that I want to see an explore — from the stone paths up to Scala and Ravello to taking a ferry over to Capri — that I hope to go back there again, many times again, in my life. It would be the first place I’d buy a home if I hit the lottery and the last place I’d want to be before I die. I’ve joked frequently about trying to put together the documents to get Italian citizenship (yay, great-grandparents!) but I was never more serious than the day I left that town.
What I’m trying to say is: I dug it.