From the beginning I want to make note that this is the first blog from a series that I will write in English. I have made numerous friends during my travels and me finally starting to lay down my thoughts in English seems like the more sensible thing to do than having them learn Romanian. I hope none of my Romanian readers will get deterred by this.
Oddly enough, my trip to Amalfi Coast was not based on a book I read. I was actually planning a three weeks holiday in the Hawaiian islands when this whole debacle started with travelers to US not being allowed anymore to carry their electronic devices as hand luggage and you know me: I am in love with my camera; I wouldn’t have left it all alone in the big belly of an airplane for anything in the world. So I had to quickly change my plans. I dreamed of a trip to Hawaii because it would have allowed me to combine the ocean with the mountains and since I very much dislike just laying around on the beach and doing nothing, Hawaii seemed like the perfect choice. One of my friends told me that Amalfi coast is beautiful so I decided to give it a try: it had the Mediterranean, the mountains and the small Italian villages that you see in the movies, pretty much all the ingredients that would make for a perfect vacation spot. On top of my to-do list was the Path of the Gods (Il Sentiero degli Dei) which I heard was a spectacular scenic trail that takes you from Agerola to Positano. The approximately 8 km hike can be done by anybody who has a bit of an experience but by no means is difficult. I actually did it wearing a skirt and my running shoes with my big camera bag hanging on my shoulder. I do not recommend however hiking vice-versa, from Positano to Agerola, unless you’re in a good condition because it can be quite exhausting: the trail is steep!
My vacation mornings start early, as early as possible, no complaints, no coffee needed. I guess my inner clock is happy as well it’s vacation time and it doesn’t feel like protesting anymore. I grab breakfast, grab my camera bag and sneak as fast and (I hope) polite as I can from a terribly long conversation about the Italian weather and ”how about Romania?” My perfect excuse comes in handy: my Italian is not rusty, it’s totally in a coma ever since I finished high-school! I gracefully say pretty much one of the few words I remember in Italian, Ciao, and I’m off the door.
I encounter a few tourists on the road, fervently consulting their maps. I briefly think that maybe this time I overestimated my hiking and orientation skills because I did not bring any with me but I decide to be adventurous and just go with the flow; in this land, I would definitely not die of hunger: fig trees and lemon trees everywhere.
I find it funny that the road leading to the trail looks like the path to nowhere: maybe that’s why they call it “The Path of the Gods” because it leads you straight there into the big blue skies?
No time for funny thoughts though because by the time I reach the trail’s starting point, the land is still waking up, snoring it’s last breaths of clouds up in the sky. It looks so serene that I cast aside my anti-Japanese-photographer syndrome and start snapping a few shots.
On the right side, the cheerful Mediterranean with it’s crystal blue waters accompanies me as well as the hundreds of cars and scooters that follow the sinuous coastal road connecting Sorrento to Salerno: it’s August and I think this may be very well the worst month to visit Amalfi if you are not into the heat and the tourist affluence. I’m neither, so I make plans to come back in October when traffic and weather cool down.
It is very hot and the wind is lazy; I cherish every bit of shade and breeze that blows my skirt and congratulate myself that I decided to wear one. I am secretly happy though that none of my mountain climbing partners are with me to witness my complete girlish experience, else this would probably end up engraved on my tomb stone: Remembering the day Andra climbed a mountain wearing a skirt or something like that…
After only a short period of time, I get my first glimpse of Positano. To me, the village looks like it is sitting in an armchair, sun bathing in an ocean of blue. Blue is my favorite color so I am no rush to leave this sight before my retina is completely saturated with all these nuances.
Halfway through the hike, we stumble on a place filled with cairns. In Romania we use them to point the right way on un-marked trails since one can easily get lost there. The Canadian friend I’m with is telling me that these are for good luck and starts to build one. “My faith is too heavy, I think to myself; if I lean it against these frail ‘lucks’ they will break”. I like the sturdy, trustworthy things so I rather continue to hang my faith on God’s shoulders, those will definitely not break. But I patiently wait for the good luck charm to be erected and I enjoy the break: it gives us a chance to leave behind the groups of tourists that become more and more frequent … Another good thing to know if you’re planning to do this hike is that it is advisable to start early in the morning to avoid the heat and the many tourists.
We stop at a lemonade stand and drink one of the best granita di limoni I ever had, we feed a cute dog and pick a few figs on our way down to Nocella. I love the yard doors here: they seem to guard the entrance to the sea and sky itself.
As we go down and I soak in the beautiful views, I cannot help but remember Santorini: the same type of houses, almost the same type of landscape … and the presence of volcanoes. As always when I visit a foreign country, I find myself wondering if I can live there. I guess I could if I was speaking Italian and if I wasn’t so terrified of earthquakes. I climbed 3 volcanoes so far and plan to continue climbing loads more, but I still would not live close to one…
We’re approaching Positano and I plan to eat a big ice cream: 2 scoops of yogurt and 1 of dark chocolate. I tried a few other combinations but this was my favorite of all.
Before entering the town, we find this bench. I’m keen to take a picture here so we wait approximately 10 minutes for 2 young women to finish taking their selfies. “October!” I say to myself and this gives me the strength to wait until their numerous poses are done.
Finding my “madeleine”, the perfect spot to remember a place’s smell, pulse, colors, has become my favorite traveling game. For Positano this was it. When I look at this picture, I remember the August heat, the noise of the street, the crowd of tourists, the way my friend and I were all sweaty because we had just climbed down the mountain, the ice cold lemonades that quenched our thirst and the figs we picked on our way down, the ice-cream, the guy who let us on to his property so that we can take better photos (“but don’t tell my wife”, he said and I was soooo curious to see how his wife looked like because I imagined her to be a bit of a Cruella), the Vespas, the souvenir shops with the colorful ceramics and me trying to convince my friend on the usefulness of possessing a huge (and kinda ugly 😉) ceramic top table. One day I will collect all my travel photos in a huge album so that I can look at it when I’ll be old and get instantly transported to these beautiful places.
A bit more on Positano: it is a cliff side village dating way back to the medieval era. It used to be a fishermen village and didn’t do so well economically wise; it wasn’t until Steinbeck wrote about it that it became so popular. Nowadays, the village is the iconic image of the Amalfi coast and this will cost you: there is a steep permit fee of 1,000 USD for taking commercial pictures!
The village is also a port and therefore not very good for water sports, the sea is basically a huge parking lot but the food is fantastic! Pizzella fritta (a sort of deep fried pizza), totani e patate alla Praianese (squid and potato stew) and all things pasta and see food … seriously, you have to try them if you’ll travel to Positano.
The streets are narrow and steep as they make their way from the beach to the mountain side, but eating a gelatto quickly takes your mind away from the effort. Some corners still retain the medieval aspect. This particular street reminded me of our town Sighisoara.
It is virtually impossible to miss the church of Santa Maria Assunta with it’s colorful tile covered dome: the church dominates the village and has its own legend. It seems that an icon of a black madonna had been stolen from Byzantium by pirates when a terrible storm had blown up in the waters opposite Positano. The frightened sailors heard a voice on board saying “Posa, posa!” (“Put down! Put down!”). The precious icon was unloaded and carried to the fishing village and the storm ended.
The beach is not so wide and it has pebbles, not sand; you have to get there early in the morning to get a chaise longue. Getting there early is also advised if you want to spend more than 1 hour at the beach because at lunchtime the heat becomes quite unbearable and it’s best to take refuge at one of the terraces or hop on your scooter and discover the rest of the coast. If you don’t like the crowds (by now you must have guessed I don’t) you can always rent a boat and go at sea to soak up some vitamin D and dive into the cooler and much more cleaner than near shore Mediterranean waters.
Vespas are everywhere and are the best means of transportation: they’re quick and agile and even though sometimes their drivers seem to be on a suicidal mission, I have never seen an accident. Plus, they are easy to park and they look cute next to flowers!
You’d expect only women to be driving them and yet somehow, even the guys look good on Vespas … or next to Vespas … actually: they just look good, emanating the Italian fashion vibe.
All in all I liked Positano but I enjoyed Amalfi more. My absolute pleasure was to watch the sun set over Amalfi from a boat. The buildings are not as spectacular and it is just as crowded but I felt the village more “home”-like. Maybe this was only because every hike I took led me back to it, or because of the sunsets watched from the sea, or because the old ice-cream gentleman knew my order by heart every time (2 scoops of yogurt, 1 of dark chocolate). But I think that had more to do with the fact that every night, at home, Surf the cutest stallion was waiting for me to say good-night.