Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mediterranean Madness Part XII: Italy: Positano, Sorento, Amalfi Coast, and Pompeii

The Amalfi Coast

Day 11 /Port 7
Sadly, our trip was winding up faster than we cared to admit.  But we still had one stop left:  Salerno and the Amalfi Coast, and then Pompeii.  It would be a good day.
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The morning started off quiet, peaceful.

We arrived on the pier and met our guide for the day, Juan Pietro, or John Peter.  I will reference him as JP for simplicity.  He was a polite, balding man with salt and pepper hair who was helpful and good humored.  On this tour Sarah's father, Mike, had his wheelchair/scooter, and JP was Johnny on the Spot in helping with the scooter, and was very conscious about parking in locations that would make wheelchair use easier.  He confirmed our plans for the day once we were in his van, and he agreed it was a good plan.  We were to tour the Amalfi Coast and spend an hour walking in Positano, and then on to Salerno, where we would have another hour to walk around, and he highly recommended a specific restaurant that they use frequently, and even bragged on the gelateria next door to the restaurant.  We had a guide scheduled for Pompeii at 2:30 for two hours, and then back to the ship by the highway.  Immediately, JP began contacting our Pompeii guide, Margherita, and advising her that we had a wheelchair so that she could make alternate plans for accessibility if necessary. 
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This was a little village known for its anchovies.

JP asked a very important question before we drove from the port, and that was, "Does anyone get affected by car sickness?"  We had already given Caitie a pill for motion sickness, so we were golden.  I also took an Percocet to aid my discomfort from riding in a vehicle with ribs that were still very tender. In truth, I was probably a little high, but I wasn't in pain.  Let's roll!
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What a beautiful morning and drive! Too  bad we were starting to get car sick...

7th century watch tower
Let me preface this portion of my narrative with a qualifying statement.  I have driven the Pacific Coast Highway from Seattle all the way to San Diego, and, in my humble opinion, it is one of the prettiest drives one can take along a shoreline.  That is, except for the Amalfi Coast.  We have never, ever, seen a coastline so spectacular.  Throw in the brilliance and charm of quaint Italian villages, and I would assert that you will not find a more pleasant drive in the world.  The mountains thrust from the sea, leaving sharp cliffs, and fiords that rise sharply from the rocky Mediterranean shore.  The hills and cliffs are lush with vineyards, olive orchards, lemon and orange groves, and carpets of beautiful morning glories and other flowers that are too wonderful to describe with the limits of my petty words and English limitations.  Sometimes English is too inadequate to be functional.  Watchtowers built during the 7th and 8th century are deliberately scattered along the cliff walls with the original intent of protecting the villages from the marauding Moors.  Most of the towers have been converted to homes or restaurants, and they have commanding views of the prettiest country I've ever seen.
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We passed through so many villages and cliffs with virtually the same awesomeness. Sorry for the glare from the windows, there was no place to stop for photos.

Throughout the millennia, the villagers have carved terraces into the cliffs and hills and planted various crops unique to Southern Italy, and Italy in general, and have managed to make that coastline the most charming of all the Mediterranean.  JP told us he would stop if we asked him to, but to understand that the entire journey (about 45 minutes) was precarious, and a little dangerous to simply stop upon command.  He knew of a great pull out along the route that was safe and offered the best views of all, and it overlooked the incredible village of Positano.  He was right.  The road is a bit treacherous, but he was a safe driver and we never felt threatened by anything he did.  By the time we arrived at the pull out, Caitie was car sick, along with Seth, Grandma, Micah, and yours truly.  I think my problem was connected to the pain killers I took, which complicated my car sickness. I was shaky and sweaty, and felt like I was going through detox.  But, our walk in Positano cleared all of our minds and we were ready to drive again after the hour.    The lookout was exceptional, and you will appreciate what it offers.  A man selling fresh fruit had a stand where we stopped, and he was giving us samples of his fair.  His fruit was excellent and very affordable.
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Positano from the lookout.

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 The streets of Positano were clean and inviting. We really enjoyed exploring the area.

After a few minutes, we continued another five minutes into Positano, and JP told us to meet him at 11:45.  The eight of us scattered like quail when he turned us loose, and my family of four set out to walk to the beach, and then shop our way back to the road.  For a hilly, cliff built village, it was surprisingly scooter friendly, and Mike and GeorgeAnne were able to tour many shops.  We made it to the bottom without problem, unless you count being distracted by the incredible shops scattered and stacked along those narrow village streets a problem. 
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Lemon products. The small sour candies are addictive!
One of many wine shops that ship to the US. The one I found was at the bottom of the steps past the church.

We sampled limoncello and wine, and strolled casually through the clothing stores, curios, and knickknacks.  One thing I intended to do on this last day in Italy was to find a wine shop that would ship a case of wine home to us in the US.  I looked in every shop that sold wine on the way down to the beach, but found their prices to be a bit exaggerated, or touristy, if you will.  Just beyond the church I followed the staircase and found a small supermarket that sold wine.  I checked the prices and discovered that he sold wines from the 8 euro range all the way up to 800 Euros.  He promised to ship to the US for only 60 Euros, which was expected.  Most shops will ship anywhere between 40 and 70, depending on how much you order.  Well, I ordered a case of 12.  I picked up three bottles of limoncello and the store owner selected nine bottles for me that he highly recommended.  All told, I spent 172 euro on 12 bottles, which averaged about 14 per bottle.  I could have spent less, but I was satisfied with the selection made.  The shipment was to be expected in 7 to 10 days.  He also offered a guarantee that if a bottle was broken he would replace it.  I think it was a good deal.
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These quaint streets were peaceful, and they wound on and on...

Here are a few random shots of the beach area...
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Notice the rocky beach. A little hard to walk on with bare feet.
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The kids enjoyed a few minutes of relaxation. The water was fairly warm, too.

By this time, our hour in Positano was exhausted so we continued along the coast for a few more miles to Sorrento, which is another fabulous town to visit.  It is certainly bigger than Positano, as it had a population of about 25,000 residents.  The city center was a bee hive of activity, and as hives go, it was buzzing.  The barbarians had arrived en mass, so eight more barbarians had little effect on the city. 
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Sorrento was busy, but enjoyable.

JP gave us another hour to amble about, so our family group of four set off to wrap up whatever souvenir shopping remained.  We sampled more limoncello, and were firmly committed to the tart liqueur.   It was always served in large frozen shot glasses, and it was wonderful.  As I mentioned, limoncello is tart.  I really mean it.  It is tart and then sweet.  Actually, all at the same time probably, but your mind probably can't process such extremes simultaneously.  Brace yourself for that first taste, and then enjoy that involuntary muscle spasm that occurs at the back of your tongue, followed by that slow burn.  Ah, I would give anything to try it again for the very first time!  Sarah bought some shot glasses for our purchases of limoncello, and we were wrapped up with our shopping. 
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The toy store where Seth found a rare Lego set. And another shop for sampling lemoncello.
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I found a really nice wine shop.   The puppet show was interesting, but crowded. We moved on.

We spent our remaining time walking and snapping photos, and simply enjoying another marvelous Italian experience. We even stopped and watched a puppet show for a few minutes. Seth found a toy store, which was interesting to compare to a Toys R Us.  Sorrento is a definite "must return to" town.  We had a great time with the city, even though hoards of barbarians roamed the streets in tight gaggles that trickled rather than flowed.  Despite it all, we decided, along with MacAurther, "I will return." 
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We enjoyed the restaurant and the food was spectacular.

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Mike's pasta meal was fantastic.                           Cheers!

Our restaurant was just around the corner from our meeting location and they seemed to be expecting us, along with several other tour groups and a spattering of locals.  The restaurant was clean and charming, and went out of their way to accommodate us with our scooter needs.  Their menu offered just about anything you might be interested in, but we focused on their pizza.  Their prices were affordable, individual pizzas about 14 inches round, starting at 8 Euros.  By the time all eight of us ordered our Cokes and one bottle of wine, and two bottles of water, our grand total was 92 Euro.  Sadly, they had a Wi-Fi signal, but we could never get it to connect to our phones.  I guess the server was overloaded, or something. 
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The restaurant was roomy enough for Mike to be comfortable. This is the wine JP selected for us.
We left the restaurant and waddled into the gelateria next door.  As gelatos go, it was tasty and affordable but not exceptional.  I believe the small cones were 2 Euros each.  In the grand scheme, those gelatos were "okay."  We were pressed for time, so we hustled off to meet our guide in Pompeii.

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Margherita was a great guide, and she went out of her way to accommodate our needs.

When we connected with Margherita at Pompeii, we found her to be a very competent and efficient guide, who was thoroughly knowledgeable and eloquent.  She had coal black hair and fit the image of a focused young Roman woman, which was tempered with her pretty smile.  She was extraordinarily compassionate with Mike about his scooter and went out of her way to make accommodations where he could experience as much of Pompeii as possible.  In doing so, she inadvertently cut our tour in half, but that was fine.  We were all experiencing culture fatigue by this point and were content with our more focused tour than the grand overview.  What we didn't see in volume she made up for in quality.  She was very careful to make sure we all understood her and that she explained everything thoroughly.  She was a charming and graceful woman, and we very much enjoyed her tour.
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The city is well preserved. It was surreal, and almost like walking through EPCOT. Ancient city, nothing modern. 
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Everyone was having a great day.

Pompeii is one of those places like Ephesus.  There is simply no way to properly describe it.  One must experience it.  Unlike Rome or Athens, it is much easier to immerse yourself into the ancient Roman culture when you can actually enter the city itself.  Much of Pompeii is preserved, with very limited reconstruction.  As is true with most ancient archeological sites, only about 1/3 of the city is properly excavated.  Who knows what future discoveries await us?  I strongly recommend you take time to visit Pompeii, and I pray you are blessed enough to have Margherita as your guide when you do. 
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Mt. Vesuvius looms in the near distance. It's still an active volcano.

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GeorgeAnne was enjoying the tour, but missing Mike.   JP slipped us a bottle of lemoncello when we said goodbye!

Once our time in Pompeii was complete, JP drove us back to the ship.  By taking the highway, he had us back by about 5 PM, which made the drive roughly 30 minutes.  Overall, our day with JP was a good day.  He was a great tour guide, and will do well with you as well. 

Thus concluded our final port day on our cruise.  Sadly, this trip had to come to an end.  I will offer these final thoughts about the Salerno port of call:  If you intend to tour the Almalfi Coast, and trust me, you DO want to tour the coastline, plan it for the morning.  If you wait too long in the day, you risk having the road be too congested with other traffic, and your guide may be forced to take you over the highway to get you back to the ship before it sails.  You don't want to be "those people!"  Also, don't try to tour the Amalfi coast in a tour bus.  They simply don't fit on the road and you will be freaked out every three or four minutes from the extremely tight curves.  It is a very, very curvy road.  Marilyn Monroe was the model they had in mind when they designed the turns. Apparently.
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What a beautiful part of Italy!

Okay, if you ever want to see the quaintest of Italian living, and experience the charm of Italian art, food, crafts, and living, then Positano should be at the top of your list.  Florence was one of my favorite cities to visit.  Positano is my favorite village.

Part I Getting there

Part II Barcelona

Part III Barcelona Continued

Part IV France

Part V Livorno, Pisa, and Florence, Italy

Part VI Rome

Part VII Sea Day

Part VIII Turkey

Part IX Athens 

Part X Santorini 

Part XI Sea Day 

Part XII Italy: Positano, Sorento, Amalfi Coast, and Pompeii 

Part XIII Sea Day

Part XIV Back to Barcelona

Part XV The Journey Home and Final Thoughts

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