Travel // The Amalfi Coast
I was in Grade 2 at the International School Brunei the first time I heard about Pompeii. It blew my 7 year old mind away, “it can’t be true!” I told myself. It was a kind of a love at first sight and so started my passion for the ancient city frozen in tragedy – and the beginnings of a fascination for freezing and preserving moments in time. In Spring 2013 the British Museum presented a major exhibition on Pompeii and Herculaneum and I was there front and centre. It left me wanting to visit Pompeii more than ever.
So when I had the rare opportunity to pick a short haul break, to celebrate 10 years of marriage, I knew I had to go to Pompeii. That was my starting point and I built our week away around it. I chose Villa dei D’Armiento, a family run boutique hotel in the town of Sant’Angello, because it was a 10 minute walk to the train station direct to Pompeii, a 15 minute walk in to Sorrento town centre and only 50 metres from the beach. We arrived Friday morning in Naples and took a coastal coach from the airport to Sant’Angello. Our coach driver grinned at us over his shades and told us “it’s a very quiet town!” Perfect. The two and a half hour coach journey took us along narrow winding roads with incredible views of the sea. We were dropped off at the town fountain and found our hotel. Our first afternoon was spent looking around Sant’Angello followed by a stroll in to Sorrento town. We did what all responsible parents dream of doing when the kids are away – we blew off steam eating pizzas and drinking mojitos before stumbling and giggling our way back to our hotel.
Saturday after a hearty breakfast we walked the narrow streets to the train station. It was Easter weekend and every so often we’d bump into children with little wicker baskets searching for the painted eggs hidden around the town. The train was crowded but 25 minutes later we arrived at the ruins. I felt chills go through me, i was finally here! As we left the long entrance queue behind us and walked the steep cobble stones through the gates i couldn’t help thinking of the ancient Pompeii residents who once trod this same path. The main streets were crowded but, just like Oxford Street on a Saturday, you could slip off down a side street and find yourself completely alone. Crossing over the street on the cobble stepping stones, the words of Mary Beard ringing in my head, I was in bliss. For me being in Pompeii was like meeting a celebrity in the flesh – initially you’re awestruck and giddy with excitement and then you realise just how simply human they are. But then that’s what’s so extraordinary about Pompeii – it just feels so normal: the civic square; the agricultural area; the stadium; the arts centre; the affluent part of town with its large gardens and ample space and the seedier area with it’s close quarters and ‘discreet’ phallic symbol pointing you to the brothel. The six hours we spent there didn’t feel enough and we didn’t get time to go to Herculaneum and Mt Vesuvius, perhaps next time 😉
It was a bright and early start on Sunday to catch the ferry to Capri. Unfortunately some confusion over where to buy our tickets meant waiting for a later ferry and cut in to our time in Capri so we only managed a boat trip to the blue grotto and that didn’t leave a lot of time for exploring.
On Monday we transferred across to the town of Amalfi. It was a cold and wet day and as the bus set off the fog came in. The bus driver had to beep his horn to forewarn the oncoming cars that were barely visible until they were right in front of you. I imagine this must be one of the most stressful jobs in the world and the London underground drivers could learn a thing or two about tough working conditions! A hairy bus ride later and we arrived in Amalfi town. We were cold, wet and travel sick when we arrived at the Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi, so when the cheerful hotel concierge ran out and sheltered us with an umbrella and told us that a cold wet day always comes as standard on Easter Monday and then went on to confidently assure us, with admirable optimism, that tomorrow it would be glorious and sunny again our minds were put at rest. And with some hot pasta in our bellies and a free room upgrade our spirits lifted!
The weekend had been about purpose and sightseeing – leaving the hotel in the morning and not returning until bed time, and so I looked forward to switching our pace for a sedate five days on the coast. No plans, just see where the days took us. We wandered through Amafi town, looked around the cathedral, drank Italian coffee and enjoyed gelato and sun on the beach.
We took the 25 minute ferry to Positano for the day and ate lunch on the sea front at Chez Black. Serving the cool and the beautiful since 1949 with a vanity wall of celebrities from Roger Moore to Denzel Washington to prove it. I had the most mind blowing fried courgette pasta. Full and content we soaked up the atmosphere in the restaurant before heading to the beach for more gelato. Positano is polished and achingly beautiful and pulling in to the Marina at Amalfi you couldn’t help but notice the faded buildings and the peeling paint, yet there is something deeply beautiful about Amalfi. It has soul and character and a strong sense of it’s maritime history.
One of my favourite days was when we hiked the Valle delle Ferrier and took, what i am certain was at least 10,000 stone steps, back down to Amalfi via Pontone. Along the trail you come across haunting ruins and collapsed stone structures, past lemons groves, babbling brooks and waterfalls. The views are fantastic especially when you reach the top and look down the valley to Amalfi and the sea beyond. It took days for my feeble legs to recover, but it was so worth it.
My only reference to Italy at this point came from films like ‘The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,’ ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ and ‘Genova’ – colourful coastal towns, narrow streets and alleyways, glittering aqua blue seas, cafes on cobbled streets and bustling town squares. The Amalfi Coast was all these things and more. So much more. By now you will have realised that I’m not good with words, so I’ll let the photos do the talking.
I challenged myself to take just one lens away with me and it had to be my favourite, the Canon 45mm tse. Wildly used as a ‘fun’ lens, I find it my most versatile lens. I do tilt-shift it but of course you don’t have to – a point i often think gets missed. There’s just something about the images it produces that kind of reminds me of a 35mm film camera. I was dismayed when i realised that in my haste to pack i’d picked up the wrong battery charger so a couple of iPhone photos have slipped in but in the words of Chase Jarvis – “the best camera is the one you have with you.”