Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Up and Down the Amalfi Coast

How to even begin telling about our trip to Sorrento, Capri, Positano and Amalfi! 

My very dear friend, Kristine, spent 3 days in Campania. After a bit of difficulty getting out of Luxembourg, for which we are thankful that we now know how to spell that nation’s name, we met up a bit later than expected in the Napoli Centrale train station. A hop, skip, conversation with a 17 year old girl from Portland who was living in Dijon for a year later, we got to Sorrento! Tired and sweaty from dragging out luggage, we made for our apartment at Residence L’Incanto. On google, it says it’s only 6K from the train station and we thought the walk would do us good. Except, it was straight up the hill and a €60 (!!!!!) cab ride later, we arrived at our place. Oh my heck! It was expensive. Heading back into town via taxi, because the buses were on strike, was €30. Right then and there we decided to rent a car. 

Enter the Fiat Panda. I got us a good rate because of my military discount and was incredibly confident when I told the girl that “of course I drive manual!” When the car was brought out front and we were told to inspect it, confirm that the gas was full and drive off, I got flustered because I couldn’t turn the car on. The guy working there saw our difficulty and came back to make sure we were ok. “Oh yes! The radio was just very loud and it got us flustered!” Kristine lied. Finally panicked by the possibility of dying, crashing or getting caught, I jumped from the car said “You do it” as I raced to the passenger seat. With the greatest of ease, Kristine got us out of the parking spot, down all one way roads to a parking garage. Phew! We toured around Sorrento for the rest of the day without significant difficulty or mishap. 

Day two began with a rooster cock-a-doodle-do-ing all night and into the morning. When we finally gave up on sleep and decided to head out, I punched the parking garage from the day before into my iPhone and off we went. Except, it took us down a strange road. And we got nervous as the road got increasingly more narrow. Half way down the hill from our apartment, Kristine and I decided that it was time for the Panda’s ears (sideview mirrors) to fold in after we had a love tap with a stone wall. Even in the tiniest of cars, with ears pinned back, our trek to Sorrento was plagued with difficulty. Again, we made it to our garage, parked the Panda and made for Capri.

Capri is a scenic, wealthy island with beautiful people, obnoxious American teenagers and an entire block of Ferragamo stores. After spending the day high on the hilltops, we took the Funicolare (a slow train that goes up and down the mountain) back to the ocean. Upon exiting the Funicolare, a man approached us to see if we wanted to rent a boat. Being unskilled at a manual transmission, I thought this would be a terrible idea but we haggled and finally agreed to go with the “English speaking tour guide” which was a highly prized commodity we were to understand. Antonino, our tour guide, was the kind of dreamy Italian with tight pants and a professional tan that most girls dream of. He spoke pretty good broken English and pointed out the 8 grottoes that we encountered in an hour tour of the island. Our trip around the island took about an hour or so and took place on a small inflatable boat called “Rent Whales.” Antonino loved to “go fast” and took each wave at full speed. Kristine and I flopped about the front of the boat like rag dolls, her laugh inspiring Antonino to do it again on the next wave!

On our first night in Sorrento, we tried to get dinner at a Trattoria which was located a few blocks from our place. It seemed like such a quaint mom and pop place that we thought we’d give it a try. But alas, it was closed. We wandered into a market across the street to see if they had any suggestions and the doppelganger of the killer, Buffalo Bill, from “Silence of the Lambs” explained to us in Italian plus hand gestures, that there was a ristorante down the hill 300 meters. Down a dark, narrow alley, we went. Through a barricade, that seemed like it might be sending us a message of “do not cross”, and down another dark alley. Eventually, we got to a fork, remembered Buffalo Bill pointing at his left hand and went up a hill. And there, like Shangri-La, was Zio Sam’s. The restaurant wasn’t much to look at and was almost entirely empty, but the waiter, Pascuale, who sat us was super friendly, asked if he and “Dolce & Gabbana” could come sit with us, and promptly brought two glasses of Prosecco and some bruschetta. We dined on a delicious meal, flirted with Pascuale for other free stuff and left, stuffed and elated. We went back the following night, after a day of touristing, and had another, equally amazing dinner.

On Saturday, Kristine, the Panda and I decided that the people who told us not to do it were dumb and we drove down the Amalfi Coast. Stopping first to take a picture in a turn out, we were approached by a woman selling produce. Feeling obligated to buy something; we chose 2 oranges and 2 apricots. Then she was showing us lemons and these huge lemons and kept shoving them in our faces. Eventually, to make her stop, we agreed to buy one of the huge lemons because it was big and kind of humorous. In Sorrento, we bought a kilo of apricots for €2. So when she said “dieci” I thought she must have meant something else and tried to give her a €10. At this point, she started yelling “carta! Carta!!” Upon Google-Translating this, some days later, I discovered that she was yelling “Paper! Paper!” because I guess she didn’t want coins. It was all very strange and we totally got ripped off but we left just the same and agreed that she was the angriest roadside vendor alive.

There are rules about driving in Italy. I’ll set up a whole blogposts about it one of these days, when I’ve actually done more driving, but the most important two rules are these:

1. If you are driving on a road that is narrow, whoever is going faster or is larger had the right of way. If you are blocking that persons forward progression, you are expected to put your car into reverse and move. On a road like the one to the Amalfi Coast, covered in Fiat Panda’s, the official tourist car, and approximately 1,000 Vespa’s, this becomes difficult.
2. When rounding a sharp corner, you are expected to honk to let the person coming from the other side know that you are approaching. Honking, most times, means “I’m here!” Unlike in America, you usually don’t honk when you’re angry, just when you’re going around someone or something.

By the end of our trip, Kristine was a master Italian Driver. I’m going to make her a certificate, possibly laminated, for her efforts. Through Positano, we saw shops, I bought an AMAZING painting and we had the most delicious mystery meat in the shape of salami (but not salami) ever. With a bottle of wine, fresh tomatoes and some bread, we were happy ladies.
I could write so much more, detailing each moment of our journey, but for the sake of those of you who don’t really care, I’ll stop here.

1 comment:

  1. Kristine saves the day with her driving! I love it! Can't wait to visit. Can we bring Kristine along? :)