Port of Napoli, Day Six / Cruise Day Five
Pompeii, Naples, Sorrento, Positano and the Amalfi Coast
According to Rick Steves, and I have to agree, the Amalfi Coast offers one of the world’s great bus rides: The coastal trip from Sorrento to Salerno will leave your mouth open and your film exposed. You’ll gain respect for the Italian engineers who built the road — and even more respect for the bus drivers who drive it. As you hyperventilate, notice how the Mediterranean, a sheer 500-foot drop below, twinkles. Cantilevered garages, hotels, and villas cling to the vertical terrain. Beautiful sandy coves tease from far below and out of reach. Gasp from the right side of the bus as you head toward Salerno, and the left on the way back to Sorrento.
Positively Beautiful Positano
We ooooohed and aaaaahed and I kept switching seats with Doug so he could have the best view out of the bus window for photos. The view was spectacular. This was an exclusive level tour, we were on a very petite tour bus with just the 14 of us! Family, Family! as our Italian tour guide Antonetta called us all day. The Mediterranean was so very blue and clear, the buildings and homes built right into the side of mountains was incredible, stacked up, up, up!
When we stopped at Positano, we wound our way down a path of shops to the bottom where we found a stunning beach. Positano is all about scenery and sand, the town is positioned on the most spectacular stretch of the Amalfi coast. An outside hotel bar offered us ice cold Granita, which is an Italian semi-frozen drink made from sugar, water, and lemon. It’s originally from Sicily, but available all over Italy. It hit the spot on a hot day.
On our way back up the hillside to meet the bus, I was struck by all the colors of vegetables outside a small market tucked into the side of the pathway. Oh! I see my souvenir I said to Doug as I pointed out the big bundles of cherry tomatoes hanging like grapes over the produce. Our guide Antonella asked us if we had cherry tomatoes in the US and we said, Yes of course! She seemed surprised to hear this. When I saw these bunches of tomatoes hanging in front of me, I realized… we do NOT have any cherry tomatoes like that!
I ran in and purchased the bunch from the tiny store and immediately popped one into my mouth. You never tasted anything so good, these tomatoes melted in your mouth and were sweet and delicious. All the Nelson’s and Lupo’s plucked off tomatoes on the bus ride out of Positano to Sorrento, where more adventure awaited.
Lunch in Sorrento
We drove out of Positano the same way we came in, winding along the edge of the mountain on a very narrow road that was very close to the edge. It was a good thing that our driver Antonio was not afraid of heights! We had to marvel over the breathtaking scenery again on our way out of town, it was just that incredible.
Arriving in Sorrento, the streets were crowded with tourists and outside café seating. We had time to explore before lunch and so Doug, Connor, Emilie, and I walked along some back streets, exploring all the small shops tucked into the sides of very old buildings on cobble stone streets. Sorrento is much more crowded than Positano because the big tour buses cannot make it to Positano, the streets are too winding and narrow past Sorrento. When we are done exploring, we end up at a place called Camera & Cucina where we order four glasses of limoncello that is made right here in town. The kids are charmed to join us in a drink, it is strong but not overly sweet.
Soon it’s time to board the tour bus and head to lunch. Because this is an upgraded tour, we are truly looking forward to our meal which will be in a five star hotel restaurant overlooking the coast. We have been anticipating this excursion since last Christmas! As we walk into the lushly landscaped grounds of the hotel, we realize how shady and quiet it is. It seems like lunch has been prepared just for us, as there are no other guests on the Parco die Principi patio!
We are served an amazing arugula salad with parmesan, followed by pasta stuffed with ricotta and spinach, then fish with green beans and potato. There is plenty of wine and champagne on the table for a toast to the family! We take our time, enjoying the view and the food, there is no hurry and no deadline on this tour.
Pompeii old and New
Now that we are full of good wine and good food, we head back to the coach so that we can make our way to Pompeii. We have all been anticipating Pompeii with excitement, we’ve been told you can see forms of the figures of people who were caught in the volcanic ash… incredible.
When we arrive in modern day Pompeii, our first stop is a visit to the cameo factory where we watch a man carving the face of a young woman’s profile into a pice of conch shell. He uses tiny carving tools with weathered wooden handles, they appear to have been handed down over generations. They explain the process of carving away the white area in order to leave the pink color of the conch shell as the shading and the background. Inside the cameo factory I see a much more modern version of a cameo that combines swirling lines and an unconstrained outside edge, not the traditional oval shape. The pice is stunning and the jeweler tries to sell it to me, he says it suits me more than the traditional style pieces. I am taken with the artistry and the organic swirling lines of the carving, but it’s more than I can consider spending today. I truly enjoyed watching and learning about the carving process and being able to compare the work of the master, to the teacher, to the student. It takes much practice to make a perfect cameo!
Next stop is the ruins of the 2000 year old excavated Pompeii. It is incredible to see, not only the city is so old, but that it was covered in volcanic ash and preserved for so long. This is the oldest example of a preserved ancient city that just stopped in time Antonella tells us. We are walking on 2000 year old marble floors! The stones in the street have grooves from the wheels on carts. We see the Gladiator training area and the cells they were held in. The gymnasium where the Romans exercised and the baths where they socialized.
Antonella guides us to view one of the only remaining ceilings of this 2000 year old city, it is adorned with relief carvings and frescos that are still colorful and visible! The art adorning the barrel vaulted ceiling make me revel in the idea of how much of an important part art has played in the history of man.
Through the hallway we enter a room where we can see two human figures preserved as they were on the day of the volcano. their empty spaces in the rubble were filled with plaster like molds, forming statues. People where huddling, hiding, and covering their faces, you get a feeling of their exact position and how helpless they were.
We walk around and marvel at the artifacts saved from the rubble, it’s amazing that vases and some household items survived completely intact. Walls of homes are still standing, as are the sides of animal stalls and the markets in the common areas. There are bits of color still visible on some wall frescos and columns. At one point we pass by a mosaic tile floor with figures of animals, Antonella tells us that the tiny 1-inch tiles were laid one-by-one by hand. Again, I see art’s importance as the tile is not just laid in a utilitarian way, it is designed.
We visit a brothel with stone beds and small rooms, there are frescos of sexual positions along the top of the walls that are perfectly preserved, Antonella tells us that they were assumed to be used as requests! There were 28 brothels in this city of 10,000 residents.
Mount Vesuvius is still active and last erupted in 1944, it is said that it could erupt again at any time. Houses are built by the 100’s at the base of the mountain, Antonella tells us that we can purchase one for almost nothing as there is always the danger of another Pompeii.
Back to the bus after much reflection on the fragility of life, and some more gelato (I’ll never lose these 10 lbs). I can’t help but be amazed at the city of Pompeii and how much art was a part of life, even 2000 years ago. I think of the dedication and appreciation of these people from so long ago, they added beauty to their living spaces much like we do today. The idea of leaving something behind is ringing true with me today, the mosaics, the frescoes, they have stood the test of 2000 years and one amazing volcanic eruption.
For more information on my workshops visit Facebook page for a complete listing of classes. No Facebook account required.
Click on any Douglas Nelson Photography image to enlarge. Visit his photo Facebook page for more stunning images.