Monday, January 17, 2011

Honeymoon in Europe - Part 2

Day 3: Praiano
Day three marked the beginning of the second leg of our trip - to the Amalfi coast!  The Amalfi coast is a breathtakingly beautiful region of Italy.  With colorful buildings perched precariously on jagged limestone cliffs, terraced lemon groves, brilliant views, all surrounded by bright turquoise water, it's truly a tourist paradise!

On Tuesday, September 21, we checked out of our hotel in Naples and took the Circumvesuviana train to Sorrento (that's as far as it goes).  In Sorrento, we hopped on a SITA bus and took that to the small town of Praiano where we were staying.  Here's a little map to give you an idea of where went (red is our train trip, blue is our bus ride [approximately]):

First a word about this bus ride.  The roads in the Amalfi coast are, as you might expect, switchback mountain roads, winding their way up and down the steep cliffs.  Now I've driven mountain roads before, but never quite like this!  The roads are literally right on the edge of a sheer cliff, with little between you and the water below.  In a few places, the road actually extends about three feet off the edge of the cliff!
See the road way up there?  Right on the edge of that cliff???
On top of that, you're on a bus packed with people (as in all the seats and all the standing room is taken).  And, as buses tend to do, they rock and sway as you turn corners.  Which you do a lot when you're winding your way around switchback roads.  Between the tightness of the turns, and the speed at which many of the drivers take them, I was certain we were going to roll over more than once.  There is generally a short stone wall serving as a guard rail, but I'm confident it's not tall enough to stop a bus from going over.
View from the road
The short stone wall
Oh, and did I mention the roads are incredibly narrow?  So narrow, that there are often mirrors in the corners so drivers can see if someone else is coming around the bend.  
Pretty narrow!  Those are tiny European cars too
The buses actually can't make the turn if there's an oncoming vehicle there.  Solution?  They lay on their horn as they come around the bend, so the cars can get out of their way.  And of course there's the vespa drivers, who, believing they're invincible or something, weave around cars and buses as only Italian vespa drivers can do.
And pretty much impossible to see what's around the corner
Long story short, my first trip on the SITA bus was nothing short of terrifying.  I couldn't even bring myself to look out the window.  I have never been so happy to make it to my destination safely as I was that day!
Note the mirror in the corner
While it never ceased to be exhilarating, it did get less nerve wracking as the trip went on.  After a a couple days, I was happily taking pictures out the window along with the rest of the tourists.  But wow, there is really nothing like it!

Now back to the story.  We chose to stay in Praiano over the larger, more well-known cities of Amalfi, Positano and Sorrento primarily because it was cheaper.  Quite a bit cheaper actually.  But we fell in love with this cute little fishing village!  It has everything you could need to enjoy your stay - a grocery store, a pharmacy, nice selection of restaurants and pizzerias, an internet cafe, and a tabacchi (Italian for tobacco shop, but it's also where you buy stamps and bus tickets), but it was FAR less crowded and touristy!  The Amalfi coast is an amazing place to visit, but unfortunately, it's also become a magnet for tourism.  After battling hoards of people all day, it was wonderful to come back to quiet little Praiano for the night and just relax in peace.
We stayed at the Hotel Holiday, which was just a short (albeit steep) 10 minute walk from the center of town. We stayed in the "cheap room" (that is actually what they call it, which gave us a good chuckle when we made our reservations; we're guessing it was named by someone who is not a native English speaker).  As the name implies, it's the least expensive room they had.  We took a bit of a gamble on it, since their website didn't have any pictures of the room.  But we were looking to save money so we could afford to spend a couple nights on the island of Capri, and we didn't plan to spend a lot of time lounging about the hotel anyway.  As it turned out, it really wasn't too bad at all!  Certainly not luxury accommodations, but it suited us just fine.

Our hotel room in Praiano
Our room was advertised as having a "partial view."  When we arrived, we discovered this means that if you stick our head out around the wall (which is obscured by the plant in the center photo) you can see the water.  But they did put some lemon plants out there, which was cute.
My attempt at a panorama of our balcony
One of the best features of the hotel was the large balcony off the common area.  Even though we couldn't see the water from our own room, we could sit out there anytime we wanted!  This is where we ate our breakfast every morning, watching the sun reflect off the beautiful blue water.
Views from the hotel balcony

At night, when all the other hotel guests went out for dinner, we decided to save money and take advantage of the hotel balcony by eating in!  We got a couple of pizzas for about 4 euros each (delicious Italian pizza - nothing like what we have here in the states), and a 2 euro bottle of wine from the grocery store (even the cheapest Italian wine is still pretty darn good by American standards!) and we had a romantic dinner for two out on the balcony, with a moonlight view of the water that would rival any upscale restaurant.  These were some of our most memorable dinners - and cost just 10 euros!

Another really cute thing about Praiano were the narrow little back streets.  The main streets, the ones for driving, zig-zagged their way up the the steep cliff side.  But for getting to your house, and places between the streets, there were these narrow little passage ways designed just for walking.  It was really like being in a maze - we were never certain exactly where these passage ways were going to lead us!  But they were super fun to explore.  Except for all the stairs - you really have to be in good shape if you're going to live in Italy!

Oh, and there were lizards everywhere.  Just like we have squirrels running about the place here in the U.S.  Lizards.  Aren't they cute?

Ok, enough rambling.  So by the time we got settled into our hotel in Praiano, it was getting pretty late in the day and there wasn't much time to embark on a long activity, so we decided to take a little walk.  We followed the main road about 1.5 km around the coast line until we found a cute little marina called Praia.
Marina di Praia
We really wanted to grab dinner there, but the only thing more terrifying than driving the Amalfi Coast roads is walking on them.  At night.  So we turned around and headed back to Praiano before it got dark.
Yup, that's the road we walked on.  Whatever you do, don't look down!!!
Day 4: Ravello (via Amalfi)
The next day, we took a day trip to another Amalfi Coast town - Ravello.  In my opinion, this is the coolest of the Amalfi Coast towns.  It's WAY up high, offering views like you've never seen in your life!  To get there, we first had to take the SITA bus to Amalfi.  We didn't spend much time there, because we'd read it wasn't anything too special.  But I took a few pictures from the bus stop.
I do need to add that their beaches really made me laugh.  Since most of the coast line is sheer cliffs, in the few spots where there is a "beach" (and it's not even like a pretty, white sand beach), it's an immensely popular spot!  The beaches are privately owned, so you have to pay admission to sit there.  A chair and umbrella cost extra.  The days we were there, it wasn't even hot.  I can't imagine what this place looks like in July and August!
Beach goers in Amalfi
Then we took another bus from Amalfi up to Ravello.  A word of caution to anyone considering doing this: there are entirely too many people who want to take this bus ride, and far too few buses.  The result is pure chaos.  Between the locals who don't believe in forming lines and the pushy tourists who will stop at nothing to get on with their vacation, there is lots of pushing, shoving, and climbing over top of people to get onto the most packed full bus you'll ever ride.  On a related note, find someone who knows how to read the bus schedules, because they're not as self explanatory as you would think.  We ended up waiting for a long time at the bus stop for a return bus because we failed to do this (as did a lot of other people, making me think it's a common mistake).
View from Ravello
In Ravello, we basically walked around and admired the views.  The town itself is quite small, and it didn't take us long to see all of it.  The main "attractions" in Ravello are the various old estates and villas offering tourists a chance to wander through their impeccable gardens and check out the views from their scenic overlooks.  So we ate lunch and then headed over to Via Cimbrone.
The gardens were really quite incredible.
They even have a crypt!
View from the crypt
But of course, what everyone comes here for is the view.  And what a view it is!
You really feel like you can see EVERYTHING from up here!
On our way back from the garden, we saw signs for free limoncello tastings.  Never ones to pass up free anything, we had to check this out.  If you're not familiar with limoncello, it's a sweet lemon-flavored Italian liqueur that they frequently serve as a desert beverage after dinner.  It's outstanding, and it just so happens to be the specialty of this region!  Well wouldn't you know it, the place offering free tastings just happened to make the most delicious limoncello we'd ever had!  So we stocked up on a bottle for ourselves, as well as some to give as gifts when we got home, and staggered back to the bus stop. :)

Day 5: Fail :(
Day five was supposed to be our day trip to Positano.  I don't know if it was the heat, exhaustion, being dehydrated or what, but I ended up with a migraine. :( I'm not even a person who gets frequent migraines - I can count on one hand the number I've had in my life!  But of course I got one on our honeymoon in Europe.

I started weirdly losing my peripheral vision on our walk down to the bus stop.  But I sat down in the shade, drank some water, and eventually felt fine.  I brushed it off as a fluke.  We made it to the bus stop, and rode all the way to Positano.  I felt a little nauseous on the bus ride, but I get car sick easily, so I didn't think too much of it.

It wasn't until we got off the bus in Positano that my head started throbbing, and the vision problems came back.  My balance felt off too, so I gripped Mike's arm tightly as we walked because if I fell, I was worried I'd roll all the way down the steep hill!  We decided perhaps I just needed something to eat, so we stopped to get some lunch.  It didn't work.  In fact, the smell of food started to make me feel really sick and I couldn't bring myself to eat anything except bread and a few tomatoes from Mike's plate.

I was so excited about seeing Positano that even after all this, I really didn't want to give up.  I'd already taken Advil, and that wasn't doing anything, so Mike went off in search of Tylenol (after doing his best to describe it to an Italian pharmacist).  I gave the drugs a good 30 minutes to start working, while sitting on a bench in the shade drinking more water, but nothing helped.  We finally gave up and went back to the hotel room so I could sleep it off.  I took a couple pictures from the bus stop:

Day 6, part 1: Positano (for real this time)
On Friday, September 24, we checked out of our hotel in Praiano and started our journey to the island of Capri.  We planned to catch the ferry from Positano anyway, so we bought our tickets, left our bags with the ferry company people, and set off to see a little bit of the city before our boat came.  

All in all, I wasn't terribly impressed.  It's pretty, but super touristy - basically just a bunch of shops selling junky souvenirs or overpriced clothing.  It was cute, and fun for a couple of hours, but just not my favorite.  At least it made me feel better about missing out on Positano day.
And then it was time to go!
Last view of Positano from the ferry
I'm going to save Capri for another post because this one is getting really long.  And it's my new favorite place on earth, so it really deserves its own post. :)  Until next time!

No comments:

Post a Comment