Italy Part 1 – Pompeii to Amalfi Coast

Italy Part 1 – Pompeii to Amalfi Coast

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We had visited Italy back in 2009. We mainly visited the north of Italy, seeing in Rome, Naples, Florence, Cinque Terre, Sienna, Bologna, Milan, and Venice. This time around we wanted to see more of the South of Italy, especially the Amalfi Coast, but would also make a trip back north to see more of Cinque Terre.

After a rough overnight ferry ride we got into Bari around 8 AM and made our way to the train station to get tickets for our final destination, Solerno. To get there, we had to endure a 6 hour train ride with a two hour layover so we didn’t get into Solerno until around 5 PM. We were only staying one night here before we were going to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. We grabbed dinner at a small pizza place around the corner and the pizza was only $4 and was really delicious. This meal got us extra excited for our meals throughout Italy. We took showers and relaxed, happy to be in a real bed again.

Pompeii walls and Mt. Vesuvius in the background

The next day we took a train at 8:30 AM to Pompeii. There are two train stops at Pompeii and if you come from the south, the station is Pompeii and if you come from the north, the station is Pompeii Scavi. There are also two entrances to the Pompeii area, the main entrance next to Pompeii Scavi and the second entrance in the back part of the Pompeii area next to the Amphitheater. We left our big bags at the Pompeii train station and walked to the entrance by the Amphitheater which is the lesser known entrance. The station also offered a shared van ride to the main entrance for 6 euro each which is a scam because the rear entrance is a lot closer. It was like a 10 minute walk and there was also an option to leave your bags at the entrance to the ruins for free but we didn’t want to lug our bags there. There were definitely a lot less people in the back of the ruins area.

Pompeii Central Square

We actually tried to go to Pompeii last time we were in Italy but we only made it to Herculaneum. It has been a long running dispute on who is to blame for us not making it to Pompeii (it was a whole thing) but finally we can put that behind us J. The Pompeii complex is huge and you can really imagine how beautiful this city was before the eruption. I watched the terrible movie “Pompeii” starring Jon Snow and the girl from Suckerpunch, and I guess it at least paints a picture of what the city looked like before the devastation. We were expecting to see more bodies of people covered in ash but most of the sights in area are just the ruins of houses, baths, and other buildings. In the rear part of the complex, there isn’t much to see other than the amphitheater which looks like a smaller version of the Coliseum of Rome.  It was getting close to midday and it started getting pretty hot. As we made our closer to the main entrance, the crowds got larger. However, the main center square of the city is really cool and there are a number of statues in the square and there some beautiful mountains (including Mt. Vesuvius) and hills in the background. There is also a newer food court just outside of the main entrance, fully equipped with a McDonalds and other overpriced souvenirs and food. Walking around this center portion of Pompeii we saw tons of tour groups from cruise ships and there were huge portions of the ruins that were closed off for excavation and/or restoration which made it difficult to walk in the streets. We spent about 2 hours exploring and I feel we got a good taste of the city. We probably would have stayed longer but it was too hot and too crowded for us. We heard it gets a lot less crowded in the afternoon as the groups from the cruise ships have to be back but we didn’t want to wait that long. You could easily spend a full day in the city without seeing everything, especially if you’re into Roman History. I’m glad we saw Pompeii, but I have to say that it was not as impressive as I thought it would be. We made our way back the train station to pick up our bags and then had to walk to the Pompeii Scavi train station next to the main entrance to get to Meta, in the Amalfi Coast, where we’d be spending the next few days.

Sites around Pompeii

Cove at Villa di Pollio Felice on Sorrento Pennisula

The Amalfi Coast is a 50-kilometer stretch of coastline along the southern edge of Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula, in the Campania region. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for cultural landscape and has a number of beautiful coastal towns and beaches. The coastal road between the port city of Salerno and clifftop Sorrento winds past grand villas, terraced vineyards and cliffside lemon groves. We stayed in Meta which is just east of Sorrento. It’s a pretty small town but is connected to Sorrento by a quick 10-15 bus ride. Our Airbnb was in a great location on top of a cliff which had beautiful views of the coast where the sun sets. Our first full day in the Amalfi Coast, we decided to spend in Sorrento. Sorrento is known as the gateway to the Amalfi Coast and the town center has great views of the coast of Naples and Mt. Vesuvius. There is a cove (Villa di Pollio Felice) at the tip of the peninsula that Diem researched and we took a bus mostly there and had a longer walk than we expected to finally get to the cove. Sorrento’s peninsula is known as the land of the sirens, in honor of the mythical maiden-monsters who were said to live on Li Galli (a tiny archipelago off the peninsula’s southern tip). It was a nice little cove but it was a little colder than we thought it would be and we only stayed in the water for a little bit. We walked some more around the cliffs and found a restaurant across a rickety bridge where you could Capri in the distance. We went back up to catch the bus back to Sorrento proper. We had lunch near the bus stop and had some pizza and pasta. When we got back to Sorrento we went to the ferry terminal to buy our tickets to Capri but the station was closed. We were getting tired and hungry so we just took the bus back to Meta and went to bed.

Coastline views at Rovello

The next day it rained pretty much all day so we stayed in and did some blog work and watched some movies. For our third day, we did some research and heard that Ravello had the best views of the Amalfi Coast so we made our way in that direction. We thought we could do a bus from Meta directly to Amalfi but apparently that bus only runs in the summer time. So we took the bus to Sorrento then got on a bus to Amalfi and then we would need a third bus to Ravello. The bus from Sorrento to Amalfi is not for the faint of heart or stomach. The road is very windy and narrow, Diem was feeling pretty sick and I was starting to feel bad toward the end of it. It didn’t help that they jam as many people as they can onto the bus so we didn’t have seats for most of the ride. Some people got off at Positano 1.5 hours in and we grabbed some seats then. The bus schedules said it was a 1.5 hour ride to Amalfi from Sorrento but it ended up being 2 hours. When we got to Amalfi, we were in no condition to take another bus so we went into the city to have lunch and recuperate. The Almalfi bus stop is right off the harbor and the city center is right off the coastline road. There is a beautiful plaza right when you walk in with a nice view of the Amalfi Cathedral up on a hill and old tower further up the hill in the background. Lunch was decent but we got some gelato and a granita to cool off and recover before we got on the bus to Ravello.

Left: Amalfi Cathedral; Right: Lunch pizza and gelato

The bus ride from Amalfi to Ravello was only about 30 minutes long and back up the mountain a bit but we avoided getting car sick. Ravello is a small town that is famous for two main villas and Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo. We went in the Villa Cimbrone for 7 euro each. The complex is a decent size but not as big as I would think. As we walked toward the famous view at the Terrace of Infinity, we heard some wedding music and saw a wedding ceremony about to take place in a beautiful grass area of the villa overlooking the coast. We stayed for the bride to walk down the aisle and took some pictures. They got lucky because the day before and the day after would be really rainy. We next went to the Terrace of Infinity and took some nice pictures of the coast and the statues out on the terrace. It was a beautiful clear day so the view was pretty spectacular. Gore Vidal once described the panorama here as "the most beautiful in the world." We also walked around the rest of the Villa for about another 30-45 minutes but there really wasn’t that much else to see. We made our way back down to Amalfi and hung out the beach there for a bit before getting the bus back to Sorrento. We were lucky enough to get seats this time and the ride back wasn’t as bad. We grabbed dinner in Sorrento and then went back to Meta.

Left: Wedding envy at Villa Cimbrone; Right: Terrace of Infinity

Another view of Positano

The next day we got a late start and got a ticket to Positano around 12:00 PM, the ticket is only 1.80 euro but we didn’t get seats again and had to stand. This time the ride went quicker and we got to Positano in about an hour. In my opinion, Positano has the most beautiful views of the coast with the colorful houses, cliffs, and beaches. We made our way down to the city center and had lunch at a café. The town of Positano is nice and has some upscale shops and restaurants. It is also pretty small so it doesn’t take long to walk down from the bus stop to the beach. After lunch, we saw an old castle tower down by the beach so we made our way there to check it out. It turned out to be closed off so we just stopped at a beach café and had beers for a couple of hours before making our way back to Meta. It just started raining as we got on the bus and we were lucky we did because the rain came down pretty hard after that. We got back to Meta and had dinner, then went to bed.

Our next stop in Italy was the island of Capri. Capri is famed for its rugged landscape, upscale hotels and shopping, from designer fashions to limoncello and handmade leather sandals. We left Meta around 1 PM to get to Sorrento and took the 2:30 PM ferry to Capri. The ferry ride lasts only 30 minutes but you can also buy a cheaper ferry that takes twice as long. We got into Capri and took a cab from the ferry terminal to our hotel in Anacapri for 30 euro. We found out later that we could have taken a bus for 1.80 per person so it was not a good start to the trip. Anacapri is on the west side of the island and is more low-key than the Capri side. We were pretty tired so we just checked in, got some food around the hotel and went to bed.

View from the top of Mount Solerno

Our first full day in Capri was a bit of a letdown because it rained pretty much all day so we just stayed in and ran to our lunch and dinner spots next to the hotel. The next day was a beautiful day in Capri. One of the main attractions in Capri is the Blue Grotto, a dark cavern where the sea glows electric blue, the result of sunlight passing through an underwater cave. We missed seeing a Blue Grotto in Kotor off of Hercig Novi but part of the reason we didn’t care is that we were going to see the Blue Grotto in Capri, which is supposed to be better. In the morning I ran down to the Blue Grotto in the morning which was about 3 miles from our hotel. It was closed when I was there but it was before 9 AM and it was a really clear day so I thought it may be open later in the day. We had breakfast and used the internet then made our way down to the blue grotto again around 12:30 PM. We read that the Grotto is best viewed in the early afternoon because that is when the most sunlight hits the cave. Before we went we checked the Blue Grotto’s website and it said the cave was closed but it also said that the Grotto sometimes opens and closes several times a day. This was our last day in Capri so we went down anyway hoping for the best but when we got down there it was closed. You can walk right down to the water and is a ladder from the water to a platform that is right next to the opening of the blue grotto. It was a bright sunny day but it also looked like the water level was too high and the waves were a little strong so there were no row boats. I had thoughts of jumping in and going in but it is illegal and seemed a little dangerous so I decided against it. After that failed attempt, I at least wanted to see Capri’s other famous attraction, Mount Solerno. There is a chair lift that goes up for 8 euro one way and 13 euro roundtrip but there is also a path you can walk up in 45 minutes. I wanted to walk up and Diem didn’t but she went along with me up the path and was not happy about it. It wasn’t too difficult of a hike and there were some nice views along the way but the best views were at the top next to the chair lift. There was a little café and restaurant at the top and the viewing platform allowed 360 degree views around the island. We took some pictures and made our way back down the mountain. After the hike we didn’t do much and just called it a day.

Taking a rest at the top of Mt. Solerno

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate during our time in Capri so we didn’t get to see as much of the island as we would have liked. Additionally, we didn’t get to see the Blue Grotto which was a bummer but we also learned that you’re not allowed to swim in the grotto which is a little lame so we didn’t feel as bad later. Despite the weather issues, it’s tough to have a bad day in the Amalfi Coast and Capri. We really enjoyed both spots with the highlights being Positano and Ravello but it would definitely be great to rent a car and drive the Amalfi coastline as well.

See the first part of our Italy trip here: Pompeii – Amalfi Coast.

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Paul is a lawyer taking a mid-career break focused on capturing all his adventures during his yearlong honeymoon around the world.

One Response

  1. […] we were somewhat rehashing some of the places that we visited in 2009. As I mentioned in the last post, we visited Rome and Cinque Terre last time. However, our trip to Cinque Terre was under 24 hours […]

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