Amalfi

Greece just didn’t satiate our appetite for Mediterranean vibes so we flew to the Italian coast for more sunshine, pasta, and some marvelous landscapes. Amalfi is the main town on the coast of which it’s located – the Amalfi Coast. Just to ease your worries, the Amalfi Coast was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997! (Whew.)

Mark coordinated for a driver to pick us up at the Naples airport and drive us to our hotel in Amalfi. We grabbed our luggage and headed outside to find a sign with our name on it. Mark saw it first and directed my attention to the far right side. I spied a large Italian man, about 6’3″, 250 lbs … but his sign displayed a vastly different name. “I don’t think so…” I say as I scan my eyes downward. “Oh, there it is.”

Our driver was an expertly dressed man who happened to rise no more than 4’7″. He kindly offered to carry our luggage as we walked towards the parking lot, which we politely declined. We weaved our way around different cars, curious which would be our chariot. He pressed a button on his key fob, lights flickered and a trunk opened … on the largest van in the parking lot. One of those oversized massive ones that holds at least eight people. We wondered how he drove such a large vehicle but we didn’t find any phone book on his seat or anything (I know, we’re terrible people). He seemed entirely comfortable behind the wheel, so we all settled in for the hour-and-a-half drive. I of course, fell asleep, but woke up just as we stared the windy switchbacks down the cliff towards Amalfi, which lies at the mouth of a deep ravine.

Our chauffeur gained more confidence as the road grew windier, his foot getting heavier, making me want to yack up my airport snacks. I looked over at Mark who spent the entire drive staring out the window. At first we took a route carved straight through the mountains; right through massive hills covered in green, with flora carved at sharp right angles. Once we breached the mountain, it was a constant scene of blue as far as the eye could see. We wound down a long set of switchbacks, each curve revealing more homes carved into the cliff and stunning postcard views (sadly, just didn’t have the angles to snap photos looking out the side window, so you’ll just have to take our word for it).

We finally made our way to the base of the ravine and right to the center of town. Our driver mumbled in Italian and pointed, something along the lines of “cross the street, go left, walk down the main square, make another left, walk up some stairs and your hotel will be right there.” We said “ciao” as we slung our bags over our shoulders, gawking at the passersby. Insane cars, high-end designer brand clothing, and the most Barbie-adjacent bodies that only money could buy. We followed his instructions and found our cozy little hotel, right off the square.

Our room wasn’t ready so we killed some time by hitting the gym eating. Although the main square is heavily crowded with tourists, it was enticing with all its outdoor seating and the beautiful setting. The weather was beautiful so we picked a restaurant at random and ordered some pasta. After what felt like decades later – and my grumbling stomach the cause of my internal fury at our idiot waiter – our food finally arrived! I use the term “food” lightly, especially in regards to Mark’s dish. I ordered a staple favorite of mine, spaghetti and clams. While my portion size hovered around acceptable, the clams were gritty and dirty. Wash your clams people! But Mark … poor Mark. Imagine a decadent lasagna, stacked delicately in a small pan. Now take a cigarette box and use that as a size cutout for his lasagna slice. Now cut that slice in half and serve it. We did not take a picture of the world’s smallest lasagna because, well face it, we were embarrassed. #WeGotGot

Rain was on the radar during our entire stay in Amalfi so we made an effort to get going in the mornings to take in the sights, sans umbrella. Amalfi is quite small and while you can easily walk to the adjoining town, that one’s even smaller. After walking through the main square about a million times, Mark suggested finding a national park that he read about. “It’s a little ways uphill though, maybe a half hour walk.” Ok, I’m game. After all, I had nine solid days of pasta ahead of me that I needed to preemptively burn off, so let’s go hiking! Hundreds, if not millions of stairs later, we finally made it to the top, and holy moly was it worth it! The view was stunning and our final kilometer was now flat! 

We walked along a narrow road before finding a trail that led into some woods. One second we were walking along a suburban Italian road passing Fiats and housecats, another second we found ourselves walking on a Mt. Tam-like trail! The woods were very reminiscent of home, so we grew even more excited that we opted to drown in sweat while hiking straight up a mountain. After admiring the waterfall near the end of the trail, we turned back, eager for a cold drink. We happened to spot a place with a sign outside declaring just that, back on the main road on our way in. I say “place” because it turned out to not be a restaurant, but someone’s house! An adorable, elderly Italian couple put a sign outside their home advertising cold drinks and food for people to enjoy on their patio, alongside their fat sunbathing Chihuahua. In hindsight, we probably shouldn’t have taken such a Hansel and Gretel risk, but we were hot and thirsty!

The gentleman of the house showed us to our seats, and we sat down in plastic lawn chairs. He didn’t speak any English but thanks to Google Translate and some charades, we were able to order two drinks. I’ve steadily discovered that the word for “beer” is basically the same all over the world. We must have spooked the man though because he disappeared into the house, and his wife took over, delivering our drinks – a cold beer for me and a very tart lemonade for Mark. We sat and admired their spectacular view, resting our tired quads so we could survive the downhill trek without an embarrassing I-swear-I’m-fit-at-home limp. We munched on some homemade bruschetta (compliments of the chef), and seriously considered stopping our adventure here and moving in with this nice couple. (We also saw an abandoned home/lot for sale down the road, maybe we could be future neighbors.)

The woman must have sensed our enjoyment because she came over to try a go at chatting. She only knew a few words in English, mostly just the word “English” itself. Mark practiced his Italian and told her that her home was beautiful. She was so smitten with our compliments that she motioned for us to follow her for a short tour. She was definitely a pro because she offered to take our photo with the most magnificent backdrop. She even climbed up on a chair! You can’t tell from the picture, but we are mumbling, “please don’t fall, please don’t fall, please don’t fall.” She asked if we were headed back down to eat (rough translation from her Italian, she motioned eating so I assumed). I said yes and mentioned pizza. She shook her head no, looked right into my eyes and said rather loudly given the distance her face was to mine – Spaghetti! Spaghetti! Oh man, I think I found my new best friend! We politely turned down what we suspect was an invitation to stay for lunch and headed back down, high on happiness with how our day had panned out thus far.

The walk from our hotel, through the main square, and out along the pier on the water, was a quick one. As with most things we’ve seen while abroad, photos just don’t do the scenery justice. Amalfi is insanely beautiful and crazy to look at. I kept having to close my jaw at the thought of how these houses were built ON THE SIDE OF A FREAKIN’ MOUNTAIN. While trying to figure out how the plumbing works in this town, I was interrupted by an annoying buzzing sound. I glanced up and saw a drone floating over our head. Down below towards the water, there was a couple with the controls. He was flying the drone, and she was filming him flying the drone (why?). Neither of them were looking at the view! I was flabbergasted that they remained blind to the absolute and utter beauty that lay just beyond their screens. I’m all for filming and taking photos, but please, don’t forget to actually visit the place you are visiting.

For dinner that evening, we went to a local place just steps away from our hotel. Once again, and this will never get old, I ordered spaghetti and clams. What a world of a difference when your clams are cleaned! The pasta was perfectly cooked, the ratio of pasta to clams was perfect, and the wine sauce was light and well seasoned. Meanwhile Mark continued his own pizza tour of Italy, and it was never not an amazing call.

As we walked out of our hotel, we noticed a regatta on TV in the lobby. Nobody pays attention to hotel lobby TVs so it could’ve been anything. But the same regatta was on at the restaurant! Again, we know zero Italian so we don’t know what the announcers were saying but judging by last year’s highlights, we think Amalfi won last year? A surprise win? When it was time for the race to begin, the entire restaurant staff came out to watch – busboy, dishwasher, pizza chef, manager who totally looked like he’s head of the local mob … I mean everyone!

Turns out it was the Regatta of the Ancient Maritime Republics, an annual boat race between Italy’s most famous maritime republics: Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa and Venice. This year it took place in Venice and prior to the big race, there is a huge historical parade. Participants dress up in historical costumes that represent episodes and characters from each maritime’s history. It’s kind of a big “anything you can do I can do better” parade for these four seafaring powerhouses. The race started and one of the boats fell far behind the pack. That, unfortunately, was Amalfi. Venice went on to win the race, unsurprising as apparently they’re the Patriots of the Regatta.

The next day was the same as the last in terms of weather, so again we went to make the most of the sun before it began to rain. We walked out to the water and along the winding coast toward the next town over – Atrani. It’s like Amalfi, but smaller. The streets are even more narrow and we got pleasantly lost a number of times. We would turn one corner and end up at someone’s door, backtrack, duck through a dark tunnel, climb some stairs and end up in someone else’s front “yard.” It’s these charming small Italian towns that make me fall in love with Italy over and over again, every time.

On our last day in Amalfi, I wanted to see more of the storied towns along the coast. I hopped a bus for 45 minutes along the coast to Positano, one of the wealthier, more often pictured towns that the Amalfi Coast is known for. Our drive from the airport to the town of Amalfi went through the mountains and finished along the coast. However this drive to Positano went along the coast the whole time, and it was just absolutely stunning. I got out of the bus, and the whole town is windy roads uphill or downhill along the cliff, lined on both sides with hotels, shops and restaurants. Every turn was immensely picturesque. I really enjoyed seeing another town, and headed back to the bus stop towards Amalfi.

Naturally it starts raining as I’m descending stairs, then walking uphill to get to the bus stop. The next bus is a half hour away. There was a gridlock in front of us, with buses unable to move in both directions, blocking traffic both in front of and behind them. No less than four police officers, La Polizia Municipale, directed drivers and steadied the flow of traffic. Finally, our bus came. And everybody ran. Though I was standing near what was once the front of the line, everyone ganged up and there was no order. I slowly crawled up to the front of the bus as people piled on. Naturally, I was the next person to board when the bus driver deemed the bus too full. No more people. I was furious. I was fuming. The driver tells me the next bus is an hour away. I spend the next forty five minutes seething and shaking my head, standing in the rain. Then one of those red Hop On Hop Off Sightseeing buses pulled up. “How much to Amalfi?” “That’ll be 10€.” Done. Money well spent; I wasn’t about to wait around longer to not make the next one.

Sadly we couldn’t stay forever, and the morning came when we had to depart Amalfi. We checked out of the hotel and walked to the main square, where I was told our driver would be waiting for us. There was a large man in a suit standing next to a van. Our driver, the same man I had been emailing back-and-forth with, was also the owner of the company. I felt assured and taken care of. He was schmoozy, and his accent grew thicker as he told me how much he loved my name, MAR-kuh Bez-er-MAH-no. To passing drivers he would flash a rising hand and exclaim “Mamma Mia,” much to Isabel’s delight. He asked if I’d be so willing as to leave a favorable TripAdvisor review, to which I responded “Oh sure!”

Our van was waiting for us in front of the cathedral in the main square

We arrived at the train station with plenty of time to spare, got out of the car as he grabbed our bags from the trunk. These transactions are paid for in cash at the end of the drive. To our little friend that brought us to Amalfi, I handed over 5€ extra. “Do you need change?” “No, that’s all yours.” “Oh, thank you, thank you.” He was grateful. Cut to Anthony, the owner of the company. I pulled out the cash I had and asked, “Do you have a 10€?” Before I even finished my sentence, he flashed a plastic-looking sad face, clenched his teeth and shook his head as he told me, “No, I don’t.” He didn’t even feign patting his pockets for his wallet, alarmed to find that he, the well-dressed man who is the owner of the company, had zero change on him, for what he has designed to be a cash-only business. I’d love to tell you that I told him to wait right there while I head in to a store to buy something, so I could bring back exact change, and only then did he suddenly realize he had a pocketful of options … that I’d flash him a knowing smile, the jig was up, he wasn’t shaking extra tip money out of me! Not MAR-kuh Bez-er-MAH-no! But that’s not how this story ends. Faced with no other monetary option, Anthony squeezed that 15€ tip out of me, like rolling a tube of toothpaste to get every last drop. Oh, I’ll leave you that TripAdvisor review, best believe!

I’ve always wanted to go to Amalfi and I’m so happy I finally did. Even if you fly out to Amalfi just stare out at the ocean while sunbathing on the beach, it’s worth it. Even if you fly out to Amalfi and spend all day on a bus looking out the window at the view, it’s worth it. Even if you fly out to Amalfi and do everything under the sun that you can do there, it’s worth it. I love Italy and I can’t wait to come back again and again.

#bodybypasta

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