From Naples via Pompei to Amalfi Coast

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October 13th 2017
Published: January 14th 2019
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Naples - Pompei - Amalfi Coast and back

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Castel Sant'Elmo, overlooking the city and harbour.
Just a few days after returning from Travemünde I had planned to go on a five days trip to Naples, Pompei, and Amalfi Coast in Italy. Again, some unforeseen events challenged my plans: I had to undergo some minor surgery and discussed with the doctor whether it would be possible to postpone it to after my trip. But he said: “Look, now it’s Wednesday. We can conduct the surgery on Thursday morning, you can go home on Friday, come back for a quick checkup on Saturday and then fly on Sunday.” That’s what we did, so I left for Italy on a Sunday afternoon, still on painkillers, but feeling quite okay.

Upon arrival in Naples I picked up a rental car and drove into the city to meet Nils. He had been in the city for a few days already because of a workshop he had been attending. We dropped off my luggage in the Airbnb room that he had rented and then followed a dinner invitation: My colleague Davide is originally from Naples, and he was staying with his parents at the time, so he had invited us for dinner. We drove there and arrived at about 9 in
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Chiesa Gesù Nuovo with the mysterious wall that sparked a lot of legends.
the evening and were welcomed by him, his parents, his aunt, his cousin, and the cousin’s partner – and the dogs that were barking like crazy (although they were friendly). So we had to yell the introductions. The flat was in a beautiful spot, overlooking the Gulf of Naples, and it was nice to take the aperitif on the balcony and to enjoy the view. Davide’s mum then spoilt us with a wonderful four course meal: lentil soup, tomato and mozzarella (and yes, this was real mozzarella di bufala), pasta, and various pastries and chocolates for dessert. Part of the communication went in English, but since not everyone spoke English, part of it was in Italian as well. I speak a bit of Italian, but not well enough to completely follow the conversation. What was really exciting for me to see though was when the family started discussing politics. Different people seemed to have very different views on the same topic, and so they grew more and more emotional and louder and louder, underpinning their statements with a lot of gestures. I just love the language, I find it emotional in itself, and I enjoyed following the conversation even though
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Castel Nuovo at the harbour.
I did not understand a word of what they were saying. Davide translated a bit for us so that we got at least an idea. This was a wonderful evening, and it was long after midnight when we left. Thank you so much for inviting us, Davide and family!

The next morning, we went for a walk around Naples for a bit. The idea was to just look at a few selected spots that Davide had recommended to us, and other than that to just get an impression of the place. The city is chaotic, with lots of traffic and traffic jams, and a lot of decaying houses, but I found it extremely charming, maybe exactly because of this. Upon Davide’s recommendation we went to Chiesa Gesù Nuovo (“Church of New Christ”), located on Piazza del Gesù Nuovo. The walls of the Jesuit church are a mystery: There are symbols on the stones it is made of, and these symbols are a riddle. Some say that the symbols simply told the stone masons where the stones were from. Others say that the symbols have an alchemistic or hermetic meaning. Still others posit that they are letters from the Aramaic
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Piazza del Plebiscito in front of the Royal Castle.
alphabet and that they can be turned into musical notes and thus into a piece of music. There is also the superstition that the diamond shape was designed so that it would keep the evil from the church and maintain the good inside it, but that something went wrong and therefore the ceiling collapsed a few times. The inside of the church is richly decorated with paintings and statues from the 17th and 18th century, but far not as exciting as the mystery of the outside wall.

We went to visit another church, or rather, a chapel: Cappella Sansevero, another baroque building. It was built in the late 16th century as a for the di Sangro family and was a private chapel to Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of Sansevero, in the 18th century. There are two reasons for which it is spectacular: First, there is a reclining statue of Jesus, covered in a cerecloth that is made of marble. The cloth is so delicate that you would not think it consists of marble. I was tempted to touch it just to make sure it really was not linen, but of course one is not allowed to. What an amazing
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Narrow and steep street in the Spanish Quarter, leading up to Castel Sant'Elmo.
piece of art! Second, there are two human anatomic models, one of a man and one of a pregnant woman, whose blood vessels are modelled with wires covered in wax. Raimondo di Sangro was an alchemist and must have conducted all kinds of experiments, including this one. One wonders how this could have been done because the vessels must have been filled with metal while they were still alive. Otherwise how would you be able to model all the vessels? I am sure Raimondo’s life would make a good film!

From the chapel we walked down to the old castle Castel Nuovo (“New Castle”), originally built in the 13th century. It used to serve as a residence for the different invaders, e.g., the French, and is located at the harbour, beautifully overlooking the sea. From there we walked through the Spanish Quarter and back to our car.

In the afternoon we left Naples for Pompei – and before getting out of the city we first had to make it through the chaotic traffic, but I think I did quite well and we made it onto the highway without any scratches or major incidents. I guess most of you
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know that the city was extinct when the adjacent volcano Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., perfectly conserving the city. When it was rediscovered in the 18th century it became a major archaeological site, and researchers were able to learn a lot about how people used to live. The whole site is huge and we did not go everywhere. We started at the amphitheatre and from there walked a lot of the streets. Roman streets are an amazing piece of construction engineering, with good foundation, pavements on both sides, pedestrian crossings that allow people to cross the streets without having to step into the mud on the road, and trenches. We stepped into many of the houses where the beautiful mosaic floors are well preserved. We also entered the baths, and once more I was amazed by the great system of heating and running water that the Romans had created. The Forum (market square) that is located on a hill offered a beautiful view of Vesuvius. We could easily have spent days on the site, but still had drive down to Amalfi Coast ahead of us, so we headed off in the early evening.

Our hotel was in Praiano,
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Well-designed streets with the Roman version of a zebra crossing.
located between Positano and Amalfi on the Amalfi Coast. The steep Amalfi Coast is UNESCO World Heritage and named after the town of Amalfi. The shortest route to our hotel went along the north coast of the peninsula, past Sorrento on the western tip, and then along the Amalfi Coast on the southern side of the peninsula. We made it to its western tip just in time to watch a beautiful sunset. Then we drove along tiny, winding roads to our hotel that was most beautifully located on the beach between two cliffs just outside Praiano. We had a dinner at a restaurant just there, with the view of the cliffs and the ocean, and then went to bed after a day full of impressions.

The next morning, we enjoyed our breakfast on the hotel terrace with the view of the cliffs and the sea. Then we drove up a small winding road to the village of Nocelle to walk the Sentiero degli Dei (“path of the gods”). This is a trail that runs along the mountains at an altitude of about 500 metres above sea level and that offers most beautiful views of the coast of the peninsula,
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Two travellers in the old streets.
but also of the mainland south of it, and of the island of Capri west of the peninsula and two other small islands just off the coast. One can walk all the way to Bomerano east of Nocelle, but since I did not want to overdo things after my surgery and Nils was not at his best either we decided to have a little rest at a nice spot after about 1.5 hours, and then we walked back. We had a small meal at a little café with a tiny terrace overlooking the sea, then returned to our car and drove down into Positano. The city is located on a steep hill and very scenic, but also very touristy, so we had enough after a drive through the city centre and returned to our hotel. There was a small path running along the bottom of one of the cliffs where there were a few restaurants, of course with a beautiful view of the sea. We had dinner in one of them and then simply relaxed for the rest of the evening.

The next day we decided to take things very slowly and spent the morning on the beach after
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Forum, or market square, with Mount Vesuvius in the background.
breakfast. Nils went swimming and snorkelling. I was not allowed to swim, but I was perfectly happy to spend some time lying on a deckchair, reading, and taking in the beautiful view. In the afternoon we headed to the town of Amalfi. This again was a very touristy place with all the shops selling all kinds of souvenirs and pricy restaurants, but still, it was worthwhile visiting. We even found a nice place to eat, in a back street up a few stairs.

In the early Middle Ages, the city used to be very rich because it was a trade link between orient and occident. However, a tsunami in the 14th century drowned major parts of the city, it lost its independence, lost its significance, and ended up being a pirate hideout at times. Now it is a major tourist attraction. It seems like a miracle that the Romanesque cathedral, Cattedrale di Sant’Andrea (“St. Andrew’s Cathedral”) dating from the 10th century was not destroyed by the tsunami. Maybe it was a lucky coincident that the cathedral is a bit elevated, with 62 steps leading up to its main entrance. Various parts in different styles were added across the centuries,
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Mosaic floor in a house.
Arab-Norman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. Inside it is mostly baroque, and there is a cloistered courtyard in Gothic style. I think the mix of styles reflects very well the influence from the eastern and western parts of the world at the time. The crypt contains St. Andrew’s remains. We spent considerable time in the cathedral and then a bit of time walking the city. It is located on the steep Amalfi Coast, therefore there are a lot of staircases and smell streets between the houses. This makes one feel almost a bit like in a maze when walking the streets off the main street.

At the end of the day we returned to our nice hotel again, had dinner in one of the restaurants at the bottom of the cliffs, and spent the rest of the evening just relaxing. The next morning, we had to get up early to drive back along the small winding roads, past the western tip of the peninsula, and back to Naples airport, where we dropped off our rental car and flew back home. Our stay in this beautiful region was way too short, I must admit, but it was good to get an
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Fountain in a courtyard.
impression, and I would love to come back. However, I would always go off season because during peak season the masses of tourists must be absolutely horrible. And in autumn, when it gets cold in Germany, it is still sunny, nice and warm there – so the perfect location for an autumn trip!

Additional photos below
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Amalfi Coast I

The bay we had our hotel in. View from our balcony.
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Amalfi Coast II

Sentiero degli Dei, view towards the east.
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Amalfi Coast III

Sentiero degli Dei, view towards the west.
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Sentiero degli Dei, view towards the west with Positano behind the mountain.
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Amalfi Coast V

Entrance to Cattedrale di Sant’Andrea in Amalfi.
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Cloistered courtyard of Cattedrale di Sant’Andrea and view of the bell tower in Amalfi.
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Streets of Amalfi with the steep mountains in the background.
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Fountain with figurines on it in Amalfi.

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