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Published: October 23rd 2013
We woke to blue skies, FINALLY, and were excited that we'd have clear weather for our visit to Ravello and would be able to appreciate the killer views from there that we'd been reading about. Now all we had to do was get there... After a short wait, the bus came along to the stop right outside the pensione. We could see from a distance that it was packed and our prospects weren't good. But amazingly it stopped and the middle doors opened to reveal an interior crammed with folks, with no obvious room for more. This was a switch! Could we even force our way on? This bus driver obviously believed his bus wasn't yet full, so why should we doubt him...or was he just playing with the tourists??
We jammed ourselves onto the steps and the doors just managed to close behind us. Dave was crammed up against the door, praying that the hinges had been well-maintained, as we swung around the twists and turns of the road. Mercifully, although we were on the cliffside of the road, we were pretty much prevented from seeing just how close to to the edge we were by all the bodies
blocking our view. By the time we exited in Amalfi, the bus had stopped a few more times, each time adding a couple of people into the sardine can of an interior. We were left with an ab and bicep workout from trying to hold on to any possible purchase and not get too "up close and personal" with our fellow riders. Next up: ANOTHER bus up from Amalfi to Ravello, which is perched on the cliff top above Amalfi. This ride was a bit more sane--we got seats and were afforded incredible views as we wound our way up the tiny road.
Ravello in the morning was refreshingly deserted. No tour buses yet and shopkeepers just opening up as we headed across the main piazza and through the lovely peaceful streets to the Villa Cimbrone, now a 5 star hotel, but with gardens open to the public. The villa has a long history, going back to the 11th C, but its most notable owner was an Englishman, Ernest Beckett (AKA Lord Grimthorpe), who restored and enlarged the original structure and redeveloped the gardens in the early 1900's. It eventually became a haven for famed British literary set, the
Vegetable Garden With a View!
Note pumpkins hanging from trellis
Bloomsbury Group--Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forrester, T.S. Eliot. D.H. Lawrence were among the frequent visitors. There is also a plaque commemorating the visits of Greta Garbo in the late 1930's...
The gardens are lovely, and filled with homages to classical art, but given the season, not much was in bloom. We wandered about, stopping first at the famed "Belvedere of Infinity" and absorbed the amazing views. The Amalfi Coast under blue skies and sunshine today, was like a butterfly finally emerging from its dull cocoon and unfurling its wings--the saturated blue water color contrasting with the grays and browns of the rocky cliffs, the greens of the terraced vineyards and gardens popping... This is the Amalfi Coast we came to see!
Heading back towards the piazza, we made a brief stop at a monastery which offered limoncello tasting and also made a variety of honey and preserves. Then we got caught up in the block or two of ceramics shops, for which the area is known. Dave and I had pretty much decided our combo anniversary gift and trip souvenir purchase would be something ceramic (originally his idea, really!), and we'd been looking at multi-pieced antipasto servers. Since this
was our last day in the area, we realized it was now or never. So after wandering back and forth between multiple shops, most with the same dizzying array of products, we found a piece we liked, but of course the cost was a "bit" over our budget, so we decided to discuss it over lunch.
We found a Rick Steves recommended restaurant, but found the rooftop bar more to our liking with its killer views and abundant sunshine. Over a delicious lunch and a beer we made up our minds to make our purchase, negotiating the price down by offering cash. We returned to the shop and successfully bargained our way into our new purchase, which will be shipped to our house.
Back at the bus stop, we found the usual crowd of confused tourists, uncertain exactly where to wait for the bus down to Amalfi that would never hold them all, nor clear about when the next one would arrive. After a half hour or so, we joined two other couples who had decided to give up and hire a taxi (a line of which is conveniently staked out along the street down from the bus
stop). The price was a bit steeper per person than the bus, obviously, but "time is money" after all, especially if it's your last day on the Amalfi Coast! This was a far cry from our original plan--abandoned due to time constraints--of hiking down from Ravello to Amalfi. But we later found out from friends who did it that it took more than 5 hours (contrary to the guide books' estimate), so in the end we were glad we took the easy way down!
Back in Amalfi, we easily found the bus heading back towards Praiano and even got seats, since Amalfi is the first stop on the route. Once back at the pensione, we decided we still wanted a hiking experience and hadn't gotten in our "stair work" for the day. So, armed with directions from Luigi, we hiked to the monastery of San Domenico, perched on the mountainside above Praiano, right at the junction with the Path of the Gods trail network along the top of the ridge which connects all the Amalfi Coast towns. The hike was breathtaking, in all senses of the word, and the restored but abandoned monastery and convent buildings are dramatically situated.
After enjoying the views and photo ops, we headed back down, passing one of the few signs of life on the trail--a couple of guys working in an immaculately planted multi-level terraced garden. As Sandy called out to to them in Italian, complementing them on the state of the garden, one of them responded, "vieni, vieni" to invite us in. Three of the men were harvesting grapes, and one gave us a few bunches, encouraging us to taste them in exchange for a photo of us with him. Armed with our snack and the good vibes from this interaction, we zipped down the trail stairs in no time.
That night, our last here, we returned to La Strada restaurant in Praiano for another great dinner under the stars, with the lights of the coast twinkling in the distance, and toasted to a great trip and a great team to travel with!
Sharon: GOOD THING--Sunny weather and purchasing cool trip souvenir! BAD THING--Bus ride to Amalfi this morning.
Sandy: GOOD THING--Lunch in Ravello--both the views and the food. BAD THING--Relentless itching from bites!
Dave: GOOD THING--Meeting the gardeners harvesting grapes on hike to the monastery. BAD THING--The
bus situation--too many tourists, too few buses!
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