Italy - Naples & The Amalfi Coast

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June 23rd 2015
Published: June 25th 2015
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Friday 19thJune Salerno to Pompeii 43 miles

We watched our incoming ferry arrive about 22.00 hrs Thursday evening and disgorge over 100 lorries and containers and about 5 cars, so realised it was mainly a freight ferry. We loaded about 12 Midnight with a few cars and motorbikes and 2 coaches, leaving the lorries to be loaded and set sail on time @ 01.00 hours. Didn’t manage to get a cabin as they wanted an extra 90.00 euros so we bunked down on the comfy sofas in the bar area!

Uneventful trip up to Salerno, other than Chris feeling unwell and breathless as we sailed into Salerno, with great views of the Amalfi coast, so on disembarking, first job was to find a “Pronto Soccorso” (Hospital with A&E) , which we eventually managed to find in greater Salerno.

Five hours later, Chris discharged after a battery of tests, treatment and prescriptions for his poor old chest – excellent free service, albeit lengthy and wrecking our plans to visit Pompeii.

Eventually found our campsite adjacent to Pompeii (Zeus Camping), after getting lost several times due to wrong instructions in the ACSI book!

Quiet evening planning our trips around the Naples area. (ACSI Camping Zeus)

Saturday 20th June Pompeii to Almafi Coast to Pompeii 0 miles

Everyone had always said that the Amalfi Coast was pretty and I was a bit sceptical but it turned out to be one of the most interesting and beautiful coastlines I have ever seen! The campsite is 50 metres to the Naples to Sorrento circumvesuvilana (very handy!!) so we caught the 09.17 train into Sorrento (2.20 euros per person, each way) about ½ hours journey. As we left the train station in Sorrento, we saw the local bus company – SITA – offering hop on, hop off tickets, all day, for just 8.00 euros each! Bargain!!

Left Sorrento and travelled up and over the headland before taking the narrow, winding road that literally hugs the coastline, high above the sea and with mountains still towering overhead as well. Loads of craggy coves, turquoise sea, rocky outcrops, as well as a few tunnels (of course!!) We stopped at Amalfi first of all and had a wander around the picture postcard town, before getting another bus to Ravello – another tourist stop and just as pretty! The bougainvillea is out in full bloom everywhere as well as pots of geraniums, petunias and the flowering purple jacaranda trees, together with the colourful oleander bushes! Lemons are grown commercially here so the terraces are full of lemon trees and grapevines. Some of the lemons are enormous – bigger than grapefruit!!

Got the bus back to Amalfi and then back along the coast road. The buses are pretty busy, but we did manage to get a seat most of the time and the bus drivers drive like maniacs along the narrow road, so there are plenty of emergency stops as they meet head on with another vehicle, usually another bus or coach!! Most of the time two vehicles can just about squeeze past each other, except for on the bends – of which there are lots!! Got off the bus at Postiano and had a couple hours here, to walk down to the church and the beach and then up through the narrow, bougainvillea shady streets to the centre with its loads of bars, restaurants and shops, and after eating, back up to the bus stop!

Got the bus back to Sorrento and then the train back to Pompeii Scavi and got back to the campsite about 21.30! Twelve hours solid sightseeing! Whew!

Sunday 21st June Pompeii to Herculaneum to Pompeii 0 miles

An easier day after yesterday where we did the ‘essentials’ in the morning and then caught the train after lunch to Ercolano! (NB there are two stops in Ercolano and the best stop to get off at is Ercolano Scavi, the second and Main one, and NOT the first stop as we did!!) Found our way, eventually, to the old town of Herculaneum.

Herculaneum was destroyed by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius on 2nd August 79AD. The lava and ash came down the mountain and as it was raining heavily the whole town was covered with silt and molten lava that turned to volcanic rock and buried the town to a depth of 21 metres, continuing into the sea and extending the coastline. It wasn’t discovered again until 1709 when a farmer was digging for a well and struck the marble of the theatre! After this a lot of the marble was pilfered and taken to adorn the grand houses of Naples, but the main structures of most of the houses still remain, as well as the shops, thermal baths, storage areas and the main streets, with the drainage exactly as it was back in the Roman times.

It’s quite spooky wandering around, you almost feel like a trespasser in someone else’s house, but it’s incredible just how much survived, including mosaics, wall frescoes, stairs and even some of the wooden doors have been petrified into carbon. It was first thought that most people had survived the Volcanic eruption, (unlike Pompeii) but they have since found 43 skeletons near the old sea level, many with amounts of coins, implying that they were trying to outrun the lava.

Pretty good day and back to the campsite for an evening barbeque!

Monday 22nd June Pompeii to Naples to Pompeii 0 miles

The Circumvesuviana is excellent! Caught a train about 9.30am into Naples (5.20 euros each return) and got there about 10.00am. We had to find Piazza Dante as Chris had booked a free walking tour! Plenty of police around to ask the way and eventually we reached there spot on 11.00am where Raphael was waiting for us!

We were so lucky as we were the only people on the tour so we had a personally guided tour of the old town and learnt so much!! For example, Naples has a long history as the Greeks were there in 2nd Century BC and then the Romans, who built on top of the Greeks buildings. Modern day Naples was built on top of this again, so underneath is a whole load of catacombs, tunnels, crypts, buildings etc! They built a new metro station (Toledo) and as they were digging, found more Greek ruins so had to incorporate these into the station! We also learnt that Punch from “Punch and Judy” originated in Naples as Punchinella and that the city is renowned for Art and Music and is built on a grid system, the main streets being 6 metres wide and the other streets only 3 metres wide!

Pizza’s (thought to have come from the Greek Pitta?) originated in Naples and we saw the oldest Pizza shop dated 1728. We had a pizza and frittatines (deep fried pasta balls stuffed with mince pork, bechamel sauce and peas for lunch – all at 1 euro each! They were delicious!! We also learnt that the first pizza made was tomato and mozzarella cheese and was presented to Queen Margaurita with a sprinkling of basil and because she said it was the colour of the Italian flag (red, white and green) they named the pizza after her! Don’t know if that’s a true story or not but it’s a nice one!!

We also passed some graffiti that Raphaela said was a Madonna with Gun by Banksy! As we come from Bristol this was doubly interesting to think that Banksy had been in Naples as well! He had done another drawing, but this was completely destroyed by graffiti – ironically!!

We were taken into the Cathedral to see the magnificent Chapel of San Gennaro, the Patron Saint of the City. According to the Miracle of San Gennaro, his blood kept in a phial behind the Altar, liquefies three times a year at special Masses held to mark the Event. The Miracle works on most occasions which is auspicious for the City, but if it remains solid, then bad luck will befall the City as it did in 1944 (Vesuvius eruption), 1980 (large earthquake) and 1988 (Naples lost important football match to Milan)

We visited Via San Gregorio Armeno, where the Neopolitan tradition of making animated Presepi (modern themed Christmas cribs) thrives, water features, and also statues the rich and famous lampooning their misdemeanours eg a naked Prince Harry.

Anyway, it was a really interesting tour and afterwards, Raphael took us to Toledo metro station (its won awards for its architecture and as you descend you pass the black for the volcanos, then yellow for the sand and as you descend below sea level then it is blue mosaic with a light shaft. It’s really difficult to describe!!

Got off near the Castel di Saint Elmo and walked up the many steps and into the Castle (5 euros each). Fantastic 360 degree vista of the whole of Naples and the Bay, Vesuvius and Capri. It was so clear! Back down the Funicular Railway towards the Old Town, as Chris wanted to see the sculpture of a dead Christ, laid out flat and covered by a veil in remarkable detail and carved from a single slab of marble, at the Capella Sanservo. 7 euros to get in but it was simple amazing.

Anyway, we only touched the surface of Naples and I am sure you need a good 3-4 days at least, to explore the City properly! The National Museum housing most of the artefacts from Pompei and Herculaneum is supposed to be amazing, and subterranean Roman Neapolis likewise, but ran out of time. Definitely one for a Cruise stop or a City break!!

Tuesday 23rd June Pompeii to Capri to Pompeii 0 miles

Earlyish train into Sorrento, then a walk down to the Port where we bought tickets (35 euros each is the going price everywhere!!) to Capri and also bought a boat trip for around the island for 18.00 euros.

The fast ferry got us to Capri within about 35mins where we went straight to our boat trip around the island! Quite a good tour – we saw the Villa Jovis, where the Roman Emperor Tiberius lived, Monte Solara – the highest point on Capri at 589metres, the white cave, the emerald cave, a couple of shrines, lighthouse, Sophie Loren’s house and various other famous peoples houses were pointed out!

Went through the hole in the rock and reached the Blue Grotto after about an hour which was when the fun really started!! It was like a cattle market! You had to wait your turn in a boat queue (about 1/2hr) and then wait for the rowing boats to collect you off of the boat, visit the cash boat (oh yes – they wanted another 13 euros each) and then you are taken for a five minute visit to the cave where there is a ray of sunshine that makes the water blue! It looked quite stunning on people’s photographs but we decided to give it a miss!!

Back to the Port and queued for tickets for the funicular, then queued for the funicular then had a wander, along with thousands of other tourists around the streets of Capri out to the gardens of Krupp! Stunning views everywhere but just oh so many people!

Decided we would take the bus to Anacapri, the other town on the island and after being jammed onto the bus like sardines, we took the hair-raising road around the island to Anacapri which actually turned out to be a nice little place – with a lot less people!!! Had a wander round and then took the bus back down to Capri, then queued again for 30 mins to get the funicular (it would have probably been quicker to walk!) down to the Port to get the ferry back to Sorrento!

Sorrento was a nice place to explore as well! We found a lift that took us up to the town (handy!!) and passed some 13th Century cloisters that deserved a good look at! Had a nice meal (Spaghetti with mussels – 8 euro at Restaurante Divina Sorrento)) in town, before catching the Circumvesuviana back to Pompeii.

Wednesday 24th June Pompeii to Rome 159 miles

Pompeii is a real wow! It is massive! Nothing prepares you for the extent of the ruined Town with a population of 20,000. So much remains complete, and it’s so easy to visualise the working town, back in the 1st Century with the shops, market place, grand villas and ordinary houses, bakery, laundry public baths , theatres, the roman roads still with the grooves made by the chariots and carts. And then one day it all ended – on the morning of 24th August AD 79, a sudden tremor abruptly interrupted the daily routine of the inhabitants of Pompeii. This was followed shortly afterwards by a tremendous blast signalling the beginning of a violent eruption of Vesuvius, throwing ash 20,000 metres into the sky.

The wind carried the ash down to Pompeii and in just a few hours the city was submerged in 3 metres of ash. House roofs collapsed killing people inside who had taken refuge. But at dawn the next day Pompeii was engulfed by hot gas and fine ash and sealed the fate of every human and animal it encountered, as the burning ash clogged the lungs and caused death by suffocation. Further eruptions deposited 5-6 metres of ash and lava, sealing the fate of the City. It’s all quite mind blowing and can’t fail to impress!

We spent about 3 – 4 hrs trying to cover the highlights, some of which were closed and some still undergoing renovation. These included the Forum with its ruined Temples of Jupiter and Apollo, the House of the Tragic Poet, House of the Faun. The House of the Vettii (best merchants villa) was closed, as was the Amphitheatre (tv filming) and the Palestra (vast sports ground), but the Grand Theatre , Little Theatre and Gladiators Barracks more than made up for this.

We loved just walking the old Roman streets of Via dell Abbondanza and Via del Vesuvio , with their stepping stones and ruts to experience the atmosphere.

Back to the campsite for a quick lunch and then onto the A1 for the motorway to Rome (ACSI Camping Tiber)

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