Amalfi Coast, Mt Vesuvius & Pompeii, Italy
Neither of us managed to sleep well on the trip to Naples, which wasn't surprising as we were stuck below deck on a stifling, loud, rocking boat. Announcements over the loudspeakers started at 5:45 a.m., mainly to say that breakfast was being served in the restaurant. We were reminded of this fact every five minutes. Breakfast didn't interest us; all we wanted was to be on terra firma.
As soon as we drove off the ferry in Naples we hit the early morning gridlock, and that was where we stayed for the next hour. School buses and cars filled every street, but our main issue was the scooters darting in and out of the traffic. They were so unpredictable and turned up out of nowhere, leading to a lot of brake-slamming. Plus, like much of Italy, there was a general disregard for all road rules, adding to our frustration. Welcome to Naples.
Once we escaped the congestion, we drove south to the much more subdued Amalfi Coast. The region was one long mountain range that dropped almost vertically down to the Mediterranean. I had no idea how the houses and vineyards on these hills didn't fall straight into the sea (or even how they were built in the first place).
We stopped in the cute town of Amalfi, nestled in one of the less precipitous valleys. The standout was the quirky, medieval Cathedral, a ginormous structure containing several rooms. There weren't many other noteworthy sights in town, and all we seemed to pass on our travels were cafes and souvenir shops. It was quickly apparent that limoncello was the drink of choice here, with just about every store selling the lemon-flavoured liqueur.
After exploring the town, we attempted to join a tour to a local cave. The first trip we signed up for was cancelled, because we were the only two people on it. The next company we spoke to decided to run the tour, despite the fact that it was still only us going. We had a whole boat to ourselves, although it could have held 40-50 people. It didn't seem like a popular tour. Twenty minutes later we arrived at the entrance, where we met dozens of other tourists. Where did they all come from?? Here we transferred into rowboats to be taken through the cave, where we witnessed the most intense, natural blue light coming through an underwater crevice. The man guiding our boat splashed his oar a few times, and we stared in wonder as the splatters he created also turned bright blue. The entire rowboat journey was over in about five minutes. I'm not sure it was worth the hassle.
It was fairly early when we left Amalfi (it's amazing how much you can achieve when you get up at 5:45 a.m.), so we drove over to Mt. Vesuvius and hoped we could climb to the crater this afternoon. We presumed we could just park the car and walk up the path, but the signs in the car park said otherwise. Apparently, we were required to catch a bus to the top. This wasn't the problem. The problem was that at 3:30 p.m. we were informed by the tour company that the volcano was closed and there were no more buses today. Really, 3:30 p.m. Great for the employees who worked there, but it sucked for us. With nothing else to do we drove down to a town at the bottom of the mountain, walked around randomly and wasted away the afternoon and evening.
Danny whipped up what he called a "car accident" for dinner. In Amalfi, colourful pasta was all the rage (almost as much as limoncello), so we did the touristy thing and picked up a bag of striped bow-shaped pasta that looked like Liquorice Allsorts. It turned out the colours were natural (beetroot for red, turmeric for yellow, spinach for green, blueberries for purple and squid ink for black), which made us feel a little less wary about eating it. Danny tossed it in a tomato and vegetable sauce that, visually, did not blend well with the patterned pasta. The appearance was so messy and unappealing that he labelled it a "car accident". It tasted like regular pasta.
The next morning we returned to Mt. Vesuvius for our bus ride up the volcano. We learned yesterday that they opened at 9 a.m., but when we arrived at 9:20 a.m. we discovered the next tour wouldn't start for another hour. It was at this point that they handed us a brochure with the price list. For a short, 10 minute trip up the mountain, they were charging an obscene amount of money. If we wanted to reach the top though, we knew we had no choice but to fork over the cash. So we waited an hour then jumped in an army style truck, rode to the summit and walked 10 minutes to find an underwhelming crater. There was a tiny wisp of smoke coming out of a fumarole on the side (it was so tiny it took me five minutes to see it, even with Danny pointing it out to me) and not much else was going on. It was nothing like Mt. Etna - the rocks here were loose and red instead of black and shiny, there were no ladybugs in sight, and the centre only contained dirt. It still smelled like rotten eggs though.
Our tour included a "guide", who told us a couple of basic facts about the volcano then left us to it. We walked halfway around the crater (which was all that was permitted) and found another entrance leading down to a car park. After a little investigating we discovered that we could have walked straight up from this car park, without paying for the bus. I was about ready to throw a hissy fit at this tour company. The only thing that made the whole ordeal worthwhile was the view over Naples and the Bay of Naples, which were incredible.
Back at the bottom after the most overpriced, appalling excuse for a tour, we made our way to the ancient city of Pompeii. The first fact I learned about this city is that the Italians spell it with one 'i' and the English version contains two. There are very few words in English with a double 'i', so why do it here? Anyway, the site was HUGE, a whole lot bigger than I was expecting. The great thing about this was that we could avoid the tour and school groups, and find small pockets of peace. I was sure we walked past hundreds of ruins, most of which were former homes that could only be viewed from behind a barrier, but overall I was highly impressed. The theatres, the murals (especially in the brothel) and the gardens were all spectacular - even the old kitchens were fascinating. The dwellings were lined up along "streets", helping us to imagine how the town would have appeared back in the day. The most disturbing section was the plaster casts of decomposed bodies found in the site, their final harrowing facial expressions captured forever. It took us hours to walk around it all and we were exhausted by the end.
We located a caravan park on the other side of Naples, which of course meant driving through Naples again. There were no school buses this time, but we still faced the unpredictable scooters and the lack of acknowledgement for road laws. No one cared if they cut us off, and it happened every minute or so. Garmin said it would take one hour to reach the park; it took two. Bypass roads around the city would be extremely beneficial here.
The caravan park was situated on the site of an inactive volcano, and the manager said we could walk around the steam vents on the adjacent block. As darkness had already fallen by the time we arrived, it would have to wait until tomorrow. The air was saturated with the stench of rotten eggs, necessitating mouth-breathing every time we ventured outside. The windows were definitely staying closed overnight.