Naples and the Amalfi Coast

We’ve been incredibly lucky with weather since September. We had some rain in England, but not enough to keep us from getting out and seeing everything we wanted to. We had cold and snow in Switzerland in December, but no surprise there (though I did whine about the cold in one post). We had some rain and even a little dusting of snow in Umbria, but we managed to get to all the places we really wanted to go, and we were so warm and cozy in our home in the beautiful Umbrian hillside that we really didn’t mind a bit.

And then we got to Naples. Our homeowner had warned us of unusually heavy rains the week before. We arrived in downtown Naples by train to only intermittent drizzle. We were staying only one night in a hotel and planned to use the afternoon and the next morning to walk through old Naples. Though drizzly, we managed to stay reasonably dry as we explored. We opted to leave the good cameras where they could stay warm and dry at the hotel, and only snapped a few phone photos along the way.

Naples was a different experience from the other Italian cities and villages we have been to. As we walked from the train station to our hotel, we found the streets covered with litter, the sidewalk tiles rocky and broken, and people standing in front of shops and on corners, with no apparent reason for being there other than to stare down passers-by, or so it felt. We were very near the Garibaldi Metro station, which made it really easy to get to the sights we wanted to see, which were 2 or 3 long stops away.

Bridge to Castel Nuovo

Naples from atop Castel Nuovo

From the Royal Palace to the Piazza del Plebiscito

We took a taxi from the downtown area to the airport where our homeowner met us (he works at the US military base right next to the airport) and drove us to the rental car lot. We picked up our car and then followed him to his home—what would be our home for the next 6 nights—about 30 minutes outside of the city. Even in that suburban area, filled with large homes and apartment buildings, the roads were in rough shape and lined with garbage.

John, Kelley, and Rhiannon, our homeowner family, welcomed us with a dinner out at one of their favourite local pizza restaurants. As we sat down, Kelley asked us if we ate meat. Since we do, she informed us which specialty pizza we must order. It was a great recommendation as the pizza that arrived was like no other we had eaten before. It was in the shape of a 5-point star, with each point formed from a folded over pocket, and each was stuffed with a different filling combination of ingredients like buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto, eggplant, and artichoke. It was absolutely delicious! That and a glass of red wine made for a wonderful introduction to the cuisine of the birthplace of pizza.

The next morning, we went grocery shopping and in the afternoon our homeowner family headed out to the airport, leaving us in the company of two big furry and cuddly Belgian Tervuren, Gaia and Odin. With 5 acres to play in, we didn’t need to take them off their land for walks (the roads are not very walkable in the area and we wouldn’t want to put the two hairy beasts into our tiny rental car, so just as well). But we had loads of fun tossing balls and running around the yard among the orange, lemon, and kumquat trees.

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And then the rains came. In Naples, we had 3 possible days to get out and about (the other two were workdays for me), with plans to visit Pompeii, drive the Amalfi Coast, and possibly visit Cuma, another Roman ruin recommended by our host family and only about 15 minutes away from where we were staying. On our first of 3 days, we drove to Cuma, windshield wipers swishing all the way. It was pouring so much when we arrived, we just couldn’t see ourselves tromping about the ruins, so we turned around and went back home. The dogs weren’t unhappy to have us there, and they were terrific company, but with the weather predicted as a bit better on the weekend, we still hoped to get to our other two planned targets.

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On our second of 3 out-trip days, we drove toward the Amalfi Coast. After driving for about 45 minutes and paying tolls twice, we realized that the rain beating on the car and the clouds so dense we could barely see what was beside the highway did not really bode well for a scenic (or safe) drive on the challenging Amalfi Coast. I changed our Google Maps target to home and back we drove, slightly buoyed by the improved weather forecast for the following day. Once off the autostrada, we were wishing we had rented an amphibious vehicle as we navigated our way around and through mini lakes on the pothole-infested roads.

The next morning, our last opportunity, we mapped out a drive to the Amalfi Coast that we thought might even give us time to visit Pompei on our return (many tours allow only 2 hours, so we thought we could squeeze in at least a taste of the ancient ruins). As we approached our previous day’s turnaround point, we realized with gratitude that the weather was significantly improved from the previous day, and we were able to see Mount Vesuvius and other mountains and hillsides in the distance. We planned for 3 stops along the way: Sorrento at the beginning of the coast, Amalfi part way down, and Ravello way up in the hills.

All the time we were planning our visit to Italy I envisioned myself playing the photographer, taking my time with slow shots on the tripod on the incredibly photogenic coastline, and coming away with some stunning images. In Sorrento, where we stopped for a quick bathroom break and a coffee, it was splattering. By the time we left it was raining and a light rain continued for all of what is purported to be the most beautiful section of the coast, between Sorrento and Amalfi. Though we stopped to capture a few shots along the way, the grey sky and rain muted the views and limited what I wanted to shoot or whether I even bothered to pull out the camera. It was still a lovely and adventurous drive, but my postcard images will have to wait for another time.

Amalfi Cathedral

As we ascended the steep hills to Ravello, we marvelled at the terraced orchards. Under dark nets were spectacular lemon trees, heavy with often-enormous yellow fruit.

We climbed further, rounding a mountain, to the sudden view of the city of Naples sprawling in front of us, and Mount Vesuvius filling in the background.

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Descending the mountain, we arrived at Pompeii at about 3:30 pm, with closing time scheduled for 5:30. Alas, it was too late. Though we were willing to pay the entrance fee for whatever we could see in the final 2 hours, entrance closed at 3:00. Should we ever visit Naples again, we’ll have to make Pompeii our first stop.

Kelley texted us a plan B as she had read news of impending snow in Naples and wanted to be sure the dogs were cared for if their plane didn’t arrive on time. They surprised us a few hours earlier than we had expected them, and we weren’t due to leave until the next morning, so all was well. But then, it did snow. Apparently, the heaviest snow that the city has seen in 50 years. Since Naples doesn’t typically receive snow, there was a lot of concern about the quality of the roads and the ability of the drivers. But we had no choice but to try—we had to return our rental car to the airport, catch a taxi back into town to the train station, and catch a train by noon.

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We brushed the snow off the car, kicked the drifts away from the security gate to get it open, and crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t get stuck. There were lines of traffic, many cars with flashers on, creeping along the icy downhill roads. But, for the most part, once we were onto main roads, we had no issues and almost no traffic. Until we got to the exit toward the airport, where we waited on the highway for about 15 minutes before we could get up the offramp and into the car lot. With car returned, we took the shuttle to the airport, and caught a cab to the main train station, Napoli Centrale.

We caught a little good luck at the station. We worked our way into the crowds watching the arrivals and departures board to see which platform to go to. Every single arrival showed a delay between 1-3 hours. Half of the departures on the board showed delays. The rest didn’t have platforms assigned so delays were unknown. Finally, a platform assignment popped up on a train below ours that was to depart 1 minute later than our scheduled departure. We stood and stared at that board, willing a platform number to appear beside our train. And then, there it was, a beautiful number 18. No delay and only 15 minutes to get ourselves to the platform and down the length of our train to coach number 10. What a relief. Bologna here we come!


TripBits

  • Train tickets
    • Terni – Rome – Naples: €7 to Rome, €33.80 to Naples (for two of us)
    • Naples to Bologna: €59.80 (for two)
  • Taxi from Naples to airport: €20
  • Rental car for 7 days: €27.72 (yes, that is for all 7 days!)
  • Taxi from airport to train station: €25 (including airport supplement)
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