Day 125 to 128 - 4th to 7th March - Campania coast
Point of departure: Taormina
Point of arrival : Positano
Accommodation: Casa San Matteo (Carmen Apt), www.casasanmatteo.it
Km travelled today: 694 km Cum: 23 084km (gravel 0km cum 4 649km)
Countries so far: 12/16
Where to next? Rome
No of photos: 210 (cum 5 947)
Woke up to a bright sunny, but cold, day with beautiful views of Mt Etna from the third floor breakfast room of the hotel.
Then a short drive through to Messina to catch the ferry to Villa San Giovanni, mainland Italy.This was quite interesting, as we have never seen a whole train devoured by a ferry before, but that was part of the "cargo" for this one. With the Beast loaded on the open deck (too high go into the normal vehicle loading area), we set sail for the half trip across the Straights of Messina.
On arrival we headed north towards Salerno. How quickly the weather changed and how quickly we knew we were in Europe!Suddenly it's dull, overcast and really cold (8 degrees), buffeting winds, the fog and the heavens opened! And on top of all that, diesel was suddenly R13,50 a litre! While the roads were pretty good, there were a lot of road works (new sections of freeway, resurfacing and new galleria [tunnels]) and this coupled with the weather made the drive quite challenging and much slower than we expected. After Africa, the driving of our Italian fellow travellers seemed considerate and disciplined. How nice as well, to have those road side service areas with a filling station, clean sit down toilets, a coffee shop and convenience store. We tend to take this things for granted, but no more.
By the time we arrived in Salerno and the turnoff to the Amalfi coast it was already dusk and unfortunately we missed the turnoff to the "direct" route to Positano and had to endure another hour and a half of twists and turns, but now on narrow roads, in the dark, and rain at times to get to Positano.John especially was shattered by the time we got there. However, Marco Pedrieri, the owner of the apartment, was there to meet us and after unloading luggage in the narrow street, lugging it down 98 steps to the front door (not 67 Marco) and then parking the Beast about 300 metres down the road, we went off for a drink and bite to eat with Marco. With a couple of glasses of wine, pasta, espresso, grappa… John rapidly revived. And then the "short cut" back to the house… over 100 steps (we stopped counting) it was back to the apartment and to bed.
The apartment itself is brilliant. Although a studio, it is well appointed with a queen size bed and fireplace, little living area, separate kitchen and bathroom and a balcony overlooking the town centre, beach and sea. Really nice! The apartment was even stocked with some basics of tea, coffee and sugar, but a special thanks Marco for the parma ham, cheese, milk, bread, fruit and water (for our breakfast the next morning).
Day 126 - dull, overcast and raining! Perhaps the aftermath of the driving and a very relaxed dinner, John was still out of sorts. So, Marina, having to catch up from her shopping deprivation of the last four months, took a stroll down into the centre of Positano… in fact right on to the beach… lots of steps and hills to get back to the apartment. There are few overweight locals here!
Day 127 - today we walked the ancient streets of Pompeii, frozen in time from 24 August 79AD when Vesuvius unleashed her massive and mighty eruption, throwing up metres of lapilli and subsequently the pyroclastic flows (composed of hot gas and ash) which completed buried the city to a depth of 6 to 7 metres. Some of the early finds bodies crouched, taking refuge wherever they could, bears testimony to the speed and ferocity of the eruption. It was only in 1779 that the city was rediscovered and it is estimated that some 80% of the city has been excavated. The size of the Roman city and the scope of these archaeological "diggings" is mind boggling, with street after street of houses, taverns, shops, as well as the major public areas such as amphitheatre, Gladiator training ground, the smaller theatres, the temples and baths… list goes on. Inevitably, we did not spend enough time, but it was wonderful to experience first-hand what until now had just been a name from the annals of ancient history.
Then to the source of all this problem… a drive up the slopes of Vesuvius. Unfortunately, by the time we reached the observation area it was closed, so had to make do with a few photographs from the parking area. Much has been made of the degree to which the area around Vesuvius, particularly the urban sprawl from Pompeii to Naples, has put so many millions of lives at potential risk. However bad the eruption of AD79, a modern eruption would be many times more catastrophic, and this was evident from the views of Naples and Pompeii from the upper slopes of Vesuvius.
Day 128 - today we explored the famous Amalfi Coast with a drive from Positano to Praiano, Furore, Amalfi and Ravello. The scenery was beautiful, the roads spectacular and challenging (with the size of the Beast) the towns quaint. We stopped for lunch at the Grand Café in Amalfi… couldn't find one open restaurant in Ravello and most in Amalfi were closed (season only starts in April). Strangely however, parking in Amalfi was still at a premium, so goodness only knows what it must be like in the height of the season. Along the way, we also stopped at Grotto delo Smeraldo (Emerald Cave). Only discovered by fishermen in 1932, this is a huge coastal cave complete with stalactites and stalagmites and a underwater tunnel from the sea which keeps the water refreshed and provides an eerie natural light from outside. This gives the water a brilliant, emerald green colour, and is quite beautiful.
Although the whole Amalfi coast is beautiful, Positano is, for us at least, the jewel. If the buildings in Taormina (Sicily) seemed to cling to the mountain, those in Positano seemed to have been "hung on" or even "stuck to" the mountain. Some of the houses above the town centre almost seem to defy gravity, and one has to wonder how people get up and down, let alone how they were built in the first place. There is a certain style and panache about the houses, shops and hotels, mostly right on the only narrow street into the town (there is a one way system through the lower parts of the town), and even now, in the quiet season, parking is at a premium and passing other cars a challenge. A beautiful spot but for us at least, certainly to be avoided in July and August!
We could certainly see ourselves coming back to this part of Italy (May or September) but who knows when as there is just so much to see and do in Europe.