Day trips from Naples – part 2

AMALFI COAST – Positano

 

Amalfi Coast is truly spectacular. If you haven’t been there yet, make sure to include it in your future holiday plans. We only managed to see Positano, apparently the most picturesque of the Amalfi coast towns, but we already know that we’d love to go back one day and see more of this area.

Positano

Positano

Getting from Naples to Positano takes time. I think during summer there might be a direct ferry, but there wasn’t one when we there in May, so we took my favourite Circumvesuviana all the way to Sorrento (€3.6 per person one way). There you have a few options: cheap and cheerful and quite frequent local bus departing from the train station (€1.8 per person one way), the City Sightseeing bus (€10 one way, €16 return) and the not so frequent but more pleasurable and more expensive ferry (€16 single per person).

We opted for the local bus and were the last people to get on the bus that was just about to leave. That meant standing position but at least right next to the driver so not too bad for possible motion sickness.

The road along Amalfi coast really is quite winding and in many places you’re staring right at a massive drop to the ocean. The bus driver was unfrazzled and confident so our journey to Positano wasn’t as bad as we expected. Especially that the views were amazing.

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As soon as people got off the bus, everyone started to battle for the best place to take the picture – the selfie sticks were out! But of course it wasn’t the last picture taking spot, so we just passed the queue and moved on to see what Positano had to offer. The first thing (apart from the views) we both noticed were the beautiful, colourful ceramic table tops in the restaurants we were passing by. And then we discovered shop after shop full of ceramic handicraft, where we spent quite some time marvelling on all those cute items and deciding what we’d bring home with us.

Lovely ceramic table top

Lovely ceramic table top

 

Ceramic items are everywhere you look

Ceramic items are everywhere you look…

 

...even signs are ceramic!

…even signs are ceramic!

The whole town is just totally picturesque – at every corner there’s something to make you smile or go ‘wow’. Everything is neat, tidy and very colourful. The hotels scream expensive luxury – white gloved chauffeurs seem to be the norm. But I’m sure there’s affordable accommodation somewhere out there, or so I hope because I would love to stay somewhere in this region next time we come to visit.

Colourful houses of Positano

Colourful houses of Positano

All the Mediterranean charm is here – narrow lanes, steep staircases, little shops, lovely scented climbers covering the walls and the relaxed atmosphere. As usual we did what we do best – we walked aimlessly around the place. The seafront looked very pleasant and inviting but since we weren’t yet hungry or going to sit on the beach, we walked back up to get a better view from the top. To cool down a bit we stopped for the trademark drink of the region: a refreshing ‘lemon slushie’ – simple yet delicious and a must.

'Shopping mall'

‘Shopping mall’

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More huge lemons

More huge lemons

 

Very inviting indeed

Very inviting indeed

 

Positano from the top

Positano from the top

 

Wonder where this road might take us...

Wonder where this road might take us…

After some more walking we decided it was time to sit down for some lunch. As you can imagine there are plenty of restaurant to choose from, but we had our eye on a particular spot with a terrace overlooking the sea. A couple of cold beers, seafood risotto and a pizza and we were in heaven.

I want to have lunch over there!

I want to have lunch over there!

 

Table with a view

Table with a view

And there was one more surprise to top it all up – a little box with a pretty, shiny engagement ring! We actually got engaged while travelling in Australia three years ago (mentioned here) and at the time I got a shark tooth necklace instead of a more traditional ring. So since I wasn’t expecting it, it was a lovely surprise.

Surprise!

Surprise!

After such a lovely day, even the return trip to Naples couldn’t spoil our mood. So first there was a delayed bus to Sorrento. I think most people at the bus stop (many would be a good estimate) expected it to come from Sorrento, turn around, take us on and leave. Instead it came from somewhere along Amalfi coast and was mainly full. Luckily we managed to get onboard – as last people, again. Most of our fellow queuers were left behind… The bus driver this time was definitely Italian – angry, impatient and swearing, making us fear for our lives most of the trip. He also overheated the engine, so we had to stop in the middle of that narrow road and wait until the engine cooled down sufficiently so we could carry on. There were also two crashes that created a massive traffic, so instead of 20 minutes, the route from Positano to Sorrento took more than an hour.

 

The train journey to Naples would have been uneventful, but at some stage a woman sitting opposite us spotted something, closed the windows and announced that it was ‘for safety’. She then told me to put away my camera and warned us to be very careful and watch for pickpockets.

 

Yes it was a lovely day but we were glad to be back in our hotel after all.

 

CAPRI

 

Capri is a yet another beautiful island, very popular with tourists. And it shows – multiple ferry departures, throngs of tourists, tidy streets and ridiculous prices. But it’s well worth the visit and as it was in our case, a great culmination to our Italian adventure.

Welcome to Capri

Welcome to Capri

We took a morning ferry from Naples (€20 each one way), which was, unsurprisingly full. If it is a day trip and you have an idea at what time you might want to get back, buy your return ticket to avoid queuing again as soon as you get to Capri or missing out on a ferry you planned to take, simply because it might be sold out if you leave ticket purchase shortly before the departure. We didn’t do that and when we wanted to buy a ticket to get back to Naples our preferred ferry was sold out and we had to wait for the later one. Lesson learnt.

 

It takes less than an hour to get to Capri, unless you take a slow ferry, in which case you may double that time. Upon arrival be prepared to fight your way through the crowds to get a ticket for Funicular (€1.80 one way) and then stand in a long queue to get inside. The ride itself doesn’t take that long, but the town itself it quite high up, so it does save a rather steep walk to the main Piazza Umberto, where pretty much everyone starts their Capri experience (although getting there certainly qualifies as an experience already).

Queue to Funicular

Queue to Funicular

Capri town is absolutely charming so having an aimless wonder along those very narrow and very steep streets is a pleasure itself, especially that you won’t come across any mad mopeds. There is no motorised traffic allowed, except for a few local service cars, which don’t come around too often. Fabulous. Then there’s of course Grotta Azurra, Anacapri, Monte Solaro and many other things to see and do, but a day trip may not be enough to experience it all. At least not if you don’t want to rush from one point to the other like a headless chicken.

Narrow lanes in Capri town...

Narrow lanes in Capri town…

 

The only traffic you're likely to come across in Capri Town

…and the only traffic you’re likely to come across

From the very crowded and very small Piazza Umberto (it’s called Piazzetta for that very reason) we walked to Giardini di Augusto. The gardens aren’t very big but are lovely and have the most amazing views of Faraglioni and Via Krupp. Most people carrying selfie sticks, come, snap and go, while others can’t get enough of the magnificent views (note: we don’t have a selfie stick).

Crowded Piazzetta

Crowded Piazzetta

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View from Giardini Augusto

View on Faraglioni from Giardini Augusto

 

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Via Krupp looked very inviting from up above but it turned out it was closed due to the danger of falling rocks. Typical.

Breathtaking views

Breathtaking views

 

Via Krupp

Via Krupp…

 

...all the way to Marina Piccola. Closed.

…all the way to Marina Piccola. Closed.

So instead we went to see Arco Naturale.

And instead of something like this:

Arco Naturale

Arco Naturale

We saw this (due to work to reinforce the rocks forming the arch):

Scaffolding.

Scaffolding.

 

...but at least the views on the way were good.

…but at least the views on the way were good.

Oh well…

It was beach time. Marina Piccola, on the south side of the island was our destination. And it didn’t disappoint – yes it was crowded and there were pebbles not sand, but the colour of the water and the scenery was breathtaking. We even went for a refreshing swim.

A few seconds when no one was in shot

A few seconds when no one was in shot

 

Sheltered by the cliffs - Marina Piccola

Sheltered by the cliffs – Marina Piccola

After some relaxing time it was time to head back to town and to the port. So it was another ‘up and down’ walk – first steeply up back to Piazzetta and then instead of catching Funicular we walked steeply down back to the ferry terminal. Well worth the sore knees in the end.

To queue or to walk?

To queue or to walk?

 

...walk of course.

…walk of course.

 

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At this point we got our ticket (available not preferred as mentioned above) and set down for some very expensive aperitivo, while waiting for a ferry to take us back to Naples.

 

Even though we both found Capri very touristy and rather pricey, we enjoyed our day there very much and would certainly want to come back to see all the things we didn’t get to and hopefully walk the Via Krupp…

 

 

Day trips from Naples – part 1

When you travel to a distant and exotic place you might experience what is called a cultural shock – the senses overload and general unfamiliarity creating confusion and disorientation. I might not be the most seasoned traveller but I have been to a few places and apart from my first visit to US, many years ago, when I stepped out of JFK terminal and was faced with all those big trucks, yellow cabs I recognized from the Hollywood movies and later on with loudness and massiveness of Manhattan, I never really struggled with absorbing ‘the new’.

But Naples surprised me. I didn’t know how to cross the street without being run over by a car or a moped! The city was messy and disorganised – I think it just wasn’t what I expected and what I’m used to back home. So it didn’t take much convincing to get away from this madness and go on a trip to a nearby island of Procida the very next day after our arrival to Naples.

Smaller and faster of the ferries between Naples and the islands

Smaller and faster of the ferries between Naples and the islands

Evening beforehand we went to a ferry terminal to check the departure times. There are three ferry terminals in Naples and a few operators that sail from different terminals. The schedule doesn’t specify where the boat departs from. There must be some sort of logic to it since loads of people use them every day and somehow manage to get to their destinations, but I wouldn’t be brave enough to share publicly what that logic might be. In any case the following morning we ended up at the wrong terminal and had to walk back 2km in the direction where we just came from. Good job we’re organised people and allowed enough time for all those shenanigans.

Ferry tickets aren’t particularly cheap. Depending on the distance and speed of the boat you’re looking at about €10-€20 one way per person. But at least they are reliable and depart on time – at least from our experience. If you’re going to a very popular destination like Capri, make sure to book your tickets in advance – the ferries are big and carry lots of people but such is the demand that you might find that all the tickets for your chosen route are already sold out.

PROCIDA

Procida isn’t one of those ‘must see’ places and that’s exactly why we decided to go. It’s a tiny (4 km²) but very picturesque island south of Naples, relatively undisturbed by tourists. It has been used as a set for quite a few movies, most well know of which would be Talented Mr Ripley. The colourful houses of Marina Coricella are the first buildings on the approach to the island and make for a great first impression.

Colourful building in Procida

Colourful building in Procida

We had no plan and no map for the visit. So we just went for a stroll: more narrow lanes, lovely Mediterranean houses – some run down and sun beaten, some well-manicured overlooking the bay of Naples, lots of massive lemons, smell of jasmine and of course a few mad scooters.

The rustic look

The rustic look

and the more 'looked after' look

and the more ‘looked after’ look

Wouldn't fancy driving there

Wouldn’t fancy driving there

or here for that matter...

or here for that matter…

Massive lemons from rich volcanic soil

Massive lemons from rich volcanic soil

Those scooters look so picturesque

Those scooters look so picturesque

Procida being an island has of course a few beaches, although they wouldn’t be considered the best. So it wasn’t a big shame that when we finally reached some of them, the sun decided to hide behind the clouds. Instead we walked back to Coricella and enjoyed our coffees and pastries in one of the cafes overlooking the marina, before we caught a ferry back to Naples.

On the beach

On the beach

 

VESUVIUS AND HERCULANEUM

One of the things we wanted to see when in Naples was Vesuvius – the infamous volcano that in AD79 destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

So we’ve done our research on how to get there, checked the train timetable and set off to the Porta Nolana train station. Porta Nolana is the first/last stop on a few routes in Naples and only about 10 minute walk from the main station on Piazza Garibaldi. It so happened that it was closer from where we stayed, but it’s worth starting your train trip from here if possible, as the train gets full before it leaves this station.

Using the trains was one of the things I did not enjoy in Naples. Yes, they are cheap but the few times we used them they were never on time (and I’m not talking about a few minute delay; more like one train went missing sort of delay), they were rather rough looking, people were smoking on the station, platforms and once even on the train (though there were ‘No Smoking’ signs everywhere) and it was a haven for pickpockets (we saw a tourist who got off and realised that his wallet was stolen on the train). So beware and be prepared and you’ll be fine.

For Vesuvius it’s best to get off in Ercolano Scavi and catch one of the Vesuvio express buses (€10 return per person plus another €10 entry fee to the park). Once the bus actually arrives it’s about half an hour to the entrance to the park. There you’re told you have 90 minutes to get back to the bus. Otherwise your ticket is invalid. It’s probably a good estimate but I can imagine if you’re slower of it’s particularly busy on a path you might be rushing to make it on time.

But before you go anywhere look up and check the sky! If there’s a big cloud over the mountain you won’t see anything. Simple, yet we were among those, who didn’t look and as a result didn’t see a thing up on Vesuvius.

Our memories of Vesuvius

Our memories of Vesuvius

From the entry there’s still about 900m walk uphill to the crater. Whether it’s a challenging climb or not is a matter of physical ability and opinion. If you’re used to walking you’ll be perfectly fine. But the path might get congested as all those busloads of people need to get up as well. And I can only imagine that on a nice sunny day, the views must be spectacular, so that would probably slow anyone down even further.

A brief glimpse of what the views could have been like

A brief glimpse of what the views could have been like

But for us it was a very brisk walk up and down in a dense cloud. It was cold and although we wore warmer clothes than were required in Naples, up on the mountain it was a complete different climate zone and we were freezing, hence the near-run up the hill.  We looked, we blew at the cloud and we hoped it would go away, but it didn’t. So we didn’t see anything and we were just glad to get back down to Ercolano where it was significantly warmer and surprisingly cloudless…although Vesuvius remained in the cloud for the next couple of days, so we were somewhat mollified that it wasn’t just one 90 minute window of unfortunate weather.

Once back in Ercolano we decided that we needed a lunch of sorts and stopped at a random tratorria on the main road to Herculaneum. We ordered the usual pizza and beer and were amazed how delicious the pizza in this random place was! That just proves the point that you can’t go wrong with pizza in this region!

Happily filled we headed to the archaeological site of Herculaneum – the lesser known and more recently excavated Roman town destroyed by Vesuvius eruption in 79. The question which one to see: Herculaneum or Pompeii is a very popular one and you’ll find many opinions if you check the net. Since we only went to one, I don’t feel I’m in a position to give any advice. I can only say why we decided on Herculaneum: we were already there and it was meant to be more compact yet still contain more original structures and relics (those of Pompeii were moved to the Archaeological Museum in Naples). And since the site was covered by meters of hot volcanic material, it was well sealed and even things like wooden elements are still preserved for us to see.

Herculaneum

Herculaneum

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The original mosaic

The original mosaic

and frescoes...

and frescoes…

...and even wooden door!

…and even wooden door!

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And we both thought we made the right call and after visiting the site we didn’t feel the need to go and see more of the same (I’m quoting a person we met in Ercolano, who saw both sites) in Pompeii. But visiting at least one of them should be on everyone’s agenda.

Naples – pizza, gelato, pastries and mad mopeds

I did not fall in love with Naples. It was the scooter madness, the omnipresent cigarette smoke, the unreliable public transport and the general roughness and loudness of it. This is not to say that I would discourage anyone from vising and experiencing it for themselves. After all we all have different tastes. And judging by the amount of tourists and positive feedback you can find on internet, I just might be in the minority.

Fountain of Giant

Fountain of Giant

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Piazza del Gesù Nuovo

Piazza del Gesù Nuovo

The uglier side of Naples

The uglier side of Naples

and what seems to be a normal driving practise

and what seems to be a normal driving practice

We went to Italy at the end of May for a long overdue holiday break. Since our ‘Big Trip’ we haven’t really gone anywhere – we were too busy relocating, finding jobs and buying our first house. It was time to go somewhere, to see something, to be a tourist.

Being a tourist in Italy

Being a tourist in Italy

Naples looked like a good spot – big enough city with plenty of options for if the weather wasn’t great and also a good base for day trips to the surrounding attractions.

The hotel we stayed in was a quirky little thing – one of those places that just isn’t great, yet you can’t complain about too many things, unless you’re really picky of course. We ended up with a bathroom that was disabled friendly, but in the process not very comfortable for others. But since it was clean I decided to overlook the other aspect. Besides we got our breakfast delivered to our room daily – always the same (sweet pastry, very strong coffee, hot chocolate, juice and a basket of little rusks with jams and butter) and always 10 minutes before the specified time. There was free wifi, but the signal didn’t penetrate the walls and could only be used in the common area or on the staircase. We switched on the tv only twice – on the first day to find out there was nothing to watch and on the day of the UEFA Champions League final. Good detox from media.

And it was only a short walk from the Centro Istorico and the main train/bus station, yet in a quiet enough alley off the busier streets, plus, plus and plus.

Centro Istorico at night

Centro Istorico at night

We did a good bit of walking, as we always do when faced with a new city. But is there a better way of discovering what the place is all about, then to go for a walk, with your map in a pocket (alternatively, for the younger or more technically advanced crowed, with a GPS in your phone), just in case you get totally lost and need to actually find your way back to the hotel? Because getting lost is very much recommended – taking a random turn into a random street to pass a woman hanging her washing or a man sitting by his window, with a cat on his lap, watching the world go by?

Lost in the maze of narrow streets

Lost in the maze of narrow streets

We didn’t visit any museums, catacombs, churches or galleries. We’ve researched ‘Things to do in Naples’ and a good few people recommended visiting some of them but what we tend to do is to read the reviews and then not do what most people say.

What we enjoyed the most was the walk along the waterfront, where the joggers and walkers don’t need to fear for their lives as moped traffic is not allowed. With magnificent Vesuvius on the horizon, noble tall buildings in the Santa Lucia district, charming Castle dell’Ovo and multitude of bars and restaurants tempting with cold Prosecco it really is a pleasant, relaxing stroll.

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Ovo Castle

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Santa Lucia with Vesuvius in the background

Aria to the sun

Aria to the sun

If you fancy bit of a climb up to the Castle Sant Elmo, you’d be rewarded with amazing views of the city and the bay. What’s more – you’d be able to soak it all in, in peace and quiet as this location doesn’t seem to be on most tourists’ agenda.

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View from the Vomero

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We also visited the Botanical Garden, which although quite far off the beaten track, was really quite nice – the cacti collection was truly amazing. And if that isn’t a quiet enough space for you (school trips do happen), then head for the Museo di Capodimonte – the surrounding gardens are perfectly manicured and very pleasantly quiet. The museum itself has quite a collection of artwork – including Caravaggio, Titian, Raphael and Botticelli to name just a few. And surprisingly no crowds.

Impressive cacti collection in Botanical Gardens

Impressive cacti collection in Botanical Gardens

Suicidal snail?

Suicidal snail?

Museo di Capodimonte

Museo di Capodimonte

Not that we strayed away from the famous Centro Istorico – in fact we went there every single day. Getting lost in those little alleys overhung with still dripping laundry is a must, just to emerge back on the busy Via Tribunali or San Biagio dei Librai where again you need to watch for those mad moped drivers! Another little alleyway you cannot possibly miss is Via Gregorio Armeno – it’s basically one ‘so – called’ souvenir shop after another, but good luck finding something you would like to bring home with you. It’s famous for its nativity scenes but you’ll find all sorts of rural life scenes of very tacky quality. Fascinating! The place is full of old buildings and many beautiful churches and you can’t walk a few paces without passing a little café, cosy trattoria or pizzeria or a gelato stand.

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How many Italians does it take to fix one scooter?

How many Italians does it take to fix one scooter?

The delights of Via Gregorio Armeno

The delights of Via Gregorio Armeno

Pulcinella - symbol of Naples

Pulcinella – symbol of Naples

Just another church in Naples

Just another church in Naples

You have to eat pizza while in Naples – this is a law. Never in my life have I ordered a simple margherita before. But I did here and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact you can’t go wrong with any pizza in any place, although we have tried the fried calzone (from Di Mateo as recommended) and we were not impressed. But any other pizza and occasional pasta we had were simply amazing. For dessert or as a cool down snack we had the delicious Gelato and the prised selection in Gay Odin did not fail to excite our taste buds. I am not a chocolate flavour fan but I tried a few of their concoctions (chocolate with cinnamon and sacher torte) and got converted. So I would urge anyone to give them a go; but don’t neglect other flavours either – the pineapple sorbet was pretty spectacular too!  And last but not least – the pastries! Pasticcerias are dotted all over the narrow streets with selection of all sorts of tempting sweets. The ones that you must try are Baba (it’s a spongy thing soaked in rum flavoured syrup – I found it ok, Geoff was done after one bite), Sfogliatelle (my favourite – crispy flaky pastry filled with sweet ricotta with a hint of apple and cinnamon – yum!) and Cannoli (it’s not typically Neapolitan sweet but Geoff’s favourite so I had to mention it too).

Lunch madness @ 'Di Mateo'

Lunch madness @ ‘Di Mateo’

Don't miss Gay Odin for a scoop (or two) of amazing gelato

Don’t miss Gay Odin for a scoop (or two) of amazing gelato

As I mentioned earlier Naples for us was a city break/base for other day trips. It has plenty of bus, train and ferry connections to many interesting and beautiful places around. Next post will be about where we went and what we saw (or not as the case might be)…