When it comes to traveling, seeing other parts of Italy is always at the top of my list. I want to leave in the middle of May feeling that I not only consider Florence my home, but that I know Italy as a country. One of the most picturesque and well-known places in Italy is the Amalfi Coast. This refers to the stretch of coastline containing cities and towns such as Sorrento, Positano, and Capri. It is a hot spot, summer destination for the rich and fabulous, George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin spent last summer on the island of Capri, but also for the average vacationer. Considering this part of Italy features amazing beaches, sunsets, and views, Melissa and I knew that we had to go.
The first day we arrived, we had an early morning in order to catch the ferry to Capri. Considering I survived 30 hour ferry rides in Greece, the 40 minute one to the small island was a breeze. Once we arrived at the Marina Grande port, we quickly boarded open air boats that were going to take us on a cruise around the island. While our Bus2Alps guides played some music through the microphone, they announced that our first stop was the Blue Grotto. The Blue Grotto is the most famous grotto on the island and the name is derived from the color the water turns when sunlight reflects off of it. The entrance to the grotto is barely big enough for a row boat, so everyone that wanted to go had to move from the big boat, to the small wooden ones wading in the water. Along with Mel and I, there were two other girls in our row boat. From what we had heard about entering the grotto, it sounded kind of scary since people said you had to lie on your back in order to fit through the small opening. Honestly though, the men who row the boats are so skilled at it, all you have to do is duck a little while they use a small chain to pull the boat through.
When we entered, it was pretty dark, but as soon as the boatmen turned on their flashlights, the water illuminated and turned the most beautiful turquoise, blue color. I tried to capture a few good images of the cave, but it was pretty dark, and no form of photography could reflect the absolute beauty of the cave. We rowed around the cave two times while all of the Italian men who were rowing us around sang “Volare.” Once we had seen the cave in all its colorful beauty, it was time to part ways. We carefully stepped off of the row boats and back into our original boat as we continued on with the cruise.
As our hair whipped in the ocean breezes, we saw sights such as the green grotto, the white grotto, both of which were not nearly as cool as the blue grotto. We also saw the villa that George and Amal Clooney stayed in last summer. The sun was shining, the water was a lovely shade of blue and I felt like I was a part of some elite yachting club. My favorite part of the boat cruise was seeing the two rocks that were featured in a recent Dolce and Gabbana, and are also a symbol for the island of Capri. Our boat drove right through the underpass in one of the rocks and against the rocky, green landscape of the undeveloped cliffs of the island, the view was unbelievable.
Once our boat cruise finished, we walked up to the town of Capri. Even though the island itself is called Capri, different parts of the island, have different names, and the middle level of the island is called Capri. Our guide told us that the walk up was uphill, but not that bad. He lied. It was probably about 70 degrees with high humidity and it was a direct incline the entire walk up. After we all told him how much of a lie his statement was, we treated ourselves to some granitas, which is a cross between a lemonade and a slushy–a real Italian ice if you must. The view from Capri was pretty good, but we only stayed for about 45 minutes, since there would be more to do and see at the highest point of the island, called Anacapri.
We took a bus up to Anacapri and when we arrived, decided to take a chairlift ride up to the top of Mt. Solaro. I’m not someone who particularly enjoys heights and even though I wanted to take the chairlift, I was nervous about the steep incline of it. The ride up ended up being extremely relaxing and the views of the houses on the coast didn’t hurt either.
Once we arrived at the top, I thought that there was going to be one lookout point where we would take a few pictures and then leave. Instead, the top of the mountain was pretty big so we were able to walk around and see Capri from many different angles. It was a little foggy so the view wasn’t as awesome as it could have been, but we were able to see the entire island and the blue waters that surround it, which was enough for me.
We took the chairlift back down to Anacapri and ate some lunch to refuel. I had seafood risotto, Mel had raviolis, we spilt some house wine and then went on our way. Our guides had told us about a sandal shop that they recommended to buy custom made sandals. While there are many different places to buy sandals, the specific shop has made sandals for the likes of Jacquelyn Kennedy, so I couldn’t resist buying them there.
When I picked out the color and style I wanted, the woman who was working there wrote down my name and told me to come back in an hour to pick them up. When I returned, the woman immediately recognized me and started calling me Amelia (I think she spelled my name Amily on my order form, not totally sure why). Anyways, the cutest little old Italian man named Salvatore called me, or Amelia, over to show me the shoes he had made for me and I was, and still am, in love with them. They are kind of like gladiator sandals with rose gold and brown straps. We took a picture together, and even though I haven’t worn them yet since I’m saving them from the nightmare of Florentine cobblestone streets, I can’t wait to wear them when I get home.
The rest of the day Melissa and I just explored the island and picked up some postcards before taking the ferry back to Sorrento, where our hostel was. That night they were offering a bus into town, but you had to find your own way home and after living an entire day off of only three hours of sleep, we opted to stay back for the night and indulge in some Margherita pizza, which originates from the city of Naples, which was only a little further down the Amalfi coastline.
The next day, we left around 8 AM to head to Positano, the pearl of the Amalfi Coast, at least in my eyes. The colorful stacked houses that are nestled on the cliffside had bombarded my Pinterest page before I came, and the view lived up to my lofty expectations. First, the bus dropped us off at an outlook point at the top of the hillside. They told us we had to walk from there and as we started walking down the steep steps and winding walkways, we realized the cliff was a lot taller than we originally thought. On the bright side, there were so many shops selling beautiful scarves, coverups, shirts, and dresses along the way. Even though I didn’t buy anything, window shopping made the walk down much more enjoyable.
When we arrived on the beach we immediately forked over 8 euro for sunscreen since our skin had not seen pure beach sunshine in far too long. We then staked out a prime location for our towels and spent the majority of the day tanning away. Before we left Florence for the trip, I bought an old school underwater, disposable camera, so when we got too hot from laying on the sand, we went into the water to take some pictures. I haven’t developed them yet, I’m sure that’s going to be an adventure, but I’m excited to see what they come out like. The water was extremely salty just like in Greece. I’m not really sure why, but I was covered in salt for the rest of the day. Also, the Positano beach is a black sand beach, which is something I had never seen before. It was also very pebbly so walking out of the water was pretty painful. Positano was my favorite place in the Amalfi Coast. Laying on the beach made me feel like I was on a tropical vacation, and it was so relaxing to have a day to lounge around and soak up the sun. Every time I opened my eyes I was met with the wonderful sites of the Italian coast.
After a busy day of doing absolutely nothing and loving every minute of it, we decided to go grab a quick meal. As we walked around we realized the power on the island was out, or rather they didn’t turn it on until around the time we left. We stopped by a panini shop the guides had recommended, but the line was super long and the deli counter was in the back of the shop, in the dark, so I’m not sure how anyone could see or know what they were ordering anyway. On the outside of the panini shop we had seen a display of fresh fruit. Living in Italy gives you a love hate relationship with carbs, so instead of indulging in the 1,000th panino of our time abroad, we decided to buy some of the fruit. I bought a box of strawberries and Mel bought a bushel of grapes, and we split the two. Strawberries in Italy are to die for since most of the fruit at the stores comes straight from local farms and is super fresh. The grapes were the biggest grapes we had ever seen, but also the most delicious. We had to pick out the seeds, but it didn’t even matter because the taste made it all worth it.
Later in the day, we had heard that some people had walked down to the end of the beach to go cliff jumping. I really wanted to go see what the hype was about and maybe jump myself, if it looked cool enough. Mel came along and as we walked up to the jumping point, it looked a little scarier than it had from the ground. It wasn’t exactly a cliff since you didn’t have to rock climb and scale the side of a cliff. It was more like a tall, flat ledge that had stairs leading up to it, but it was carved out of the side of a cliff.
Nonetheless, there were people doing backflips and wild jumps into the water. I was nervous at first, but after having walked over there, and the fact that cliff jumping had been on my bucket list for quite sometime, I knew I had to do it. I crowdsourced to make sure the water was actually deep enough to jump, and everyone that had already jumped said it definitely was. I posed for a pic before taking the leap of faith.
I jumped into the bright blue, salty water beneath me and did not regret it at all. From the ground the ledge does not look that high, and even from the top, the jump down didn’t seem that far, but as I was in the air, it felt farther than it looked. Once I hit the water I floated there for a few minutes in pure bliss. The Amalfi Coast was one of the prettiest and most “Italian” places I had been. I loved the atmosphere and views that surrounded me. I soaked up that feeling while I swam to the shore of the Tyrrhenian Sea
Melissa decided to jump as well, and after she went, we decided to jump together. We had some other people on the trip take some pictures and a funny video for us to capture the moment. I jumped one more time, too much adrenaline I guess, but there were boats sailing by so the waves started to pick up, making it harder to swim to shore. After that, we picked up our stuff, and walked back to the beach to meet the rest of our group and head back to the hostel. I also picked up some limoncello in a container shaped like Italy because I’ve wanted one since I got to Italy and considering limoncello originated in the Amalfi Coast, there was no better place to buy it. That night, most people stayed back at the hostel so the courtyard had music playing so we ate some pizza and fries while we just hung out and listened to the music. After diner, we packed up our stuff to get ready for our ride home.
The next morning we boarded the buses to begin the ride home. Before we truly departed though, we had one more stop on the itinerary, the ancient city of Pompeii. Obviously, most people have learned about Pompeii and how Mt. Vesuvius destroyed the civilization hundreds of years ago, so I was excited to see it for myself. We had a guided tour and that definitely helped me appreciate the ruins more, since I knew exactly what I was looking at. When Pompeii was settled, the people chose that specific area because it was high above sea level, located near a body of water, and there were no other groups of people living near them. They knew about the volcano, but did not think it would affect them.
The city is not encased in white plaster, like I thought it would be. This is partly due to the fact that excavations have been ongoing since the 1700’s, so much of the debris has been chipped away. We saw one of the streets that led up to the main piazza and learned that animals were not allowed on that road, to make sure the street was not covered in poop, so visitors and citizens did not accidentally step in it. There were also raised rock blocks, so people did not have to walk on the street when it was raining. The rich people of the town had marble steps up to their houses in order to show their wealth to everyone else.
When we reached the main piazza of the town, we could see Mt. Vesuvius in the background. For me that was the coolest view in the ruins. The piazza was where all of the social and political parts of the society took place. It would be bustling all day with people buying food and goods at the market, but once the sun set it would close down.
The marketplace is now where the archaeological artifacts are stored. There were floor to ceiling shelves that held vases, bowls, pillars and many other artifacts that have been salvaged through the years. For over 200 years archaeologists have been uncovering these sorts of artifacts and considering the eruption happened in 79 AD, they are preserved quite well. Many of them are barely chipped and besides that, there are so many pieces. This is the side of Pompeii that history books always rave about and it was very interesting and eye-opening to see.
In addition, the bodies were visible inside the old marketplace. Many people believe that if you were to remove the plaster casing around the bodies that the organs and bones would still be in tact. I learned that this is untrue. In order to preserve the bodies in their original form the organs and bones needed to be removed, if not, the bodies would eventually imploded once the organs disinigrated. The bodies are actually completely filled with plaster, but the positions they are in, is the position that they were found in. Also, the tour guide informed us that the people were not encased or killed directly on impact from the lava and debris the volcano shot at the town. The lava more or less incapacitated them, but they did not die right away. Instead, many people suffocated from the piles of debris, which also preserved their bodies. I know it’s morbid, but going into Pompeii I had many preconceived ideas of the town, that many other people have as well, and while they proved to be false I loved learning about what actually happened to that town exactly 1,935 years ago.
We continued on and saw the bakery and wine bar, because apparently even in ancient Italy, bread and wine were just as important as anything else. People would stop by the wine bar and pick up a glass and leave. The tour guide even pointed out the area of the bar where the cups were stacked so that the wine did not spill everywhere while the glasses were being filled since so many people hung around there.
We also saw a house and the colorful frescoed walls inside. Even though seeing frescoes and old homes is a weekly, if not daily occurrence in Italy, this was likely the oldest home I had seen since I’ve been in Europe. While Melissa and I were taking pictures we realized that our group was starting to leave so we asked someone to take our picture before following the group out. Once we left the house, we tried to find our group but they disappeared. There was one other kid that was left behind as well so the three of us tried to find our group. We walked down the main road, but there were so many random side streets that we didn’t know where to start. We ended up running into another tour group with kids on our trip and asked their guide if she knew where our tour went. She tried to help us, but considering we didn’t know where specific ruins were located since they all looked similar we decided to give up and head back to the main piazza. As we were walking back, we ran into another kid from our group who told us that the tour ended, so luckily we didn’t miss anything, but obviously we were the ones who managed to lose our tour group inside Pompeii.
There wasn’t much else to see that would make sense to us without a tour guide, so we decided to head back into the small town outside of the ruins before actually leaving to head home. We bought postcards and some more granitas while we hung out and waited for the rest of our group. We had absolutely beautiful weather for the weekend that made the tropical/beachy getaway even more delightful. While traveling is one of the best perks of studying abroad, it is very tiring. As I come to the end of my jam-packed semester of school, Florence life, and traveling, my energy has begun to wane. Being able to have a relaxing weekend of walking around small islands and tanning on the beach was a welcome change to walking around busy city streets. I only have one more weekend left of traveling, and I’m sure I will relish in the bittersweet nature. As for Amalfi, it was one of my favorite stops in Italy over the past few months and I can’t wait to return to the seaside Italian coast one day and tan with the locals once again.
Ciao for now,
All photography by Emily Houston.