With one of the most famous windy coastal roads on the planet, in which small colourful towns are precariously nestled on cliffs, the Amalfi coast is quite a contrast from the inland hustle and bustle of Rome. Needless to say after several days away from the coast, we were quite excited to dive back into the Mediterranean ocean.
We hit the road with a plan to visit Pompeii's ruins on our way to Sorrento. This was quite unrealistic and we were totally dreaming given the intense itinerary playing tourist in Rome the day before. Furthermore we got stuck on route in a highway gridlock, caused by a serious crash 400 meters ahead of us. As we watched the emergency helicopter circle then land directly on the highway, this was a good reminder to be extra attentive to the crazy Italian drivers. After almost two hours stranded, this forced us to skip Pompeii due to it's opening hours. Due to a mixup with timezones, the delay also meant we would arrive in Sorrento just in time to watch the football world cup final (Brigid thinks this was "extremely convenient"). Regardless, we just made it in time and parked up at the campground before heading directly to the local English pub to watch it.
While usually you would probably head to a local Italian sports bar to watch a football world cup while in the football-mad country, so far we had noticed very little coverage of it throughout Italy... needless to say it seems they were all a little bitter about not qualifying for the tournament. Therefore the English pub was actually a good spot to watch the final, with a large garden bar packed full of tourists, most of whom were cheering for Croatia given the old English-France "anyone but you" rivalry. Albeit to be honest you probably wouldn't notice or visit this pub unless there was sport on, as there are many better authentic Italian and local places.
After watching the enthralling six goal final, in which France claimed their second crown 4-2, we met up with our friends Sean, Gemma and Helen for dinner, followed by a wander around the old town streets and markets. A fun experience in it's own right, navigating through the myriad of narrow alleys filled with colour, lemon candy, lemon soap, limoncello, and several other lemon related products we didn't know existed. About the only thing that could compete with the highly concentrated smell of lemon was the overabundance of fresh leather. We really wish we had bought some handmade leather shoes and bags here as the quality and pricing was exceptional... another reminder that when travelling, if you see something you love, don't try and wait to see if you will find better or cheaper in the next town, as it's likely might not see that particular item again.
We then wandered further down towards Vallone dei Mulini di Sorrento, a stunning little gorge with old sawmill ruins at the bottom. Looking down, we then realised how high up the Sorrento town actually is, and what a unique geography it is built upon. Sean, having once again been here before, explained that the narrow road spiraling down the gorge is the main route to the ferry terminal. It's another one of those strange engineering feats that is unique to the rough coastline of Italy, with the steep winding road the only logical and possible route to connect the coast to the town itself at the time it was constructed. Even stranger, there are small horse stables built into the side of the rock wall underneath the inner side of the road... it's kind of hard to explain, but well worth a wander, even if you'll likely almost be hit several times by Italians who shouldn't have driving licenses.
We then finished up and headed back to Gary for a well earned sleep. Overall this evening was a perfect way to get our bearings of the town, as we would be criss-crossing all of these beautiful streets and medieval passages several times throughout our three days and four nights in Sorrento. The campground (Camping International Nube D'Argento S.R.L) really was excellent, and we would definitely recommend it if you're staying in Sorrento. It's right next to Marina Grande where we had some of the freshest seafood ever and only ten minutes walk to everything in the old town, including the main bus, train and ferry hubs. It also has views of the ocean, lots of shade and a swimming pool (although which is annoyingly only open from 10am to 6pm... and you have wear a swimming cap). Sorrento is also a great base for visiting other areas given that there are no campgrounds for campervans down the Almalfi coast itself given that campervans are banned from driving down the coast (more on this later).
Speaking of areas to visit, the first on our list was the beautiful island of Capri. During dinner we worked out the ferry timetables online, and all met at the Sorrento ferry terminal about 30 minutes before our scheduled 9.30am departure to buy tickets. This was a bit tight as by the time we bought the tickets we boarded about 5minutes before the boat departed. We chose the less regular and slower, albeit slightly cheaper, ferry. However this was still a pretty hefty €33 each return.
Our first impression of Capri was simply "chaos". There were people, tourists, buses, cars & boats EVERYWHERE. After a bit of a rigmarole buying tickets for the funicolare cable car (make sure to buy your tickets across the road here first before lining up for the cable car), we made it to the main village of Capri itself. Once again our step-in-tour-guide Sean had been here before for a family wedding, so naturally lead the way on a few spots to check out. After walking through the beautiful and ridiculously expensive shops, we grabbed a gelato and headed to the Gardens of Augustus (€1 entry), which high vantage point provided a beautiful panoramic view of the southern side of the island (where we would soon venture by boat). This was also a great spot to get out of the sun and have a quick pack lunch.
Next we stopped for a quick coffee. When we looked at the menu we saw the most expensive espresso shot we have ever seen: €6, yes SIX EUROS for a single shot... given all kiwis have at least some Scottish genes in them, we wouldn't pay that... so we all went for the iced espressos, which were €1 more (so yes €7!) but at least we felt like a bit more effort was going into it... there was a freezing process at least... nevertheless we just paid €7 for a coffee... wow.
We then grabbed some beers from a market, only €500 each ;) and headed back down the cable car to the main port to hire a boat for a few hours. This was once again Sean's plan and it really was a great idea. At €29 per person for three hours, it was cheaper than the large tour boats, and more importantly, as we were driving it, we could go where we want when we wanted.
There were unfortunately a lot of boats around, so it was a bit chaotic with wakes all over the place, which slightly detracted for the beauty of the area (it would be simply stunning if you had the place to yourself). Furthermore whilst Dan was driving he mistimed a wake from a massive "my boats bigger than your boat" Italian speedboat which went roaring past, leading to everyone (and everything) in the boat getting drenched... To further complicate things, the wind continued to pick up and our little 20 horsepower engine was struggling to cut through the waves. We checked out a few more more of the "hot spots" on our map, and then started the journey back to the other side of the island. This took about twice as long given the westerly had picked up even more, so we eventually arrived about 40minutes later than planned, and therefore had to pay for another hour (so from two to three hours total). However it was totally worth it and a great way to see and experience the island.
Needless to say we were all pretty exhausted and jumped aboard the well timed ferry just after 6pm. We then headed for a quick pizza on the way home, falling asleep with seconds of our heads hitting the pillows, all snuggled up within Gary.
Firstly, as we had missed Pompeii on the way in, we had pegged one day to head back and check out the famous ruins formed as a result of Mount Vesuvius erupting on August 24th in the year 79 AD. Furthermore, given the road from Naples to Sorrento was insane, and we would have to pack and unpack Gary, we decided to use the tourist train that runs during the high season. This was an insane €14 each return, and in hindsight definitely not our smartest move, given the regular "non-tourist" trains were much cheaper at around €4 return and not that much slower (although the tourist train did at least have aircon). Secondly, as you may have noticed, the title of this section is Herculaneum, and not Pompeii. This is because we had heard from a multitude of different people that Herculaneum is actually a much better site to visit than Pompeii (and Bidi had been to Pompeii before). We had heard it is much better preserved, smaller and has far less people (for now).
So why is it better preserved? We found out this was due to the fact that unlike Pompeii, which was mostly destroyed by the hot ash, rocks and gas spewing out of Vesuvius in it's direction due to the wind, Herculaneum didn't experience the ash storm, and therefore the structures were mostly unharmed. It was the pyroclastic flow hours later which rushed down the mountain, with the thermal energy and intense heat killing everyone in Herculaneum instantly. However unlike Pompeii, this left a lot organic materials (such as plants, food, wood, fabrics, etc), in quite remarkable condition. Overall, this resulted in a town, well preserved for several centuries below a protecting layer of solidified ash.
The result? Absolutely amazing (if not "petrifying" at the same time... excuse the pun). We spent over three hours here, reading every word of the well laid out and complimentary guide book - which was free and available in multiple languages (both of which are not common in Italy). We went into every building, room, nook and cranny we could find. Completely mind boggling. The houses of the rich, the local markets, baths, restaurants... some of which still had advertising for their products on the walls outside their shops... wow... check out just some of the photos below...