Sunday, April 1, 2012

Amalfi Adventure!

Today we set off on another wild Marcus adventure!  Semana Santa (April vacation) is here and so we’re taking the next 6 days to explore the Amalfi Coast in Italy! 

While our flight was uneventful, once we landed things got slightly chaotic and stressful.  Even though we reserved our rental car months ago, they were unable to secure a GPS for us.  How is it possible that we ever survived using (gasp) maps???  We barely made it out of Naples with our marriage intact using the GPS on my iphone and that was certainly with one or two biting words at each other as if one of us actually knew where we were going and was just holding out on the other out of spite.  Thankfully, our marriage has survived the first day of no GPS!!

We didn’t see much of Naples but the little bit we saw was definitely enough, sorry but it’s a dump.  I thought Athens was run down but Naples most definitely wins first prize in this category.  Tons of graffiti, run down buildings and trash everywhere.  And if I thought people drove crazy in Barcelona, well, the people of Naples will give them a run for their money… and I’ve never heard so many horns before – there is absolutely no patience there whatsoever!  But regardless, it was the smallest part of our day and had the least impact – but I thought I’d share my observations.

Our initial plan was to stop for lunch in Naples, but that was when we had planned on a GPS, so plan B was to get the hell out of dodge and hope we found something closer to Sorrento.  Thankfully Liam fell asleep in the car so I didn’t have to worry about his car sickness while trying to play navigator at the same time.  Once we left the city limits, the surroundings were amazing – the Mediterranean to our right and the mountains, including Mount Vesuvius to our left.  On our agenda this week is a visit to Pompeii to see the destruction this magnificent volcano caused almost 2000 years ago.  We also hope to visit Herculaneum which is a smaller, less ruined and less touristy version of Pompeii, destroyed by the same eruption as it’s sister city. 
Liam waiting for our car rental
View of Mt. Vesuvius as we drove

I have no idea what this guy is doing but it was like the euro store on wheels...
Anyways, we continued our travels using only my iphone and the directions provided to us by the villa’s owner.  And while we had a few moments of self doubt, just about 2 hours later we made it to Priora, a small village just 5 km north of Sorrento with stunning views of Mt. Vesuvius and of Naples Bay.  What we didn’t expect was just how nestled it was in the mountain – literally the road was so steep and narrow and had several turns that were at a 90 degree angle.  We actually had to do 3 point turns in order to get thru those corners – and this was with us following the owner of the villa (who met us nearby to lead us to the location) doing the same thing (so it wasn’t poor driving on our part, seriously – people here have to do this ALL the time – it would drive me INSANE).  I will definitely take some video of this and Josh and I have decided that we will do this trek only one time per day, so when we leave the villa, it will be with the knowledge that we are not coming back til the end of the day. 

So while a little more in the boonies than we expected, the villa is exquisite.  Terracotta and stone are integral parts of this house which appears to be relatively new.  The views to Mt. Vesuvius and Naples Bay are stunning, though Josh and I agree that the views we had in Greece were a little better or at least more intimate since there was much less around us.  Regardless, this is a little piece of heaven!  We let the kids play in the small garden area for a while before setting off to the grocery store to stock up on supplies.

Liam hanging in the garden of our villa
Aidan has made himself comfy
View from the living room area of the villa
The precarious road below the villa...

Sorrento down at the bottom of the mountain

Mount Vesuvius from our balcony

Cutie pie

We need a chair like this at home Mommy!

Happy to be outside playing!

Collecting shells...turns out they belong with the plants - ooops!

More shells...

View of Mt Vesuvius from the roof

Front of the villa

The villa

Front door of the villa

Our little car
I remember moving to Barcelona 2 years ago and being taken aback by the grocery stores.  I am aware that the grocery stores in Boston are probably similar in size given they are city stores and there just isn’t the real estate for a Super Stop n Shop available.  However, Barcelona was my first experience with small European grocery stores and so for the most part, I take them with a grain of salt so long as I can get the essentials.

We drove by this store on our way up to the villa. When the owner told me that was the grocery store, I’m sure the look of dismay showed on my face. And when you see the pictures below, you’ll understand why. When we first went into the “parking lot” (and I use this term loosely), I thought we were more in a warehouse area and thought perhaps this is somewhere you would go to buy things in bulk??? But finally the kids and I saw under and awning that there were doors to go inside and there was a huge sense of relief that this was an actual store. The moment of relief was short because once inside, we realized that we were going to have to go into Sorrento for a bunch of items as well because there really wasn’t much. However, on a positive note, they actually had the same tomato sauce that I buy at my specialty Italian store in Barcelona!! 
Driving down the narrow road to the grocery store

This is what it looked like from the outside... sketchy isn't it?

A bit sketchy inside too

The food side, not much there...

We decided to wait on perishables til Sorrento since there was no way we were making a trip back up that hill until absolutely necessary.  It was a beautiful drive into town and parking was readily available.  We also saw a Sixt service outlet so we plan to stop there tomorrow to see if they can spare a GPS for us…fingers crossed.  Hitting the grocery store first, it was still a limited selection but more than there was in Priora – I think we have more wine than we’ll need for the next 6 days but since we aren’t going to haul it back to BCN, I think we’ll have no choice but to drink it. 
With Josh dropping the groceries in the car, the kids and I set out to find a place for lunch (given it was now 5PM so we have far surpassed the hungry/grumpy stage having missed lunch).  Sorrento is an absolutely adorable town and we’ve decided that our first full day tomorrow will be spent here exploring it further.  Plus we’d like to take a day to go to Capri and this will give us a chance to figure out where the ferry is and pick up a schedule.  Liam’s teacher is on Capri for a few days and so he’s hoping he gets to see her – for her sake and relaxation away from 14 – 4 year olds, I hope we don’t! 
After walking for a bit, we finally came across a small outdoor cafe that definitely felt a bit on the touristy side but at the same time looked like the food was pretty appetizing.  And it was.  With the kids and I having pizza and Josh some mussels, I think we were all pretty happy.  End that with a gelato and the day was pretty damn good considering our rough start in Naples. 
Liam arriving in Sorrento

Gorgeous view of the cliffs above Sorrento

I love the church against the sky and mountain here...

Mmmmm gelato....

Love how the mountains turn a bit red as the sun goes down...

In the evening the fog rolled in along Mt Vesuvius

Just hanging out...
Tomorrow as I mentioned, we’re looking forward to just relaxing in the morning and then spending lunch and the afternoon in Sorrento just exploring.  There were more tourists there for this time of year than I would have liked (I can’t imagine it in the middle of the summer) but overall it was pretty low key.  And the rest of the week we are going to play by ear depending on the mood of the kids, the weather and just going with the feelings of the moment – Capri, Amalfi (Positano, Amalfi, Minori and Salerno).  I don’t know that we’ll be able to do the entire Amalfi Coast given Liam’s perpetuity of puking in the car on windy roads, but we’ll see how it goes.  Josh and I have learned to keep our expectations low when travelling with the kids.  Just seeing Pompeii this week would be pretty cool – everything else is a bonus. 

On a side note, the first time I drove up to the villa it was in the owner's car... the second time was with Josh and I have to give him kudos for driving up this road.  At one point the tires couldn't even grip the road it was so steep and at such a sharp angle and I was slightly worried that we were going to roll backwards off the side of the hill, but we made it much to my relief!  I'll be very happy to only do that journey once a day. 

We’re limited on internet here so we’ll see how it goes with uploading blog entries… they may have to wait for our return on Friday.  Hope everyone is having a great April vacation!



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