Pizza, Pasta and Pompeii: Our time in the South of Italy

Positano

Hand made pasta, fresh seafood, delicious wine and breathtaking coastal views: why wouldn’t you want to visit Italy’s Amalfi Coast?  We were so keen that we made the coastal town of Positano our first stop when we arrived in Italy.  Positano is the Amalfi Coast’s most photogenic and expensive town making it the one place in Italy where you could walk around with your bag unzipped and not have to worry about pickpockets as everyone else is much richer then you.

After saying farewell to family in Greece, a 2 hour plane flight and 2 bus rides later we arrived in this beautiful town quite late in the day. With the sun setting, there wasn’t much time to explore, so we decided to make food our main focus and we were so glad we did.  Spaghetti with mussels and seafood ravioli made our first Italian meal one to remember (especially with all the Italian wine we consumed).

Day 2 in Italy and we were ready to explore! Positano is built into a mountain and the views over the ocean are amazing!  We made our way down to the beach and decided  to have a lazy day of sunbaking and swimming.   Coming from Australia we take for granted that beaches are easily accessible and free of charge, but it’s a different story in this part of the world.  While there was a small free section of beach; it had no shade and given that instead of sand the shore consisted of pebbles we couldn’t envision a very comfortable beach day. Therefore, we chose to pay the fee for the private beach which gave us 2 deck chairs and an umbrella for the day.  We spent the hours lazing under the umbrella and cooling off in the clear blue water while taking in the views of the town.  The only time we left the beach was to find some pizza for lunch!

Not a bad view from the water!

Not a bad view from the water!

At the end of the day we started the long ascent back to our accommodation.  Been a cliff based town, there are obviously a lot of stairs. We stopped counting at 450 as we were only halfway home  and it was too depressing to continuing counting.  Any calories we burnt off with all the stair climbing were soon re-consumed when dinner time came around.  The day ended with more pasta this time seafood spaghetti and squid fettuccine.  An excellent end to an excellent few days.  Bellissimo!

Looking back from halfway up the hill

Looking back from halfway up the hill

The view over Positano from the top of town

The view over Positano from the top of town

Naples

Next on the Italian agenda was Naples. We hadn’t heard many positive reviews about this city but we needed a base from which to explore Pompeii and as Naples is located halfway between Positano and Rome it was a convenient location for us.

We were determined to find something interesting in this town after all how could the home of Pizza not have anything touristic on offer. We set off into the old part of town and soon came across the city’s spiritual centerpiece, the Duomo. This cathedral was started in 1272 and completed in 1315. It was largely destroyed by an earthquake in later years and as a result has had many nips and tucks over the years. In one of the side chapels, the Cappella di San Gennaro there is a 14th century silver bust containing the skull of St Januarius, Naples patron Saint. The bust also contains two vials that hold his miraculous blood. According to legend his blood liquified in these vials when his body was transferred back to Naples in 305 AD. The other chapel in the cathedral contains an urn with his bones and a cupboard full of assorted leg bones. A strange concept but a beautiful cathedral it was definitely worth a visit

The urn of bones in one of the chapels

The urn of bones in one of the chapels

It was soon dinner time and on the menu tonight was of course pizza and we were certainly happy with our choice. We went to bed that night with a full belly ready for the next day’s adventures.

Pompeii
No trip to the south of Italy would be complete without a visit to the ancient city of Pompeii. Having based ourselves in Naples it was easily accessible by train, only 30 minutes away. Founded in the 7th century BC Pompeii originally covered 66 hectares of land. An earthquake in 63AD caused much of the 20 000 population to evacuate due to widespread damage and many had not returned when Mt Vesuvius erupted 4 years later. The volcanic eruption killed 2000 people and buried the city under a layer of burning pumice stone. There it lay until it was accidentally discovered in the 1500’s by an architect while digging a canal. Proper exploration of the site begun in the 1700’s and today only 44 hectares of the site have been uncovered, however they are very well preserved.

We spent quite a few hours wandering amongst the ruins. Some of the highlights included the 1st century BC Temple of Venus, the forum: a large traffic free rectangle surrounded by large limestone columns and the anfiteatro: the oldest known roman amphitheatre in existence, built in 70 BC it could one time hold up to 20 000 spectators.We could list many more highlights but there were two real standouts of the site for us. Firstly halfway down a narrow alleyway we came across the Lupanare, an ancient brothel. This tiny 2 story building consisted of 5 rooms on each floor each containing a small bed, (they were never made for sleeping).  The walls inside the building were decorated with the raunchiest ancient artwork that we have come across in our travels.  The second highlight was the garden of the fugitives where the largest number of victims was found in one place.  The body’s were so well preserved they were able to make plaster moulds and leave them in there place.  It was a incredibly  moving to stand and look at the bodies of 13 locals, (including children), where they died, huddled in a corner seeking refuge from the ash. It helped put in perspective the awful fear and suffering the locals must have experienced.

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The Brothel

The Brothel

Paintings inside the brothel

Paintings inside the brothel

The Ampitheatre

The Ampitheatre

The garden of the fugitives

The garden of the fugitives

After many hours and lots of walking we were ready to head back to Naples where we once again ate some pizza (delicious) and had some well deserved rest.

Isle of Capri
Our last day in the South had arrived and what better way to spend it then a day trip to the famous Isle of Capri. A large mass of limestone that rises out of incredibly blue water Capri has a good mix of piazzas, cafes, ruins and seaside swimming spots. It is a favourite holiday destination for many celebrities and VIPs making it an expensive day trip, but one that can’t be missed!

We left Naples on a ferry and 50 minutes later stepped of the boat into the sunshine of Capri. It wasn’t long before we were back on the water as we embarked on a boat trip around the island. We saw many of the incredibly natural sites including Villa Jovis a Roman Villa standing 354m above sea level where Tiberius had out of favour subjects tossed into the sea. We also passed Italy’s second tallest and most powerful lighthouse, Faro. The real highlight of the island however were it’s grottos or sea caves. Firstly, we saw the beautiful white grotto, a cave with a bright white interior naturally carved into the cliff face. Next, it was the amazing green grotto, another cave but this time with intensely green water lapping at it’s walls. Neither of these can be compared to the number one attraction that the isle of Capri has to offer the Frotta Azzura or Blue Grotto. This stunning sea cave’s iridescent blue light is magic and almost unbelievable, we were looking for hidden under water lights as the water was so bright and blue! It turns out the light is caused by the refraction of sunlight of the sides of the 1.3m high entrance coupled with the reflection off the white sandy bottom even though the water is 40m deep inside the cave. The only way to visit the cave is to take a boat to the entrance and then rowing boat into the cave, through the tiny opening. We were lucky enough to have a very good boatman who let us jump out of the boat and have a swim in the amazing coloured water. A once in a lifetime experience!

The Isle of Capri

The Isle of Capri

The Green Grotto

The Green Grotto

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Inside the Blue Grotto

Inside the Blue Grotto

After all this boating it was time to explore Capri Town, the main settlement on the island consisting of whitewashed stone buildings and tiny streets which are mostly car-free. We had lunch in a little cafe overlooking the ocean amongst the super yacht owners and ate the most expensive pizza of our lives however it’s fun to play rich every now and then. We spent the afternoon exploring the little town with it’s film set like piazzas and paid a visit to the local church Chiesa di santo Stefano complete with a marble statue of the town’s patron saint San Costanzo and an urn containing one of his bones that apparently saved the town from the plague in the 19th century (are you starting to see a theme with the churches).

The most expensive pizza we've ever eaten but it was worth it!

The most expensive pizza we’ve ever eaten but it was worth it!

Before long, it was time to descend the hundreds of steps to the port (why do all the beautiful places have to be so high up!) Where we caught our ferry back to Naples. Once we arrived back on the mainland and collected our luggage from the hotel, it was time to catch a train to Rome. We were booked on the 8:00pm express service but somehow ended up on the 8:21pm local train… Did we make it? You will have to wait and see… all will be revealed in the next episode to be published shortly but until then we have to go; pizza and pasta await! Ciao.

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