I’m home and still standing, walking, hiking, sitting and lying down. Walking the Amalfi Coast, east and a bit south of Sorrento in Italy was a dream come true. It was harder than I imagined, and more rewarding than I hoped. In my last post, I talked about how much pain I experienced, especially in the right hip and down my right leg. It was manageable with protracted stretching, walking sticks, Pain Relief Herbal Complex and Aleve and resting often. I am so glad I was alone on this self-guided walk. Any companion would have been frustrated with my long and frequent rests.
Naples was a point of entry and departure, nothing more. I want to recommend my business class hotel, walking distance from the train station, The Stelle. I made the mistake of asking a cab to take me there which required a very long route of one-way streets and high price tag for a distance I could easily have walked in 10 minutes. For that moment of leaving the train at 5:50 on a Sunday afternoon, I let myself get nervous about finding a hotel on foot in a strange town. Next time I’ll print out a map of the area before I leave home.
Hidden Italy sent a driver to pick me up at the Stelle on Monday morning and drive me the hour long back way to Ravello, avoiding the coastal road, full of curves and tourists. We stopped for a breathtaking view of Naples and Mt. Vesuvius.
Ravello. I chose Hidden Italy self-guided tour company because the five day walk began in Ravello, home of great music, & wandered thru back trails with no people. I toured the Amalfi Coast in 2008 right after my husband Chuck died. I traveled with good friends who knew him and allowed me to miss him and grieve without holding back. They missed him, too. We had been on two other tours with these good people. I wanted to go back. Especially interesting to me was the town of Ravello, both because of its setting and because it has become a center for music all summer long. Just take a look at the music festival website. I chose the dates of my walk so that I could begin with a concert, a string quarter playing Mendelssohn.
My driver lived in Ravello and after dispatching me to my porter, went home for a short siesta before his next driving appointment. I stood in the tourist entrance to this ancient Roman city at the end of a tunnel beyond which throngs of visitors mill around and no buses, cars or taxis are allowed unless the driver owns a house/flat within the confined area. I found my porter, or he found me, and hoisted my suitcase into his motorized cart. Improbably, the cart made its way up the long stair case (80 steps) on a narrow strip on concrete exactly wide enough for its wheel spread. I trotted along, knapsack on my back and sticks in hand, as quickly as I could.
My hotel turned out to be the most spectacular I have ever stayed in, on the point looking out over the Mediterranean in the direction of Salerno.
Walking to the tip of the point (which I would later look up at from the path to Amalfi), I felt like a countess enjoying the company of whispering statues
amidst the scent of lilies. The Villa Cimbrone with its Infinity Terrace dates from the 11th Century. The influence of the British nobility are evident along with English names for vias and villas. The Brits continue to cherish this coast line, along with the Australians.
The concert held in the Annunciata historic church was wonderful in its setting but only B+ in the musical quality. The audience came from everywhere. Next to me sat an American family whose son had been studying in Italy for the year and was on to more exciting adventures when his parents returned to the US without him at the end of the summer. People left the concert walking, taking buses, and cabs to hotels as far as Sorrento. I had only to climb the stairs to my bed not more than 20 minutes away. The night was magical. July and August there are several venues with music every night. Wagner loved this village and felt it was the magical garden of Klingsor, the setting for Parsifal.
My walk began on Tuesday morning, the 23 of June, when I descended from 1150 ft to 0 ft in 1 1/4m., stepping down staircases every foot of it. That is 300 ft more staircase than going down from the top of the Columbia Tower here in Seattle. By the time my stair case spit me out into Piazza Umberto in Atrani, the tiniest town along the coast all I could do was flop into the nearest bar table and order a tall Shandy, the brilliant English pub drink—half lemonade and half lager beer, plus two bowls of chips to restore the salt. My shirt was soaked through. I had consumed a liter of Performance rehydrating drink. I was tired. My walk description said it would take me 1.5 hours. I took 4 hours to find my hotel at the very end of the beach front in Amalfi. (Really long rest in Atrani!)
Immediately after checking in to the Hotel Aurora, I lay on my bed rolling on the Myofascial Release ball from the calf to the hamstring to the butt of my right leg to calm the pain down until I was ready for dinner. Simon had booked me into a restaurant where I had the finest meal of my trip, sparkling wine with clams and mussels in pasta, grilled fresh local vegetables (tiny zucchini, eggplant, red pepper, onions and black olives casually tossed in), a rare steak (I needed iron) big enough for dinner and lunch the next day on the trail, and a sumptuous plate of puff pastry filled with lemon cream and drizzled with a raspberry compote. I was liking this self-guided tour very much.
My hotel was situated right below a project to net the cliff above it so boulders would not crush cars and hikers. This work forced me to walk through a tunnel instead of along the path outside. I was terrified to share the road with buses, motor cycles, cars and trucks. Luckily the tunnel wasn’t long and I emerged at the other end without having to flatten myself against a grimy wall.
I could have taken a much longer walk into Amalfi through a nature reserve, the Valle delle Ferriere beneath towering rock cliffs and forests, but decided against the possibility of getting lost where “there was some damage to the markers on the Valle dei Mulini trail” on my very first day hiking alone in a foreign country. Those of you who know me will shake your collective heads in amazement at my uncharacteristic caution.
The pictures speak for themselves. The walk was breathtakingly beautiful, each segment of stairs passing little farms and grand houses, well-tended gardens and wild weeds. I could hear the rush of water coursing beneath the stone stairs as the hillside stream waters flowed under control to the sea below.
Guiding me from Amalfi to Conca dei Marini the next day, I read and re-read the walking description which detailed every turn and flight of stairs. Not everything was as described and I found myself sitting down on a step, a wall, a root in the shade when possible to contemplate the map and wonder. With your back to the Duomo cross the piazza, taking the covered lane on your right that leads you to the small enclosed Piazza dei Dogi….. I’m a good map reader, but I relied much more heavily on the written descriptions. In these moments of indecisive deciphering, I appreciated traveling with Judy on our hundred mile walk in England last summer. Two heads are better than one. I only had to back-peddle three times on this walk, and then, not very far.
Getting to Conca dei Marini required, in Simon’s words, some easy climbs, 1000 ft. and some incredibly complicated instructions. At one point the “first stair case to the right after the bridge” was overgrown with weeds. I went back to the stone bridge, sat down and ate the lunch I had confiscated from the breakfast buffet and read a chapter in my novel Ghirlandaio’s Daughter, by John Spencer Hill. This crime story features Lucca and the Tuscan hillside villages in which I had just spent a week, extending my delight in that part of Italy into this.
Refreshed, I decided the 2nd stair case to the right
which had the same stone structure as other public foot paths along this route would be the correct choice. I became a student of handrails, public lighting fixtures, the sound of underground water and other small clues to help keep me from straying onto private stairways and getting lost. My hotel in Conca, Le Terrazze, is a spectacular place. I requested a beer on the terrace immediately, before finding my room, which had its own terrace. Simon booked me into the Trattoria da Ciccio for dinner, a place with a fine view and even finer food and not too far away so I could walk home under the stars.
Dinner, so your mouth will water with desire, consisted of four courses, ½ bottle of wine, lemoncello and espresso. The lemoncello was made from their own lemons and bottled locally. The fish, clams, saffron spaghetti cooked in a paper bag, gnocci stuffed with ricotta and zucchini flowers stuffed with ground meat and ricotta. The lemoncello and espresso accompanied a cream made from local melon, canteloupe grown on the restaurant owner’s property. The walk home was necessary.
The next to the last day was by far the most challenging. I climbed and climbed and climbed up public stairs which gradually deteriorated into a rough path bordered by weedy, sandy patches and stoney outcroppings, a landscape not dissimilar from parts of Eastern Washington. I climbed without pain, making frequent stops to marvel at the diminishing of the church of San Pancrazio. My destination, Agerola San Lazzaro, is a village 2800 ft up from Conca dei Marini, sitting at an elevation of 3677 ft above sea level. The last third of a mile, I walked along an asphalt road past lovely houses and found myself in a piazza dominated by a large church whose old monastery is now a hostel with camping facilities. I ate my lunch on a bench next to many other wanderers who were waiting for the bus to take them to their next place. The bar across the street met my thirst with a beer. A short sleep in the church yard got me ready for the long decent into the lonely green Vallone Furore, a deep canyon under towering yellow sandstone cliffs. A couple of hippy-type guys apparently living in a rock walled cave under the cliff called to me to join them in a glass of wine. I thanked them but declined. Thought I’d better keep my wits about me if I was to make it to Praiana by night fall.
I loved this walk. It was mysterious, lush,
solitary and surprising. Not a single other walker crossed my path. I found myself singing. I also thought ruefully that my plan to hike alone safely was predicated on there being plenty of other walkers along the way. Ah, well. It was very hot which may explain why there were so few people. Drinking a lot, wearing a hat and my long sleeved sun shirt and linen culots kept me comfortable.
Via Pino and Il Pino, celebrated for the views seemed anti climatic after what I had seen. More and more stairs down to St Michele church where I completely lost the directions. Never mind. My hotel, no doubt waiting for me, was on the main road to Amalfi and would not be hard to find.
Sure enough, Hotel Margherita in Praiano came into view. Trouble is, they had never heard of me, nor did they have my suitcase. They could see my distress, served me a glass of cold sparkling wine, took my paper with introductions to each of my hotels and went to work. In moments, they found I was booked into Torre Saracena and would be happy to take me there, no charge. At Torre Saracena, reception had my suitcase, but my booking was for the following night. A few phone calls to the management and shuffling of the registration book and my luggage was hurried off to the last room in the place, down more stairs. The room was perfect, facing the sea with an enormous deck completely sheltered from any viewers so I could strip off my wet hiking clothes and stand in the slight breeze rising from the water below. A cold shower and clean clothes improved my mood enormously.
Dinner was booked down the road. I shared my ride with a lovely American family from outside Denver who invited me to eat with them. This is the serendipity happening that comes with traveling alone. The daughters were being treated to graduation travel, one leaving college, then other leaving high school. They were having a wonderful adventure and I was happy to share the evening with them. This family run restaurant specialized in local fish. The ten year old daughter served me my grilled squid, the whole creature sitting on my plate, perfectly cooked so as to not be tough. We shared bottles of white and red wine, also local. (I saw them again my last morning in Positano and we exchanged contact information.)
This is the town most people have heard of, along with Amalfi, and is the typical stop for the big tour buses that inch their way along the coastal road. The walk from Praiana to Positano is called Via degli Dei, the Path of the Gods. Once again my description began with Please note that there is a bus service that links Praiano with Colle La Serra at the top of today’s long initial climb. I ignored it even though the hip and right leg were complaining mightily. I could rest often, read my book and today, there would be plenty of other tourists walking in case I was in real trouble. Simon even says in his notes, Go up the stairs, girding your loin for a long climb. The elevation gain today was 2000ft.
I met lots of people along this path of Gods: Germans, Americans both small groups, Italians and a robust group of French hikers wearing small back packs like mine, using sticks, mopping their sweat with bandanas. Since coming home, I’ve met people who hiked out and back to Colle La Serra from Positano. I had several delicious sit-downs with my novel and snacks, meandered under towering shite cliffs, weaving in and out of gullies and patches of thick forest to the village of Nocelle. In Nocelle’s church piazza, a young woman was squeezing lemons on the spot, adding fresh water and ice for 2 €. She gave me her chair in the shade and I slowly recuperated.
The final staircase down into Positano was a monster. I sat down at the bottom of one set of stairs and contemplated alternatives to walking, my legs, knees and hips were so tired. Another chapter of the book, a long drink and an Energy Chew and I was off again, painstakingly slow and deliberate steps to the bottom. I was very happy to find the Hotel Savoia, tucked behind the Duomo down a narrow passage full of elegantly dressed tourists. I felt decidedly out of place in my grimy pants and shirt, sweat streaked face and leaning heavily on my sticks with each step as these beautiful people peered into high fashion shops and art galleries. It took me 7 hours to reach my destination. Simon wrote 4hrs
Dinner was disappointing. Positano is just too overflowing with tourists. Chosen for the setting, I did have the pleasure of riding the one way road from the pickup place a half hour circumnavigation of this picturesque town with rows and rows of brightly painted houses stacked on top of one another. The wait staff seemed hurried. The grilled vegetables had to be sent back. I sat there as the sun set into the sea overhearing a delightful conversation amongst an Australian family of parents and two pre-teenagers. I brought my chocolate mousse to their table and we talked and talked about our travels. I left them agreeing to come to see them someday in Sydney and will send Yael my crime novel as they loved Lucca as much as I did.
I never got myself into the Mediterranean which seems a shame. The beach in front of the Savoia was a narrow roped off section of beach between lots of small boats and next to the ferry terminal. I just did not fancy oil slick salt water. All the other hotels offered swimming but their beaches were too many steps down the face of the cliff with the exception of Amalfi. There again, too many small craft spewing motor oil and gasoline in the surf.
My Hidden Italy driver picked me at the appointed place in Positano on Saturday and delivered me to the Naples train station. With just enough time to buy a sandwich and water, I was on the train along the coast to Rome. It was 103 degrees F. The hotel I had booked in Rome was as easy walk but again, I doubted my ability to find it and let a taxi driver wander around one-way streets to the tune of 14€. It was dusk, cooling off and I was near my favorite church in Rome, Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri. I got there in time for mass. This church has to be the most progressive in Italy. The last time I was here, a prominent exhibit reconciling Galileo’s faith and science was on display by way of an apology for condemning his discoveries. There is a brass strip marking the lay line with the signs of the zodiac along its length.
Saturday night in Rome. There had to be a concert somewhere. I started walking to the Spanish Steps which were jammed with tourists. No way was I going to descend that majestic staircase. Instead I had a fine dinner in a restaurant across from one of Rome’s posh hotels and watched the beautiful people stroll by.
I walked on toward the Piazza del Popolo winding down a long drive in front of the Medici palace and on to the Pincio gardens. People were lining the road. Music boomed from Il Popolo. Droves of families and individuals strolled down from the gardens of the Borghese Palace.
Il Popolo is a massive oval piazza anchored by the twin churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto. From this square on the north, the Roman road extended to the Adriatic Sea. Before highways and trains, this is the entrance to Rome commonly used. Where public executions once took place, today rock bands perform, and so it was Saturday night, the 27th of June. Strobe lights filled the air, playing their colors on the Egyptian obelisk of Ramesses II from Heliopolis standing in the center.
This was less a concert than a political rally according to two gentlemen I questioned the next morning. In Rome, when the people announce a demonstration against something, TV personalities and hit singers show up in Il Popolo to rap, sing, croon and talk about the challenges “we all” face here in Italy. Balloons and banners wave, pizza and beer and other fast food are in the hands of the milling crowd. It’s a happy rebellion.
I made my way to the hotel content to have walked Via del Corso and Via del Babuino, feeling at home in Rome, comfortably serenaded by an oboe playing Vivaldi at the edge of the Spanish Steps. A full moon rose, blood red at first from the smog, then pure white.
Early Sunday morning, I walked to the station and thence to the Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport on the express train.
Italy, I’ll be back. I can’t get enough of you.
Be well, Do well and Keep Moving.
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