We got off the train in Salerno and walked over to the taxi waiting in front of the station. We gave him the address and he laughed. “It is just one block away,” he said. You don’t need a driver,” and went back to his nap.
Okay, so the first lesson – in Salerno there is no fleecing of the tourist.
We walked down towards the water wondering what our accommodation would be like – having booked the night before– nothing like a last minute booking to get good deals but also turn your hair grey.
This time it will turn out to be the first. We couldn’t believe our luck as we stood in front of a modern building facing the waterfront. Delicious aromas were wafting over from the coffee shop on the ground floor. This was going to be good.
We followed a well-built Italian in his 30’s down a blue tiled hall. We tried to look unimpressed as he showed us the room filled with modern paintings, two TV’s – one in the bathroom, and remote-controlled windows opening over a panoramic view of Salerno’s harbour, and one of Italy’s most beautiful promenades.
On his way out, he pointed out the large shower, with its four heads to hit every crevice of our train weary body.
“It has a massage setting as well”, he said with a twinkle in his eye.
After bouncing on the bed and playing with the remote controller for the shades and windows (this would be the nicest room of our trip.) we thought we’d better get out and explore Salerno before someone burst in and said, “sorry, Madam, but there has been a mistake and lead us into a cellar, next to the furnace room. After all, we had this for just 50 E.
Salerno – all a girl could ask of and more.Salerno would be our home base as we explored the Amalfi Coastline. With a train, bus and ferry terminal this is the ideal location to explore for the budget traveller – ie: Positano prices or Capri!
A plethora of small restaurants serving fast food, and take away lined the promenade.
While the food was fast it was tasty and we enjoyed a fresh Caprese salad, and Panzerotti, stuffed with eggplants, ricotta and broccoli. This was delicious healthy street food at super low prices.
We missed the boat that morning for Capri — this is been on Adriane’s bucket list for many years.so we decided we would take the Amalfi Coast cruise instead.
The boat left from Salerno Harbour and we marvelled at the picturesque villages perched on hillsides, with their bright colours contrasted against the azure sea.
Nothing can prepare you for the beauty of Positano and Amalfi.
As you look up the hills, terraces of olive trees and lemon groves spread up the impossibly steep mountainsides. Grottos are carved into the rocky cliffsides and small beaches dot the coast.
No wonder it is home to the rich and famous. Sophia Loren and designer Giorgio Armani both have villas here. The trend continues from ancient history when Positano was a resort of the rich to show off their wealth in lavish mansions. We had a fabulous but pricey meal on the waterfront and explored the town but its steepness soon had us heading to the next stop.
Emperor Tiberius was so taken by the Island of Capri’s beauty that he ruled from there. And we were going to see this magical place and visit the famed Blue Grotto with its electric blue waters.
When we arrived at the waterfront we purchased tickets to a tour that included a cruise around the Island. This was a spectacular trip and well worth it. Excitement mounted as we approached the Blue Grotto. We watched numerous passenger boats held queue while small rowboats ferried passengers in a frantic dance.
After two hours our turn had come. We squeezed – and I mean squeezed into the bottom of the four passenger boat and ducked low as we entered the grotto.
The still blue water was magnificent. This was the stuff of fairy tales. If only we had been left to enjoy the magic just a few minutes longer. But there is money to be made and the ferryman couldn’t wait to unload us and get the next batch in. In all of Italy, this was the one sour individual we met.
Not knowing that they operate only on tips, and having left our money aboard the boat, we could only scrape up two euros in pocket change. He looked at it in disgust and just about spit – alas, if you go, make sure you take a few Euros along for the boat operator as well as the 10 E admission you will need to pay to the National Park site (at the grotto) to get in. That was also a surprise, thinking we had everything we needed when we bought the tour.
We came back to shore, an item of the bucket list ticked off. We caught the funicular to the top of the island, which is where the main town is located. We explored the shops and cafes before heading down to catch the ferry back to Salerno. There, we headed to our new lodgings outside the tourist area in what we came to call the “real Italy.”, Our graffiti-covered building may have looked sketchy but the inside was great. Host Ivan was super, and there was an abundance of inexpensive cafes, and fresh farmers market just behind us.
Capri while stunningly beautiful was simply out of our price range. We tried to get a meal there, but when one of the restaurants was charging 20 E for two cups of coffee, we figured only Tiberius could afford it and hightailed it back to where the “peasants” live. We like it there better anyway.
The next day it was all about Amalfi. We had visited the town briefly during our boat cruise but now we wanted to experience one of the world’s biggest thrills, the Amalfi highway. A narrow stretch of road infamous for its hairpin turns, and heart-stopping heights. One of the residents told us “here even the locals, don’t drive it.” The bus drivers are revered as national heroes. Ang rightfully so.
The Amalfi Highway is simply the scariest road in the world.
We caught the SITA blue bus from Salerno to Amalfi. We found out that local buses also are the school bus. Please note this because when school is let out the bus will be packed with teenagers yelling at the top of their voices. Remember this is the country of opera starts and they start early and on buses. This is where you look out the window and go to your happy place.
Soon the din grew quieter and we caught our breath. There it was — an impossible narrow ribbon of a road where cars frequently pulled over or backed up to let the bus go by. When a truck approached the bus, both would come to a crawl, mirrors would be pulled in, and we held our breath. A cargo van got stuck alongside the bus. With a slow shiver and a shake, it got free leaving a patch of paint behind. No one even bothered to exchange insurance info. I am not even sure there is coverage of this road.
I don’t know how more people don’t get killed here .. maybe they just throw their bodies off the cliffs and were never heard from again. I was sure glad that Adriane‘s original idea of renting a car had been squashed as I am pretty sure we’d still be in a hospital somewhere.
Having survived the Amalfi Highway we decided a little thank you was in order. We are suckers for cathedrals and churches – and Amalfi has one of the finest. Duomo di Amalfi; Cattedrale di Sant’Andrea is a 9th-century beauty in the Piazza del Duomo. It’s not only a wonder of art and architecture but has huge religious significance as St. Andrew one of the apostle’s relics are kept here. The bones were discovered to secrete manna and a religious ceremony celebrates this.
We did not make it to the Museum of Paper which the town is famous for.
Back when it was a Maritime power – in Italy the four big dogs on the water were Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi – this area developed a means of making beautiful thick paper that became coveted and is still a class symbol for the rich. The museum offers a view of this ancient craft. We wondered if Marco Polo’s book was written on sheets of paper made by Amalfi? Considering the dates and its popularity throughout the area – it’s quite likely!
Our time here was coming to a close. Our friend Roberto had told us that Amalfi was his favourite town and we agreed, it was ours too.
We shared a Pesce Fritto al Cono filled with seafood, sardines, scallops, calamari, prawns, a popular street food not to be missed. A pistachio gelato and we wandered back to the bus stop heading for Salerno.
With our enjoyment of Salerno and UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE coast, we decided to stay an extra day. Ivan was a welcoming host. We had scored again in our accommodations. While it was not the prettiest part of town – in fact, our cab driver refused to leave us there until Ivan had come downstairs and got us– the building was graffitied and this was not a touristy place. But it was real Italy – grit and all — we liked it, we liked it a lot. We found an inexpensive restaurant and cold beer just around the corner as well as a fabulous farmers market. Our room was large with huge ceilings, two balconies, and a stocked kitchen we were invited to partake of. We quickly took advantage of the clothesline we had spotted and soon had every square inch covered in bras and underwear.
In the evenings we took to walking the streets of Salerno and heading off to the pedestrian zone where we found a shop that served amazing award-winning ice cream. I was even moved to reach beyond my pistachio and lemon regulars.
It was here in Salerno that we started to feel like Italians in a world not made up of tourists. We feel in love with Salerno and plan on returning to explore more of the coast. But in the meantime, we had a train to catch to our next adventure.