Italy Trip: Another Scrap With Friction

Jul 23rd, 2014, 05:08 AM
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Italy Trip: Another Scrap With Friction


In military strategy, there is an old truism that "No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy." There are always sources of "friction", differences between the plan in theory and the reality encountered: roads might impassible, bridges are out, maps are wrong, enemy resistance is stronger than expected, the object that appeared to be a bunker in aerial recon was actually a barn, etc.

A vacation trip is much the same - no travel plan survives first contact with the destination.
The sources of friction are many. There is jet-lag friction, weather friction, language friction, closed-for-renovation friction, no-signs or directions friction, etc. In addition, technology has given us some new sources, including the the-advertised-wifi-doesn't-work friction, the wildly-overrated-by-tripadvisor friction and the google-maps-don't-have-a-clue friction. We expected to have friction under control since we had previous been to Italy ten years and already had some familiarity with the country. We were wrong. On a recent trip to Italy, I experienced most of these and also added a few more, including the blowing-chunks-along-the-Amalfi-Coast friction.


We landed at FCO eary afternoon. Our first destination was the Amalfi Coast. Most people arriving in Rome go through Naples (1 hour) to Sorrento (1:15 plus) and then to the Amalfi Coast (1:40 by bus). This seemed too much to do in a jet-lagged state after a red-eye flight. We decided to train to Salerno (2 hours) for the night and then take the short ferry (25 min) ride to Amalfi town the next morning. We booked online with Italotreno, the new private company that competes with Trenitalia.

From FCO, we took the FR1 train to Tiburtina Station in order to catch an Italotreno train to Salerno. I had allowed 3 hours in case of friction, but everything went as smooth as silk. Passport control was cursory, as always in Italy, and there was no customs check. The path from the gate to the train station was well marked by the distinct yellow train symbol. We bought a ticket from the easy-to-use ticket machine and were on the FR1 within 20 minutes of stepping off the plane. After another 45 minutes, we arrived at Tiburtina which is a much smaller and sedate place than Termini, so we had no trouble finding the track. We had so much time that we had over an hour to sit in a cafe have our first espresso of the trip. The trip south was nice in the brand new, sleek and very comfortable car that included barely passable free wifi. The route to Salerno is also more scenic than the route to Naples. Thumbs up for Italotreno. So far, so good.


Salerno isn't a tourist town so the hotel options are very limited. Since I figured that we would be tired and jet-lagged, I booked the Hotel Plaza in Salerno because it is directly across from the train station, where it would be easy to find. It isn't ideal for a real stay, since it is a 15 minute+ walk to the old town, but the proximity to the train station and ferry dock made it good for our purposes. It was cheap and convenient, so I didn't expect too much, which was good since the place was a bit of a dump. The room was small and the furniture was antiquated IKEA rejects. However, the breakfast turned out to be quite nice.

But then so is Salerno in general. A dump I mean. Guide books often describe Salerno as a "gritty industrial city" which is dead on. As I said, Salerno is not a tourist town. It's real Italy. You walk down the street and hear only Italian - no English. If we had stopped there later in the trip, we probably wouldn't have liked it. But as a first stop, it was perfect because it made us feel that we were really in Italy. But I would never consider using it as a base to explore the area, as some guidebooks suggest.

Despite the lack of sleep on the red-eye, we arrived in Salerno with a burst of energy. We dropped our bags and hurried off to the duomo before it closed. (Every time I say the word "duomo", I feel like Elmer Fudd. "The wascally wabbit wan awound the duomo!") It was minor league compared to the places we saw on the trip, but being the first we were somewhat impressed. It is certainly worth a stop if you are in Salerno. We strolled around. The waterfront promenade that gets such high praise in many guidebooks was rather meh. The Old Town, which is ok, identical to every other Old Town in any moderate size European city. Again, as our first stop, we enjoyed it as our first taste of the Old World.

I had a few dinner alternatives in mind, but they proved to be farther away and uphill from the hotel. Afraid that we would collapse any moment, we ended up as Osteria Duomo. The place was empty and uninviting, but we were very hungry by then. My wife had clams and pasta and I had octopus, and fish. I'm still waiting for the fish. The food was decent, but more importantly, our glasses of wine were mammoth. We also discovered an important Italian restaurant principle - the further north you go, the smaller the glasses of wine become. In Salerno, we got these mammoth glasses with our meal. On the Amalfi coast, the glasses were slightly smaller, but still large. By Sorrento, the size had decreased further, but still better at home. In Rome, the glasses shrunk again and by Verona and Venice, they were about the same as at home - glasses of wine for mice. As it turned out, we drank mostly beer for reasons that I shall explain later. After dinner, we also stopped for gelato, but was some of the worst I've ever had. Then I remembered -only get gelato at places that say " artigianale." in order to avoid the "gelato helper" stuff


We debated saying at Amalfi or Positano for the Amalfi Coast portion of our trip. We chose Amalfi, and ended up very glad we did as I shall explain.

After a nice breakfast, we took the 8 minute walk down to the dock for the ferry to Amalfi. After a short wait and 25 minute ride past the picturesque high hills, we arrived in Amalfi town. It was all so easy so far. Were all those many hours of research and planning really going to pay off? Were we really going to have a frictionless trip?

To be continued
carfree is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2014, 05:27 AM
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So the wine glass was mammoth but you are still waiting for the fish? Go figure.

Nice start to a trip report. Suggest you ask Fodors to indicate that this post is a trip report.

Huggy is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2014, 05:35 AM
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on for the wabbit
bilboburgler is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2014, 06:05 AM
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Hmmm !
We have a good writer here---keep it up.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2014, 06:18 AM
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Enjoyed reading the start of your trip. Looking forward to more!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2014, 06:21 AM
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Looking forward to the continuation
JAGIRL is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2014, 06:52 AM
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Loving this and waiting for more!
ekc is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2014, 07:05 AM
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This is actually the first trip report I've been coerced into reading, curiosity about the title. And happy I did. Waiting now with bated bweath.
MmePerdu is online now  
Jul 23rd, 2014, 09:00 AM
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Can't wait to hear about Amalfi.
wekewoody is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2014, 09:22 AM
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Guess I'm the only outlier in finding the Elmer Fudd take on historic Salerno and all of Old World Europe irritating, and ditto comments like bigger wine glasses further south (how about correct wine glasses for the wine?) and other kind of hey we're tourists so what do you expect us to think except in reductionist tourist cliches? Seek and ye shall find I guess.

But I notice it is a very popular style in lots of guidebooks and blogs. So carry on without me.
sandralist is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2014, 09:22 AM
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Thanks for "making it real." Futrue travelers appreciate knowing what can go wrong as well as all the things that go right. Great beginning....looking forward to more!
drchris is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2014, 09:52 AM
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What happened to "So carry on without me."???

Go away if you don't like what you're reading.
wekewoody is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2014, 11:22 AM
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Sandra, this thread, and observations, is not about you, so if it offends your sensibilities, then just go back to telling people where to go and what to see. Some of us are entertained by trip reports and different views of looking at things. You have had your say, please leave it alone.
socaltraveler is online now  
Jul 23rd, 2014, 05:55 PM
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looking forward to the rest!
surfmom is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2014, 06:28 PM
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I love a cliff-hanger! We loved Amalfi, so I'll be interested to hear the OP's impressions.
Jean is online now  
Jul 27th, 2014, 07:29 AM
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Hey what happened? I brought home a bottle of Orvieto wine and some cookies from my local Italian market yesterday so I'm ready to settle in for more.
Scootoir is offline  
Jul 27th, 2014, 08:45 AM
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I hope our resident contrarian didn't spoil the OP's mood...

carfree, please come back!
Jean is online now  
Jul 27th, 2014, 09:01 AM
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Scootoir - You need some Vin Santo with those cookies!
kybourbon is online now  
Jul 27th, 2014, 09:10 AM
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You are right kybourbon, love the warm color of the Vin Santo. Need to go back to the store.
Scootoir is offline  
Jul 31st, 2014, 11:13 AM
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Come back carfree!
wekewoody is offline  

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