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More Graffitii than Garbage - Report from S. Italy

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Apr 12th, 2008, 08:28 AM
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More Graffitii than Garbage - Report from S. Italy

I was intending to write a report when I got home from this trip, but I know that several people are headed here over the next few weeks, so I'll try to get something written from the road. This post is RDU via London to Capri.

I hear that AA has been cancelling massive numbers of flights, but I left RDU for LHR on Monday before all the excitement. This flight has just been moved from LGW and I wasn't impressed with the change - long trek into the terminal building (T3), very long line for passport control (especially for non-EU citizens) and very long trek through the bowels of the airport to get to the Central Bus Station (which I needed to reach so I could get to Gatwick for my connecting flight...) I am able to report that however botched the baggage handling at T5, the fountains look good.

After my B&B collected me at LGW I spent the day visiting Arundel Castle (by train), and then walked through the churchyard for dinner at the Old Six Bells pub (good food and excellent Shiraz). I forgot to check in online for my BA flight to Naples on Tuesday, which left me only half a dozen seats at the back of the plane to chose from, but also meant that by picking an aisle seat by an open middle seat, I sat next to the only empty seat on the entire flight.

Naples airport seems fairly small. The EU passport line moved fast, but the "other" lines looked slow. Baggage carts require a euro coin as a deposit. There's an ATM in the arrivals hall. If you're taking a bus into town, double check that you get on the right one! Due to some communication difficulties, I wound up at Piazza Garibaldi instead of Piazza Municipio, and had to find a second bus for the last leg. (That bus is the R2, from the south side of the piazza by the statue.)

Piazza Municipio is currently a big mess, as a new metro station is under construction. When you get off the bus you need to walk to the left of the castle, heading for the white building with the two clock towers. After you cross the main street turn right for the ticket offices for the ferries. The boats leave from behind the ticket offices.

I was looking out for garbage on the bus ride through Naples, but I really saw very little. There was some evidence of previous piles, and a few places where plastic bags of trash were piled round a dumpster, but it really wasn't that bad. Nothing like India, for instance. And in Piazza Garibaldi you're more likely to be avoiding handbag sellers than garbage. Seen from the bus Naples looked gritty and grimy, but not buried in garbage.

I had intended to spend my first three nights in Naples, and switched to Capri when I got tired of waiting for the garbage crisis to be resolved, but I think I could have stayed in Naples. Capri is certainly clean enough, but even this early in the year it's buried in tourists in the middle of the day. Dead quiet at night, though.
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Apr 12th, 2008, 09:10 AM
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It's nice to hear that Naples is back to more or less its version of normal. I have friends there now, and I had been a little sad thinking they wouldn't be able to enjoy Naples. Thanks, thursdaysd!
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Apr 12th, 2008, 09:49 AM
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Thank you for the update on the Naples garbage situation. We will be there in Mid May for four days, actualy staying on the island of Procida but a day trip or two to Naples, and were a bit concerned. J
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Apr 12th, 2008, 10:02 AM
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Thursday thank you for taking time to update us. Wishing you Happy Travels!
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Apr 12th, 2008, 10:46 AM
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thursdaysd, how are you enjoying Capri? It is one of my favorite places on Earth. Have you tried this stroll yet? So beautiful.

http://www.capri.net/salsa/lang/en/page/tour1.html
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Apr 13th, 2008, 12:31 PM
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I sent today in Amalfi (way more touristy than I expected) and Ravello (views definitely up to expectations). Tomorrow I plan to go to the Arch. Museum in Naples, so I should have a more complete view of conditions there.

I did take that walk on Capri, but I haven't had time to write anything today.
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Apr 13th, 2008, 12:39 PM
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Thursday: Do the roads seem very crowded?

I hope you are having good weather!
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Apr 13th, 2008, 11:37 PM
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eks - I took the bus both ways along the coast yesterday, and the traffic did not seem too bad. There were, however, more tourists than I expected in both Sorrento and Amalfi, and the main street of Amalfi was a big disappointment. (There may be nicer places up the side streets, (I mean staircases) but I was just killing time waiting for the Farmacia to open, and didn't explore them.
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Apr 14th, 2008, 01:27 PM
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I spent today in Naples, and aside from a couple of places between the Duomo and the train station, you would never guess there was a garbage problem! True, I think Naples could use some cleaning up, but that has to do with the state of the buildings, not the streets.

So, here is some Capri:

Catching a Cold in Capri I hadn't originally intended to stay on Capri, I thought Naples was more my style. But I found that there was more than one Capri. The one I had read most about was the multi-hundred-dollar a night hotel and wall-to-weall expensive shops version of Capri. I had also heard about the package tourist/cruise ship version of Capri - lines of sticky-label-wearing tourists following the umbrella of their tour guide.

Both of those Capris are unquestinably available, but if I hadn't spent three nights there I might not have discovered a third Capri - a quiet place with green and granite cliffs toweruing over brilliant blue seas. No doubt it helped that I was there in early April.

I did not stay in an expensive hotel - in fact my no-view room at the one star La Tosca actually cost 5 euros a night less than the place I had reserved in Naples. Certainly a one star is not luxury - but the plain white walls, tiled floor, no TV or radio, and the most of basic of breakfasts were balanced by comfortable beds, ample hot water, a great view from the terrace and a very helpful owner who made a mean cappucino.

Unfortunately, I didn't sleep well my first night - I kept waking up with a sore throat. The farmacia the owner sent me to the next morning sold me an antiseptic throat spray, but the TIM office (where I needed to register the SIM card for my cell phone) and the travel agency (where I needed to buy my Naples to Siracusa train ticket) were both closed.

Baulked, I bought a ticket for the bus to Anacapri instead, meeting up with a mother-daughter pair I had encountered over breakfast. We visited the Villa San Michele (great views) and the Chiesa San Michele (fabulous - all senses of the word - floor) before they left for Pompeii and the night train to Venice... I ate a good tuna salad at a touristy place on the main street in Anacapri, discovering that my new iPod made a great lunch companion (I was still taking a book to dinner).

Trying to take the bus back to Capri after a stint on the net (not available in Capri Town) I discovered that if you want one of the few seats you should board at the turn round point, not on the main square. Although the bus was crowded, it wasn't crowded enough for the other people to hold me upright, and I had to hang on tight round the corners.

I spent the rest of the afternoon trekking up to the Villa Jovis, one of the Emperor Tiberius' hangouts. Although the views were good, I didn't think the decidedly ruinous ruins really warranted the exercise. As someone I met on the way said, you knew you were on the right path when your quads burned.
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Apr 14th, 2008, 04:59 PM
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I am glad you enjoyed Capri and got off the beaten path where it is so lovely.
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Apr 16th, 2008, 01:04 PM
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SeaUrchin - here's some more Capri, including the walk you recommended.

The next day I started out at the Gardens of Augustus, where the views from the carefully-positioned benches were spectacular. But after the third tour group showed up I abandoned the postion, and found that both the TIM office and the travel agency had opened up. Getting my SIM card registered (they needed to see my passport) went better than buying the train ticket. Although I got the 20% Amica discount, I couldn't get a window seat. I suppose I should have bought over the net at home, but I had read too mucgh about difficulties from people trying that method.

I took one look at the crowds of day trippers filling the streets in Capri Town and took an almost-empty bus (only locals) to Marina Piccolo, Capri's second, and much smaller, harbor. Here I had to share the great views of the cliffs and the sea with very few people. I picked the restaurant closest to the sea (almost IN the water) for lunch, a good mixed salad. The cover charge and espresso were a little high, but I figured I was paying for the idyllic location. And in April this place really was wonderful - I imagine it's a bit busier in the summer.

Eventually I took a rather more crowded bus back, and checked out the San Giacomo gardens (the church and cloisters aren't open in the afternoon). Not bad, but I think the Augustinian are better. Looking the map suggested that still better views might be available, without too much exertion, at the Belvedere di Tragara.

My sore throat had turned out not to be strep, my first thought, but instead was the harbinger of a bad cold, my real fear. Still, I wasn't about to retire to bed. So after enjoying the Belvedere I started up the Pizzolungo walk, intending to admire the Faraglione islets.

I should have turned back after the islets, since those views were the best of the walk, but instead I kept going, eventually trekking up 355 steps after the Grotto di Matermania. Definitely manic behavior! I did decide not to tackle the further steps involved in visiting the Natural Arch, discovering instead an almost flat path to an overlook for said arch.

I rewarded myself by eating dinner at La Pergola, a recommendation I had found on the net. The ravioli in lemon cream were everything the poster had claimed, and the restaurant made me mussels in white wine and garlic, even though they were not on the menu. I used not to be much of a mussels fan, but a trip to Belgium converted me, plus my seafood risotto the night before had featured indifferent rice and exquisite mussels.
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Apr 16th, 2008, 06:57 PM
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oh, i've been hoping you would post while traveling, Thursdaysd - i've been wondering how you were enjoying your trip. So sorry to hear you have a cold, though. Take care, and i'm really looking forward to joining you on this trip!

Cyn
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Apr 16th, 2008, 11:34 PM
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Yes that is my walk, we walked it starting the other side as you did. I have some beautiful photos.
Sorry you have a cold, keep trudging on though!! Maybe some limoncello will work.
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Apr 17th, 2008, 09:49 AM
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Hi cyn - so nice to "meet" you again! I should be on that train to Sicily tomorrow...

SeaUrchin and cyn - thanks for the good wishes - I finally went to see a doctor today and got some prescriptions. I'll have a roommate on the tour I'm taking in Sicily, and I don't want to keep her awake coughing!
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Apr 17th, 2008, 09:53 AM
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Turns out I don't really have time to write separate reports for my email ist and for fodors, so will be a slightly revised version of what just went to the list.

Sneezing Round Sorrento

Getting to Hotel La Tosca had been complicated by some bad directions on tripadvisor.com (the arch I needed was on the south side of the main piazza, not the north!) but at least the trek had been mostly downhill. Unquestionably, I now had a cold, and I felt too lousy to have any enthusiasm for lugging my big pack back up the hill. So, I paid 4 euro to have someone else drive it up on of the little carts Capri's inhabitants use for heavy loads. (Having it taken all the way to the ferry would have cost 9 euros.)

That still left me with the bus ride down to Marina Grande and a long trek out to the most distant point on the jetty to board the ferry. In the rain.

Perhaps it's not so surprising that I started to think longingly about taking a taxi to my next hotel. It wasn't that far out of town, was it? (Actually, just 5 km.) I knew I was supposed to get myself to the train station and then call for pickup (on my now-functioning cell phone), but after I slipped and fell on the wet metal grid leading to the quay, and wandered around in heavy rain looking for a promising bus stop, I think I can forgive myself for looking for a taxi instead. What I'm more annoyed about is my failure to check that the meter was on tariff 1 instead of 2.

Il Nido was exactly as advertised - great views from comfortable rooms, with a friendly owner. And 5 kms out of town. True, there was a free shuttle, but it never seemed to mesh well with the buses and trains, and it didn't run at all between 11:00 and 15:30. That first day I got a special ride into town, needed as the hotel served good food at breakfast and dinner, but no lunch.

By the time I got back to Sorrento the clouds and rain had cleared. Not so my cold, so perhaps my reaction to the town is less than objective. Still, under the best of circumstances I doubt I would have fallen for the place. I was visiting the Amalfi Coast for drop-dead scenery and first-class historical ruins. I see Sorrento as a place for people who come to eat, drink and shop (though I'd rather do all three on Capri), and it's a seaside town with essentially no seaside - all of the downsides and none of the up. True, you can see the sea from a few places, but most of the cliffside locations (and the town proper is up on a cliff) belong to hotels.

I ate lunch (forgettable omelet and fries). I drank cappucino (at a bar on the Villa Communale overlook). I located the "handicrafts" market section, and I indulged in a Mandarino gelato that I found a little too acidic. Then I confess that I caught the first shuttle out of town.

I would spend little time in Sorrento over the next few days, as I was mostly using it as a base. And my opinion of it would not improve.
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Apr 20th, 2008, 08:36 AM
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(The train ride from Naples to Siracusa, where I am now, was extremely slooow after Messina, but otherwise unremarkable.)

Ravishing Ravello

I had planned to spend Sunday at Pompeii. I even had reservations for the villas that required them. But I just didn't feel up to it. A nice sit-down bus ride to Amalfi seemed more my speed, and I was able to catch the bus right outside my hotel. I did get to sit down both ways, although not everyone was so lucky coming back.

That ride along the Amalfi Coast? The one the guide books rave about? It's everything they say. Everything you expect from the pictures. Just stunning. Go see it! (But for heaven's sake, go early or late in the season, it was already getting crowded, with standing room only on some buses, in early April.)

After all the beauty of the ride along the coast - rugged cliffs and deep blue sea - Amalfi Town came as a bit of a shock. I had expected small and sleepy. I got small and crowded and touristy. I checked the time for the next bus up to Ravello, and had a quick cappuccino right in front of the Duomo.

When I went back to catch the bus I found a group of around 40 Germans already waiting. I practised some non-English bus boarding techniques, but then a second bus showed up for the overflow. Until we were nearly at Ravello, that is. Seems a section of road was out, and we had to climb some steps and board a second bus for the last stage. Some of the Germans had to walk it the rest of the way to Ravello.

Sorrento had been a disappointment. Amalfi had been a disappointment. But, just like the bus ride, Ravello lived up to my expectations, and then some. Not that it didn't have tourist shops (think ceramics), but they weren't wall-to-wall. I did the walk out to the Villa Cimbrone and just loved the grounds and the views. I could almost (almost!) imagine coming up with the money to spend a night there, although it's more of a place for honeymooners (first, second, third...)

I allowed that extravagant impulse to lead me to eat at Villa Maria, with equally good views and high prices. My duck breast, however, was tough, although the accompanying potatoes were totally delicious. Also, the bill arrived without my asking for it.

On my way back, I killed time waiting for the Farmacia to open (I wanted to buy aspirin) by visiting the Duomo. Even at only 2 euros admission I thought it overpriced. The facade is stunning, just like the photos, but the inside was very forgettable.

I ate dinner at my hotel again, this time with another solo traveller - an Australian guy spending time in the south while his wife was on all-women trip in the north. I really enjoyed my gnocchi with salmon - and the conversation - but the sole seemed a bit mushy.
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Apr 20th, 2008, 08:50 AM
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Thursday I hope you are feeling better by now! I am following along every step of the way. Discouraging news about the crowds and the overall touristy feel even of Amalfi... We will try to get away from all of that, both in Ravello and in the hills, as much as possible..

I was speaking to an experienced Amalfi traveler recently who told me that the coast is mostly for the tourists and the real lure for many repeat visitors are the smaller villages in the hills that remain relatively unscathed..
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Apr 20th, 2008, 09:00 AM
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Thanks eks, I am feeling mostly better. Not sure if it's just time or the antibiotic the doctor prescribed (I decided to skip the steroid!).

The OZ guy I mentioned did the hike up from Positano and enjoyed it - I think the ride along the coast is a must-see, and I much preferred Positano to Sorrento, but otherwise I think you're right about going inland.
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Apr 20th, 2008, 09:28 AM
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Hello Thursdaysd
I'm really enjoying your report. Call it schadenfreude, but I had much the same experience a few years ago. Admittedly it was January and it poured with rain most of the time, but I too found tourist Capri forgettable, likewise Sorrento. Couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. Pompeii was the wettest day of my life but the advantage of that was that we had the place to ourselves.
I arrived in Amalfi just as the cathedral closed (don't ask why, something to do with a travelling companion spending so long eating breakfast we missed the bus) so I'm pleased to read I didn't miss much inside! We never even got to Ravello because the last bus of the day had already left (January!).
Ever since that trip I have been a solo traveller.

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Apr 20th, 2008, 09:49 AM
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Thanks for the great report! I totally understand what you mean about Amalfi and Sorrento. We found them too congested and resort-like and could hardly wait to get out. Quite underwhelming. We liked Ravello a lot more as well as tons of little villages, slightly inland. But the drive is sure gorgeous!

Next time you'll have to see Sicily (if you haven't already).
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