Vesuvius, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast; July 11-13
spent an action-packed couple of days in the vicinity of Naples, Italy. We
based ourselves at a small hotel high in the hills above the tourist
magnet of Sorrento. Our goals were to visit Vesuvius and Pompeii (depicted together in photo 1), and to hike the Amalfi Coast.
Mount Vesuvius has a short tourist trail to the crater rim, but we decided to attempt an off-the-beaten-track variation described in our Walking in Italy guide as "a challenging trail requiring good balance and a sure foot." They weren't kidding. Soon we were picking and sliding our way across steep slopes of volcanic rocks and scree (photo 2), with no trail or markers to follow. Uncharacteristically, we eventually gave up and made our way back to the tourist trail. The only casualty was Alex's hiking shoes, damaged irreparably by the lava. We won't have new ones shipped to local professor-friends this time; Alex will try his luck in the Italian hiking shops. By the way, crowds aside, the Vesuvius tourist trail is nicely done, and overall the volcano was well worth the visit.
Making a day of it, we proceeded from Vesuvius to its famous counterpart, Pompeii. There were hordes of visitors, and for good reason -- these are some incredible ruins. Even Emily and Jennifer were properly engaged and impressed. The place is huge, and one really does get the feeling of walking around a city (photo 3) not all that different from when it was buried in A.D. 79. Like many visitors, we were particularly fascinated by the body casts, aptly described in our guidebook as "delightfully gruesome." Photos not included to spare the queasy.
Our second day in the Naples/Sorrento area was spent doing an absolutely delightful hike on the Amalfi Coast. We parked our car at a small town high in the hills, traversed for several hours with amazing views (photos 4 and 5), then descended to a coastal village, where we indulged in a post-hike gelato and caught the bus back to our car. The hike was enhanced by ideal weather, although a return to hotter temperatures is imminent. The solitude and beauty of the hike was quite a contrast to our previous day of mass tourism. Unfortunately, our awestruck impression of the Amalfi Coast was somewhat marred when we passed through its most upscale town, whose main purpose is unabashed catering to the rich and famous.
If there's one thing to complain about in Italy so far, it's the driving. Renting a car in Naples was the practical way to stay out of town and do the things we wanted, but much of the driving was truly a nightmare, requiring infinite patience: huge traffic jams in town and out of town at all times of day, many accidents (classic: drivers shouting at each other in the middle of the road, ignoring the traffic piling up), large buses on tiny roads, motorcycles weaving everywhere, and general anarchic driving style. We find Italy driving only one step better than the renowned traffic messes we recently experienced in India.
Ready for the latest difficulty? Money! Yes, we've been spending way too much of it (back to that in a moment), but we're currently practicing super-frugality (e.g., no unnecessary eating) because we've failed to find an ATM in Italy that likes our card. Our guidebook suggests Italian "bancomats" can be temperamental, but we're not optimistic. We finally decided it was time to call our bank at home, but we hadn't yet bothered to get an Italian SIM card for the phone.Yikes -- 15 Euros out of our last 20 to activate the phone to call Wells Fargo! How classic to get stuck without money, but we have some backup options -- a credit card advance, or delve into our emergency travelers checks -- that we'll resort to if necessary.
More generally on the topic of money, our fiscal strategy is one of constant cost-consciousness (things really add up over a year!), but without staying in unpleasant places or inconveniencing ourselves ridiculously when trying to get from here to there. We also established a rule that we won't talk about money all the time, and we've been abiding it quite well (unless you count the recent intense discussions of our dwindling cash-on-hand). Italy is more expensive than Greece, and the dollar continues to slide against the Euro. But so far we've found very pleasant places in the 80-120 Euros/night range for the four of us. Internet travel-planning does enable one to home in on moderately-priced lodgings with enthusiastic traveler reviews. No doubt we'll end up in a dump sooner or later, but so far we've done very well, The miscellaneous costs -- transportation, meals, tourist sites, snacks, drinks, souvenirs, and so on -- not surprisingly add up to surprising amounts; that is, if you dare add them up, something we've studiously avoided on our past short trips.
Emily and Tim volunteered to play recorder duets on the street with a hat out for donations, if the short-term or long-term financial situation becomes dire. In fact, they'd like to do it anyway to increase their souvenir coffer, but Alex and Jennifer have put the brakes on that idea for now.
Thankfully, no health issues or injuries to report this time. Stomachs are back on track, and Jennifer's smashed finger continues to mend.
Next stops: Rome and Florence