Under the Amalfi sun

Sasha Stoddard

I know that living in Florence probably sounds like a vacation for most of you. But when you live in a place and see its amazing buildings every day and smell its wonderful smells every day and stroll the same streets every day, you start to lose a bit of your appreciation for it all. When this happens, you know it’s time for a holiday from your vacation.

Classes just finished for me at the language school, and being in a Catholic country wrought with religious holidays, I found myself with a four-day weekend in which to do whatever I wanted. So, having spent the last three months under the Tuscan sun, some friends and I decided to head for a different kind of Italian sun. Two train changes, an hour-long bus ride, and several stairways later, we found ourselves in a hostel in the little town of Aprani on the Amalfi coast.

Let me just say, I love Tuscany and its beautiful rolling hills. However, as soon as our bus pulled away from the train station in the port town of Salerno and I caught that first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea, I knew I was hooked. Never have I seen anything so beautiful as the Amalfi coast. The entire panorama is filled with towering fir-covered cliffs, terraces crowded with lemon trees, and bright blue-green waters. The bus ride – which is the only way to travel there, unless you have a yacht – basically takes you winding along the sides of the cliffs with a tiny cement barrier preventing vehicles from launching headfirst into the water below. It’s fantastic. Even if you’re afraid of heights, you soon find yourself forgetting your phobia in the midst of utter beauty.

I neglected to take my Dramamine before I got onto the bus, but I was so busy ooh-ing and ah-ing that I forget to even think about throwing up.

After depositing our things on the bunk beds at the hostel, my friends and I wandered out onto the pebbled beach just steps away. Though I had only been there for half an hour at that point, I already felt more relaxed. There’s just something about an ocean breeze and the smell of salt and sand that makes a person feel clean and rejuvenated.

Another treat came when I was searching for shells, only to find that the beach was strewn with hundreds and hundreds of tiny pieces of ceramic pots, all worn smooth by the waves.

After my pockets were heavy with bits of pots, we made the five-minute walk around a cliff into the town of Amalfi. We were greeted by the aroma of freshly fried seafood, and I knew I had just walked into my own personal heaven. The small beaches were covered with blue and orange umbrellas and beach-goers soaking in the warm sun. We took some espressos in a beachside café, then headed for the center of town. Here, shop after shop sold Lemoncello by the litre, and there were enough seafood restaurants to keep you happy for a lifetime. If I had had more time – and a much larger wallet – I would have tasted everything. Wanting to avoid all the “take you for every penny” touristy eateries, we wandered up a few of Amalfi’s many stairwayed “streets” and sat on the terrace of a little trattoria. The waiter/owner took our orders to the chef/dishwasher and we were then presented with a whole grilled fish on a plate. I’m pretty sure that was the best fish I’ve ever had in my entire life, even if the head was still attached while I ate it.

I didn’t think I could be any happier – until the next morning, when we boarded a boat to the Isle of Capri. No, they don’t all wear the pants. I checked. You may picture white sand beaches and perfect days on this island, but this isn’t exactly true.

The beaches rocky and the weather is usually very windy, and I think I know why. It’s nature’s way of saying, “Go home!” because if it weren’t like this, everyone who went there would never ever leave. There are literally hundreds of staired walkways leading you up and down through the island’s only two cities. Most buildings are white, and if you stand at the right spot on the top of the island, you can get a 360 degree panoramic view that includes the nearby coastal cities of Napoli and Pompeii – which means Mount Vesuvius, too. I walked around the island for about four hours, and then we all sat at another oceanfront café, sipping more espresso – this time accompanied by glasses of Lemoncello – and chowing down on hand-tossed “frutti di mare.”

We found a nice lumpy spot on one of the rock beaches next and soaked in the sun and the fresh ocean air for an hour before catching the boat back to Amalfi. Talk about your perfect day.

I enjoyed a lot more fish, pizza, Lemoncello and, of course, espresso during my extended weekend – but if I wrote about all the wonder I experienced here, this would turn into a book. I suppose you will just have to find a way to get there yourself. I promise that it’s worth every penny you might spend getting there. The beauty is priceless.

Here is a short list of reasons to go to the Amalfi coast – that is, if you really need convincing:

• caught-that-day fresh-fried calamari

• pretty Italians with impossible tans

• seaside coffee

• salty breezes and sunny days

• snorkeling in a shady cove

• seaside anything

• I have to say it again: Lemoncello

• boat tours to ancient sea-made grottoes

• what will certainly be one of the best vacations you will ever have in your entire life, even if you live to be 103.

If you think that you don’t like the ocean, you probably haven’t been to this part of Italy. As soon as you go once, not only will you never want to leave, you’ll do everything you can to get back to the Amalfi coast again and again.

I know I will, even if it means I have to buy a yacht.

Note: If you’re poor, stay in a hostel. There are bunk beds and it may smell a wee bit moldy – especially by the sea – but ours was only 25 Euro a night. Besides, it’s not as though you’ll be spending any time there other than to sleep.

So get over the fancy soaps and private showers that you find in the upscale hotels and save your money for all the fresh fish you can handle.

Ciao, y’all.