Thursday, September 29, 2011

Amazing Amalfi

Can you see the slim, ribbon of road hugging the cliff?
We had only a few days to explore the Campania region, and that had to include a trip down the Amalfi Coast. The coastal part of the drive begins after a little over half an hour of freeway driving from our house, and each time we make the drive, I'm stunned anew. The Amalfi Coast drive is consistently listed as a must-do, beautiful, harrowing, breathtaking trip. I would say the first half is quite pleasant, with a wide, well-paved road and plenty of room for your car and the mega-buses that swarm the region to pass one another. East of Positano, things take a turn for the worse - sharper curves, smaller road, seemingly more buses. There's nothing to do but grip that wheel and stomp on the gas pedal.

We always take our guests to Positano. It's far enough along the drive to get a feel for the entire drive, there are parking lots for the cars, pretty little shops for the tourists, clean-clean-clean town (!), and a few restaurant options on the beach. All in all, a beautiful stop. There are several other nice, pretty stops, but our favorite has been Positano. Uncle Ted and Aunt Lisa were interested in doing something I hadn't done before, so we headed to the actual town of Amalfi, a place I've really wanted to visit but instead, have only driven through numerous times, each time catching a glimpse of a gorgeous, yellow and green tiled Duomo tower. We parked right at the waterfront - lucky break finding a spot, and then about half an hour (okay, 14 minutes, but it was hot and felt like half an hour) spent in search of a parking meter pay machine that worked AND would take bills, not just coins. A little travel note for those visiting Amalfi: There is a new parking garage on the edge of town. It's on the east side of town, so coming from the western part of the coastal drive, go through the busy waterfront area and head out of town to see it on the left.

Amalfi is well worth the trip. I think Positano will remain my favorite due to a relaxing week spent there years and years ago (past memory association can be a powerful thing), but Amalfi has a more down to earth, Italian village feel. It's busy, it's full of tourists and businesses that cater to the tourists, but the buildings look like you expect an Italian village to look, with some crumbling, some peeling paint, some places that don't look so picturesque unless you're in a place like Amalfi, at which point it becomes picturesque mainly because of the Italian experience. Amalfi has the feel of a place where real people live their lives rather than a sterile, tourist only town.

And Amalfi takes the prize for most fabulous Duomo. Climb up the beautiful steps to a columned arcade and watch the play of light against the back wall, pay your bargain entry fee of 3euro and visit a quiet, serene cloister with it's arches reminiscent of Moorish designs, then head over to the small but lovely museum, holding such items as a 14th century, wooden Madonna and child, a 12th century, gold leafed and gemstone encrusted chalice, a large, carved silver altarfront from the 1700s, and an emerald and diamond cross, then go downstairs to the Crypt that looks like a fresco fantasy land and peer through the back of the altar to the place where the purported skull of the Apostle Andrew is kept (you only see a covered up hole, not the actual skull), and finally, back up to the gorgeous, tranquil cathedral that seems understated after spending time in the heavily decorated crypt. The history of the Duomo is astonishing in that the first basilica (what is now the museum) was built in 596 A.D. We almost didn't visit the Duomo due to the lateness of the hour and our parking ticket had run out. Thankfully, we decided to extend our Amalfi visit and get a new parking ticket (just in time, too - I reached the car as the parking police was about two cars away from mine with clipboard in hand) because to miss the Duomo would have been to miss Amalfi town.
Stealing Uncle Ted's caption: The Altar of the Air Condition

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