DM and MM's Italy Trip Diary

Day 15 - Perugia to Positano

Sunday, 13 May, 2001

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We had to start early today in order to catch our first train on the lang haul to Positano. We woke at 07:00, packed our bags, and checked out of the hotel. Breakfast was not included with the room, which gave us the chance to seek some out for ourselves. We walked up the hill towards Piazza Italia to catch the bus to Stazione Perugia Fontevegge. We had a small wait until the first service of the day at 08:00 (the timetable being fairly sparse because it was a Sunday).

Once on the bus, we settled in for another spectacular ride down the hill on the winding switchbacked streets of Perugia, with marvellous views laid out all around. I was keeping an eye out for our stop, expecting the bus to approach from the direction we'd seen them come from yesterday, and do a circuit of the piazza in front of the station before stopping, giving us plenty of time to detect the right stop and press the button to stop the bus. The route however took us through unfamiliar streets and we finally approached the station from the opposite direction and stopped under a building across the road, from where it was not clear we were at the right place. I asked a passenger quickly, who confirmed this was the stop for the station, and we climbed off rapidly. We needn't have bothered rushing, since the bus hung around at the stop at least as long as it took us to cross the square to the station.

We entered the station bar to get some breakfast, picking up a croissant and cappuccino for Michelle and a toasted cheese and meat sandwich for me. After eating these we noticed a large poster covered with different sorts of pastries, labelled with their names in Italian. Being still a bit peckish, we chose a bigne con zabaione for Michelle and a baba di rum for me. I'd never had a rum baba before, so wasn't sure what to expect. It was basically a long skinny muffin, soaked in rum (or rum flavouring), until it was like a sopping wet sponge. Quite tasty actually. Michelle's pastry was basically a thin shell surrounding a great big blob of custard.

Our stomachs attended to, we worked out what platform our train to Foligno was leaving from and took the sottopassagio under the tracks to reach it. We had about half an hour to wait, which passed eventlessly.

Finally our train pulled in on time at 09:25 and we climbed aboard. Like yesterday, this local train was mostly empty. There were a few floating motes of the dandelion-like seeds, but not nearly as many as yesterday. The journey took us through more beautiful Umbrian countryside until we reached the town of Foligno where we had to change for an inter-regional train for Rome.

We had a 45 minute wait at Foligno, and while waiting on the platform we witnessed the Miracle of the Mad Nun of Foligno. An old nun started using the public phone near where we were standing and spoke into it in a rapid stream of non-stop Italian for about 20 minutes, feeding new coins into the phone every minute or so. She didn't appear to stop once to actually listen to anything the person on the other end might be saying and indeed didn't even have the earpiece anywhere near her ear - it was more like over her eye. As she spoke she continually punched the air with a stabbing hand motion in front of her every so often to make a particularly emphatic point. She must have been delivering a nasty curse of some sort, using her evil eye. Eventually she hung up and walked off to wait for the train.

The Rome-bound train pulled in and we climbed aboard, expecting it might be difficult to find seats and finding this to be the case, since the train had originated at some other station. We managed to find two separate seats, facing backwards, on opposite sides of the carriage, and two rows apart. In the group of seats opposite me was a woman with a dog, who seemed to have a seat of his own since when people asked the woman if the seat next to her was free she would say something that conveyed the impression that it was for the dog. It was a nice-looking golden brown dog of medium size - not sure what breed, but it was well-behaved and sat quietly except for one point when the train passed a town and a dog outside barked. At that point it let out a few good loud barks until the woman shushed it.

We finally arrived at Roma Termini at close to 13:00, eight days after we'd left it for Milan. We had a wait of close to an hour for our next train, which was a Eurostar service to Reggio di Calabria, which we were taking only as far as Salerno. The toilets at Termini cost LIT1,000 to use, a fee which we both gladly paid since it had been several hours since we'd left the hotel in Perugia. I also stopped in at our usual supermarket there to buy some goods for lunch and supplies of a few things we were running short of such as tissues and band-aids for our blistered feet. I was rather hungry, so some Kit-Kats and Pringles found their way into the shopping basket.

By the time I returned from the supermarket, our train had been assigned a platform number and a promising looking Eurostar train was waiting there. We loaded up our bags and boarded, finding our seats (actually adjacent this time instead of facing each other) amidst a large crowd of people trying to do the same. My backpack wouldn't fit into the overhead luggage space this time so I stowed it at the end of the carriage. The train was different to the other Eurostar we'd caught to Milan, and I suspected the overhead racks were smaller. The table design was also different and the seating room seemed a bit smaller, but maybe that was just because we had so many other bags of stuff with us this time.

We were seated opposite an old Italian couple. The man by the window tried to pull the window shade down since the sun was shining hotly into it, but it wouldn't stay down. Knowing from the previous Eurostar that the blind was operated by buttons which didn't work until the train had been powered up, I tried to explain this to him, unsuccessfully I think. In the end he pulled the blind down and jammed it that way with a newspaper.

Before we had time to really settle in, the train started moving and we were on our way south of Rome for the first time! We passed long stretches of sea coast, giving us our first glimpse of the Mediterranean since arriving in Italy. We ate bread rolls with nothing on them and fruit for lunch. A little under two hours later we were arriving at Napoli, passing through underground tunnels under the main centre of the city to Stazione Garibaldi. The stop was for several minutes and some carabinieri officers got on board, one having a seat mix-up with the old couple facing us since the man had swapped seats with someone on the other side of the carriage to be next to his wife, someone who had left the train and whose seat was now assigned to the officer.

After leaving Napoli's main station we passed through a long string of suburbs which reminded us of the dinginess of Rome's suburbs, very old apartment buildings which looked rather run down, stacked side by side. The train ran along the waterfront for some time, giving us our first glimpse of Mount Vesuvius, hanging over the city with its looming volcanic threat. We must have passed through Ercolano, the modern suburb near ancient Herculaneum, and we saw the sign for Pompeii station.

A bit later we stopped at Salerno, where we got off to catch the bus to Positano. I bought two bus tickets, asking the man at the tabacchi for tickets to Positano. I believe he said he could only give us tickets as far as Amalfi, and we had to change buses there. He said to catch the blue bus leaving at 16:30, which gave us 8 minutes. Following the directions in our Lonely Planet, we walked over to Piazza della Concordia, which it said was where the buses for the Amalfi Coast departed. We got there and saw a blue bus, with the destination lights spelling "Salerno". Thinking this would be it, as soon as the driver switched the sign over, I asked him, but got a negative response and the instruction that the Amalfi bus left from the train station! We raced back there, hoping we wouldn't miss it, since they only run hourly. We got there a minute late, but hadn't seen any blue buses as we'd approached, so hoped it was just running a bit late. One blue bus with a cryptic destination sign came and left again without so much as stopping, before another blue bus saying "Amalfi" arrived. We loaded our bags on, with a group of other people heading the same way, and settled in for what we thought would be a 20 minute or so journey...

Town of Cetara, on the way from Salerno to Amalfi (Salerno is visible in the background)

That bus trip was amazing. Firstly, the views of the coastline, with rugged cliffs, small towns clinging to them, sweeping vistas across the bay, boats, beaches, it was all marvellous. Then there was the road itself. Narrow, precarious, and incredibly winding, we couldn't have got up speed to much more than about 30 km/h even if there had been no other traffic. But there was. On a road with numerous blind hairpin corners and which often was not wide enough for two cars to pass, let alone a bus and a car or, worse, two buses, our journey the 20 kilometres to Amalfi took just over two hours. At one point traffic in both directions came to a complete halt as people standing on the road became amateur traffic directors helping our bus and a large tourist coach negotiate their ways past each other, followed by long retinues of cars and motorcycles stuck behind it all. Several times we stopped to let cars and bikes overtake, which they did so with a view of the opposite lane ahead no more than about 10 metres. Our bus driver honked the horn whenever he came to a blind corner, to warn oncoming traffic that a bus was approaching.

Passing through Cetara
Another view of Cetara, from the bus

On the bus with us was an American couple also on the way to Positano, who were amazed like us at the road and the traffic. Towards Amalfi they asked us if we knew which stop to get off at, and I answered that it was the final stop. They knew they had to change buses, and said they had tickets for the journey all the way to Positano. I said our tickets were only as far as Amalfi and the bus driver had confirmed this when we got on. Comparing the prices we'd paid made it clear our tickets were for a lesser distance than theirs. So someone must have sold them tickets all the way to Positano when for some reason the guy who sold me ours didn't.

Finally we arrived in Amalfi, where a bus for Sorrento (stopping at Positano on the way) was waiting. Not wanting to miss it, we loaded our bags on board and Michelle waited by the door while I raced across the road to buy tickets to Positano. When I got back she was on board, but had told the bus driver to wait for me. He pulled out as soon as I climbed on.

Positano was another 20 kilometres past Amalfi, but this time the distance took us a mere half hour. The traffic seemed less and we didn't have any major hold ups with it. The American couple were sitting directly behind us and discussing how they would know what stop to get off at for their hotel. Their guide book had complete directions and they knew they wanted the second stop in Positano, the same stop we wanted judging from our Lonely Planet map. We indeed got off at the same place and wished each other luck finding our respective hotels amongst the tiny town's twisting and steeply sloped streets.

Hotel Il Gabbiano, Positano
Hotel Il Gabbiano, Positano

We walked down Viale Pasitea and found Hotel Il Gabbiano without too much trouble. After checking in we were shown to our room, down three flights of stairs. We walked in and found a balcony with a magnificent view overlooking the town and sea. Something to make the long trip here worthwhile.

We were both hungry so set out immediately in search of food. The speciality of the Campanian region is pizza, so we headed to a nearby pizza restaurant called Il Saraceno d'Oro. We ordered antipasto della casa, followed by pizze quattro formaggi e capricciosa. All very good, and very filling! The prices were moderate and the menu looked interesting, so we may go back there again.

Amalfi Coast sunset
Sunset view of Positano from the balcony of Hotel Il Gabbiano

After dinner it was a walk up the hill again to our hotel. I took a quick photo off the balcony of the bay and the lights of Positano in the fading dusk, then we went in and retired for the night.

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