Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Amalfi Coast

One weekend, my friends and I decided to head to the famous Amalfi Coast for a bit of rest and relaxation. We actually signed up for one of those planned excursions with a travel company. We started off on the island of Capri - a major retreat for celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Beyonce.

Fun fact: the fisherman on the island are credited with creating crop pants (e.g. capris). Capri pants are not the only fashion trend set in Capri. Jackie O made their made-to-order sandals popular as well.

Our weekend started off with a boat tour around the island. I loved feeling the ocean breeze in my hair. What a delight! On this tour, we passed through the island's famous stone arch (now featured in the Dolce & Gabanna fragrance advert). Supposedly, if you pass through it with your loved one, you love will be eternal:

We also stopped by the islands many grottos: the pink grotto (known for its pink choral); the green grotto (known for its emerald waters); and the blue grotto (one of Europe's 7 natural wonders). The blue grotto was, by far, the most stunning.

You have to hire a local fisherman to take a tiny little boat through a 4 ft by 6 ft opening to get inside the the blue grotto. All four of us crammed in the little boat. Meanwhile, our local fisherman guide started serenading us with Italian love songs as he paddled us over to the grotto. When we approached the tiny cave opening, our guide leaned way back, lying flat on top of us. We barely made it through the opening with the boat rocking back and forth from the current. Yikes! Once inside, you can see why it's called the blue grotto. The strong Mediterranean sun beats down through that tiny entrance, reflects off of the white sand ocean floor, and illuminates the entire grotto electric blue.

The rest of the day, we explored the island of Capri. We savored the breath taking vistas of Anacapri and touristy food shops (with ample opportunities to sample lemoncello, olive oil, and other Italian delicacies). One of my favorite side trips included a walk through the Giardini Augusto. I mean, look at those views:

We also enjoyed a few granitas after hoofing it from the harbor to the elevated city center of Capri. I don't think I've ever had anything so refreshing in my life! Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed walking along those cobblestone paths and through those gorgeous Mediterranean gardens, but it was h-o-t outside! I think the drink was so wonderful because they use the special lemons grown in that region of Italy:

Eventually, we made our way back to Sorrento where our hostel was located. The harbor there was also stunning (quelle surprise?). On our original bus ride into the city the night before, we passed by numerous 5 star resorts whose facilities clung to the cliff faces of south western Italy. At one point, I saw people night scuba diving! Their head lamps were lighting up streams of brilliant blue water in an otherwise inky black sea.

Anyway, after getting back to our hostel, we decompressed for a bit and eventually made our way into the city center for dinner. Somehow I ended up at this place (dance party!):

The next day we headed to the stunning seaside town of Positano where we enjoyed its black sand beaches:

My favorite part of the day, however, was our little excursion to go cliff jumping and cave swimming. It was so thrilling to work my way along the cliff ledge to jump from a 18 ft ledge into the Mediterranean waters below! I have to admit, I was shaking by the time I got to that part of the cliff face, but I also loved the thrill of it (so I kept going back for more jumps!)

And the cave swimming was phenomenal! We took this little boat out along the coast to a really remote cove. There, we all jumped right into the ocean and swam our way over to the pink coral lined caves. The water was so clear you could see the ocean floor 50 feet below.

On our last day along the Amalfi Coast, we made our way North towards Naples and visited Pompeii (!!!!!!). I can't tell you how many documentaries I've watched on the History Channel about Pompeii (thanks, Dad). So, as you can imagine, I was really excited to visit this historic place. Our tour guide was amazing - very knowledgeable and professional.

There were definitely moments during the tour, where I would stare up at Mount Vesuvius and wonder when that volcano would show the world its extreme fury once again. It was a very eerie presence -- one that just loomed there ominously in the background like the Lonely Mountain in the Hobbit (but, that didn't stop me from posing for a picture):

As I said before, our tour of Pompeii was amazing. The thing that struck me most was the size of the city. It's HUGE! I mean, there are hundreds of streets. I never realized how much of the city had been excavated. It held the thousands of tourists really well.

Our tour guide was nice to throw in a bit more history about food and markets in Pompeii. She took us around to three of the major food markets in the city -- one of which is located just off of the main square. The building is stunning with gorgeous frescoes of fresh meats and produce. This is also the place where I saw my first plaster mold of a person trapped in Pompeii:

After visiting the markets, we also visited the brothels, a Roman "fast food" place (where you can still see the sunken cooking fires), and the bath houses:

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