Monday, February 2, 2004

Day 10 - Catania - Naples - Vietri Sul Mare - Amalfi - Positano

Day 11 begins nearly the moment Day 10 ends, as we rise at 5am for a flight from Catania to Naples. We have stayed up late, unsuccessfully attempting to find a television broadcast of the Super Bowl. CNN is broadcasting the final score on its crawl at the bottom of screen as we check out of the hotel, satisfying our curiosity.

Our flight is uneventful, but we are again reminded how cheaply you can fly internally on one of the low cost airlines serving Italy. This flight is on Alpi Eagles, with a ticket purchased on the internet. We note, however, that nearly every flight on the tarmac at Catania's Fonanarossa Airport is a low cost carrier airline.

After an hour flight we arrive at Naples airport, quickly get our rental car and just as quickly head to the autostrada for our one hour drive to Vietri Sul Mare. Vietri Sul Mare, a tiny hamlet on the Amalfi coast, is famous for its ceramics that have been popularized by the North Carolina-based Vietri Inc. While ceramics from Vietri Sul Mar run the gamut from classical patterns to whimsical ones, Vietri (the American importer) has popularized a line of patterns featuring childlike versions of animals in vibrant colors. We spend several hours in a number of ceramics shops perusing their offerings. We had heard so much about Vietri ceramics and were excited to see them. The numerous shops display subtle variations on the standard themes and they do not disappoint.

Vietri Sul Mare is near the south end of the costiera Amalfitana (the Amalfi coast), a picturesque and very windy coastal drive that wends its way from Salerno to Naples. The coastal road rises high into the cliffs that plunge steeply down to the dazzlingly blue Mediterranean and then as quickly drops to beach level. A narrow, two lane road, bounded on one side by cliffs and the other by a cement guard rail that prevents you from plunging into the ocean far below, driving is slow and deliberate. At many of the hundreds of switchbacks you have to come to a complete stop to allow oncoming traffic (including buses) to pass by. A number of tiny villages dot the coastal road along the way.

We stop in Amalfi, the town for which the coastal road is named. Although it is off season (even though the weather this February day is a beautiful, sunny 60 degrees, late January and February are extremely off season) and most hotels and restaurants are shut down, there is a good deal of activity in and around the main piazza near the city's beautifully decorated duomo.

Unable to find an open restaurant (other than a fast food pizza place), we press on and stop at Praiano, a small cliffside town between Amalfi and Positano. Parking in any of the coastal towns can be a challenge and Praiano is no exception. We park just outside of town along the side of the road, against the cliff and partially jutting into traffic and begin a treacherous walk back into town. The town appears to be shut down tight as a drum when we are fortunate enough to spy the Ristorante San Gennaro (via G. Capriglione 99, tel. 089-874293). We get a table outside, overlooking the sea and are the only patrons for the first hour, when a lone biker arrives. Basking in the warm sun, overlooking the Mediterranean and enjoying a mixed seafood grill is a wonderful experience.

We finish lunch and press on to Positano, which is about ten minutes from Praiano, to our hotel, Le Sirenuse, one of the great resort hotels in Italy. The hotel has just reopened today after routine maintenance, and we are part of a handful of guests at the hotel. Despite the low season, we are treated royally and are shown to our room with a small terrace overlooking the beach and ocean. It is a majestic setting and a perfect place to unwind and enjoy Italian hospitality.

We hope to do just that and will report our findings to you. Until then

Ciao a presto!
Suzy and Bill

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