Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Day 11 - Positano - Ravello

Our day begins when we draw back the curtains from the door to our balcony to reveal a beautiful sunrise reflecting off the blue sea below. Our hotel, the albergo Le Sirenuse is built into the steep cliffs that rise from the ocean. In fact, the entire town, like the other towns that dot the Amalfi coast, is a series of steep terraces supporting structures that are stacked one atop the other, stepping back and up from the sea. Le Sirenuse consists of 60 rooms on six floors, and each room faces the sea, most with their own private balconies. The views are extraordinary.

After breakfast we take an exit from the floor marked -1 to a narrow, winding staircase cut into the hillside that leads down to Positano's duomo and beach for a stroll through town. After exploring the rocky beach we begin our ascent to the other side of town, up a series of stairs so steep that they surely keep the local cardiologist's kids in private school. When we reach the top, we begin walking back down toward town, stopping in a couple of excellent ceramics shops (the ceramics industry is big here along the coast, not just in Vietri Sul Mare, but also in Amalfi, Positano and Ravello). Two of our favorites are Elisir di Positano and Umberto Carro. In addition to a good display of fine ceramics, Elisir di Positano offers some other housewares. We are interested in purchasing a beautiful linen tablecloth and when it turns out that the only one in the size and pattern that we like is set on a table covered with hundreds of ceramics, the genial owner moves everything from the table to make our purchase possible. Umberto Carro features rustic looking (but extremely high quality) ceramics.

We then head along the coast, back to Amalfi and onward to Ravello, a town perched high (and I do mean high) above Amalfi. While the drive along the coast road is harrowing, the drive inland to Ravello is genuinely dangerous. In SAT terms the drive to Ravello is to the Amalfi coast road as Psycho is to Friday the 13th. It's the real deal.

Fifty years ago, John Steinbeck, writing for Harper's Bazaar wrote the following of Italian traffic:

"to an American, Italian traffic is at first just down-right nonsense. It seems hysterical, it follows no rule. You cannot figure what the driver ahead or behind or beside you is going to do next and he usually does it. But there are other hazards besides the driving technique. There are motor scooters, thousands of them, which buzz at you like mosquitoes. There is the tiny little automobile called "topolino" or "mouse" which hides in front of larger cars; there are gigantic trucks and tanks in which most of Italy's goods are moved; and finally there are assorted livestock, hay wagons, bicycles, lone horses and mules out for a stroll, and to top it all there are the pedestrians who walk blissfully on the highways never looking about. To give this madness more color, everyone blows the horn all the time."

Other than the livestock and wagons, Steinbeck's description holds true today, made even worse along the coast by its narrow winding character (once again, Steinbeck, "a road carefully designed to be a little narrower than two cars side by side. And on this road, the buses, the trucks, the motor scooters and the assorted livestock"). Buses are a particular problem, but it is the incomprehensible decision of the locals deciding to take their daily constitutional along coastal highway at night clad only in black that really throws us. Nonetheless, we manage to get to and from Positano without claiming a single casualty.

Ravello, the road to which narrows to a single lane for about half its length, is yet another gem. It is a small town, which can easily be covered by foot. We have lunch at the Ristorante Salvatore (via della Repubblica, 2) run by a congenial extended family. The glassed in dining room boasts one of the most spectacular views you can imagine. Perched high in the hills above the coast, it looks straight down on the Mediterranean and a number of coastal villages. It is an awe inspiring view and we agree that it would be a true experience to wake up to this view every morning.

After lunch we visit Pascal Ceramics (via della Repubblica, 41; tel. 089-858576). The store is run by Signor Pasquale Sorrentino, a gregarious veteran of over 20 years in the ceramics industry who travels tirelessly to bring the finest and, in our experience, broadest selection of hand painted Italian ceramics we have seen. Pascal is jammed with an extraordinarily broad selection of ceramics selected, commissioned, designed and produced by Signor Sorrentino. We spend several hours with Pasquale, increasing our knowledge about local and regional designs, various artists and their studios and the ceramics market. It is a fascinating meeting with an engaging expert and we leave having made a new friend.

We hop in our car and make our way back to Positano in the dark, thanking our stars for our safe return. Tomorrow we make our way toward Rome for our flight back to the U.S.

Ciao a presto!
Suzy and Bill

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