Monday, July 5, 2021

Amalfi Coast, Italy

The Amalfi Coast is our family's favorite vacation spot! The entire Amalfi Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage site! There are sooo many hidden gems here! Everywhere you look, the view is spectacular. There are 13 little towns that make up the entire Amalfi Coast, and so far we have always stayed in the town of Amalfi itself. On this trip, we stayed in Vietri sul Mare, just west of Salerno in southern Italy. It is the southern gateway to the Amalfi Coast, with Positano being the northern gateway.  The oceanfront neighborhood we stayed in is called Marina d'Albori.  We are almost 5,400 miles from home here. Vietri sul Mare is known for its beautiful tile and ceramics craftsmanship, a tradition in this town since at least the 15th century. 

Our AirBnB apartment was a former Benedictine Monk's home, on a secluded beach! At least it was practically secluded during the week, and we were there in June (High Season). We had two terraces that overlooked the beach. We were right on the Sorrento Peninsula, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, part of the Mediterranean Sea. 
You can see all the apartments available on this beach here.

Steep stairs on the mountainside
Check out the path (in pink) we had to take to get to the apartment! We parked in a paid private parking lot on the side of the road. Then we had to cross the (blind corner) street and walk down the steep mountainside with hundreds of stairs! It took us almost 10 minutes to walk down! The stairway zigzagged down the mountain to the coastline. We then walked over a small bridge to the apartment which was above a restaurant, located right on the beach! Be sure to only pack what you can carry for this stay. The owner advised us to just throw in a backpack only what we needed and leave the rest in the car. We did not want to leave anything unattended for fear of theft, so we carried it all down (and then back up.) Poor Brian. I had the excuse that I was still recovering from the fall in Switzerland, so I got to skip out on the luggage hauls. This walk was not an easy one for my hurting body. But the reward for the stairs is the turquoise clear water of the Amalfi coast. 
                                     Here is a sped-up video of the 9-minute walk from the road to the apartment. 
I really fell in love with this location. It felt secret, hidden away from the world. I started dreaming of the idea of buying the whole property, the three apartments and the restaurant. That is all that is down these stairs... and the intimate beach that is hidden by the mountains, in front of the clear Mediterranean waters. I would remodel them and move our parents here. Paradise. 
In Greek mythology, it is believed that the cliffs above the Tyrrhenian Sea housed the four winds kept by Aeolus. The winds are the Mistral from the Rhône valley, the Libeccio from the southwest, and the Sirocco and Ostro from the south.

The fishing industry here relies on large populations of sea bass, bluefin tuna, swordfish, and grouper. The northern area of the sea is protected as part of the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals, a marine reserve that also extends into the nearby Ligurian Sea. This marine reserve provides protection for a number of species, including long-finned pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins, sperm whales, and fin whales.

The Tyrrhenian Sea is situated near where the African, Eurasian and Adriatic tectonic plates meet; therefore mountain chains and active volcanoes, such as Mount Marsili are found underwater here as well as on land. Given its location over the boundary between two tectonic plates, the floor of the Tyrrhenian Sea is affected by significant volcanic activity. The Adriatic plate is sort of a northern spur of the African plate and is sliding underneath Italy. Mount Vesuvius is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years, it last erupted during World War II. Today, it is regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world because of the population of 3,000,000 people living near enough to be affected by an eruption, with 600,000 in the danger zone, making it the most densely populated volcanic region in the world, as well as its tendency towards violently explosive eruptions. For that reason, the Vesuvius Observatory monitors seismic activity, gas emissions and other indicators 24 hours a day to know at the earliest point when it may blow. And this is all happening at one of the most elite travel locations in the world. The good news here is that officials believe they will have between 14-20 days' notice of an imminent Vesuvius eruption. They will need to evacuate everyone in the red zone during that period, which does NOT include the Amalfi Coast. The red zone is the populated area that would bear the brunt of an ­eruption. Directly in the line of fire, the 9-mile radius of people stands little chance of survival when Vesuvius explodes again. Officials estimate dangerous burning ash and pumice could travel as far as 12 miles. The Amalfi Coast is 38 miles from Mount Vesuvius. The government is actually paying people $46,000 to relocate out of the red zone permanently. The locals tell us that the reason the flavors of food are just so much better here (it truly is!) is because of the volcanic ash in the soil. I have tried to grow my own tomatoes and basil at home using Italian seeds, and it was not the same. So I believe them. The magma in the soil is full of rich minerals enhancing the flavor of fruits, vegetables, herbs..anything grown in the soil. The region is known for its flavorful tomatoes, lemons, wines, and basil, as well as mozzarella. Obviously, the cheese is not grown in the soil, but it is so good, I could not leave it out.
The black cloud represents the general distribution of ash, pumice and cinders from the destruction of Pompeii. It certainly affected the Amalfi Coast, in front of the Gulf of Salerno. 
Matthew and the Angel (1661) by Rembrandt
Salerno is an ancient town officially founded in 197 BC. There is a Patron Saint of Salerno, Saint Matthew, also known as Matthew the Apostle, tax collector Levi, and Matthew the Evangelist. He was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus. He was also one of the four Evangelists. In Christian tradition, the Four Evangelists are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the authors attributed with the creation of the four Gospel accounts in the New Testament.  Matthew was one of the witnesses of the Ascension of Jesus. His tomb is located in the crypt of Salerno Cathedral. The area of what is now Salerno has been continuously settled since pre-historical times, as there have been discoveries of Neolithic remains! The area of Salerno has been inhabited since the Stone Age!! Some 850,000 years ago! Salerno is also home to the very first Medical School, in the world!  Schola Medica Salernitana is believed to have opened in 802. Salerno became famous for its healthy climate and became the place to go to see doctors. The fame was based on their practical, observational, and experimental knowledge of medicine and successful cures rather than from ancient books and learning, a concept that was brand new.
Salerno is in the center of a triangle nicknamed Tourist Triangle of the 3 P's. Pompeii, Paestum, and Positano are three of the area's main attractions. 
Casts of volcano victims
Pompeii was an ancient city located near Naples Italy. Pompeii was buried under 13 to 20 ft of volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Largely preserved under the ash, the excavated city offered a unique snapshot of Roman life, frozen at the moment it was buried. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When excavations of Pompeii began in the early 1800s, excavators noticed there were gaps in the ash around the bodies. By pouring plaster into the voids, excavators were able to preserve the final faces and poses of the people of Pompeii who were caught in the erupted volcano. 

The ruins of Paestum are three Greek temples dating from about 550 to 450 BC. They are three of the best-preserved ancient Greek temples in the world! Directly to the south of the archaeological site, is a popular seaside resort with long sandy beaches. The city was originally founded as Poseidonia. According to the historical tradition, the sanctuary of Poseidon was located here, after which the city would have been named. Poseidon was one of the Twelve Olympians in ancient Greek religion and myth. He was god of the sea, storms, earthquakes, and horses.
The third P of the Tourist Triangle is Positano. One look at this seaside town on the Amalfi Coast and you will understand why it is so visited. Seen from the sea, Positano is set in a dramatic vertical panorama of colors; the green of the Monti Lattari, the white, pink, and yellow of the Mediterranean houses; the silvery grey of its pebble beaches; and the blue of the sea.

Our typical routine on the day of arriving at a new destination is to go to a local grocery store. We went to nearby Salerno to go grocery shopping for the week. It is one of my favorite things to do, to explore each local grocer and find their specialties in that part of the country. We were thrilled to find a store that carried a stand-up fan finally! We purchased it to use for the remaining destinations. Europe does not do Air Conditioning like the US, and if they do, it is never as cool as we are used to. Although adding a huge fan to our already packed SUV was hard, it was so worth it! 
We enjoyed exploring all the streets of Salerno in the rain. Brian found a shop that produced their own local limoncello and was sure to buy a bottle. That is his favorite thing to buy from the Amalfi Coast. Their lemons are insanely flavorful and they are the size of cantaloupes! 
NO Briella! Do not push the fish's eyes in!
We visited Positano for the first time this trip. I could not imagine spending time in any other place besides Amalfi, but we are trying to expand our horizons and see more of the coast. We found a little place in Positano that said it was a paid parking lot. You hand them your keys and pay upon return. (*Almost) the entire time we were exploring Positano, I was worried that it was not a legit business and they were for sure going to steal our car. Lucky that was not the case and it was indeed an actual business, haha. 
                                     Can we just talk about the insanely gorgeous bougainvillea that is everywhere on the Amalfi Coast?! The vibrant pinks cannot be picked up by photos, it is something you have to see in person!
I said I was worried that our car was stolen *almost the whole time, that is because I accidentally got day drunk while exploring Positano. I am not a drinker, but it was so hot and the drinks looked SO good. And they were. So fruity and refreshing..and apparently pretty strong. I couldn't tell you which ones on the menu pictured above I had, but apparently I liked them so much I wanted to remember the ingredients. Maybe I had one of each! And we let the kids go crazy with expensive Gelato. It looks like it was worth it!
 We were hot and just wandered from the beach to the nearest restaurant with a view.  CAPRICCI has tables where you can sit and enjoy the sea and be in the middle of all the happenings. They serve fresh fish, a wide choice of fragrant pizzas, tasty delicacies, and gourmet sandwiches. They also have a takeaway window where you can order food to go. 
Briella is in her happy place when she has some sand....that kid LOVES sand!
Aubrey looking gorgeous in Positano
These photos were taken from our favorite hotel in Positano, Le Sirenuse. The views here are some of the best views in the entire world. You can see all of Positano here, as well as the sea. Heaven, this place is Heaven.
Video by Le Sirenuse
This glamourous cocktail bar is the thing dreams are made of. Lemon trees and vibrant Italian coastal vibes and views make this the hotspot of Positano. It is owned by Le Sirenuse, and just outside the hotel. I took this photo myself on an iPhone. Can you imagine how fantastic it would be in person if a phone picture looks this great?! This may be the best view in the world!
We made the trek back up the mountain to fetch the car. After a half-hour walk up the mountain in sandals, I needed a break. Brian continued up the mountain to fetch the car while the kids and I sought refuge from the sun in a church. I am not proud of this moment. Stumbling in from the hot Mediterranean sun, one too many drinks in me, to a church. But we made the best of it. I did enjoy the ancient church that was once a monastery, built in 1614. It was devastated by an earthquake in 1980 and was closed until 2006.
You can hear Briella sing a song she learned at VBS, The Fruit of the Spirit. Briella is singing quietly, she is not the child making all the noise in the background. Note the gelato all over her face still. Mom of the year award right here guys.       Positano did not disappoint!
We giggled every time we saw this sign. We called it the "No Trump allowed" sign. We loved this gentleman riding his bike in a suit jacket when it is so hot out. He is driving into oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road, on a blind curve! A true Italian. 

The road along The Costiera Amalfitana, or Amalfi Coast, is famous for its hairpin bends, zigzags, the views over the sea, and the narrowness. The road winds along the cliffs, and it was built at a very steep angle, so it zigzags backward and forward. You can see the breathtaking turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea crashing below. This white-knuckle thrill ride is one of Italy's greatest wonders, 30 miles of narrow, all of it is an S-curve roadway. The road is carved out of the side of the coastal cliffs, giving views down to the Tyrrhenian Sea and on the other side up to the cliffs above. It's one of the best coastal drives in the world. Be under no illusions, driving the road is one of the most stressful and dangerous things you will do in your life. In the states, it would be equivalent to a single lane, one-way road that makes S after S turns, but hanging off the side of a cliff.  You will see drivers attempt some things that will simply take your breath away. Crazy, lunatic things that are insanely risky. If you encounter an oncoming bus on a hairpin, remember the bus has to 'overshoot' the corner, so keep well back. On our first trip to the Amalfi Coast, we took a bus from Naples Airport to Sorrento, then had to switch busses and take a different bus to Amalfi. I was terrified on the bus. It literally looked like we were going off the cliff every turn for over an hour. The bus would honk, oncoming drivers would have to drive in reverse to give us room to make these horrifying turns, we even got to see what in my mind was a real mafia guy (exactly as they are shown in old school movies) throw down with another driver, in the middle of "rush hour." They really got out of their cars to fight, in the road, in already crazy backed-up traffic. I would choose that over the fear of gunfire road rage in the states all day long. So after our first experience driving the coast by bus, attempting it in an SUV felt manageable. I will also advise renting the smallest car you can if you plan on driving here, for parking, and just fitting on the road. I guess that is the reason you see so many Vespas and tiny Fiat 500s here. 

Take your own virtual tour of the coast here, using Google maps. I would advise to turn around and head North on the map to see the best views
We of course had to take the kids back to our favorite place ever, the five-star luxury-rated NH Collection Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi.  It is the most gorgeously stunning hotel I have ever stayed in. It is perched on top of a 263-foot cliff, built in the side of the mountain, above Amalfi. It was a 13th-century monastery, once home to Capuchin monks. It has the original 13th-century cloister still! (There is another cloister at the Duomo di Amalfi in town!) Parts of the building date back to the year 1212, although it wasn’t until 1583 that the government gave it to the Capuchin monks. They stayed for nearly three centuries, until 1826. It was then that the monastery first became a hotel. The "Great Grotto in the sea cliff" became a place of spiritual retreat for the monks.  Many legendary names have stayed here – from Victor Hugo, Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor to Greta Garbo. You can soak up the old-world charm and natural beauty as you take a stroll through the picturesque cloister, private chapel, fragrant lemon gardens and Walk of Monks. Passeggiata dei Monaci (Monks’ Walk), one of the most famous and most painted in the world. 
The top photo is the1st time here in 2012 
Just like Positano, the gorgeous neon pink bougainvillea flowers are everywhere and spectacular! The scent of them mixed with the salty sea air...ahhhhhhhh.
The NH Collection Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi serves a welcome drink on this gorgeous terrace
This was the first day I could smile since the fall in Switzerland. My face has been so swollen I was unable to move it. Here is me thankful to be alive and showing my swollen smile.
We swam in the infinity pool that overlooks the Sea. Insanely expensive yachts went by. Many with helicopters on top of them as well as a secondary boat on the yacht, a speed boat, for when they need to get off the yacht, they take the smaller boat to port. I can't imagine having to decide to leave my yacht by helicopter or another boat lol. I wish we would have got a picture of those, but we were enjoying the water. 
A pretty sailboat, as seen from the pool
After swimming, we decided to show the kids the lovely walk down through the mountain village of Amalfi that winds from the hotel to the center of town. The stairway is in the middle of homes that are built into the cliffs. Their across-the-street neighbors are just on the other side of a very narrow sidewalk. We are always sure to be quiet on this walk as not to disturb the residents. We do not want tourists to become an issue that detours the residents from allowing us to use this hidden pathway! We were SO excited to take the girls to our favorite pizza place in the world, L'Abside! We got a table outside and proceeded to order all of our favorites, a pizza for each person, bruschetta, and some limoncello for Brian. At the end of our meal a strong, windy afternoon storm hit out of nowhere. We were rushed inside the restaurant and the staff, who is all family, made the best of it offering the girls cookies. We had a bit of a wait for the rain to stop, as we were walking a ways back up the mountain to the hotel.                
I just love the antique picture frame hooks they use in the restaurant! 
When it is just the 2 of us, we like to sit at the table inside on the right, with the doors that open. Since the restaurant itself is small inside, we eat outside with the kids so we do not worry as much about the noise they make. From the table in the door on the right, Brian and I watched a local elderly woman, about 3 or 4 stories up, get her weekly groceries "delivered" to her by a rope, bucket, and pulley system! The grocer put all her items in the bucket and hoisted it up, she would 'reel' the bucket up to her so she did not have to come down all the stairs to shop. I asked the server about her. She sadly had passed away the year before, but she told us she did make a monthly trip down to pay all the local stores that she 'ordered' from, and was a lifetime resident of Amalfi, living into her 90s!

The next day was sunny and bright again. We enjoyed another infinity pool day, galavanting around the Cloister and gardens then visiting the town of Amalfi.
Really cool tiny doll-like village inside the church at the hotel 
The Cloister is just so stunning! I wish we were married here! Again, this is from the 1200s! Part of it was destroyed in an 1899 landslide. 
lemons, bougainvillea and sea air, Heaven!
Briella may have been conceived on this balcony above us, which was our balcony when we stayed here in 2012. I love how big she is "cheesing" outside the room we stayed in 2012. Haha. Can't wait to show her these when she is older. 
There is a wonderful walk you can take from the hotel down through the village of Amalfi. You are walking down a mountain, so just remember you will have to walk back up! We learned the hard way after gorging ourselves with pizza, bruschetta, wine & limoncello in '12.
This is my favorite door in the world. I have a thing for gorgeous doors, and this one just stays with me. The view, the color, everything. I love it. Can you see me on the stairs in the photo on the left? I wore this dress just to match this door.
Today we explored more of the actual center of Amalfi (the town itself, not the coastline.) It is full of shops and restaurants, and a historic cathedral that has another Cloister from the 1200s, as well as the remains of Saint Andrew! Andrew was the 1st of the 12 apostles of Jesus! He was at the last supper. We got to hang out with the remains of one of Jesus' best friends! 

We need to talk about this infinity pool again. It is literally carved into the mountain! Which is so perfect because it blocks you from the wind. Plus it makes for a stunning backdrop. This pool is literally cliffside. Could I use 'literally' anymore?
Briella splashing her Daddy haha
The views here at NH Collection Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi are priceless. I cannot wait to bring my parents here to show them one day. We were supposed to go with them in 2020, but, Covid. Special thanks to the hotel for letting us film here for 2 days!
Back to Vietri sul Mare and our beachfront apartment, we spent our last day on the Amalfi Coast as a beach day. We enjoyed the fresh fruit from the restaurant on our beach, and I enjoyed refreshing Spritzers, and again accidentally got tipsy. It seems to be a recurring problem for me on the Amalfi Coast. This time, since the beach is just right out front of our apartment, I was able to take a break from the sun and just run up to the apartment. I did some cleaning and packing, then came back down to the beach...but forgot the apartment keys. The owner of the apartments/restaurant had to use a ladder to climb up to our terrace and break into our apartment. I was too embarrassed to order another drink after that. There was also a Facebook live video taken during this event haha, thanks, Aubrey. 
Seashell hunting
On our last night on the Amalfi Coast, we decided we were really missing Mexican food. None of the grocery stores that we had been to in Europe had anything we needed to make our normal weekly Mexican night meals. We never found refried or black beans..nothing similar to use. After a lot of googling, we found that there was a Mexican restaurant in nearby Salerno, where we had been grocery shopping. It did not hit the spot, it was more of a Tex-Mex place, and definitely not the flavors we are custom to in the states. But it did have a good atmosphere with live music. We were able to sit in the backroom by ourselves. I prefer this in Europe so we do not have to be so worried about the kids being loud, and of course to have distance from people to stay healthy, so Briella does not have any respiratory issues on trips when we are far away from our local children's hospital. 

Here is a cocktail recipe to enjoy courtesy of Le Sirenuse:
Dolce Vita
Photo © Roberto Salomone
Named after a World War I artillery gun – because of the kick it supplies – the French 75 is a blend of Champagne, gin, lemon juice and sugar (and therefore a close relation of the Tom Collins, in which the champagne is replaced by soda water). In the Dolce Vita, the Champagne is replaced by Prosecco, the lemon juice by lime, while a dash of redcurrant juice (or pomegranate when it’s in season) adds color and a vitamin boost.  
 2oz gin 
.5oz lime juice (or just a splash more)
1oz redcurrant or pomegranate juice 
Prosecco for topping up 
Crushed ice 
Put the first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice cubes. Pour into a tumbler half filled with crushed ice. Top up with Prosecco, stir with a bar spoon – then sit back and enjoy.

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