Two Weeks Of La Dolce Vita ↣ Part 2
Updated: Apr 7, 2020
Rome ↣ Naples ↣ Amalfi Coast
From Rome to Naples...but just for a quick pizza!
After Rome, our next destination was Sorrento - but of course we had to stop in Naples to have the best pizza of our lives first, @ Pizzeria Popolo. We ordered a pie each, and the Neapolitan pizza did not disappoint. It was the perfect medley: insanely fresh San Marzano tomatoes picked near Vesuvius' rich plains combined with gooey mozzarella Campana. Served piping hot from the wood fired oven, chewy yet crisped to perfection. There wasn't a piece left on our plates - and we seriously considered getting a third pie to go
The Amalfi Coast: When it's your first time driving in Italy, d(r)ive right in!
Luckily, I had experience driving a manual car - but, it had been years. I was in a country where the roads had no rules, no signs and drivers showed no sympathy. I had no choice but to at least pretend I knew what I was doing. Never one to shy away from a challenge, starting from the south we embarked towards thirty miles of hairpin turns. Barely enough room for two Fiats to pass each other, motorcycles zipped down the center, daredevils satisfying their need for speed, but also businessmen in suits -- just another day, another commute. Some turns had mirrors, some cliffs had guardrails, some didn't -- the inconstancy was unsurprising at this point.
All of a sudden we were trapped behind a Greyhound tour bus. It was stuck going around a narrow curve, cars in each direction impatiently waiting to get by. Tourists got more than they paid for, snapping away at the comical situation while they should have been shooting the coast. It was hard to feel sorry for the driver - surely, this must happen daily? Suddenly, he stepped off the bus, onto the street and was directing traffic. Phyl and I looked at each other, laughing hysterically. "Only in Italy!" we exclaimed for the umpteenth time in just 6 days. My foot resting with the parking break jerked up, it took twenty minutes for cars to back up enough and let the bus pass. There were a few more close calls after that, but eventually I passed the bus. Windows down, the salty breeze blowing through the car, we cruised on towards Positano.
The drive was just as breathtaking as people say. Our initial worry about a getting a late start for the drive was moot. Sunset was the perfect time - the crowds of midday had long gone and every turn we rounded greeted us with an ever changing sky. The setting sun's light over the sea led to me pulling over every five minutes to snap away - no easy feat on such narrow roads, but as a photographer I've learned to jump on the chance for those perfect shots.
That night, we'd reserved dinner at Tavernallegra in Sorrento. A tiny place hidden down a cobblestone path, we were warmly greeted by the owner. In broken English she explained each fish displayed and what our options were for dinner. As I ate a heaping assortment of shellfish cooked in a buttery red sauce, a man strummed his guitar in the corner, singing classic Italian tunes. Soon others joined in with tambourines, and the wine was flowing yet again. We ate, clapped and sang with the other patrons merrily through the end of the night.
A feeling of awe and appreciation came over me as I drove up yet another winding road towards our hilltop hotel in Sorrento. Blinding rain poured down, turning the streets we struggled to climb into rapidly flowing rivers. Lighting burst through the sky and thunder roared, reminding us that centuries after the devastating volcanic eruption, we were still under Mother Nature's hold -- and always will be. Our charming old hotel perched upon the cliff may have lost power, but our adventure had me electrified!
Pompeii and the monster that destroyed it
I was drawn to the Campania region; it was magical to me. Wealthy Romans' villas that dotted the sunny coast destroyed instantaneously by the explosion of a mountain that they looked upon daily. Now it's thriving with life everywhere you look, the sea and soil bountiful.
Pompeii was enormous; between the villas, temples, shops, brothel and baths I was astonished by how developed the ancient city was. I was fascinated by the extent of what was left, the preservation of artifacts, structures, roads, bodies - even food!
Vesuvius was ever present, looming in the distance, like a dangerous animal that could pounce on its prey at any time. Its height and girth so enormous after its many eruptions. The bumpy ride up the volcano yielded nutrient-rich lush greens as far as the eye could see. The dramatic history here was very much present!
Diving the Ruins of Baiae
An avid diver, I naturally researched scuba opportunities in Italy before my trip. I stumbled upon the most unique dive opportunity I'd seen yet - the chance to explore a submerged city in the Bay of Naples. Built over hot springs, dubbed as the Vegas of its time, Baiae sunk around 1500 due to volcanic activity in the region. It was only discovered in the 1950s when ships' anchors unknowingly pulled up treasures from the hidden city below.
Our first dive was the underwater Nymphaeum, and while the statues are duplicates (the real deal is displayed in the nearby museum perched on a cliff) they were positioned exactly as they were found. All other remains left behind are authentic, from the buildings to the roads, to the marbled floors and the various tiled mosaics at our second dive site, Villa Protiro. Dozens of buildings and roads remain partially constructed, but it's obvious the sea has taken over this ancient civilization, with flora and shellfish clinging to the structures. Curious fish scope out the fumaroles, still spewing gaseous bubbles after all these centuries.
As I took it all in through my mask I understood what drew the Romans to this resort destination -- the very same natural hot springs phenomenon that was ultimately responsible for its demise.