Visiting the Amalfi coast has always been a dream of mine and I had been obsessed with the idea of spending some time there since I saw pictures of it in one of my mum’s travel brochures.
She and my Dad were pioneers of the travel industry in Wales and my first ever job was to stack the travel brochures on the shelves in one of the offices. I’d spend as much time reading about new places as I did actually doing my job, but seeing as I was only paid pennies for my work, I never saw it as slacking. Looking back, I guess you could say that’s where my obsession with travel began.
Sylvie started Googling “self catering apartments on the Amalfi coast” and we found an awesome site which specialised in privately owned self-catering apartments. In true Italian style it was completely out dated, but it had charm and a sense of character. We found a little one bed apartment that had a terrace over-looking the ocean and views of the Island of Capri, and amazingly, because we were completely out of season, it was only 300 euros for a week! Within a couple of minutes it was booked.
Flying into Naples
We landed in a very rainy Naples, where, after a quick cappuccino, I called Mrs Gemma. She literally didn’t speak a lick of English and as I stood in the cold and rain, my heart sank. Was this all just an elaborate scam? The site did look a little bit amateur and it was exceptionally cheap. I clutched at straws and began to speak in Spanish (apparently it’s very similar to Italian). I understood every other word of her Italian and hoped she would understand my Spanish – she did. We were back in business. I worked out that she was asking me where I was and I told her that we were “en el estacion de autobus” – at the bus station – and she told me to get a local bus to Hotel Esmeralda in Praiano. How on earth does she normally deal with her guests without speaking English?
Rain, Teenagers and Travel Sickness…
We got on a tiny blue local bus, called a “SITA” bus, which was jam-packed with teenagers on their way home from school. They were loud and obnoxious and paid no attention to us tourists, you could see they were used to being invaded by pesky foreigners and continued singing, shouting to each other from opposite ends of the bus and kissing – it was like being back in Spain all over again.
The views through the steamy windows were amazing and we got glimpses of the bright turquoise ocean. The road hugged the cliff and snaked in and out of every peak and trough. One side was covered in lush-green plants and looked like an island from Jurassic Park , the other side was a 100m sheer drop down to the sea. We both got awful travel sickness, but the thought of our bus slipping into the water struck me as being a decent way to go. Anything would have been better than the dizziness!
I had just started to look for a bag to throw up in when the little SITA bus stopped and the driver got up and shouted “thisah eezzah Preeannnooh. Stopaaah hereaaa foraaa otel Esmareldaa”.
Dazed, exhausted, hungry and thirsty – we had made it. Just. I banged on the door and a woman answered with a high pitched “Ciao!”. It was a restaurant and there was nobody inside except for a waitress and a little girl. Thinking back, I never saw anybody else in that restaurant, just the waitress and the little girl. Anyway, I asked if she was “Mrs Gemma” and she said “No, No, buttaaa waitaaa hereaa”. The rain was beginning to get through my clothes and I was starting to lose my patience.
A middle aged woman came, she seemed a little shy but offered me her umbrella and we continued to converse in Spanish. Sylvie’s Spanish is fluent so I let them chat shop. Mrs Gemma showed us the ins and outs of the beautiful flat, every surface was tiled in 1960s high-fashion, each wall with a different crazy design. The flat was called Casa Farfalla and, despite its outdated decor, I instantly fell in love with it. Mrs Gemma brought us a bottle of local sparkling wine and a bowl of lemons, which had been picked locally, it was all very charming and we laughed at how different it all was from London. It was our first taste of the Dolce Vita and I relaxed knowing that, finally, we’d found paradise.
Like I do every time I stay in a new place, I checked out the views from every window. It was still raining but it really didn’t matter, it was still the most beautiful view I’d ever seen. We strolled through the village of Praiano, it’s not really a place for tourists and we stood out like sore thumbs. There were one or two little restaurants, one little supermarket, and a little bar where about 90% of the local population hung-out, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Children chased little dogs and fed them their ice-creams. It was how you’d imagine village life to be in rural Italy. Peaceful, quiet, un-eventful.
Tired and exhausted we spent the evening eating a massive pizza and sipping on some local red wine, preparing ourselves for a week of Italian adventures on the Amalfi Coast – And, Mama-mia, did we have a lot to look forward to!