The Italian Policemen’s Holiday

Meeting Americans in Cabs
When waiting for buses in Amalfi, befriend an American couple and eventually you can all share a cab to where you’re going because, believe me, the bus will either not arrive or will be full of pushy smelly tourists. This is the best advice I can give on getting to and from Ravello.

There was an awful storm last night. The thunder and lightening was directly overhead. We both awoke then gradually fell back to sleep.

We had decided last night to visit Ravello, a town above Amalfi and in order to try and avoid the crowds, we planned to catch the early ferry. When we arrived at the Marina Piccolo there was a heaving mass of humanity waiting for transportation and it was with sinking heart that we assumed it was for Amalfi. Then the word spread. Joyous news! It was for Crapi! A massive liner of a ferry docked and about a million tourists were gobbled up by the huge opening at the front. The one where cars usually go for cross channel trips.

Our Metro Mare ferry was about half full and very comfortable. The trip to Amalfi was comfortable and pretty much non-eventful except for the poor Japanese boy. I saw him at the ticket booth back at Sorrento. He had a push bike and a pack and was trying to work out how to buy tickets for the ferry. Then, as we waited for the ferry, he asked me to take his photo (an amazing camera he had too) and later, on the ferry, he took about half an hour before he could leave his bike to go for a wander and actually look around the boat. Didn’t see him get off at Amalfi but assume his legs are going to be very strong by the time he’s finished pedalling.

At Amalfi we searched for the bus to Ravello. According to the Lonely Planet Guide there is one every hour. I guess everyone wanted to go to Ravello as there were heaps of people waiting for the bus and even more gradually joined the mass that was not a queue.

Mirinda started chatting to an American couple from Southern California. Eventually, when the mass started heaving, Mirinda decided to check out the taxi situation. Given a reasonable price, she asked if the couple fancied sharing and they agreed. There followed a very pleasant drive up to Ravello.

Let me describe the ferry port at Amalfi. It is a harbour and dock, the roads are very narrow…all three of them. Traffic barely fits on the roads and yet they are packed solid with local buses, mammoth tourist buses, cars, taxis, scooters and various forms of foreign lunatics. It is frightening.

So, needless to say, the taxi crawled for the first kilometre, through the long tunnel and around the thin bends. When we turned off the coast ‘track’ and started up the hill, the traffic suddenly vanished and the rest of the trip was great.

At Ravello, we parted ways with our American chums (they have recently retired and are in Italy for a month) and sat down at the most amazingly positioned terrace café I think I’ve ever sipped coffee in. Ravello is very high up with the coastline spread out beneath, the small town of Malori looking like a Lilliput Village.

Ravello was a very prosperous spot in the 13th century. It’s success and wealth came from trade but it didn’t last long and as Amalfi’s might and prosperity grew so Ravello’s dwindled. Its population went from a happy 36,000 to a miserable 2,500. Now, however, it has become the aristocrat of the Amalfi coast. Celebrities go there and frolic amid the pedestrianised piazza at the centre. Actually we didn’t see any but Gore Vidal lived there, DH Lawrence scribbled there, Virginia Woolf was miserable there and Wagner composed part of Parsifal in the Villa Rufolo. And that is to name but a few.

Tower in Ravello

As you leave the terrace café you stroll down an particularly unappealing tunnel, lined with cars and with a narrow footpath. At the other end is the town. No cars are allowed within it – this is FANTASTIC. You first pass by the Villa Rufolo and then you are in the centre piazza, surrounded by eateries, souvenir shops and the Duomo. Although it started to ‘crowd up’ it was very beautiful.

We went for a short stroll down one of the small alleys (a road in Ravello) and found a church. From the outside it appears quite new and the inside is all fresh, plain plasterwork but the floor is dotted with glass panels at the base of the columns that support the roof, showing the old foundations. There was nothing to indicate what church it was and why the foundations were on show so we had a walk around then left. Still, it was very peaceful – just a bit odd.

Mirinda in church

One thing that Ravello does well is ceramics. We had been looking for something special to buy from this trip and in Ravello we found it. From the biggest ceramic shop in the whole of Campania (I reckon) we purchased a tile to go outside the house, an olive bowl with seed bit attached and a small version of the fountain Mirinda wanted to put in our dining room (that will be along with the massive fresco of The Mysteries I’m assuming). There were lots of lovely bright Italian stuff and we could have bought out the shop but my back pack wasn’t big enough so we sadly (and gladly) left for lunch.

While sitting at a café negotiating a panini and a beer, the cathedral doors opened and a wedding appeared. It was all very perfect. The bride looked radiant (as brides should) the groom was wandering around looking like he had nothing to do (like grooms do). It was all great fun pulling apart all the outfits worn by the guests from the perfect outfit of the mother of the bride (we presumed) to the VPL of one of the guests who I’m sure thought she was the height of fashion in her white trouser suit but hadn’t seen it from behind. It was a lot of fun.

Wedding - not ours

After the wedding we wandered over to the Cathedral to see if we could get a gander inside. Normally churches close after midday in Italy so we thought ourselves very lucky when we spied an open door. We managed to tour the entire building before some sharp looking guy told us we weren’t supposed to be in there – only sharp LOOKING then!

It’s a lovely church (didn’t you just know I was going to say that) founded in 1086 and is dedicated to St Pantaleone, Ravello’s patron saint. In fact there’s a vial of his blood held beneath his painting. A sign instructs you to walk behind and gaze upon this most remarkable of religious relics – it turns to liquid on the saint’s day every year and remains that way for a month. I looked and it just looked like a big glass of gloop.

The most amazing thing in the cathedral is the pulpit. It looks a bit like the Taj Mahal, according to Mirinda, with lots of inlaid bits of gold and silver. It truly is an amazing bit of furniture. Opposite it stands a smaller pulpit with a mosaic of Jonah and whale on the front. I was also taken aback by the slope of the floor. It was a great battle to walk up the aisle but coming down was a veritable breeze. Must be an angle of around 30° in there.

Jonah exits whale

After being kicked out of the cathedral we wandered over to the Villa Rufolo to inspect the gardens. These are very famous gardens, which started life after 1851 when Scotsman Francis Reid decided to do some weeding. By the time that Wagner visited in 1880 it was perfect for his half written opera so he composed away to such an extent that every year they hold a concert in his honour with the orchestra perched on a scaffold hanging precariously over a precipice. We know, we saw them building it and very precipitous it was too!

Mirinda was very impressed with the layout of the place but felt the actual plants were a bit dull and their layout, Victorian. The main building was well used – it’s part of the original 13th century tower – and a lot of different seats were scattered round taking full advantage of the many views. I agree that the ‘rooms’ were excellent. It was actually reasonably priced as well!

Mirinda in the garden

After the garden we wandered back down the ugly tunnel only to find our American friends. They claimed a bus was due but, as the crowd around us grew larger and more and more people arrived for the Wagner concert (for it was tonight), it was looking grim. Mirinda once more decided we’d waited long enough – we did want to catch the early ferry back to Sorrento which meant getting out of Ravello pretty quick – and asked if anyone would like to share a cab down. Two other Americans held up their hands so we left the bus queue to hunt down a cab.

And here’s yet another little tale of greed and unnecessary overcharging: The taxi up had been €25 which instantly went up to €30 when the driver realised it was two couples. Then the taxi down suddenly went up – I guess because he had us trapped – to €30 which increased to €35 again when he realised we were two couples. What the hell did he get out of the extra €5? Greed and stupidity and no goodwill, that’s what! As it turned out the trip was fraught with bumper to bumper traffic and if he’d put his meter on it would have been way more than the price he quoted…this made us feel a bit better.

Anyway, this American couple were from Pittsburgh PA and, again, a lovely couple. He was a lawyer but not just any lawyer. He sued lawyers! We figured he didn’t have many friends in the profession to which he agreed with great vigour. They both agreed that the taxi drivers were evil scum and should be destroyed.

It was during our trip down the mountain that we learned it was the Policemen’s Holiday in Italy. This must be why there were cars parked illegally down the narrow road, causing traffic to bank up for miles and the taxi driver to regret his hastily agreed tariff!

We left them at Amalfi when we eventually arrived as they were leaving for Positano, and headed for our ferry. We managed to get into a short queue and get on the ferry without trouble or strife. The trip back to Sorrento was a bit grim as the weather has dropped onto us and rain has decided to blight us. I think this is Karen’s revenge as she assured me the weather in London had been appalling. Thank you, Karen!

It rained all afternoon but managed to ease off in time for dinner. We decided to try another Lonely Planet Guide recommendation tonight. It was a most unenjoyable dinner. We ate at O’Parrucchiano on Corso Italia. Oh my God! The guy who served us is easily the king of brusque. I guess if you like being treated like a piece of meat, this is the waiter for you. No wine list, just an unlabeled bottle of house white (I must admit it was excellent), which is very rare in a wine growing region like the Campania. He virtually throws the food at you as he passes on to the next table. The food is ok but nothing to rave about. The Lonely Planet Guide recommends the cannelloni but it may as well be a Sainsbury’s ready meal for all the taste. Presumably the 15% service charge is added because no-one feels like tipping after the meal. An all round rip off.

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