Europe Trip – Amalfi Coast and Pompeii (Day 8)

Our fifth port of call was Naples. However, we didn’t actually spend any time in Naples. Instead, we took a bus through Sorrento to the small town of Positano on the Amalfi Coast. We stopped briefly to get some photos of Sorrento before continuing to Positano.

Debi and Toren with Sorrento in the background.

Positano was similar to the other villages in Cinque Terre, but the mountains here were even more rugged. Positano was also substantially larger than most of those towns, though Monterroso del Mar may have been similarly sized. It was really picturesque, with a beautiful waterfront and colorful houses working their way up to the cliffs.

Our tour bus parked in about the middle of the village in terms of elevation – about halfway between the cliffs and the water. Debi, Toren, and I quickly made our way down to the water and walked along the waterfront, taking some fun photos along the way:

We walked from one end of the waterfront to the other, enjoying the views.

Debi and I on the waterfront in Positano.

As I had done in the towns in Cinque Terre, I thought it might be fun to see the city from higher up. This time, I convinced Debi and Toren to join me. We moved up the town pretty quickly as we were pressed for time, going from the very lowest point in elevation, the waterfront, to just below the cliffs in about 20 minutes. (An estimate via Google maps suggests the elevation just below the cliffs is about 130 meters; another website put it at around 150 meters; somewhere around 400 to 500 feet above sea level.) On the way, I snapped a photo of Debi and Toren crossing a bridge:

You can see we’re getting closer to the cliffs at this point.

We did make it to just below the cliffs, but were running out of time to get back to the bus, so I snapped a picture or two and then we headed back down. We actually got back to the bathroom with 10 minutes to spare, but the line was huge, so we ended up getting back to the bus late (the only time we were late) by about 5 minutes. Everyone but our guide was cool about it. Our guide seemed bothered, even though I was technically there on time and told him that Debi and Toren were in the bathroom and were coming as quickly as they could. Oh well, no one will remember that but me and I only remember it because our guide was annoying about it.

From Positano, we took the bus back to Sorrento where our guide gave us about an hour and a half to explore the city. We walked down to the cliff edge overlooking the bay and took in the view, then found a nice place for lunch where I split a Napolitano pizza (cheese and anchovies) with my brother-in-law. I also tried the local beverage, limoncello, that had a very high alcohol content level. We all enjoyed our meals, I think, and followed up lunch with a trip to a gelateria:

Debi enjoying her gnocchi in Sorrento.

We made our way back to the tour bus and then headed to Pompeii where we got an archaeological guide who took us through the ruins. As I’m keen to do, I walked by the guide most of the time and peppered him with questions: Why was Pompeii so diverse? (Answer: It was a prominent port.) Didn’t anyone survive the explosion? (Answer: Yes. Some were not in the town when the explosion occurred; others were able to run away, but most were not.) Where are all the items they discovered in the ruins? (Answer: Almost everything is in a museum in Naples. Very few artifacts remain in Pompeii proper.)

Our guide seemed informative if a little impatient. However, I checked on a few of the things he claimed after the trip and he wasn’t always accurate. For instance, he claimed that the word “spa” derives from the Latin, salus per aquam or “health through water.” A little digging illustrated that is a backronym and was not an acronym invented by the Romans (the word “spa” comes from a town in Belgium). He also claimed that the roads in Pompeii didn’t have sewers underneath because they were built on tough volcanic rock, so they made the roads into the sewers. I’m a little more skeptical of this claim now, but it was cool seeing the ruts in the roads made by ancient Roman wagons.

I’m sure it would be fun to walk through Pompeii slowly with an actual archaeologist rather than a pseudo-archaeologist tour guide. And, I think the ideal way to see Pompeii is really to go to the ruins and then go to the museum in Naples that houses all the artifacts. Even so, I’ve always been fascinated by Pompeii and it was nice to see the site in person.

We spent about an hour and a half in Pompeii and that wrapped up our tour for the day. We took a few minutes to get some drinks at the entrance of the site (lemon-flavored again, and very over-priced), then boarded the bus and headed back to the cruise ship.

Debi and Toren in the Forum at Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius in the background.

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Europe Trip – Pisa and Cinque Terre (Day 6)

Given the size of our group (15 total), for some of our excursions, Rosemary booked private tours. This also meant we got to customize our tours and do precisely what we wanted. That was the case on our third port of call, La Spezia. Rosemary arranged for a minibus and our own tour guide.

The bus picked us up early and drove us straight to Pisa so we could see the famed Leaning Tower of Pisa. I remember seeing pictures of the tower when I was a kid and thinking it was funny. But seeing it in person is different. It really is a very large tower and the angle at which it is leaning forces a double-take.

Toren holding up the leaning tower of pisa.
The obligatory “holding up the tower” photo.

The guide company had arranged tickets for us to climb the tower. The two youngest grandkids were not able to climb the tower due to their age, so Rosemary stayed with them while the rest of us climbed the tower. You actually climb inside the walls. It’s over 200 steps but didn’t seem particularly challenging.

We got to spend a good 30 minutes on top of the tower. Here’s a photosphere from the top:

Toren on the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Toren on the Leaning Tower of Pisa

I did find it interesting that where the steps are worn varies based on the lean of the tower – people move closer to one side or the other depending on how the tower is leaning and that has resulted in deep grooves in the steps as a result. If you look closely, you can see the grooves in this short video of Debi going down the stairs.

We spent another 20 to 30 minutes at Pisa, walking around the church and taking photos. We then got back in the minibus and headed back toward La Spezia for the second part of our tour.

Apparently, the place to go right now in Italy is Cinque Terre, a national park with some villages that are right on the ocean. Not being up on the latest things to do, this was news to me. Our guide had arranged for us to stop in three towns in Cinque Terre: Riomaggiore, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. We got on the train in La Spezia and arrived in Riomaggiore in short order.

In order to make it to all three towns and get back in time to catch the cruise ship, we didn’t have a lot of time in each town. Since we hadn’t stopped for lunch at any point, in Riomaggiore, everyone decided to get food. I can go for quite a while without food and had some snacks with me anyway, so I opted instead to hike quickly to the top of Riomaggiore to see the view. I took a photosphere there:

I had to take a selfie, too:

Once everyone had food, we quickly headed down to the water and spent a few minutes there before having to head to the train station. While waiting for everyone to ascend the stairs, I bought some grapes that were amazing given how hot it was.

In Vernazza, a similar situation unfolded. Most everyone wanted gelato/ice cream. I was more interested in seeing the town. I, again, took off and climbed to the top of the town while they were getting ice cream, then headed down to the waterfront where I took this photosphere:

Once everyone else had their ice cream, they all headed down to the waterfront where we spent a little time enjoying the views and climbing on the rocks. We then boarded a ferry that took us to our last stop, Monterosso al Mare.

We had about 45 minutes in Monterosso al Mare. Debi, Toren, and I took advantage of the time to walk through the town, visit another Byzantine style church that matched Debi’s outfit, and stop by a few shops.

Debi and Toren matched this striped church in Monterosso al Mare.

We then took an alternate route to meet up with the guide that took us out and around a large outcropping that was quite scenic:

Toren with two of his cousins in Monterosso al Mare.

We ended up getting to the meeting place 10 minutes early. As we had made our way around the outcropping, I saw some stairs headed up and decided that I’d go as far up as I could in 5 minutes, then head back down so I wasn’t late. I tracked the hike back down on my watch:

As it turns out, 5 minutes was enough time to make it to the top where I found a monastery and graveyard. I didn’t have time to explore it all, but the first crypt I saw belonged to the Ferrari family, who own a large estate not far from Monterosso al Mare.

The Ferrari Family crypt in Monterosso al Mare.

From Monterosso al Mare, we took the train one last time and then met our minibus, which took us back to the cruise ship. We went to an ice skating show that night on the cruise ship. Yes, the ship has an ice rink.

One final note… I took my favorite picture of Toren and Debi on this trip in Vernazza:

Debi and Toren in Vernazza.

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