I learned while visiting Capri that the word "beach" is relative. In Capri’s case, take a narrow strip of rock, fill it in with a few truckloads of pebbly sand brought over from the mainland, sprinkle in a few umbrellas amid a bit of outdoor furniture, and voilà! Oh and, by the way, no extra charge for the frothy mixture of seawater and fuel from the ferries and pleasure boats lapping up on shore.
It had been decided by powers greater than I am capable of mustering that some female bonding was in order, and this meant a day of La Dolce Vita at the beach for the ladies in our traveling party. The remaining significant others thought it would be a really good idea to spend the day getting drunk down at the yacht club near the marina. The logic behind such thinking escaped me, but that’s neither here nor there. Fearing the effects of too much limoncello, I realized that the sublteties of white porcelean can be examined up close and personal back home just as easily as they can in Italy, and decided to leave the imbibing to the professionals. This meant that yours truly had, at his disposal, the better part of a day of unbridled freedom in Bay of Naples proper.
So, what will it be, then? The Blue Grotto? Was there enough time to go back to the mainland to see Pompeii? After brief contemplation, a glance at my watch, and a cursory check of the ferry schedules, I grabbed a jacket and my camera, rode the funicular down to the Marina Grande, and bought a hydrofoil ticket to Sorrento. The small town of Positano and a photo-op of the famed Amalfi Coast was the order of the day.
Truth be told, a day trip from Capri to Positano presents one with a few logistical hurdles. Hydrofoils run from Positano to Capri in the morning, with return trips to the mainland occurring from mid-afternoon until early evening, but not the other way around. Departures to Sorrento, on the other hand, occur more or less every half hour, all day long. Consequently, the journey involves taking a boat to Sorrento, followed by two bus rides for the brief but thrilling drive to Positano.
Upon arriving at the porto of Sorrento, it’s a simple task to locate the buses and the kiosk from which one can buy a ticket to Positano. The first bus ascends hairpin turns of the steep hill from the port to the rail station. From there, it’s a matter of disembarking and waiting, amidst a relatively large crowd of others with the same idea, for another--bound for Positano and Amalfi.
On this particular day, there were probably enough people waiting at the rail station’s curb to fill three busloads to Positano. Either by luck or by correctly gaming where the next bus would stop and open its door, I was fortunate to get on the first one. After slowly rumbling through the streets of Sorrento, the bus groaning in protest as we gained elevation, the town gradually gave way to the bay and craggy rock, and we were headed south down the winding, impossibly narrow ribbon of pavement chiseled into the rugged coastline towards Positano.
Along the way, I learned, one should expect at least one confrontation that goes something along the lines of, "My bus is bigger than your car; you must get out of my way or throw your transmission in reverse and back down the hill before I peel the sheet metal off the side of it like a grape, you clumsy fool." You get the feeling that these incidents occur with such regularity along this route that they have somehow been factored into the bus timetables.
Shortly after we were extricated from our first tight squeeze, a second, utterly hopeless looking endeavor was before us, this one involving our vehicle and another bus. This second altercation was ultimately resolved with mere centimeters to spare, and only after considerable maneuvering on the part of both drivers. I silently vowed to raise my next glass of birra to honor the skill and determination of these two men.
On the move once again, the town of Positano swung in and out of view as we careened down the mountain. Then the bus lurched to a stop, still high above the water and the center of town below.
At this point about half the passengers got off, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Was this the only stop in Positano, or would there be another down by the shore? If I didn’t get off now, would I be going on to Amalfi? At the last minute I decided to jump off, concluding that whatever distance there was to be traversed between here and Positano’s waterfront was more a vertical question than a horizontal one.
The bus sped off, the roar of its engine and a cloud of diesel left in its wake. I took my cue from a small group of other visitors, whom, unlike myself, seemed to possess at least some semblance of a clue where they were going. I picked up a small street that wound its way down the mountain, one hairpin turn after another, and started walking.
Within minutes, the group that had exited the bus gradually scattered, and I was left in relative solitude. I stopped frequently to take pictures, and took notice of all the mundane things one takes for granted in everyday life, but are somehow more interesting when placed in the context of a foreign country: derelict cars, billboards, little shops, flowers on a window ledge.
As my descent continued, one thing became clear: the outskirts of Positano might be quaint, but this is one touristy place. Unassuming houses gave way to restaurants catering to tourists, and a maze of shops, displaying all manner of t-shirts, gifts, clothes, and tsatskeh. The waterfront was lined with restaurants filled with vacationers enjoying their lunch hour. A variety of boats in varying degrees of seaworthiness were strewn across the pebbly shore.
I stepped into a restaurant for a couple of slices of pizza and a beer (paying silent homage to my two bus driver heroes), then spent the next hour or two wandering around, taking pictures here and there. Nothing I saw dissuaded my conclusion regarding the high tourist quotient.
Eventually it was time to go back to Capri, and I began the long, arduous climb up the mountain to the bus stop. Once again I stopped frequently to look back, admire the scenery, and take a few more photos.
I have to admit that while the beauty of the Amalfi coast lived up to (or even exceeded) my expectations, the town of Positano did not. I suppose I expected something at least slightly more...genuine. It’s apparent to even the casual observer that while Positano may have once thrived as a fishing village, tourism had supplanted the fishing industry as the main driver of the local economy a long time ago.
The journey back to Capri was largely uneventful. I found the bus stop easy enough, and there was no roadway stare-down as seemingly hopeless or time consuming as the one with the two buses had been. Once we reached the train station in Sorrento I opted to walk down to the port rather than try to figure out which bus would take me there.
The hydrofoil ride proved to be noteworthy, if for no other reason than some ominous looking weather was rolling in as we departed. At one point, a very nasty looking waterspout seemed to be bearing down on our port side as the storm swept over us. While I never felt that our boat was in any real peril, I will say that it is somewhat unsettling to be on board such a vessel while a few of the other passengers are screaming in fear. But that’s a story for another day.