Tuesday, April 28, 2015

{Vacation ReCap} Amalfi Coast: Boatrip in Capri & Magical Evening in Positano

As much as we were in love with Positano, we were really excited about our day trip to Capri. We decided early on in the planning stages that there could be no better way to experience the island than renting our own private boat to get around!  So after a quick breakfast, we headed down to make the ferry which would get us to the island.

Lucky for us, the ferry departs super close to our hotel, so it was only a five minute walk.  We were getting a bit nervous because there were clearly clouds rolling in, but were assured it was only a quick 20-30 minute ride to the island and figured they would pass by time we arrived.

Clouds rolling in...

Ferry port

We boarded the ferry and all was well...at first. We sat at the top to get air and avoid sea-sickness but mother nature had other plans...

Very shortly into our ride, the rain started and everyone at the top fled to the inside lower deck. There were way too many people crowded into that hot and stuffy space.  I could see Tom getting more and more green so told him that there was an open air deck in the back that was covered.  We might get a bit wet, but it was better than being crammed like sardines inside the cabin!

Everyone around us on that deck was getting anxious...lots of "now our day is ruined!" but being from Florida, we are used to constant storms that pass quickly and which are usually followed by sunshine to boot. We weren't really that concerned other than being worried that they would have to cancel our 10 am boat tour and there'd be no other openings for the day.

The storm slowed us down - the 20 minute ferry ended up taking about an hour! Oops.

At long last, we met up with Gianni of Gianni's Boats who was beyond welcoming and put our minds at ease.  He said they would just push our ride out to noon instead of 10 to give all of the clouds a chance to pass. In the meantime, he suggested taking the gondola to the top of the island and looking around.  We were more than happy to take him up on that!

After waiting in line for what seemed like forever, we made it to the top and the views were gorgeous!

Everything was so beautiful.  In a way - and this is a stretch I realize - it reminded me a bit of the magnificent mile in Chicago - nothing but Gucci, Prada, etc interspersed with restaurants and gelato shops (ok, so that last part is NOT like Chicago)!   Unlike Positano, where most of the shops featured handmade items (beautiful linen, leather shoes and goods, pottery, etc), this seemed to  made of up exclusively of high-end chains.   If expensive shopping is your heaven,then Capri is for you!   Our guide would later tell us that Capri has about a 25% upcharge so you are certainly paying for that luxury.

At one point in our planning stage, we had considered Capri, and having been to both now (admittedly I was only on the actual island for a small period of time), I can say that while I wholeheartedly recommend both, I prefer and recommend Positano.  I just enjoy being in a place where I am surrounded by things I don't get at home.  Living in a big city, I have access to high end stores, however, I come on vacation to get away and relax and Positano just struck me as being a bit more conducive to that. However, if someone offered me an all expenses paid trip to Capri, I'd certainly take them up on it!  And with all that said, I do hope to come back even if it's just a day trip.  It was stunning.

At noon we met up with Ferrera who worked the Summers with Gianni and the other months in Florence as a designer.   As cheesy as it sounds, I nearly died with surprise when she complimented me saying how much she liked my style! Swoon!

She introduced us to our captain for the day, Pauolo.  He was college age attending school in Naples and worked in Capri.  We were really impressed with his skill and despite the language barrier, managed to communicate very effectively back and forth.  He mentioned there might be "many roughs" at some point but we didn't quite get what he meant...we would soon find out!

Onboard, we found fruit and homemade limoncello (made by Gianni's family) waiting for us, but unfortunately for us, we did not eat any real food before starting the tour  Anyone who is prone to seasickness knows that an empty stomach is certain to set you up for "many roughs!". Rookie mistake!  

We did well overall and and absolutely loved the boat.  There was a quick two minute storm early on, but then the skies opened up and it was gorgeous for the remainder of the day.  He took us all over including a little inlet that was a perfect spot to enjoy a private swim and got us close to the famous caves Capri is known for (we could not go in, due to the recent storm - too many waves).  

Heart Cave:

We laid out on the boat, drank, ate and just enjoyed the ride...for the most part.  When we started to make it to the other side of the island, we quickly understood what Pauolo meant by "many roughs". It was extremely choppy!  I was overall fine - I could tell I just needed a little food, but Tom was definitely green around the gills. He decided it was the perfect time to take a nap under the sun and that saved him!  

At one point we got to an area where we could grab a bite to eat, and asked Pauolo to stop there so we could fill up a bit.  The restaurant was gorgeous and had amazing views:


Tom didn't have much of an appetite but I convinced him to at least eat some of the blander foods: bread with oil, a few of my fries (I enjoyed the grilled octopus) and he was able to stomach a few bites of their almond cake.  It definitely helped him, but I felt so bad about forgetting my prescription strength anti-nausea pills at the hotel.  He definitely could have used it!  I won't make that mistake again.

Around 4:30 we hit the ferry to Positano.  We were happy to get back, but the boat trip in Capri remains a highlight of the trip. Even though it didn't go perfectly, we would definitely do it again and still think it's the best way to get around.

After cleaning up, we enjoyed a bottle of our Tuscan wine on the balcony and then set out in search of the restaurant Tony recommended.

Mediterrano was everything you could want - warm, family run, with delicious food, fun servers, and live music.  They started us off with prosecco to welcome us, and had singers with guitars serenading everyone.  At one point, a patron with an amazing voice jumped up to sing "Fever" with them, but hands down the star of the night was Ulysses - a Fabio look alike.  He was flirting shamelessly with some single older ladies at a nearby table and they were eating it up.  He kept coming over and sitting with Tom and I making funny conversation.  I'm pretty sure Ulysses did not go home alone that night...

The food was some of the best we've had with extremely fresh seafood including some of the most delish clams I've ever eaten.  We also shared red wine and then had panna cotta and lemon ice for dessert. The limincello they offered at the end was a perfect finish.

We kept saying how it reminded us a bit of Greek Islands in Chicago, which always charms tourists and locals alike, but the live music and interaction here made this hands down one of our favorite dining experiences ever.  They ran their restaurant the way all restaurants should be run, by making us feel right at home.  It was cheesy in some regards but in the best possible way.  What a fun place!  We later thanked Tony for the recommendation and would go back in a heartbeat.

But, man let's talk about those Italian boys.  We loved our server (the owner's son I believe) who went out of his way to make us happy (when I had trouble deciding between chocolate or caramel on my dessert, he gave me both!) and  he definitely charmed a pair of college ladies a few tables away. After we paid, we saw him drive off with one of them on his vespa, ha!  Not sure what happened with the other one...she continued to sit by herself for quite a while.  That's an understanding friend!

Tom & Ulysses - BFF

We began our walk back down to our hotel sufficiently full and happy!

When we were almost there, I looked to my right and saw a beautiful  archway which had a stunning view of the cliffs and a gorgeous yard.  (This pic is a different day - I wanted to remember the location).

What made it remarkable is that you just don't see yards in Positano because everything is on a cliff.  This seemed like a secret garden and I couldn't resist checking it out.  I called Tom over and we popped our head in.  A gentleman came up to us and kindly invited us to walk around (this being Italy, I thought for a moment that he was about to charge us, ha).  We learned that he's an Australian businessman who was vacationing with his family.  He proceeded to show us the "goals" his kids use to play soccer using the trees on either end of the yard.  The wife came out and she was also super nice.  To their credit, they didn't seem fazed to have two random strangers looking around and were extremely welcoming.

He pointed out a fig tree and mentioned that it had been there 14 years earlier when he first visited this place and how he happy is to be able to share this with his family now -  the figs are still delicious!  It was such a nice story and I couldn't help but hope we too we will lucky enough to come back to Positano and share this amazing place with our family one day :)

After saying goodnight (they were on their way out! Wild animals), we headed back to our rooms where we crashed while listening to the waves.

I'll be back to wrap up our last day and a half in Positano!


Thursday, April 16, 2015

{Vacation ReCap} Amalfi Coast: Positano Bites Deep

After leaving our tour guide, we barely made it back to the apartment in time to grab our bags and get to the train station.  Our next stop was Positano which was an absolute dream.

We took the train to Naples and were greeted by our private driver, Tony from Sorrento 1st Choice which I highly recommend. Lemme tell you, that was a good call. As this somewhat macho looking guy seemed very nervous to be in this particular train station (he would later tell us that it wasn't the safest) we were very happy to have a nice safe Mercedes to hop into!  The station actually looked really clean and bright, but what do we know?  He's local to the area so we trust his judgement.

Another reason I was so glad we hired someone?  Sleep. Almost as soon as we got going, I zonked out and was happy to let someone who knew what they were doing take over.  I think Tom was most appreciative because let's be honest - he would have been the one driving.

Anyone who has been to the coast or even just researched getting to the Amalfi Coast, knows that the drive is NOT for the faint of heart.  These are extremely narrow roads that you sometimes find yourself sharing with large buses.  Plus, I have a feeling that if we were driving, we wouldn't have had a chance to enjoy the view.  Thankfully Tom woke me up so I didn't miss it!

(Not my pictures- I was too busy soaking it in to get the camera out! SourceSource)

Positano is such a dreamy place.  The driver took us the farthest we could go and then had to stop. The roads just do not make it all the way into the village.  You can hire porters to carry your luggage back and forth, but we decided to walk almost to very bottom of the hill to the Hotel Bucca di Bacco where we would be staying since we were ready to stretch our legs.

I had no idea what to expect with this hotel.  We scored an amazing deal - securing the last oceanview room at that rate! - but even so, it was a splurge.  However, we purposesly choose the apartments in the busier cities and used hotel points when possible to make this place work for us (hotels in Positano are not a part of any major hotel chain).  I really love having the "splurge" come at the very end of a trip!  I am realizing now that I failed to take pictures of our actual room!  I tried to find pictures online but couldn't find our particular suite.  Oh well.  The view is the star, so there you go :)

This was a popular destiniation for stars during the "Dolce Vita" years. Everyone from Grace Kelly to Elizabeth Taylor and every artist in between vacationed at this hotel.  I can see why they flocked here!

One of the things we would come to love about Positano is how many hand crafted goods there were throughout the village (it would make me regret not saving more funds for shopping!).  It's especially well known for its hand-painted tiles and they were featured all over the hotel.  From our floors to the tiles in our bathroom.  Because of this, every room is unique.   Beyond it being charming, clean and adorable though, we were stunned when we got a load of our view.

There was somewhat of dramatics involved in the unveiling of the balcony - you could tell they loved this part of tour and I don't blame them!  After entering a somewhat dark room, they throw open the heavy drapes, unlock the wooden doors, then the glass doors....

and your jaw hits the floor...I can't imagine that gets old for them!

We especially loved that they would bring the complimentary breakfast to our room in the morning so we could enjoy coffee on the balcony.

We also enjoyed drinks every evening here and left the doors open at night so we could listen to the waves. Magic.

I spent way too much time on that balcony taking photos.
To the right:

To the left:

As a welcome to the hotel, we were offered complimentary drinks on their terrace which we quickly accepted!  What a great start to the evening!  We were delighted to see that our Chicago friends from the Roman Restaurant were already here along with us!  Too fun!

After soaking in the views we relaxed in our room for a bit to enjoy sunset and take even more pics before dinner....sigh....

Pinch me...I still can't get over that this was the view from our room. It just doesn't get better than that!

Because there are no roads, we found oursleves walking everywhere which was lovely and a great way to work off all of that delicious Italian food and wine (and limincello)!  We received a recommendation from Tony for a good place to grab a bite so set out to find it, figuring that as a local, he'd have the inside scoop.  I say "local" loosely, because Positano is definitely a resort town (I believe he lived in Sorrento).

We definitely enjoyed the stroll.  It was just too beautiful and adorable to believe and the weather was gorgeous.

Still getting a kick about the lack of cars...

After walking a bit, we looked back and could make out our hotel at the very bottom of this cliff. We were pinching ourselves because it was just soooo gorgeous.  Is this real life?

We spent quite a lot of time stopping to soak in the views so didn't make it very far. We decided to try his recommendation the next night instead since we were hungry. We went into what seemed to be a hopping place: Caffe Positano.

We enjoyed dinner and dessert...

...and while the view was certainly nice, I don't know that we'd go out of our way to go back there.  The restaurants on the following evenings just hit it out of the park so I'd recommend them before anything else.

We called it a night, and made our way back down to our hotel.

We had such a great introduction into Positano and were beyond excited about our daytrip to Capri planned for the following day.  I can't wait to tell you about it!

I'll sign off with this beyond appropriate quote from John Steinbeck.  It comes from an Old Harper Bazaar interview and is featured in the hotel room book:

 “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn't quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you are gone”.