Positano – Pretty shell with nothing inside

It was quite a job to get from Barcelona to Positano on the Italian Amalfi Coast.  We had to fly to Rome, then take a regional train to Naples (2 hours), catch a local train to Sorrento (1 hour) and finally a 1 hour bus to Positano, which was a white-knuckle ride around the very high, narrow and windy coastal roads.  In some places the road actually hangs over the cliff face.  The actual distance from Sorrento to Positano is only 13 kms so you get the picture just how tricky the drive is.

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I’m a “high-level” sort of fellow.  Details and the finer points aren’t really relevant in my world, which was once again my downfall with Mrs. Lloyd.  I assured her that everything was under control when she asked me if I knew the location of our accommodation for the week.   I had been liaising with the booking agency who had even sent me a picture of the bar we were to meet the owner in.  I was feeling confident.   Upon arrival in Positano it became quickly clear that I had no idea where we were going or staying.  Needless to say, it was a lonely walk down the hill from the bus stop to the town.  I did, however, totally redeem myself with the end solution following a chat to the local policeman.  All’s well in the Lloyd family once again and the divorce lawyer has been called off.

After plenty of research prior to leaving New Zealand we decided on Positano over other towns on the coast, like Amalfi itself, as it seemed less touristy and would provide a more “local feel” – how wrong we were!  It became instantly obvious that the town was heaving with tourists – a vast majority from the States who were overheard numerous times complaining about the steps and whether their hips could take the ascent (apparently the descent wasn’t an issue) – this gives you an idea of the Amalfi Coast target market.

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According to Wikipedia, Italy is the 5th most visited country in the world with 46 million visitors per year (France is first in case you’re wondering with a staggering 83 million) and it felt like they were all here.  Positano is a tourist town.  The restaurants are expensive and provide a mediocre fare (unless you have plenty of cash and no kids, in that case there are some very nice options).  The shops are all geared towards rich Americans, who were seen leaving town laden with a vast array of lemon souvenirs (lemon is the fruit of choice here) and looking resplendent in their newly purchased linen clothing – none of the shops catered to those on a budget.   The only locally utilized café in town was right next to our apartment so we went there every day for an excellent morning café latte.

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We spent our first few days swimming at the two beaches on offer, the main beach and one a little further around the point that was a little more relaxed. Both beaches have clear water but no sand – it’s a tough walk to the water over pebbles and stones.  The more laid back beach was also the venue for the annual Positano Festival of the Fish, quite an event.  There were food options aplenty and cheap wine to compliment along with a band churning out some local classics.  We did have a scare here though.  Callum tried calamari for the first time ever and immediately started to choke.  I had to stick my fingers down his throat and clear his airway prior to throwing him over my lap and whacking him on his back.  Concerned locals all rushed over to see if he was ok – which he was, albeit a little shaken and scared of calamari forever.  We fared better with Dominic who single-handedly polished off a plate of calamari and small whole local fish.

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After 3 days at the beach we wanted to explore some neighboring towns so we unwisely chose Amalfi.  In the short time whilst waiting for our bus we counted 13 coaches from a recently docked cruise liner all heading the same way so we initiated a full turn and returned home.  We have meet a few people who stayed at Amalfi and they shared horror stories of a town besieged in visitors – bear in mind this is shoulder season, high season must be staggering.

By the 5th day we just had to get out of town!  The buried city of Pompeii seemed like an excellent day-trip.  This involved the dreaded bus trip back to Sorrento in which both boys were affected by motion sickness and threw up all over themselves, the bus floor and me.  We quickly pushed the stop button and got off apologizing profusely to the passengers left to suffer and walked into Sorrento to get cleaned up and buy some new clothes before continuing on our merry way.

Pompeii was very good and we all learnt something.  Mt Vesuvius erupted in 79AD completely wiping out an entire town of an estimated 20,000 inhabitants.  Historians believe that the city was founded circa 7BC and incredibly, boasted a water system, gymnasium and an amphitheater.  The boys found the most enlightening fact was that they use to wash their clothes in urine and water, with the wee collected from the public toilet.  There were also plenty of phallic symbols on show, which provided a smirk (the kids found them funny too).  What did provide a few awkward moments were the depictions of some sexual acts involving 1 female and 2 males – difficult to explain to an inquisitive 7 year old!

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Back to Positano, where we met a family from Devonport at dinner.  They had a 6-year-old daughter so the kids all played on the beach whilst we enjoyed a drink and a chat.  The guy was here 23 years ago and couldn’t believe the change.  As with everything, things never stay the same – he too was disappointed in what the area has become.

The trip to the coast was not what we had hoped for although for all its negatives is still a stunning location.  The houses are situated in a precarious position right in or on the cliff face.  The local council must have stringent building regulations  – I bet the residents are glad neither the Auckland nor Christchurch Councils had any involvement in signing off building consents here.

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What lets it down though, through no fault of it’s own, is it’s own beauty and the crowds that flock to enjoy it.  These crowds have in turn removed any local feel from the area and as such drained any soul from it.  Commercial reality I guess. It’s all about the tourist dollar and if that means the locals don’t live, shop or eat here then so be it.

A week here is to long, it’s difficult to get anywhere quickly and the crowds and costs don’t help.  We leave tomorrow for a couple of days in Rome – I don’t think anyone is overly upset to go but that’s the beauty of travel, some things work out and some don’t.  As Dominic said the other day “if you don’t try something you’ll never know” boy, he is growing up!

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