By Lynn Strough
Positano and the Amalfi coast are gorgeous, no question about that. But they have price tags to match. So what is a budget traveler to do? After a little research, I discovered that you can stay in tiny Piano de Sorrento and take buses and trains that link the pricier towns together at a fraction of the cost. And even better, I got to stay in a super affordable hostel in an old Monastery, with bells chiming, lovely staff and some of the nuns still hanging around.
Sisters Hostel is only a few minutes’ walk from nice swimmable beaches, and little trattorias, where you can dine to your heart’s content, on pasta, fresh seafood, fig torte… You can still get a $5 pizza fresh out of the oven at family run places, where Mama and her daughter will serve you while Papa, who resembles a benign Godfather, looks on…
A short walk to the train station, and an even shorter train ride, will take you to Sorrento, where you can catch a scenic bus along the coast down to Positano and Amalfi. My bus was full, but that didn’t stop dozens more people from climbing aboard and squeezing in, so I followed suit. It was standing room only, so I stood, jam-packed in the aisle on the most winding road I’ve ever seen with sheer drops down to the sea dotted with what looked like toy boats. I could see the driver — he was talking on the phone, holding the phone to his ear with his right hand, while driving that huge bus on those snake-like roads at the edge of precipitous cliffs.
And then he started talking with his left hand, as Italians are prone to do. Um, wait, if his right hand is holding a phone to his ear and his left hand is fluttering about in the air speaking sign language…who’s steering the bus? On top of all that, the older Italian woman next to me kept trying to show him a magazine. But we made it to Positano.
Positano is positively beautiful, with colorful buildings spilling down the steep hillside to the sea. Stop on your walk down from the bus stop for a frozen lemon slush, the ice cold sweet and sour taste is divine. Lots of fun clothing, jewelry, ceramic and shoe shops, along with art galleries and stands, line the way.
And the beach, dotted with neon umbrellas, beckons you into the azure sea for a swim. The water is the perfect temperature, cool enough to be refreshing, but warm enough to feel like silk. I floated and swam, got out, heated up and did it again. The views from the water are astonishing — rainbow houses stacked like blocks form a giant triangle up the steep hillside.
I stumbled out of the sea (it’s very rocky and sharp on the soles of your feet), and as I struggled to slip my shirt on, my lounge chair blew over. Dozens of us raced up the beach towards the row of restaurants. Huge jags of lightning streaked from heaven to sea, but the sky only dropped a few specks of rain. As hordes of tourists swarmed up the narrow zigzagging streets that climb the hill, I figured the bus would be packed, with everyone leaving at once.
I was right, the street was lined with dozens of people waiting. Luckily, despite the thunder and lightning, the rain held off. I happened to be standing next to a lovely lady from South Africa, and we kept each other company, comparing travel notes, while we waited a half hour for the next bus. We could tell not everyone would fit on — the bus was coming from Amalfi, and the seats were already full. When the bus stopped and the doors opened, the crowd surged forward, a mini-stampede.
Complaints were heard in English, with American accents, “Hey, wait! We’ve been waiting here 45 minutes, you just got here, that’s not fair!” as newcomers pushed ahead to the front of the line. Cultural differences — in America you get skewered for line-cutting, here it’s a way of life. My South African friend and I pushed ahead with the rest of the Italians, and although we stood for the whole hour ride to Sorrento, at least we got on the bus.
And just in time, it appeared, as the heavens opened up and the rain poured down. It grew even darker and the winding road looked like a slick black snake. Heat wrapped around us, and motion sickness threatened, but I managed to keep it in check. The drive took longer than it should have, as a middle-aged German couple couldn’t figure out which stop was theirs, so they kept ringing the stop button over and over, then not getting off. But eventually we made it, just in time for me to catch the last train back to Piano. (Sorry, no windstorm disaster photos.)
It’s another hour ride further down the coast to Amalfi from Positano, though I have to say to me, Amalfi is not as nice; it’s much more commercial and more expensive. The beach is kind of a carnival, basted with tons of bodies, but people looked like they were having fun. It depends on what you’re looking for.
Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.
“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”
Reprinted with permission