Amalfi – Italy
Agerola, a village up in the mountains of the Amalfi coast is a paradise away from the heat and tourists that clog up the local area. No one comes here except for the odd few such as ourselves that would like to hike the coastal path that is a relatively new addition after the locals realised they could get in on the tourism cash by renaming an old donkey path used by farmers to the ‘Path of the Gods’, but more on that in a moment. For now, Agerola is blessed with a sprinkling of restaurants, one place that does limoncello tasting, a particularly wonderful family run hotel, acres of home gardens packed full of tomatoes and corn, and one disgruntled laundrette owner. For our whole time in Italy no hotel has offered a laundry service which must be the first country on the planet where I have failed to find such. Agerola did have a laundrette and with two days in town we believed we had plenty of time to get our festering clothes washed but no, the short plump old lady who owned the place said it wasn’t possible. Even a friendly local attempted to convince the old dear that it was indeed possible, but she was having none of it regardless of the many huge washing machines lying idol behind her. All happiness associated with being up in this beautiful part of Italy began to drain away as it would seem nowhere is immune to terrible Italian service. Our hotel on the other hand was run by super friendly locals and offered a home cooked dinner with plenty of wine out on the terrace which was a sure-fire way to rescue the evening and prevent being treated like crap by some waiter at a restaurant back in the village. It was a wise a decision and one of those rare occasions where I actually felt like I was welcome in the country. What’s more, it was the first night in over a month where I felt a chill and I went to bed excited to have the air conditioning off and the balcony doors open. However, Italy determined as ever to make me miserable was having none of it and as night progressed, the sleepy village came alive with barking dogs, the random but constant beeping from some machine reversing, and the sporadic eruption of a donkey’s eeyore (bray apparently) for good measure.
Starting the next morning shattered we headed to the hiking trails and although the clouds refused to lift it did provide a respite from the sun and we could relax into some beautiful hiking that offered epic views of the mountains and coast. The ‘Path of the Gods’ followed the next day and although it indeed attracted a few more hikers it proved to be a stunning hike with insane views of the Amalfi coast. The village of Positano was our end destination and from afar it looked delightful although in hindsight the sheer number of boats out on the sea was a strong sign of what to expect. This village was no Agerola as we struggled to get through the crowds of tourists clogging up the streets. Restaurants overflowed with people and plates half full of food lay discarded on the tables. The beach was heaving and swimming in the sea felt like swimming in a carpark with the sheer volume of boats leaving little room for anything else. The image of lemons appeared everywhere. I longed for the slopes of the hiking trail, the one place all tourists are terrified of, but we had a boat to catch that would deliver us to the village of Amalfi that would be our base for the rest of the week. There is only one way to catch a boat on the Amalfi coast and that is to accept you are a cow and be happy to be herded like one, there is no order, no respect, no concept of humility.
Amalfi was little better than the Positano although it was slightly bigger that allowed a fraction more breathing space. Ultimately yet another wasteland of restaurants, gelaterias, and shops selling anything and everything you can dream of with lemons on it. The lemon does grow well in this region and they are undoubtedly impressive in size with every other person in Amalfi holding onto one stuffed full of gelato or so I thought. The local delicacy created no doubt to satisfy Insta-tourists is to cut the top off a giant lemon, hollow it out, fill it with gelato and eat it with a plastic spoon. Only the lemon is barely hollowed out and I would guess over 90 percent of it is simply thrown in the bin once the mediocre dollop of gelato has been eaten. The excess and complete disregard is horrifying. We did spend an afternoon experiencing what happens when lemons are put to slightly better use, limoncello tasting, with a chap that gave off strong Mafia vibes but was very welcoming, friendly, and more than happy to allow us to help ourselves to as much of his limoncello as could handle. Limoncello is very hit and miss ranging from absolute shite to bloody delicious but then I suppose that is no different to the raki in Greece. Another drink seen everywhere in Italy is Aperol which tastes like a terrible version of gin and only popular with people because of its bright orange appearance I would guess. But then food and drink in Italy has been a huge disappointment for me on the whole. I’ve always claimed Italian food is by far my favourite, but it simply isn’t true anymore with Greek food far superior in every way. Greek menus are extensive, full of quality and healthy options, almost always friendly service, reasonably priced, and complete with incredible fast-food options. Italy is pretty much the opposite and pasta and pizza can become boring quite fast which is surprising because I thought I could eat both every day for the rest of my life but apparently not. There is of course excellent food in Italy but as with friendly service it doesn’t appear easy to find.
Our time on the Amalfi coast was excellent when not down by the coast or in Amalfi. As soon as we ventured up into the mountains, we were met by beautiful little villages that had far less tourists and released an ambiance that allowed me to relax. The armada of boats faded into obscurity as the sea stretched to the horizon and the hiking trails and thousands of steps clinging to the mountainside kept me happily occupied. The famous roads of the Amalfi coast are amusing with drivers beeping their horn as they speed around one of the blind bends instead of slowing and beeping beforehand. Much to the disgust of a bus driver who nearly smeared an oncoming smiling vesper rider to the cliffside, everyone was to blame with the bus driver commanding the road as if he was the only one on it and a stream of traffic following the vesper who nearly ended up as gelato. After two weeks in Italy, these quirks are becoming the norm and one last observation sums it up nicely. We had kayaked to a tiny beach just down the coast from Amalfi and enjoyed a moment swimming in the sea free of people. Several glass bottles had been left on the rocks by previous visitors and as we prepared to leave a local guy had appeared on the beach with his dog. He saw the bottles, made a clear show of how disgruntled he was and threw them into the sea where they bobbed up and down and started to migrate back towards the rocks and beach where they would undoubtedly smash and make someone else’s life miserable at a later date. I have tried to remain positive about this country, I am forever conscious that I have sounded like a grumpy hypocrite throughout the telling of my stories in Italy and try to give allowance for the timing of my visit, but a day never passed by where something didn’t happen that made me want to dislike the place. I arrived expecting to fall in love with Italy, I leave with it rooted at the bottom of everywhere I’ve travelled throughout the world. There’s a reason I’ve avoided travelling Europe and maybe I sound spoilt, in fact I know I’m incredibly lucky and I am part of the problems I discuss, but if one thing has been made clear, it’s that travel to many areas has been reduced to nothing more than consumerist excess. For me, it’s time to cleanse the soul and return to my happy place with a trip to Greenland followed by a return to my one true love, Africa. Goodbye Italy, goodbye grumpiness.
Check out the tour here.