Thursday, September 10, 2015

Italy: Amalfi Coast Days 1 + 2 -- Amalfi Town

Despite the fact that we found Rome to be surprisingly uncrowded and easy to navigate (mostly), by our fifth day in Italy we were all excited to head to the Amalfi Coast for some relaxation. After much back and forth, we'd decided to stay in Amalfi Town -- it's not as much of a scene as popular Positano (that was a plus in my book when traveling with kids), it's the least vertically-oriented of the coastal towns (also good when traveling with kids), and we were able to find a hotel that could accommodate all of us in one suite (very, very difficult to find as most of the hotels are small). Our hotel in Amalfi had set up a transfer for us from Rome. Originally I wanted to try to train + bus it, but I was so, so glad by the end of our time in Rome that all we had to do was get in a car and sit.

Well, sort of. Turns out our driver spoke absolutely no English. And really couldn't understand any English either. No problem, he knew where we were supposed to go. But as we set out on our way, it also became clear to me (as most of the rest of our crew were asleep!) that he also appeared not to really like people. Or people touching his van. Or breathing. I'd picked up enough Italian by that point to understand when someone was swearing at me (and his hand gestures were clear enough all on their own). So you can imagine how much he loved when we hit the notoriously stomach-turning streets of the Amalfi Coast and the kids started gagging while I hurriedly soothed them (kicking myself that I'd forgotten to give them either the Dramamine or the sea-bands packed away in our bags). The views though! Rolling, plunging coastline dotted with lemon and olive groves. Homes teeter-tottering in between. It was insanely gorgeous (even holding Kane's spit bag).

We arrived in Amalfi in the midst of Friday afternoon traffic and our driver was not having any of it. There was no where to pull in at our hotel, so he literally stopped in the middle of the street and started unloading us and our luggage. Not the smoothest of transfers, but the minute we stepped into our gorgeous Mediterranean hotel and got a jaw-dropping view of the coastline, none of that mattered. We barely dropped our bags in the room and set out to explore Amalfi Town and score lunch.

Everyone was starving, so we stopped almost immediately at a little Paninoteca right along the promenade -- it looked a little touristy, but it was delicious. Over tasty panini we reviewed the Rick Steve's walking tour of the small town and, like so many Italian towns, refreshed our recollection that the place to start was the main town square and the cathedral.

The Cathedral of Saint Andrew in Amalfi is a stunning 9th century church with a unique Arab-influenced architecture. It's a true destination for Catholics given that it houses the remains of St. Andrew. Our kiddos were kind of churched-out still from Rome, so we didn't spend too much time here. But it was beautiful and worth the walk through.

Back out in the main town square (Piazza del Duomo) the kids were thrilled to find the prolific water fountains of Rome were going strong in Amalfi as well. And we cooled down with insanely good lemon granita while walking through the never-ending number of souvenir shops (Kane picked out a dragon made from volcanic rock almost immediately, but we told him he had to wait until we got a good look at everything. Of course the shop was closed when we went back and we couldn't find it anywhere else. When it finally re-opened a few days later, we talked him into the volcanic statue of Mt. Vesuvius anyway). The kids each scored an Italy patch to sew on the "travel quilts" my mom made them (neither one of them can sleep without the quilt my mom made for each of them when they were born. The quilts frequently travel with us, but I was worried about losing them, so my mom made them travel-sized ones using the same fabric. Our goal is to collect and add to them as we travel!).

We didn't make it very far on our walk through the small town before we realized the kids really needed to have some kid time. So we hightailed it back to our hotel and headed for the rooftop pool (another reason we chose it!). It was small and not at all shallow, but it was perfect for them. And us since it had a bar. And, given the view, Joel didn't even mind having to do a slew of conference calls from up there.

We continued our nightly tradition of cocktail hour on the hotel's terrace, watching the sun set. And then we headed out for a short walk to neighboring Atrani for dinner (btw, Atrani has an actual sandy beach compared to most rocky beaches along the coast. If we'd had a second beach day, that's where we would have gone). Seafood is the name of the game on the Amalfi Coast, but we knew we had to have another option for the kids. Our hotel suggested Le Palme Ristorante Pizzeria, which somehow managed to have both insanely good seafood and pizza at the same time. It was also clearly the "place to be" on a Friday night in Atrani, so make sure you have a reservation. We had fabulous local wine and listened to the nightlife get going along the coast before heading back to Amalfi for free Friday night music in a smaller town square. The kids toasted us with their umpteenth lemon soda and Joel and I sampled Amaretto. So. much. fun.

Both of the kids went to bed chomping at the bit to get to the beach the next morning. And we awoke to the rhythmic whoosh of umbrellas being set in the rocky beach right outside our window. So we wasted no time hitting up our hotel breakfast (included, which was pricey but worth it) on the balcony. The kids were excited to see yogurt and omelettes in addition to a generous amount of Italian breakfast pastry. And it was a glorious way to fill everyone up for a long day of relaxation on the beach. I only took my camera down for a bit -- I was also in need of a real day of rest.

Amalfi has two public beaches (sandwiched on either side of private clubs) -- we hit up the rockier and closest one for a true Amalfi coast experience. We rented an umbrella and a float and charged. And then were halted in our tracks by the rocks. Oh the rocks. Nothing makes your feel older than trying to walk barefoot across an expanse of rocks, which were smooth but KILLED. I literally had to have the kids bring me my shoes to even get out of the water. So, get water shoes. It was a great day of perfect weather. We left the beach only briefly to grab lunch back in the Piazza and then continued to sun and swim ourselves silly.

Cam and I were in need of a little girl time, so we headed back first to the pool and steam room. The boys finally made their way back and then the kids struck up a friendship with an English kiddo. Joel and I were able to relax as the addition of just one new kid seemed to smooth out the play time for quite a while.

We finally dragged everyone to get ready for cocktail hour and the kids and I played cards while Joel wrapped up a few calls. We headed out to dinner to what would be our most favorite restaurant in Amalfi and probably our favorite of the trip: L'abside. Up to this point, with the exception of a few places, we hadn't really experienced the "we love family!" vibe we'd expected in Italy. I'm sure it had a lot to do with it being the height of tourist season, but even when our kids were well behaved, they were treated as being sort of "tolerated." L'abside is a family-run restaurant that treats you like family and the food is out. of. this. world. We stuffed ourselves silly over the course of several hours -- sitting in a quieter square of the town watching the siblings run the restaurant together. They cook the food from their mama's recipes and using much produce from their father's farm. The tomatoes were divine in absolutely everything and we couldn't get enough. Plus, they joined in on the kids "rock, paper, scissors," so they were smitten too. We were so sorry to learn that they'd be closed the following night, but don't worry ... we made it back before we left town.

We ventured out from Amalfi Town the next day for probably our favorite day of vacation (although we sort of felt like that at the end of every day). Stay tuned next week!

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