Amalfi: The Dream Place


John Steinbeck exposed the beauty of the Amalfi Coast in Italy to the tourist world when he wrote an article in 1952 in Harper’s Bazaar about the town of Positano. He most famously said, “It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone”. Positano and the Amalfi Coast are now beckoningly real to me. I spent my last abroad trip there this past weekend alongside my best friend from home whom is studying in Florence. It was a weekend of fun in the sun, but I never think Steinbeck would have predicted his article to cause as much of a boom in tourism as it has in the villages that sit on the hills of the coast.

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I decided that the best and easiest way to see everything that Amalfi has to offer (as well as travel there in the most inexpensive way possible) was to try out one of the various student tour groups in Florence. It was great being able to sit back, relax, and just enjoy each of the activities that our tour group coordinated for us and I would totally recommend trying one out if you plan on studying in Italy. We left from Florence late on Thursday and after six hours of travelling from Florence, we finally arrived at the town of Sorrento where we would be staying for the weekend. The other benefit of using the tour group was the awesome hotel they set us up in! It was right on the cliff overlooking the ocean and we had breakfast and dinner included.

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After just four hours of sleep, it was time to begin our day’s activities. We headed off for the ferry in Sorrento to take us to the island of Capri off the coast. Capri is just beautiful; it is like a massive rock that was just plopped right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The sides of cliffs plunge straight down through the waves and disappear for who knows how long down into the depths of the ocean. We took a boast cruise around the island to see all of the caves and caverns hidden in the rock walls, as well as the incredible houses probably owned by celebrities that sit precariously along the cliff’s edge.

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By far, the most incredible part of Capri though is the Blue Grotto. This cave was discovered by the Romans thousands of years ago and what is so unique about it is not the cavern itself, but the color of the water inside. To get into the cave, you have to clamber into this tiny rowboat with just two other people and a native who paddles it. When you reach the cave entrance, the driver has to judge when the waves are low enough to allow the most height between the water and the top of the opening because the entrance is THAT SMALL. Then, everyone has to lie down in the boat and the driver has to pull the boat through by a rope attached to the cavern wall. With a rush of wind you enter the Blue Grotto and instantly you are dazzled. The water within the cave looks as though someone dropped millions of blue glow sticks into the bottom of it. This florescence is caused by the way in which the light enters through cave and bounces off the rocks and water underneath the surface. My friend was courageous enough to actually jump in and swim in it, but because I could not see the bottom at all I told her I’d take the pictures. The Blue Grotto is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world and it is no surprise why; it is simply mesmerizing.

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Day two was spent at Steinbeck’s Positano. Positano is known as the beach town of all the villages because of its Black Sand Beach. We spent the day relaxing in the sun and swimming in the still chilly waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The houses that dot the side of the cliff are an array of sizes and colors and you can truly see what Steinbeck was talking about in his article. The town itself is made up of a few small streets for pedestrians only and there are plenty of shops, restaurants, and gelato stores for everyone. There is one road in and one road out of the village and you will sit in some traffic during tourist season in order to get to the beach. I had the most amazing lunch at a place called Capricci and found out that I love gnocchi with pesto. We did some shopping at the ceramic stores which are plentiful along the streets, and ended the afternoon with a gelato on the steps to the beach overlooking the sea.


After seeing Pompeii, we then ventured to the cause of its ultimate demise. I can now say that have I hiked up Europe’s most dangerous volcano. Since 79 A.D., Vesuvius has erupted 8 times, the most recent in 1944. It is also the most densely populated volcanic region due to its close proximity to the city of Naples as well as smaller towns with a total of 3,000,000 people living miles from its base. These are the reasons for it being considered the most dangerous volcano and Europe. Today, it is closely monitored and for this reason it is visited by tourists all around the world. Reaching the top and looking down into the crater, it is incredible to imagine that this mound of earth without any visible lava or smoke has killed thousands of people. But, standing there at the top I could see for miles all of Naples, the coast, and out to the Mediterranean Sea. In that moment, looking out over the Italian coast during my last abroad excursion, I could only think about how lucky I was to be standing there at the top of a volcano, in Italy, studying abroad, living in Ireland, and having had all these incredible experiences. My abroad experience is the dream place that Steinbeck wrote of. It hasn’t seemed to be quite real this entire time I have been here; but now that I am coming to the beginning of the end, this experience is becoming beckoningly real and the nostalgia is hitting hard.

Riley Stefano is a student at St. Michael’s College and an official API Student Blogger. Riley is studying abroad with API in Galway, Ireland.

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