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Travelling to Rome, the Amalfi Coast, and Capri With Children
Choosing Our Destination
During August 2013, we took our two children to Italy. It had been a toss up between that and the Greek Islands, but after a bit of deliberation we chose the Italian shores. We wanted a trip that combined sightseeing with the coast, and whilst Greek beaches are almost certainly better, there seemed to be more to actually see and do in Italy without travelling too far.
My oldest son, 13, was very keen to visit the tragic city of Pompeii. I had always hoped to visit Rome and my partner, a keen cyclist, liked the opportunities on offer for his chosen sport. (This didn't amount to much due to him breaking his elbow a couple of months before we travelled, but we still stuck by our decision.)
After deciding that we would fly from our local airport into Rome prior to spending two days there, we had to decide where to spend the remaining eight days of our holiday. I'm not sure why, but I became hooked on the idea of the Amalfi Coast. I'm a romanticist at heart, and the images I saw of this region appeared breathtaking. It was close to both Rome and Pompeii, and I liked the idea of catching a boat to the nearby island of Capri.
The beaches in the area are, for the most part, pebble or a mix of pebble and volcanic sand, but we had been to parts of stunning Croatia in the past that were pebble and it wasn't an issue. Besides, lack of sand only produces clearer water.
Making the Booking
We booked our flights for August 24, to return on September 03. I booked accommodation separately, after spending many an evening browsing the website of Booking.com. This, I have found, is a great way to book hotels. With many of the options, you have the chance to make a booking secured with a credit card, but you do not pay a penny until you arrive. Not only that, but you are able to cancel or modify your booking almost until the day of travel without consequence. It sounds too good to be true, but they are an excellent company with very good customer service (I rang them on two occasions). But anyway, on with the trip.
We arrived at Rome's Fiumicino Airport mid afternoon with pre-booked transfers via the Terravision shuttle bus. As soon as we arrived, we realised that Rome is happily chaotic. Making it across an unknown city with two children - one aged only five - is no mean feat, particularly when you are forced to transport the said child's suitcase as well as your own (he insisted on his own case to feel part of it all).
The shuttle bus system works well - we had purchased our tickets online in the UK in order to pay 4 Euros each instead of 6, but you don't have to. It doesn't matter if you don't know which time slot to book - if you miss one bus you simply board the next. And by the way, it's no good being shy and retiring - you have to shove your own cases into the hold as though on a mission, because if you wait patiently for everyone else to be done you'll find there's no space left. Brits are much better at queuing than many other Europeans - you just have to step forth and go for it!
We had booked a two night stay at the Hotel Residenza dell'Angelo, in the Navona area. Located in Rome's historic centre, it is about a ten minute walk from the well known Piazza Navona. In my eyes, the location of your accommodation in Rome is paramount to your enjoyment. You've got to be right in the heart of history in order to feel the true essence of this beautiful city. Don't book a hotel near the airport, or right outside the Termini (where the Terravision bus will drop you off). This is a poor location - it would be like staying in another place entirely. Research the different areas and choose wisely.
We stepped off the Terravision bus with no bearings, but it helped that we had communicated with the hotel prior to arriving. They had kindly emailed us the number of the local bus to take us from the Termini to the hotel - and also which stop to get off at. However, Rome is busy, big and there are buses and people everywhere. It took twice as long as expected to arrive at the hotel.
Firstly, we didn't know where to buy the bus tickets or where the buses departed from and had to ask twice for directions. Secondly, although we knew the name of the stop, we didn't know how to recognise it - hence, we were told the incorrect stop by a well-meaning British traveller on the bus and subsequently got off too early.
The children were losing the plot by then - they were hot, thirsty, hungry and tired from travelling. We had a whinging teenager and a tantrum-prone little one who refuses to move his feet when he's had enough. My partner's mobile phone had mapped out our route for us (thankfully), and we could see we still had quite a way to walk. It wouldn't have seemed so bad without the luggage or the heat (or without the kids), but right at that moment it felt like trying to cross a desert with no end.
Eventually, we ended up back on the same bus route after paying again, but at least we arrived. And, looking back, it wasn't as bad as it seemed. Rome is a friendly place, with locals who are approachable and who will do their utmost to help you. And the accommodation was excellent. Set in a historical building, it doesn't have a reception, but the excellent proprietors will meet you outside. Actually, it is just like having your own, elegant apartment in the centre of Rome. We almost felt like locals!
In Love With Rome
I fell in love with historical Rome almost from the moment we arrived. It would be hard not to - with its beautiful architecture, cobbled streets and tempting gelaterias around every corner, this city has all the ingredients for the best recipe.
At the end of the street from our hotel was the Castello St. Angelo - but everywhere there are stunning buildings adorned with painstakingly impressive detail. The Romans knew how to construct magnificence that lasts the centuries and leaves you reeling in awe and wonder. Our 13-year-old had purchased a camera especially for the trip and really got into the art of photography. In fact, we had only been in the hotel for about half an hour before we were off taking photos of the Castello St. Angelo, impulsively buying sun hats from vendors on the bridge and exploring the streets towards Piazza Navona in search of Navona Notte.
Navona Notte is a restaurant in a street just off the piazza - a great discovery I made via Tripadvisor. Before departing the UK (and after reading a story in which someone with no sense had paid the equivalent of £58 for four ice creams) I wanted to search out a reasonably priced place to eat for the first evening.
Indeed, Navona Notte was friendly, charming, packed with both visitors and locals alike and the food was great. What's more, it turned out to be our cheapest meal of the entire ten day trip - something I wasn't expecting from Rome. We had wine, too - a tip if you want to save money is to go for the local house wine, which won't set you back much at all.
Piazza Navona bustles with life and flows with water fountains. Surprisingly, our five-year-old fell in love with it. Throughout our two days in Rome, he was always asking "Can we go back to the square?" Partly, his enthusiasm was due to vendors selling cheap, plastic toys that light up (you switch them on, propel them into the air and watch them fall like glowing parachutes) It's a tacky gimmick, but rather fun - five-year-olds like such things. And after we bought one, the vendors joined in playing with him and he had a great time.
Tacky toys asides, Piazza Navona is for everyone. We heard an enchanting string band, and a young woman hypnotised us with the accordion. A congregation of nuns strolled through the square at 11pm. There were street artists; diners outside restaurants; couples holding hands. There was a wonderful vibe and all you had to do to enjoy it was just to be there.
That night, we went back very late to our little hotel. Italy is a place of night owls. On the way back,we bought our first gelatos. Italian ice cream is delicious, much tastier than the equivalent back home. In Italy, it's what you do - it's almost like popping into the bar on the way back for a quick nightcap. I couldn't even cout how many gelatos we ate throughout our trip!
Day Two - The Colosseum
You can't go Rome without visiting the Colosseum - that would just be sacrilege. It's one of the greatest examples of architecture in the world. As a family, it was number one on our list of places to see in Italy's capital.
However, let me give you a word of advice if you plan to travel during a busy period - book your tickets beforehand. We booked the night before we left the UK, but actually that was a mistake - we didn't receive confirmation until we were on our way to Italy, and thus didn't have anywhere to print the necessary tickets. It might not have been an issue if we had stayed in a hotel with printing facilities, but we spent the best part of Sunday morning searching for an internet cafe. Local people were keen to help but didn't know of anywhere open on Sunday mornings.
Eventually, tourist information sent us in the right direction - after we had wasted a LOT of time. But if you have your tickets printed before you leave, booking is definitely the way forward. By the time we arrived at the Colosseum the queue for those without tickets was enormous. We, however, walked smugly by and were inside within minutes.
At the Colosseum, you can pay for a guided tour - these are popular but expensive. At least one area can only be accessed if you are part of a tour, but we decided against it. It's a good enough choice if you are a party of adults or teenagers, but younger children don't like the restraints (at least, not ours). Instead, we rented two audio guides at a cost of five euros each and made our own way round.
The audio guides are quite interesting, and without any form of guide there is NO information at all to give you insight to this amazing structure and all that went on within it. We learned about the beasts and gladiators that fought there and that the stadium could hold at least 60,000 spectators. We also learned of the astronomical amount of people and animals who lost their lives at the Colosseum, and the lack of value that was placed on life itself. Part way round there is a gift shop and we purchased two books, including one for young children that explained what life as a gladiator was all about. I sat down on a step and read some of it to my little one - there is nothing like learning about history while you are actually there.
Both of our children enjoyed the Colosseum - our thirteen-year-old was interested in the history and was obsessed (like everyone else) with taking photos. Our five-year-old just liked gallivanting about with fervent randomness. With little ones about, you do miss some of the facts and end up focusing on something ridiculous, like a tiny nook they can fit their bodies into. But really, it's the experience that counts.
The Forum and Palatine Hill
When you pre-book a ticket for the Colosseum, it will probably include a visit to the Forum and Palatine Hill as well. The Colosseum is actually the quicker visit of them all - the other two cover vast amounts of space and, for us, took the best part of the afternoon to get round.
Again, we didn't hire an audio guide here but we probably should have done. Whilst there is a little bit of information dotted around, it's not enough to get a good feel of what life here was all about. Basically, the Forum is a large area containing the ruins of many significant buildings,such as government structures and areas used for trading. Even just being among the ruins is an amazing experience - the sheer scale of the buildings; the thickness of the columns; the unspeakable effort the Romans went to to construct a city and the skill with which they managed it, so many years before modern technology, is truly impressive.
Because we didn't have a guide we were not even sure what Palatine Hill was all about at first, but eventually we learned there had once stood Emperor Palaces and a huge stadium surrounded by gardens with cisterns and fountains. The Romans cared a lot about gardens. There were plenty of photographic opportunities for both of the children (our youngest had taken my old camera along and loved snapping just about anything). He also climbed a tree (not sure if that was allowed) and we all got completely drenched, along with everyone else, when an impromptu thunderstorm hit and the heavens opened. We sheltered under a tree with lots of other visitors squashed together like sardines, but the rain just penetrated through!
Evening Stroll to the Trevi Fountain...
The Trevi Fountain
Our second evening in Rome was spent at a restaurant before trekking off to find the Trevi Fountain. You can walk to most places in historical Rome, but it is more difficult with little children. They are prone to moaning about tired legs, running like maniacs in the entirely wrong direction (with no sign of tired legs), or just having an altogether different itinerary. The further you have to walk, the more they stick in their heels - unless they see a shop in which they want to buy something, of course.
As we were heading to the Trevi Fountain, the rain of this afternoon returned and we had to buy two umbrellas. Rain doesn't matter much in Rome (except, when we arrived at the fountain the steps were a bit slippery and someone fell down them). But the Trevi Fountain was definitely worth the trip - surely, it would almost be an offence to visit the city and not see it. It's only a fountain, but it is quite spectacular. It's so big that it is difficult to fit the whole of it into one photo. You are supposed to throw a coin in and make a wish - our little one soon got the hang of that and wanted to throw all my money in!
The Trevi Fountain is the sort of place you sit in front of and eat a gelato. It's the sort of place you embrace a loved one and admire all that is beautiful in our world. Even the rain doesn't dampen this feeling - this is not just any old fountain, it's special.
On the way back to Residenza dell'Angelo we played with the flying toys again, ending up in Piazza Navona and outside the Pantheon several times. This was probably due to our five-year-old not wanting to go 'home' rather than any lack of planning on the part of the adults. Remember, he said the Piazza was his favourite place and he was sticking to it! We did, however, wander by the most beautiful shop - a shop full of all things 'Pinocchio'. The shop was lit up and very warm and inviting - the little puppets were beautiful and you could even take your photo on the bench outside, sitting right next to Pinocchio himself.
Day Three - The Train From Rome to Salerno
Today, we left Rome behind. I wasn't ready to leave this city that I had fallen for, nor had we visited as much as we would have liked. I say that from the point of view of an adult - the children wanted to see the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain, and we had checked those off. But there is so much to see in Rome, and I would have definitely liked to have seen inside the Pantheon and the Vatican. The Vatican was almost on our doorstep, so close we could walk to it in five minutes. In fact, we spent the morning having breakfast and then standing outside the Vatican taking pictures. We wanted to go inside and thought we might squueze it in, but an information guide told us there was a two hour queue and that I was wearing shorts and had uncovered shoulders, which wasn't allowed. Even if we had wanted to go in, we didn't have time because our train left Roma Termini at 13.40. It would have been nice, but the children were not remotely interested and I think we would have enjoyed it more without them. If it hadn't have been a Monday, we could have explored Castello Di Angelo instead. But, in Italy, lots of things close on Mondays and open on Sundays instead.
Italy is a lovely place, but it is part of the real world. Not everything is perfect - or even nice - and the Roma Termini train station is one such thing. Scammers work from here - lots of them. They all know you are a tourist and they want your money. Even girls still in their teens operate in here, and will approach you to assist with ticket buying, especially if they spot you at the self-service machines. Never let them help you, they are not staff! Only staff in uniform and behind the desks are legitimate Termini staff. In any case, it's a good idea to book your train in advance, since many trains do get sold out beforehand. We were lucky on our outbound journey but less lucky on the way back - our chosen train was full the day before. They also vary in price - we managed to obtain 'bambini gratis' (free children) on this occasion, but not all tickets include this.
Some trains in Italy are better than others. Our journey was from Rome to Salerno. Our end destination was Maiori, where we had an apartment booked for the following eight nights. The train we travelled on was excellent - one of the Frecciabianca trains. It was cool, comfortable and had a buffet car. It was a trouble-free trip to Salerno (we took paper, pens and electronic devices for the children) and we arrived around 16.15. As you approach the Amalfi coast, the mountains loom up on you and tunnels take the trains right through the middle. When you get off the train at Salerno, you head for the exit and the buses are right outside. You must buy bus tickets before hand - there are a couple of places you can do this. To go to Maiori, you get the bus entitled 'Amalfi'. They depart every hour - we were lucky as we arrived just as the bus was due.
It was a long day travelling from Rome from Maiori - probably about three-and-a-half hours travel in all (the bus is around fifty minutes). At least we didn't have to walk very far. Actually, it went well and the children didn't mind the travel. They were looking forward to discovering our new hotel, especially as they knew it had a swimming pool. When we got off the bus, we only had to walk a couple of minutes before we were at the Hotel Panorama (who run the Santa Tecla Apartments, where we were to be staying). If you don't know where you are going, never be afraid to ask anyone - Italians fall over themselves to be nice to you and help you out. I am a hopeless navigator, and relied on the kind assistance of strangers throughout - these are some of the friendliest people I have encountered.
Santa Tecla Apartments (Hotel Panorama)
The Santa Tecla Apartments are a great choice for families. They are well-equipped, spotlessly clean and ours was very spacious (we booked a quadruple apartment). Our balcony overlooked the swimming pool, which is very pretty at night - alternating coloured lights show it off. There was a flatscreen TV, but unless you understand Italian you will not find anything to watch - not that holidays should be spent in front of screens! The kitchen had everything we needed except for tea towels - these are not included and you have to buy your own. We bought souvenir towels to take home, and then used them while we were there. There is a very handy launderette where you can wash your clothes for 3 euros, including powder. Apartments are also very convenient if you have young children who are a bit fussy - even if you plan on eating out a lot, the opportunity to store additional things in a large fridge is a godsend. Our five year old didn't always eat a lot in the restaurants we visited, and on three occasions we actually chose to eat in the apartment to save money or because we were late back from day trips.
The main reason we chose Santa Tecla was because of the swimming pool, the reasonable price and the excellent reviews on TripAdvisor. On other parts of the Amalfi Coast, many of the cheaper accommodations do not have pools at all. That would have been fine if we were on a couples holiday, but the children do insist they need a pool to make them happy. If you stay here, bear in mind that there is no children's pool or area shallow enough for very small children to touch the bottom. But it is still nice, and typical of Italian pools. It is, however, cold when you first attempt to get in, but once you take the plunge it soon warms up!
The apartments are set back from the beach front road and are close to residential apartments, from which we could hear locals cheering along to a televised football match on Saturday night! This wasn't annoying - on the contrary, it made us feel as though we were part of a real Italian town. And we were - Maiori is more than a place to go on holiday, it is a town full of local people living their lives.
The Hotel Panorama runs the Santa Tecla Apartments. I found this to be an excellent establishment with wonderful staff. The reception staff helped me out on many occasions, from the time my son ran into a sign on the pavement and cut his head, to assisting us with the planning of our independent trip to Pompeii. They also helped me book a return train journey to Rome at the end of our stay and then use their email to print out the tickets. I couldn't fault them at all. We also used the rooftop bar on occasion, and the views over the water are really pretty at night. Wi-Fi also works better from the bar.
Day Four - Maiori
On the fourth day of our trip, we awoke in Maiori to two children who wanted to go swimming immediately. First, though, I set off to buy breakfast in the local supermarket. It was only just around the corner. I almost bought cream instead of milk (language issues), and the butter had a rather different taste to what we were used to, but apart from that it went well. I quickly learned that, in Italy, lemons, watermelons and grapes are enormous and that you can't buy cheddar cheese (which our little one insists upon in his sandwiches). Still, when in Italy you have to live as the Italians do and embrace it - even when you are five.
If you want to swim in the Santa Tecla pool you have to wear a swimming hat - 1 euro 50 cents from the little reception desk outside the pool. The pool seems very cold upon your first attempt - and even your second and third attempts (the children, of course, just got straight in - it was me shivering on the periphery). Once you have dared to emerge your shoulders, all is fine and you will even be warm. It's not the biggest pool we have ever been in, but it is perfectly adequate for a fun, water-filled morning. Just round the corner, there is a little shop full of pool toys. Over the course of our stay, we bought three inflatables, a huge water ring, a water pistol and two balls (bear in mind that transporting all this stuff back home was a small nightmare). I loved the shopkeeper, he was so friendly and will inflate lilos for you to take back. He told my little boy that he was his 'best guest' - the widespread belief that Italians love children is absolutely true. My youngest was made a fuss of everywhere and everyone wanted to pat him on the head - something that I am sure he was quite bemused by!
Maiori is a lovely little town and a great choice for families. It is different from the other places for which the Amalfi Coast is better known for - namely Positano and Amalfi itself. The main difference is the loss of Maiori's medieval centre, wiped out by a flood in 1953 - this is also the reason for the existence of the long beach, a rarity in this area. The beach is dominated by different strips run by the various hotels, although you can go anywhere really. It just means that the hotels offer a discount to their guests. And going to the beach is very expensive it Italy - if you want an umbrella and a sunbed, that is. If you want to sit in the front row (where you can see your children in the sea) it will set you back about 30 euros for the day! Being from England, this was an alien concept to us. It's especially expensive if you only want to spend a couple of hours there before doing something else. However, if you think spending a fortune on an umbrella is a step too far, rest assured that if you only want to place your towel near the sea and go for a swim, it is free wherever you are. And that suited us just fine. Also, if you go mid-afternoon instead of in the morning then it should be drastically cheaper. (There are also two free areas on Maiori beach, but they are not as nice as the other areas and are also very small).
Maiori might not have its medieval centre, but it still has a heart and some stunning views looking over the sea and up towards the mountains. Local people are lovely and friendly, it is cheaper than many of its neighbours and the beach is much bigger (it's a mix of pebble and volcanic sand). We visited three different beaches during our stay and both of our children declared Maiori's to be the best. At night, everyone is out and about - unlike back home, young children were still playing on the playground at 11pm. We found a restaurant called Dedalo and it became our regular haunt. The staff are welcoming and the food very good. We had to wait for a table on two occasions, but this is just proof of its popularity.
Maiori has a castle, and you can walk up to it if you want to. If you have older children then you might want to give it a go - we didn't because our little one wasn't up for it, plus it was hot and a bit of a trek. We zoomed in on our cameras and had a look at it that way instead!
The Amalfi Coast Road, on the Sita Bus
On the afternoon of our first full day in Maiori, we spent several hours chilling out and having lunch, before deciding to embark on the journey to Positano. The great thing about the Amalfi Coast is that places are easily linked, so you do not have to hurry out early in the morning to explore the area. We caught the bus at 3.30pm. To get to Positano from Maiori or Minori you need two buses - one to Amalfi and the next to Positano. The first bus only took 15 minutes at the most. The second bus took longer - probably about 45 minutes. I'm not sure the actual distance was particularly great, but driving along the Amalfi Coast road is fraught with hold ups. It sounds like hell, but is actually rather entertaining, especially when you haven't experienced such a road before. It certainly made the roads of the UK seem tame and mundane in comparison! Kudos to the Sita bus drivers - with huge drops into the sea, combined with a very short crash barrier, I still felt safe and secure throughout. Two buses cannot pass each other without much shuffling and reversing on the narrow road, and many passengers like to cheer and wave at those on the other bus. Sometimes, whole queues of cars have to reverse back and oncoming scooters are forced to brake to avoid collision! The road seems to have less enforced rules than I am used to - cars overtake from behind the bus and vehicles only stop at red lights some of the time. I must admit that I wouldn't want to drive my own car on this road, but the bus was quite fun. My teenage son described it as awesome!
Positano is a rather beautiful place. It is described as the diamond of the Amalfi Coast and its image is often used to represent the entire area. Here, houses hug the cliffs like nowhere else and it's almost amazing that they are there at all. Whilst Positano isn't very big, it makes up for it by being stunning - and there are some great little shops as well. It is probably the most upmarket destination on the coast, but it is friendly and accommodating to all.
As we stepped off the bus we were right at the top of the cliff and ambled along the easy path down to the beach. We took our swimming things with us - it's a good idea to if you are exploring the region, since you may well fancy a dip anytime you spot the sea. It's quite hard to get changed in public whilst hidden inside a towel, but we managed! The beach was quaint, though quite busy, and there is a good free area. We dumped our stuff not too far from the water and plunged right in - the water was refreshing, very clear and buoyant from the high salt levels. Little waves crash onto the shore and the children really loved this. Throughout our time on the Amalfi Coast, we would often leave our bags (even with phones and cameras inside) unattended whilst we swam. I felt it was a safe enough place to do so and didn't worry once. I couldn't resist the photo opportunities, standing in the sea whilst looking up at the little buildings tucked into the mountainside - there is a reason why the image of Positano is so often used to represent the entire Amalfi Coast region.
Because we had headed out so late, we decided to stay in Positano to eat before getting the bus back. After all, we were on holiday - who hurries? That turned out to be a big mistake. Not, I hasten to add, because having a meal in Positano is not a nice experience - it is. Plus, if you are down near the beach the setting is quite poetic, with the shimmering water and the little boats. However, less than half an hour into our meal, the sky became very dark. Then the waiters came to put the canopies down at the sides of the restaurant. Then came the storm.
It rained and rained - the water was gushing down towards the beach like a fast-moving river, because Positano is built on a slope. It was thundering and lightning. The children were not really bothered about this, but that was before they realised they had to head back up to the cliff top to the bus stop, in the storm. There was no choice, since we had to get back to our hotel, and that meant walking up, thunder and lightning or not! It wasn't very nice! Our oldest son was scared that he was going to get struck by lightning, but the youngest was oblivious and delighted in announcing his bravery. We needed to get the 10pm bus, but it was late. However, the atmosphere in the bus stop was quite jovial compared to rainy bus stops in the UK. There was a lot of squashing up with strangers and laughing. The bus was twenty five minutes late, then when it did come it drove straight past! We thought it was full, but then it pulled up. Everyone cheered and away we went, admiring the spectacular lightning over the sea as went.
The journey back was calm and smooth, despite the storm. The bus was ambient. I love travelling; looking out of the window and feeling at peace as I take in new places. That night, I loved the vastness of the open space across the dark, moonlit sea.
Day Five - Amalfi and an Accident
We had another lazy morning in Maiori, eating breakfast in the apartment before heading down to the beach. We sat on the Panorama Hotel section, but we didn't pay for sunbeds or umbrellas since we really only wanted to play in the water. You will be challenged (in a friendly way) if you attempt to wander onto the beach without paying, but when you tell them you only want to sit on your towel at the front, they will be happy with that.
We discovered that there was a beautiful little deli right near our apartments. It was run by a charismatic and really friendly man named Francesco. He will make you hot lunches to order, and has all the delicious extras you could ever want for a mouth-watering pizza. This was the first time we encountered the quaint deli, but we went in every day after that. We became regulars! Francesco cooked us a huge pizza to share, with mouth-watering artichokes and mushrooms to put on top. Italian pizza is sublime, and he didn't disappoint (plus, he likes to give away free doughnuts to children).
We went out late again this afternoon. It didn't matter. We were quickly discovering that time isn't really a big thing in Italy. It doesn't matter what time you set off, and it doesn't matter when you return. Life bustles well into the night - not the type of life that belongs to night clubs, but rather just normal life. In summer, in Italy, children are not in bed at 8pm. Or 9pm. Or even 11pm. Families are out and about, living. Enjoying themselves.
We thought we'd head for Amalfi itself. It's an easy journey - just fifteen minutes by bus (you buy tickets from a little cafe on the beach road). Amalfi is a bit of a transport hub, because it is the connection point; the place to change for many destinations. The buses all wait by the harbour, but don't think that makes it an unattractive place - it doesn't. It might not be as quaint as Positano, but Amalfi has its own treasures.
I just loved the ancient streets of Amalfi. It is by no means a big place, but the cobbled pathways have a certain feeling of magical discovery about them. From the harbour, Amalfi slopes gently upwards. We followed the incline, turned off down a narrow street and ended up outside a Limoncello shop. Limoncello is the drink of the the Amalfi Coast, an alcoholic beverage produced using the enormous local lemons. We knew all about it, but we had yet to try it. The lady in the shop was about to change all that.
As we browsed outside, she presented us with a little shot glass each (just myself and my partner, not the children!) I sipped mine tentatively. It was strong and warmed my throat instantly. I don't usually drink liquers, since I am a wine-girl at heart, but buying the Limoncello was a must. You simply can't go to the Amalfi Coast and not buy your own. Buy it for yourself. Buy it as a gift. There are some beautful bottles to choose from to - we chose a rather apt cello shaped one. And sometimes Italy is expensive, but Limoncello is very cheap. Ours cost 8 Euros, but there were smaller ones that were even cheaper. I didn't know this at the time, but you can buy Limoncello in the supermarket back in the UK. My sister told me she often gets it, and there it costs £14 (16 Euros). Twice the price.
The Duomo in Amalfi is its main attraction and it is beautiful. It looks imposingly over the Piazza, in all its intricate glory. There are an awful lot of steps leading up to it, as you can see from the photo. I kept trying to focus in on the rest of the family sitting near the top, but they were so far away you couldn't tell who they were! It's just a church, but it is well worth a look. The inside is quite stunning. To be honest, children don't really find it interesting. But you won't spend much time in there, so don't miss out. Bare shoulders are not allowed, but if you don't have anything to cover up with then they will lend you a scarf to put across your skin.
After visiting the Duomo, we bought a gelato (gelato choccolino for the children) and went for a walk. I love stepping off the main track, and so I was excited to see a sign pointing up a stairway off the main street. To the Ancient Staircases said the sign. Our five-year-old was very excited too - I mean, who doesn't love an adventure. And the staircases are like an adventure. Narrow and old, you can almost see the stories from the past jumping out at you. Actually, you might only be able to do that if you have a good imagination. And it's not a very long walk. But, for me, it was actually my favourite part of Amalfi Town. I don't know why, but it was like entering a tiny, hidden maze of mystery from a bygone world.
Evenings in Amalfi are about eating and shopping. The children, however, decided they didn't want to eat at a restaurant tonight, but would rather go back to the apartment and cook ready-prepared pasta in a saucepan. I think they were missing home life - a simple dinner and just chilling out indoors. We wandered about a bit - if we had been there just as a couple, it would have been more fun to browse in the little shops. We managed to buy two tea-towels and an apron - how very domesticated! But our eldest complained about the shops and our youngest just wanted to indulge in his newfound addiction - drinking from the very elaborate water fountains Italy has to offer. (He was very taken with the one in the main square.)
We took the bus back to Maiori mid-evening to cook pasta in a saucepan and to chill out. But somehow, our five-year-old managed to have an accident on the way back to the apartment. We had been at the cashpoint at the Banco Di Napoli, and he was running along the street as children do. But he wasn't looking where he was going and ran smack-bang into a protruding advertisement on the wall. He screamed. His forehead was pouring with blood and there was a nasty gash. He panicked and covered his face. I panicked a bit - I'm useless in an emergency and would make a terrible paramedic! I was thinking that perhaps we were going to need stitches or something. The bleeding settled down but the cut needed a dressing. For some reason, my son hates medical attention, even for cuts and scrapes. We were right near the Hotel Panorama, so I went inside with him and asked for some first aid. The receptionist went to get something to clean the cut, plus a plaster, but my son decided to run away! In the end, I borrowed the first aid equipment to apply myself in the apartment. But on the way, an old, Italian lady saw him and wanted to help. She took the stuff out of my hands and tried to go towards him with the cotton wool, but he screamed and ran away! It was quite funny, looking back. I managed, eventually, to treat the wound in the apartment, amid much screaming.
Then we had to pack a bag for a couple of days, because we had arranged just about the most elaborate excursion we could have done - an overnight stay on the fabled island of Capri (even though we were still booked into the Santa Tecla Apartments). Why did we do it? Because I read a lot of opinions that said Capri can be a tourist hellhole if you are there within normal daytripper hours - but much more serene outside of these hours. It's expensive to stay on Capri overnight, but we thought it would be a once-in-a-lifetime event.
We had a boat trip booked and everything - and we had to be at the harbour at 8am.
Boat Tickets to Capri
Make no mistake - if you are a family, a boat trip to Capri is expensive. Possibly more expensive than you will have realised before you arrive on the Amalfi Coast, unless you have done your research. It's also worth shopping around, since there is no shortage of people selling tickets and all the prices are different! Don't leave it until the day before you go though - we did and a lot of the tour boats were full.
I have been on boat trips before, but not in Italy. For our whole family, it cost us 99 Euros - and bear in mind that I was told my five-year-old didn't have to pay. When you think about it, it was a return journey with about four hours of travel altogether, so it's not that bad. However, we were used to paying for transport in cheaper countries, and so it took a bit of a chunk out of our spending money. If you have a young child, check with several operators, since some wanted to charge for my little one, whereas others assured us he would travel for free.
To get to Capri by boat (the only way you can get there unless you charter a helicopter!) you can either take the ordinary ferry from Amalfi, or you can book a more scenic excursion boat. We did the latter - it was more interesting because it was a tour, a more intimate boat and, surprisingly, it worked out cheaper! It was actually brilliant because the company allowed us to return the following day, even though it was essentially a day trip.
The company we used was Co-op Saint Andrea - I was very happy with the service. The boat was nice, they were very prompt and everything went to plan even though we returned on a different day.
Day Six - On to Capri
I love boat trips and I was excited for our excursion to Capri. Whenever I'd seen pictures of it, it looked beautiful and I just felt we couldn't go all the way to Amalfi and not bother sailing across the Tyrrhenian Sea. I saw it as a little gem, full of magic and legend, that just couldn't be missed. Yes, I'm a bit of a dreamer at heart, I'll admit it. I allow my heart to rule my head all the time.
The children were excited about the trip as well. If boats are peaceful and serene for adults, they are an adventure for younger ones - plus, no walking involved! Our kids took a lot of photos of the coast as we departed Maiori and sailed on to Minori, Amalfi and Positano to collect other passengers. My older son's photos were excellent - his younger brother's slightly more unusual! Actually, most people on the boat had their cameras at the ready, since the Amalfi Coast, when seen from the sea, is at its most spectacular. You can admire the amazing feat of building right onto the cliff face - and you can even see the dramatic way in which the cliff appears to have been hollowed out, but still has little houses sitting on top with barely anything underneath bar a little ledge.
We left the coast behind and jetted across the sea with the breeze on our faces. As we approached Capri, we were faced with a land that seemed to have been created on a rock. It was both imposing and mystical; any signs of life were hidden at first by the trees. I know now that we approached the island from the side of Anacapri, which sits much higher than Capri itself. Our tour guide showed us little coves with stalagmites - we couldn't actually go inside because the boat was too big, but we did sail as close as possible. Then we sailed through the fabled Faraglioni Rocks, as the guide explained their history. It was the stuff of fairytales.
"You're supposed to be kissing, Mum," piped up my teenage son.
My partner and I were too busy capturing the moment forever on our cameras. But as I glanced around, I realised everyone was kissing. A black mark to us for not paying proper attention - but you are supposed to kiss your partner as you pass through under the rocks.
On Beautiful Capri
Our boat dropped us off at around 10am, at Marina Piccola. In fact, Marina Piccola is the smaller of the two harbours. Actually, you couldn't really call it a harbour at all, just more of a quaint dropping point. We didn't end up going to Marina Grande at all, not even just to take a look - although we might have done, if we hadn't have been with the children. Just to chill out over a drink, or whatever.
I immediately fell in love with Marina Piccola. For me, it was just one of those places that inexplicably captured my heart, even though there wasn't much to it. I think our little one felt the same way. In our overnight bags we had packed one change of clothes and our swimwear - not even a towel. We were travelling light - you don't want to be carrying too much around in the hot sun. And we couldn't check into our hotel until the afternoon - we had a whole day of exploring to do first!
Anyway, our little one decided he wanted to go into the water the instant we stepped off the jetty. He was serious - he changed into his swim shorts right there and then. The rest of us just paddled with our clothes on. I took a picture of everyone in the water - Marina Piccola makes for a picture-perfect postcard. The beach is quite pebbly and wouldn't be anything at all if it wasn't for the rocks. As it is, the rocks and the cliffs provide the ingredients for a small but magical place. I'm easily moved, but I fell in love with Marina Piccola before I had even set foot on the ground.
At Marina Piccola, children leap off rocks into the sea. That wouldn't be allowed in England - there would be signs up everywhere telling you that climbing on rocks in the sea is dangerous. But Italy seems to allow you more freedom, and more chances for simple fun.
From Marina Piccola, you have to walk up to the bus stop to buy a ticket to take you into Capri Town. Buses are frequent, if rather crowded in August. We didn't get to sit down for the ten minutes or so journey, but instead had to grab onto the poles to keep our footing. There are taxis too - perhaps the best taxis I have ever seen. They are open-topped cars with canvas roofs that can be rolled back - we didn't hire one since we were travelling on a budget, but they certainly looked very cool.
Even on the short trip to Capri Town, which costs about one euro eighty cents (with younger children travelling free) the beauty of this island was apparent from the start. The roads are narrow and the houses quaint and beautiful, with colourful flowers climbing the garden walls. It has a different feel to the mainland.
It is when the bus stops to disembark in the main town that some people will lose their love for Capri. It is completely true that, in high season, this tiny place is overcrowded and bustling with a million people who want to share it for the day - every day. Most people arrive on day trips, which actually gives you very little chance to enjoy the island for what it is. With only about six hours altogether, a day trip does not give you time to do anything much other than find your feet and wander about. You will always be looking at the clock.
The bus stops somewhere near the Prada store. As you disembark, you will be swallowed into the crowd and the shopping frenzy. There are designer stores and top end jewellers, that most ordinary people wouldn't dare to step inside. It is enough just looking through the window, at the gleaming diamonds that remind you of the 80's film Pretty Woman. The most expensive jewellers in the world has an outlet in Capri - I overheard a tourist guide pointing it out to his group of Americans, but then became confused as to which one he was talking about.
Celebrities frequent Capri and the waters around it. The week after we returned, Beyonce was photographed on a yacht nearby. We didn't see any, although we didn't really look and we were in the wrong place at nigh. Capri might be a haunt of the rich and famous, but it isn't intimidating. It's for everyone. It is not a snobby place, but perfectly friendly and welcoming. At least, that was how I felt whilst we were there. I was terrified that the prices might be so steep that we wouldn't be able to afford any dinner - or even an ice-cream. Capri proved me wrong. You can eat for the same price as on the mainland, and there are nice restaurants with pizzas that only cost upwards of 7 euros, even in the heart of the town. Gelatos are also the same price as in Rome, Amalfi and everywhere else.
If you don't mind crowds then you might be happy to stroll around the shops and quaint streets of Capri Town. The main square is Piazza Umberto. This is where celebrity stalking tourists might head in the evenings, but we didn't. By day, it is just a very small area where you can eat and drink. It's nothing special - we found plenty more interesting places. In any case, if you are a family with children then they won't want to stay for long in the heart of town. Shopping is for single people and couples on their own. Our children whinged about the 'boring' shops, whinged about the heat and our little one demanded a 'gelato choccolino'. He also wanted to buy some cheap plastic toys that you can get anywhere. We didn't let him, since we didn't want to carry them around all day - at this point we were still carrying our overnight bags and hadn't even checked into the hotel!
Giardini d'Auguste / Via Krupp
Instead we walked down a pretty street where someone offered us pizza at a very reasonable price. We politely declined and ended up wandering the delightful back streets of Capri Town, where there were barely any people and everything was pretty and peaceful. We even wandered past a school and were greeted with the delightful tune of children singing. Capri might be a tourist trap, but it is a 'real' place as well.
We decided to visit the Giardini d'Auguste (Gardens of Augustus) and so started to head in the general direction, helped by Google and some occasional signs. On the way, we bought our youngest the desired icecream and sat on the wall taking photos and admiring a cat that sought shelter under a building. It was really hot and everyone needs a break and a cold treat (although the cat didn't have an icecream)! The gardens were quite close, but at one point we thought we had arrived, only to discover that we were actually strolling through a hotel garden, admiring the plants there, instead!
Giardini d'Auguste is small but cheap to get inside. It is nice, but there is not much to it. The best part is the panoramic view, looking right down onto the Faraglioni Rocks. It's a good place to chill out and have a rest for a short while. Capri is all about amazing views, and taking brilliant photos. If you are a budding photographer, you will surely be in your element here. My teenage son might have been lost without his camera - wherever we went, he was looking for the next good shot.
You can walk right down from Giardini d'Auguste to Marina Piccola via Via Krupp (historic sloping pathways that lead right down to the bottom). Via Krupp is famous for its amazing design. You can see Marina Piccola within your grasp. It does, however, take longer than it looks (and is) if you have a small child in tow and it is hot. We chose to head back down to the sea again, because we had promised the children we would spend the rest of the afternoon on the beach while we waited to check into our hotel for the night. Our hotel was actually in Anacapri, so we wouldn't have wanted to go all the way there and then come all the way back again. And remember, we were travelling very light - a change of clothes, some swimwear and some toiletries was all we had brought!
Once we arrived back at beautiful Marina Piccola, we bought some lunch and a plastic swimming float that our little one had set his heart on. For lunch, we had the most expensive sandwiches ever, in the restaurant that overlooks the water. I do not recommend this. I think the sandwiches cost the equivalent of about £8 each and they are not worth the hike in price. Usually, I am very careful about not paying over the odds for things, but the children were really complaining about eating and nobody had the energy to search out anything else. But I'm sure there were more reasonable places - many people on the beach had takeaway pizza and I thought afterwards that we should have opted for that (I think the cost for that was 7 euros and we could have shared).
Our five-year-old barely ate a thing and insisted on changing into his swim shorts in the restaurant toilet before the food had even arrived. What's more, he then insisted on walking around to the beach (which can be seen from the dining area and is literally a stone's throw away) on his own. He didn't wait to be given permisson for this, he just went. Of course, I ended up following him, stepping over the throngs of people that had now firmly established themselves on the pebbles and were surely wondering why there was a lone child on the beach.
After lunch, we were all enjoying ourselves in the water. The float was a big hit, since our little one can't swim. There is a lot of shallow water at Marina Piccola, so it's a perfect place for practising. And the rocks are good fun. My oldest son wanted me to swim all the way around them with him, and then climb on one of them as well. They are a bit slimey with seaweed, but it's perfectly ok. Lots of people do it. The rocks also create some much needed shade - our days in Capri were two of the hottest of our entire holiday.
At Marina Piccola, you can leave your bags on the beach and not worry. There are so many people about on a very small piece of land - and they are not the type of people who will want to take off with your things. Capri is upmarket - our bags were positioned next to a pair of abandoned Prada flip flops. But I found people friendly. You definitely don't have to be rich to feel at home there. The people on the towels next to us concerned themselves with my son's hot feet on the scorching stones (our light travelling meant that we didn't carry any towels of our own). Two girls in the water wanted to play with our little one and tried to ask me all sorts of questions about him (although we were very hindered by a language barrier).
I fell in love with Marina Piccola, and even writing this article makes me wish I was back there. It seems idyllic and romantic. What's not to love? Although it is tiny and there isn't any sand, there is just something special about it. And by the way, the water is crystal clear and the beach holds the Blue Flag award for clean water.
Hotel Il Girasole
As the afternoon drew to a close, we left Marina Piccola and headed to our hotel. As I mentioned before, it was in Anacapri, about 15 minutes away on a bus. We had to go back into Capri Town to get the right bus, which is a bit annoying. The children were tired by then and the bus was quite full. We didn't have a seat for a long time - there aren't many seats because the buses on Capri are all very small. They have to be, otherwise they wouldn't fit on the roads! My youngest son insisted upon sitting on the floor and was really in the way at times - luckily, Italians are quite a patient race.
If Capri Town is busy and perhaps a bit too commerical, Anacapri boasts a more sedate centre and peaceful countryside. It isn't remotely pretentious. We had to ask the bus driver when to get off the bus, and then had to walk for about ten minutes along a path suitable only for pedestrians. Hotel Il Girasole enjoys a beautiful location, surrounded by vines and the sounds of nature. If the centre of Capri is busy, then this was pure peace...
Here, I must point out that the staff at the Hotel Girasole were wonderful, and that we learned this even before we arrived. We were actually supposed to arrive on Capri a whole day earlier, and had booked our accommodation according to this. However, through our own disorganisation we failed to research the boat trips in advance, and ended up not being able to travel out on the boat tour on the right day. We had called the hotel from the mainland and asked if we could amend our stay to the following night and they agreed!
It is actually the most unique hotel I have ever stayed in, as far as rooms go. We had a huge room - for all four of us - and we were completely obsessed with the floor and the bathroom. The tiling was amazing - we all took photos of the bathroom as we had never seen anything like it! The furniture was old-fashioned and inline with the quirky feel of the room. We chose the hotel because it was relatively cheap (for Capri) and because it came with a pool. However, we barely used the pool, mainly due to lack of time. The children insisted upon going in as soon as we had put our bags in the room, but their Dad and I opted out this time. My partner started taking photos of grapes and the horizon and we just breathed in the quiet, countryside air.
We headed out for an evening meal in Anacapri after a quick shower (although nothing is that quick with children, especially when one of them doesn't like showers, only baths). The centre of Anacapri is beautiful and quaint. It doesn't have the showiness of Capri Town - it is understated with a feeling of local life about it. In fact, that night there was a large queue outside a building with people waiting to attend a local event but we never did find out what they were going to see.
The portrayal of Capri Island as an unaffordable destination (unless you are very wealthy) is a myth. Accommodation is more expensive than the mainland, but there are cheap places to be found. Eating out can be expensive or cheap - our meals were no more expensive than anywhere else we had been. It feels like a very safe place - indeed, when we checked into Hotel Il Girasole, the receptionist told us that there was no crime and that we would never have to worry about carrying expensive cameras in view, or anything like that.
We bought three pizzas for 7 euros each and a set three course meal that cost the bargain price of 10 euros. This, by the way, is cheaper than eating out in England. After that, we strolled around before heading back to the hotel. The main excitement of the evening came in the form of a gecko on the outside wall of the hotel room. Our little one was obsessed with it, since he had never seen one before. As per usual, we all had to take a photo. Well, it's important to record the memories, lest we all forget...
The Hotel Il Girasole has lovely outside areas in which to sit around at night. It doesn't have many inside areas. You can purchase drinks, but there is no restaurant (except for breakfast). That doesn't matter, because ambling into town to eat is an enjoyable trip. But anyway, lots of people sit around on the wicker chairs at night, in-between the plants - many are clearly making use of the Wi-Fi, which doesn't work in the rooms. There is a feeling of peace and tranquility, and plenty of space in which to seek privacy, should you want it. My children insisted I took a picture of them beside a 'rude' statue. They are both easily amused! We bought beers (not for the children) and whiled away the evening.
Day Seven - The Chairlift to Mount Solaro and Why We Didn't Visit the Blue Grotto (but should have)
Breakfast at Hotel Girasole II is excellent. It is a buffet breakfast just like the ones we had in Rome, but the choice is better and there is loads of it. You can have hot, cold, or a mixture of both, and as much as you want of anything (when something runs out, they quickly replenish it). Our older son thought the breakfast was so impressive he photographed it (at a point when we had already eaten half of it and the table was very messy) to put on his Facebook. The Hotel Girasole breakfast affair was heading for social media sharing!
We had to check out of our room so we left our bags with the reception staff. I must point out that the staff at this hotel are so accommodating and very helpful. I would have no hesitation in returning. We had planned a trip on the chairlift to Mount Solaro for this morning, and they explained to us how to get there. We also chatted about visiting the famous Blue Grotto - reviews of this attraction had put us off visiting it and so we had chosen the chairlift instead. Apparently, the Grotto (although a good experience) costs €12 per person to enter, and you will only be inside for around two minutes at most (plus you are expected to tip the boatmen). Not only that, but you have to queue up outside in little boats for up to two hours - the wait, plus the lack of time inside, deterred us. It sounded to me like tourist exploitation.
The staff at Hotel Girasole know a better way to visit the Blue Grotto. You wait until around 5pm, when the boats stop for the day, and you simply swim inside for free. It is possible to walk down to the Grotto (we even saw a street sign pointing the way). By doing this, you can enjoy the Grotto for what it is, at your own leisure, without feeling that you are being conned out of every Euro. We couldn't follow this advice because our boat was leaving for Maiori at 4pm, otherwise we definitely would have been there. If we ever go back, then I wouldn't miss the chance again.
Don't go to Capri without bothering to travel the 12 minute journey on the chairlift to the top of Mount Solaro. Do it even if you are not a fan of chairlifts - Mount Solaro sits 589 ft high, but the ride up there is not as bad as you might imagine. The ground sort of follows you up, so the drops don't seem as bad.
The children were excited about the ride - it is definitely a good family outing. Children of all ages will enjoy it - our eldest said it was 'epic' and our little one really enjoyed it too (probably because it involves sitting and not walking). It costs (at the time of writing) 12 euros for a return journey. If you have children who are not mad about hiking in the heat on dificult terrain, you should opt for the return journey. Most people do anyway. Some people like to walk back down (not many) but that would have been a disaster for us!
I was the most nervous, since I don't actually like chairlifts. I don't mind heights, but only if I feel safe. In chairlifts, I worry that something might go wrong and that I might fall out somehow! For anyone who feels the same, rest assured that this the least scary chairlift I have ever been on. Even children travel alone (although smaller ones have to sit on your lap). You can't sit next to anyone else, the seats are all singular, All you have to do is sit back and absorb the beautiful views over Capri and the bay - and capture it on camera,
Unless, that is, you are my partner, riding with our five-year-old. He was full of questions and hypothetical scenarios. Such as: "What would happen if we fell out here, Daddy? We would smash onto those rocks!" Or, "If we fell out here, do you think we would die?" He wasn't nervous or fearful in any way - these were matter-of-fact statements on a par with "Do you think it might rain today?" I'm not sure my partner felt the same way!
There is a cafe at the top of Mount Solaro, but we already had bottles of water and didn't buy anything. There isn't much shade, although there is some here and there. But the views are breathtaking; completely awesome. It is not possible to get a better picture of the Faraglioni Rocks than here. Everybody wants to take photos of themselves on the edge of the mountain, with the little bay, the yachts and the rocks below. It's definitely a must-do.
We stayed up there for ages, just relishing in the moment. And photographing and admiring geckos. On the way back, we passed over the top of a couple of women who had decided to walk - they were exclaiming at the snakes they had just spotted in the long grass. At the end of our journey we bought gelatos - because our son was complaining about being hot and basically, buying gelatos at every opportunity was our new habit. Then we headed down the street with the shops and went looking for some proper lunch.
But before we found lunch, we searched out the shop of Antonio Viva. He sits in his little shop in the heart of Anacapri - I first became alerted to this shoe-making legend via someone else's blog post. Capri is famous for its handmade sandals - and Antonio Viva has a long history of star-studded popularity. He has sold sandals to Gracie Fields, Jackie O and Sophia Loren. His window is adorned with photos of himself with happy customers - Viva has acquired his own celebrity status, of sorts. He has been in several publications, including British magazines, as he told me so himself. And the shop has such a lovely atmosphere, with Antonio sitting outside, creating his legendary Caprese sandals. He is a humble man, with a friendly persona. His shoes are beautiful - we chatted to him and he explained to us which sandal was his favourite style to make. I asked him if I could take a photo of him at work, and he suggested that we should all be in the photo and that a member of his staff would take the picture.
I bought a wonderful pair of sandals enconsed with turquoise stones. They were not particularly expensive considering the location - the equivalent of about £40. I have sandals bought at home that cost more-or-less the same amount, and yet they are not as unique as Viva's creations. My partner bought some sandals too. Both came in a lovely bag (which I kept) along with a free apron emblazoned with L'Carte Di Sandelo Caprese , Antonio Viva. It's a great free gift because now, every time I'm at home in rainy England, preparing dinner, I am reminded of our overnight stay on sunny Capri!
Lunch was a bargain slice of pizza (huge, you wouldn't need more than one piece) which cost around €2.50 from a takeaway outlet. We ate under a shady tree (the sun was beating down) and bought some cans of drink to accompany the food. Then we took a walk down Anacapri's attractive side streets - because you can never truly discover a place until you have walked away from the centre. The streets were residential and very quiet - a nice escape during which we could have reflected and gathered our thoughts, had we not had the children with us.
Going Home (Or Back to Maori)
We had been told to meet the boat at Marina Piccola at 4pm. My partner and older son decided to fetch our bags from the Hotel Girasole alone, since everything slows down somewhat when you are with younger children. It was so hot that our little one was flagging in the heat, so we waited near some shops in front of the bus stop for them to come back. The idea was that they would come to meet us on the bus, which they would board at an earlier stop, then we would carry on to Capri Town. I wanted to look for birthday gifts for my mother and my sister, before we got the boat.
The bus stop was in direct sunlight and we were melting, so we crossed the road to a little square where there was shade. There was also a bench - the most impressive public bench I have ever had the pleasure of sitting on. It was tiled, so it was nice and cool, and was more like a beautiful decoration than a means of resting tired legs. A couple of Italian women sat on one end and smiled at my son and I. That was before I saw my partner and my other son screaming at us from the bus stop, shouting, "What are you doing there?!"
It turned out there was a misunderstanding and we were actually supposed to get on the bus that they were on, without them getting off! This provoked problems with the bus tickets that they already had, since the driver of the next bus initially said they couldn't get back on with the same ticket. However, I think he gave up with the language barrier in the end, and let them on anyway!
Back in Capri Town, the children and their Dad bought gelatos while I tried to buy some gifts. I had a nice time walking about on my own - Capri is a nice place for anyone, but the main shopping area is probably more enjoyable if you are on your own or part of a couple. It was my mother's birthday in a few days, but I didn't manage to find an Italian gift, as was the plan. Not that there isn't anything nice to buy on Capri - there are many beautiful things. It is just that my mum is a very particular person when it comes to pretty much everything! For a while, I ended up tailing along, inconspiciously, with a group of Americans on a guided tour. I learned about one of the most noteable buildings in the centre, which was built as a hospital originally, but which ended up being bought by a rich family because the call for such a large hospital on this little island wasn't warranted.
Never one to pass by the chance of bathing on a beautiful beach, my little one and I took a last dip in the water at Marina Piccola while we waited to board the boat. Of course, we were all wet then, but it didn't matter. Then we bade goodbye to Capri and headed back across the sea. As we passed by Amalfi, dropping some passengers off, there was a group of nuns in their white habits standing on the jetty. I don't know why, but I loved to see them standing there, fitting into the landscape like part of a painting....
It was Saturday night and we headed to Dedalos - our favourite restaurant - for a meal. We had to wait ages for a table, since we had arrived somewhat later than usual. We didn't sit down until almost ten o'clock - which is late for the children - but it was really our fault for heading out at that time. Our five-year-old, however, was very enamoured with the live singer that seranded our table. He said he wished that would happen every time we went out to a restaurant. I thought it was beautiful, even though he obviously expected a tip.
There was a cricket on the concrete outside the apartment tonight. This resulted in lots of observing and taking of photographs. It was there all night. Sadly, by the end of our holiday, it had died in unknown circumstances.
Day Eight - Pompeii
Pompeii was one of the places we most wanted to visit, and the reason why we chose this part of Italy. You can book tours to Pompeii, but this can be very expensive if you are a whole family. What's more, we asked about tours at the reception of the Hotel Panorama, but they only ran on two days per week - neither of which we could manage. Of course, if we had organised ourselves earlier on, we could have chosen a different day. In hindsight, it might have been easier.
Instead, we visited Pompeii independently by train, at the tail end of our holiday. The wonderful staff at the Hotel Panorama helped me find out the train times and bus times, and explained to me how much it should cost, etc. They are all fantastic, I cannot praise them highly enough. Nothing is ever too much bother for them. We ended up heading to Salerno on the 8.30am bus, in order to get the train to Pompeii.
It was an older train, not much like the one we had travelled on from Rome. At Salerno, instead of purchasing tickets in the ticket office you have to, for some unknown reason, buy them in the newsagents. They are very cheap - less than 3 euros each (and they said our youngest didn't have to pay). Trains are pretty frequent and we didn't have to wait long at all.
If you visit Pompeii by rail, try to end up at the right stop. We didn't. We got off at a stop entitled Pompeii, but there is another one, named 'Pompeii Scavi'. At the time, we were unaware of this, hence we ended up quite far away from the ruins - in fact, a 20 - 30 minute walk away. We couldn't believe it! For a group without children, this might not present a problem, but for us it was a disaster. Our youngest isn't a great fan of long walks, so we ended up having to pay for a taxi - which cost as much as the train tickets. He charged us 10 euros. Then another couple, also heading to Pompeii and finding themselves at the wrong station, joined us in the taxi. We thought this would mean we would share the cost, but the driver wouldn't hear of it. He charged us 10 euros each! 'Rip-off' is a term that sprang to mind...
It's not worth worrying too much about unscrupulous taxi drivers when you are about to enter a historical treasure like Pompeii. After purchasing the tickets, we bought a guidebook instead of the audio guide. It was our choice, because - as at the Colosseum - it can be hard to listen to the guide when you have kids in tow. Actually, if we went back, I think we would opt for the guided tour.
Pompeii is huge. It is one of the biggest historical attractions imaginable. Remember, Pompeii was a city and so, to visit it as a whole, you have to be prepared to walk the length and breadth of a Roman city. It is very hot, if you are there during high summer. It was probably about 35 degrees when we visited, at the beginning of September. This is a temperature that makes children moan and complain, by the way. I speak from experience.
But nothing can take away the feeling that Pompeii gives to its visitors. You cannot help but imagine the last moments of its tragic citizens as Vesuvius looms before you, reminding you of its formidable presence. One of the first things that we saw was the preserved body of a victim cowering in fear. There are a few preserved bodies and objects at Pompeii, but most have been moved to Naples. The real sight is the city itself. Houses, government buildings, trading areas, amphitheatres, a brothel..... Real people lived and worked here. There are royal houses, which had exquisite gardens full of plants and water fountains. You can see original mosaics; the remains of water systems; the area used for the public baths. Pompeii might now be in ruins, but it is still a place where you can tread the cobbled ground and absorb the remnants of this thriving city - for Pompeii was a very forward city and more advanced than latter developments.
When you visit Pompeii you need to take plenty to drink with you, especially in summer because of the intense heat. There is a cafe but because the site is so huge you will still need to have something to carry about. We were there for several hours (some drivers will tell you a couple of hours is adequate, but that just isn't true) and still did not manage to visit much more than half of it. Our youngest son enjoyed it at first, but eventually got fed up with all the walking - the distances are quite enormous for little legs! But he did enjoy 'exploring' all the little houses and passageways. Older children will fare much better - our eldest enjoyed learning about the history.
The main problem we faced was that it was hard to follow the guidebook and match the numbered buildings in the book with the actual locations. Some didn't seem to match up, and it wasn't easy flicking back and forth through the book whilst carrying everything. For that reason, the audio book or the guided tour would definitely be better - you can arrange either of these upon arrival. Guided tours are expensive, however, if you have a whole family in tow. But I still think it might have been worth it. What you shouldn't do is try to visit Pompeii with nothing at all - information around the site is very sparse - they isn't really any.
The last place we visited before we left was one of the stadiums. Our little one perked up again - after all, running up and down ancient steps is a lot of fun when you are five!
On the Way Back From Pompeii
We had to get a taxi back to Pompeii Station - the wrong Pompeii Station - to get the train home because of our incorrect rail tickets. Whilst there, we ended up in conversation with a man who was probably in his late sixties. He was Italian and we were no longer on the relatively upmarket Amalfi Coast. He talked about Italy's economic problems, and how the cost of livng has risen and many people who had enjoyed a good life were much poorer now. Of course, similar problems exist in Britain and in other parts of Europe too, but it was very interesting to hear of the feelings of the ordinary citizens, away from the bubble of a holiday destination.
Tonight, we ate inside the apartment but then went out for a drink. We sat outside a tiny hut near the seafront, just outside the children's playground. They brought our beers to the table, along with a complimentary dish of olives, which were quickly devoured. I love olives, I could eat them all night. Whilst we drank the beers, our little one was accompanied to the playground by his brother. It was late when we went back to the apartment - later than 11pm - but the playground was heaving with children even younger than five. It's a whole different mindset here, because seeing children out at that time in the UK usually results in disproving looks!
Day Nine - Our Last Day
Today was our last proper day in Italy, since tomorrow would see us travelling back to Rome to the airport. We had planned to spend the day doing very little, other than lying back and enjoying our surroundings. The children wanted to spend the morning at the pool and the afternoon at the beach. We had races in the water with our eldest son, and the little one was the referee. We played with the footballs we had bought. I sunbathed on the lilo as it bobbed around the pool and thought about how nine/ten days wasn't enough in this beautiful region of a wonderful country. From the pool, if I opened my eyes, I could see the blue sky, the blazing sun and the hills in the immediate background. What could be more perfect? I might even miss the colourful swimhats!
For lunch we made one last visit to Francesco's deli. He made us a great pizza, with artichokes (our new favourite) on top. And, of course, the obligatory doughnuts - Francesco always gives more than we ask for, and if we don't ask for any we still end up with a free one! It's like a special surprise. We told him that it was our last day, and asked him to pose for a photo. He took the children behind the counter for the photo, and I knew it would be a great souvenir, and a reminder of our lovely Maiori lunches! I will miss his happy, enthusiastic greetings and he charismatic accent as he speaks in a mix of broken English and Italian.
On the beach we splashed around in the sea and our little one made a friend. The friendship consisted of squirting one another with water pistols, but he was Italian and there was a language barrier. Still, it was good fun for him. I started chatting with another woman from the UK and she recounted her delightful visit to Herculaneum. I was disappointed to be going home tomorrow, since it sounded like a must-see. Still, there is so much to see in this amazing place that it is impossible to fit it all in as a family, unless you want to act as though you are at boot camp with no down time.
I took the bus into Amalfi alone at 5pm, just for a last minute shop for gifts. I bought my neighbour a bottle of Limoncello as a thank you for looking after our guinea pigs. I bought her children some Italian sweets (both of these items I could have bought in Maiori). But I still couldn't find a gift for my mother's birthday. She doesn't like earrings or perfume, likes to try her shoes on herself and ceramics were a bit risky for the flight. I abandoned the idea.
Tonight, as our holiday reached its end, we ate at Dedalos again. We had a very early start the next morning - our flight from Rome was not until 5pm, but we had to check-in at 3pm and before that take a train all the way back. I must just point out that the amazing staff at Hotel Panorama helped me book and print our train tickets. For anyone who needs a train at the end of their holiday, don't assume you will easily find one unless you book in advance. You cannot always travel on a train without booking as they get extremely full. We had to book a train an hour earlier than we wanted, due to the ideal one being booked up. What's more, it was an old, cranky one and not one of the high speed, modern alternatives.
Day Ten - Back to Rome and Home
I really didn't want to go home, which is just a reflection on this beautiful area. There were sights we didn't get round to visiting - including the Paper Museum in Amalfi where I had promised to take the children. They didn't really mind, but I think it would have been nice. We were in Amalfi too late in the day, and so it was closed. But there is no point in regrets, better just to focus on the amazing places we did see.
Dragging suitcases across Italy on public transport is not much fun - less fun than at the beginning of your trip when everyone is excited and raring to go. Energy levels were somewhat depleted and someone (the youngest amongst us) didn't feel like trekking back to Fiumicino airport. But a little bit of grumpiness and tiredness can never take away the treasure of a million memories and the experience of a truly beautiful country full of wonderful people.
I, for one, can't wait to go back.....