It’s crazy that as much as we have traveled, and in particular as much as we have traveled in Italy, neither Mark nor I have ever been to the Amalfi Coast. It is, after all, one of the world’s great holiday destinations, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and – here’s the big one – the filming location for Wonder Woman’s Amazonian birthplace, Themyscira, in the current film Wonder Woman. Well, finally, that huge gap in our world travels is over.
We’re going to spend nine days here on the Amalfi Coast, three in Amalfi, two in Ravello, and four in Positano. After that it’s Capri and Naples, but for now here’s what we found in Amalfi.
While today it’s a tiny village of less than 5,400 residents that’s been turned over to tourism it was once, along with Genoa and Pisa, one of Italy’s great and powerful city-states. At the turn of the first millennium it was a major trading power with a population of perhaps 80,000, one of the few Christian states that traded freely with the growing Islamic state. That didn’t stop them from participating in the Crusades, of course, and during the appalling Fourth Crusade – when European powers attacked their host, Christian Constantinople instead of trying to free Jerusalem from Moslem control – they captured the supposed relics of St. Andrew the Apostle and carried them back to Amalfi. Today those very same relics lie in Amalfi’s Cathedral of St. Andrew.
And what about today? Today there are tourists. Lots and lots of tourists, including some pretty fancy ones. We noticed right away a big boat anchored in the bay and asked around what it was. It seemed too big to be a personal yacht but too small to be a cruise boat. With a little research Mark learned that it was indeed a personal yacht, one owned by music- and movie-producer David Geffen At 454 feet that sucker is the 11th largest yacht in the world. As Hollywood royalty Geffen hosts all the big names on it – Oprah, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Leonardo DiCaprio – but I first heard of the boat just a few months ago when no less than Michelle & Barrack spent part of their post-White House holiday cruising French Polynesia on the boat. We didn’t see any of them, but the boat was anchored there the whole time we were in Amalfi.
And what did we do in Amalfi? I’d read that the town beach was worth avoiding so the first day we took a little boat to an isolated beach maybe 20 minutes up the coast. It was fun, there was a nice restaurant called Da Teresa, but not really worth going back to. I was particularly annoyed when the waiter at lunch pointed out that service is not included on the bill. Service is always included in Italy and Europeans never tip anything more than spare change; this was just an attempt to drag a few extra bucks out of guilty Americans. So the next day we went to the town beach instead and I thought it was really a lot better: a bigger beach, easier to get into and out of the water, and a lot more lunch choices.
Of course eating is a big part of traveling in Italy and we had a couple of good meals. At one place called L’Abside we had what seemed like the best eggplant parmigiana I’ve ever had. It made me realize that if I travel France looking for the perfect steak tartare I should travel Italy looking for the best eggplant parm. Except I may have already found it.
And then there was one last visit with Lisa, Mark’s old college friend studying down in Salerno and finishing up her five-week Italian sojourn. She took the boat up from Salerno on our last night and we shared wine until it was time for her to go back and us to find dinner.
All in all Amalfi was a fun little town. Probably a little too touristy for my tastes, just too crowded and all. But it certainly is beautiful and it was a good start to this exploration of the Amalfi Coast. Next stop, Ravello.