Back to my “something a little different”, inspired by one of my favorite stories, Rashomon. (Does doing it twice officially make it a habit? Okay, okay, not quite there yet.) The idea is to occasionally solicit the thoughts and opinions of others who have tread the same path as me, but (inevitably) they bring a different perspective. End result: you get twice the story.
This time I’m aided by my beloved Women’s Walkabout traveling companion, Ilana. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about our day trip to Positano on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. I’ve also included my answers to the same. Here we go:
1. What made you choose Positano as one of our destinations?
ILANA: I have friends who used to live in Italy, and travel there regularly. When I talked to them about amazing places to visit outside of Rome, they recommended the Amalfi Coast. And it took one google search to fall in love. Ocean, mountains, colors that are out of a dream. Then when I started to research the Amalfi Coast, I read about this town called Positano. It sounded both laid back and beautiful with a lot of culture and a place I wanted to be in.
HEZAASAN: Your friends are amazing! It’s because of their enthusiasm and generosity that we were able to make this trip happen at all. I still remember their long Word document that they emailed you in advance, telling us how to take the trains, where to eat, and a long list of “hidden treasure” art spots in Rome that many tourists don’t know about (all cleverly and snarkily written, of course).
I’m also so thankful for you and the research you did that resulted in this journey. One look at the websites you sent me about this destination, and I was hooked! An absolutely glorious find.
2. What is one thing that surprised you about Positano?
ILANA: Everything was vibrant, decadent, and clean. It was as if magical creatures cleaned the streets at night, tending to the rows and pots of flowers on every balcony and rooftop. Or rather I remember the city was clean and prideful on their rules that we were to follow to keep everything clean and tidy. I remember using the bathroom on the beach and it was sandless. Everything was devourable – the fresh fish soaked in lemon juice, the temperate sea, raspberry chocolate cake and limoncello, painted tiles, white textured clothing –our senses were in the wild.
HEZAASAN: The fact that Positano was a beautiful coastal — and vertical — city didn’t come as a surprise, but I didn’t realize it would be such an artist’s paradise. I expected a few hotels and restaurants, a beach, and steps. That’s about it.
Instead everywhere we walked, there were artists at their easels. There were photographers finding that perfect shot. There were lovers of art, slowly sauntering along the paths where art galleries were lined up as far as the eye could see. And the streets themselves were works of art: from the bizarrely brambly ceilings to the stony rubble of the sidewalks, making us feel we were walking through an Impressionist painting. And everyone was insanely respectful of the tone of the place, as if we were exploring an expansive outdoor museum. I suppose, in a way, we were.
I knew it would be gorgeous, but I didn’t know it would be gorgeous.
3. What did you learn about Italian culture that you didn’t know before this trip?
ILANA: We stayed at a bed and breakfast called Casa Clementina up a mountain, owned by a family in Sorrento. The son Luigi, was the one who pampered us and there was a lot of pride and care in every aspect of the place. We were not only guests, we were being taken care of. I was struck by that generosity, pride, and desire to share such a beautiful place with us. It made me think about living there forever. And it certainly compels me to go back.
HEZAASAN: Casa Clementina was incredible! I have a few fun photos and a story or two that I’ll share in a future post, but I am so glad you mentioned them because that was a true highlight of our time in Italy. Luigi was the perfect host, and their bed and breakfast was one of the best quality accommodations I’ve experienced in all of my travels.
I was personally struck by how there was very little guesswork we had to do in order to avoid being “offensive Americans”. Typically in my cross-cultural adventures I’ve felt the need to do a bit of fumbling around and observing those around me to determine how to behave, but Positano doesn’t waste any time with that. They actually wrote out basic “rules of the land” in a bilingual (it may have even been trilingual) sign, removing all ambiguity over how to maintain their vibe. Not just the standard beach-behavior stuff, but smack in the middle of the list, there was the following gem:
“Do not disturb the peace of other guests with screams and noises.”
I’m not big on the recent fad of turning quotes into wall-hangings, but I’d make an exception for that one. That’s bloody brilliant.
And wouldn’t you know, as soon as we read this, we became hyper-aware of this rule. So quiet, such reverence from almost all of the visitors. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
4. Whyyyy did you have to pick a place with so many stairs!?!? 😉
ILANA: Oh I love climbing stairs. I love mountains, but I live in Chicago now and it is very flat. For me climbing stairs is like climbing mountains. I even do yearly stair climbs up the Hancock because I miss altitude. I could climb up forever, it is actually going down stairs that I dread. But I am a sucker for a town on a mountain.
HEZAASAN: I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret: I kinda sorta trained a bit before we went on this trip, not only because of the cautionary tales from other travelers, but because you are a hiking force of nature and I wanted to make sure I could (somewhat) keep up! Needless to say, I didn’t complete the effective training job that I had in mind … it was so much easier to think about doing than actually do, ahem — but you made sure I didn’t need to worry. Even though you could have trekked faster and stronger without my companionship, you were completely happy to take our sweet, sweet time, basking in the beauty around us.
There truly were, so many stairs, but we were saved exhaustion by going slow, taking insane amounts of photos, and soaking in everything about the place. After every flight, we turned the corner to a new, gorgeous, artistic, enchanting level to marvel at — the stunning lookout points mixed with charming boutique shops and art galleries, and my personal favorite, the outdoor boozy ice cream cafes. And don’t get me started on the people-watching — hands down the best arena for that particular sport that I’ve ever known.
This is one of many reasons why we travel so well together, and I’m immensely grateful for it.
5. Send me your favorite photo from Positano and tell me the story behind it.
ILANA: Ok, there are so many beautiful pictures. Every one is simply gorgeous. But when we were leaving. I remember the town slowly becoming smaller, more distant as we drove away. It seemed like it couldn’t be real. It was a dream. But, from a distance you could see people had their porch lights on. They were in their homes. They were going about their day. It wasn’t just a tourist destination, people lived there. And I was struck that some place that beautiful could be someone’s home. And was grateful that I got to see it, even if it was only for a day.
HEZAASAN: What a lovely final thought. I agree a million percent!
Going through my photos from this day is an exercise in exquisite agony: it is so difficult to take a bad picture in Positano. Having to pick just one out of the hundreds hurt my brain, but I eventually landed on this shot — which coincidentally was also taken at the end of the day, while we were waiting for our bus home. I remember sitting on the bench outside the drug store, eavesdropping on conversations that I couldn’t understand, watching the lights in the sky find new colors, and feeling completely and utterly happy.
Sweet Nostalgia for the Win!
I’m suddenly feeling anxious to go back to the Amalfi Coast with my camera and go even crazier. Hundreds of photos? Bah – let’s go for thousands! It definitely has a high returnability quotient. (Who says that’s not a word? Shut yer yap, spellcheck.)
Ilana, thank you so much for your beautiful thoughts and memories, which have done nothing short of fan my wanderlust flame. This was tons of fun – and also sweetly painful — but as Beckett so wisely stated, that’s how it is on this bitch of an earth.
With luck, we’re just getting started. Can’t wait for our next adventure.
Check out the first post in the Rashomon Series here.