Today was definitely a day for the books. It was like we fell down the rabbit hole early in the morning and didn’t emerge all day long until after a late dinner. We took a tour of Pompeii our first full day in Sorrento and our tour guide recommended the Path of the Gods or Sentiero degli Dei along the Amalfi Coast. Scott did a little research and learned that it was an epic hike, around three hours, just our style. He spent hours online researching how to get there by public transportation and all the other details that we would need to know in order to get to the trailhead about forty minutes away, spend the day hiking and return to our apartment, again by bus.
My idea was to call the driving service that we used to get from the train station in Naples to the apartment in Sorrento, was met with a firm “No, I like public transportation.” I tried to explain that the woman who drove Grant and I from the train station to our apartment in Sorrento had told us that car services were used a lot in the area. Driving here is an art and a group effort, best left to natives. We could compromise even; we would call the car service and they would pick us up and drop us off at the trailhead. We would have an epic hike and catch the bus back to Sorrento in the early afternoon in time for a nice shower and a late afternoon of shopping, an early dinner and quiet evening, and my family says that I’m not an optimist.
Let me back up here for a moment. It seems to me that Italians are good and enthusiastic problem solvers (and creative drivers). Two people have told Scott that “Italy has a lot of rules, but more exceptions.” We have experienced that often in our short fifteen days here in this beautiful and interesting country. We have rented apartments and often upon contacting the owner to schedule a check in time, we are offered a car service from the train station or airport. We accepted this service for our transport from the Naples train station to our apartment in Sorrento, about a seventy-five minute drive and the same price or less as a taxi. We got off of the train and easily found our driver who explained that he had not had enough notice to get a bigger car and so his wife and son had also come to the train station and we would take two cars back to our apartment at no extra charge. They were both very nice people. Grant and I rode with the wife and son. She explained that many people in Sorrento and along the coast worked very hard in the tourist industry for seven months of the year and then vacationed during the winter months. She and her husband drive for a car service. She said it’s a great job and they stay very busy because driving here is interesting to say the least, and so visitors don’t want to deal with it and just call a car service. Scott wasn’t part of this conversation though, he was in the other car talking about epic hiking.
Back to our epic hiking day, all done by foot and public transportation. We took the train for about five stops, which was easy enough. We left the apartment at exactly eight o’clock and we knew where the station was from our trip to Pompeii two days before. We disembarked at the correct stop about fifteen minutes and five stops down the line. We needed to find the SITA bus stop nearby, purchase tickets and catch the bus to Agerola, and the trailhead, about an hour away by bus. This is where the day got off track. I always expect a little adventure with Scott and hiking. We usually get slightly lost or at the very least hike off trail or we don’t have food or something adventurous and a little treacherous. He doesn’t feel like he’s had a hike until he’s been on top of a mountain, clinging to a precipice and without food for the better part of a day.
We couldn’t find the bus stop. We trooped obediently behind Scott as he tried to understand where the bus stop was hiding. We turned right past the train station and walked for a bit and then turned around and walked back past the train station and darted across a busy street. He had found a bus stop but it was a city bus stop, not what we were looking for. We wandered down the street, crossed it and walked up the other side. We watched a couple of city busses drive by without stopping. Scott was muttering, “We just need to figure out…” And I was thinking, it’s all you, dear husband. YOU need to figure it out because I have no idea. I was reading my book last night while you researched this outing (My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, an Italian writer and it’s good!). We had been standing on the corner looking lost and confused for a few minutes when a nice man stopped and even though he didn’t speak English, he tried very hard to help us (another example of problem solving Italians) leading us into a convenience store to talk to the clerk and then into another store to get a map. He finally pointed us around the corner and across another street. We found the correct bus stop, although no place to buy tickets but no need, since we had missed the bus. There were two taxis parked at the bus stop, a man nicely dressed standing in front of the taxis and two men chatting near the bus stop, the same men that had explained to us with a few English words and some charades that we had missed our bus and the next bus would be by in two hours. We thought that they were waiting for a bus, but they were actually the drivers of the taxis and the nicely dressed fellow who looked like a taxi driver? He was muttering about his tooth.
Scott said, “I really wanted to take that hike today.” I consoled him, saying that we could visit Mt. Vesuvius today and we’d know how to catch the bus tomorrow. He said again, “I really want to take that hike today.” We make a great team and even though he drives me insane on a regular basis, I know how to be helpful when it counts so I boiled it down for him. I say, “Well, we could call the driving service.”
That got him fired up and back on track. “I don’t want to call a driving service. I want to take the bus,” he said as he stomped his foot on the ground and his lower lip shot out like the change drawer on a cash register. Just kidding, all that was in my head except for the part about not wanting to call a driving service. “Okay, darling. Let’s find out how much it would cost to take a taxi,” I sweetly replied. Well, not quite, but we ended up taking the taxi with the taxi driver seemed nice enough to me. He pointed out things and talked to us in Italian as we rattled along in his well broken-in vehicle with no seatbelts. He drove slowly enough, which I appreciated, or maybe the little truck thing just could hack the winding mountain roads.
He obviously knew where we were going because he drove us right to the well-signed trailhead, asked if we plenty of water, and handed Scott his card in case we got into trouble and then he said, “You’ll probably get into trouble.” Now, did he say this because he was some kind of fortune teller or were those words part of his limited English vocabulary? Scott and I chuckled about it and I tucked his card into the camera case.
The trailhead is located in this square in Agerola, a popular dog napping/sunning area.
First things first. I have learned the “food, water and hiking with Scott” lesson the hard way (a few times) and so I didn’t even ask, I just marched the family down the street to get snacks. I chose bread, sliced cheese, cookies and then something that looked like ham. We would have a regular feast for lunch, the sun was shining, the trail was abundantly and clearly marked and cheerful shopkeepers waved at us as we walked by and reminded us to wear sunscreen and take water. We were on the trail (earlier than the bus would have dropped us off no less), and back on track; it was going to be a great day!
The Sentiero degli Dei Ambassador and a reminder to me that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder…friendly cats are more interesting than the vista and that is okay.
We hiked along the Path of Gods and the scenery was stunning. This was the Amalfi Coast for goodness sake, and we were soaking it all in on this gorgeous, well maintained trail. The air was warm, but not hot and there were vistas in every direction. The terraced vineyards had a bit of fall color and the Tyrrhenian Sea sparkled like a starry night far below. The signs said that the trail should take 180 minutes, meaning our hike would be finished no later than 2 o’clock give or take an hour for pictures and our yummy picnic.
This view began our hike.
The trail had some interesting variations that were not view related.
There was terracing and vineyards along parts of the trail and no roller coaster looking tractor contraption that we had observed in Cinque Terre to help with transport of the grapes.
We had hiked maybe forty- five minutes when we arrived at the decisive moment in the next four hours (unbeknownst to me). We were at a “fork in the road,” a turn off on the trail. Scott says, “Do you want to take the really tough hike?” No, I don’t think I do. I think that hiking for three plus hours is going to be enough exercise to earn me a good dinner. He tries again, “We could hike the trail that the hardcore hikers take.” Nope, I’m not hardcore anything, but then I reconsider, when will I be on this trail again? I give in and agree to take the steep trail. “I am totally up for it if you that would make you happy.” He replies, “You would have agreed the first time I asked if you really wanted to.” We continued down the beginner’s trail.
This is at the turn-off for the “challenge” trail.
We continue along the “beginner’s” trail.
In case we get lost.
It started about fifteen minutes after we passed the first turn-off. “This isn’t high enough. That mountain is calling me. This is the path for everyone. I want to get up on that mountain. Look for a right turn.” Ashley says in all her wisdom, “Let’s enjoy this trail for what it is. It is beautiful and I like it.” Scott: “I don’t have to like it. I want to climb the mountain!” Stomp. Stomp. It got worse when Scott saw a sign for Nochelle, which was the town where the Path of Gods trail ended. He said, “I don’t want the hike to the end! I feel like I’m only 40% done hiking today and we’re almost finished.”
These signs were together and they made me happy, Nochelle, bathrooms, etcetera, but it wouldn’t quite work out like I was hoping.
Ashley saw a right turn and we explored some old stone steps that didn’t really lead to anything. We turned around and continued along the trail.
If you look carefully you can see a tiny summit cross on top of the promontory. It’s tiny because it is far away and high up!
I saw another trail off to the right that looked like it headed up the mountain. The trail reminded me of hiking in Germany and as Ashley and I came around a turn we could see a summit cross on the top of the mountain that had been calling to Scott. We followed the overgrown trail as it skirted a private property. A dog barked at us and the trail ended on a steep hillside that looked like it was trying to be tamed into a nice looking outer perimeter of a yard. Trees had been trimmed and brush cut down. It was a jungle of dead foliage and trash and definitely not a trail. Scott clambered up the hillside grabbing onto trees to steady himself as he scrambled up the sharp incline. The kids followed behind, struggling as well. I waited and watched to see if he found a trail after trespassing and tramping through someone’s backyard. I waited and yelled to Scott, “Is there a trail up there?” He replied, “Does it matter?”
We were two hours into our hike at this point and I had snacks with us so I wasn’t too irritated by a little off trail exploring. Besides, both the kids and Scott love to bushwhack and be in places that no one else would think of going. Up we climbed toward the summit cross and it was hard going. There was no trail, only rocky, uneven ground. We spent two hours wandering up and down and around the side of this mountain looking for a way to get to the summit cross. Finally, they gave up and decided to eat lunch in the shade of a little tree on a cliff. I said no way, I am not climbing that cliff to eat lunch. We were at the four hour mark now and I was almost finished with my allocated hiking time for the day. I was ready to eat lunch and hike to Nocelle.
For the past two hours we had been hiking around what looked like very old stone terraces that were long overgrown. Grant had spied the corner of a building that looked as old as the terraces so he and Scott thought it was a good idea to climb and bushwhack our way into the fort for lunch which was probably as difficult as climbing the cliff to the shady spot would have been, though not as dangerous. My feast turned out to be mostly disgusting. The cheese was slimy and the “ham” was some weird, pressed, pink meat substance. The bread was good but the pink meat had really put a dent in our appetites.
I was excited to get back on a real trail, one of which we had crossed over after trespassing through the steep side yard, so I knew I at least didn’t have to relive that. Scott was much happier because we had spent two hours off trail scrambling around on the side of a mountain. We had found some really old terraces and a ruin of a house. I think everyone was bleeding from scrapes and scratches and we had eaten strange meat and slimy cheese for lunch. My feet and knees were hurting and I hated all things hiking and nature for the time being. The kids were laughing at my complaining and they jumped and ran like little billy goats down the challenging trail. We were living!
I was relieved that we were back on a marked trail, but not for long. We may have been on a marked trail but I am not sure if it was the correct marked trail. I got separated and since I was tired from hiking up and down nonexistent trails for two hours I panicked a bit and called Scott. He’d already realized that I was lost and was on his way back up the trail. These are not German trails folks. There are a lot of cheery signs pointing to trails, but they make no sense at all and trails wander off in all directions. Once reunited, we hiked down the trail towards Nochelle. Scott let the kids choose the trails as we wended our way towards the parking lot we kept catching glimpses off.
We were bushwhacking a bit again and Scott exclaimed, “Check out this goat, take a picture!” There is a goat in a pen observing my shaky descent as I pick my way over and under the local foliage. I hear a woman start yelling in Italian and I hear Grant say, ”Someone’s yelling at me.” Scott says, “Keep going, her yelling is not changing our direction.” Poor Grant. Scott realizes that she is yelling because we are trespassing and hiking through her yard (I wasn’t lying, the trails are confusing). He starts speaking Spanish to her since the two languages have a lot of similar words. I think she realizes that we are lost and though never friendly, she stops yelling at us. Scott points one direction and questions, “Nochelle?” She glares and points and we head up the road chucking about how we managed to hike across someone’s yard for the second time in one day.
We are on pavement now and hiking up a narrow road. We arrive shortly at the designated parking lot in Nochelle where hikers can catch a shuttle to Positano. Once in Positano will get a bus back to Sorrento. We have officially finished the Path of Gods hike with a few add-ons. There are even other people waiting in the parking lot to catch the shuttle bus!
Just because one has reached the end of the Path of Gods does not mean that one’s hike must end. There are stairs, 1,700 of them to be exact, that Scott had learned about researching the hike. Some people begin the hike with the stairs but since we chose to hike from the opposite end, the stairs were still waiting for us. I was feeling optimistic and we had half an hour to wait and so I said, “Let’s take the 1,700 stairs to Positano and beat the bus! It’s all downhill, it will be fun!” We had been hiking about 4.5 hours by now and in my mind the stairs led down the mountain to the bus stop. I figured 15 minutes for the stairs and I would be on a bus and thinking about my dinner.
I take a “before picture”. We’re all happy. Great hike, almost finished, it’s still early. I happily headed down the stairs. We’re going to beat the bus for the second time in one day (ha, ha). Fifteen minutes and maybe 300 steps later, we met the end of the trail marked by some mattress springs.
We can see the road so we climb over the railing and decide to hike down the road. Fifteen minutes and after using some expensive data looking at a map on the phone, we decide to hike back up to the Nochelle parking lot and take the correct steps to Positano (signs people!).
We hike along the road for a while and see the yelling Italian woman as she drives past us down the mountain. Grant waves and she looks very confused. We meet an Australian couple on their honeymoon. They had a better map. We had been on the right track (no pun intended), so back down the road to Positano, a tiny village, far below we walked. We paused only to flatten ourselves against a stone wall or guardrail on the narrow, twisting road as random speeding cars whizzed by in the fading light. Scott mentions that he brought the headlamps (just in case) and I had assumed all along that we would be back in Sorrento midafternoon.
We stopped for a few minutes and watched a soccer game and again to admire a large bus and a few cars playing Janga around a tight corner. The road was so narrow that the same bus had to wait for us to get to a wider part of the road to pass!
These signs look pretty but are thoroughly confusing.
We would occasionally see a cheerful Path of the Gods sign. We heard a siren and watched for twenty minutes as an ambulance slowly climbed up into the heights that we had just hiked down from.
Over an hour of steady walking brought us to a bus stop. The word “Sorrento” was on a large, temporary road sign and hidden high on a post and obstructed by vines was the SITA Bus sign post.
That’s where we met Crazy Larry (names have been changed here and we never knew them in the first place anyway), who seemed like a very nice, very friendly, Italian man who insisted on having a long conversation with us in Italian. The only thing I understood was when he paused and said, “Capisce?” I would shake my head no and he would continue our conversation. It was obvious that he knew everyone, it felt like we were at the town meeting spot. People would stop and chat with him and this was remarkable because we were at a bus stop outside of town in a very busy intersection.
I could not believe that there were not head on collisions happening every five minutes or so. He tells us when the bus will stop, in about forty minutes. Someone stops in a school bus and he has a conversation. His son stops on his motorcycle. The ambulance was one of Larry’s buddies who was up in the cliffs climbing olive trees to collect the olives and fell out. He’s okay. One of his other buddies shows up and Crazy Larry indicates that we are supposed to get into the car with his friend to go to the train station. How did this happen? During the conversation we had in Italian? There is room for maybe three of us and someone will have to ride in a car seat. I shake my head, this qualifies as too much adventure for one day. He is offended. He doesn’t talk to us in Italian anymore and gets in another car ten minutes later and drives off.
We discuss our options. It is getting dark, we will wait ten more minutes and hope that the SITA bus to Sorrento will appear. Miraculously two SITA busses appear going opposite directions and pull over slightly on either side of the road. We walk up to the Sorrento bus and the door opens. The driver says, “No room!” as he gets off of the bus, crosses the street and gets on the other bus. The two bus drivers have switched busses. I tell Scott, “Let’s start walking.” He tells me to wait. Later he tells me he wanted the bus driver to actually be forced to leave us; people must feel sorry for our kids because the new bus driver went to the back door of the bus and peeked in and then gestured for us to get on. The bus is packed full of people in the seats and isles. We squeeze inside and cling to anything solid to attempt to remain upright as the bus begins its perilous journey along the cliffs towards Sorrento.
Scott is wedged up against the doors and actually sets an alarm off as we lurch and sway around the curves. Half an hour later, most of which I spent with my eyes closed, the bus stops and a large group of people get off. The bus driver says we need to get off and pay at the next stop. Did I mention we didn’t have bus tickets? We never figured out if they don’t sell tickets on the bus or if they can’t sell tickets if there are no seats to sit in. The next stop we got off with the bus driver thinking we would purchase the tickets, get back on the bus, and continue to our local train station. No, that is not what was going on. We got off of the bus with the driver and paid him. I thought we were buying tickets but I think it was actually a tip, he wanted 10 Euros. He pointed us in the direction of a different train station. Okay, we would be taking the train back to Sorrento. For the third time in one day we were racing the bus.
We waited about twenty minutes for the next train and rode it one stop to Sorrento. I don’t know how many times during the whole day of adventure I had wondered if we would actually make it back to Sorrento, and how and when, but we made it back. Maybe that is the mark of a thorough adventure? Regardless, I really deserved a good dinner.
We went back to our apartment to shower and change and then out again for dinner, finally. We ate at L’Antica Trattoria, a place the driver from the train station in Naples had suggested. It was a family restaurant and a bit fancy in a stuffy, doilies on the table sort of way, but the staff was so nice, the owner actually walked around taking the orders and the food was delicious. It seemed a fitting celebration to the end of a wonderful and adventurous day. Scott and I tired Mt. Vesuvius wine, something that Lello, our guide from Pompeii suggested, and we splurged on separate desserts.
Midway through our dining experience, a man came into the restaurant and started serenading tables with golden oldies on the mandolin. He was mesmerizing because of his obvious love for the music and his enjoyment in the diners that were enthusiastic about his music and maybe the Mt. Vesuvius wine added a little to the experience as well.
The people watching in this restaurant was as good as the food. There were only couples and the room was small enough to easily observe the different characters in the story. There was a young English couple, probably on their honeymoon. There was a tall, loud gentleman and his wife. The man spoke with a British accent but looked like he was off the Dallas TV show set. There was a quiet couple who looked as if they needed to drink the wine in their wineglasses and not just swirl and sniff at it. There was my favorite couple who just looked so happy and comfortable with themselves and each other and were so obviously enjoying their dinner, the music, and the whole experience.
Dinner was fun. We chatted about our crazy adventure, our epic day. Scott thanked me for the great hike I had found (the bushwhacking, goat and long walk down the road) were all attributed to me. We were tired and happy and left the restaurant for the last little part of our hike, back to our beds. The mandolin player came hurrying out behind us and asked if his friend could play one song for us before we left. His friend was sitting in a wheelchair in the garden area of the restaurant. He was smartly dressed and covered with a warm blanket. He was obviously mentally and physically challenged and the mandolin player explained that he loved to share his joy of music as a form of therapy and his students liked to perform. We watched as the mandolin player gently prepared his student by placing a specially made tool into his bent hand and placed a mandolin in his lap and then they played “Over the Rainbow.” As soon as the music started all you could see were two musicians enjoying the simple pleasure of music.
We walked back to our apartment. It was ten o’clock. It had been a long, adventurous and wonderful day.
And what did I take from our day? I realized that friendly cats are better than a view of the Amalfi Coast, nature hurts my knees and my family is infinitely more adventurous than I am. Above all, I learned that I really love being with my family and that just being together is the best adventure of all. Ashley summed it up best when we were wandering around on the trail-less mountainside. I said, “I don’t think we are on The Path of Gods anymore and she replied, “That’s okay, we’re probably still on God’s path.”