Positano & The Amalfi Coast

Quite a few things have happened in the last few weeks since our last blog;
 - Guy went to the Amalfi Coast
- We went to a May Day (International Labour Day) flag throwing contest
- We went to see the observatory at La Specola (Zoological Museum in Via Romana)
- We went back to Arezzo for a 2nd time to the antiques fair.

Amalfi Coast
My Kiwi friend Tony and his family came to Italy for a holiday and to spend some time in Florence with us, but before they came here, they went to Positano on the Amalfi Coast south of Naples for a few days.
Lyn could not come because of her printmaking course (weekdays), so I went down to see them by myself and then brought them back to Florence.

To get to Positano, I had to take a hi-speed train south to Salerno and then catch a coastal ferry that "town-hops" along the Amalfi Coast. Wow - what a trip!
The train trip was smooth and comfortable and because of my ticket (I bought a "premium" 2nd class ticket), they brought around coffee and snacks (and wine if you wanted it) after each intermediate stop (Rome & Naples).
Three and a half hours later, I was in Salerno.
Boy, do we need hi-speed trains in Oz!

I then walked about 600m from the train station to the ferry wharf (10 mins) and the next 70 minutes being totally down away by the scenery as we moved along the coast - for the total sum of EU12 (the cost of a ferry ticket)!
Salerno Wharf
The Beginning Of The Amalfi Coast Road
Leaving Salerno
The Amalfi Coast road runs right along the cliffs above the sea and resembles the Great Ocean Road in many ways - imaging the Great Ocean Road on steroids, then chuck in a thousand years of history and you are in the ball-park!
I always wanted to ride this road and was very sorry that we missed it on our past travels, but after seeing how windy it is (and how the buses speed along it), I am not so sure that it would be a good idea. You would have to be on the ball the entire time and looking at the scenery would not be an option!
Part Of The Amalfi Coast Road
We called into Amalfi on the way to drop off and pick up people that were moving between the towns on the coast.
Approaching Amalfi
While we were in Amalfi, a helicopter was working to bring in building supplies to a building site on the side of the hill. Obviously, there was no way to get trucks into this area, so the helicopter was the only solution.
Bring In Building Supplies - Amalfi Style!
It would be frightening to think of the cost of building house this way, but I guess that there is no other option.

All along the coast, there are hotels, mansions and other buildings just perched on the cliffs. The hotel below was build just above ruins from many hundreds of years ago - amazing!
They build anywhere and everywhere - look at the other houses and hotels built straight over the eroded section of cliffs - I am not sure that you would get building permission for this area in Oz!

Positano (like Amalfi) is jammed into a ravine that runs out of the mountains.
There are two small separated beaches and the town is built into the very steep slopes.
Approaching Positano
Positano Wharf
Positano Beach
The house that my friends were renting was way up the hill at the back of Positano with a stunning view back down over the town. You can see the access road running up the hill in the lower right of the picture.

There are small buses that run up and down the hills and they must get a really hard time (slogging up the hills and then braking all the way down).
Tony and I both wondered how often the buses were mechanically inspected, but you don't hear about too many Italian buses going over cliffs, so we figured that they must be in good condition!
Most of them have GM 2-stroke diesel engines in them (with manual transmissions!) and you can hear them coming for miles as they crawl up the hills at peak revs.
The roads are so narrow in places that they have to blow their horns on a lot of the bends to let other vehicles know that they are coming!
In a few places, the roads are so narrow that someone has to back up to let the other vehicle through  - and it isn't often that the buses have to reverse!
The drivers seem crazy, but they can handle the buses and the constant mass of traffic very well - and they don't seem to lose their patience either (amazingly).

The house itself was very nice and comfortable and very quiet, being away from the town. It had a huge terrace that ran the full length of the house and we had a couple of nice meals out there while we were there.

Within Positano itself, it is walking only - the buses will deliver you to the lower part of town and then you have to walk the rest of the way down to the beach and shops.
Typical Streets in Positano

One day, we went to Sorrento which is on the other side of the peninsula from Positano about 20kms away.
The road over was spectacular, running along the cliffs on the Positano side before cutting over the top of the hills and back down into Sorrento.
The town itself is lush green and quite pretty, but of course, it was chock-a-block with tourists.

One the way to the port area, we found this quiet garden area about a block away from the main piazza. Amazingly, there were only a few locals enjoying the quiet.

This city (once again) is built on the side of the cliffs and you get a great view of Mt Vesuvius from above the port area.
Mt Vesuvius Is In The Distance

A Massive Hotel Stuck To The Side Of The Cliffs
The next day, we went to Amalfi to have a look around.
Once again, this is a full-on tourist town, but it is quite pretty and nice to walk around.

Amalfi Coast Road
We walked back up through the town following the watercourse and found ourselves in a much quieter area of Amalfi. The tourists do not seem to come this far and it was very calm and residential.

In this area, there is a paper museum located in an old water-powered paper-mill that was still running right up to 1969.

This was very interesting to me because my American buddy, Bob is an rare book history professor and Lyn & I had been to several of his lectures on the history of the printed text here in Italy.
The factory was underground and used water from the river to power all the equipment - which is completely original.
The guide finished the tour by actually making a sheet of paper from a solution containing fibres from the pulped rags - very interesting.
Water Powered Pulverising Hammer For Pulping Old Rags
The Amalfi Paper Mill Watermark
Amalfi Paper
On the last day, we walked to a local lookout above the house and I managed to get the following photo of the morning sun streaming through a massive hole in the overhead cliffs.

From here, we caught the ferry back to Salerno and caught the return train back to Florence, getting back in time to have nice evening meal that Lyn had made for us.

The Amalfi Coast area is one stunning piece of Italy and I think that the combination of trains, ferries, local buses and walking is definitely the way to go. It allows you to really experience the atmosphere of the place.
I think that driving a car around this area would not do it justice due to the stress levels in driving on these roads and negotiating the traffic in the towns.

Flag Throwing Teams ("Bandieri")
Tuscany is renowned for it's flag-throwing competitions and one is held every May Day in the Piazza della Signoria in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.
We went along and managed to get quite a good spot on the loggia to one side of the piazza (in amongst the statues) where we could see clearly.
There were about five teams of flag-throwers, each team having a small and a large flag-throwing group, accompanied by drummers and trumpet players who played while the flags were being thrown.
The precision required for this event is pretty impressive and each team tries to better the technical skills of the others. each team is judged by a panel of officials and the best team is crowned champion.
Everyone dresses up in period costume, including a lot of the officials.
Below are a few photos of the competition.

Those guys had a cannon that fired at strategic moments. The rest of the time, they stood around and smoked!

It was quite an impressive demonstration and it was good to see young kids getting involved in the competition as well as quite a few girls.

Observatory At "La Specola"
We mentioned in a previous blog that we went to the zoological museum (La Specola) in Via Romana where there is a massive collection of stuffed animals, birds, fish, etc and a very impressive collection of wax human anatomy.
There is also an observatory from the Medici days that was one of the first observatories in Europe.
Guided tours at EU30 can be booked, but Lyn found out that there was a special tour for EU3 running on May 3rd, so we booked ourselves on it and it was worth it.
The tour was totally in Italian, but we managed to grasp a lot of what the guide was talking about and the actual observatory was very interesting.
It consists of a set of telescopes and a solar clock in a room above the actual museum and then another larger telescope on the next floor up in the dome.
Species from One Of James Cooks Voyages

Telescope in Lower Room (Slot In The Roof Opens To Sky)

Solar Clock (Beam Of Light Enters Hole In Ceiling)
Buttresses Covered With Sculptured Storks

Upper Telescope Room (Dome)

Stairs To Outside Top Of Dome

View To Duomo (Towards City Centre)
View To Oltrano

This tour was very interesting and we both left feeling quite privileged to be able to see this part of Florentine science history.

Lyn's Printmaking
The reason I couldn't go to Positano with Guy was because we had a week of serigraphia (screen printing). We had a new teacher for the week, Giuseppe from Bologna. 
Giuseppe runs his own screen printing workshop and business in Bologna and is an extremely ardent screen printer. 
You will notice in the photos he never wears an apron and is always smartly dressed in a tie and good trousers. He never got dirty, despite doing everything. He says he knows the exact measurement of his tie so it never dangles in the ink. The rest of us looked like miners, only covered in ink, not coal dust, after a few days! 
He is a very funny man who doesn't speak English but he was very easy to understand - his favourite word is WOW!!!
Giuseppe brought all the equipment, the inks, the frames, the silk to make the screens, the power water blaster, the honey......
The honey is the basis for his inks, he mixes acacia honey (it apparently doesn't crystallize like other honeys) with colour pigment, this means it is less toxic and stays runny for longer - and he said you can also have a snack when you have finished!
The class went from 9.30am to 6.30pm every day except Thursday, so it was a long exhausting week.
The first thing he did was get us to make our own screens - he brought the frames and the silk and showed us how to make a screen using the glue and a staple gun.

This how to add the honey to the pigment
Clara taping her screen
Selena not happy with her print 

Selena is happier
My first print
The light box
Tony getting some tips
My second screen print
We had to draw something on a sheet of architects acetate - this was to be our first print. 
My fellow class of Rembrandts spent the whole day agonising about what to draw - young people today!!!!, Maybe it's just this group - they are such perfectionists!
I just did a quick copy of my island print from a few weeks ago. 
You can use marker pen, but have to be careful as it may be too transparent - I think a sharpie would work better, but I didn't have one. 
You can also use a lithographic crayon - the 1st print I did was using marker pen & the 2nd one (Alba and John on the beach in the UK) was done using the litho crayon.
Some students used indian ink and a paintbrush and others lithographic toner and water painted on.
He then showed us how to put the photographic emulsion on the screens - it has to sing!! It's put on very thinly with a squeegee and makes a singing noise on the silk.
We then exposed our acetate on the screen in the light box. After exposure, it is washed at the sink and the unexposed part of the screen (the bit covered by the drawing) washes out. That's why, unlike an etching, whatever is on the screen comes out the same way as your drawing.
We then hardened the screen in the sun (and there has been plenty of it here lately, the weather has been HOT, HOT, HOT!!!)
Then comes the printing. The first print I did came out OK, I then attempted to do another screen with a different colour (it was red where the white bits are). I haven't got a photo as all the prints are down in the basement which has been locked this week. Unfortunately Giuseppe hadn't told us how to register the print to do another print on top, so only 2 are any good. 
The hardest bit is cleaning everything - you need lots of high-pressure water from an Italian equivalent to a Karcher high-pressure water blaster (with a special emulsion remover) to clean the screen and then we used diluted nitric acid to get off the ink.
I am not sure if my lungs will recover from this week......

My next print was using the litho crayon - I did two screens for that and they both came out OK, once I worked out how to register the print for the second screen. We used a small sheet of acetate taped next to the board of the press. The first pass of ink went on the acetate and then we were able to position it on top of our print for the second screen. All of them came out really well.
This week I have been doing my print of the moon over the sea using the maniere lo sporcho (the dirt manner), another print using aquatint and trying to make another print on which I used the litho toner to make a stormy sky - that one is not doing so well! We only have a few more weeks to go till the summer holiday!
This week the Printmaking Sisters (Annie Day and Robin Ezra from Australia) have been at Il Bisonte with 7 students, teaching them waterless lithography  and aluminium etching. I went out to dinner with them on their first night and it was lovely to hear Australian accents again! Ros from when I was at the CAE is doing the course too, but wasn't there on the first night. 
When I get exhausted trying to understand Italian, I go over to their workshop and sticky beak on them!


  1. Great post. The Amalfi Coast is amazing. Deb and I drove there in '93. Crazy. There were a couple of guys on Honda 'rollerdoor' 900s with open face helmets, shorts and thongs tearing through the traffic like mad.
    Nice timber work on the telescopes. Great shots. Keep well.

  2. Once again if i read this without the photos i still would see just like the photos great journalism you two......

  3. I am really enjoying your travel reports. Sounds like hard work Lyn, with long hot days. Classmates send their regards.