This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

Bells, bells, bells.  If you like being awakened by bells, you would love Italy.  This was my 7:00 am Sunday wake up call in Sorrento.

Today I would go to the Amalfi Coast.  Tomorrow would be Capri, and I would try to squeeze in Pompeii on my way back to Rome.

But first, some breakfast, where I chatted with my fellow hotel guests.  There were a couple of empty nesters from Australia and an English couple with a son who appeared to be around 12.  They were all wearing that khaki travel uniform—you know, the one with the many-pocketed vests and matching many-pocketed trousers?

I asked about Pompeii—had they gone?  Was it a must see?  Could I “do it” in an afternoon?

“We spent five hours at Pompeii and could have stayed longer, but it started to get dark,” said the Australian guy.

“We spent the better part of the day there,” said the English husband.  “Andrew is studying the ancient world and it’s been wonderful for him to see it outside of text books.”  Andrew looked embarrassed.  “In fact Andrew has been like our personal tour guide,” said his mother.  Andrew slumped in his chair.

“Well I’d better get going then,” I said.

I traced the taxi route back to the train station, and there was a bus to the coast waiting for me.  Well, waiting.  I bought my 8€ all-day ticket and settled down for the ride.

When most people think of the Amalfi Coast, they envision intense blue sea, dizzying cliffs, and charming, sun-washed towns.  I had the dizzying part, but my day on the Amalfi Coast featured rain, rain, and more rain.  The sea was slate grey.  It was windy and my umbrella kept blowing inside out, then flipping back and splattering me with rain.  It was still beautiful, just in a different way.  The wind moved the clouds around quickly, changing the light by the minute.

The bus wound along narrow roads with mountain walls on one side and cliffs on the other.  Occasionally there were shrines on the side of the road—for buses that had gone over the side?  I eyed the windows.  If I was the sole survivor of a fall over the cliff, which I was sure would be the case, the windows only opened about six inches wide.  Could I squeeze through?  I noted the location of the hammer of life.

In no time we arrived in Positano, which I had decided to skip.  Why?  I just didn’t think I could do justice to more than two towns in one day, so I had picked Amalfi and one other TBD.  It felt too soon to get off the bus in Positano.

I hopped off in Amalfi, taking care to note the location from which the bus would depart.  I didn’t have a plan aside from visiting the Paper Museum, for which there were signs every few yards.  This was refreshing.  I arrived at the museum and bought my 3€ ticket from a young woman who told me to wait by the door for the tour.  I looked around.  I was the only one in the room, which displayed handmade paper gifts I wanted to check out, but I figured I’d better stay put for when the tour group arrived.  Two minutes later the young woman walked over and said “I will take you on the tour now.”

The museum was a former family-run paper factory.  In the basement, my guide showed me vats of pulp, had me smear pulp over a strainer, then showed me the presses which were no longer in use.  “That’s the tour,” she told me.  It had been 10 minutes long, but charming.

Back upstairs, a group of about 30 Italian tourists was crowded into the room waiting for their tour.  I bought some paper and an old man emerged from nowhere to gift wrap it meticulously when I told him it was for my mother.

“I guess men really can wrap presents,” I joked out loud.  Nobody else laughed.  I strode out to explore more of Amalfi.

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