Atrani, I Think You Found Me

I’m far too anxious to share my moments from Atrani and Amalfi so we’re going to take a little bit of a jump ahead. My time in Capri and Sorrento will be shared over the next few days. Instead, I want you all to come with me and experience this paradise in the best way that you can. 

Atrani is a small little village just steps away from the infamous Amalfi Coast in Italy. There’s one hostel located in the small piazza and it provides the absolute best local feel you can get as a tourist. The view of Atrani from afar is even more breathtaking than the Amalfi view with its bright buildings and docked boats all tightly stacked together on the hill. The feeling of community is forever constant and you’re always greeted with a smile from the shop owners. It’s truly something out of a fairytale book and my introduction to this gorgeous gem is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. 

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It’s time for another story. One that I hope you can feel and visualize as if you were there yourself. The funny thing is, when I booked my hostel in this little town, I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to stay in the Amalfi centre. The unknown town of Atrani was all I could find available and when you learn to take what you can get booking on the fly, I had no choice. It was the night before I planned to leave and I was having a few wifi troubles in my hostel in Sorrento so my confirmation email hadn’t gone through. The confirmation email normally states the check in time which I usually assume is open 24 hours (and we all know what assuming leads to). 

I spent the day at the beach with two fellow Canadians from Toronto (who will be featured later on) and I planned to catch the 10pm bus to Amalfi from the station. When I arrived home around 8pm, my email came through saying that the check out closed at 6pm and all guests must check in prior to that time. That time had already long past and I was suddenly at a huge loss. Remember how I said that everything always works out in the end? My first real taste of that was with the sunflowers in Pisa and ever since then things have seemed to fall into place when I feel like they’re about to fall apart. For once, I thought “this is it. My luck is up.” I couldn’t imagine what could possibly make this work and I was going to have to pay for a bed I didn’t even get to sleep in. 

The girls suggested I sneak a night in and sleep in one of their beds. The hostel I found had been booked solid for that night so it would have been a great idea, except something was telling me otherwise. There was a little voice inside my head telling me to go to Amalfi. I laughed at it at first since it didn’t seem to make much sense. Was I really going to completely wing it? Maybe it was the thrill of the unknown that drove me to take that bus, but I said my goodbyes to my new friends and headed to the station. 

When I got there, I missed the bus by a minute and was forced to wait another hour. If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have seen a familiar face out of the corner of my eye. A lady was standing there, someone with very distinct features that I knew I had seen before. I racked my brain until it came to me. That same lady had found me looking frustrated in the lineup for the ticket office at the train station in Rome. A sweet, older man had generously picked her from the crowd as someone who knew what she was doing and tipped her to help me out at the kiosk with my Eurail pass. She speedily allowed me to skip the lineups and got me my ticket in seconds. A bit of a faerie in my time of need! 

Now in Sorrento together of all places, a train ride and an hour long metro trip away from Rome, I tapped her on the shoulder and said, “excuse me, but didn’t you help me with my tickets in Rome?” A blonde lady sitting next to her with a heavy Long Island accent said, “she probably did! She’s a hard face to forget!” The lady who had helped me didn’t speak very great English but she did remember our encounter after some heavy squinting and we both couldn’t believe we had found each other again here! 

I briefly over heard the two of them chatting with a couple on the bench next to them and realized that the blonde lady and my ticket faerie were a couple. It never would have crossed my mind since one was significantly older than the other and they seemed like they came from entirely different worlds. I was so intrigued and without even realizing it, I joined into the conversation to learn more about their story. They really did have quite the age separation and the lady from Long Island (who I later found out is named Vicenzo), was previously married with children and a husband. The two of them only get to see each other three times a year and eventually would love to get married. Of course, the biggest problem with that is the Italian culture and their views against gay marriage. Their two families are, as they put it “stupid” and very against their relationship. I found it sad but amazing that the two of them, through all of that, were able to see each other at least a few times a year and keep their obvious love for each other. The conversation was brief and had I been there longer, I would have loved to talk to them more. In a flurry, my bus had arrived and I quickly explained how I would love to get their photograph for my blog. My ticket faerie was very reluctant and after Vincenzo pulled her into a hug and a dance, I snapped a very quick photo to the sounds of “you’re going to miss your bus!” before booking it down the hill. 

ImageStill a little shaken and amazed from that experience, I was suddenly thrown back into reality and headed on this bus down to Amalfi. I had met a lady in my hostel moments before I realized my issue with the reception who had asked me if I was easily carsick. I didn’t understand why, until the bus started moving. I realized that in order to get to Amalfi, the bus had to take a route around and around this hill going at top speed with only a small concrete wall guarding the edges. I was sick not only from the worry and excitement of not knowing where I would sleep that night but also from the crazy and wild ride down. That being said, the view was stunning but there was no air conditioning and the bus was packed with people. I kept wondering why in the world I had decided to go. What could have possibly possessed me to be on this bus?

Finally, I had arrived. It was almost midnight by the time I got there but I was thankful to see an immediate night life. Actually, it was strange. I looked up to see hundreds of people lining the edges of the railing leading up and around the hill to where I assumed Atrani was located. It looked like the entire town was there looking over the edge. “That’s cute”, I thought. “They all go to watch the moon over the water at night!” I was certain that was the reason since nothing seemed to be going on, they were all just gathered around with kids and the occasional balloon. It took me a while to find someone who spoke English. Everyone there was a local and as soon as I found my way up to Atrani, it became harder and harder to find someone that understood where I wanted to go. 

I was able to find someone to lead me down to the piazza square where there were tons of huge bright lights set up surrounding a live band. With that were several vendors selling lemons, drinks, cotton candy and even cadged rodents. But still, there was no big event, no indication of why this was happening. I asked a local if this is something that happened every night and he said, “yes, yes!” 

The hostel doors were closed shut and the lights were off by the time I found it. I raced over to the restaurant across the square and asked the lady if there was any way at all that she could let me into this hostel. She replied with a quick, “just a minute” and continued working. I’m serious, she just continued to serve and didn’t seem to be grabbing anyone else for help. I waited for ten minutes with my backpack standing aimlessly amongst the tables.

Out of the blue, I suddenly heard this massive bang. It seemed to shake the entire island! Instinctively I started to run. I ran and ran through this dark tunnel and the second I emerged from the darkness, in front of me over the mediterranean sea was the biggest and brightest fireworks display I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I’m certain these fireworks wouldn’t even be legal in Canada. It was choreographed like you wouldn’t believe and so low to the water that it felt like they were being lit off directly in front of your eyes. It was marvellous and when I saw it, I started to cry. I cried because I was so overwhelmed by what had happened over the past few hours, because I still didn’t know where I was sleeping that night and because fate had proved itself once again. Everything happens for a reason and this was it. 

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Just when I thought the moment couldn’t bring any more magic, I headed back through the busy crowd with tear stained eyes and struck by beauty. I felt a tap on my shoulder from a man I had never seen before. “Excuse me”, he said, “are you Samantha?” I responded with a hesitant yes and he said, “come with me, I’ll show you to your room.” Yes. Yes that actually happened. I still can’t explain it. The second I walked into my room I was greeted by three travelers Kate, Josef and Benoit. They invited me to head out with them and they grabbed a bottle of champagne along the way. It turns out that over the past few days, they had been holding the biggest festival of the year celebrating Maria Maddalena who is the patron of Atrani and I had arrived on the final night of celebration, just in time. They then told me that this owner of a restaurant in the square claimed he could open the bottle with a samurai sword so we went to see if he could prove himself. Keep in mind, I had just met these people and this is the first thing we did together. He didn’t end up doing it at all, I think he was just talk but we all sat on the stairs and drank the champagne straight from the bottle and it was wonderful. 

Then Tim Roth from the Tarantino movies showed up steps away from me and I was left wondering how all of that could have possibly happened in the past four hours. The world has a funny way of teaching you some great lessons. 

My time here was so blissful. It was relaxing and adventurous and full of people and surprises. The owner of the hostel and his brother Phillipe were so kind and greeted me every morning with a cheery “Samanthaaaa! Americano this morning?” It was comforting to have such a personal touch.

 I spent the first day out talking to the locals personally and taking their photographs. I was finally able to break that discomfort with the language barrier since people are a lot more approachable on these islands. It was so rewarding and I am just as anxious to post about the people I met soon. You may not believe it, but I ran into that same lady who I had met in my hostel in Sorrento before I left. Suddenly these coincidences weren’t surprising me anymore. They just seem to happen. I spent some time taking a hike up the road with a guy named Nick who I met that morning and later, him and his friend Nat along with some other travelers we met all went out for a dinner in the Amalfi square. We ended up watching this fantastic show with a mime who had absolutely no filter with what he did. He was jumping in passing cars, taking peoples phones, imitating the walks of strangers and occasionally making children cry but aside from all that, he was brilliant. He communicated using a squeaky toy in his mouth alone and was a completely unexpected joy in the middle of the night! 

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Later that night I ran into Kate, Josef and Benoit from the evening before. I had an extraordinary peach cocktail and got to know them a little more. They were all single travelers, Kate and Joseph coming from Austrailia and Benoit from Paris. I felt extremely comfortable around them and it was relaxing company, no conversation required work to keep up, it just flowed. At this point, I decided to extend my stay for just another night. I could have stayed there forever. 

ImageThe next morning we all decided to go on a hike through one of the popular trails over the hills. It was very similar to Cinque Terre with it’s constant incline and complete worth when you reach the tallest peak. We hiked toward our destination of a huge castle like tower and a lookout where you could see for miles. The day was finished with some lounge time on the beautiful beach and an amazing homemade pasta dinner which was followed by more peach cocktail. It was the perfect end to a peaceful day with the best company I could have wished for. 

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Aside from the view, we managed to find some pretty neat sights along the way

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At breakfast the final morning before I left, Josef had told me that he finally understood the meaning of the Piazza in Atrani. It was their biggest sense of community, almost like a second home to a lot of them. If you really looked closely, you could see the common relationships between the locals in this square and the friendships that people shared every day. It’s such an important part of their town and truly the centre of living for them. It was quite something to watch and realize that we were able to be a part of it, even if it was only for a little while. 

 

On the way back from our final dinner, Kate turned to all of us and said, “I feel like we’re going home.” And she was right. 

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