TRAVEL: Amalfi Coast no lemon
ITALY'S Amalfi Coast is arguably the most beguiling stretch of coastline in the world. Just ask one of the five million visitors who cluster there every summer. Magnificent mountains plunge into the Med, cliff-clinging houses defy gravity and dizzying views of the glittering sea present themselves at every turn. And lemons. They're everywhere. Then there are the steps. Thousands of them.
Positano is the most overrun of the coastal towns. Its pastel-coloured tumble of properties, the tiled-dome of the Santa Maria Assunta church, the expensive boutiques, the gritty beach and boats that can take you quickly to Capri are the big drawcards.
Amalfi town itself is so choked with tourists that you must dodge the tour guide flags, duck under the selfie sticks and fight for space in the Piazza del Duomo.
The small hamlet of Praiano in between Positano and Amalfi is relatively peaceful. But it too is crowded, although the number of tourists is significantly less. Praiano is not a village, rather a strip, part of the narrow road, with the ocean views on one side, the glorious mountains on the other.
It has a sprinkle of pizzerias, bars and restaurants and a lot of old fishermen's houses transformed into delightful holiday villas that you can rent for a lot of money.
I think every one of the many villas has a view that makes the money insignificant. Ours, Casa Susanna, looked over on the right to Positano tumbling into the sea, and then out to Capri with its faraglioni, the giant rocks that surge from the sea.
Praiano is a good base, a quieter spot to explore the coast, but with one drawback. It is all but impossible to get on a bus from this place. And bus is the best way to traverse the coastal road. Driving is only for the courageous.
Buses leave from Positano for Amalfi already packed to the limit. Even standing room is scarce so they will not, cannot, stop for you. There you are standing at the bus stop at the correct time, a queue behind you, along comes the bus and hope springs, only to be dashed when the overcrowded bus flashes past without even slowing down, and all the passengers on board look out in pity. Or maybe it is smugness. Hard to tell.
This is a great shame because a bus ride along the Amalfi Coast is one of the cheapest and most thrilling rides on the planet. The buses are enormous, the road width narrow, and should one bus encounter another coming in the opposite direction, which happens a dozen times a day, the two must inch by each other with nothing but a hair-width between them.
The passengers on the cliff-side face a vertical plunge to the rocks should one driver make a mistake. Passengers on the other side can press their nose to the window which, in turn, is pressed to the solid granite of the base of a mountain. It's an adrenaline rush. That is, presuming you can get on a bus.
After our several attempts, one day the bus did stop in Praiano and let four people off. The driver shouted a lot and then announced to the queue that two only could get on. It was our lucky day.
Despite one of us having to sit on the driver's knee and one in the stairwell, while above us the standing passengers hung on to straps and swayed as one at each tight turn, it was still thrilling.
We made it to Amalfi town where everyone got off. The plan was to go on to Ravello, in the hills above the town on a different bus, but the thought of trying to get on another was too daunting. We would try another way, and that is a story for next week.