The Quiet Charm of Positano in Winter

There’s just something about a beach town in winter. It’s a curious blend of melancholy and hope. Melancholy because the whole town is a bit deflated. It’s purpose and reason for existence is still there (the beach, the ocean) but the spirit, the visitors, are nowhere to be seen. It feels hopeful because, well, obviously, the people will come back again and the town will come alive again.

At least, that’s how it felt in Positano.

Positano

After an early morning of gazing in wonder at Pompeii’s penises, we left the quickly growing crowds of tourists (seriously, go early. You’ll have the place to yourself) and headed off for a drive along the Amalfi Coast. It was predictably gorgeous scenery: a thin thread of a twisty road clinging to cliffs, the blinding blue ocean backdrop giving you a sense that you were about to drive right off those cliffs. No road shoulders, so no opportunity to stop and look at the tiny presepe (nativity scenes) nestled into roadside caves all along the way.

Presepe
We saw these tiny nativity scene setups for sale in a market in Salerno. People set these up in roadside caves all along the Amalfi Coast. They look like little graveyards or roadside tributes or something.

(It now seems funny to me that word: presepe. So close to precipice, as in flying off of…)

We crawled along Positano’s sidewalk/street until we found a Tetris-style parking garage. Then we went off to be charmed by the little beach town.

During the summer, Positano is mobbed with thousands of visitors flocking in from nearby Capri or Sorrento or Ravello. But on a misty, chilly (by Italian standards. Really it was in the 50s) day in early December, it wasn’t busy at all. Sure, there were a few other tourists poking about, but not too many. I’m guess going to a seaside resort town in December does not top the list of a lot of must-do activities when one visits Southern Italy.

So you could really just meander through and soak it all in.

Meandering in Positano.

The architectural details were still lovely.

Positano entry

There were still flowering vines clinging to brightly colored walls.

Positano

Most businesses were closed for the winter, their wooden doors shut tight. But a few places were open to sell their world-famous, brightly painted ceramics and limoncello to stalwart tourists.

Positano graffiti
Positano graffiti

You could still walk under the canopy of arched branches, and imagine what it’s like when the sun dapples down through them.

Positano

The beach was fairly deserted, and all the little fishing and pleasure boats were piled up waiting for spring. We sat and watched a couple of dogs chasing each other up and down the beach in total freedom without having to dodge a bunch of people. Dogs don’t care if the sun is shining or not: a good beach is still a good beach.

Positano boats
You can see the happy beach dog in this grainy picture.

Most of the beachside restaurants were closed and boarded up, their patios draped in heavy plastic. If you closed your eyes and let the sound of the waves carry you, you could imagine what it’s like here in the summer. The murmur of conversation and laughter, the tinkling of plates and silverware, the shouts of waiters. But then, you probably wouldn’t be able to hear the ocean if the place was crowded.
Positano in winter

We slowly made our way to one of the few open restaurants for a nice, leisurely, wine-filled, seafood lunch. No need to hurry. There’s nowhere to go. No one’s waiting for us to vacate our table. There are no shops we need to get to before they close, no mobs of tour buses dumping yet more people onto this charming little seaside town.

Positano lunch

The people will come back again. But for that day, Positano was all ours.

Positano winter

Positano beach in winter.

Here’s a much more informative overview of Positano, should you ever want to go.

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Flying a Kite on a Balinese Beach is Basically Like Getting in a Time Machine

Meet Henri.

Henri the Balinese kite

Henri is a little something we picked up on the Nusa Dua beach in Bali. He’s basically a kite. But he’s oh so much more than that.

Henri is actually a magic wand that takes you back to childhood. You literally cannot hold a kite and not be filled with wonder and joy and peace. Anything that might be bothering you just miraculously…..disappears. This happens for two reasons: 1) your focusing on getting your kite higher and higher without having the string ripped out of your hands, and 2) you’re just staring up at its majestic beauty with your jaw hanging slack.

Flying a kite on a beach in Bali
You cannot see my face, but it is indeed slack-jawed in wonder.

We saw kites flying in the skies all over Bali. In fact, Bali has a very large annual kite festival. In Bali, they believe that kites carry messages for a good harvest to the Hindu gods.

As it was, we saw them every day while we were there, tiny dark specks floating high above the ground. Sometimes we’d get close enough to make out the shape of a ship or a turtle or a fish, but we were never able to see the people holding the invisible string attached to these floating time machines.

Yes, time machine. Because, honestly, when’s the last time you flew a kite? I know for me, it had been a very, very long time. Not since I was a kid. I definitely had forgotten how magical they could be.

I guess I’m not alone in this feeling. In fact, a director who made a documentary about Bali’s kite-flying culture said this in the Jakarta Post:

“We believe that those who fly kites are possessed by the wind,” says Yoka Sara. “And in that blissful state anything they do will be forgiven, in the way that children are forgiven. It is a return to childhood.”…

An architect by trade Yoka Sara produced the film because he believes that people in Indonesia and abroad should learn more about the hard work, meticulous artistry and sacred traditions that are involved in sending kites skyward in Bali.

So when we saw a vendor selling them on the beach, we jumped at the chance to get one.

There’s just something about standing on a warm sunny beach, with a beer nestled in the sand nearby, and leaning your head far back, squinting up at a pretty thing in a bright blue sky that brings on a sense of smallness and tranquility.

Balinese kite up in the sky.

We loved Henri so much that when it came time to leave Bali, I insisted we bring him home. Even though it was in no way practical. Keep in mind that Henri’s around three feet long and made of silk and fragile thin bamboo-type rods. And, our trip home had multiple legs. I took Henri from the St. Regis in Bali, through the airport security, on the plane to Bangkok, off the plane in Bangkok, to the hotel in Bangkok, on our errands the next day, to the Bangkok airport, through the airport security, on the flight to Munich, off the plane in Munich, to the hotel in Munich, through the airport security, and onto the flight to D.C. And then, finally, home.

Nevertheless, he’s the best thing we’ve ever bought on a trip. Hands down.

Flying a kite on a beach in Bali
Very happy Poe. I can’t lie: those beers you see in the foreground there don’t hurt.

We’ve flown him twice since our trip, at a park near the airport here in D.C. And even though it hasn’t been as smooth and carefree as our Bali beach experiences (our fragile little Henri is starting to show some wear and tear, and the wind is a bit inconsistent here this time of year), he still has a way of turning a bad day into a much better one.

Pure magic.