Essays about life in Italy, traveling in Italy, and more
Two Weeks in Sorrento
For more details about the Amalfi area, see Things to Do: Amalfi Area. I wrote that section based on things from this trip.
We left on Sunday, September 9 flying Delta from Albuquerque to Atlanta to Rome. Got first class upgrades the whole way and even managed to sleep some. We arrived in Rome airport in the morning and got a flight to Naples. Nothing much happened at customs in Rome - I don't think they even checked our passports.
For me, it is always horrible changing planes in Europe after the long flight across the Atlantic. It seems like we walked for hours through the hot and stuffy Rome airport, then Alitalia changed gates for the flight without telling anyone, then there was a huge line and we had to get on a bus to go to the plane on the runway. The plane was small and uncomfortable. If you had much carry on luggage this whole routine would be difficult. You get off the bus and walk to the plane then go up a very narrow steep flight of stairs. The flight to Naples was short, but I was reaching the end of my patience for travel. It took forever to get our luggage in the small, crowded Naples airport and the flight was late, so we were about an hour late coming out of the terminal.
The driver arranged for us by Area Vacanze, the agency for the Sorrento apartment, was waiting for us. He spoke no English and his accent was difficult for Steve to understand, but he managed. We didn't have to discuss much anyway - he knew who we were and where he was taking us. 120,000 lire ($60) for car service one way Naples airport to Sorrento. Paid in cash at the end of the drive.
About ten minutes into our drive, the driver's cell phone rang to the tune of an opera song that Steve had been playing a lot at home because it was the one that David (from the message board) sang to Liz and her family when they were in Italy in the summer. After the driver was finished with the call, Steve commented on the song it had played. The driver shrugged - of course you would set your cell phone to ring in "opera"! We thought it a charming way to start the trip.
The drive from Naples airport around Naples to Sorrento was very ugly. Rows of apartments, big autostrada - Naples is a large city. The road from autostrada to Sorrento is crowded, narrow, slow. It was pretty when we got close to Sorrento. The driver called the agency and took us to the apartment. A woman from the agency was waiting on the road to flag him down. The owner, Anna Marie, and two of her dogs was there. Alessandro from the agency arrived during it all. He was the only one who spoke English and Steve was having a hard time with the different accent (for understanding Italian).
Sorrento, September 10 - 22, Area Vacanze, Villa Cancelmo
Cost about $660/week. 50% bank wired to Italy when reservation made, remainder paid in cash on arrival. Which meant we had to arrive with over 1 million lire in cash plus a 200,000 lire security deposit in cash. See my Review 119 for my review of this apartment.
It was quite a flurry of activity for us jet lagged travelers arriving at the apartment. Two agency people (one spoke English) and the apartment owner (no English) showing us the apartment. They wanted to arrange to come back later for the payment, even though we were ready to pay and we had to convince them it would be better for us to just pay now so we would not have to bother with it later. It frequently can feel like Italian business people do not want to settle the bill. They are just being gracious - they did not want to bother us with the money aspect.
After they all left, we crawled into bed and slept for a couple of hours. Then walked into Sorrento and found the tourist office and got a map and ferry, bus and train schedules. Sorrento is much more the medieval town with narrow lanes and no view of sea than I thought. Went to a great pizza place from the Cadogan book.
Experiencing September 11 Away from Hom
Our first full day in Italy on this trip was Tuesday, September 11. Here are my notes from that day.
Today we explored Sorrento and had lunch in town. While walking around, we saw a woman with several cats following her. She invited us into her garden (a communal garden she said). She had 7 cats - only 5 were with her. They were being fed. She had chickens too. And beautiful lemon trees. You could see the sea from one corner of the garden. Walked down to Marina Grande. Small, pretty harbor. Some swimming areas - loungers on a pier and ladders into the water.
Went back to the apartment for an afternoon siesta to help get over the jet lag. We were sitting on loungers outside in the sun when our landlady came to tell us about the twin towers disaster in New York City. We could not understand her, could not believe that what she was saying was possible. We turned on the TV and watched it for hours. The coverage was in Italian but you could see the CNN footage with English titles behind. Steve could understand the Italian coverage.
It had all been happening in the US while we were walking around Sorrento. We were in a state of shock for days. The first thing we had to do was email David in NY (one of the SlowTrav moderators) to be sure he was okay (he was fine). It felt like the end of the world and we were miles from home. In a way we were lucky to be out of the US when it happened. We felt safe in Italy, we did not get to spend days watching CNN and having those images burned into our brain.
But in another way it was horrible being away from home while this was happening. Because they had stopped all air travel, we Americans in Italy were all sort of trapped there, unable to go home if we wanted to. We decided we would not cut our trip short - it was all booked and paid for and we couldn't see any reason to return home. We were able to follow the events from Italy. The Italians were very sympathetic to Americans. We saw shops in Tuscany with red, white and blue displays. We saw signs on shop windows expressing sorrow for the events.
We talked to Nancy, an American living in Florence who I had met through the AOL boards and who we had met in person when she was visiting Santa Fe, and she was able to keep us up-to-date with the events because she got English language stations.
On that first day we went to an "English Pub" across the street from our apartment and watched the CNN coverage in English until several Italians showed up and they switched to sports.
Day Trip to Capri
Hydrofoil ferries run frequently from the Sorrento harbor to Capri. We had been on a hydrofoil a couple of times before in England and Norway, but these Italian ones were different. They did not go as fast as we had expected and were a nice way to travel - more like a fast ferry. On the AOL boards I had read a post saying not to take the hydrofoils because you are on vacation and should take things slow - but these are not that fast and run more frequently than the regular ferries.
We walked to the harbor area, but you can also take a bus. It is a little awkward to get to by walking. From the main piazza in town, Piazza Tasso, you walk down a steep staircase down a cliff - equivalent to going down about 5 stories I would say. A little scary for me because I am afraid of heights. Then you are in a narrow gorge leading to the sea. You walk along the edge of the road. It is only a 10 minute walk to the ferry from Piazza Tasso.
There is a disorganized place where you line up for tickets (a row of ticket windows with some labeled as being for certain destinations, but sometimes you had to change lines for reasons I couldn't understand) - so leave yourself extra time for getting your ticket.
Sorrento to Capri: 30,000 lire each return ($15).
Huge line for the ferry. They made us go to the upper deck (avoid this unless you are first in line) which is in the open, but is at the back of the boat and very small. There are about 6 benches and then a place to stand. We were all crowded in together grasping at whatever we could to keep from falling. Downstairs is enclosed with comfortable seats, but I imagine people end up standing there too.
30 minute ride to the dock at Capri. Huge crowds of people - long line for the funicular to town - so we got a taxi up to the town (20,000 lire). Wonderful ride in a small, open roofed car.
The main piazza was packed with people - many tour groups - not pleasant. We decided to get sandwiches and walk to the Roman Villa. The walk was along Capri "streets" - narrow paved lanes with high walls on either side. When we got out of town there were nice views. Had a picnic lunch and visited the remains of the Roman villa.
Tried to get the 3:35 ferry back but it was not there so we had to wait in a line in the sun for the 4:20 ferry.
Day Trip to Pompeii
We did a late afternoon trip to Pompeii. 30 minute train ride from Sorrento. Got there around 3pm. No crowds at Pompeii, not even many of the guides standing around looking for business. This was a good time of day to arrive, and we just spent a couple of hours wandering around using our guidebook. You get a detailed map when you pay to go in.
We should have rented the audio tour - but I always hate wandering around with those things. Pompeii is huge - really like being in a town. One of the famous things in Pompeii is the brothel with the frescoes - sex scenes painted on the wall. I have heard there are usually long lines to see this. There was no line when we got there, just a few people about. But is was disappointing. There were only a few pictures, they were small, and you could hardly see anything. So, if there is a long lineup to see this - skip it.
We were really impressed with Pompeii - much better than the Roman Forum. You can see the shops and the houses. Fabulous. It just goes on and on forever. You really have the feeling of the town that was there nearly 2000 years ago. We only spent a few hours, but we walked all around and enjoyed it.
Day Trip to the Amalfi Coast
Picked up our rental car and did the Amalfi coast drive. Got a nice Opel Vectra manual. Steve says it is good to drive. Drove out through Sorrento and Sant'Angello to the road to Positano. The driving was not as horrendous as we thought it might be in this area, but it was not enjoyable either. The road is narrow and slows as it goes through towns along the Amalfi coast. There were a lot of cars on the road, some passing you very fast. The views were lovely. It just seemed like a long and winding drive - I would not want to have to drive it frequently.
Drove to Positano. Drove into the town and parked before the main garage - should have just waited until we got there, but we took the first one we saw. See Italy: Things to Do: Amalfi Area for details on parking in Positano. Still we got to walk through a bit of the town. It was packed with tourists in the main part.
We had a nice lunch in Positano and then walked around a bit. On first view I did not love Positano, but I think if you were staying here it would be very different. It looked like there were lots of restaurants and places to explore. It just seemed too overrun with tourists for me - but the tourists were all down near the main piazza and the beach.
We then drove to Amalfi. We didn't stop, but continued inland to Ravello. I thought Amalfi looked like a great town. The road passes by at sea level and the beach area looked much larger than Positano.
We stopped in Ravello, walked around and visited the church which has magnificent mosaics and a good museum downstairs. Ravello is a lovely town. It is up in the mountains, not right on the coast. The drive from the coast road is about 15 minutes but the road is very narrow - very narrow!!
Then we did the very long and very winding road back home. The traffic is worst when you get to the Sorrento area. From Sorrento out to the main autostrada to Naples the traffic was always thick and hard driving. It would not be an easy drive from Sorrento to the autostrada to do day trips further out (like we thought we would do, and never did).
Cat in the Window
Our apartment was at the back of a villa with a few apartments. Part of the villa was over our apartment, but from our terrace it looked abandoned. There were broken windows. Our windows were out onto our terrace and the lemon grove. The lemon grove was large and beautiful, but the ground under the trees was dirt, not grass or anything green - which gave the grove a strange feel. Still it was wonderful to have all the trees full of lemons and limes. You had to watch your head when walking along the pathways.
We like to sleep with windows wide open. Because of jetlag and September 11, neither of us were sleeping well that first week. Anxious and bad dreams. One night, we were just drifting off to sleep when I felt my cat Spike at my feet where he usually sleeps. Then I remembered that we were not at home. I moved my legs in a panic and the animal fled. By the time Steve got the light on (I was paralyzed with fear) there was no animal to be found in the room. I, always assuming the worst, assumed it was a large rat. We closed the shutters (and kept them closed for the rest of our nights there) but neither of us got much sleep.
The next morning we asked the landlady if it could have been a cat in our room. She said no, because she has several dogs that patrol the property, she has not cats, and she has not seen any cats around. I did not mention the rat theory. Later that day we were having lunch on the terrace and one of her dogs was with us and we noticed a black cat sitting nearby. The dog paid no attention to it at all. So, it was the black cat and we probably scarred him as much as he scarred us.
Exploring the Sorrento Peninsula
On a pleasant Sunday we did a driving trip around the Sorrento peninsula. First we drove to Massa Lubrense. This seems like a very nice town - a good base for this area. Not as big as Sorrento, but lots of shops etc. Then we drove on to Termini - very small town.
Then to Nerano - again a small town (only a couple of stores) but with several restaurants and a good swimming area down on the beach. We searched for a restaurant, Maria Grazia, from the Cadogan book but could not find it either on the beach or in town. Steve asked and we were told it was right on the beach. We went back and found it. We drove back to the beach area, parked in the pay lot and they pointed us to it - right at the end of the beach. Had an interesting Sunday lunch - many Italian families in the restaurant.
Nerano is a nice little town and the beach was rocky, but looked good for swimming. The best we have seen so far. There are a few vacation rental apartments in this town. Wouldn't be that bad for a summer vacation. See Campania Vacation Rental Reviews.
We drove to Capo (back towards Sorrento), parked and walked out to the coast where there was a Roman villa. The sea looked lovely and some people were swimming, but it would be hard to get into the water (it was very rocky - no type of beach).
Day Trip to Naples
What a day! A slow start to the day (as is usual for us), but then we decided to head to Naples. Walked very fast to make the 11:45 ferry. Made it in time, even stopped for a very expensive coffee and pastry near the ferry (18,000 for what we normally pay 6,000). The ferry did not come. By noon, we went and got our money back - not so easy, we lined up twice, each time being sent to another line. Did the long uphill climb back to town, got groceries, went home and made a nice lunch.
Got the 2:35 train to Naples - arrived at 3:45. Spent just a few hours there. Walked from Piazza Garibaldi into the old part of town, got lost, bought a map, walked down the narrow Via Tribunale, looked at the Duomo, walked to Piazza Bellini, walked down the main shopping street, Via Toledo, bought wonderful chocolates (Gay Odin), walked to Piazza Plebisite, walked through the covered shopping gallery, got pizza by the slice, found our way to the ferry to get the 7:30 ferry back, all ferries to Sorrento cancelled, took a taxi to the train and got the 7:11 train back to Sorrento (train 5.06 euro each one way).
If the ferries had been running, we would have had a longer day in Naples. There had been a big rainstorm a few days earlier that had done some damage in Naples, and that could have been the reason the ferries were canceled. We did not find out. The train ride is very long and boring from Sorrento to Naples. You sit on rock hard plastic seats - two sets of two facing each other on each side of the aisle so your knees are pressed against the knees of other passengers. It is really a commuter train - like riding an above ground subway for 70 minutes. By the end of our time in Sorrento, I was sick of that train.
Day Trip to Herculaneum
Raining this morning but we headed out for Herculaneum on the 12:30 train. A long, tedious train ride on rock hard seats too close together. The trains have frequent stops and go through ugly suburbs. A horrible ride. Took an hour to get to Herculaneum, then you walk about 10 minutes to the site. Then you walk down into the site - it is all below ground level because the new city was built right on top of the old ruins. (16,000 lire each to enter)
Herculaneum is fabulous. It is small, only three blocks wide by three blocks long, but with many lovely homes in good shape. You can see second stories in some. Remnants of frescoes, lots of mosaic floors. But this type of walking is exhausting. It rained off and on, then stopped and it got hot and humid.
Back to Sorrento. Went for gelato at Davide (only our second gelato on the trip), bought limoncello in two different places and some olive oil, stopped at the caffe on Piazza Tasso.
Hike to Sant Agata - Last day in Sorrento
We decided we will leave tomorrow, two days early. We will spend a couple of nights in Todi, just for fun. Out this morning for coffee - our favorite nearby caffe closed, so went to Corso Italia. We saw our landlady on our way back and she let Steve take photos of me in her lovely Cinque Cento. It is about 25 years old, but in great shape.
We walked up the trail to Sant Agata. The trail started at the end of our street. First you climb up stairs by Stations of the Cross, then up through small towns and countryside. We got lost in an affluent area of villas, but a Scottish couple showed us the way (a car was parked in the path so we did not see the signs). We had a nice lunch in Sant Agata, then walked back down to Sorrento on another route. It was maybe an hour and a half up, an hour down. A very nice hike.
Staying in Sorrento
Most mornings we started at a nearby caffe for coffee and a sweet roll. They have good raisin buns that are not too sweet. I always get a caffe macchiato and Steve an espresso, and we each have a sweet bun of some type. We order at the bar and get our pastries, they bring the coffees out. They give you a glass of fizzy water as well. This caffe specializes in pastries and we got a few one day - they were great.
It took about 5 minutes to walk from the caffe to Corso Italia, the main street in Sorrento. We go in through the old roman arch. Sorrento is a beautiful town full of narrow streets and old buildings. It was full with tourists while we were there, but we were there in high season. There are many hotels and shops and restaurants. It feels pretty touristy - most shops catering to tourists.
You do not have views of the sea from Sorrento, even though the town is built on top of a cliff on the edge of the sea. You only have views from the edge of Sorrento, right along the cliff. You can walk down to the sea at two points: Marina Grande (there are a few restaurants along the docks) and Marina Piccola (where the ferries leave from). The swimming area is inbetween Marina Grande and Marina Piccola - you take an elevator from the town down to the water. There is a small beach, but people lie out on wooden walkways.
See Italy: Things to Do: Amalfi for notes about swimming in this area.
My Notes about the Old Part of Sorrento
I wrote this as a post on the message board and am pasting it in here. Someone asked where the old part of Sorrento was.
It is my understanding that frequently the old part of any town is that part within the city walls. It is literally the older part of town. As towns grew, they grew outside the city walls. I was surprised when we got to Sorrento to see city walls. I had assumed it would be a more wide-open feeling town on the side of a hill overlooking the sea. But it isn't. The older part of town is slightly sloped and consists of narrow streets and lanes like many Tuscany hill towns. You do not see the sea until you are at the edge of the old section, looking over the cliff to the sea.
The modern part of town has sprawled up the hill (south from the city) - and there are many lovely hotels there with stunning views. However, many of them have long walks to the town center (or you may have to drive).
There are also many hotels to the west on the main road to Massa Lubrense. These hotels are built into the cliff and have great views, but again you have a walk to town (along a busy road).
Another modern part is to the east - really anything east of the train station is a modern, dense built up area where I am guessing most people live. You find this in most Italian towns. We look at the beautiful historic center and see all the houses - but many of these were abandoned in the 50s and 60s (?) and people moved to modern and better equipped and serviced apartments outside the city walls. Only in the past 10-20 years have people been buying and fixing up the older houses in most city centers. Of course this is my broad generalization - there are lots of exceptions - but this is how I have seen the growth of towns.
From my map I think the boundaries of the old city of Sorrento are:
Corso Italia goes through the old section and is the main shopping street and has traffic - but it is not fast and loud traffic.
There were food shops near our apartment, or we could pick things up in Sorrento. There were small shops in the historic center area and a larger store on the main street near our apartment.
Found a self serve laundry on Corso Italia across from the English Pub and they will also do your laundry - bring it in before 9am and they will have it that day. We ended up using a Lavanderia on the main driving road and paid the most we have ever paid for a load of laundry (a personal best - I am too embarrassed to say how much it was). Next time we will either use the self serve or get a price agreed on before we leave the laundry. (Our apartment had no washing machine.)
Found an English Pub on Corso Italia with several internet points in one room, but some didn't work and they are the same machine as in the bar near our apartment. You feed money into it and your amount remaining is displayed in the corner of the screen. Feed in more money when it is running low or it just cuts you off.
Found a better internet caffe in an Irish bar on the main driving road out of town - Merry Monks. 5,000 lire for 30 minutes and you pay a guy, you don't pay the machine. But those internet computers are kind of yucky. After using the keyboard for half an hour you want to have a shower!
Speaking English and Being English
Everyone spoke English there, except our landlady. Sometimes Sorrento feels more like England than Italy. There are loads of British tourists. Signs in English, English pubs, everyone speaks English.
Sorrento: Panetteria-Pizzeria Franco, Corso Italia 265 (just
a block past the train station, heading away from Piazza Tasso)
Sorrento: L'Antica Trattoria, Via P.R. Giuliani 33
Positano: Bar - Ristorante Bruno, Via C. Colombo 157 (the main road that goes through town, just uphill from the center). We had a few restaurant recommendations for Positano, but none of them looked like what we wanted, so we just walked along the road until we saw a simple trattoria. We had a nice lunch here sitting on a terrace between the edge of the road and the cliff. The waiter had to run across the road to bring the food from the restaurant to the terrace.
Nerano: Maria Grazia, from the Cadogan book. From Nerano, drive down to the water and park. The restaurant is on the beach at the far end (away from where you arrive) past the swimming area.
No menu and the food was too rich for me, but it was a great setting for Sunday lunch. We had antipasto - half a round of mozzarella, a plate of deep fried things (including deep fried cheese), eggplant wrapped around cheese, plate of fish. Steve gave some fish to the cats that were hanging around. Then I had the house specialty - pasta with zucchini. Way too rich - must have been loaded with cheese. I only ate half, if that. Steve had a big piece of swordfish that he liked. I also had a side salad. We shared an excellent piece of cake with lemon sauce - soaked in liquor. And two coffees. Also white wine with the meal.
Naples: Gay Odin, Via Toledo 427. Wonderful chocolates. It is a very small store with one person behind the counter. A few chocolates are on display. You ask for an assortment and she asks if you want them with alcohol or without. We got with. We got a nice bag full of chocolates. There are several other shops in Naples and one in Rome:
Naples: Via Cervantes 37
Go to the Italy: Campania Vacation Rental Reviews for the reviews of place we stayed:
You will also find reviews of places we looked at while we were there:
Hotels in the Center of Sorrento
See my notes in the Hotels section for Hotel information.
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