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Report 943: Italy Alone

By DMae from Alaska, Summer 2005

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Page 8 of 9: Sorrento adventures

photo by DMae


Of course, there was a train strike the day I was scheduled to travel to Naples from Rome, so I decided to leave Rome a day earlier than my original plan. I added an extra day at the small hotel where I would be staying in Sorrento. The train trip to Naples was easy, and the transfer to the Circumvesuviana was simple. I just walked down a staircase to where the commuter train tracks were located. I had read that one must be vigilant on the Circumvesuviana. I felt safe but I did watch my belongings carefully.

I really had no reason to go to Sorrento. I liked the sound of the name and it seemed to be a good location for going to other places with beautiful names like Amalfi, Pompeii, Positano, Capri and Paestum. Sorrento is a charming town in a gorgeous setting. I found that Sorrento is quite a tourist destination. Most of the people I met were British or Americans on day tours from their cruise ships. I don't feel like I really met locals unless I count the staff at my hotel.

I stayed at La Magnolia, another musical name. It is a small hotel with about six or eight rooms. After the tiny studio apartment in Rome, I suddenly had more space than I could use. The bathroom was en suite and huge. I was in an upstairs room with a skylight. La Magnolia is centrally located, just off Piazza Tasso. It was an easy walk to the train station and an easy walk into the historical center of Sorrento. The staff were very friendly and helpful. I found out just how helpful one morning when I was planning on going to Paestum. I woke up with a horrible migraine and the staff made sure I was well cared for all that day. One of the hazards of solo travel is that you sometimes must depend upon the kindness of strangers. Fortunately, these strangers were exceedingly kind.

The next day I did try to get to Paestum by train. I got as far as the train station in Pompei, and just stood there, with my ticket in hand, and watched the train pull in and pull out. I was in no condition to do much so I went back to Sorrento and sat at a bar and sketched and sketched and tried to not let the disappointment get to me. Sitting and painting is sometimes a better solution than travel, I learned. In the end, the migraine used up three days of my eight days in Sorrento.

Something I really wanted to do was to take the local bus to Amalfi. I had read that the trip on the bus was spectacular. Now think about this; I come from Alaska and some of our roads here can be hair raising and are not for the weak of temperament. I found the road to Amalfi was easily beyond the most extreme road I have ever traveled in Alaska. I was totally amazed at not only the hanging road, but also the aplomb with which the bus drivers approached the journey. I did notice that the drivers wish each other "safe trip" before they depart. I did not take motion sickness medicine for the trip and relied upon pressure points on my wrists to help calm my nausea. This technique worked fairly well for most of the journey, but I was relieved to arrive at Amalfi and walk around. Amalfi is an interesting little town, with the main street heading right up a canyon. I spent the day there wandering around and then took the bus back to Sorrento. I decided to forgo stopping in Positano for dinner as the queasiness from the bus ride rather undid my appetite.

Pompeii was one of the reasons I chose Sorrento. I spent a full day there wandering around the ruins. When it got too hot, I discovered that the book shop was air conditioned! I made some purchases there before taking the train back to Sorrento.

I had to make some hard decisions about giving up Capri, Positano and Paestum. I made up for it by wandering the narrow streets of Sorrento. The historical center is fascinating, and I discovered the community park, Villa Comunale which overlooks Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples. I also discovered cloisters. I did not know about these serene oases until I visited the Chiostro di San Francesco near the Villa.

My last day in Sorrento was bittersweet. I did not want to leave as I had not seen all that I had planned. Yet, Naples and its museum were luring me on so once again I boarded the train. I checked my small suitcase at the Centrale train station in Naples and took the subway to the Museo Archeologico.

I had read up on this museum and was really looking forward to seeing a couple of exhibits. As luck would have it, one was on loan (the Faun), and one was in restauro (the Athletes). I have to admit that my disappointment in not being able to see certain things clouded my perception of the museum for a while. When I got over my huff (another hazard of solo travel; no one really cares about your sulks), I settled down and fell in love with all the wonderful artifacts this fine museum has on display. I did enjoy this museum and want to revisit in the future.

After my visit to the museum I had lunch at the nearby La Tana dell'Arte. There is actually an art school nearby and I watched students coming and going while I ate a delightful, real Neapolitan pizza. The food was great, the beer cold, and sitting outside in Naples under a hot, blue sky... Well, it doesn't get any better than this.

It was now late afternoon and the city was rousing itself. This city was loud, complex, confusing and fascinating. I walked down the busy street toward the Spanish Quarter and the Bay of Naples. The street name changed so many times that I just kept pointing myself toward the bay. There are many shops along this route, and a large department store which was air conditioned so I decided to shop for a while and cool off. I wandered a bit down the narrow streets of the Spanish Quarter and found most people to be friendly and welcoming. I bought a folding fan from a little shop and chatted about how hot the day was and how beautiful I found Naples to be. When I got to the bay I discovered a beautiful church, San Francesco di Paola, and a huge arcade, the Galleria Umberto I. I wandered back toward the museum and down the street called the "Spaccanapoli."

I looked at the church Gesů Nova, and thought about how much this fortress-like building reminded me of Florence and all the massive buildings there. I went to the Cappella Sanservo and viewed the sculpture of the "Veiled Christ". Then I snacked and chatted my way back to the train station where I had reservations on the night train to Venice.

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