Sorrento Momento

Monday 31st August 2015

Stepping off the plane at Naples airport I was hit by the heat, it was 8pm and pitch black so I wasn’t quite expecting it. I was transferred to the main terminal by bus as you have to on all flights as Naples airport is very small. Entering the main terminal first it was to passport control which consisted of 2 agents sat behind a small protected desk and 1 of them proceeded to snatch my passport from me, quickly check the photo and then throw it back at me and that was that. My bag came through really quickly and then the reps pointed out the way to the coach transfer, which felt like a small hike in the humidity and dragging my suitcase along behind me. I was then told which number coach to get on and an Italian guy called Claudio put my suitcase in the storage area underneath and I then patiently waited for him to let me on the coach forgetting that it was a left hand drive for him to quietly mutter “it’s the other side” oh yeah.

So I was on coach 17 and Roberta had introduced herself as our transfer rep, she was soon telling us some facts about the area and tying to point out places of interest in the dark. I however was slightly distracted by the insanity of Italian driving. If there are lanes on a motorway surely you stay within the lanes, apparently that’s not how it works if you’re Italian. Also everyone on a scooter seemed to have a death wish. We went through lots of tunnels the newest was very long and had only been open for 1 year. You wouldn’t have thought so to look at it, I am not exaggerating it looked like it had been there for 100 years! Next it was on to a coastal road which was very high up, I could see all the lights below and the most stunning was an extremely large cruise liner anchored in the bay, it’s lights were reflecting on the water and it looked beautiful. Next was on to a “country road” now I live in the country so I am used to country roads but this was something else! The long and winding road comes to mind, there were people to be dropped off at 5 hotels and of course mine Grand Hotel Vesuvio was last.

I arrived at my hotel at around 10.45pm, check in was swift and rather oddly they keep your passport when you check in to register you as a visitor to the country (I’m guessing this is because passport control can’t be bothered) which I wasn’t too happy to do but not much you can do about it. My room was 409 a single room with air conditioning (yes!) and a balcony (lovely) overlooking some lemon groves. The room was overall clean, bright and thankfully cool.

Tuesday September 1st

I had managed to sleep on and off and went for breakfast at 9am. Breakfast was served in a lovely room with great lighting and massive windows overlooking the most amazing views over the bay of Naples, you could see Sorrento where 2 cruise ships were now sitting in the bay and Mount Vesuvius was just visible through the morning haze. After breakfast which was your standard continental I decided to go and take some photos of the hotel. Usually I don’t do this kind of holiday I just arrange everything myself but I had decided to find out what it was like as a lot of holidays to this area are package holidays. With this in mind I went to the welcome meeting at 11.30am where we were given a map of Sorrento and information on all the excursions available. I already had and excursion (Amalfi and Positano day cruise ) booked for Wednesday but I arranged to do another one on the Sunday (Pompeii and Herculaneum). We were told there was going to be a free walking tour of Sorrento at 1pm to get a bit of a feel for the place so I decided to go to that as well.

Walking tour – First Stop was Limoncello (lemon liquor) tasting, I say tasting which is ironic because it was so strong it could burn your taste buds right off! Thankfully it was only a very small amount you were expected to taste and that was enough. Next was on to a lovely restaurant “Risturante la Favorita” which was one of the oldest in Sorrento (1868) part of it was like a greenhouse with lots of plants and then you walk through to the back and there was a large covered veranda with lemons growing on it. Then it was on to Cuomos Lucky Store (1856) which was a store full of wooden furniture and we were given a quick demonstration on how they get the intricate patterns onto the wood. We were shown a table that transformed into a gaming table with several different layers poker table, back gammon, chess and finally opened up to reveal a roulette wheel. Next was down a little lane to Davides ice cream shop where they do 50+ flavours, we were told we could get one scoop for 1 Euro so I chose Vanilla with White Chocolate, yum! Last stop was the Foreigners Club restaurant which has some of the most stunning views over the bay, the 2 cruise liners were still in so was a good opportunity to take some photos. I was also given a complimentary drink of Prosecco and red orange which was nice.

The rest of the day I spent at the hotel reading up on the excursion I was doing the next day and then just reading the novel I had taken with me. The evening meal in the hotel was not what I was expecting, there was a different menu every night and I barely recognised anything on it, I was at least expecting Pizza. I am a fussy eater anyway and when the meals came out looking the way they did and also really small portions needless to say I only ate in the hotel twice, I did however enjoy the ice cream for dessert, thank the lord they had vanilla!

Wednesday September 2nd

Amalfi and Positano cruise day! I was picked up at the hotel at 9.20am a few stops were made to pick up at other hotels before we were dropped off near a lift that was going to take us down to the port. Basically it’s such a long way down the cliff to the port that they’ve put lifts in to make it quicker and easier to get down there. Once at the port there were more people already queuing up to be told which number boat you were going to be on. This process seemed to take a long time, Italian time goes even slower than normal time! Eventually we got our boat, boat number 3 – it was a lot smaller than I was expecting and as someone who has suffered from seasickness in the past I was a little apprehensive, even with taking some precautionary seasickness tablets. There were only 12 people in my group so a small boat was all we needed. We cruised slowly around the coast and our skipper introduced himself as Andre. He kindly pointed out places of interest along the way and popped on some music for us the first song on his soundtrack being the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, hilarious!

First stop was a swim stop, I didn’t fancy it as it was literally in the middle of the sea, I’ve always been a bit afraid of swimming in the sea as you don’t know what’s in it! So the others jumped in for a few minutes and then it was on to our first proper stop Amalfi. I took lots of photos of the coast as we went by. Arriving into Amalfi we were told we had almost 2 hours to explore before we were expected back at the boat. It was very hot, the breeze on the boat had been lovely but as these places are surrounded by steep cliffs they are very much secluded and it makes it a complete sun trap, it was 30+ degrees. I headed straight for the centre which was only a short walk away, the first major thing I notice is Amalfi Cathedral – a beautiful building with it’s many steps leading up to it and the large clock on the left, it looked amazing. First things first I needed to cool down so it was time for an ice cram (you may notice a theme developing here) I sat down at the restaurant in the square opposite the Cathedral where I had a very expensive vanilla ice cream at 7 Euros, I can honestly say at that point it was worth every Euro! Then it was time to go into the Cathedral as long as the climb up there didn’t kill me first. I made it and it was only 3 Euros to get in and a word to the wise if you ever plan on going there make sure your shoulders are covered or you wont be allowed in. I was wearing a dress that covered my shoulders so I was fine, luckily. Inside was just as stunning if not more so! The detail and paintings on the ceilings were amazing, so beautiful.

“Art is the meeting place with mystery, because the beauty of created things stirs up God’s emotions, nostalgia” (John Paul II in “Letter to the artists”)

I took lots of photos which was allowed as long as you didn’t use the flash. There were different areas within the whole Cathedral which included The Cloister of Paradise, The Basilica of the Crucifix, The Crypt and The Cathedral. The Crypt of Saint Andrew was amazing, completely made of marble it was lovely and cool and was very peaceful and the paintings on the ceilings were beautiful. The Cathedral itself was also stunning, massive and awe inspiring I had to take a quiet moment within the seating area just to take it all in. I wouldn’t describe myself as a religious person normally as I don’t go to church but in that place at that time it would be hard not to feel a greater sense of something.

I walked around a bit more and bought a postcard for my collection from one of the little shops on the way back to the boat. Next stop was Positano, it was nice to get back on the boat and have a bit of a breeze to cool down again. As we approached Positano I realised it was just as postcard picture perfect as I imagined it would be. All the pretty coloured houses built onto the side of the cliffs and the church in the centre. Again we had almost 2 hours to explore before being expected back at the boat, it was very hot again so my first stop was to be at one of the sea front restaurants for an ice cool beverage. Luckily lots of the little narrow alleyways were in the shade, there were some beautiful little shops with everything from gifts, clothes and handmade sandals to ceramics and paintings. Unfortunately the church wasn’t open so after wondering around the little streets and taking some more photos I decided to relax in the shade.

Then it was time to head back on the boat, Andre showed us some little waterfalls and some little caves along the coast where we again stopped off for a short swimming stop. By this point I had started chatting to 2 couples that were also on the trip Josie and Ryan a young couple from London and Lyndsey (not very often do I meet someone with the same name as me and spelt the same way too!) and Shane newlyweds from Rugby. We decided we were going to meet up later that night at Insolito a cocktail bar in Sorrento, where I had a couple of slushy Strawberry Daiquiris, my favourite!

I remember feeling so lucky when I was on that cruise, it was like a taster on how the other half live and so very relaxing.

Thursday September 3rd

I had a bit of a lie in after the previous days excursion/cocktail bar evening. I got the complementary hotel shuttle bus into Sorrento at 9.30am and went down to the port to catch the little ferry over to Capri for the day. Again the island looked like something straight from a postcard, just lovely! The harbour was beautiful with all it’s little boats and turquoise blue waters. I decided to head straight for the Funicular which would take me up to Capri Town where I was hoping to spot a celebrity or 2. Once up there, again there was a little church and a clock and some truly stunning views looking down over Capri and the harbour. There were lots of little winding streets filled with every designer boutique you could think of, it was like the Champs Elysees on a much smaller quainter scale. Capri Watch was a dominant brand and was advertised all over the island, I had a look in one of their stores and saw a couple of nice watches but for 200 Euros a piece they were going to stay there!

I bought some little hand made bracelets as gifts for my sisters and of course one for myself. I also had a donut that was the same size as my head, sugar everywhere but so worth it! I went in the little church and took some photos and then stood outside the church in the shade for a bit and used the free wifi from one of the restaurants nearby. Whilst there some guy came over and asked if we (other people were doing the same as me) could all move out of the way of the steps for a moment as they wanted to take a team photo. My ears pricked up and so I got my camera ready as I could see an official photographer and a t.v camera and then the whole National Italian Swimming Team show up! I didn’t know what team they were at the time by they were in an official looking kit and quite a few of them were handsome so I got a couple of photos. It added a bit of excitement to the day anyway : ) shame they weren’t in their speedos because I would have known straight away what team they were then of course ; ) I have also discovered Italians are lacking in manners and do come across as quite rude when you are being served in a shop for example. Obviously there are some exceptions like my hotel shuttle bus driver Maurizio, he always had a smile and a “Ciao” for everyone and is generally a very polite man.

Friday September 4th

I decided to relax a bit today and just spend some time in the hotel and exploring Sorrento a bit more. I ended up walking further than I had before in Sorrento and ended up in a fashion store where I bought some new winter clothes. From looking around I could tell that the colour palettes for autumn/winter here were the same as at home so that worked out well.

I also decided to try some food at an English Inn which was nice, unfortunately I did also receive the life story of some Italian guy sitting next to me who also liked to ask a lot of questions. I had to politely turn down a couple of his offers for a “true experience” one being a ride on his scooter and the second pizza at his nieces party down at Marina Grande. Yeah, so it was time to eat up and get out of there, there’s always one!

Spent the afternoon on a sun lounger listening to some Frank Sinatra. Also a little tip for anyone planning on going over in September, take some insect repellent as I managed to get a few bites on my legs.

Saturday September 5th

Went back into Sorrento in the morning as I had managed to convince myself that I needed the beautiful leather handbag that I had seen in the leather shop the previous day. After all it’s always nice to have a bag that nobody else will have back at home. I also got a few more souvenirs from the little shops in the narrow alley ways. Saturday was the first day that there was any cloud cover and as I was off to Pompeii and Herculaneum the following day I was hoping it would hang around for a bit longer as I had been told there was not much shade in either of these places. For the rest of the day I relaxed in the hotel gardens which had beautiful views over the bay, I read and listened to some music – bliss!

Sunday September 6th

Pompeii and Herculaneum excursion day! I was picked up by coach at my hotel at the very precise time of 7.49am where I was told by Roberta my tour guide that after the last couple of hotel pick ups it would take 40 minutes to get to our first stop Pompeii. Also as it was the first Sunday of the month so we would not have to pay any entrance fees as they are classed as museums and in Italy it is free on the first Sunday of every month to visit the museums, another handy little tip there!

As I walked into Pompeii I wasn’t sure what to expect as I had read the guide books but it still doesn’t become real until you set foot in the place. It really was like stepping back in time! First I walked through a large square area with lots of stone columns surrounding it which led to a large amphitheatre where Frank Sinatra last performed in Italy. Apparently the videos are available online to prove this, I am yet to look it up. We then moved on to a smaller theatre which had original marble flooring and stone sculptures. I was glad I had chosen to do a guided tour as Roberta was very knowledgeable, she had studied archaeology at university and was even part of an excavation team at Pompeii.

I took lots of photos as it was amazing to see all the original features such as stone, marble and mosaics. The street roads were made from massive stone slabs and you could still see the grooves in them from where the chariots used to go up and down them! You could see houses, shops and even a brothel. In some of the houses you could see different eras of decoration, some had beautiful paintings and intricate ceilings. There were also public baths separate ones for men and women, they had tiled floors and what we would now call lockers which were just stone shelves with individual square partitions.

At the forum which would have been the cities main piazza there were lots of stone and marble columns with Mount Vesuvius as a stunning backdrop. Also within some of the buildings here were the plaster moulds of locals that were caught in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD. There was the body of an adult, a child and a dog. Weirdly I was most disturbed by the one of the dog. Pompeiis coastline completely changed after the eruption, there used to be a port there, now the sea is some distance away. The residents at the time used to put small pieces of marble in the roads that would reflect the moonlight and guide their way in the dark. We spent 2 and a half hours in Pompeii before we went for lunch, I had fish and chips (it was the most anorexic fish I had ever seen).

Then we moved on to Herculaneum which was 20 minutes away. It was a smaller better preserved site. After visiting both I would say this was my favourite. We arrived at a higher level so we could see the whole site, apparently three quarters of it is still buried under the modern buildings. This site also used to be a port and you could work out where the sea would have been. Again there were houses, gardens, public baths and luckily no brothels (not that they’ve found anyway). Some of the paintings and mosaics here were amazing. There was a beautiful coloured mosaic in one house depicting a Greek God which was common at the time, there were lots of Roman and Greek influences.

The sun had now come out in full force and it was very hot, I was glad I’d taken my hat and a hand held fan to cool me down a bit. Roberta said we were off to see the skeletons next and that they’d only just opened this to the public the previous week. She said they had all gone down there to escape the eruption by boat but had been killed by the extremely hot temperatures – 400 degrees. It was the gas from the eruption that had killed the residents of Pompeii. Herculaneum was buried in a thick sea of mud whereas Pompeii was buried in burning fragments of pumice stone.

Mount Vesuvius is now dormant it’s last eruption was in 1944 during the second world war, they now closely follow what is happening within Vesuvius and say that they could give the local residents a 1 week warning of any future eruption. I had a great time exploring both these sites and I definitely learned a lot.

Overall I had an amazing experience on the Sorrentine peninsula and would not hesitate to visit again someday.

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