The Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to Naples is the ideal take off for a trip to far south of Italy. Just over three hours in the air and one is an hour and a quarter bus ride from the centre of Sorrento. This is the Curreri Viaggi bus which stops right next to the airport and runs every hour provides a pleasant ride around the Bay of Naples with some wonderful views and all for €10 a head.
We arrived at Sorrento station with the sun shining and 24ºC. The most important thing on our minds was food as an early start had precluded a proper breakfast!
We set off down the road and just around the first corner we happened on Jhonny Pizza & Sfizi House. Definitely a find with lots of locals, great Pizzas and Peroni beer at very reasonable prices
Our hotel has a regular shuttle bus but as we had no real idea where it ran from in relation to the station we decided to take a taxi. How much will it cost I asked. It’s on the meter said the driver. It was! 3km for €22.50! Well we should have known – this is Italy.
We arrived at the Grand Hotel Aminta, perched high above the town, and booked in. Our room, as we had requested, looked out over the bay to Capri although the island remained shrouded in mist during our whole stay.
Whilst out on the balcony I got into conversation with our neighbours, only to discover that they were from Hillsborough. They gave us the low-down on the path that runs from the hotel down into the town, originally the main road.
Having had a bit of a rest we decided to try it and set off down the path. It takes about twenty minutes using the stairways which cut off the U Bends. better than waiting on buses although a bit heavy on the knees.
We would recommend the town to anyone who like pottering about. There is a wealth of architecture, shops of every sort from tatty to ultra chic, innumerable restaurants and bars which cater for every taste and pocket and generally an ambiance of pleasant indolence.
We had been recommended to dine at the Ristorante Sorrento and, whilst the food was excellent, it took 45 minutes to arrive. In this period we engaged a couple at the next table in conversation and found them to be teachers of English as a Foreign Language to Chinese students in Milan!! To cap it all the gent was from the Donegal Road in Belfast and had attended Inst in the 70s.
After dinner we discovered that we had missed the 9.30 shuttle to the hotel and there was not another until 11.30 so we decided to retrace the path back to the hotel. This turned out to be a bad idea!! Not only were there no lights and it was easy to miss the short cuts but it was a lot steeper than we remembered. When we finally made it and told the receptionist she was horrified and ordered us never to try it again. We had no intention of so doing!!
After an excellent breakfast with proper Italian coffee (Josephine is now converted to latte when in Italy) we caught the shuttle to town and thence to sample the delights of the Circumvesuviana, the local narrow gauge train that serves all the stations between Sorrento and Naples, and which stops at Pompeii, our destination for the day. About €4.20 each return. It is quite an experience being packed with not only tourists but people going about their daily business. It is reminiscent of the London Tube with the exception that one gets to hear peoples life stories and a host of other interesting, and not so interesting, facts about life as the passengers babble on to one another.
Arriving at Pompeii it is a short walk along to the site. Unfortunately we had forgotten our passports as, at all national monuments in Italy, EU pensioners get free entry!! There are plenty of guides about if you wish to hire one but we decided to buy a guide book and do it ourselves. There are various recommended tours, broken down by the amount of time one intends to allot to the experience,from 2 hours to 5 hours.
I do not intend to dwell on all the sights as it is perfectly well documented elsewhere. It is an experience not to be missed and we found the simple things like the “Zebra Crossings” to allow people to cross the road without stepping in the muck whilst allowing carts etc. to pass by were as interesting as some of the more spectacular relics. One can listen to guides as one goes about and some of the patter leaves one wondering if they really do know what they are talking about. I would hasten to add that some of others are obviously very well versed.
One of the most amusing episodes was the appearance of a Japanese film crew, the ultimate in Happy Snappers, complete with the ubiquitous face mask.
There is a very good self service restaurant on the site and it provided a welcome break after about 3 hours of walking.
Overall we spent about 5 hours exploring and then made our way back to the station and thence to the hotel for a wash and brush up before venturing into the town for dinner.
This time we made sure we caught the shuttle bus.
We decided to try a different restaurant rather than risk another prolonged wait to be served and settled for the Taverna dell’ 800 on the Via de 11′ accademia. Their Octopus Salad starter was a masterpiece. The rest of the meal lived up to this standard as did the wine of the region which we had discovered on the previous evening; Lacryma Christi, literally Tears of Christ. Have not seen it outside the Neapolitan area, but if you do come across it it is worth a try.
For our second day we decided to just potter about the town and to this end we took a leisurely walk down the harbour and discovered that there is a “Mini Cruise” which leaves Sorrento harbour around ten in the morning and calls at Capri, to go swimming for an hour, Positano and Amalfi and, at €24 each, this seemed a pleasant way to have a relatively stress free and restful day.
Tickets are only available on the morning from 9.00 so we took the lift (€1 each) back up to the main part of the town. We shuttled it back to the hotel for the afternoon and then braved the town again for dinner.
This time we were railroaded into the Blu Water on Via P R Giuliani by a vigilant maître d’hotel. It turned out very well and I can recommend the affetato misto (cold cuts) as a good way to start. Josephine took the spaghetti i mare and I had pan fried anchovies, all topped off with another bottle of Lacryma Christi.
Great craic in the restaurant with the head waiter chasing people who sat down got a menu and then one goes to the loo and on return they both try to disappear up the street.
We were getting used to our evening routine and were back on the 11.30 to the hotel, thus ending another day.
We were up early in the morning for breakfast to prepare for our cruise.
We had checked the times of the local bus as the shuttle did not make its first run until 9 a.m., however, due to either the vagaries of the timetable, or incompetence of the receptionist to read it correctly, nothing had appeared by 8.30 and once again we ended up taking the footpath down to the harbour.
The “ship” would not be much competition to Royal Caribbean but proved to be adequate for the purpose. There was a choice of polypropylene or traditional deck chairs on the top deck. We cast off and headed for Capri.
The request for numbers who wished to go swimming returned a null so we sailed around the northern tip and then headed off along the coast towards Positano. It is a pleasant run up the coast with villages and farms dotted along the cliffs. One has a choice of disembarking at Positano or continuing on to Amalfi, the latter being our choice. Quite a few passengers boarded for this leg of the journey. We finally arrived and went off to explore the town. It is hard to believe that around 1000 AD it was a major maritime garrison with around 70,000 inhabitants. In 1343 it was more or less wiped out by a tsunami that caused a huge landslip which slid most of the town into the sea and it never recovered.
It is a picturesque town with an imposing clock tower on the cathedral and, really, one main shopping street that winds it’s way up through the centre.
There was the inevitable wedding in the town and, as is the Italian custom, the bride and groom paraded up and down the street.
We were not persuaded to actually buy anything except for some locally made gelati. Then it was time to reembark and head back to Sorrento.
By this time the breeze had a chill edge to it so we found a corner of the deck under the lee of the superstructure. The sun continued to shine and we had a pleasant run back along the coast picking up the Positano group on the way.
We finally arrived back in the harbour at about 5.30 and caught the shuttle bus to the hotel for a session in the Jacuzzi and change of clothes.
Once more into town for dinner and we returned to the Blu Water as the previous evening had been such a success. We were not disappointed.
For our last day we planned to go to Vesuvius and possibly Herculaneum. This involved taking the Circumvesuviana once again , this time to Ercolano. One can buy a ticket for the bus transfer from the station to Vesuvius at the ticket office in Sorrento so we dully opted for this. The all in price for the two of us was €28. The train was as crowded and noisy as our previous trip, but this time buskers hopped on and off at various stations along the way.
Pandemonium reined at the destination. We were told we had to “change” our transfer tickets for the bus at the little office in the square and were also asked to pay an additional €8 each for entry into the Vesuvius National Park! There were two organised tours and many more freelancers like ourselves, around 50 in total, but no buses. Then a 12 seater arrived and there was much jostling for position. You may guess how much as there were Italians and Germans amongst the throng, neither of whom has a reputation for understanding the principal of queues!! A 27 seater then appeared, followed by another minibus and again there was much rushing about until we all managed to get aboard. Our 10 seater had 13 squashed in but I was lucky enough to get the front passenger seat to myself. The driver explained that the previous day they didn’t fill one minibus from that train so had not bothered to bring all the drivers in.
The drive up to the crater is quite spectacular with wonderful views over Naples and also the lava path from the 1944 eruption.
One does not get to the crater by bus; one gets to a shack selling drinks and various knick knacks and a stall hiring sticks intended to help one on ones way up the 800 metre lava dust track to the final destination. We did not invest in the sticks considering them more a hindrance than a help.
We made it eventually and Josephine’s comment on looking into the depths was, “is that what we struggled all the way up here for!!” Well there wasn’t any fire and brimstone to view!! Needless to say we did not circumnavigate the rim of the crater which is an option for the more intrepid walkers.
The buses allow just over an hour and a half to make the pilgrimage and this worked out about right; 35 minutes to get up, including rests on the strategically placed benches at the hairpins, and 25 down, avoiding ending up on ones backside on the volcanic shale, plus time for a well earned Peroni.
We were duly returned to the station where the driver informed us that the site of Herculaneum is only about a ten minute walk down the hill.
This time we had ensured that we had our passports and so saved ourselves the €11 each entry fee.
It is amazing to walk onto the site at roof top level and look down and see the ancient town laid out below. It is nowhere near the size of Pompeii but, due to the manner of its submersion in a mud slide, two and three storey buildings remain standing as they were. The interiors are also better preserved and one can see the evidence of restoration work which was in progress from a previous earthquake.
One could have spent a day there but exhaustion set in after a couple of hours and I think we had covered the major works so we climbed our way back up to the station and train back to Sorrento.
For our last evening we went up market for dinner and settled on the Sedil Dominova where we ate inside and actually had tablecloths. The service and food were exceptional and we were serenaded by an Italian guitarist. An altogether well spent day.
Next morning we were up and away and on the but to Naples and our flight back to Dublin. The last view of the bay!!