Well it’s about time I wrote a proper travel post rather than just a post about all the difficulties of travel, isn’t it? Perhaps, in talking about some of the wonders of travel : new people, new places, new food, new shopping (a personal favorite of my mother’s) and more, I will incite some of that wanderlust that has so strongly infected me these past few years in others as well.
So, as I previously mentioned this summer’s trip starts in Italy. It is not my first visit to this particular country (two years of living abroad has given me ample opportunities to explore), but I decided that this time I wanted to skip over your big tourist destinations (Rome, Pisa, Venice) and hit some smaller towns along the yet unvisited Italian coast. The closest I had previously come was a few days in beautiful Venice and an impromptu (thank you Ryanair) trip to Palermo in Sicily (no time to visit the beach though unfortunately) as I briefly mentioned in my Language of Letters post. I have heard nothing but praises for both coastlines, so, after much time spent dredging up information, discussing various cities with friends, and debating pros and cons with my mother we settled on two primary cities : Bari and Sorrento. I had originally wanted to do only Eastern Italy (and more than two cities) but a friend told me how wonderful Sorrento was and with flight and ferry schedules as they are, well sometimes plans change.
We flew from the Aix-Marseille airport to Rome. Having both visited Rome previously, my mother and I had no need to linger. Instead, we boarded a train for Naples (It was somewhere between arrival in Roma Termini train station and arrival in Napoli Centrale station that my wallet… disappeared). By the time our train arrived in Naples it was already dark. For this reason I had planned for us to spend the night in Naples. We could explore the city the next day then catch the train to Sorrento and stay there the next couple days.
Our airbnb was perfect. Unfortunately, (maybe in part due to the stress of my lost wallet, maybe because we just didn’t know the right areas) neither my mother nor I found much enjoyment in Napoli itself. With little time to spend there we decided to skip the museums and churches that are major tourist points in most every European city. Instead, we asked for a recommendation on a good shopping area thinking it would be a nice, calm way to spend the day, stroll the city, and maybe find a cafe to relax in for a bit (our preferred activities when traveling, and an especially good way to get a feel for a new city in my opinion). The area we were directed to was not quite what we were expecting. Crowded, loud, and with not-so-interesting shops, we quickly found ourselves bored, thirsty, and a little frustrated (and in desperate need of wifi). We decided to instead return to collect our luggage and catch the next train to Sorrento.
Our first night and day in Sorrento was still a little rough. Our airbnb was less than ideal – expect a post about that experience soon hopefully – but after settling in we decided to go explore and get a little pre-dinner drink and snack. We ended up at a small little restaurant
down the street called Song ‘e Napule. It caught our eye with its appertivo menu : two drinks and a plate of charcuterie and fromage. Exactly what we wanted. Being early still, especially by European standards, the restaurant was still quiet. It was nice, though, as we were able to sit just inside and still people watch through the open doorway. We asked for a local wine, which was good enough that one glass easily became two. The cheese and meat plate was delicious, I recognized some of the assortment (parmesan, mozzarella) but it would have been nice if they had told us what
everything was, then again it’s not as if I ever remember five minutes later anyways. They also brought us small dishes of tomatoes and olives to nosh on as well. The restaurant was very nicely decorated with a wonderful staff as well (although it can take even longer than in France sometimes to get your bill, and just as in France you often have to ask for it or they’ll let you sit there forever!). If in Sorrento longer or again I would without a doubt be willing to go back and try more of their dishes, but my mom – rightly so – said we should try different places, not limit ourselves to returning to one good restaurant.
Strolling the town after our small meal we found many nice shops and a lively nightlife – a lot of tourists and unusually busy (in my opinion) for a Sunday night – but still very enjoyable despite the crowds. We mostly wandered, just getting a feel for the layout of the city. Eventually we found a great caffeteria just across the street from our airbnb. We were especially pleased that we could get our drinks to go and picked out a pastry as well to take back to the apartment to enjoy. The pastry (a small apple pie of some sort) was passable. The mocha (my mom) and hot chocolate (my own) were both delicious, though and fully made up for the tart. With our drinks, dessert, and some TV, we called it a mostly good start to our Sorrento visit.
The next morning was still a little rough again due to the airbnb, but we headed out early to find our morning meal and hot drinks (although it was already warming up quickly outside). Another cafe, another delicious coffee, and another (slightly better) pastry. My mother especially loves chocolate croissants. We have found, though, that they are different in Italy than in France. French pain au chocolat has actual pieces of dark chocolate on the inside, whereas (at least in our experiences so far) Italian cornetto al cioccolato is filled with a creamier milk chocolate (sometimes nutella) and beware: it can be VERY messy.
More wandering. A little (mostly window) shopping followed and an early light lunch at another caffeteria. An omelet with “these mushrooms are delicious!” for my mother and a traditional caprese salad for me. Honestly, is it possible to have outright bad food in Europe? So far no. Some more very nice staff – I owe them a huge thank you for being so patient and accommodating honestly. The afternoon was spent in much the same way along with some planning for our next two days in Sorrento. We found it, overall, to be a great city to just relax in (something we had both been looking forward to and desperately needed) with beautiful views of the sea and of Mount Vesuvius. We did not go down to the beach, assuming the water would be too cold this early in the year. Although we did see some swimmers, I guess they were braver than my mother and I.
The next day was our trip to Pompeii. The Circumvesuviana connects Sorrento, Pompeii, and Naples (as well as several other places). The train itself could probably use some updating but was reliable enough, running every 30 minutes or so with very reasonable ticket prices. We set out as early as we could so as to beat the crowds and the incoming heat of the day. Upon arrival in Pompeii (“it’s like herding cattle” my mom commented as we followed the masses off the train and towards the ticket booth) we were very pleased to find that it was free entrance for the day (although I’m still not sure why… oh well free is free.)
Although I managed to snag us a map and information booklet on our way in, I think it would have been more effective had there been – even just occasionally – plaques posted to explain different areas, buildings, and objects. It would have been much easier than looking up everything in the booklet and trying to pair numbers correctly. Otherwise, it was interesting to wander around and see the ruins that had been so well preserved. We didn’t spend long there however, having already seen our fair share of ruins on a previous trip to Rome and Athens (wow could I sound more privileged? As I said though, two years living abroad for school and work gave many more travel opportunities than I would have had otherwise) and when it comes down to it ruins are ruins are ruins. I do not regret taking the time, though. I recommend the visit to anyone, whether you’ve seen ruins before or not. It’s just one of those must-sees like seeing the Eiffel Tower whenever you go to Paris (a personal tradition, even if I’ve still yet to climb it).
From Pompeii we stopped by Naples to buy our train ticket to Bari for a couple days later. (Unfortunately we found that, to my knowledge at least, Sorrento is not connected to the major train lines, so we had to go to Naples to both buy the ticket and catch the train to Bari, our next stop on this great eurotour of ours.) Upon our return to Sorrento that afternoon we spent the remainder of the day relaxing (siesta time!) and wandering town. A small appertivo in our room (vodka lemonade, a personal favorite of mom’s) and we headed out for a late, nice dinner.
We had done some reconnoitering that afternoon. We haven’t had many nice meals so far on this trip, mostly just grabbing a bite here, a drink there, or relaxing with some food wherever we’re calling home for the time. But we felt it was time we had another nice meal and the chance to experience a little more the local cuisine. And so far she has been spot on in choosing the restaurants (something I hate doing personally, so I am more than happy to let her continue to choose).
After some consideration we chose a nice restaurant in the old town. Once more, some wonderfully friendly and very professional wait staff. A half bottle of local wine to share and a small mushroom appetizer and we were ready for our delicious seafood main courses (cause how can you be in a beach-town and not try the seafood?). I love when waiters are able to offer suggestions server enthusiastically recommended the restaurant’s fresh salmon when we told him what we were debating between. So a perfectly grilled salmon for me and some gnocchi with salmon for my mother and we were content and ready to go find our dessert (with some nice leftovers to accompany us even – not something that I find to be much rarer in Europe compared to the States) at our new favorite takeaway cafe.
The next day was our last in Sorrento and, after finally figuring out the last of the money problem from my lost wallet and how to get some cash (thank you for the support everyone!) we decided to pay a visit to the nearby island of Capri. A friend had recommended it to me, and my mom admitted that as a little girl she had always been fascinated by it as it was one of the places that all the movie stars were said to go for their own vacations (read : pleasant and pretty, but pricey), although she never thought she would get to go.
It is about a 30-40 minute ferry ride from Sorrento to Capri. Nothing special of a ferry either honestly. On the way to Capri there wasn’t even a deck to go out on and coming back it was so crowded and hot on what small deck there was that I had to retreat to the quieter and air-conditioned interior. We had planned to do a walk through one of the villas I had read about. Unfortunately, upon arrival we were so turned around and confused that, spotting a centro sign, I pointed and said “We’ll probably find more information in the center of town.”
What I did not realize was the center of town was a good 30-40 minute uphill walk from the port through residential neighborhoods. A quiet and pleasant walk, if only we had been more prepared. Every time we thought we were getting close there was more. The view at the top was certainly worth it, although we never had time to go on the walk we had actually
wanted to find. Instead we sat at a small café, had a couple salads and sodas, and then did some window shopping and strolling (and some delicious gelato to share for dessert of course!). You don’t need more than a few hours there I don’t think, but Capri is another spot I would recommend visiting, just for the day, if you’re ever in the area.
Home, siesta, a couple drinks and some leftovers for dinner and one last nighttime stroll (i.e. nighttime coffee run for momma. It’s hard to believe that she used to not even like coffee – Daddy what would you say now?!) and so ended our last full day in Sorrento. It was exactly what we had been looking for (after all the money and airbnb drama) : relaxing, but not boring. Some interesting shopping, a couple short day trips, and some sun and beach and good food. Can’t really complain. I don’t know if I feel the need to return, but I would certainly recommend it to anyone considering a trip to the region. Next time, however, I think I want to visit Cinque Terre which many people now have recommended to me (and I am determined that there shall be a next time and that it shall not be too far off).
Have you ever had the chance to visit parts of the Italian coast or other Italian cities? Where have you been or where would you like to go? While waiting for my next Italy post (and my airbnb post) go share your own experiences in the comment section!