Our Italian Holiday – Sorrento

We were hoping for better weather during our last full day in Italy after the rain-soaked (although still enjoyable) experiences of the previous day. Since we had not signed up for the optional tour to the Isle of Capri, this  was going to be a day of relaxation, and of doing things at our own pace around Sorrento.  And we were fortunate that we did indeed get good weather well suited for spending time outdoors.

The resort town of Sorrento sits on a cliff on the other side of a big bay from the city of Naples.  We had arrived in town at the end of the tourist season, but they were already in the process of setting up decorations (including a huge Christmas tree) for the Christmas season.  The town itself is quiet and unassuming,  including the usual artifacts of a small town in Italy – the narrow streets, small homes, gardens, historical buildings and churches, and a central plaza called the Piazza Tazzo surrounded by areas for casual shopping for which the town is known.  The shops are mainly small mom-and-pop operations. (In one store the old lady today us that she had been working in that place since her youth.)  The stores invite tourists to spend time browsing things like clothing (scarfs are a specialty), food items, tourist knick-knacks, and craft items from local artists.  There are many restaurants and hotels.

In any case, the two of us were interested in investigating more than just the town of Sorrento itself.  Ideally we would have liked to get to one the pretty little towns like Amalfi that nestle in the cliffs along the Amalfi coast.  Good views were promised if one were to take a boat ride along the coast.  But time was limited, and we had to be selective in what we did.  We thought we would try to walk to a neighboring town over a historic trail that we had read about.

After breakfast we went to the front desk to inquire about the trail we had read about that went to Massa Lubrense.  This trail was part of a system of trails that went through the entire Amalfi area. (The really spectacular sections of the trail hugging the cliffs that ran along the Amalfi coast were a little too far for us to try to get to.)   The young girl at the counter told us that what we wanted to do was not possible!  She lived in the town that we were interested in walking to, and she had to take a bus from there to get to work.  She gave us details about the walking paths just around town and also gave us directions to catch a bus to the place we really wanted to go to.  We were confused because we had seen information about the trails we were interested in on the Internet.  How could that be? It was only when we were about to leave the front desk that it finally dawned on her that we were asking about an walking experience that others typically do not inquire about. She walked to an area behind the front desk and returned with another map that showed the walking trails in the whole region.  That was what we needed!

We were not sure how long it would take to walk to Massa Lubrense.  What made sense for us to do was walk as far as we could along the trail and then turn back based on the time available.  We were hoping to meet up with the others in our group for lunch.

Now, the significant issue for us when it came to walking the trails in Italy was that we did not know or understand how the trails were marked.  The good thing (as we found out later) was that the trails in these parts were actually parts of old pathways, more often paved, between towns instead of the kinds of dirt paths that ran through woods and the open outdoors that we were used to.  So, it was possible to try to figure your way around using street markings, even if these street markings were only at intersections of the path with other streets. Perhaps we could manage even if there were no specific markings on the trail itself.

We left the hotel just as the others in the group were coming down to breakfast. I managed to get a picture of Mt. Vesuvius in the early morning light from the roof garden of our hotel, before we left.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter walking the main strip through town, the Corso Italia, from our hotel to the Piazza Tasso, we stepped onto the Via San Cesareo for what I considered the first stage of our hike.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe city was in the process of awakening for the business of the day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The narrow street, lined with small shops, looked quite quaint. Most shops were still closed. There were a few people walking the street and the occasional two-wheelers that would make their way past these morning walkers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(As we found out later in the walk, the fact that we were walking narrow paths did not necessarily mean that there was no motorized traffic that one had to watch out for.  People drive their cars and their two and three-wheelers everywhere!)

When we got to the end of the Via San Cesareo we had to use the map to guide us to another path leading to the cliffs in front of us.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail took us through empty side-streets,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand even the back of somebody’s house,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAas we climbed to a busy main road.  At this point we were somewhat stumped as to which direction to take.  Luckily, we ran into an older lady who happened to be a experienced walker along the trails in these parts.  She told us a little more about the trail, and then gave us a destination closer than Massa Lubrense to shoot for, the Green Lagoon (Bagni della Regina) on the Punta del Capo.  Here she is in a picture I took later with her in the picture.  This was when we encountered a little three-wheeler on a path that we took off a main road. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe three-wheeler in the previous picture did manage to get by us!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince our trail went though populated areas, as hoped for, we able to figure out our way using the map and markings at street corners.  We even saw one of the original markings for the trail left over from previous times.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs the trail left the town, we began to see some farms around us.  Citrus and olive trees and farms were the norm in these parts.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe could see the contraptions set up to actually shake the trees and have the fruits fall into containers to collect them.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail/path was quite steep in some sections.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also encountered a flowing stream with a significant amount of water.  This was probably because of the rain that fell the previous day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOther parts of the trail were along narrow paths between homes, paths along which you might even  encounter a small car when you were least expecting it.PB155514.jpgAfter a significant amount of climbing, we got to a section of our hike where we started to head back downhill to sea level and the coastline.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were able to navigate the pathways back to a main road that we had to crossOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAto get to the last part of our walk to the cape and the lagoon.  We finally arrived at our destination after passing a church and a few farms.  The open bay lay in front of us.  The Bagni della Regina, with its unique shade of green, caught your attention below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was opening from the lagoon to the sea under an arch.  (So you could basically walk around the lagoon on the cliff above it.)Opening in the lagoon.jpgThere was also a way down to the lagoon.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have seen pictures of people in the water in the lagoon, perhaps in warmer times. There were fishermen down below us by the waters of the bay.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe could get a good view of Sorrento in the the distance from where we were.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were hoping to also see the Isle of Capri, but only later realized that we could only look across the bay in the direction of the mainland.  The picture below makes this quite clear.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe explored the remains of an old roman villa at the cape.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeople used to come here in the olden days for relaxation. This picture was taken from on  top of the remains of the villa.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMt. Vesuvius is always a presence in the background in these pictures.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA strange surprise was the discovery of what looked like a broken down walkway over the rocks by the water and around a cliff not too far away.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt took some research for me to find out that this walkway led to a restaurant on the other side of the cliff, a restaurant called the Lido La Solara American Bar that was actually open earlier in the year.  The walkway appears to be the only way to get to the restaurant! My guess is that the restaurant only opens during the tourist season, and that they remove the planking on the walkway in the off-season to prevent people from using it.  That is only a guess!

The walk back from the cape to Sorrento was uneventful. We did a get a good workout during the initial section with the climb we had to make.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we got closer to town, we got a good view of the city coming in.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASoon we were back on the Via San Cesareo and in the shopping area of Sorrento.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe made our way back to the Piazza Tasso to meet up with our friends for lunch.  Lunch at Fauno Bar was enjoyable beyond our expectations.  We even had dessert.

The plan after lunch was to walk around town with our friends to take in the sights.  Here are some pictures.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next two pictures were taken in St. Francis’ Cloisters.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe could see Mt. Vesuvius from the cliffs of Sorrento.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe harbor area lay below the cliffs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe town is surrounded on three sides by hills.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADarkness was beginning to fall as we made our way back to the hotel along the Via San Cesareo while doing some shopping.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI even bought some limoncello from a store I had visited earlier in the day.  At that time, as is the norm in some of these places, the proprietor of the store had given me a free sample (even though it was still quite early in the morning!) and his business card.  We had promised him that we would come back later.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABack at the hotel, we gathered for dinner with the rest of the tour group that had gone to the Isle of Capri.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey indicated that they had a good time in spite of the fact that the weather had not been that great earlier in the day.

After dinner we wished the rest of the tour group our goodbyes for the last time. They were going to go an bus tour of the Amalfi coast the next day while we were headed out for Naples early in the morning to catch a flight back home.  We shook hands and gave hugs and wished each other the best. We took some pictures.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur bags were packed and ready to be picked up outside our hotel rooms early the next morning.  I spent some time on the roof garden taking pictures as the day broke.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter breakfast we picked up the rest of our stuff from the room and went downstairs.  Alessandro was there to wish us bon voyage.  I felt like I was taking leave of somebody who had become my friend (and incidentally has the same birthday as me!).  And then we were on our way in the small van that had been booked to take us to the airport.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was a distinctly different feeling in the van that morning from the other days of our trip.  I could say that it was somewhat melancholy, but I am not sure that would capture the mood exactly.  We all knew that this wonderful once-in-a-lifetime experience, an experience that had brought us closer as a group, was slowly coming to an end. We would all soon be returning to our regular existences.  This experience would one day fade into memory.  One of the members of our group played the following song on her mobile device which I think captured how she was feeling.

Our trip back home was uneventful when compared to our experience flying into Italy.  Everything went as clockwork.   (The only thing that happened of significance was one unexpected event of turbulence that dropped the plane so abruptly that some folks were in momentary fear for their lives!)  I distracted myself during the the flight into Washington, DC, by watching a bunch of movies.  The sound quality was terrible on the headphones, but one could make out enough of what was happening to keep oneself distracted. The sun was setting as our flight headed west.  I took these pictures out of the window of the plane.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd as surely as the winglet that I was taking pictures of gradually disappeared from my view, our wonderful Italian vacation finally came to an end.  All that was left was our arrival in Washington, DC, and the drive back home.

If anybody is interested in a more pictures of our Sorrento hike, you can view them here.




Our Italian Holiday – Onward to Pompeii and Sorrento

Happy New Year to all!  It has been a while since my last posting in this thread, which was about our second day in Rome.  After a break for some vacation time with the family, I am now able to continue with the tales of our travels. This narration is slowly but surely getting to its end as we head south from Rome.  The energy level of the travelers still remains high as we get ready to move on.

By this time the tour group had greatly reduced in number and we had more space than we needed to spread out on the bus.   Aldo still leads us on!

We knew we were in for bad weather even before we left town. Our bus merged with the rush hour traffic in Rome as Aldo drove us past the Archbasilica of St. John LateranOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand the walls of ancient Rome OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAon our way out of the city.  The ride to Naples took a few hours through the country side.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe drove past the Monte Cassino Benedictine Monastery on our way,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAa place that saw some action between the Allied and Axis forces during World War II because of some bad intelligence.

It was around noon by the time we arrived at Naples.  We were taken to a store that did cameo work on shells, a specialty of the city.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur views of Mt. Vesuvius as we approached the city and then departed were not promising.  The weather was not cooperating at this point.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the short stop in Naples we drove the short distance to Pompeii to the remains of the ancient city.  By this time the rain was coming down really hard, but that did not dampen our spirits.  We headed for the ruins led by our tour guide.PB145284.jpgAncient Pompeii is quite a fascinating place.  The town existed from the 8th Century BC to the 1st Century AD, when it was destroyed by an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.  (Mt. Vesuvius is still active and an ongoing threat to Naples and its surrounding area.)  The mountain towers over the ruins, and at one time the sea used to come all the way up to the other side of town.  Much of the town is still preserved and accessible in its original architectural shape and form. This is because it was destroyed not by lava, but by the ashes from the eruption.  As a result, you can see all the artifacts of the town in well preserved form when you visit.  What you see are the outlines of a highly developed city, with a very mature city structure and operation in place, much as you would see in a city in more modern times.

The streets were made of stone to handle the heavy wheels of the vehicles of those days, mostly carts, I assume.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can still the see the marks of the wheels on the stones.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe streets even had crosswalks.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were homes and other buildings that lined the streets.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were cafeterias that served food to the people who lived there.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese cafeterias were used by the common people and not the rich who could afford to have people cook for them.

There were bath houses with separate sections for men and women. These places had baths at different temperatures using water heating processes built into the buildings, the frigidarium or cold bath room,
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe tepidarium or tepid bath room,
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand the caldarium or hot bath room.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey had water pipes to supply water to the city.  (They used lead in the pipes, but it was not as damaging as one would expect, and as it happened in other parts of Italy, because the lime in the local water ended up coating the pipes.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey had outdoor water facilities for the common man.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARich people had fancy houses with decorated entrance ways. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe brothel even had a road sign on the main road for strangers to find their way to it,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand even a menu on its inside walls for the customers to choose from.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe area of the forum at PompeiiOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAis surrounded by civic buildings and temples. They have a section of the ruins where a lot of the artifacts recovered from excavations are stored today.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were a few arenas for entertaining the public.  The one pictured below is still in use. (The white stones are the only original ones.  The rest have been recycled!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is also artwork outsideOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand inside buildings.On the roof of the bathhouse.jpgIt is fascinating to see the human bodies caught in their moment of death.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATheir body shapes were preserved because they were killed by the poisonous gases rather than lava, and then surrounded by ashes.  As the body decayed within the surrounding material, an empty space including the skeleton was formed.  Archeologists filled this space with a plaster and broke away the surrounding material to reveal the original shape.   The shape of this dog that could not escape, probably because it was tied up, is fascinating.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe tour covered only a small section of the ruins but that was enough for some of us who were somewhat uncomfortable because of the cold rain.  We were happy to go indoors and  find a place to warm up, and also some hot food for a somewhat late lunch.

After lunch we walked back to our bus for the last part of the ride for the day.  We were headed to Sorrento.  We left the city and climbed into the hills as we approached the beautiful area of the Amalfi Coast.  As we approached Sorrento we drove down a mountainside with a beautiful view of the Tyrrhenian Sea off to our right.  We could see the town of Sorrento nestled on a cliff-side in the evening light.  It was quite picturesque.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAldo dropped us off at the hotel, and then it was time to say our good-byes to him since he was heading back to Rome with the bus.  We thanked him for bringing us all the way from the north of Italy to its south safely.

The hotel itself was really nice and quite quaint.  It was an older establishment with a lot of character.   All of us in the tour group got rooms on the top floor with wonderful views.  Some got a view of the bay with Mt. Vesuvius on the other side of the bay.  Some of us faced the mountains behind the town.  We had a nice terrace area next to our room that was not very usable at our time of arrival because it was still raining.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was a rooftop garden area near our room with great views in all directions, a place I would visit with my camera later.

After a short period of rest, we headed out to the center of town with the rest of the  tour group.  It had turned dark by that time.  It was a short walk and the rain had subsided by then.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFolks were given the opportunity to shop in town.  From there it was onward to the restaurant for dinner.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlessandro had arranged for a demonstration of pasta making by the owners of the place.  Three different kinds of pasta were made by folks selected from the tour group.  Directions were given by a gentleman who was quite entertaining, while his mother stood by to assist.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The mother (whom you can see in the background in one of the pictures observing the proceedings very carefully) was probably the person who was the brains behind the cooking.  I suspect that the son learned what he knows from her.  What I learned was that making pasta is somewhat simple and there is a lot of feel that goes into the process rather than sticking to strict measurements and proportions.  By the way, some Italian cooks do not take too kindly to the mention of Parmesan cheese as used in the US, which is considered a low quality product used in place of real parmigiano cheese.

Dinner with the customary wine was really good.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was musical entertainment by a lady singer who accompanied herself with a karaoke type setup.  It was a laid back affair, but, for some reason or other, it did not really hit the spot in the same way that previous musical dinner experiences had done.  C’est la vie!

Some of us walked back to the hotel after dinner.  It was good to work off some of the food.  We were ready for bed.

Our smaller group of six from Maryland was going to be on its own the whole of the next day because we had not signed up for the optional trip to the Isle of Capri.  We had to plan some activities for ourselves, and different folks had different interests.  Seeing that the place was very scenic and hilly, the two of us were mainly interested in hitting the trails leaving town in the morning in order to explore the countryside.  Others were less interested in a hike and simply wanted to enjoy the sights in town after taking it easy in the morning to recover and recuperate.

Read the next entry in this series of blogs on our trip to Italy here.