Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Rosy the Reviewer Does Italy, Pt. 2: Naples, Sorrento and Pompeii (with travel tips and the usual pithy observations)


We left Rome (for more about Rome see Part I) on day four and took the high speed train to Naples.

To give you an idea of just how fast these trains are, it's about 120 miles to Naples from Rome and you get there in 70 minutes.

Here is a visual:

Tip #1:  When in Europe, don't be afraid to take the train.  European trains for the most part are nothing like Amtrak. They are easy, fast, cheap, clean, comfortable and on time.
And you can enjoy some lovely scenery and get a bit of a rest before you get back in those long sight-seeing lines!
Tip #2:  Don't be cheap.  You never know when you might take a great trip like this again so treat yourself to an upgrade.  We went Second Class Premium, which is a step up from second class and not that much more expensive.  It included leather seats and a little drinky and nosh and since most people ARE cheap, it's not as crowded.
Tip #3:  Don't be late.  These trains leave on time.
We left Rome at 10:30am and arrived in Naples at 11:40am.  We had been warned by good old Rick Steves about the taxis in Naples (it's that old overcharging thing again) so Hubby was more on top of his game this time than he was in Rome and made sure the cab had a meter and what the cost would be. We were overcharged but it worked out OK.  What we were not prepared for was the ride itself.
Let's just say that Rick was also right about how Neapolitans feel about red lights.  Nothing but road decoration.  And lanes?  Fuhgeddaboudit!
It was Toad's Wild Ride with me buckled in, white knuckling the arm rest and having an epiphany that "There really IS a God!  There really is!  There really is!"  Cars nosed each other from all directions, pushing into any inch of space that appeared, coming within millimeters of each other all at high speed.
But, hey, somehow it works and we made it to our hotel.
We were too early to get our room so we asked for a recommendation for lunch.  The desk clerk sent us around the corner to a pizza place on the Spaccanapoli.  The Spaccanopoli is a nickname for the street that runs down the middle of Naples' historic center. It's a vibrant, edgy, colorful and atmospheric area so we congratulated ourselves on how well-situated our hotel was.  Well, I should say, Hubby congratulated himself.
And the pizza?  OMG!  Praise for the Neapolitan pizza is not over-rated. It is my favorite kind.  It's a pie of creamy, cheesy goodness atop a thin crust accented by a delicious sauce and, in this case, buffalo mozzarella made on site (do I sound a bit like The Next Food Network Star?"  Just got through watching that). And all for about seven euro.  And that cart you see by the door?  They were selling huge pieces of pizza rolled in half for two euro!

The desk clerk had mentioned this place had the best buffalo mozzarella in town so I had to order the Bufalotta (I wonder if that's Italian for "lotta buffalo?).
Why Hubby ordered the pizza with arugula as the main ingredient only he knows.  I know he wanted some of mine.
Tip #4:  When dining out anywhere - not just in Europe - always order the special.  There is a reason why it's called "The Special."
We also decided our fast train had made us thirsty so we ordered wine.  The menu said 4 euro and we thought that was for a glass.  Four euro, with the good exchange rate, was about $4.49.  I have been known to pay as much as $12-15 for a nice glass of wine.  But no, people!  That was for a bottle!  A nice bottle!
Tip #5:  Always order wine!
Wine and beer are your best bets in Europe. They are almost always inexpensive compared to the U.S.  Cocktails are highly regulated and usually quite expensive. And go for the regional wines.  I have never been disappointed.
After lunch, we took a little stroll down the Spaccanapoli and got a bit of the flavor of Naples.
As we headed back to our hotel, I was happy to see a post office right across from our hotel.  I had been worried about mailing the post cards I had purchased in Rome.  I have discovered over many years of travel that regular stamps will not get your postcards to the U.S. in a timely manner.
Tip #6:  If you want your post cards to arrive in the U.S. before you get home, you must mail them VIA AIR or in this case "Posta Aerea" so find a post office and mail them from there.
Arriving at the post office, there was a young couple in front of us in the space between two sliding double doors, an outer door and an inner door, leading into the post office.  We squeezed in that space with them and couldn't understand why they didn't go through the inner door into the post office.  There was no one at the counter. 
The young woman kept looking back at us and eventually waved her hand at me.  We weren't sure if we were supposed to squeeze closer to them or move backward.  Turns out the doors of the post office were set up to allow only a couple of people at a time into the post office.  We eventually figured out she was motioning for us to move out of the space.  When we moved back onto the sidewalk, the inner door holding them back opened, they entered the post office and then we were able to enter the space and eventually enter the post office too. 
And my tip about sending my post cards airmail?  I think the postal clerk was in a state of shock.  He pointed to the screen.  2.78 euro...EACH.  That's a little over $3.00 per card.  I was in shock too.  I had never had that happen before...where sending a post card airmail was so much more than a regular stamp but the usual price for a letter via air to Europe from the U.S. is about $1.20 so I guess Rick Steves was right that as you move South in Italy, everything is just MORE.  So hell...OK.  I wanted to say hi to my friends and family BEFORE I got home.
Tip #7:  Don't be cheap.
As we left the post office, we still hadn't learned our lesson, I guess, because a little old lady waved at us to move back too.  We were impeding her ability to get out of that little space. Getting out of the post office was also a one-at-a-time thing.
Tip #8:  Remember what Yogi Berra said in his inimitable way. "You can observe a lot by just watching."  Good advice when you are in a strange environment.  "You're not in Kansas anymore," so when going to the grocery store (in many you bag your own groceries and bags and carts are not free), theatre, paying your bill at a restaurant...all of those things you take for granted over here.  Take a moment to see how the locals do it and then do likewise.  Will save you oodles of embarrassment.
When we returned to the hotel, our room was ready and it was a lovely room with high ceilings and a bidet in the bathroom.
Tip #9:  Learn how to use a bidet before you leave home.
And the room had a view of Vesuvius in the distance.
But then when we looked down we saw dumpsters, graffiti and trash.
And that, my dears, is the dichotomy of Naples.
You have a world class archaeological museum containing the wonders of Pompeii and then you have an obelisk in the middle of an old square covered with grime and graffiti surrounded by tough-looking young guys and prepubescent girls wearing black mini dresses and red lipstick.
You have a beautiful square surrounded by lovely old architecture 
in the shadow of a reminder of all of the innocent victims that were killed by the Cammora, Naples' notorious mafia.
You have quiet walkable ancient streets where you can get a glimpse of Neapolitan life 
and out of control traffic.
As I mentioned earlier, Rick Steves makes a good point about Italy.
If you start in the north, say, in Milan, you get a more reserved Italy - well-dressed men and women observing a sort of polite reserve. As you head South, it just gets MORE.  We discovered that to be true. Rome is a contrast to Milan: robust and bustling and sometimes chaotic,  And as we discovered, Naples is even more chaotic than Rome, a city with its own rules.  I hate to think what Sicily must be like!
What I liked about Naples:
  • Pizza
  • It's not as touristy as other parts of Italy
  • Espresso (there is a reason there are no Starbucks in Italy - we had the best espresso of our lives from a little hole-in the-wall just down the block from our hotel)
What I didn't like about Naples:
Most everything else.
(But to be fair, we were not there very long.  Long enough for me, though)
So after two days in Naples, it was on to Sorrento.
Before I get to Sorrento, I want to say that most people use Naples as a base for Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius.  They either stay in Naples and then take the Circumvesuviana train back and forth or they stop at Pompeii on the way to Sorrento from Naples.
Tip #10:  Don't.
If you stop in Naples, we recommend taking the hydrofoil from Naples to Sorrento and then going to Pompeii and Vesuvius as a day trip from Sorrento.
In Sorrento, we ran into an American couple at lunch who said they had taken the Circumvesuviana train from Naples, stopped in Pompeii (you can check your bags at the train station) and then continued on to Sorrento.  They said it was the scariest ride of their lives.  Rick Steves had already said that if you were going to be pick-pocketed, it would be on that train, a funky little commuter train that toils back and forth from Naples to Sorrento and makes about 15 stops.  The couple said it was so crowded that the husband's face was smashed up against the door of the train and of course on a cheap commuter train that stops at every town, you are going to get all kinds.
We had already figured out that the leg from Sorrento to Pompeii would be less scary and chaotic on the Circumvesuviana than the one from Naples to Pompeii and turns out we were right. 
The boat that took us to Sorrento was hardly crowded at all and we got to enjoy the vistas as we pulled into Sorrento.
Sorrento, an oasis of calm after Naples.
Well, after everyone from the cruise ship left, anyway.
Tip #11:  Plan your itinerary to stay in "tourist towns" overnight.  When the tourists leave, you have it all to yourself!
and you discover little gems like this.
Yes, Sorrento is a tourist destination, but because you don't have to stand in line at the Colosseum or navigate a metro, it's world's away from the tourists of Rome and the grit of Naples.  You can just stroll and sample a little limoncello (Sorrento is known for it's lemons).
Or get your picture taken outside the limoncello factory.
 Can't help it.  I'm a sucker for this stuff!
Tip #12:  Don't be afraid to be silly and join in!
It's all about basking in the scenery and relaxing into the lifestyle. At every turn, it's gorgeous.
You would think my pictures were taken from a magazine, but no.  My little old IPhone.  That's how beautiful it is here.  You just can't take a bad picture.
Hubby had booked us into a lovely little hotel up the hill, a hill we didn't want to navigate with our bags after getting off the boat.  But those damned taxis.  Twenty three euros for about a mile's drive but we knew it would be like that and decided to opt for comfort over price.
The view from our room was lovely.
Hubby took to it right away.
Tiles decorated the hallways of the hotel, highlighting that each room had individual tile floors.  This was our floor.
And there is that damn bidet again!  Hubby kept his underwear in it most of the time.
But even the bathroom had a view!
Hi, Mt. Vesuvius!  I'm sitting on the toilet!
The hotel was perched high above the Mediterranean but had its own private beach...a private beach that took four different treks to get to.
then, an elevator.
Next, a path
then more stairs.
And voila!
Tip #13:  The Mediterranean is cold in May!
We spent our 31st wedding anniversary in Sorrento dining at the hotel.
And watching the fog rise on Mount Vesuvius.
Tip #14:  If you want to have a happy long marriage, plan special events and moments for your anniversaries.
I had the idea 31 years ago that Hubby would never forget our anniversary if we had to take turns planning something for the "event."  We have done that every year for our entire marriage.  This was my year, but like I said, another way to have a happy marriage is to let Hubby think he has some power, so I tell Hubby what I want to do and he books the hotels and plans the itinerary (and then we have a fight about it)!
Now it's off to Pompeii for a day trip.
We were right.  The trip on the Circumvesuviana train was easy and uneventful.  We got to sit the whole way.
When we left Seattle, the traveling Pompeii exhibit was in Seattle.
Once again...
That's where the body cast of the human remains from Pompeii was supposed to be.
Guess where it was!
Likewise, several important sections of Pompeii were closed and under construction such as the Brothel, something I was particularly looking forward to.
Tip #15:  Not really a tip.  Just a caveat.  Sometimes you just don't have any control over crap like that.
But then there was this potent highlight!
Art in a home where two bachelors lived.  Mmmm. 
Priapus, a minor Greek fertility god.  However, in this case fertility and wealth equals good fortune.
Pompeii was much bigger than I had imagined.  It was huge and walking amongst the ruins of this ancient civilization that had running water, hot baths, taco stands (well not exactly but street vendor-type shops) and all sorts of "modern" amenities was quite astonishing.  
They even had designations for one way streets, two way streets and major thoroughfares.
One stone depicted a one-way street, two stones a two-way and three stones a major thoroughfare.  The stones were spaced so the chariots could ride over them. You can actually see the markings where the chariots rode over the stones.
An amazing place.  And a reminder of the highly refined civilizations from which ours has grown.
Our last night in Sorrento we walked down to the main beach to eat at a highly recommended seafood restaurant.  It's all about the seafood in Sorrento.
We wanted to walk home up those stairs but found out they were private!
Our appetizer.  And these are not onion rings!
It's calamari, delicious, plump pieces of squid steak with little breading.  Just you and those little squids.  Delicious!
Tip #16: If you are squeamish about eyes staring back at you from your plate, don't order shrimp in Italy!
What I liked about Sorrento:
Gorgeous views
Delicious food
Strolling with the locals
Easy access to Pompeii
What I didn't like about Sorrento:
After three days in Sorrento, it was on to Positano and the Amalfi Coast to meet up with my Swedish cousin and her husband!
The Bottom Line: Sorrento is as safe and relaxed as Naples is edgy and chaotic. 
Both provide a contrast that epitomizes the dynamics of Italy!
(Next Tuesday "Rosy the Reviewer Does Italy, Pt 3: Positano, Capri and the Amalfi Coast-with travel tips and the usual pithy observations)
Thanks for Reading!

See you Friday

for my review of the new movie 
"Love and Mercy" 

The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

and the latest on

My 1001 Movies I Must See Before
 I Die Project."


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