May 25, 2014
Sorrento, Napels , Amalfi Coast all sound very romantic, so I did not hesitate too long when my husband proposed it for a weekend break. We would go in May, spring seems to be the best time to visit, the weather is good already, it is not as crowdy with tourists as in Summer, flowers bloom and I do not know if lemons already grow, but I think not. So that would be a pity, but I am sure it will be replaced with other advantages! I arrived in Brussels airport at noon, so decided to take lunch. We normally pass security first, but I spotted the Exki just before going in towards the security check, and decided to take lunch there. It would definitely be cheaper than the Starbucks inside, and had a nice seating area with enough free chairs. I took a small sandwich with homous and tuna, a rice pudding and a cappuccino for 11 euro. The sandwich was fresh, and for the rest OK, the rice pudding delicious! When ordering a second cappuccino I also got to choose a small cup with new dishes for free as a trial, I chose one with a chick pea salad which was really good. When arriving at the gate about 10 minutes before boarding, very few passengers were waiting. I was already looking forward to ample seating space, especially, when the steward who announced boarding, then asked “anyone for Napels?” since the few people who were actually waiting were slow in getting to board. Well think again, the flight was fully booked, but I am afraid that after us boarding, they had to “last call” a whole bunch of people who were not too hasty to get to the plane. Two people didn’t even make it to the plane, and it left without them, with some delay of course: “tourists and Italians”, as my husband aptly remarked….
A month before we had booked a place to stay. Which was not too easy since hotels are really expensive in Sorrento. The Hilton Palace where my husband stayed was really too expensive for my taste, we would not be using the swimming pool during such a short weekend, so after some search, I decided to go for Sorrento B&B which is located in the old town, in a smaller (hopefully not too noisy) street. It had all the amenities, in walking distance of everything incuding the sea, and breakfast included. It was not terribly cheap at 150 euro a night for a double, but with this locations it seemed hard to find something decent and cheaper. If you are staying longer, I think a hotel, B&B or appartement more out of the centre, or further on the Coast might be a better choice. When arriving on Napels airport you can take a bus for 11 euro directly from the airport to Naples centre. It takes about 1hour and 45 minutes. The bus is located around the departure gates.
Before landing the pilot announced 24 degrees and sunny in Napels! We easily found the bus and it took us in one hour and a half to Sorrento. It drops you off at the station in Sorrento just seconds away from Piazza Tasso. And to my surprise: the lemons were all over the place!!
Sorrento is a very romantic place around the time the sun goes down as we found out when walking to the restaurant where my husband made reservations at: ristorante Bagne Delfino, it is the last restaurant at the second smaller port of Sorrento, with a huge dolphin in front. The welcome is heart warming, the restaurant very pleasantly decorated. We ate a pasta as primo piatte: Spaghetti al vongole and Spaghetti de frutti di mare with a bottle of the local wine: falanghina. De pasta’s were delicious, the vongole and frutti di mare super fresh and tasted heavenly. As main course we both chose fried squid. Also really very good, but we had trouble finishing it after the tummy filling pasta. The waiter came teasing me to finish my plate “as a good girl”! The white local wine is really what we wanted to stick to throughout because of the high quality. We got a limoncello on the house and got a small token with the virgin Mary when paying. We felt really well treated here and I am sure it is one of the best choices in Sorrento. We took a last drink at Fauno on Piazza Tasso before heading of to bed at Sorrento B&B. It was fun to watch the local youngsters bragging of on Tasso square.
The next morning we walked in the direction of the port an took the lift (1 euro per ride) down to sea level. We queued to get our tickets to Positano for the day. (32 euro for a return ticket) we still had some time before the boat left so took the stairs back up to drink a coffee at the Foreigners’ Club. The terrace of this restaurant/bar has a stunning view of the bay and port of Sorrento.
The boat has two levels, one inside down deck, and the deck above with a covered seating area but open windows, and a standing area on the back. People were pushing to get on board to get a seat on the coast side to get a good view of the Amalfi coast. Once the boat left the wind blowing in on the upper deck was chilly and many who had so badly wanted these seats changed their minds and went below deck. The view above is indeed very good, especially if you plan to take pictures.
Our luck was a bit on the down side because when we came closer to Positano, more clouds were packing above the mountain tops, blacking out the warm sun. Positano is dramatically positioned against the mountain, houses coloured in different pastels, making it look like a huge multi-tired cake. There is only one ferry going to Positano in the morning at 10:30 and one coming back in the afternoon at 17:00.
The boat continues to Amalfi, and you can see Amalfi from Positano. We wandered the streets which have stunning views of the Amalfi coast, and are lined with shops and restaurants. There are several beaches in Positano. There is not much more to do than to wander, shop and relax in Positano while enjoying the surroundings. We walked up through the narrow straircase streets, mostly completely alone, most tourists stay close to the seaside, and seem too lazy to walk up. We walked up towards Via Pasitea, where many restaurants are located, and where we wanted to try one of the restaurants to have lunch. We walked past the many restaurants and although some had a nice terrace overlooking the bay, we decided to try Da Vincenzo, because the cloudy weather made it less attractive to sit outside, and this restaurant had very good reviews on tripadvisor. It is a typical family run restaurant, with a homey atmosphere. The owner showed us a selection of pasta’s that are served in the restaurant while we were studying the menu. The food was really great. We both had a pasta, I chose the Linguini con alici e finocchietto (with fresh anchovies and fennel seeds), my husband chose the Linguini alla buona donna (with capres, black olives, anchovies and cherry tomatoes), together with a glass of white Falinghina wine. Honest really home-made Italian pasta like you expect it to taste in Italy!
We relaxed and strolled the rest of the afternoon, and did some shopping. Many people relaxed on the beach, even if the weather was not too warm that day.
Back in Sorrento we walked through the old centre where shops stay open quite late, and locals take to the streets on a Saturday evening. We walked to the train station to write down the train hours for Pompeii the next day. There is a train almost every half hour until 10 AM, then one every hour. We looked for a restaurant and eventually chose Sacro e Profano on Via Tasso 53 – 55, in the old centre of town. We sat outside on the terrace. The restaurant is a relieve from the loud bustling restaurants often with loud popular music you find in the centre. The decoration is smart, the music really good and the service almost flawless. The prices are reasonable especially for Sorrento. We shared a first plate of ravioli with buffalo mozzarella and pesto which looked and tasted great. My husband took the fish and I the sautéed clams. My clams were really good and fresh, the fish very fresh, only the accompanying sauce could use some spicing up. We finished with a strawberry tiramisu which was clearly home made and delicious. We again took some local white wine, which again did not disappoint.
After breakfast, we checked out and paid the tourist tax. We took the train to Pompeii (train to Napels), and got off at Pompeii Scavi. We left our luggage at the train station for 3 euro per piece. You can also leave your luggage at the Pompeii entrance for free. We drank a coffee at the train station bar and then walked to the entrance (Porta Marina) which is no more than 50 m away from the train station. We bought tickets at the entrance (11 euro per person). We had tried to buy online tickets in case the queues would be long at the entrance in Pompeii itself, but you had to pay 2.50 euro extra for printing your tickets at home (??) and 3 euro service charge, which is 5.50 euro more than at the entrance, so we decided against it. There was no real queue since it was not high season yet. I used the toilets at the entrance since I read that toilets are few and far between inside (correct), and there are only three toilets for women at the entrance which is also very little for such an important site. (a bus of Japanese tourist unloaded just behind us, and immediately an enormous queue was formed at the toilets!)
We entered Pompeii and were immediately impressed by it. It was morning and there were many tourist groups also entering, some behaving and moving quite obnoxiously! We decided to walk past the first area which is very popular (the forum area) and walk towards the amphitheatre at the other site trying to dodge the masses a bit by talking alternative routes. That proved to be quite easy. Once you walk away from the central area and take section VI you are suddenly almost alone. We saw many of the beautiful villas almost alone, and were immediately taken in by the uniqueness of the site. So many details have been preserved, so many colours of the fresco’s and mosaics still in place, that you can really imagine quite easily how life had been, and how advanced Roman society was already. Think of the led piping, the water distribution system, the ingenious road system and pedestrian crossing stones, the beautiful baths, the picnic areas, ..
The houses must have looked wonderful, with beautiful fresco’s, marble furniture, wood cuts, wooden doors, … There are still graffiti’s visible, in colour, houses had gardens, you see through your imagination, the society come to life when walking the streets with the Vesuvius in the background. It is also quite large, we walked on a relaxed pace and it took us about an hour and a half to get to the amphitheatre at the other Northern end. We decided to return via Porta di Nola, so that we didn’t have to take the same way back (we had come from section VI over the Via Stabiana up to the small theatre section, then the Via dell Abbondanza (which was partly fenced off), then Via di Castricio, past the Palestrea to the amphitheatre. We had to return on our steps because the road from Porta di Nola was also fenced off. So we had to take the same way back, (Via di Castricio and Via dell Abbondanza), towards the forum. We passed and went to look at the Stabian baths complex, the forum, the basilica, the central baths, the granary with many of the less valuable pots and other finds, also housing some plaster casts of people who had died at Pompeii. The more valuable artefacts are all moved to the Archeology museum in Naples. Many of the roads and houses are closed or fenced of, which is a bit disappointing, but there is still more than enough to see. We had a bit under four hours which is actually too short, and if possible I would love to return to see it again and take more time to see what we missed now. We didn’t see the villa of mysteries which I really regret.
My husband saw Erkolano (Herculaneum) on a previous trip and prefers Pompeii by far. So if you have to choose I guess you should see Pompeii first. If I would have found the time I would like to have prepared my visit better. I took the red map and the little red book with explanations at the entrance, and it took me a while before I understood the numbering system. The numbers on the map en booklet correspond with the numbers of the audioguide, and not with the bigger numbers on the houses. The audioguide numbers are found on rectangular grey plates on some of the houses (the more important ones). The site is divided into sections which I also found back in the book I bought online: Pompeii Wsg (Wsg Archaeology) bySalvatore Ciro Nappo, which I can really recommend.
From Pompeii we took the train to Naples, and a taxi from the train station to the airport (which only took 10-15 minutes but costed 25 euro!, which was a fixed price according to the driver)
From there we took the plane home to cold and windy Belgium.