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Trip Report Solo in Italia May 2015: Sorrento, Amalfi, Paestum, Naples, Rome

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Solo in Italia May 2015: Sorrento, Amalfi, Paestum, Naples, Rome

This was my first solo trip to Europe since my very first in the summer of 1969.
The bottom line: I was after world-class beauty, natural and man-made, and this trip delivered in spades. I read and re-read many of the excellent trip reports on this region that had long been on my wishlist. My heartfelt thanks to all who went before and shared their knowledge and expertise! A thread on carry-on luggage was also extremely helpful. I chose the Lipault 22-inch spinner—loved it--and a Baggallini tote that fit nicely over the spinner’s handle.

This account will be tilted toward activities and lodging, traditionally my bailiwicks. On previous vacations I’d shared selection responsibilities with my husband who handled the restaurants and, for whom, happily, a mediocre meal was a tragedy. Cashed in miles to ease my way in business class to a destination sufficiently physically challenging to be best seen sooner than later.

The itinerary:

Round-trip Orange County, CA-Chicago-Rome on American.

Sorrento: 4 nights. Hotel Mignon Meublè, www.sorrentohotelmignon.com. Garden view room with balcony, €106/night.

Amalfi: 3 nights. Hotel Marina Riviera, www.marinariviera.it. Deluxe double with view of Amalfi town and the coast, average rate €237/night.

Paestum: 1 night. Hotel Villa Rita, www.hotelvillarita.it. Room in the main house, €70/night.

Naples: 3 nights. Hotel Piazza Bellini, www.hotelpiazzabellini.com. Terrace room, €118/night.

Rome: 2 nights. Albergo del Senato, www.albergodelsenato.it. Superior double with Pantheon view, €373/night.

Getting around:

Car services: After getting at least half a dozen quotes from different agencies, I chose Sorrento Cars/Leonardo Travel, www.sorrentocars.com, to get me from Fiumicino to Sorrento (€300), Sorrento to Amalfi (€70), and Amalfi to Paestum (€100). Ugo answered all of my emails quickly and his rates were the least expensive for each leg of the journey. His drivers were always early and were careful and courteous. The vehicles were Mercedes, mini-vans from Rome-Sorrento and Amalfi-Paestum and a small wagon from Sorrento-Amalfi. They were comfortable if not luxurious. I was impressed that all three drivers spontaneously spoke very highly of their boss. Ugo’s preference was to be paid in cash but it was no problem to swing by his office on the way to Sorrento so that I could pay for the first leg by credit card.

I pre-booked with Rome Shuttle Limousine, www.romeshuttlelimousine.com, for my transfer from the Albergo del Senato to FCO. The rate was €45 payable by credit card. The driver arrived early in a spiffy Mercedes sedan.

Trains: I took regional trains from Paestum to Naples via Battiipaglia, purchasing the ticket at a tabacchi near the ruins in Paestum. Reserved a couple of months in advance for the Frecciarossa from Naples to Rome, Business Silenzio, €29, a thoroughly pleasant experience.

On daytrips: I took the ferry to Capri and the little red bus from Capri town up to Anacapri, the Circumvesia to Herculaneum, the ferry to Positano, and the local bus to Ravello. With as many trip reports as I’d read that mentioned the often packed state of the local buses, I was still unprepared for the reality. I stood with my fellow sardines on the way to Anacapri and Ravello and was lucky to snag seats on the way back.

Breakfasts: Why a special category from someone who’s not typically a big breakfast eater you might ask. Because I like fresh, good food, appreciate a variety of possibilities, and it starts off the day. Numerous breakfast-included stays at motels on family road trips throughout the West have left me with antibodies to chintzy. Award for best breakfast goes to the Marina Riviera—served on a lovely terrace with a view of the town and the coast, ample selection of meats, cheeses, baked goods, fresh fruit, eggs cooked to order, juice not canned. In the middle were the Mignon Meublè, Piazza Bellini, and Albergo del Senato. The otherwise undistinguished breakfast at the Villa Rita was saved by the absolutely fantastic bufala yogurt. Service was good everywhere.

Staying connected:

TV: Yes, my ipad or iphone could bring the world to me 24/7 if I wanted it. That said, I still really liked having access to English-speaking news on TV. Best in this category were the Hotel Piazza Bellini, the Albergo del Senato, and the Marina Riviera. I found a couple of channels with movies/programs in English, but no news, at the Hotel Mignon and none at the Villa Rita.

Wi-Fi: I had reliable wi-fi in my room at every hotel save the Marina Riviera and not for lack of trying on their part. As I understood it, the hotel, which was comprised of more than one original structure, had more than one wireless system which may have been a factor in the problem. My room was also located pretty far from the reception area where I was always able to get on the web. A service person came twice and even changed the router in the room. Moving was not an option the first two nights, but on the third night, they offered to move me to a suite closer to reception (My ipad worked better there, but I declined with thanks as it was late in the day and the room had a lesser view).

SORRENTO: Sorrento fulfilled its mission as the right place to recover from the 19 or so hours it took me to get there and as the jumping off point for daytrips to Herculaneum and Capri. I arrived in the early afternoon and spent that afternoon and the following day adjusting to the time change and wandering Sorrento’s pretty alleyways, the scent of orange blossoms wafting in the air a delight. There was a cruise ship in town and Sorrento was hopping. Obtained the SIM card for my iphone at the TIM store on the Corso Italia.

The cozy Mignon Meublè with its fresh white walls and blue and white tiled floors was perfectly located on a pedestrian street just off the Corso Italia. It delivered on cleanliness, comfort,and convenience, and the public areas in particular had charm. My room had a balcony with a view over the garden and up to the hills behind Sorrento, its bath’s weensy shower the only appreciable negative. The breakfast room looked out on the small garden and a citrus grove belonging to a neighboring restaurant. The 24-hour market next door supplied me with my first night’s supper which I enjoyed on the balcony. The Mignon is looking to its future--there was a brand new elevator and the roof top terrace was being refurbished. Just outside the close-by city walls and to the left was a bank with an ATM located inside.

Food: All three restaurants I chose, Inn Bufalito, the Fauno Bar (good energy and people watching), and Bagni Sant’Anna at Marina Grande, were serviceable, the lunch of grilled seafood at Bagni Sant’Anna being the best of the lot. Enjoyed gelato at both Raki and Zini.

Daytrips:

First up Capri, the beginning of a number of let’s see what the fuss is about forays. I visited Anacapri, walked the loop from Capri town toward the Arco Naturale returning along the sea with a view of the Faraglioni, and returned to Capri town to purchase small souvenirs for friends. Highlights: little Chiesa di San Michele in Anacapri with its majolica floor depicting Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the sea views along the walk, the tiny white towns with their rabbit warren byways.

Even in early May Capri’s shops (the most high-end of the coastal towns) and tiny streets were filled with shop-til-you-drop patrons. Still, it is physically beautiful and has glamour. On another trip, I’d spend a night or two there to soak it in.
Tip: The individual lily-of-the-valley sachets by Carthusia (€5) made excellent mementos.

Having been to Pompeii on that first trip in 1969 and wanting to include an ancient Roman site, I chose Herculaneum, its smaller size a plus. I met up with a couple from Northern California walking toward the ruins from the train and we became part of a group of eight needed for a guide. My normally do-it-yourself mode not withstanding, I know our entertaining and informative guide greatly enhanced the experience. Well worth a visit for its examples of Roman engineering applied to everyday life (e.g. the cloakroom of the women’s bath with its vaulted grooved ceiling that kept condensation from falling on one’s head) and relatively intact structures with frescoes and mosaics still in place.

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