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Trip Report Trip Report Sorrento, Compania, Paestum, Pompeii,Herculaneum,Amalfi,Capri

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Sorrento and Campania Italy
We have just returned from a 6 week trip to Italy and Greece. While we are very familiar with Greece this was our first Italian trip so I lurked on the Italy forum and went to school on what to do, where to go and how things are done. We first heard about Sorrento 30 years ago when my wife’s sister and her husband came back with loads of amazing photos. Ever since then Sorrento has been on our bucket list.

We arrived after 16 hours with three flights including a transatlantic. We decided to head straight to Sorrento. We didn’t take into account the time spent waiting for each train so the journey took an additional 6 hours. While it took a while I would do it again in a heartbeat.

We had read all about pickpockets and people grabbing your bags to help you get on the train and were prepared for it but the most memorable moment at Termini happened as we were looking at the train boards when we were shocked to see a man that looked identical to our son. He even moved his hands and head in exactly the same way. Later my wife said If we were estranged from him and hadn’t seen him for some time we would have been positive we had found him. Only after we moved closer we realized his eyes were a different colour and shape.

We had absolutely no problem with pickpockets or strangers trying to grab our bags. Termini was very easy to navigate. Naples station however was a whole different matter. I had read that it was difficult to find the suburban train as it was down under the main arrivals level but to just walk towards the exit and watch for signs. We found a sign pointing to the left but that ended at the exit. We retraced our steps and found a second sign on the same signpost pointing directly ahead. Two signs pointing different directions that’s interesting. On the positive side the signs were not in Greek so there is always hope.

We did find the underground suburban train station. I left my wife alone for 30 seconds on the platform and immediately two men crowded her. Fortunately I was close and returned and the men moved off but one does have to be very aware of what is going on around you in Naples station.

The Train is a pretty decrepit subway style with hard plastic seats and the only air conditioning was an open window but they were safe and got us to Sorrento in an hour and 15 minutes. Once we got to Hotel Residence Mirimare it was 9 in the evening and we decided to walk into Sorrento for dinner. We knew there was a hill there but didn't realize the walk was over a kilometer. Ok going down but a bit of a long trudge back up on a full stomach and jet lagged.

Our balcony had a lovely view over the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. We were charmed by the architecture of Sorrento and we knew we had made the right choice to come to here to relax after our long trip.

Over the week we explored the city, harbour, Marina Grande village, the private beach clubs and found the valley of the mills. While Maria Grande was lovely it is a beach resort so my suggestion is to ask prices before you order. Two cappuccinos and two 500 ml bottles of water was 22 euros. Lesson learned.

One thing worth mentioning was the walk up and down the hill into town. The sidewalk was very narrow and there was only room for a maximum of two people to walk beside each other. It became apparent that there was an unspoken rule as people passed each other to form up in single file so everyone could remain on the sidewalk. The alternative was to step out into the road. That was Ok for the people going down as they could see the traffic and proceed when safe. However the people walking up can’t see the traffic and sometimes were forced to step out onto the traffic. After witnessing several people force others out onto the road we decided that we were not going to step into the traffic anymore and instead stood our ground and on occasion made contact. This is hard for a polite Canadian but it did seem to get peoples attention quite nicely.

Sorrento is perfectly situated for excursions and tours so we did Paestum, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Amalfi Coast and Capri.

Paestum We were able to book an escorted bus tour. The bus picked us up at the hotel and one of the passengers said where is everyone from. Since no one is likely to know the little town we are from we have a planned response to anyone who asks, so I said Vancouver Canada and she said “isn’t that a coincidence so am I.” So much for our plan, so I had to confess we were really from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Turns out her family owned a cottage within a couple of kilometers of where we now live.
The tour included a rest stop at Salerno. It is a nice town and we enjoyed walking around and visiting the cathedral. Salerno was the landing site for the allies in WW2 and my father was there. It gave us a connection to the city.
The whole group enjoyed the guide’s description of the history of the area and early Greek settlement however we were unprepared for the state of preservation of the three Greek Temples at Paestum. Imagine three temples in a field in better condition than the Parthenon in Athens.

The next day we then took the train to Pompeii and wandered around there for hours. We were first introduced to Pompeii in the pages of National Geographic when we were children. Actually being on that site was a dream comes true. It was so large we ran out of energy before we got more than about half of it done but we went back to Sorrento very impressed. I have to admit that we could only find a map in Italian and didn’t rent one of the Audio Guides. That was probably a mistake.

The next day we repeated the trip this time to Herculaneum. I didn’t think it was possible to be more impressed than Pompeii but the state of preservation at Herculaneum is indeed something special. Being able to go into so many of the buildings and have an opportunity to see a Roman town frozen in time is something we will never forget. This time we rented an audio guide and I would take pictures and my wife then told me what I was looking at. That seemed to work quite well.

By the way for both Pompeii and Herculaneum we took the train from Sorrento. It was easy inexpensive and I can see no reason why anyone would take an escorted tour.
The next day we took a bus tour along the Amalfi coast. I can’t tell you how much respect I have for those bus drivers navigating those small roads particularly when another bus was coming the other way. We had seen pictures of the coast but were not prepared for how beautiful it really is. The towns and the road are seemingly hanging out over the ocean really are breathtaking. We took the local bus (get there early and sit on the right hand side). Because it wasn’t a tour we only stopped at Amalfi so there were no opportunities to get out and really view the highlights and take pictures. Again I can see no reason to take a guided tour as this worked well for us. We had a good three hours to wander around and explore. That day was a bit misty high up in the mountains creating a beautiful backdrop for the coast.

On our last day on a whim we were down at the harbor and decided to take the ferry over to Capri. This wasn’t planned but turned out to be a delightful day. Approaching Capri is impressive rising up so high. The port was a madhouse with taxis, tourists and buses darting everywhere. We decided not to take the Blue Grotto trip (mostly because we didn’t have enough cash with us) so we just wandered high up in the town and then took the tiny local bus up to Anacapri. I have to admit my wife was quite enamored by the clothes and jewelry shops and pressed her nose on the windows trying to get a better look. I on the other hand spent a lot of time in front of the pastry shop window along with all the other husbands valiantly pretending we couldn’t find our credit cards. Thus is Capri.

We had a great experience in Sorrento but now it was time to head for Rome. Our next report will be for Rome. In the meantime here are some images of our trip to Sorrento and Campania.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157634654031558/

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