Hi everyone! Greetings from Naples! My first blog post comes nine days into my trip; the first few days were taken up with getting oriented, and the last five with recovering from a back injury that had me out of commission for a while. I’m still recovering, but felt well enough yesterday to take my first trip out of town.
First, a little bit about Naples itself: the people I’ve met so far have been lovely, but the city itself is incredibly dirty and infamously dangerous. High crime, high poverty, and high Mafia population have kept me from feeling my usual adventurous self. I did wander around the old city last Saturday, but my anxiety got the better of me and I didn’t get as much out of the trip as I would have if I’d felt comfortable taking out my guidebook or my camera more often! (I tried my best not to look like a tourist.) I did stumble upon the beautiful Capella Sansevero, and I’ll direct you to its website so you can see some of the incredible marble sculptures – my favorites were the Veiled Christ centerpiece, and two of the statues of the Virtues: Modesty and Disillusion. (Yes, that fishnet is carved from one piece of solid marble.)
My sleep has been erratic, and despite plans to go to Pompeii yesterday, I was up half the night and then slept till 10am; I knew I’d already missed my chance to have a full day there and everyone says less than that is a waste. So I got some weekend chores done, then in the afternoon I poked through my Rick Steves Italy guidebook for something to do. Beautiful Sorrento, gateway town to the Amalfi Coast, won on two points: it was close, and it was safe. I headed out.
At the front desk of my hotel, Gennaro and Luigi have become friends already, and yesterday I received my first official proposal from an Italian man! Gennaro is a total flirt and begged to come with me to Sorrento; married with four kids, he even offered to get a divorce! Then he offered the single silver fox, Luigi, to accompany me. Shy Luigi had disappeared by then to the back room (maybe this isn’t the first time Gennaro has offered him to a guest!), but that didn’t stop Gennaro from inquiring about my marital status and suggesting that Luigi show me the Amalfi Coast. Oh, dear. It doesn’t matter that Gennaro looks like James Coco’s hairier older brother; he wins on charm alone!
Nevertheless, I headed to Sorrento solo. Thanks to GPS difficulties I missed the turnoff completely and ended up in Salerno, an hour’s detour. Back to Castellamare, then winding my way along the coast-hugging road into congested Sorrento…
…I had another hour-long detour dealing with the horrendous traffic and the fact that my GPS kept directing me to turn onto a road that didn’t exist. Oh wait, yes it did…300 feet below.
I finally got out of my car as the sun went down, and followed Rick Steves’ walking tour to get oriented.
First, the Piazza Tasso, the town’s “living room”. The picture above shows the gorge that the Piazza spans; to the north of the square is the new town, only a couple hundred years old. I chose to walk south from the square, into the old town which was originally settled by the Greeks around 600 BC.
Statue of poet Torquasso Tasso, the piazza’s namesake
At the rear of the square I ducked onto the tiny Via Santa Maria della Pietà, my entrance to the ancient Greek street plan.
blurry Via Santa Maria della Pietà
Mostly it was just a side street, with various entrances and exits. I saw an intriguing restaurant called Meatings, which serves exactly what you think it serves. Also, I came upon this sweet old shrine, still in use.
Also along the ancient narrow street I found modern graffiti. You know how I love graffiti. Especially romantic graffiti in foreign languages!
At the end of the street I found Sorrento’s main cathedral, where the local bishop had just begun evening mass. I stepped inside for a few minutes, but didn’t feel comfortable taking pictures during a service, so none for you! Here’s the outside, though.
Next, I crossed the busy Corso Italia and headed west toward the sea. Along the way I found the Sorrento Men’s Club, housed in a building dating back to the 600’s with frescoes still intact from that time.
Sorrento Men’s Club, on the right
sort of a close-up of the frescoed pergola
(I’m not allowed inside the gate ’cause of my girl parts)
Via San Cesareo is another narrow, pedestrian-only street where most of the town’s limoncello merchants are housed. I didn’t taste any last night, as I wanted to know more and hopefully try some that is truly artisan – I don’t know how I’ll find that out. Maybe Gennaro will have ideas!
I stopped briefly to enjoy the Piazza San Antonio; unfortunately the crescent moon behind the statue is blurry but you can imagine what a beautiful evening it was!
Almost at the sea, I dodged into the Chiostro di San Francesco (a 13th century cloister described in my guidebook as housing Sicilian Gothic architecture). It was really dark so my picture doesn’t do it justice.
At the cliffside square, looking down on Marina Piccola and the Meditteranean Sea, I admired some of the statues, especially this sweet Mother & Child…
…soaked in the sea air…
…and read through the suggestions for dinner. The choices consisted largely of either 75€ fanciness, or Italy’s fast food: pizza and pasta. I found one pizzeria, the family-run Pizzeria Giardiniello, in which father Franco runs a traditional pizzeria but son Luigi runs a wine-and-tapas bar down below. I went for the wine bar, where I had some aglianico (a local red wine) and oven-baked fish that Luigi swore was caught that morning in the sea! It was delicious: dense and oily with a squeeze of lemon and a garnish of arugula.
Soon after I sat down in Luigi’s bar, I overheard him speaking English with two older gentlemen; I introduced myself and moved to sit next to them. Ian and Alistair are brothers from the northern edge of Scotland, taking the holiday they’ve dreamed of since they were boys, to see Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. They’ve made Luigi’s bar their nightly dining room while they’re here, and they insist that the Giardiniello family makes their dinners a little bigger every night. We shared food and stories, and I even got a little history about the Scottish clan wars following the failed Jacobite uprising of Bonnie Prince Charlie. (Although I’m not much of a fiction reader, I just finished the excellent first book of the Outlander series, which brought the topic into conversation.) We had a great time together, and I now have friends to stay with if I ever make it to the Orkney Islands!
Alistair, Ian and I gather ’round Alistair’s olive, prosciutto, anchovy & squid pizza
Although I only had one glass of wine with dinner and my back was killing me after all the driving and walking, I took a long walk along the Corsa Italia before heading home. Italy’s DUI level is only .05% and I have no interest in being anywhere near that when I get behind the wheel! Fortunately it was a lovely walk; it seemed that the entire town had come out for their nightly passeggiata (stroll) and the Corsa was throttled with families. I loved being here in the spring, to be among full-time residents rather than the summertime throng of foreign visitors. I made it back to the parking garage around 10pm, just as the locals were really bringing the town to life.
Ah…my first gift from the Italian drivers. Glad I bought the extra personal insurance for my rental.
The evening drive was much nicer and I made it back to my hotel late, tired, and pleased. After sleeping until 11am this morning (!) I’m spending today on more chores and a much-needed massage for my back. Next weekend, fingers crossed, will be Herculaneum and Pompeii!