Little Italy’s Heritage Trip- Part 3 — Capri, Sorrento, Positano, Naples
The third and final part of the trip took us to southern Italy to the Campania region, encompassing our visits to Capri, Sorrento, Positano, and Naples. You can also read Part 1 and Part 2 of our trip if you haven’t yet.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015 (Continued)
Following our time in Rome, we arrived at the Naples Termini station via the Italo train. We were forewarned about this train station so, as in any larger city in Italy, we held our bags close and were smart enough to ignore any gypsies asking to “help” us with directions. By the way, these gypsies often appear like like regular teenagers. They weren’t old stooped ladies swathed in clothes and head scarves (although we saw them, too). My advice is just to say “no” if someone approaches to help you in any major train station in Italy.
We had the expected Neapolitan ado at the taxi stand, including two drivers literally fighting over our fare by pulling on my suitcase between them and yelling at each other heatedly in Italian. One driver eventually won and we were off on our death-defying ride to the marina where we would catch our ferry to Capri. Everything you hear about these rides is true and possibly even more so. Every move was at full throttle and every brake was at the last moment. We cut off and were cut off by Vespa drivers, and we missed pedestrians, scooters, and other cars by mere millimeters. We did, however, arrive on time at the marina for our 50 minute ferry ride to Capri.
Overall, Capri was kind of a disappointment for me. There’s a tradeoff when coming to areas like this in Italy or many places in Europe: tourists. Now, I know I’m a tourist as well, and I’m sure we all think the same thing–that we aren’t THOSE people– but I know I’m not THOSE people. THOSE people come in all sorts. These particular “those people” in Capri ranged in age from late 40’s to late 60’s, dawned their best white and pastel summering prep gear, traveled in large packs, and sought to holiday with groups of people just like themselves. They seem to travel all the way to Capri to shop in the same luxury brand stores that they shop in at home. They want food from their home country, delivered to them by wait staff who understand their English. Capri is built to cater to those people so we were definitely out of our element.
Capri Town is set up so that you have two major places to stay- at the marina level (where we chose for easy-on and -off the island) and on the cliff level, accessed by bus, taxi, funicular, or long uphill walk. Our little hotel– Belvedere & Tre Re– was modestly accommodated, but the bed was comfy, the host was so helpful and sweet, and the view off our balcony was unbeatable. We spent our evening up on the cliff town amongst the throngs of older rich people in their shoulder-tied sweaters. After taking the funicular to the top, we did find a nice oasis of a restaurant called Pulia (at the top of the clock tower right at the funicular) and had a lovely, albeit slightly overpriced meal. It was overpriced by European standards but no doubt a steal in Capri. We took the long stairwell climb back down to the marina at the end of the evening.
Thursday, May 21, 2015
We woke up on Thursday to rain and choppy waters which caused a cancellation of our private boat tour around the island, including a visit to the Blue Grotto (waaah!). Instead we shared a taxi with two other nice couples up to Anacapri, the other town on the island. Anacapri is slightly less annoying than Capri town, but not by much. There is not much we discovered to do there except to shop, window shop, and eat overpriced low quality food. At least the tourist shops here were selling the Italian tourist ware of the area– dishes and kitchen items decorated with lemons– and other porcelain house items, old people’s clothes of flowing linen (not hating… I would have bought some if it wasn’t made in one size fits most…not me). After a few hours, we grabbed our bags from our hotel and jumped on our ferry to Sorrento, which is about a 30 minute ride from Capri.
At the Sorrento marina we grabbed a taxi to drive us up the cliff. We stayed at a Bed & Breakfast located halfway between Sorrento and neighboring Sant’Agnello. Sorrento is a very convenient town to stay in as a base for the area. It has easy access to all of the major sites, and while all these towns are touristy, there is still a heavy local flavor, especially if you stay closer to Sant’Agnello.
During our first afternoon we had lunch at a great pizza place in Sant’Agnello called “Il Buon Boccone” and befriended the local owner named Franco. We laughed about our matching hats and enjoyed the low key environment that felt miles away from the tourism of Capri. That evening we stayed in the area had dinner at Ristorante Moonlight. This place was a nice palate cleanser from all of the pizza and pasta we had been having all week. We actually had fresh avocado along with the requisite pasta primi and I also had a great veal filet for the secondi. The restaurant also had an adorable cat named Nono that was so precious… She stole many bunts and pets from me throughout the meal.
Friday, May 22, 2015
On Friday morning, we were off to Pompeii by way of the Circumvesuvia local train, which is about a 30 minute ride from the Sant’Agnello train station. Pompeii is a place that has been on my unofficial bucket list for years. I’ve always been interested in the wonder of the occurrences there in 79AD, when Mount Vesuvius exploded sending plumes of smoke and ash for days over Pompeii and neighboring towns. There were actually subsequent explosions over a matter of days and the result was a town and its people buried in ash. Disappointingly, my most anticipated sighting– the plaster casts of the actual bodies caught unawares and then frozen in time– were nowhere to be found. Apparently they were being restored. That said, the site was still a highlight of the trip to see after years and years of anticipation.
After the morning in Pompeii, we returned to Sorrento and took the local bus–Sita– from Sorrento station to Positano. It was just under an hour ride and it took us through neighboring towns and along the infamous cliffside roads. I was prepared for a terrifying trip but it was actually not frightening at all. We sat on the side of the bus opposite the driver, so we could look straight down the cliffside into oblivion during our trip. It was a gorgeous ride and quite enjoyable. Sure there were some questionable turns, but the more frightening was fear of our running over a scooter than anything else…
Positano is a beautiful town–another trip highlight just to see it. Sure it’s full of tourists, but it carried with it a charm as well that prevented the stripping of its authenticity. It’s a famously vertically set town, where each store and hotel is tucked along the switchbacked and stairwelled walkways. In most cases, your only choices are to go up or down. Arriving too late for lunch and too early for dinner, we ducked into a pizzeria just as the rain began to pour down. After it passed, we window browsed a bit, and then we headed back to Sorrento.
Saturday, May 23, 2015
On our final full day of our holiday, which was also Uri’s birthday, the morning rain prevented us from visiting Amalfi as was our plan. Plan B was a train trip to Naples (via the same Circumvesuvia train) which took over an hour. We found our way in Naples to the Museo Archaelogico Nazionale, in hopes to discover more Pompeiian treats. With all due respect to anyone with love for Naples, it was not for me. Of all the cities of the world I’ve ever visited, it was the dirtiest, smelliest, and least charming place. Even the museum was tired and rundown.. It seemed an afterthought, which is surprising considering its nationally-renowned status. We did at least find the “Secret Room” at the museum which housed various ancient erotic paintings and sculptures– many of which were discovered at Pompeii. The exaggerated size and nature of the penises was pretty hilarious.
Our final event in Naples was to sample the authentic Neapolitan pizza. Armed with an article touting the 10 best pizzas in Naples, we found one and were nothing but disappointed. Maybe we got a bad pizza, but it was undercooked, runny, full of overly sweet sauce, and generally untasty. I’m glad we had the experience, but I’ll take Lombardi’s in NYC anyday instead!
We couldn’t leave Naples fast enough, and landed back in Sorrento at the waterfront, watching British weddings while having a drink. For dinner that evening, we had the most amazing meal at a steak Restaurant called Il Marzialino. We shared a great bottle of wine and a buffalo mozzerella and proscuitto appetizer, and we each had a delicious main course — a cheeseburger to DIE for, and a short loin filet that was perfectly cooked to melt in your mouth.
Southern Coast Travel Tips:
— Buy Italo train tickets in advance of your trip from Rome to Naples
— You can buy ferry tickets (to Sorrento, Capri, and lots of other ports in the area) right at the ferry terminals but it helps to know the ferry company you are going for in advance as it’s not easily laid out to understand
— Use Sorrento as a base for visiting Positano, Amalfi, Capri, or Pompeii/ Vesuvius, if you don’t want to sleep over in those towns and you want to see lots of things. It was such an easy and central jumping off point for us
And with that, our Italy trip was over. Across the entirety of the trip (from Abruzzo to Rome to the Southern Coast), here were the highlights for me:
— The Abruzzo region in its entirety. We will be back for sure to discover much more and revisit our friends again at La Grande Quercia B&B. We still need to see the beaches and the wineries, and to of course revisit my newfound family members!
— Villa d’Este in Tivoli. This was more impressive to me than Versailles in Paris, especially given the comparison that Versailles is world-renowned and I had never previously heard of Villa d’Este.
— Roman Forum, the understated but much more impressive sister site to the Coliseum
— The Sistene Chapel and all of its 3D grandeur and beauty. The chapel alone is worth the ticket to the entire Vatican Museum
— Positano’s views, charm, and cliffside drive. I wouldn’t necessarily stay in that city overnight for fear of straining myself carrying bags up and down the hills, but given the chance I would visit again and stay longer
— Our meal at Il Marzialino. If ever in Sorrento again, I will be back for that cheeseburger.