May 9th to 18th 2013
It was my wife’s fiftieth birthday and when I turned fifty she took me to Key West to go diving. I wanted to reciprocate for her fiftieth. She loves Italy so it logical that we would go there.
I was trying to decide where to go in Italy when I got a Groupon for a hotel on the Amalfi Coast. The village where the hotel was located was a little small, we would probably run out of things to do but the Amalfi coast looked like a great place to spend our vacation.
Our flight departed Minneapolis at 5:00 pm and landed in Paris at 8:00 am. It’s a tough fight because we were up for over nine hours before the flight took off and neither of us can sleep on a plane. I read and watched Jim Gaffagan. He was funny but the more tired I was the less funny he became.
Luckily my wife had been through the Paris airport last year so she was familiar with the layout. Once we landed we had to clear immigration, then catch our connecting flight in a different terminal and we had less than an hour to do it in.
I had taken French back in high school and remember very little but I was amazed that the merci beaucoup and other simple French phases flowed freely from my lips as we made our way through the Paris airport.
The flight started boarding shortly after we got to our gate. I’m not sure I could have found the flight in time if I had been on my own.
The jetways at Charles De Gaulle are very long and have glass walls. I imagined that the airport looked like a spider with transparent legs when viewed from the sky.
We arrived in Naples at 11:30 am, unfortunately our luggage did not. It appeared that the one hour layover in Paris wasn’t enough time for our luggage to be transferred.
We didn’t feel too bad about losing our luggage, we weren’t the only ones. There was a tour of fourteen people who were on our plane and their luggage didn’t make it either. We filed a missing luggage report with the agent and exited the airport.
One of my customers recommended that I book a car to pick us up at the airport and take us to our hotel in Sorrento rather than try to figure out public transportation when we are tired and jet lagged. It was a great idea, by the time we arrive in Naples we were up for almost twenty-four hours and traveling for over twelve hours. In other words, if we hadn’t booked a car, we might be fighting like the couples on The Amazing Race.
Our driver was outside holding a sign with my name on it. He directed us to a large comfortable van and took us on the nearly hour-long drive to our hotel.
We passed through three tunnels and stopped at a scenic overlook on the outskirts of Sorrento take a picture. I’m not sure why the shuttle driver thought we would want to document how crappy twelve hours of travel and twenty-four hours without sleep would make us look but we humored him. The crappy picture is below.
The shuttle driver brought us to the Palazzo Jannuzzi Relais. I chose the hotel because it was a Travelers Choice 2013 on Trip Advisor and it had stellar reviews.
The majority of the main floor of the hotel was taken up by an upscale souvenir shop and The Fauno Bar and Restaurant. Our shuttle driver dropped us off in front of the hotel in the Piazza Tasso and pointed us toward the hotel entrance.
The hotel entrance isn’t what you would expect for a nice hotel. It was tucked away on the side of the building toward the back, it seemed a little low-budget for what we were paying. The entrance did have an expensive automated sliding glass door that was controlled by a motion sensor.
It was funny, several days later we were leaving the building just as a couple was entering the building. You could tell they had just arrived because they looked jet lagged and they seemed a little worried that the hotel wasn’t as nice as they were led to expect. We knew the feeling, so we assured them they would like the hotel and showed them how to take the elevator to the front desk to check in.
All of the people who work at the hotel are nice, friendly, professional, helpful and a bunch of other positive adjectives. Check in was quick and we went to our room to drop off our backpacks.
When I booked the room I was worried that it might be small, it was hard to tell the size of the room from the website pictures. I blame photographers with their wide angle lenses that can make a closet look like a banquet hall. I was also a little concerned that the yellow walls might be bright enough to keep us up at night (as you can see below) but the room was actually very nice.
The room turned out to be good sized, it had a king size bed, sofa, closet area, small refrigerator and large screen TV. The bathroom was also large and the tiles were black and white to match the tile floors. The shower was huge by European standard. My only complaint was the shower did not have a door or curtain so the floor would get wet when we showered.
We fought the urge to sleep, it was 5 AM Minneapolis time. We went to the Fauno restaurant located on the main floor of the hotel. We had an early dinner. It was one of Karen’s favorite meals in Sorrento but because of the prime location it was expensive.
We wandered around Sorrento until about 8 pm. We couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer so we went to bed. We woke up at about 3 am took some melatonin and fell back to sleep.
The Melatonin knocked us out until 9 am when the phone rang. It was the front desk letting us know our luggage had been delivered and they would be bringing it up. I had to quickly throw some clothes on so the front desk person could bring our luggage in.
We showered and unpacked. We were still moving slow so we didn’t make it to breakfast until almost 10:30 am. The breakfast area was large and white; the tables, chairs and walls were painted white and the room was sun filled.
There were two large tables full of food. They had scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, bacon, fruitata, six different types of fruit, and many pastries. They also had excellent coffee Americano, cappuccino or espresso.
When we arrived at breakfast they had a table set on the patio for us and we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast in the warm Italian sun.
The previous day we had noticed tour busses driving around Sorrento. Normally we wouldn’t be caught dead on a tour bus but I had yet to get a sim card for my iPhone so I had no Google Maps or Trip Advisor app. We needed see the layout of the town so we bought tickets. The bus picked us up a short distance from our hotel, then drove down Corso Italia, the main street through town and north out of town.
The tour bus was a little hokey, the tour guide played a tambourine and speakers blasted Italian themed music. We still enjoyed it.
We drove to a hotel on the outskirts of Sorrento. The building was originally built by a local poet for his mistress. It was a beautiful building. The hotel had a vineyard and orchard on their land so we stopped at the store and bought a jar of orange marmalade.
On the way back into town the tour guide pointed out Paulo Beach saying it was the best beach in Sorrento.
Once back in town the bus dropped us at Via DelgiAranci and we started to walk back to our hotel. Along the way we decided to stop for an espresso at Epress Cafe.
While at the coffee shop my wife taught me a couple very important lessons about Italy that she learned when she was here last fall. The first lesson was it’s cheaper to order coffee at the counter than to sit at a table in front of the coffee shop. Secondly, if you want to be Italian you order cappuccino before noon and espresso after noon. Thirdly, when you get your espresso you dump a packet of sugar in it and down it quickly.
Also, when you pay (for anything not just coffee) you put your money on the counter or in a tray and when they give you your change back they put it on the counter or in a tray. It is considered rude to hold out your hand for change. The last lesson I learned about Italy was you have to take your receipt with you. It is the law, if you forget your receipt they will chase after you to give it to you. I learned a lot about Italian culture just by ordering a cup of coffee. I’m glad my wife had been to Italy previously.
After we finished our espresso we continued our walk up Via DelgiAranci and had lunch at a little outdoor restaurant La Fenice. We had salad and I had my first real Italian pizza. This was the only time we encountered someone in Sorrento that did not speak English. But were able to point at what we wanted to order. Even though the waiter didn’t speak English he joked with us, every time he came to our table he would tap me on my opposite shoulder so I would look the wrong way. He would laugh every time.
When we finished Karen tried out her Italian by saying “delizioso” to the waiter. I thought she nailed the pronunciation but he did not understand her so she repeated it several more times and he still did not understand. He finally called over a waitress from Britain. Karen repeated “delizioso”, by this time she was worried that “delizioso” wasn’t an Italian word but the waitress explained to her that you have to draw out the vowels when speaking Italian, so Karen said “deeliiiziiiooosooo” and the waiter finally understood.
The jet lagged was starting to catch up with us but we fought the urge to go back to Jannuzzi and take a nap. Instead we walked down Corso Italia to a grocery store and bought some beer for me. It was La Trappe Belgian beer, one of my favorites. It costs about $7 a bottle in the States but it only cost 3 Euro here. Karen bought a bottle of prosecco and we bought some munchies.
After we dropped our purchases off in our room we walked down one of the small side streets that crisscross Sorrento. We decided to have dinner at Aqua.My meal at Aqua was good. I had penne arrabiata. Karen ordered shrimp pasta, the pasta was fine but she only got four shrimp and two of them were just the heads.
We later found out that one of the best restaurants in Sorrento is located next to Aqua. The name of the restaurant is Antika, several of the people we chatted with at breakfast had been to the restaurant and recommended it. It is also highly rated high on Trip Advisor. We had stopped and looked at the menu and it was a little spendy and much of their menu consisted of dishes that we would not usually order, like rabbit, snails and octopus, so we let that dinning opportunity us pass by.
After dinner we stopped at Bar Daniele for a decaf cappuccino. We’re Americans not Italians so we broke the rules and ordered cappuccino not espresso with sugar.
We had breakfast at the hotel again. We shared a table with a hedge fund manager from Canada who was currently living in the US. He was in Italy to attend meetings for the Olympics. He left and we were joined by a lawyer and a financial planner and their wives, all from the US.
The lawyer and his wife were nice people but the financial planner was kind of a jerk. He immediately started a conversation about which country has the worst tourists. He went around the table asking each of us our opinion. I wasn’t interested in playing his game so I declined to guess. He told us that Indian and Iranians were worst, his opinion not mine. I can’t understand why someone would sit down at a table of strangers and start a conversation like that. At least our breakfast was good even if the company wasn’t.
We had decided to sight see in Positano for the day. It is a coastal town about half way between Sorrento and Amalfi.
We asked at the front desk and were told we could buy tickets for the bus to Positano at the train station (go figure) and the bus would depart from there also. We walked several blocks to the train station, bought our tickets and got in line for the bus. Once it arrived people streamed into the bus and luckily we got a seat, there were people standing in the aisle for the entire ride.
The Italian bus drivers are amazing. On the drive out of town there were several times the bus was so close to a building that we were literally staring at a brick wall only inches from our window.
The drive along the Amalfi coast is world famous. In the Tom Cruise movie Knight and Day Tom’s character said that driving the Amalfi coast with only a motorcycle and a backpack was on his bucket list. I can see why, it is beautiful but I would never do it on a motorcycle. I’m not even sure that I would drive it in a car.
The Amalfi coast highway was built by Mussolini in the 1940s. The road is very narrow because back then Italian cars were much smaller. Also the road was carved into the side of a sheer cliff face. Something that was difficult to do so I would imagine they had to keep the road as narrow as possible.
When our full sized tour bus met an oncoming car, the cart would have to stop while the bus maneuvered past. If two buses met on the road one would stop while the other bus inched past. The buses were so close we were looking directly at the passengers in the other bus. Yup, we waived.
Karen had the windows seat as we left Sorrento but once we reached the coast and started maneuvering through the ‘S’ curves and switchbacks she started feeling ill and changed seats with me. I probably would have enjoyed the trip more if I would have stayed in my original seat. From my view out of the window I could not see the edge of the road, all I could see was the 1000 foot drop to the ocean. I am not exaggerating, at times it appeared to be a ten story drop to the ocean and the edge of the road was nowhere in sight. It is really a beautiful drive but you’ll be happy when you arrive in Positano.
A father and son seated in front of us were green by the time we made it to Positano. When we departed the bus in Positano, I thought about kissing the ground.
The bus let us off above Positano and there weren’t any signs indicating how to get down to town. A younger couple with luggage got off of the bus with us. They were staying in Positano and needed to find their hotel which was no easy chore. We encountered them several time as we made our way down to the town. We followed the road as it serpentine down the hill. There were stairways that acted as short cuts between the roads. It was kind of a life sized chutes and ladders.
The man left his wife with their luggage to search for the hotel. He eventually found the hotel because we saw a hotel clerk walking up the road with the husband. He offered to take their luggage.
Once we made it down to sea level we walked along the beach to L’Incanto to have lunch. Karen had seafood pasta and I had grilled chicken breast. To this point every waiter in Italy had been relaxed and friendly. They all seemed to be on island time like service in the Caribbean. Service was good but the waiters never seemed to be in a hurry. It was rush hour in Manhattan at this restaurant. The waiters were running the entire time we were there, they never stopped. They were friendly but all conversations were very short.
It was still early in the season so the restaurants had chairs and umbrellas set up on the beach but only a few people were using them and I saw no one in the water.
The view of the town from the beach is spectacular. The houses are built into the side of the cliffs and from sea level looking up they appear to be built directly on top of each other. They are brightly colored, the sky is deep blue with some white puffs of clouds. The view alone was worth the flight to get here.
Since returning from Italy we’ve been to several art fairs and seen beautiful canvas prints of Positano. I am less impress since I’ve been to Positano. The photos that I took of Positano aren’t as nice but I just pointed my camera and snapped a picture. If you know what you are doing it has to be easy to get a spectacular picture of just about any ocean town in Italy..
We sat for about an hour after lunch, Karen enjoying her wine, me enjoying my Moretti Nostra and both of us enjoying the Mediterranean.
Once we left the restaurant I learned another lesson about Italy. Generally there aren’t any public restrooms but if you need to use a restroom you can go to a coffee shop, order an espresso and use their restroom. Handy to know.
We wandered through Positano for a while checking out the shops and then attempted to make our way back to our bus stop. We saw some people, who were obviously tourists, hiking up a street towards the main road, Via Guglielmo Marconi. Even though the road they were on headed west and we needed to go east we decided to follow them. It might have been the jet lag that enticed us to go in the wrong direction. The final result of our walk up the hill was good and bad.
There was a bus stop at the top of the hill but it wasn’t the bus stop that we departed the bus at. Jet lagged and short of patience Karen and I had a small fight. We didn’t know if the bus that stopped here would take us back to Sorrento. We couldn’t agree if we should try to find our original bus stop, or stay here. We finally decided to take our chances at this bus stop.
We got in line with a bunch of Boy Scouts from Naples and about a dozen other people. Wehad to wait about half an hour for the bus to arrive, when it did it there was only room for a couple of people.
It was chaos as we tried to board, everyone was pushing and shoving. The Boy Scouts were trying to stow their gear in the luggage compartment under the bus while several of them tried to talk the bus driver into letting them all on board. The Boy Scouts didn’t make it on and neither did we.
The next bus should have arrived in one hour but as luck would have it was half an hour late. Because we were still fighting we spent the next hour and a half talking to other people.
Karen was talking to a retired firefighter from Oregon and I talked to a young couple from Orlando. The couple I was talking to was really interesting. They appeared to be in their thirties and they had just completed a seventeen day Rick Steves tour of France and Italy. I didn’t think there were that many non retirement age people who were interested in touring Europe and had the finances to go for that period of time.
The bus arrived and it was chaos again. Even though we should have been in the front of the line the bus stopped mid line and the pushing ensued. We all made it, the Boy Scouts, Karen, me, the firefighter and the couple from Orlando.
It was lucky that we accidentally found this bus stop because the bus was full so they couldn’t pick up anyone so we drove past our original stop.
The firefighter, Karen and I talked the entire trip back to Sorrento. He was a widower who decided to learn Italian after his wife died. He belongs to a group that meets once a week to have breakfast and practice Italian. He listened to our dive stories. He was most interested in cave diving in Mexico.
The bus dropped us in Piazza Tasso near our hotel. It was dinner time, 7:30 pm. The firefighter was in Italy by himself and after we departed the bus Karen and I had an awkward moment where I waited for Karen to ask him to join us for dinner and she waited for me to ask. Unfortunately he was gone before either of us said anything. After he left we both did the “but I thought you were going to ask him to join us for dinner”.
It had been a long day of travel and we were tired so we walked across Piazza Tasso and ate at the first restaurant we found which happened to be Zintonio Ristorante.
I had posted a question about wearing shorts to dinner on Trip Advisor. Most of the replies said that you can wear shorts but it is frowned upon. I was tired so I decided to wear shorts to dinner and I’m not sure if my shorts had anything to do with it but they sat us in the basement even though they had plenty of room on the main floor.
Karen ordered mussels and I had seafood pasta; clams, mussels and pasta. They brought out a huge bowl of mussels for Karen.
We stopped at a shop on the way back from dinner and I bought Karen a necklace and earrings. Karen started a conversation with the salesperson about where to eat in town. The woman made several recommendations. One was Ristorante Pizzeria Tasso on the Piazza Tasso and the other was Ristorante Da Gigino which is a little restaurant near her shop. We never made it to the pizzeria but Da Gigino was so good we are there three times.
We had originally booked a trip to Capri for today but it was windy and there were high seas so is was canceled. We slept in a little later than usual and went down to breakfast. All of the people in the hotel must be early risers because we had the entire breakfast area to ourselves.
I am a cell phone geek and I have a couple of unlocked phones that I use on my trips to Mexico. Before I left the US I ordered Italian sim cards and had them shipped to my house. Unfortunately the sims did not work in Italy. I emailed tech support the first couple of day in Sorrento trying to resolve the issue but they were never able to fix the problem. I returned the sims and got a refund when I returned home.
I gave Karen my unlocked phones when she was in Italy the previous November but she was never able to buy sims for the phones. She and her friends had gone to the Tim stores but the person at the store did not understand they wanted to buy a sim card.
After breakfast we went looking for a Tim store. This is the Italian version of ATT.
My experience in Mexico was the people working in the cell store don’t deal with tourists so they don’t speak English. This was true for Italy also. I brought my unlocked iPhone to the store and I was able to get my point across that I wanted to buy a sim by pointing at the sim card slot.
It got a really good deal on the sim, it cost $20 euros for the card and 10 euros worth of texts and airtime plus unlimited internet. All I really wanted was the internet so I could find reviews of restaurants etc… so I didn’t really care about airtime or texts.
I was glad that I finally had a functioning smart phone. Karen thought it might be nice to go to Puolo Beach for the day. That was the beach that the tour guide on the bus tour pointed out as the nicest beach in Sorrento.
We had to buy city bus tickets to Puolo Beach. Luckily, from her previous trip, Karen knew that you buy bus tickets at the tobacchi shops. There must be more smoking in Italy than the US because there was a tobacco (tobacchi) store on just about every corner. They are worse than Starbucks in Manhattan.
The people who work in the tobacchi shops could never get a job dealing with tourists in Sorrento. Those people are friendly and patient. Buying a bus ticket or in my case, a lottery ticket, at a tocacchi shop is kind of like buying soup from the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld. You get in line, look straight ahead, only speak when spoken to, do not ask questions and above all do not forget your receipt. When we left the shop Karen had our bus ticket and I had lottery ticket.
The bus stop was directly across the street from the tobacchi shop. Motorscooter parking was also on the block and as you can see on the right, there were a lot of them. The bus arrived shortly after we got to the stop.
On the ride we discovered that the stops weren’t marked and as the bus approached Paolo Beach we realized that we did not know exactly where to get off. We ended up getting off the bus one stop early. Once we got off the bus we saw a sign pointing to Roman ruins so we took a ten minute hike down the steep hill to see them and hope that we could also get to Puolo Beach from the ruins.
The ruins weren’t anything spectacular. Mostly it was remnants of walls; a few rows of stones remaining. There was one ancient stone building directly on the ocean. Not much to see inside, bags of garbage and beer bottles strewn around and someone had spray painted the walls with graffiti. It kind of bothers me that someone would tag something possibly built two thousand years ago.
On the way back we noticed a rickety bridge with a sign that said American Bar. The bridge was going in the direction of Puolo beach so we followed it to the restaurant. The restaurant was closed and the trail ended there, we could see Puolo Beach but the rocks were impassable. We had to turn around and hike back up the hill.
We walked back up to the main road and continued for several hundred yards to the intersection for Puolo Beach. We followed the steep windy road down to the small village.
The town isn’t very big, maybe ten or fifteen buildings, some in nice shape, some could use some paint and a little repair. The weather was still a little cool so there were only two or three brave souls swimming. Workers were constructing a boardwalk and setting out chairs and umbrellas.
We had lunch at La Travernetta. We had seafood pasta again and it was the best meal we had while in Italy. You can tell it was low season, there were only six or eight people having lunch at the restaurant. After lunch we climbed on a rock outcrop and sat there enjoying the view. When we got our fill of the Mediterranean we hiked up to the bus stop and caught the bus back into town.
We decided to have dinner at Da Gigino . This was one of the restaurants that the saleswoman recommended the previous night. It is a small restaurant with outdoor seating on a very small street just off of Piazza Tasso. It was full, luckily we only had a few minute wait to get a table. The food was excellent, which explains the wait.
We booked a tour to Pompeii and Vesuvius for today so we had a quick breakfast and went to find the bus station.
We arrived just ahead of the tour bus. It was rush hour so once the bus departed the station it took about twenty minutes to make it to the outskirts of Sorrento.
It took about an hour to arrive at Pompeii which is on the outskirts of Naples.We had to get in line and buy tickets. Since it was still low season Pompeii was busy but not packed. The tour guide told us that in the summer there would be three times the amount of people and the temperature could be 100 F.
Our tour guide was an Italian woman who was very patient and spoke excellent English. She carried a blue flag with a picture of a dolphin on it which allowed us to spot her on the crowded streets of Pompeii.
In the picture above you can see the stone blocks in the street. Pompeii did not have any sewers so people would throw their buckets of sewage in the streets and wait for the rain to wash it away. To avoid stepping in literal shit when they crossed the street they placed stepping stones in the street. You'll notice there were gaps between the stepping stones, those were there to allow the wheels of the horse drawn carts to pass.
A very short history of Pompeii
The city was founded in the seventh century BCE by the Oscans. It had been ruled by many groups until it was buried in ash by Vesuvius in 79 AD. It remained covered with ash until the 1700s when it was discovered by a Spanish engineer. The thick layer of ash had preserved the town. They discovered empty pockets of air in the ash and decided to use plaster to fill them. The plaster statues that were created from the ash clearly depicted people curled up and trying to cover their faces to protect them from the eruption.
Unfortunately when the town was excavated most of the statues and pristine frescos were taken. What exists today is mostly streets and buildings, however a few frescos are left. My favorite is the “beware of dog” complete with a picture of a ferocious black dog located at the entrance of one of the houses.
About a quarter of the town has yet to be excavated. They are leaving it untouched for the archeologists in the far future. A lot of the artwork from the town is in a museum called the Naples National Archiological Museum.
Any conversation about Pompeii isn’t complete without mentioning the Secret Museum. When they started excavating Pompeii they found many artifacts, statues and frescos, which by today’s standards are considered pornographic. They took these artifacts and locked them in the Secret Museum in Naples where they can be viewed today.
According to our tour guide the penis was representative of good luck and power. Of course my wife rolled her eyes when she heard that. As pointed out by the tour guide, there are still pictures of penises carved into the sides of houses that either represent good luck or are pointing the way to the town brothel. I guess things haven't changed much in 2000 years.
We spent several hours roaming the street looking at the ruins. Many of the houses were large and from the artist’s rendering that were posted outside of the houses they were very impressive. Especially for being built that long ago.
We saw the temple of Jupiter which consisted of a partial building and some free standing columns. We went through the public baths. When they were functioning they used wood to heat water. The interesting feature was the serpentine grooves in the ceiling that directed the condensation down the walls so you would not get pelted with drops of condensation while sitting in the hot bath. It sounds simple but I think it is an amazing engineering feat for back then.
We also saw the amphitheater where the gladiators use to fight. It is still functional today and is used for concerts. One of the people in our tour group had seen Pink Floyd there.
We spent several hours wondering around Pompeii and we only saw a small section of the city. That’s how large it is.
We picked a good time of year to visit Pompeii, in the summer the temperatures can reach the 100’s and crowds are much larger than what we encountered.
Once we boarded the bus to go to Vesuvius we discovered we were missing two people. The tour guide went back to find them. It only took her about five minutes to round up the missing pair and bring them back to the bus. Of course everyone applauded as they boarded the bus.
It took about an hour to drive from Pompeii to Vesuvius. We stopped at a restaurant part way up the mountain for lunch. We shared a table with three couples from Ireland and had an interesting conversation about tipping.
In the US we tip for everything but in the UK and Italy tipping is very limited. The person sitting next to had ordered two drinks at a hotel bar in New York. He was shocked that the bill came to over $20 and he had to leave a tip on top of that.
After lunch the bus brought us to the upper parking lot at Vesuvius. It was still a twenty minute hike to the top of the mountain. The view was spectacular! We had a clear day so we could see the isles of Ischia and Capri and see all of the way across the bay to Sorrento.
I was a little disappointed when we got to the top, there was only one steam vent in the small crater and there were bushes growing in the crater. On the other hand if the volcano was more active we wouldn’t be able to be near it.
This is a view from the top of the volcano with Sorrento and Capri in the distance. apparently it is rare to have a view this clear.
There was a gift shop at the top where you could buy a post card with a special stamp to prove that you hiked to the top. After about twenty minutes we hiked back down and boarded the bus for the drive back to Sorrento.
We got up early and had another fabulous breakfast then walked three blocks to meet the shuttle to take us to Capri. Just a little advice, when in Italy Capri is pronounced "CAP ri" with the emphasis on the first syllable.
The directions to meet the shuttle were a little vague. We were supposed to go to the street corner in front of the hospital and wait but there were many buses and vans stopping in the vicinity to pick up tourists. Eventually a minivan stopped and the shuttle driver waived us over.
We drove about half an hour up the coast to a marina where we boarded a boat that took us to the isle of Capri. The boat was packed with tourists but the crew was extremely nice and very entertaining.
There was a group of about twelve teenagers on the boat. They did not look happy to be on the tour boat. As far as I was concerned we were on a boat heading for the Isle of Capri, so what was not to like. I guess in about twenty years they will appreciate the experience.
One of the kids used the head (bathroom) and did not follow the instructions about not putting toilet paper in the toilet and they plugged it up. One of the men working on the boat fixed the problem and loudly berated the student including eye rolling and a lot of arm waving. It was pretty funny.
Once we were on the leeward side of Capri the crew members asked us if we wanted to sit outside on the bow of the boat so we climbed onto the bow and enjoyed the view and weather. We shared the bow with a nice Israeli family. One of them was offered o take a picture of Karen and myself.
Our first stop was the Blue Grotto. The tour boat stopped and there was a small fleet of row boats waiting to take us to the grotto.
It cost $12 euro per person. We fit four people in our tiny row boat, five including the rower. The entrance is barely tall enough for the boat to fit through so we all ducked while our rower grabbed a chain at the entrance and pulled the boat through into the grotto.
The grotto is a domed cave so once we were in we could sit back up in the boat. It was dark except for the light filtering through the water at the entrance. It that caused the water in the grotto to fluoresce an amazing color of blue that I am sure only exists in that grotto. It was very beautiful, for added effect our boat captain sang Solo Mio. I could have lived without it but when in Italy…
The waves had picked up by the time we were ready to leave the grotto, several times the waves completely covered the entrance. Our captain timed our exit perfectly and we made it out of the cave without sinking the boat.
We were brought back to the tour boat. This was the only time in Italy we had someone request a tip so I tipped him 5 euro. The British couple that shared the boat with us weren’t happy that they were hit up for a tip so they stiffed the poor guy.
The boat motored around the island to Piccolo Marina. Piccolo translates into small, I did not know that. It seems odd that in Italian they have a musical instrument that is simply called “small”.
There is a very small bus at the marina that takes you up to the town. The bus was packed and there was a long line so we decided to hike up the hill rather than wait. It only took about ten minutes to walk to town.
I twisted Karen’s arm to look like a tourist, we sat at a table in front of a café and had cappuccino rather than ordering it at the bar and we paid dearly. The coffees were almost five euros each with service charge but it was worth the view.
While we were enjoying our coffee three older women took the table next to us. I recognized them from our meal at Di Gigino several nights before. We started a conversation and learned they were from Canada. They appeared to be retirement age and they said they had been touring Italy for several weeks.
I was curious to see if Canadians were as crazy about hockey as they are portrayed on TV. Once I brought up hockey they immediately started talking about the Canucks. They also knew more about the Minnesota Wild, my team, than I did. It was a little odd sitting at a café in Italy talking hockey with three retired women from Canada buy it was cool.
We weren’t sure what we wanted to see on Capri. I pulled out my iPhone and did some searches but nothing stood out. At breakfast a couple talked about Anacapri which is a town on one of the peaks of Capri.
We decided to go to Anacapri. We though we knew how to get there. We saw a sign for the funicular. It’s basically a trolley that goes up steep hills. Our tour guide at Vesuvius told us about the funicular that use to run up to the volcano and inspired the brain numbing song Funiculi Funicula that I heard as a child. We saw a sign for the funicular and assumed that it would take us UP to Anacapri.
We bought our tickets and boarded the tram. We were disappointed when the tram started descending rather than ascending. We ended up at Marina Grande. We explored for a while and met a woman from Stillwater Minnesota. Small world.
We took the bus back up the hill. At this point it was too late go to Anacapri so we explored the small town we were in. Most of the streets in the town were just paved walking paths, not very wide. It was funny how they adapted to the small streets. We saw several small electric trucks, barely wide enough to hold one person making deliveries of groceries and furniture.
We took one of the paths out of town. I found a restaurant that was called Buca Bacco. It was amusing to me because we have a chain in Minneapolis called Buca di Beppo.
We eventually followed the trail out of town and stumbled upon a restaurant. It was lunch time so we stopped to eat. We both had the pasta special. It was fresh fish and pasta. The waiter told us that his mama had cooked it. The fish was strong, it tasted a lot like tuna, other than that it was good.
The view from the restaurant was incredible. We were high above the brilliant blue Mediterranean with birds soaring overhead. With this view they probably could have fed us anything short of dog food and we would have liked it.
We noticed a sign directing people down the path to something called the Natural Arch. After lunch we hiked to the arch. It was actually several arches. There were huge spires jutting up from the island and at some point eons ago the Mediterranean Sea had carved holes at their base.
We walked back to the restaurant and noticed there was a fork in the path. We asked one of the waiters at the restaurant where the other trail went. He informed us it was another way back to town but it was a two hour hike. Normally we would have taken it but today it would have made us miss our boat.
We took the short path into town and took the bus back down to Marina Piccalo. We had a drink at La Siren while waiting for the boat. On the boat ride back we stopped at the Natural Arch and got to view it from sea level.
Our van was waiting for us once we arrived at the marina. He dropped us in Sorrento a few blocks from our hotel.
Karen had talked to one of the crew members on the tour boat to see what his favorite restaurant in Sorrento was. It’s common knowledge that you should eat where the locals eat and this is usually good advice.
It was just down the street from where the van had dropped us off. We went there for dinner. We both had seafood pasta (what else). This was our worst meal on vacation. The clams were gritty and didn’t seem to be fresh. I don't remember the name of the restaurant. I must have blocked it out.
We decided to brave the bus ride again and went to Amalfi and Revelo. We walked to the train station and bought tickets for the bus. We were third and fourth in line.
My wife and I travel well together except for one situation that we run into over and over. For some reason my wife will wait to go to the bathroom five minutes before the flight starts boarding. I will sit in the boarding area fuming because I might not get an overhead for my backpack or suite case. She has learned to tell me to board if she is not back in time. We are both happier that way.Per her usual MO Karen had to use the bathroom and as luck would have it the bus came while she was gone. I waited for her and the ticket seller came out and told me to board the bus, basically cut in line, when Karen came back. A British woman who had no idea that we were told to cut in line went ballistic. We tried to explain but she wanted nothing to do with our explanation. We obviously weren’t going to make her happy so just boarded the bus.
We were able to get two seats, thank goodness, I wouldn’t have wanted to stand all to way to Amalfi. I sat on the outside this time. Amalfi is twice as far as Positano and it was still a white knuckle ride.
The American lawyer and his wife that we had breakfast with earlier in the week raved about Ravello. He said he would live there if he could. Once we departed the bus in Amalfi we immediately took the bus up the twisting road to Ravello.
The bust dropped us at an entrance to a tunnel. Vehicles are not allowed in Ravello so we took the short walk through the tunnel.
Once we were through the tunnel we encountered Villa Rufolo. It’s a castle built in 1200 AD. The brochure said it had a room for every day of the year but we only found about twenty rooms. The gardens were beautiful and the views were amazing.
After exploring Villa Rufolo we walked around Ravello. I was a little disappointed, the town was beautiful but I expected it to be larger. It only went for about two or three blocks in each direction. We explored for a while. Karen bought a Merano glass necklace for he friend at work. We decided to go back to Amalfi for lunch so we caught the bus back down the mountain. The bus driver was driving the bus like a Ferrari through the s-curves.
I liked Amalfi better than Ravello and Positano. It had a beautiful Duamo (church) at its center. We spent most of our time exploring central Amalfi. Not sure the name of the place where we had lunch but it was a nice little restaurant. There was a musician that played while we were eating. He was exactly what you would expect for a little town in Italy, long gray hair, beat up jeans and guitar. We bought his CD so we could support the local talent.
After lunch we stopped at a local gelato shop. None of the gelato so far matched the quality of the gelato that Karen had when she was in Florence last November. I’m not a gelato connoisseur but even I could tell the difference between this gelato and what we had to this point.
It was an hour and a half bus ride back to Sorrento. This was our last night in Sorrento, normally we’d try some place new for dinner but we opted to return to Di Gigino. It was a little cool so we sat inside, dinner was still good.
We had stopped for cafe decafinato several times at Bar Daniel and we stopped again for a coffee. We also stopped at gelato shop on the way back to the room. It must have been a popular place, it had autograph pictures of Italian movie stars all over the shop. The gelato didn’t match what e had in Amalfi.
I made two mistakes on our last day in Sorrento. The first was we could have spent more time in Sorrento but I thought it would be fun to explore Naples. The second was we had three options to get back to Naples. We could have hired a car again for 90 euros, we could have taken the train or we could take the ferry. The car was a little expensive, we were told the train could be undependable so we took the ferry. I thought it would be nice to enjoy some time on the water but we got more than we bargained for.
We savored our last breakfast at Jannuzzi Relias and we were a little sad to check out. The cab stand is next to the hotel and the quickest route to get there is through the gift shop. I held my breath as we wheeled our luggage past the expensive trinkets in the gift shop. We made it without breaking anything.
We took a cab to the marina. When we bought the ferry tickets we specifically said we wanted to go to Naples. The ticket agent gave us two tickets and told us the ferry was boarding now and we had to hurry to grab it. We grabbed our luggage and ran to catch the ferry.
Once the ferry departed Karen was the first to figure out that we weren’t going to Naples. She heard people on the boat talking about Capri. About the same time I noticed that the boat was heading in the wrong direction.
Once we landed in Capri we departed the ferry with our luggage in tow. We asked where we could buy tickets for the Naples ferry. The instruction weren’t very direct so we had to drag our suitcases around the marina until we found the Naples ferry. We bought tickets and ran to catch the ferry. We were the last people to board. Once on board we double checked to be sure the ferry was going to Naples and it was.
For what we paid for two tickets to Capri and two tickets to Naples we could have hired a private car but it was still nice to be on the water so I wasn’t too upset.
Once we arrived in Naples (or Napoli in Italian) we hailed a taxi. Our taxi driver spoke English and gave us a tour of the city on the way to our hotel.
I booked the hotel through Venere.com. I got a great price, it was such a good price that I was a little leery that the hotel might be a dump. The room was on the small side but very nice. Once we unpacked we returned to the front desk to get recommendations for lunch.
The hotel is located in the historic district of Naples. The concierge took out a map marked the location of several restaurants then offered to call us a cab. I was a little surprised when my wife said that we would walk. It’s normal for us to walk to a restaurant if it’s close but the restaurants he pointed out appeared to be half an hour walk.
Naples it is known as the dirtiest city in Europe and it is supposedly run by the mafia. Our taxi ride from the marina took us through parts of Naples that did not look particularly inviting.
We walked for about forty minutes trying unsuccessfully to find any of the restaurants the concierge had recommended. Along the way we saw garbage stacked on street corners and graffiti on many of the buildings. It was kind of odd that there was a cluster of wedding shops in the seediest part of town.
We arrived at a restaurant with a similar name to the one recommended by the concierge. I’m sure it wasn’t the restaurant the concierge recommended. No one there spoke English but we were able to order and pay without a problem.
We had pizza, salad and beer. I had a prosciutto pizza, the prosciutto looked a little suspicious but I survived. We stopped for a cappuccino and then walked back to the hotel.
For dinner the concierge recommended a restaurant that was about six blocks away. I had my trusty iPhone with maps so I was sure we could find the restaurant so we walked. Along the way we crossed an intersection that was stacked eight feet high with broken down cardboard boxes and garbage.
We found the restaurant and it looked okay. We sat outside under an umbrella. There were small flies hovering around us but they were not interested in us or our food. I would guess that all the garbage in the streets is a breeding ground for the flies.
During dinner I noticed a guy standing in the middle of the street waiving cars through and occasionally a car would stop and they would talk. The “fella” also made his rounds to talk to the local shop owners. As we were leaving a car with two guys in suits stopped and talked to him. Maybe I’m paranoid but the guy sure looked like he was mafia.
We had an early flight out so we crashed when we got back to the room.
The cab picked us up at 5:30 am. There was very little traffic at that time of the morning so it was a quick cab ride to the airport. We checked in and quickly made it through security. We stopped at a coffee shop once we cleared security to get coffee and a croissant. The coffee was excellent and the croissant was the best that we had in Italy.
We waited at our gate until it was time to board the plane. We had to pack into a small bus for the short ride from the terminal to the plane. It was a quick flight to Rome. We had less than an hour once we landed to exit the plane, take the shuttle bus to the terminal and find our departure gate.
The shuttle bus ride to the terminal was exasperating because we had to wait for everyone to deplane and board the bus before we left and it took forever. Luckily our gate for our next flight was in the same terminal so it was a short walk.
Every time we had to board a bus or get on or off a plane in Italy it was the same story; chaos. We had people push and cut in line and no one was polite. When we were departing the flight in Rome there was a family of five that should have exited after we did but the mother and her daughter pushed past us as we were stepping into the aisle. She left her husband and two other children behind her.
The Amsterdam airport is nice but it is big. We had to clear security, luckily the line wasn’t long. We should have had plenty of time to get something to eat before boarding but they do things differently there. You have to go through security again at the gate and you are held in a glassed in area before you board the plane.
We should have had time to have a meal in a restaurant but because we had to clear security at the gate we grabbed a quick sandwich and cleared security again. The flight home was much better than the flight over; we had daylight the entire way and we hadn’t been up for nine hours before we boarded. We passed the time reading and watching movies. I watched Cloud Atlas. I liked the idea of people being connected through time but I’m not sure I believe it works that way.
Both my wife and I have our GOES cards but my wife had yet to use hers. Once we deplaned we found the kiosk entered our information then cleared immigration in minutes. Unfortunately our bags were lost again so we were the last ones at the carousel watching the bags go round and round. We cleared customs without bags. Once we arrived in Minneapolis we filed a claim with Delta.
It only took two days to adjust to the time change. Karen got her luggage two days later but mine never showed up. I had to file a claim through the Delta website, I had to enter everything that was in my suitcase into the website one item at a time.
A month later I had a Citi Bank card mailed to me for $1460 . It was exasperating but I was happy with the amount I got from Delta. Unfortunately the most of our souvenirs were in my bag.
Italy is beautiful, I'm glad my wife chose it for her birthday celebration. Towns like Amalfi, Positano and Ravello are amazing and worth the gut wrenching bus trip to see them.
Sorrento is the perfect place to visit if you don’t speak Italian. Everyone that works for a tour company, restaurant or hotel speaks English. There is much to see in the area including Vesuvius and Pompeii. If we had more time we would have seen the Herculeum, the ruins have been preserved much better than Pompeii.
I wish we had more time to spend on Capri, we never got to see Annacapri or hike the long path back the Natural Arches. Next time we would take the ferry over rather than a tour boat.
The Palazzo Jannuzzi Relais is expensive by our standards but it was worth it (an investment banker who is also on the Canadian Olympic committee was staying there, yup it's expensive). The breakfast every morning was great. The rooms were large and the maids kept them spotless. The location is perfect, it’s located in the heart of Sorrento.
You have to drive the Amalfi coast at least once in your life. Whether you are driving or riding in a bus it is an ulcer inducing white knuckle drive but the views is worth the terror experienced on the drive.
The jet lag wasn’t as bad as I expected. I helped to take a melatonin before bed. We hit the wall everyday about two in the afternoon but we had a couple of shots of espresso and kept moving and we would get our second wind.
The one thing I might change would be to go later in the summer so we could take advantage of the beaches but now that I think of it, the crowds would have been horrendous so May isn't that bad.