July 2006. We arrived in Naples after a staggering 30+ hours travel from Auckland. Thought beforehand we’d peruse Napoli – maybe grab some genuine Neapolitan pizza. Or ice cream. Truth was that we were so shattered from travelling that the, um, rustic qualities of Naples were lost on us. So instead of browsing the city – my husband handed our suitcases over to the first hustler who approached us. We then chased after him, running toward the train station – at such a pace I thought perhaps he was trying to steal them.
Fortunately, the train station was just five minutes from the bus depot. Panting, we caught up with him at the ticket booth. We paid for our tickets and he scurried off with our bags as we tagged along, taxing our plane cramped legs. Once we reached the platform he dropped the bags and extended his hand. Considering it was ten minutes work, I thought a 5 Euro note was quite generous. Oh, no no! He demanded 20. Twenty Euros??? I’ve got to work over an hour to earn that much! No way. He had a Rumplestiltskin air as he stomped and demanded more. I sighed – this performance alone was worth 10. I pressed another fiver into his palm and he wandered off cursing me to the heavens. I wouldn’t learn about gypsies until later in the trip.
It was a good couple of hours to Sorrento, past dingy, poor suburbs, of the sort that trains run through anywhere. It wasn’t until we were well past Pompeii that the scenery opened up and we passed quaint holiday homes and wineries. It was all a blur – more than jetlag, we were 12 hours upside down on the clock. Three in the afternoon and we should have been slumbering.
The Sorrento train station sits atop the town, overlooking its magnificent harbour. I had booked a room at the Hotel Nice on the strength of on-line reviews that it was clean, safe and a five minute walk from the train station. It was all of these things. We clambered up the steep narrow steps to our room on the second floor. The room was tiny – with one window. It overlooked the town square, where we could see workmen putting up a stage area along with a giant screen.
Though we were tired, we couldn’t resist the perfect day and wandered to a nearby outdoor cafe where we had a light supper of tomato and mozzarella salad and the local version of pizza. I had never tasted anything so divinely fresh and simple and exactly what we needed. We sat for an hour or so, sipping local beer, studying the swallows swooping overhead and relished the perfect peace of Sorrento.
A brutal awakening to the sound of dozens of motor scooters revving at 6 am – directly below our window. Somehow we had failed to notice a scooter rental shop in the hotel lobby. It was too early for breakfast, so we opted for a walk.
A few short blocks away we came upon luxury resorts and apartments and designer shops – all still quiet in the first light of morning. The air was slightly crisp, so we could walk at a good pace, greeting the folks out dog-walking with a fulsome ‘bongiorno.’ A perfect time to window shop, ogling things I wouldn’t have bought even if I could afford them.
After breakfast we watched the workmen put the finishing touches on the stage area and wondered what would be going on.
We wandered off to Capri for the day. Another of those places I would never return to in high season – too hot, too crowded, too cranky and too expensive. I look forward to giving it a go in February some year. I’m sure its beauty will shine when it is less overrun.
Back in Sorrento we enjoyed a lovely dinner (I had seabass encased in rock salt – to die for!) and walked around the town, looking for a gelato shop. We were confused – no matter where we went, everyone was watching TV.
By the time we got back to the hotel, the town square was buzzing with partiers – Italy was in the semi-finals of the Soccer Cup. Oh crikey!
I can sleep through anything – but this jubilation proved a challenge – canned horns, motorcycles revving, people shrieking, singing, dancing, hooting. The town was a blaze of ecstasy as Italy finessed their way into the finals.
I arose early, bought some coffee and pastry from a bakery and sat out in the square – amongst the cheerful detritus of the celebrations – confetti, papers, spent aerosol horns, food containers, beer bottles – just me and the swallows swooping. I walked down to the harbour, grinning away.
It was our last day. There was a train to catch – Rome was waiting.
But I wanted to stay. Just one more day. I don’t know why, what it was about Sorrento, but it made me feel safe. Calm. Enchanted.
I know that I will – come back to Sorrento.