Jan. 25, 2016: Sorrento and Naples
As it turns out, this is a day to be played by ear. We’d originally entertained thoughts of visiting Herculaneum, another ancient city destroyed by Vesuvius. But for various reasons, we decide against it, and so it leaves us with a free day. My recommendation is that we hop on a train down to the seaside town of Sorrento.
There are a couple of (meaning three) reasons for this. First, it has a reputation as a popular resort town. Second, the area figures in Homer’s Odyssey, which is my nomination for the greatest story ever told. According to legend, it was near the coast of modern Sorrento that Odysseus heard the mermaids (actually sirens) singing. If it can happen to him and Prufrock, maybe it can happen to me too.
Third, Sorrento is the topic of an old Italian song, Torna a Sorrento (Return to Sorrento). There was once a great duet of this song performed by Pavarotti and Meatloaf. No, really. The lyrics seem to make reference to the Odyssey connection.
Look, the sea in Sorrento,
What treasures it keeps on the bottom.
Who traveled all over the world
Didn’t see something like here!
Look around, these sirens,
Bewitched they are looking at you
And love you so much:
They would like to kiss you!
So we’re sold. Trouble is, without access to the Internet, we can’t do anything in the way of last-minute research, including which train to catch or when. Making our way to the train station, we inquire at the window, and the agent informs us that the train to Sorrento departs downstairs from platform two, and adds a rather emphatic “Now”. So we scamper down the stairs just in time.
It’s a slightly crowded train, and it seems even more crowded because of one particular passenger, a woman whose stench fills the car all by itself. There’s also another child beggar, this time a girl.
Sorrento turns out to be different from what I’d envisioned. Yes, there are great views of the ocean. But it’s because the town is set on cliffs, making it rather difficult to access any beaches, which seem to be scarce anyway, without a helicopter or phenomenal diving skills. We can almost hear the mermaids and catch sight of the sails of Odysseus rounding the corner.
It’s a fine backdrop, or frontdrop, for breakfast.
But, as we learn when we finally are able to get online, Sorrento’s status as a destination has lost its luster over the years. Nowadays, it’s mostly a point of departure to get somewhere else — there are all kinds of bus tours taking you to places of interest not far away, and we’d take one of them if we were spending more time here.
Other than that, there really isn’t much “there” here. Expected to see arts and crafts and food vendors and a lot of local color. But there are not that many businesses open at all. One, however, does at least have an interesting name.
We also find a very intriguing coffee shop called Puro, with an assortment of gelato that’s very hard to resist.
And what we absolutely can’t resist is the set of swings. Yes, inside the cafe.
I also have to have a cup of decaf, and I’m happy to report that Italy is still batting a thousand in that department. The coffee is served with what appears to be a coffee bean on the side. It’s actually an exquisite morsel of chocolate. Good thing I devour it before Kimberly’s cocoa radar goes off.
Later, taking a random walk through the streets and alleys, we do stumble upon a bit of a historic walking tour, with some very old buildings and some markers denoting where even older structures stood.
But after a few hours, we decide that we’ve pretty much seen Sorrento, so we jump back on the train and head north to Naples.
Naples also is largely a jumping-off point these days, but it has a fine harbor where cruise ships dock.
And yes, that’s a castle just offshore.
It’s called the Castel dell’Ovo (Castle of the Egg) because of a legend that it contains a magic egg that controls the fate of the entire city. If it’s been there since the castle was built 9 centuries ago, it might be a very potent egg indeed. Incidentally, legend has it that the little islet it sits on was inhabited once by… a mermaid. Don’t know if she was a singer, but I doubt if she laid the egg.
There’s also another castle that we get a much closer look at, the Castel Nuovo.
Begun in 1279 as a residence for King Charles I, it has been enlarged and remodeled over the centuries (the triumphal arch joining the two towers was added in the Fifteenth Century.) It now serves as the home of a municipal museum.
As our late lunchtime approaches, we decide that the royal grounds would be ideal for a royal feast, with the royal castle in front of us. But we have to cut it short when the royal groundskeeper gets a bit too close with his royal mower and starts flinging royal debris in our direction.
And we also decide to continue a tradition started yesterday in Pompeii, and video ourselves performing an excerpt from our current show, with the castle as a background. But we have to cut that short too when the knights in armor decide they don’t care for the concept of public performance art.
There are other historic places of interest in Naples, but with limited hours we stick to a leisurely stroll. There are many gambling parlors, more than we’ve seen in any other city. We stop at the Piazza del Plebiscito, which features two equestrian statues about 25 yards apart. I’d read that there is a tradition for people to attempt to walk with eyes closed from one statue to the other. It’s supposed to be very challenging because of the slope of the pavement or something. I guess people came up with this before they had video games.
Anyway, we both attempt it and ace the challenge. Okay, okay. If we’re going to be competitive, Kimberly was a little faster.
Then we stop in a shop to pick up some things for dinner. Had we been living entirely on cheese, we really would have been in luck. Actually, it’s a decent market all-around, the best of its kind we’ve seen yet.
When we get back to the apartment, we discover that the wi-fi still is not fixed, even though it’s now officially Monday. No Internet for our entire 3 excruciatingly long days in Torre del Greco.
The policeman is at home, and when he sees us having difficulty closing the front door, he tries it himself, but to no avail. Then he says something that isn’t hard to get the gist of, even with our limited Italian: “Don’t worry, it’s safe; everyone knows I’m a cop.”
Yet we have to wonder if the word really gets out to every single would-be burglar in town; and we’re not so sure we care about being a witness to one who doesn’t getting shot down in the middle of the night. We’re just glad that at least our bedroom door has a lock on it.