28 Oct Europe 2016 – Sorrento, Italy
Day 19, 4 October 2016
The last day of our shared vacation required checking out of our Airbnb apartment and walking back to the Rome train station. From there, we walked two short blocks and check Yuki’s parents into a hotel that they would be staying in for one night before flying back to Bangkok. Meanwhile, we would travel to Naples and Sorrento for a couple’s vacation.
The hotel was garbage and had terrible service. Since it was the morning and the room wasn’t ready, we went to the train station for coffee and then tried to kill some time, not wanting to leave them on their own but also not wanting to stay in Rome any longer. Eventually we bought our tickets for Naples and that set our departure time.
The train was a regional train so seating was not reserved. As soon as the platform number came up for the train there was a mad rush of people to the train. We weren’t far behind but by the time we got to the platform everyone was already onboard and claiming seats. We had to walk to the end of the train to find some seats. To our surprise, the train kept filling up and when it left, it was standing room only. Yes, there were people standing in the aisle.
Both of us needed to use the washroom but didn’t dare get up for fear of loosing our seats and not knowing how we would get by all the people in the aisle anyways. We talked about our family history while we waited for the train to empty, which it did around the midway point.
In Naples we transferred to a private regional train system that is known for having a lot of pickpockets. Much like the graffiti everywhere, it is unfortunate that pickpockets frequent trains, train stations, and tourist sites in Italy. It sucks because these places have so many armed security and military personnel on the lookout for terrorists wandering around but it’s as if the country has accepted pickpockets as a fact of life rather than something to eliminate.
We didn’t run into any pickpockets here but a woman approached us looking for company and we spent the train ride making small talk. She reminded me that travel is such a self indulgence. Whenever we meet people traveling all they want to talk about is their trip and where they’ve been. In the odd situation when they ask about your travels, it’s to gain knowledge on places they’re going. Thus, Yuki and I have trouble talking with other travelers because we’re not good at talking about ourselves. I suppose it’s different when you’re traveling solo but as a couple, we find talking to others a case of self-indulgence.
We helped the woman find her way to her hotel in Sorrento and then walked to our own. We were surprised to find a modern hotel that was by far the best place we’ve ever stayed. The hotel is called Sorrento Apartments and the owner welcomed us at the desk and gave us a rundown of the town on a map. He did everything great, showing us how to access the hotel after hours, the wifi password, and then showing us up to a modern room that was clean and fresh with an air-con, shower, and kitchenette. The room was good and like the rest of the hotel, had a modern interior design for the modern age including a bench to put our suitcase and usb plugs built into the light switches beside the bed to charge phones. Yuki made a great choice in picking this hotel and this moment walking in to the hotel made me feel like I was finally on a relaxing vacation and the vacation I wanted.
We had dinner at the hotel’s restaurant because we got 15% off and found that all of the staff have the same high level of service and friendliness as the owner. Though other places around Sorrento seemed very friendly in a way that’s not found in the big cities, this hotel’s staff seemed the best. This was a stark difference to Rome and we dined on good seafood. Content and finally on a stress-free vacation, we found many reasons to be happy and enjoying ourselves.
After dinner we took a short walk around the neighborhood and gained some information on going to Capris Island the next day.
Day 20, 5 October 2016
Based on the information we gathered the night before, we decided to go to Capris ourselves instead of booking a tour. The tours ranged from 85 Euros through the hotel to 65 from the tour operators. They also had 50 euro tours but those were sold out and were on boats of 70 people.
We got up early and intended on hitting the supermarket for breakfast but it was closed so we went to a coffee bar. We miss understood the woman buying croissants, thinking ninety was nineteen but eventually got 4. In the time that it took to get the croissants the streets came alive with tour groups so we raced down to the dock to buy tickets. We were able to purchase tickets and walk onto the hydrofoil moments before it left.
When we arrived on Capris Island, we were set upon by a woman selling a boat tour. It didn’t go around the island or to the most famous blue grotto because the winds were making the ocean choppy but the price was good at 15 Euro so we went with it.
The boat tour turned out to be a nice trip around the island with short stops at all the majour landmarks for photos. The grottos, which are described as sea caves, are actually too small to get a boat in so they just reverse into the entrance for everyone to take photos. The tour lasted about an hour and I was struct by the beauty of the island’s rock formations. It is clearly sedimentary rock that has been shaped and transformed by tectonic action and then eroded by the elements. For us the tour seemed less about seeing each of these stopping points and more about just being out on the water.
After the boat tour we followed our plan to take the bus to Anacapris so that we could go to the top of the island. Unfortunately the buses are small and the line was long. The buses leave every 15 minutes and we had waited an hour before a large group of german students ahead of us decided to leave the lineup. Just then a bus arrived and we squeezed on to sit up front on the centre console beside the driver. He was a friendly guy who seemed to really enjoy his job.
Riding in the front we saw how narrow the streets were and how the bus had to weave it’s way between people and cars. At one point an oncoming bus had to reverse to let us get by.
Anacapris has a chair lift that goes to the highest point on the island, Mt. Solaro. Each chair is a single seat and the ride goes over people’s backyards. The view gets better as you gain elevation to the top where there are views in every direction.
Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to go hiking. There were a few small hiking trails that would have been nice to take but we were concerned about getting back by 3:15 for our scheduled ferry so we only stayed at the top long enough to take a few photos.
After taking the chair back down the mountain, we took a short walk to the Villa S. Michele. We didn’t go into the museum but around the edge is a beautiful walk with picturesque views of the Marina Grande two where the ferries come in. There’s a staircase that leads down to the streets around the Marina Grande but we weren’t sure at the time exactly where it went so we decided not to take it.
Instead, we backtracked our way to the bus stop and then went to the previous bus stop so that we could get on without having to wait in the line. This worked well and we saved ourselves a wait but the bus didn’t go all the way back to the harbour so we had to walk from Capris town.
We’d barely had breakfast and skipped lunch so we were pretty hungry by the time we got back to Sorrento so we had a late 4pm lunch at the hotel with happy hour cocktails. This included dessert of Tiramisu which was the best we had in Italy. Then we got instant noodles for tomorrow’s breakfast at the supermarket and some other snacks and went back to the hotel to nap. We napped and couldn’t get up which messed up our sleeping and eating schedules. We forced ourselves to go for a walk around 10 but it didn’t last long and then we slept some more.
Day 21, 6 October 2016
For all that we napped the night before, we stayed up till midnight and so didn’t get up till around 10 the next morning. It was a slow morning but that was probably what we needed and what makes a vacation relaxing. When we got out, we walked to the train and took it to Ercolano, a wealthy roman village that was buried in the same eruption that destroyed Pompeii. Ercolano was actually discovered before Pompeii but was buried under 20m of ash so when Pompeii was found to be only buried under 4m of ash, excavation stopped at Ercolano and only resumed a short time ago.
Ercolano is also better preserved because it was buried by pyroclastic surges from the side of the volcano where as Pompeii was directly in the path of the eruption. It is anticipated that 75% of Ercolano is still buried below the existing city.
We chose to visit Ercolano because we’d heard that it was better preserved than Pompeii and not nearly as busy because tour groups can’t get buses here. Overhearing some of the private guides people had hired, I thought that we missed out on a lot of the history and learning because we didn’t have a map or any guide to tell us about the place but it was nice to wander through the old homes and business at our own pace and sort of explore like children.
It is really cool to see that the brick walls were covered in about 45-55mm of concrete cement and then painted, and that the paint still remains. Some of the wood beams that supported roofs were also preserved because the heat vapourized the water and carbonized the wood. In most parts of the ruins it can be difficult to distinguish the originals from the rehabilitation and so we weren’t always sure exactly what was new and what was old.
Perhaps the creepiest part was the lower boat houses filled with skeletons. Supposedly these were some of the last people waiting for boats to evacuate them from the village when the volcano surged and they died instantly from the 500 degree heat. Apparently, anyone within 10km of the volcano would have died instantly from the heat before ash inhalation.
The train to Eracaleno took about 1 hour each way and like the day before, we had a 4 o’clock lunch. This time we had a Teramizu – one each. The day before had also messed up our hours so we went to snooze in the room and again lazed around but without the late night stroll.
Day 22, 7 October 2016
Our vacation ended with a sizzle. It rained in the morning and we took a short walk down to the old Sorrento harbour but the rain got worse so we came back to the hotel for breakfast and then took the train to Naples, a staging point for our flight back home. The train ride was long because it was filled with loud kids out of school, like the day we went to Eracaleno but we made it to Naples eventually.
Naples seems a lot like Rome: it is dirty, and filled with questionable characters and large crowds. Much like the hotel we got for Yuki’s parents the day before they left, our hotel for the night was old and run down. The service wasn’t the greatest and we didn’t have any inclination to be in the room or to go outside either so we were stuck in a place we didn’t really want to be. Eventually hunger forced us to go outside and we went down the street to a pizzeria.
Pizza in Italy is different from North America. For one, it is individual sized, even though it is larger than a plate, but it is covered in fewer toppings and is thin enough to make eating it by hand difficult so most people use a fork and knife. The pizza place we found was kind, though the woman that took our order seemed illiterate. The pizza oven was in the corner so we were able to watch as they put the pizza in and the turned it around to cook evenly. It was done in no more than 10 minutes.
I wouldn’t say that pizza is better in Italy. It tastes better because the sauce and crust seem to be handmade but we prefer the carnivore toppings found in America.
The rest of the evening we spent holed up in the hotel room waiting for bedtime. We only went out to get a bottle of drinking water after I’d drank from the tap and Yuki looked up whether that was a good idea or not. Google was inconclusive on E Coli and if it is safe to drink tap water or not in Naples.
Day 23, 8 October 2016
We got up at 4:40 and got the hotel to drive us to the airport for our budget airline flight back to Paris. We both slept most of the flight there. We had 4 hours in Paris but the time went quickly because we made a mistake finding our airline. Our flight was 13:10 to Toronto so we followed the departure boards but that took us to Air France. Surprisingly, there is an Air France and an Air Transat flight to the same destination, leaving at the same time from the same airport but only shown on the TVs of the terminals they leave from, one from terminal 2 and one from terminal 3. We had to go to the other terminal where we checked in and couldn’t get seats together. That made me grumpy because the night before and before we left Vancouver I’d tried checking in online but couldn’t get the system to work for me.
Knowing the food on the flight would be bad, we got some last macaroons and really expensive sandwiches at the boarding gate. The flight back was okay because we stayed up the whole time watching movies. This was part of our plan to beat the jetlag on arrival.
Just like in Paris, when we landed in Toronto we had to collect our bags and go through security again. Additionally, we went through customs but with a 4 hour gap we had lots of time to sit around and wait. On the last flight one of the flight attendants asked if we would mind sitting separately so that a family could sit together but I said no and other people moved to accommodate this family of 5. I’m a believer that Air Transat has a terrible booking and seat allocation system that separates travelers. I tried to stay up for the 5 hour flight back to Vancouver but had to nap a few times in between watching TV and movies on the ipad because this local flight didn’t have TV screens in the seats.
After some 30 hours in transit, we were happy to get home after waiting a long time for baggage and the skytrains, further reinforcing our opinion that transit sucks in Vancouver. But we were happy to be sleeping in our own bed and have two days to get back into the swing of things before work started again. The only left was our yearning to travel more and not have to work.We’re happy that the vacation felt much longer than the three weeks that it was because it gave us a good break and felt like a trip. We’re already scheming up a new adventure, which we hope to start next year.