Our little weekend trip to Italy started very early on Saturday morning by being robbed at breakfast. £16.00 for 2 bacon rolls and 2 cups of tea. £16.00! On no level is that an acceptable sum of money for 2 bacon rolls and 2 cups of tea. Mum’s still reeling from the trauma of having to travel with hand luggage only so the shock of the cost of breakfast almost makes her feint. I promise to take her to Boots to stock up on mini toiletries to calm her down.
We’re on the last flight of the season from Leeds Bradford Airport to Naples and the flight is almost empty; there’s just 40 passengers on board. With so few people and bags on the flight, it’s a pretty bumpy ride. The aircraft bounces across Europe and over the Alps. The views are amazing, not that my pictures really do them justice.
I don’t know what it is about getting on an aircraft with my mother, but it nearly always results in a near death experience. Just as we’re coming in to land at Naples, a gust of wind swipes viciously from the left and the plane lurches to the right, banking sharply. Everyone in the cabin take a sharp intake of breath and grabs the arms of their seat. A crazy Italian woman throws off her seat belt and jumps out of her seat before being screamed at by the man behind her to “sit back down!”. The authority in his voice makes her instantly follow is order.
A little shaken but unharmed, we’re quickly through security and boarding a bus to Sorrento. Fortunately, a strong tailwind during the flight meant that we’d landed almost 30 minutes early and by travelling with hand luggage only we could bypass the luggage carousal to catch an earlier bus for the long, 2 hour journey.
Taxis from Naples to Sorrento are very expensive, around €90.00 each way. Usually I’d much prefer a taxi, but there’s no way I’m paying that kind of money. The bus is €10.00 per person and they run to a fairly regular timetable. The bus makes stops on route to Sorrento, but the journey goes pretty quickly, dropping us off at Sorrento Train Station.
Our apartment for the weekend is a short walk from the station so off we trot, armed with directions printed from Google. Can I hell find it though. We walk past it twice before realising that it’s hidden down a little side street. The place is basic, clean but stinks of smoke. The view from the little balcony is stunning. We drop our bags and set off to explore Sorrento.
Whilst pretty from a distance, I’m not overly impressed. A lot of the buildings look very rundown with paint peeling and bits of plaster falling off everywhere. Residents don’t seem to take much care in the appearance of their homes and businesses and the streets are strewn with dog poo. I understand that a lot of these buildings are very old, but people should be taking better care of them. This is my first trip to Italy, but apparently this is typical.
After buying lunch from a bakery and walking down to the port, we walk back up to Piazza Tasso and stop for a cocktail and some people watching. I’m quickly reminded of how much I appreciate the smoking ban in the UK and other countries as it becomes clear that we’ll have to sit inside if we’re to enjoy our food and drinks. Does everyone in Italy smoke??
One thing that me and mum were looking forward to was having some authentic Italian food. Our first evening meal is a real disappointment but admittedly we’d eaten in a tourist trap right on Piazza Tasso. On night 2, we stick to Piazza Tasso but go back to the place where’d had the cocktails as the food there looked really good, which it was and we both enjoyed it. The Grandma Cake dessert was particularly delicious. As was the Aperol Spitz! For night 3, we moved away from Piazza Tasso and found a busy little restaurant down one of the side streets. Mum’s main was a disaster of pathetic looking veal chops in a tasteless dishwater sauce. She didn’t eat it. My seafood risotto was tasty, but it wasn’t so great on its way back out between midnight and 4am. If you know what I mean!
The sole purpose of this trip to Sorrento was to visit Pompeii. Mum had always wanted to see the ruins preserved by the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in 79AD after learning about them as a school girl.
Many of the package excursions from Sorrento only give a few hours at the famous site so we made our own itinerary for the day. We bought train and guided tour tickets from the excursion office at Sorrento Station. There’s regular and direct trains from Sorrento to Pompeii with Pompeii’s station being right outside the gates to the site. It’s really handy and a very easy journey. The times of the guided tours seemed to coincide with the arrival of trains from Sorrento and Naples so as soon as we walked out of the station, we were grouped together with about 12 other tourists and the tour started straight away. Pretty efficient for Italy, I thought!
The 2 hour walking tour of the ancient site was fascinating. Our guide explained in wonderful detail what the buildings would have looked like before the eruption, what buildings were used for and she gave us a great insight in to life of Pompeiians which appeared somewhat hedonistic.
Considering that this city was founded in the 6th-7th century BC, the level of ingenuity and innovation in how they built it is staggering. The city is clearly laid out in blocks with roads and pavements. Early day zebra crossings allow people to cross the street without walking through the raw sewage that would have streamed down the road. Shops are easily identifiable with their wide front openings and pots where they would have served food from. Seeing a pizza oven from the 6th century is pretty impressive.
Some of the buildings are really well preserved and you’re almost transported back in time. It’s a real pleasure to experience but the thought of death is never far away and its impossible not to think about the thousands of people and animals that lost their lives, some of them preserved and frozen in time. The tour finished in a huge forum which would have been the centre of life in the city, but with Mount Vesuvius looming over you, its easy to imagine it all being covered again one day.
The Pompeii site is huge and you’d need days to cover it all. Because of the time of year, the place wasn’t overly busy and me and mum had some streets to ourselves. Our 2 hour guide covered just a small area and we walked for a good few hours after that but there’s still a lot that we missed, like the great amphitheatre. I’d really recommend taking an umbrella, at every time of year, as there’s little shade or shelter against the elements.
We had another day of exploring ahead of us and I know how much mum enjoys a boat trip so I suggest a visit to the island of Capri. I’d heard that it was absolutely stunning but was again underwhelmed by what we found. Much like Sorrento, it looks lovely from a distance but unkempt and dishevelled close-up. The harbour area reminded me of a rundown British seaside town, suffering from years of under investment.
We took the funicular up to the main square which is well maintained, with its designer shops and expensive restaurants. We set off to explore the island, trying our best to avoid the dog poo and walked along to the Belvedere of Tragara to enjoy the views, which are probably better on a sunny day.
We really did walk the wrong way around the island! After taking in the views from Belvedere of Tragara, we continued our walk to the Arc Natural which involved climbing several hundred very steep steps. On a hot day or without water, the climb would have been really hard and impossible for older people of those with limited mobility. We had to stop frequently on the way up and we’re both reasonably fit. At least you can catch your breath at the Grotto di Matermania and wonder at its ancient use, which is still largely unknow. I couldn’t resist an explore inside and you can get a sense of scale with my little mum sitting at the entrance!
After all of the effort to reach it, the Arc Natural was greeted with a “is that it?!” from me and mum. It’s nice, but really, it’s a rock with a big hole in it.
We continued our walk and wanted to visit the 14th century monastery, but it was closed so we paid the entrance fee to go in to the botanical Gardens of Augustus. It was only €1 each to get in, but it’s a tiny garden with some nice views. I wasn’t particularly impressed.
Deciding that we’d had enough, we walked our way back to the harbour for an overpriced pizza whilst we waited for the ferry back to Sorrento. Although I wish we’d have explored Anacapri, I’m not sure that I’d rush back any time soon.
Unfortunately, I feel like that about most of Sorrento. We both really loved Pompeii and definitely want to return to the area to explore the other site preserved by the eruption – Herculaneum, but I wasn’t overly impressed by the rest of what we saw. We’ll maybe explore more of the Amalfi Coast next time.
Italy is very expensive and although we found a reasonably priced place to stay, it was quite basic. Food and excursions are also very expensive, with the cost of the ferry to Capri almost taking my breath away.
Date of trip: October 2017
Price paid: £185.00pp for flights with Jet2 (you can get cheaper but our original flights were with Monarch so we ended up paying more to rebook with Jet2 at short notice after Monarch went bust). £125.00pp for 3 nights B&B at Sorrento Town Suites booked through hotels.com. €20.00pp for airport transfers. €52.00pp for the train tickets to Pompeii, guided tour in English and entrance fee. €35.00pp for ferry tickets to Capri.
Points earned: 740 for paying for the fights on my Virgin Atlantic American Express card.
Cash back: £17.25 via Topcashback & hotels.com for the stay at Sorrento Town Suites.