Friday, November 6, 2015

Travels with Shirley (Part I)

Kevin and Shirley in Piazza Navona
Kevin and I took a fast train from Florence to Rome, traveling, at times, up to 170 m.p.h., which meant we covered the 144 miles in less than an hour-and-a-half. We met our friend Shirley (whom we stayed with earlier in London) at our B&B near Piazza Navona.

It was slightly overcast, but warm for early October, and we had a late, leisurely lunch in Piazza Navona, and then we walked around, observing the vendors in the piazza and then revisiting some of our favorite spots in Rome.

What a pleasure to see the Pantheon again! One of the best preserved Roman buildings, it was dedicated about 126 A.D.  It has been in continuous use till the modern day, and since the 7th Century, it has been a church. 

The fellow pictured below made an easy euro. He typically charges that much to have his photo taken with you, but Kevin recklessly said, "I'll give you a euro if you can point me to the nearest bank machine."  

"Oh, that's easy," he said, and pointed about 30 feet away, where there was a somewhat-obvious ATM.  Ah well, we got his photo.

Then it was on to the Fountain of Trevi.  One problem: the fountain is under restoration and the water is off. You can't get very close. Notice the scaffolding.

Now, I'm worried. If you throw a coin in that fountain, it's supposed to bring you back to Rome.  That obviously works, because I did it last time that I visited, and there I was, back again.  But now what? If I can't throw a coin in the fountain, will I come back?

After a good night's sleep, we took the train to Naples and from there to Sorrento. The little train from Naples to Sorrento, the Circumvesuviana (called that because it goes around Mount Vesuvius), is a pit of a train! What a contrast to our high-speed Italo train earlier! It's aging, crowded, covered with graffiti, and known to harbor pickpockets and bad accordian players. (The accordian is not Kevin's favorite instrument to begin with, and they all seem to follow him.) But the train is cheap.  

One of the cars on the Circumvesuviana line.
We arrived all in one piece and after a rip-off taxi ride (20 euros for about a 7-minute ride), we settled into our small hotel, The Britannia. We had been warned about the over-priced taxis, but we didn't want to lug our bags up the long hill, so we were at the driver's mercy.

View from The Britannia Hotel. That's Vesuvius in the distance.
We really liked Sorrento! Maybe you can see why.

We visited the hotel that Kevin's grandparents stayed in during their visit to Sorrento in the 1960s--or perhaps I should say "tried to visit." The guard would not let us enter the garden.  Let's just say that Grandpa and Lila traveled slightly more upscale than we do.

Garden area of Grand Excelsior Vittoria hotel in Sorrento.

Looking up at the hotel gardens.

Sorrento is a good base for seeing Pompeii and Herculaneum and visiting the Isle of Capri. (I'll cover the ancient sites separately.)
Fortunately, the weather was bright for most of our visit to Capri.

Kevin and Shirley waiting for the boat to Capri. Shirley is such a good sport! She never complains, even when we have
made her wait about an hour for a bus. Sorrento public transportation schedules are useless! Buses seem to travel at whim!

Capri was worth the wait. It is beautiful, if a bit overcrowded with tourists, even in October. We did not go to the famous Blue Grotto. Waiting to board the boat and complete the excursion would have taken about two hours, and that would have left us short on time. The ferries from Capri to Sorrento stop running early in the evening.

We did take a funicular and a bus to the upper part of the island, and from there we jumped onto a single-chair lift, assisted by an attendant. As we glided silently over gardens and houses, chickens and cats, I heard the chirps of birds and crickets, I felt like I was floating in a dream. The trip took about 15 minutes. And then there were the views from the top:

This church on Capri features a ceramic floor with views of Adam and Eve and the animals of paradise, including even a unicorn:

When we returned to Sorrento that evening, we were reluctant to return to our hotel up on the hill.  We spent some time exploring the alleys offering finely crafted goods and treats.

Limoncello! My favorite!

Our best experience in Sorrento itself was Shirley's discovery of this small pizzeria, run by the amiable Ciro, who plied us with free samples of his sausages. "Mangia, mangia." (Eat.)

But the best was yet to come. As the evening wore on, a Spanish guitar player and singer, Pietro Rainone, entertained us with his music.  He brought tears to my eyes when he sang my request, the romantic "Al di La." 

Shirley bought Pietro's CD for us, so now we can play it when we get home and remember our magical evening in Sorrento. Thank you, Shirley!

Note: You can hear a lovely rendition of "Al di La" in the (actually pretty bad) movie, Rome Adventure here. Check this link for the English translation here.

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