April-May 2005 in Italy and Malta
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April 24-27 Capri
May 6-7 Sicily, Scilla and Charybdis
May 7-8 Tropea (Capo Vaticano)
May 10-12 Abruzzi National Park
May 12 Tivoli, Villa Adriana
Sorrento is a fabled holiday region. The town of Sorrento gives its name to a whole peninsula, the south side of which is the Amalfi Coast. The inland end of the north side is where Pompeii once was a thriving town that was unfortunate to be downwind of Vesuvius whe it blew its top in 79 AD.
A few kilometers off the tip of the peninsula is the even more fabled Isle of Capri, whose magic we were to discover in a couple of days. Here's a regional map (from Mapquest, with a few edits. Click on it to open a larger map in a new window.).
From Herculaneum, we negotiated our way through Ercolano — it was my first experience with narrow crowded town roads in southern Italy — but missed the connector to the autostrada, and found ourselves on a pleasant rural road on the lower slope of Vesuvius. The next day, the minibus that took us up the mountain used the same route part of the way.
This sort of thing happened often on our trip. We decided that road signage was not really the most natural thing for people to think of in this part of the world! However, we did find our way back to the highway at Torre Annunziata, and from there the road to Sorrento was not hard to find. The peninsula part of the road has been much improved since I was last in the region. It now uses long tunnels to cut through mountains, whereas it used to follow the coastal cliffs in a rather hair-raising way.
Sorrento is actually the last of a series of towns that fill a plain between the sea and the mountains that form the spine of the peninsula. The mountains reach the sea at both ends of the plain. We didn't actually stay in Sorrento, but in Sant' Agnello, the town next to Sorrento. However, the buildings are essentially continuous along most of the plain, so one hardly knows when one leaves Sant' Agnello and enters Sorrento.
In Sorrento, we stayed at a congenial B&B on the third floor of an apartment building. It was called the Casa Susy, but it was run by Susy's son Nicola, and his sister Rafaella, both of whom were very pleasant and helpful. We did meet Susy, however, when she and Rafaella returned from a shopping expedition. Finding the Casa Susy wasn't easy. It was on a road called the "Via Cappucini" that MapQuest showed as a significant street.
My comment above, about signage, applies very much to Sant' Agnello. Very few streets that meet the main Corsa d'Italia have any names that are readable from a car, especially when one is trying to get around parked cars and bikes (motor and otherwise), and not hit oncoming traffic doing the same. As a consequence, we really didn't know where we were, and only by sheer good luck did we see a plaque with "Via Cappucini" written on it by the entrance to a narrow alley. And it really was narrow. Going down there caused the only damage to the car during the whole trip, as I scraped the right-hand mirror on the wall while avoiding a pedestrial who was keeping to the left wall.
We stayed two nights at the Casa Susy, and in that short time became friends with Nicola and Rafaella, who complained that some of their guests were "cold" and didn't talk to them. In the day between, we took a trip up Vesuvius, which is on the next page.
After we got back from Vesuvius, we got off the train in Sorrento itself, rather than Sant' Agnello, and took tea on the balcony of the Imperial Hotel Tramontano, which has been on the edge of the Sorrento cliff for over 400 years. Particularly in the 19th century, all sorts of famous people, including Ibsen had stayed there. Ibsen wrote "Ghosts" there. I had stayed there for a meeting on Pragmatics of Dialogue about 15 years earlier, so I wanted to show it to Ina. Having tea there seemed like a very posh thing to do, but as it turned out, the tea service was elegant and cheap, and the view spectacular, a very good combination in my book.