Rome to Sorrento
Trip Start Nov 16, 1995
10Trip End Nov 25, 1995
Now, how to exit Rome . Will the Italian drivers intimidate us? No way. If you can drive in Miami , you can drive anywhere! In contrast to Miami , where the greatest danger is from slow drivers in the fast lane, Italy 's dangers are from fast drivers in every lane
We find the winding road up to the Abbey of Montecassino. This is a beautiful Benedictine abbey perched on the edge of a mountain overlooking the town of Cassino . This is where the Benedictine Order was established, and the crypt contains the remains of St. Benedict himself. During WWII, Cassino formed part of a major defence line for the Nazi forces attempting to stop the Allied advance on Rome . In the fighting, the Abbey and city were almost totally destroyed. Everything has now been faithfully reconstructed in the original style, though it still looks a bit new
Back in the city, we find a supermarket where we can buy our picnic lunch. It is well stocked with most of the products you can find in America , and with many that you can't. There is a whole section for panetone, as well as an immense choice of salamis, mortadellas and cheeses, and there's a staggering selection of local wines. There are very few people in the store, and soon we realize that we are being asked to leave! Is it a bomb threat? A fire? No, it's just going to close for lunch!!! After getting used to supermarkets in the U.S.A. opening for 24 hours, 365 days of the year, it seems really strange to see one closing for a siesta!
We get back to the motorway and continue south towards Naples . We have been told to miss Naples, as although the city and bay are incomparably scenic, the city is dirty, dangerous and hopelessly mired in traffic jams. We take the by-pass, pitying those that keep going into the city. Perhaps they will never be seen or heard of again! We soon arrive at the Pompeii exit (total toll from Rome $ 15.50), and almost immediately encounter the problem of where to park the car. It's almost like a circus, with touts all over inviting you to park in their lot
We are accompanied into the ruins by a couple of Japanese groups, and a Globus tour. We tag along with the Globus group, but feel the guide is feeding the tourists pure drivel. We branch out on our own, past the Forum, visit the Forum Baths, and continue on down remarkably preserved streets to the House of the Vetti Brothers (lewd wall paintings), the House of the Faun (lovely patios) and the House of the Labyrinth (the largest of the mansions)
Afterwards, we think back on our visit. Though there were no roofs left (except some reconstructions for protection), the whole effect was of remarkable preservation. This is without doubt the oldest and best preserved ancient city anywhere, and you can easily imagine what life was like in those days. Amazingly it did not seem so far removed from present day life in its basics, even to a mosaic sign warning "beware of the dog" and political graffiti still visible on the walls. There are still a lot of unexcavated areas, and the general maintenance leaves something to be desired
We depart Pompeii and enter the modern world at rush-hour. The route is not entirely clear, and we wander through miserable looking suburbs until we find a sign directing us to Sorrento . We soon rise on an elevated two-way highway which looks down on more miserable domiciles. Finally we enter a tunnel, then another, then another, etc., until we loose count. We are now stuck behind a slow moving truck. Some daring drivers manage to pass, but the majority of us just conga through one tunnel after another. By now its dark, so we don't even get the views. Eventually we roll out of the last tunnel and there, spread in front of us like a jewelled cloak, is the beautifully illuminated Sorrento coastline
We were quite surprised at the size of Sorrento and environs. We seem to drive for ever to get to what we think is the city centre. Each turn convinces us that we are there, and each turn offers us a further panorama of city streets. At least it looks a thousand times better than Naples ' suburbs. The street numbers keep going down, then going up, even though we are always on the same street. Eventually we just give up and continue motoring along. We know that our hotel is on the other side of Sorrento on the way to Punta del Cabo at the end of the peninsula. We eventually pass out of Sorrento and almost immediately see the sign for La Tonarella to the right by the cliffside. There is a tiny parking lot, and I grab the last space. Everything is dark, and as we disembark, we realize how cold it is outside, with a very strong wind blowing over the Bay of Naples . Miryam, who is in charge of accommodations, ventures inside to see if she can
find any trace of humanity. It is dark and the place seems empty. Eventually she rustles someone up, who has to consult our confirmation fax to verify if we really have a reservation. We don't see the point, as the place seems quite empty. The price, US$ 90.00 a night. We are allowed to check in, and are shown to a large nondescript room with a huge outside balcony commanding a stunning view over Sorrento an the Bay of Naples
socks off while we stand shivering at the brink of a cliff looking down at the waves pounding on the tiny beach far below. We rush inside, but the room is cold too, in spite of a radiator. The fluorescent light doesn't help.
As this is off-season here and the famous hotel restaurant is closed, so we decide to brave the cold, and return to the town centre in order to find sustenance. We are given directions for a couple of restaurants, and sally forth. Parking in Italian towns is very dicey. Cars are stolen or towed, and signs are not clear. We see any number of cars parked illegally, but decide to be cautious, and eventually find a city parking lot which isn't too expensive (US$ 6.00). We walk into the town, but cannot find any of the recommended restaurants. We wander up and down the narrow, quaint streets, looking at the innumerable shops stocked with tacky seaside souvenirs.
Finally we come across a nice looking ristorante called La Linterna, and enter. It is elegant and cozy with all the waiters dressed to the nines. Fortunately, because of the cold, we are quite well dressed ourselves. I even have a tie, so I don't feel out of place. We have a great meal, the minestrone was outstanding, and the house wine was, well, interesting. Price tag US$ 39.00 for the three of us. Before we go back to the hotel I want to see the Marina where the ferries to Capri depart. We plan to visit this island tomorrow morning, weather permitting. The road winds down a deep ravine to the little harbour, which seems to offer scant protection from the wind and the waves. Doesn't look good at all! Miryam and Bryan refuse to get out of the car