Tag Archives: Sorrento

Seafood Fellini

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

It was my last night on the Amalfi Coast, and I was determined to find some good seafood.

I had tried the places listed in guides and struck out.  Then I turned a corner and saw what looked like a stage or movie set.  It was a restaurant set on a crazy 45 degree angle street corner, and they had put about 10 little tables out on the sidewalk, which jutted way out into the street and dipped down at an angle. The maître de led me over to a table and when I sat down I felt like I should have memorized my lines.  I was the only customer.

The tables were draped in shiny dark blue satin, the chairs and table were wobbly, and the menu was grimy.  There was one of those big placards at the entrance that should have warned me to keep walking.  It promoted daily “specials” like fish and chips, hamburgers with fries, and pork chop with sauerkraut—something for every nationality of western tourist.

The maître de, whose namebadge said Enrico, appeared to be in his 60s.  He was dressed in worn dark blue trousers and a zip-up sweater that looked like what I wear at home when I’m not leaving the house all day.  Yet despite his rather shabby dress, he acted as though he was working in a fine establishment.  He had a napkin draped over his arm and snapped his fingers and yelled, “Waiter!”  Maybe the food would surprise me and be astoundingly fresh and flavorful.

The waiter, a tall skinny blond kid in his twenties, sprang out of the door, trotted to my table, and filled my water glass.  His name was Radu.  “Bring-a the Limoncello,” Enrico ordered gruffly.  Radu leaped back and forth, supplying my table with Limoncello, olives, and bread.  I wondered if he was in love for the first time and just couldn’t contain his excitement.  He brought my wine, then bounded across the street, grasped a light pole, and swung around it several times like Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain.”

He bounded over to my table.  “Guess where I am from!”

“Uh … Slovakia? Poland? Ukraine?”  Was Ukraine part of the EU?

“No—Romania!” he exclaimed delightedly, as though he had fooled me, then bounced away.     

Enrico continued to stand by my table while I perused the menu, which did not give me hope for a great meal. “What do you have with seafood?” I asked optimistically.  Enrico pointed out the only item on the menu that I had already passed on, seafood linguini.  Maybe the photo just didn’t do it justice. “I’ll take that,” I said, trying to muster some enthusiasm.

Enrico told me his life story.  He had worked in the “hospitality industry” in London for 13 years.  That explained why he kept calling me “love.” It was so dead in Sorrento in the winter that even the cats went south.  He would go to Orlando in a few weeks; he had a condo there.  “I will sell if Trump is elected President,” he laughed.

My food came and it was as disappointing as I had expected, with obviously defrosted seafood mostly consisting of mussels the size of peas. But I was hungry, so I ate, and Enrico continued to stand next to me and talk.  I began to wonder if he was hoping for some lady companionship later, but just then some tourists came walking along the street and he moved off to try to entice them in.  They looked at my food and kept walking.  Enrico circled back to my table.

“Say, do you know why there’s such a crowd in front of the Church of St. Antonino all the time?” I asked.

Enrico screwed his eyebrows together, thinking. “Ah, yes, it is the Virgin of Pompeii.  She is a visiting for the month of November.”  Just to be clear, we are talking about a plaster statue with magical properties, not a real virgin.

“Visiting, from where?  From Pompeii?”

“I don’t know from a where.  She came from far away.”

Villas and Curves and Curveballs

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

It was 2:30 in the afternoon when I arrived in Ravello, as the rain really started to come down.  I kept thinking of the cautions in the guidebooks to “be careful not to miss the last bus back to Sorrento.”  The driver said the last bus was at 7:00, but taking those coastal hair pin turns in the dark and rain and wind seemed like a bad idea so I aimed to leave at 4:30.  I know, I know.  Only two hours in Ravello!  But they were two wonderful hours.

This was one town where I did not get lost.  I hopped off the bus and right around the corner was my first destination, the Villa Rufalo.  I bought my 5€ ticket and started to wander.  In addition to being a “pleasure garden,” as the English would call it, the original home had been made into a hotel which was now apparently closed.  For the winter?  Forever?  All I knew was that I could ignore all the signs that said, “Hotel Guests Only.”

I walked with my umbrella in one hand and my phone in the other, trying to capture the rainy beauty of the place.

busts arm-waver

You could get an idea of how blue the sea would be on a sunny day from this overlook.


This is one of my favorite photos.


I then followed the path to Villa Cimbrone.  It was well signed, but I had no idea how far it was.  I met this cat along the way.  Which would you choose—cat food or leftover pasta?


It took me about half an hour to get there, and lo and behold Villa Cimbone (6€) was swarming with tourists.  I could make out Hebrew, Chinese, and maybe Russian or Portuguese.  Cimbrone was a more formal and extensive villa; I could easily have spent half a day there.  There were picnic grounds which would have been enjoyable, a bar that was closed.  Sigh.

formal-gardens twin-towers

Too quickly, I was back on the bus.  This is a photo I took at the Amalfi stop.


The waves were high there, and groups of college kids were posing on the waterfront for selfies.  Man, were they going to be sorry, I thought, as I watched them get thoroughly drenched.

I got the front seat on the bus to Sorrento.  I could see the curves looming ahead in the dark, hear the driver cursing under his breath, and I watched him wipe his palms nervously on his trousers.  Signs said, “NO HORN BLOWING” at every curve.  The driver blew his horn at each one.

I thought about this day, this place.  Wouldn’t it be great to honeymoon here, especially in good weather?  I thought about my son, Vince.  How I wished he would meet a nice woman.  I had entered a drawing to win a Viking River Cruise a few weeks before.  I daydreamed about giving it to Vince and his wife as a wedding present if I won.

Back in Sorrento, there was still a crowd in front of the church, only now they were holding umbrellas so they were harder to get past.

As soon as I got to my hotel, my phone pinged with a Facebook message from a friend of the family, Jessica.  “I think I saw Vince on a date!”

“Who was on a date?” I asked, “You or him?”

“Both of us!”

Yikes, that was an interesting coincidence.  I don’t usually indulge in daydreams about my son getting married, and as far as I knew he hadn’t dated much since being released from prison, so both happening in one day was a bit odd.

I bounced back out into the street, thinking I would try again to find the Correale Museum, but I failed again.  Then I tried to find the “marina with wonderful seafood restaurants” and struck out.  I was walking reluctantly back toward the hotel, when I turned a corner and beheld what in my overactive imagination appeared to be a Fellini movie set.  This was going to be good, whatever “it” was.

In the Dark

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

After a day of sitting on trains I was eager to get out and explore Sorrento.  It was dark and rainy, but that’s what hats with brims and umbrellas are for.  I found the ocean overlook and although it was dark, I got a sense of the sea’s grandeur and felt excited about traveling along the coast the next day.  I think I went inside a church that was on my list, the Chiesa di San Francisco, but I couldn’t find a sign so who knows?  I think I sat in the Villa Communale, but again there were no signs, so I’m not sure.  It was lovely, despite being dark, dotted with pairs of lovers on benches under the lemon trees.  Reading the guidebook back home, I had pictured myself here on a sunny day, gazing out over the intense blue sea looking glamorous and catching the eye of an attractive—preferably wealthy—widower.

There was supposed to be a marina nearby with “wonderful seafood restaurants,” but everything was dark and shuttered for the season.  I saw a sign for the Museo Correale, which I knew was open until 8:00 pm.  I followed the direction of the sign, then walked and walked.  I never saw another sign and it got darker the further I got from the center.  I wandered back toward the hotel, through alleys of stores which were still bustling, and bought some of the obligatory lemon soap, pasta, and dried spices.

The pasta made me hungry but since it was only 7:00, no restaurants were open.  Only 7:00.  In Minnesota, dinnertime is 5:30.  I decided to dine on a protein bar in my hotel room.  Eating protein bars in Italy may sound pathetic, but they’re a huge money saver; I always bring a box in my suitcase, along with dried fruit and nuts.

There was still a crowd in front of the Church of San Antonino.  Why?  I pried my way through and slowly moved up the entry steps as others came out.  I made it to the entryway but was too short to see what was going on inside.  A priest was going on in a soporific monotone on a loudspeaker as bells chimed over our heads.  I took this very brief video just to capture the audio scene.

My hotel room door was still closed but popped open at my touch.  Inside, I flipped the deadbolt.  It had been a long day, I was tired and damp.  I had read 300 pages of The Other Boleyn Girl on the train and looked forward to finishing it in the bath with a glass of wine, even though I knew it didn’t have a happy ending.

But alas, there was no corkscrew.  I picked up the phone and there was no dial tone.  I had no choice but to take the elevator down to the ground floor and ask the desk guy whose nametag said Diego for one.  “I’ll deliver one up eh-soon,” he promised.

I went back upstairs and waited.  Eventually Diego appeared with the essential tool, quickly left, and I stripped and started the bath water.  That’s when the lights went out.  After moaning and wishing they would magically re-appear, I re-dressed and took the elevator back down.  “I will eh-start her up in a minute,” Diego promised again.  I went back up and sat on my bed and listened to the bells.

Then I thought, the power in the rest of the hotel is onThink, Anne.  What would you do at home?   I found the fuse box in the closet, flipped the breaker, and the lights came on.  Just then the door popped open and Diego stood there, looking a little wary, like maybe I was luring him into a trap.  I could hear him asking me in his Spanish accent, “Are you trying to eh-seduce me, Mrs. Robinson?”

“I figured it out!” I exclaimed proudly.

“Good,” he replied, “because the electric she likes to go off in this room.”

Getting There

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

I was on a train traveling from Naples to Sorrento, or to Campania.  I won’t keep you in suspense; the train eventually arrived in Sorrento, which is in the region of Campania.  It was a mystery to me why the train a region as the final destination instead of the city.

I spent almost two hours on a train whose destination I was unsure of.  I refused to ask anyone for help because I didn’t want to embarrass myself.  I thought about getting off, going back to Naples, and trying again.  I told myself that the worst case scenario would be if I had to take yet another train from “Campania” to Sorrento.  In the midst of my fretting, we approached Pompeii.  It had started to rain, hard.  Should I still get off there?  Where there any covered areas or was it all outside?  Maybe if I got off I could make sure I got on a train to Sorrento this time.  It was already 3:00 pm and darkness would fall at 5:30.  Was it possible to “do” Pompeii in two hours?  At the stop, inertia won and I stayed on the train to take my chances on where I would end up.  Who knew?  Maybe Campania was a nice city.

It’s not a very exciting ending, I know.  The point of this little story is that I learned some things about myself and traveling:

1) Despite what the travel guides say, European train travel is not “as easy as 1, 2, 3!”

2) I would rather end up in the wrong city than ask strangers for help.

3) Given a choice between taking a warm, dry train to the wrong city or spending a rainy afternoon in a muddy archaeological site, I will stay on the train.

The Hotel Rivoli had emailed to ask if I wanted a pick me up at the train station.  “Oh sure,” I thought, “You want to send your brother in law, who will over charge me.”  I didn’t reply.

I’m not usually that suspicious or rude but it appeared the hotel was only a 10-minute walk.  I had written down the route:  From Via Marziale, left on Corso Italia past Piazza Tasso and Piazza S Antonino, right on Largo Padre Reginaldo Giuliani, right on Via Santa Maria delle Grazie just in front of S Antonino Church.  How hard could that be?

Except that it was still raining when I arrived, so I hailed a cab.  I did what you’re supposed to do—ask how much the fare is before getting in—and the answer was €15.

I don’t know if this is true for you, but it’s interesting how I had spent hours looking at Google maps to sketch out how I would get from one place to another, and it all looked completely different once I was actually there.  While technically it would have been a short walk, given my track record of getting lost I would probably have ended up in the next town.  Five minutes later, the driver dropped me at the entrance of an alley that was too narrow for motor vehicles and pointed to the hotel.  I had to squeeze through a crowd in front of the Church of San Antonino to get to my hotel.

“You took a taxi?” asked the young woman at the desk.  “Fifteen euros!?” she exclaimed.  “We only charge five.”

My room was on the top floor—the third floor—and after that cramped little place in Rome I loved its spaciousness.  It was also decorated with clean, modern furnishings instead of 1950s polyester cabbage roses.

Unfortunately, the lock didn’t work and the door kept popping open.  The rain had stopped and I was dying to explore.  I flagged down a blonde, blue-eyed young woman whose name tag said Ugne.

“Oh, it works fine!” she smiled as she slowly demonstrated how to lock a door.  I smiled and waited until the door popped open.  “Oh no!  I will get help!”  She trotted off, and after waiting 15 minutes I pulled the door shut as tightly as I could, hoped for the best, and went out for a wander.