Sorrento and environs

Trip Start Jun 10, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Italy  , Campania,
Saturday, September 20, 2008

We didn't have to go far to get here from Atrani. Sorrento is only a very pleasant one-hour ferry ride around the Amalfi Coast. Coming in from the Bay of Napoli is quite nice as you can see the town stretched out along an intimidating looking cliff. We did have to walk up about 200 steps with our gear to get to the town, but it was worth it. The town is really spread out but the centre and old town have a nice little charming feel to them.
Our 'hostel' and I use that term loosely (in a good way) was about a half hour walk from the centre but well worth the trip. It is in an old convent yet only a few months old and you can tell they sank a TON of money into it. It is ultra-modern with no shortage of stainless steel and wicker strewn about. They have their own bar/club with weekly bands, their own restaurant that serves well priced (and very tasty) food prepared by their in-house chef, and they have a roof-top terrace that looks out over the city with wonderful views of Mount Vesuvius.
After picking up our jaws from the floor and dropping off our things in our nice dorm with a fabulous shower (it has one of those big-ass shower heads that covers your whole body), we went out exploring in the old town. It seemed much the same as many other pretty towns we have strolled through. Pedestrian-only cobblestone streets with endless souvenir shops to lighten the many wallets that pass by. It did however have something a little different. It has quite a few artisan shops throughout with a larger concentration of them in the artists' quarter. These shops have been around for decades and the craftspeople within them specialize in woodwork and ceramics. You can even go in and watch the masters at work. It was a little odd to see these dusty old workshops tucked in between a bag and purse shops and snow globe stores. After a couple of pints in an Irish pub we headed to bed to rest up for our trip to Pompeii the next day.
Pompeii was amazing. It lies at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius, which was unfortunate for its inhabitants in 79A.D. when Vesuvius blew its lid and killed the thousands living there with toxic fumes and burying the city under ash and rock. They only discovered Pompeii in the 16th century and didn't begin excavating until 1748. The city stretches for 65 hectares but to date only 44 hectares have been excavated; this can provide some idea of just how big the town was. In over 250 years they have only managed to dig up 2/3 of it. It is filled with countless grand villas, dozens of bakeries, three theatres including a massive amphitheatre, a restaurant district that has the remains of many snack shops, Roman baths and even a brothel. The homes were filled with mosaics, frescoes, statues, house wares and even bodies. Some of the bodies remain where they were found upon excavation. A little creepy but it gets the point across. One of the most fascinating things to see when walking around wasn't in the homes but on the streets. The roads were all made of stone, but you could see the marks that were made by the villagers' carts being pushed and pulled down the streets. One of the most intriguing things we found out actually had to do with the earthquake that struck the area 17 years before the volcano erupted. Almost every dwelling in Pompeii had a statue or shrine so the family could pay homage and give thanks to the God that protected them during the earthquake. We were both struck by the sad irony of this. Visiting this site was certainly a pretty intense experience.
The next day we headed to Naples for two reasons. One, it is home to the museum that houses many of the artifacts discovered at Pompeii, and two, the annual "Pizzafest" was on. First the museum. It holds the most complete and most important archeological collection in all of Europe. It seems to be spilling over with mosaics, bronze pots and pans, frescoes, and even some surgical tools found in a doctors villa. They even had a 'secret room' that held art that was a little more 'risqué'. Apparently it was fashionable for the affluent to display erotic art. The collection was kept a secret and hidden from the public for years as it was thought to be shameful. Now however you can tour the secret room and see what 2000 year old erotic art (read ancient porn) was all about. It was nice to see all of these artifacts after going to Pompeii as we could picture them on the walls and floors of the houses we toured the previous day. After our fill of archeological history we thought we would fill up on gastronomic history. Apparently pizza was invented in Naples so we couldn't pass up a Pizzafest in the home of the pizza!... or could we. We arrived about 7 hours too early. Unaware that it was only an evening thing we didn't want to hang around in Naples until 7pm. We stopped into a pizzeria and had amazing pizza before we made our escape. Naples is a very large and very old city but one that would not be easily compared to Rome or Florence or Amalfi. Although there are some nice old buildings, the city leaves quite a lot to be desired cosmetically. However, they did seem to have figured out a way to save on municipal waste removal costs. In the place of garbage containers spread around the city that they would have to empty periodically, they have, well, nothing. There is garbage absolutely everywhere; it is basically one citywide garbage can. We actually had to hunt for a bin to dispose of our trash although it seemed a little redundant as we were almost wading through garbage on the streets. No wonder this city has a bad reputation. We fled Naples for the shelter of our impeccably clean resort-hostel.
Our last day in Sorrento we actually planned on spending a day on the beach, but at 10 euros each, we didn't feel that was very backpackerish. So we went into town, had incredible saucy eggplant sandwiches and spent the rest of the day relaxing in the sun on the terrace at the hostel... for free.

Megan and Kevin
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