Monday, July 25, 2011

Arrivederci Florence--Buon giorno Sorrento!

Saturday, May 21, 2011:

We finished our last minute packing and while the girls dashed into the cafe for coffee, I ventured back to the Internet location to check email. I was deliriously excited to see that my daughter-in-law, Colleen, had sent pre-prom photos of Gabby and her date! I was so thrilled to see those pictures, and Gabby looked totally grown up and beautiful. I sent a thank you reply, hoping it went through because the system was dangerously close to timing out. I felt as though I was playing "Beat the Clock" while attempting to function on those computers, but having the opportunity to see Gabriella's photos absolutely made me smile all day long!

Everyone needed one final chance to pick up any items that they had examined, had not yet purchased, and were feeling haunted by the fact that we may never be in Florence again during the rest of our lives, so the time to buy was likely now or never. We checked out of our hotel, the desk clerk being willing to split the bill in half for both rooms so we could each allocate our share on our individual credit cards. Sharon returned the converter she had borrowed from the front desk, and with her 10 Euro deposit refunded, it was Arrivederci Florence! It's been fabulous, but we were ready for the next leg of the exciting adventure--Sorrento. Marianne has done an outstanding job in planning our relaxed itinerary. Instead of having to be up at the crack of dawn and join others on an organized bus tour, we are able to take a leisurely approach to moving on to Sorrento. We can set our own pace as long as we eventually arrive at our next hotel at some point today.

After one last trek across the street to the train station with luggage in tow, we purchased our train tickets to Naples. The cost was 76,32 Euro each. With clearer minds and less exhausted bodies, we were finally able to understand how these trains actually function. Although our tickets indicated Napoli (Naples), the huge board stated Salerno, so it was important for us to:
  • Inquire at the information desk as to what city would actually appear on the board for our particular train because it lists the final stop only.
  • Look at the teeny, tiny print on our tickets and locate the train number, matching that very important number with the information displayed on the board.
Following this advice will greatly eliminate tremendous confusion if you happen to travel through Italy by train.

Upon reaching Napoli Centrale Station, we will need to change to a local train to reach our destination of Sorrento. We dreaded managing our luggage (especially mine) during the train transfers, so we developed a system for maneuvering our belongings. Marianne and I stood guard over our miscellaneous items while Sharon and Laura attempted to hoist all of our large suitcases onto the train. The idea was that some big, strapping Italian guy would take pity on us and offer to help. While it was a plausible theory and had already worked to some degree, in practice, the hunk didn't always materialize. This was one train where no one cared whether or not we ended up in permanent back braces.

At 12:00, we were settled in for our three hour train ride, and we purchased sandwiches from the train's dining car. They seemed to be made with some type of ham, though it was not always easy to bite through. The bread was light and satisfying without overfilling us. The trip was a relaxing, comfortable ride that seemed to move along without a hitch. We have been told, however, that it is important to be extremely wary of unscrupulous people in the Naples train station, so we were ready to be on guard.

We arrived in Naples at 3:10 p.m., and unloading our luggage again was not an easy task. Just as we exited our train and were walking toward the station, a taxi driver asked if we wanted a ride to Sorrento. Being cautious, we initially said, "No." Suddenly, the idea of taking a taxi and not having to handle our luggage again seemed massively appealing. Laura and Marianne returned to the driver and negotiated a reasonable price. The next thing we knew, all of our belongings had been squeezed into the small taxi and we were riding to Sorrento rather than having to schlep our luggage onto yet another train and then scurrying to locate a cab to take us to the hotel.

I have to stop right here and say that there were many friends and family members who recognized that we were four Italian language-challenged ladies traveling all over Italy without a guide, and a great number of those people were seriously praying for us. During this trip, there were times when God sent true angels out of nowhere to be of tremendous help to us, and this taxi driver, Ciro, was the first example of one of those angels. Thank you, God, and thank you to the people at home who love us and were concerned enough to take the time to include us in their thoughts and prayers! It's not as though there were multiple taxi drivers hanging around, waiting for the people to exit the train. There was only one--Ciro--who specifically asked us if we wanted a ride to Sorrento. Coincidence? I don't think so.

The drive was pleasant, though we went through several tunnels (not my favorite thing to do, as I'm excessively phobic about tunnels and have to close my eyes until I can see the light at the end--really difficult if I happen to be the driver). Motorcycles and scooters bobbed and weaved in, out and around cars and taxi cabs as though they were in a road race, but Ciro handled the maneuvering with calming ease. He explained that our hotel, the Grand Hotel Due Golfi, was located high above Sorrento. Technically, it is in Massa Lubrense in the Province of Naples, which is in the Campania region of Italy and just along the narrow, winding road to Sant' Agata Sui Due Golfi, a small village. The climate is Mediterranean, and our view from the hotel almost sucks the breath right out of our lungs because of its remarkable beauty.

We all moaned and groaned as we stretched and tried to get our legs moving after the lengthy ride in the small taxi, but Ciro assisted in carting our luggage to the lobby and gave us his business card. He suggested that if we wanted to visit Pompeii before we leave for Rome, he could return and pick us up on the appointed day, bring us to Pompeii to tour, wait for us, and then bring us to the train station in Naples for a very reasonable price. We would definitely consider his offer, as Pompeii is on our "to do" list.

Our hotel room is spectacular with glass doors that lead to a balcony. We can leave the doors wide open to enjoy the breezy, clean air and a view of the Bay of Naples in the Tyrrhenian Sea that is any artist's dream. We haven't detected any flying insects, so we take full advantage of the refreshing connection with the outdoors. The tile on the floor of our room is a brilliant blue, there is plenty of closet and counter space, and our room is very clean.

The other ladies commented that we should propose a reality show where four American, middle-aged women tour and shop all over the world. Laura suggested the title should be The Traveling Divas. Maybe that could be our retirement gig some day!

After unpacking, we set out on a walk to the next village, Sant' Agata, which is a bit of a trek with no real shoulder on the road and definitely no sidewalks or foot paths for quite some distance. This was an incredibly narrow, heavily traveled road, with vehicles zipping past us at close range. It was early on Saturday evening at this point, and our first venture into Sant' Agata was somewhat creepy. As we walked into town and had to make a decision as to whether we would go right or left, we chose left. We couldn't locate any restaurants, and there were groups of men hanging around on the corners, gawking at us as we walked by. We must have looked distinctly out of place, as we seemed to be a novelty to them. We stopped at a small grocery store, where I picked up some shelled peanuts and San Benedetto peach flavored iced tea. At a produce market, we bought some large oranges, strawberries, and other produce. They offered the most gigantic lemons we had ever seen in our lives, but we didn't purchase those.

Not in our best interest to continue exploring Sant' Agata and end up walking that narrow, winding, busy local road after dark, coupled with the fact that it was beginning to spit rain on us, we opted to walk back to the hotel and enjoy a nice dinner with a salad bar and choice of three entrees. There was a wedding in an adjacent room and a group of French tourists there for a gathering, so it was just a touch noisy, but not really annoying. We could hear the song "YMCA" echoing from the wedding reception. We weren't sure where the bride was from, but "YMCA" is apparently a universal phenomenon. The dining room offered a view of the magnificent blue sea with a steady flow of boats and seafaring vessels, including cruise ships, gliding in and out of the Sorrento harbor.

From our room's balcony, we have the same lavish sea vista that is so perfect it almost seems unreal. We look straight down on Sorrento, population approximately 16,500, and gaze across the sea to the lights in the city of Naples. Tonight we heard shooting noises, stepped out onto our balconies (though perhaps that doesn't sound like the best decision when you think you hear gun fire) and could see sparkling fireworks in the distance. Our balconies are large enough to comfortably house a table and two chairs for lounging outdoors and soaking in the impressive scenery. This is one location I wish I could share with Fred. I believe that he would agree with me that this is, by far, one of the most romantic settings in the world. Che vista meravigliosa sui mare! Translation-What a beautiful view of the sea!

We can hardly wait until tomorrow when we will begin to fully explore this area. We'll be off to the Isle of Capri!

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