Italian Adventure Part 7 – Sorrento & Sunset


Having previously, either passed through, or ricocheted off Sorrento, we thought it was time to pay this busy town a visit.

We found a convenient car park, in via Ernesto de Curtis, near the Circumvesuviana station. After a short walk, through Piazza Angelina Lauro,  and browsing the nearby shops, we made our way to  Piazza Tasso.

The Piazza has many eateries and we selected Bar Syrenuse as the venue for our lunch. Not the best choice as it turned out.

I chose this venue for my first “real” Italian Pizza. As it happens, I think it was probably the worst pizza I have had and that is in comparison to a Tescos own brand pizza.. Flavour-wise it was fine but the sauce was sloppy and the base soft. Could only eat it with a knife and fork. Gerry had ordered a chicken sandwich and the bread was stale.  Still the drinks were cold and very good.

After lunch we continued our tour and were soon passing shops / art galleries displaying Capo di Monte

Away from the main roads we found small parks where one could regather your  thoughts after doing battle with the cars and scooters.

Various kinds of wall art …

From Sorrentos Park Villa Comunale the views are superb. Whether looking down on the commercial beaches with their sun loungers and pretty umbrellas, or looking out across the Bay of Naples

Heading to the view-point we were drawn by some rather pleasant violin playing, coming from this beautiful courtyard….

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Sorrento – Catholic Church, Convento di San Francesco

The music was part of a wedding event. The happy couple can just be seen in the background, and here I have cropped in closer ….

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Wedding couple – Sorrento – Catholic Church, Convento di San Francesco

They had lovely weather for their wedding, lucky given the mixture of dull, cloudy and rainy days during the last week.

Now here are a couple of rare shots, I’m usually the one behind the camera.

Now you are over the shock, me too, it’s time to move on.

After a cold drink to bid Sorrento goodbye, we headed back to our hotel where we were treated to the Vesuvius summit playing peek-a-boo through the clouds. And then a superb sunset.

And then it was time to head down for dinner.

 

Italian Adventure Part 6 – Pompeii


We were up reasonably early today, Monday 7th, as our coach was picking us up at 08:50. As it happens, they arrived about twenty minutes late but never mind, this wasn’t to be a long journey and we had been sat chatting in the hotel lounge.

So today we were going on a guided tour of the archaeological site that is ancient Pompeii.

For those of you who don’t know  …….. From Wikipedia …..

Pompeii was an ancient Roman town-city near modern Naples, in the Campania region of Italy, in the territory of the comune of Pompei. Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, was mostly destroyed and buried under 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 ft) of volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

Pompeii is vast, it covers a total of 64 to 67 hectares (170 acres) and was home to approximately 11,000 to 11,500 people on the basis of household counts of the time.

Pompeii was not engulfed in a huge lava flow, rather it was enveloped in layer upon layer of volcanic ash. The victims died through asphyxiation. It is because of the ash that so much has been preserved.

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Pompeii – Ancient Roman Tourist queuing to buy souvenirs ?

We were on a guided tour with the usual radio head sets. Our guide was very good, with lots of information about what we were seeing. Unfortunately my little grey cells are not up to the job of retaining all she said. The following is a selection of the photos I took. Where I can, I have included snippets of information that I remember, supplemented by a little research of my own.

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Pompeii – This larger than life character “Daedalus” looks down near the entrance to the site. I expect he’s wondering about all the tourist tat shops Perhaps wishing Vesuvius would bury the lot of them

What you see in Pompeii isn’t all as it was found. Some parts have been re-constructed and, as seems to be the case wherever I travel, there are some areas covered with scaffolding.

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Pompeii – It’ll look great when the construction work is finished

The streets of Pompeii were built to last, to withstand the passage of wheeled chariots and carts. They were also the place where every kind of effluvia ended up. Be it rain water, horse droppings, human waste and the general detritus discarded by the population of the city.

 

 

Many of the streets had large raised blocks across the width of the street. These were the Pompeii equivalent of a pedestrian crossing, There to help Pompeiis citizens avoid splashing through who knows what.

Many of the streets in Pompeii were not wide enough for two-way traffic. In fact, none of the streets in Pompeii are wider than 3 meters across, and it is believed that such streets may have been permanently designated as one-way. No signs to support this theory have been found. However, by looking at the wear patterns of the ruts, archaeologists have been able to identify the predominant direction from some of the streets.

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Pompeii – Water Fountain

Water is fundamental to all life and no less so for the citizenry of Pompeii. Only the richest residents  would have had water supplied to their houses. Everyone else  would have relied on public fountains. Fountains, such as the one above, would be found at most street corners.

Another water related fact is that the citizens of Pompeii were not very tall. This is put down to the amount of lead used in the water systems. Lead pipes that fed the water fountains and also the richer homes. Water storage tanks were also made of or lined with lead. Apparently lead can stunt growth. However, there is a counter argument that says the amount of calcium in the water would have led to the calcification of the pipes and tanks and that in turn would have reduced the amount of lead contamination.

Our guide made a point of informing us that the lead came from England. What she omitted to say that it was the Romans who did all the serious mining and presumably exporting most of it back home.

One of the largest homes, identified so far, in Pompeii is the House of the Faun. The house was home for a very wealthy  family and takes up a whole block. It had an interior space of about 3,000 square meters (nearly 32,300 square feet).

The large mosaic in the picture above is the Alexander Mosaic  Follow the link to Wikipedia for a better picture and more information.

The photo above, with the columns, is the smaller of two peristyles. A peristyle is an open space surrounded by columns.  Even the smallest is not insignificant, being about 20 meters (65 feet)  by 7 meters (23 feet). The current reconstruction of this peristyle includes a formal garden. It may or may not have been a formal garden when it was originally in use.

Time for a little moan. The House Of The Faun is one of the most popular places to visit in Pompeii. There are two gateways and if they had put both of them to use there would have been a better pedestrian flow. Instead folks were trying to get in and out of just the one, narrow, gateway. A lack of courtesy meant that the flow would be only one way for quite some time.

Another popular building to visit is the Lupanare or brothel. I never thought it would happen, but I took my wife to a brothel. A great deal, was made by our guide, about the saucy images that we would see on the walls within the building. So much so, that a family group with two young boys were considering not taking them through.

They needn’t have worried, you aren’t inside for very long and what is on display, is fairly faded and difficult to interpret.

The prostitutes in the brothel would have been mostly Greek and Oriental slaves. Apparently, they were paid between two and eight Asses (a glass of wine cost one Ass)
for their services. The building has two floors. The homes of the owner and the slaves are at the top and there are five rooms at the bottom, all fitted with a built-in bed, on either side of the corridor that connects the two entrances of the ground floor. The rooms were
closed by a curtain. A latrine is at the end of the corridor, under the staircase.
Small paintings with erotic depictions on the walls of the central corridor informed customers of the activities that took place.

Our guide led us ever onwards through the maze that is Pompeiis streets. Directing our attention to various structures that have been identified as this business, or that business. Here are a couple that I can remember ….

The first two photos are of a bakery, showing the oven and flour mill that would have probably been operated by slaves. The third photo shows the remains of a thermopolium, effectively a fast food outlet. The Roman equivalent of a McDonald’s although the food would probably been better that a big Mac.

The residents of Pompeii were not averse to the arts and we were soon entering one of the many theatres.

The Odeon or theatrum tectum, as it was called by the Romans, was built during the early years of the colony, c79 BC.

This building was the place dedicated to the most popular theatrical genre at the time, mime. The Odeon would also be used for musical and singing performances.

Leading to the Odeon is the Quadriporticus of the theatres or Gladiators Barracks, a large quadrangle surrounded by 74 Doric grey columns, used as a foyer, an area where the spectators could stop during the intervals in the shows.

After an earthquake the building changed its function and became a barracks for gladiators. This resulted in parts of the building being reorganised.  The rooms upstairs may have been the apartments of the undertaker of the gladiators. During the excavations ornamental weapons, used in the parades that preceded the battles,were found in two wooden boxes. Many victims were also found here, such as four skeletons of slaves and 18 people were found in a room, including a woman with a very rich collection of jewels.

Our party was introduced to the Stabian Baths so-called as they lie at the intersection of the Via Stabianaand the Via dell’Abbondanza.

Here the citizens of Pompeii would have made use of the cold (Frigidarium), warm (Tepidarium) and hot baths (Caldarium)

The floor of the Caldarium would have been very hot. So hot that visitors to the baths would have to wear clogs to insulate their feet.

Much is made of the speed with which the residents of Pompeii were trapped by the pyroclastic clouds from Vesuvius. So much so, that not only were the buildings preserved, but the bodies of the inhabitants.

As the archaeological digs proceeded, throughout the years, many of these bodies have been found, or rather the cavities where the bodies had been. Basically providing a negative image in the compressed ash. By using a form of plaster of paris these forms have been revealed.

The example in the above photos is said to be of a servant / slave girl. She was also, judged by the curve of her belly, believed to have been pregnant. Very sad.

As our tour continued we arrived at The Forum, a vast area. This would have been at the political, commercial and social heart of the town.

The most important civic buildings of Pompeii would have been located here. For example, municipal offices, the basilica (court-house), the principal temples (such as the Capitolium). Also the macellum (market) would likely have been here.

After visiting the Forum it was time for our tour group to head back to the coach for our journey home. How quickly two hours passes by.

Our route to the exit leads us, once again, to the huge sculpture/statue of “Daedalus”. From whichever angle he is viewed from, he is impressive.

And finally, here are a few more photos from our visit.

I would recommend everyone, who has the opportunity, to visit Pompeii. Probably, the best way would be to do your own research before visiting, then self guide to see the key items. Since our visit I have viewed a few other blogs and websites and seen photos of items that we would have enjoyed. The guided tours have their set routes, and not everything can be covered in the two hours that we had. Unfortunately with such a tight schedule our tour was more like a route march.

Pompeii has so much to offer and I am afraid we only scratched the surface.

 

 

Italian Adventure Part 5 – Voyage to Capri


I don’t think I mentioned, in the previous posts, that there have been fireworks every night since we arrived. Mostly early evening, up to around 10 o’clock. All of the displays have been across the water, around the base of Vesuvius. Yesterday was no different. Well until around 00:30 when we were woken, me thinking that WW3 had broken out. There had, presumably, been a wedding and party held at the hotel. The celebrations came to a climax with a pretty impressive display just a few hundred feet away from our room. Gerry and I were both hanging out the window for a better view. The most impressive thing was some kind of mortar which fired projectiles out over the water. The projectiles landed and presumably floated. They in turn exploded, creating beautiful bursts of colour. Had never seen fireworks like that before.

 

The display didn’t last very long but it had ensured that we were well and truly awake, so it took ages to get back off to sleep. But sleep we did.

All too soon it was time to get up, get breakfasted and out of the hotel. We had chosen today for an attempt on Capri. It was always going to be weather dependent, mainly because Gerry and boats don’t mix well. Gerry and boats in stormy conditions don’t mix at all. The forecast for today was cloudy with 60% chance of rain and thunder storms. So not looking good.

Suited and booted we headed down the coast to Sorrento, where the Capri ferries depart from. Least ways the shortest distance and fastest route. I had read that there was parking down by the harbour and as we drove down to the port we came across Garage Marina Piccola

The process, is for you to leave your car with the keys. They park the car in their garage (hole in the cliff) and you pay on your return. This is not a fly by night operation but a well established company. The car was there, undamaged, and it only cost twenty-two euros which was not a high price to pay for the convenience of parking very close to the ferry terminus.

As you can see in the next photograph, the weather was appalling.

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View Out To Sea From Sorrento

Capri is around about a 30 minute ride from Sorrento. We found somewhere to park, got our tickets for the ferry and headed of to the dock to join the queue and board our ferry.

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Our transport for our trip to Capri

It wasn’t too long before we cast off and started on our grand voyage of discovery.

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View from the harbour looking up to the town of Sorrento

I took a few shots as we ran along the Sorrentine coast line.

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Good-bye Sorrento

At anchor just off Sorrento was MS Silver Whisper, a cruise ship operated by Silversea Cruises. She is currently nearing the end of a one way,  19 nights / 20 days, cruise from Muscat to Civitavecchia. Very nice.

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MS Silver Whisper

One of the more imposing buildings looking down on the harbour from Sorrento is the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria which has been operating since 1834.

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Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria

As we sailed serenely along the coast we were treated to our first view of Capri.

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First view – Isle Of Capri

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One Of Many Small Communities Along The Sorrentine Coast

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Villa di Pollio Felice – Regina Giovanna

No space wasted, no opportunity for a room with a million dollar view unexploited. In this case the houses seem to be tumbling down to the sea.

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Another Small Community On The Sorrentine Coast

The journey to Capri seemed very short. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised with beautiful sunny weather and a pretty coastline.

Soon enough we were entering Capri’s port, Marina Grande.

 

On arrival the first thing you have to consider is how you are going to get up to the town of Capri, which is high up on the cliff tops. Needless to say we had no thoughts about walking, certainly not in the bright sunshine we were experiencing. There are alternatives available. These include bus, taxi and the famous Funicolare. This was our choice.

To use the Funicolare you have to purchase tickets across the street then join with the hoards queuing to get aboard. Although there were many waiting when we arrived the whole operation is quite efficient and the trains run every few minutes. The journey only lasts approximately four minutes and supposedly runs every fifteen but it seemed quicker when we were there. We were soon on board and gently climbing the steep hillside. There are fabulous views from the carriage. Unfortunately, it was quite crowded and I was stuck in the middle so couldn’t wield my camera.

Not to worry, on arrival at the top there is a great area, to run off some snaps, looking along the coast, back down to the harbour and to catch the railway in operation from above.

Capri town centre is a real tourist trap. It was absolutely heaving with people, a mix of those on a route march a.k.a. Guided Tour. Those not on guided tours but with apparent knowledge of what they want to see, and where to go see it. And then there were those misguided souls who know that Capri is meant to be really pretty, with lots to offer, but no idea what or where. We settled very neatly into the latter category. My problem was that I had read up on a few things to see and do while on the island however, once we encountered the hoards, all that went out of my head.

Our first port of call on arrival at the top was to find somewhere for a spot of lunch. We ended up in Piazza Umberto I, where we were enticed into il Piccolo. Suitably fortified we embarked on an exploratory tour of the Capri town.

We browsed the windows of many high-priced jewelry stores but to be honest you can go to any city around the world and see such things. We were soon fed up with being jostled by the crowds. Whatever happened to being polite and courteous ? Without being specific, certain nations with a culture of being polite and courteous, even to their enemies, seem to be the worst when out of their home country.

So we struck off into the myriads of tiny alleyways, barely wide enough for two people to walk side by side.

Here we found pretty entrance-ways,  religious shrines and mystery stairways. Also there were many ceramics used for house names and numbers, identifying trades and professions.

All too soon it was time for us to consider the trip back down to the harbour. So we shuffled our way back to the funicular. Descended serenely down to Marina Grande where we had time to walk along the water front. A mixture of bars and touristy tat shops. Perhaps that is a little unfair, many of the shops were selling quite good quality tat.

And we still had time to settle into a bar and have a cold one, people watch and observe the general chaos as taxis vied for the business of newly arrived passengers.

Just like being at an airport waiting area we were able to see an information screen which listed the mooring positions of the many ferries and their times. Our ferry was due to dock at location number five. We made our way to the allotted place, had our tickets checked and confirmed by a sun ripened employee of the ferry company that we were in the right place. The ferry, or perhaps I should say a ferry, arrived. It looked like ours. It had boards on the stern which stated Sorrento, our destination, and 16:05, the departure time on our tickets. It was looking good.

Then that same old sun ripened employee started yelling in Italian, no translations, accompanied by much gesticulation, apparently our ferry was now going to be at dock position number 12. Quite a distance and now we were being harassed and harangued, as we would be late for the boat, or maybe even delay its departure.

Anyway, we made it onto the boat which was pretty much fully loaded. No upper, outside seating on this boat, unlike the outward journey. We managed to get seated and soon after the ferry was underway. A couple of niggles for this short journey, there was little or no air in the passenger area. So it was quite warm and humid.

The safety instructions over the tannoy were non-existent but there was a video that played throughout the trip. It might actually have been worth watching but there was no sound. I gathered part way through that the reason it was repeated  was that there were subtitles in various languages, but on a nineteen inch screen, viewed from fifty plus feet away, nobody could read them. Oh, and to cap that a crew member came and stood in front of the nearest screen while he was talking on his phone.

Still, we had no drama’s, the safety instructions were not needed and we arrived safely back in Sorrento.

We headed away from the port, rescued our car from captivity and set out along the coast, back to our hotel.

So in summary, Gerry didn’t get seasick on the boat, we didn’t get the weather that was forecast which all came together to ensure we got to Capri. All in all a great day out.

Would I recommend Capri ? Probably not. Maybe we didn’t do it justice. The best bit was the tiny back streets where it seemed like someone had turned off the noise. Maybe, we are getting too old for dealing with the hoards. Having said that, we have previously visited Rome, several times. Paris, several times. London, several times. At no time, in any of those cities, have we felt the crowds to be too much, even around the major tourist attractions. Maybe Capri town is just too compact. I certainly wouldn’t want to be on Capri in the peak season, around July and August.

Italian Adventure Part 4 – Spa Day


Typical, about as accurate as any British weather forecast, the local Italian forecast was for rain and thunderstorms today, 65% chance of precipitation. So far we have had a mix of blue skies, sunshine, and clouds. Yes there were a few specs of rain, but nothing that would have stopped us from doing that touristy thing. Because the forecast was so dire we had opted to stay at the hotel and for Gerry to visit the spa.

After breakfast we dropped in at the spa reception and booked Gerry in for a Hot Stone and full body/facial massage. Her session was booked for 14:00, which left us with a couple of hours to fill.

We went for a stroll  round the grounds and took a few external photos of the hotel.

Whilst standing down on the dock, we were accosted by a lady offering to take our photo. We gratefully accepted and then I  did the same for her. As we were chatting, I asked her where she was from.

Well, what a small world. Turns out she is from the other side of Waterlooville, where we live. Much of her family are scattered around roads close to our home. After a bit more chat we went our separate ways.

By the time we reached the pool Gerry decided it was warm enough to brave catching some rays by the pool.

Meanwhile, I was foolish / brave enough to test the arctic waters of the pool.

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Towers Hotel – Pool

Bearing in mind this is an outdoor pool, unheated and we haven’t seen any real sun for a couple of days. Despite knowing this, I still went in. Although there weren’t any icebergs it certainly felt cold enough for them to put in an appearance.

To be honest, once I was in, it felt ok. And after a few lengths, I was so acclimitised, I was reluctant to get out. There is a shower room close to the pool which I made good use of. Back in dry clothes once again, we strolled along to the bar for tea and coffee before Gerry headed to to the spa for her hot rocks massage.

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Although no storms or rain the wind had picked up. These two guys had to walk backwards to carry the pictures or risk having them bent and broken by the wind.

Having escorted Gerry down to the spa reception and made sure she was checked in OK, I headed back to the bar for a spot of lunch. Tuna & Tomato in a Ciabatta roll accompanied by, yep you guessed it, a Nastro Azzurro.

Gerrys spa treatment lasted for just about an hour and by the time she caught up with me at the bar it was time for her to have a plate of fries and a Nastro Azzurro all to herself.

We then headed back to our room to finish of that second bottle of Sicilian Syrah.

Our room has windows looking both North and East which makes it a great vantage point for any nautical activities.

And to finish off for today here are a few photos from my phone.

Well that’s it. Going for dinner shortly as it is just after 20:00

Good night all.

Christmas Lady


I have just been trawling back through some photos I took during our visit to Amsterdam last December.

This was is a shot of a mannequin in a shop called Christmas Palace …..

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Christmas Lady , Maybe the Ice Queen

Straight out of Narnia, Jadis the Ice Queen or the White Witch. Perhaps she is a bit too colourful for that role, but she does have a pretty stern demeanour about her.