Sorrento was one of those places in Italy about which I remain undecided, did I love it or hate it or just merely like it? There was plenty to love: panoramic ocean views, fresh buffalo mozzarella, delicious (but overpriced) gelato, fresh seafood and spectacular sunsets but unlike my husband, I’m not fussed about returning in a hurry and would prefer to explore further south or inland. The time we spent there was wonderful, the old town is very touristy but it was pleasant wandering through all the cobblestone streets and exploring the little shops so am I being too harsh? Certainly the photographs paint a pretty picture 🙂
Whilst travelling around Europe last year I took thousands of photos, some of these focused on the delightful array of food available from markets and the meals we consumed. Many of the photos are merely happy snaps, badly lit and slightly blurred photographs of the food we ate and often I was so absorbed in the eating of a tasty dish that I completely forgot to take a photo. Anyway, the first part of our journey and the food we ate is covered in Food glorious food…part one and I had meant to continue the story but never got around to it…until now.
The food in Italy can be bad, good or fantastic, we were lucky in that we chose good to fantastic food for the majority of the time and the two bad meals we ate were due to laziness and convenience, not bad for four weeks of eating in Italy. Italians don’t really do breakfast, at least not the way we do so we settled for the in-house breakfasts most of the time, although not great, we enjoyed trying Cruesli (Muesli with choc chips) and the array of home baked cakes and tarts at the B&B Villa degli Ulivi were scrumptious. Occasionally cold cuts of meat and boiled eggs were also available in addition to the pastries, jam and bread rolls, the coffee was usually very ordinary so we took to visiting the local bars for an espresso.
Wherever possible we tried local wines and local specialties, guided by the waiters in the restaurants and in Rome we asked the ‘host’ of the Cantina Cantarini to help us choose our meals, selecting fresh, seasonal produce and simple flavours so good that we returned the following night. In Florence we ate picnics outside the Boboli Gardens, pasta in the San Lorenzo Markets and spent an evening with our travellers at a inTavola cooking class, the class was so much fun and at the end of the evening we sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labour accompanied by a couple of glasses of wine.
Wherever we went I managed to track down a gelateria (even in Germany), I was on a mission to try as many flavours as possible and am proud to say that I tried 25 different flavours, some of them twice (pistachio, zabaglione and pannacotta) and some of which I don’t remember. I have to admit that there are just some flavours that I’ve never been really fond of such as melon or licorice so I stayed clear of them and there are possibly hundreds more flavours I could have tried however there was still a budget to stick to and having gelato for every meal was not the objective. Some of the more unusual (for me) flavours were: Coconut, Riesling, Fior di Latte (Milk), Torrone and Cherries and cream.
Here is just a taste of what we enjoyed in Italy, starting with local specialties in Vernazza to wild boar in Umbria, panettone in Siena and seafood in Sorrento, it really was a food tour of Italy and the extra kilos in weight that I gained were well and truly worth it 🙂
The first time I visited Capri was in 1999 as part of a Trafalgar tour, we spent one night in Naples and a day on the island of Capri, it was summer and perfect weather for wearing singlets and shorts or a skirt. This time it was spring and although not quite as hot as it gets in summer, my wardrobe of jeans, leggings and long sleeve shirts was not entirely appropriate so I had to do a little shopping and pick up a couple of t-shirts and a skirt. Not a great hardship as you can imagine.
Dressed in a t-shirt and skirt and wearing the sandals I had bought in Assisi, I boarded the boat to Capri with Marty. Instead of cruising across on a ferry and spending all day on the island itself, we chose a small charter boat (along with 4 other couples) and spent more time on the water with a few hours to explore Capri. Our captain’s name was Francesco, quite a character and seemingly very relaxed about everything, he even joined us for a drink or two.
The water was quite choppy and the skies threatening once we left the Marina, it wasn’t the most pleasant ride for someone who gets seasick but it was nice to sit back, relax and not worry about what we were going to do with our day. Lunch had been prepared, mozzarella and salami on crusty bread, wrapped in foil so that we could take it with us on a walk around Capri. We met a wonderful couple from Canada, Donella and Ross, while Marty wandered the marina on the island I walked with Donella and Ross up to Capri to check out the town. The walk up is not easy, many stairs and in the heat of the day we stopped a couple of time to catch our breath and admire the courtyards of the houses lining the path.
Capri is pretty, it would have been lovely to have had more time to take a bus to Anacapri, the town of Capri is quite commercial and extremely touristy, everything is priced for the moderately wealthy and we were happy to have our sandwiches. You can catch a funicular up to Capri and if your legs are tired from the walk up or you’ve done too much shopping then you can catch a ride back down again. We opted for walking back down and stopped for a hot chocolate and coffee before getting back on the boat. The hot chocolate in Italy is served thickened with cornflour or something similar, tasty but on Capri it is a rip-off at 4,50 euros for a small cup, still the atmosphere and smell of fresh, salty air was almost worth it.
We cruised back via the blue grotto, green grotto and white grotto, Marty managed to fit in a swim at one point and although cold he was thrilled to be swimming in the waters surrounding such a famous island. At the blue grotto there were several boats lined up to ferry tourists into the cave, for only 12,50 euros you too can enjoy a quick, and I mean quick look at the grotto and then be on your way. Only one couple on our boat took up the offer, perhaps we will visit again on another trip to Italy, but it really isn’t high on my travel bucket list. Many photos and a couple of days later I realised that I had forgotten to adjust my ISO, it was way too high and many photos have suffered because of it. Regardless of the stuff up it was an exciting and memorable day and if I don’t enlarge the photos too much I won’t notice how grainy they are 😉
Although I didn’t do the driving on our recent trip to Europe, sitting in the passenger seat armed with a map and a plan for for the day’s adventures meant that I got to navigate. Our car, a little Fiat Panda, came with a GPS (for only 70 euros extra) which I called George. George took some getting used to, I like to have an overall view of the direction we’re heading in so I had one eye on the map and the other on George. I learned a couple of things from George, the taxi driver took us the long way to the rental car office and don’t always trust George’s shortcuts.
In Australia we drive on the left side of the road, In Italy it is the opposite but constantly telling my husband to drive on the right side of the road got a bit confusing because to us the left is the right (correct) side of the road to drive on. ‘Other side’ was the preferred option but thankfully it didn’t take too long for him to get used to. We only hired a car to get around Tuscany, Umbria and make our way down to Sorrento from Assisi, that was plenty enough excitement for me, the trip between Naples and Sorrento was a tad stressful even for a passenger. Country driving meant narrow, winding roads with regular photo stops, near Naples we got caught in a traffic jam as a result of a motorbike accident and in Sorrento you have to be mindful of scooters, cyclists, women with prams and the occasional horse and cart.
The ZTLs (zona traffico limitato) are areas of Italy that you are not allowed to drive in without holding a ZTL pass. Tourists can’t get these passes and are only exempt if your hotel provides all the license and registration details of you and the car to the relevant authorities. Thanks to a misunderstanding with George we almost ended up driving into Siena’s ZTL, I had a massive freak out because I thought we were bound to get a fine sent to us but we found a way out of the area we were in without entering the ZTL. In Assisi we were told by the hotel just to drive through and if we were stopped by police, to tell them where we were staying and all will be good. We didn’t see any police and I’m sitting here hoping that there weren’t any cameras either. Paying for parking was a common occurrence, anywhere from 6 euros for a few hours to 20 euros for a couple of nights. Our accommodation in Siena and Orvieto had free parking, Assisi provided a discount card for parking in the council car park because they didn’t have any parking for guests.
Would we hire a car again? Possibly, it certainly was handy getting to little towns such as Civita de Bagnoreggio and Volterra, public transport is available however it can be slow and not at all regular. Fuel didn’t cost as much as we thought, the Panda was an extremely economical car for the two of us and we probably spent a maximum of 90 euros over the 10 days of driving and that included the filling up of the tank before returning the car in Sorrento. The rest of the time we used public transport to get around, trains between the major cities are fast and easy to use, not to mention cheap.