Viva Italia - Part Due (Two)
My Italian adventure continues with a three-day Southern Italy trip to Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, Amalfi Coast, and Ravello. While still in the US, I found this great tour through Busabout (based in the UK), and booked it instantly. It cost approximately $250 without accommodations, but included tour guide, tickets, and air-conditioned transportation. We (me and approximately 25 Busabout tour mates) were picked up at Camping Roma and greeted by our gregarious tour guide – Laura.
On our way to our first destination, we made our first pit stop at Auto Grill, which is essentially a mini-supermarket/deli off the highway. It is worth noting that we were all confused with the purchase process. If you want to order something, there are several steps you need to take:
Step 1: Find what you want
Step 2: Memorize it in Italian
Step 3: Queue up in the cashier line to pay for it.
Step 4: Go back to the original spot during step one. Then queue up at the deli or café line (with your receipt) and pick up your item.
Pompeii – After the Auto Grille, we drove an hour to see the former city of Pompeii, which was buried under volcanic ash after Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. We took a 2 hour guided tour through only 1 of 8 sections. Our guide took us to former residences, marketplaces, bath compounds, and the red light district. You can tell you are in the red light district by looking at the protruding phallic symbols above the doorways. Also, there is an elevated, carved penis along the walkway pointing towards the brothels. Everyone took a photo of that! I saw a couple of petrified bodies – one could have been a slave since he wore a belt around his waist. We also toured several bathhouses. My favorite was the interior of the men’s masseuse rooms. There were sculptures marking the entire perimeter. Between each sculpture was an indentation, where men used to place their garments. Quite beautiful.
Sorrento – We arrived at Camping Santa Fortunata in Sorrento shortly after visiting Pompeii. I originally reserved a tent, but upgraded to a small casetta instead. After getting settled, the entire Busabout tour group gathered at 5:15pm to take a local bus (cost 1.30 Euros) to downtown Sorrento. Note: While on the bus, make sure to validate your ticket or you will be fined up to 6x the ticket price.
Sorrento is absolutely gorgeous! If I could afford it, I would definitely live here. It’s an upscale town with plenty of character. The foot traffic was heavy, but everyone was in a fantastic mood. We went inside a gelati shop, where we tasted the most refreshing watermelon gelati I’ve had so far – and I’ve had a LOT! Next we sampled Limoncello at Limoro Limoncello. This is common alcoholic liqueur in Southern Italy. I might add that it definitely has a kick to it – a whopping 35% alcoholic content. After our amazing pre-fixe (13.5 Euro) group dinner at Il Leone Rosso, we gathered at a local karaoke bar, where my tour mates sang country, rock, and top 40 hits. There isn’t enough Limoncello in the world to get me to sing in front of strangers, so I remained a spectator. I had a great time nonetheless.
A few of us (Dorrine, Ronny, and I) waited for the bus for 45 minutes before reaching the campsite after midnight. Our guide warned us that most locals are on “Southern Italy” time so waiting is quite common here. The bus was 30 minutes late. Since my casetta was close to the pool, I couldn’t sleep since there was a raging poolside party until well past 1am. Yay!
Capri – The Isle of Capri is absolutely MAGNIFICENT! After the somewhat rocky 40-minute ferry ride, we landed on Capri Island. My tour mate, Dorrine and I decided to make the ½ hour uphill trek towards Capri Town. We unknowingly took the vehicle pathway instead. Luckily, it was still very early and there were hardly any vehicles. Once in Capri town, we decided to board the local bus to Ana Capri to beat out all the other tourists who wanted to take the chair lifts to Mount Solaro (the highest point on the island). For 7 Euro, we boarded the 1-person lifts (very similar to ski lifts), which take approximately 12 minutes to reach the top. Glad I didn’t wear my flip flips since your feet are dangling the entire time. Once in a while, I thought about the cable snapping since we had plenty of time to think and reflect on the way up. Once we took a few snapshots of the incredible views, we boarded our chairlifts for the 12-minute ride downhill to grab something to eat. Note: We were strategic about taking the chair lift first thing in the morning (around 10am) since we knew there would be a LONG queue right before lunchtime. We were right!
Capri has so many posh stores, which we happily avoided. Instead, we visited the Giardini Di Augusto – one of the main gardens on Capri Island overlooking the famous Faraglioni Rocks. Back at Marina Grande (the primary port), we watched this man craft these custom sandals for a female customer. Italy has many made-to-order shoe shops, where you can customize by color, size, and type (roughly 59 Euro and up).
The only think I purchased at Capri was a roll of duct tape to patch up my borrowed backpack. The original patch came off during transit (sorry Annie). There are many things to do on Capri Island such as visiting the Blue Grotto (closed that day due to high tides) and lounging on the beach. The beach is extremely packed – every square inch was filled with bodies. Looked quite uncomfortable.
Later that night, we were entertained by a poolside caberet show. I wasn’t at the pool, but I could hear plenty of amplified screaming followed by the Benny Hill theme song every 10 minutes. Many of us couldn’t go to sleep since this went on for hours. My poor tour guide’s cabin was right next to the pool so she looked just as bleary-eye as I did the following morning.
Amalfi Coast – Left the campsite at 7:30am for the extremely windy drive down the Amalfi coastline. We stopped at a hill overlooking Positano, where “Only You” was filmed. Speaking of filming, a production crew stopped traffic in the middle of the two-lane road to build part of the set. This created a small traffic jam on the hillside. After we managed to get through, we stopped at Amalfi for 2 ½ hours to roam around, visit boutiques, sip a latte macchiato, and devour 2 miniature chocolate croissants. Spent most of my time journal writing. While the town is beautiful, I didn’t have that same jaw-dropping feeling that I had when I visited Capri.
Ravello – We left Amalfi just as the tour buses started to pile up along the hillside. Thank goodness we were driving in the opposite direction. We managed to reach the smaller, less frequented town of Ravello. The tour guide told us that Ravello has inspired many great writers such as Virgina Wolfe. I can see why. The town is very serene and quite calming. Most of us spent time sitting on a bench, getting to know each other while eating our gelati. Ravello also has a stunning theatre, where many musical performances are held. We had less than an hour in Ravello, not enough time to tour the facility, where the musical stage is located. But I heard it’s quite lovely, especially at night.
Overall, the Busabout tour was well organized and truly amazing. I met and interacted with many people from US, Australia, UK, New Zealand, etc. I heard that Busabout hosts tours all over the world. It is definitely one of the best-organized tours I’ve had thus far and highly recommend it.
After 4 hours, I am back at Camping Roma, my FAVORITE place. Grabbed dinner at the mini mar and went to the laundrymat to wash my clothes. Two months into my trip, I am ready to burn everything, and I’m looking slightly disheveled lately. I really wish I packed the Febreeze (just kidding, kinda). Tomorrow, I will take the Eurostar to Florence and continue my Italian journey. I LOVE ITALY! Viva Italia.