Three Days in Sorrento, Positano and Pompeii

Sorrento

I tried to do Sorrento on a budget and I don’t recommend it.  Sorrento, and the Amalfi coast in general, is definitely a ‘go big or go home’ area.   My first afternoon in Sorrento left me underwhelmed.  That’s because my ‘bed and breakfast’ (BeB Caruso, see below) advertised itself as close to the Centro.  NOT. 

I arrived by bus from Rome, exhausted, and then had to drag my luggage down the street for a sweaty half hourat least, stopping every couple of blocks to ask directions to the B&B.

After checking into the ‘bed and breakfast’, I cleaned up and walked to what I thought was Piazza Tasso but was Piazza Lauro. From Piazza Lauro I walked to the area near the harbor where the better hotels are located. Discouraged because there seemed to be very few shops or restaurants I walked back towards the Caruso, eventually stumbling across Locanda del Gusto (see below) which was a life saver.

One of the first things I noticed in Sorrento were the Christmas decorations throughout the town.  Below is a gallery I used in my  The Holidays in Italy post.  I thought the giant bear dressed like Santa was pretty funny, especially set against the palm trees.

I saw most of the centro on my last day when the owner of the Caruso made me check out at 10:30 am even though he knew my bus to Napoli didn’t leave until 5:00 pm.  I walked up and down the narrow streets of the centro, then walked to the lookout above the harbor area.  It was too chilly to go down to the beach but it was interesting to look across the harbor to Naples.

Sorrento Cathedral
Sorrento Cathedral
Exterior of the Sorrento Cathedral

I was stressed about my trip to Naples that evening (and with good reason as things turned out) so I also visited the Sorrento cathedral.

I had hoped to have a nice lunch before leaving but didn’t want to sit outside.  So I ate at the pizzeria across the street from BeB Caruso and had one of the worst calzones ever.

Positano

I decided to go to Positano the day after I arrived in Sorrento (a Sunday) because it looked to be the nicest day of the week.  The evening before I did some online research and this web site,

https://thatanxioustraveller.com/sorrento-to-amalfi/  was very helpful about how to take the bus from Sorrento to Positano, giving clear information on where to buy the tickets (about 5 euros round trip) and where to pick up the bus.  However, the information about how often the buses run was not accurate.

So I chugged down to the train station, went into the little ‘tabaccheria’ (tobacconist) next to the station and bought my tickets, then walked to the area across from the station where the Amalfi coast buses stop.

It was something of a cluster initially.  A bus pulled in that said Amalfi but even though it had to go through Positano, the driver only allowed those going to Amalfi to get on board.  The rest of us had to wait another 20 minutes before a Positano bus came, then people pushed and shoved getting on board and I was surprised that the driver let some people stand.

I later wrote to my niece saying it was the most beautiful but terrifying drive I’ve ever taken; drop offs on one side directly into the sea, hair pin curves with the bus driver honking all the way to alert drivers coming from the other direction, motorcycles zooming around us on blind curves…  I tried a couple of pictures from the bus window but they were just a blur.  Still you can get an idea of what the road is like from these pictures; just imagine a road carved into the side of the hills.

The buses drop off and pick up on the road going through the town.  From the bus stop you walk down a steep hill with spectacular views over the sea and the town.  Positano itself is absolutely beautiful and appears to be a shopping paradise. I spent at least 2 hours walking around the town and to the beach taking lots of pictures.

Then I found a cute little restaurant and had a nice lunch on a terrace.  I was ecstatic that  it was warm enough that I didn’t have to wear my jacket.

The trip back didn’t go so well.  I think I went to the bus stop around 2:00 pm and was at the head of the line.  But after 45 minutes the line was huge and when the bus finally came, it was chaos.  People literally ran over me and I had to stand all the way back.  Then I got off at the wrong stop and had a long walk into town.

Despite the hassles I’m glad I went and would definitely go again if I had the chance.

Pompeii

http://pompeiisites.org/en/

Even though the weather looked a bit dicey for Monday, my second full day in Sorrento, I decided to go to Pompeii.  I’d already bought my train tickets so headed to the station fairly soon after breakfast.  I lucked out and a train pulled into the station just as I got there.  From what I could see of the schedule for the Circumvesuviana train, not every train stops in Pompeii so make sure you’re getting on one that stops at Pompeii Scavi-Villa dei Misteri.  There are lots of stops so even though it’s a fairly short distance, the train normally takes about an hour.

And don’t make the same mistake that I and most of the other people on the train made.  As I wrote in my journal:  As we came through the station, a guy told us to go upstairs to buy tiicets and like lemmings we all went up.  The sign said 16 euros which is the same as the official site but I realized on the way back that I was charged 18 euros.  Don’t understand why the official entity that runs the site doesn’t do something about that.

And I’m still unclear what that entity is.  Officially Pompeii is called the Archaeological Park of Pompeii and Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism is in charge of some aspects.  But based on this article in the NY Times https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/25/travel/pompeii-restoration-overtourism.html, no one really seems to be in charge.

From the Scavi station it’s a short walk downhill to the gate.  I started at Porta Marina which you can see in the map of Pompeii which I’ve scanned in here, map of Pompeii From there I climbed the hill to Regio VIII, taking photos near the Santuario di Venere.  Then I walked through Regio VII, taking pictures of Tempio del Genius Auguste and Maccellum, continuing all the way to Castellum Aquae. 

I returned to via dell’Abbondanza, walking along the ‘houses’ of Regio I to the Anfiteatro and Regio II.  I, then, followed the signs to Regio VIII and finished near the theaters.  I did  get turned around as I left from the gate near the theaters and tried to ask someone in Italian where the train station was.  Like most Italians, he answered in English and gave me clear directions back to the station.

But I thought Pompeii was incredible and because it was early November and there were relatively few tourists, I was able to walk from one end to the other with no problem.  I spent between 2 ½ and 3 hours there and still felt like I’d only seen 1/2 to 2/3 of the ‘park.’  I would have stayed longer but as you can see in the photos, it was beginning to look stormy.

My favorite parts of  Pompeii were the ‘houses’ with frescoes or mosaics, the statues, the arena and the ‘theaters.’  The views out over the valley are spectacular although it’s a bit distressing to see the entire valley filled with apartments and houses.

The train trip back was a little scary.  I got on the train that was in the station after asking someone if it was the train to Sorrento and later wrote in my journal: How is it possible to get caught in the rain 2 afternoons in a row?  Oh wait a train that lurched its way from Pompeii to Sorrento stopping every 10 minutes, taking an hour and 15 minutes.  So I’m wrapped in a blanket, eating a sandwich, thankful I bought meat and cheese yesterday and that I’m not stuck in a tunnel. 

Where to eat

Locanda del Gusto

I was lucky to stumble on this little restaurant/cooking school my first day in Sorrento.  It’s only a couple of blocks away from the B&B where I was staying which, contrary to the information online, was a long ways from the centro.

As I walked back from what I thought was the main piazza (NOT) looking for a restaurant, Locanda seemed to be open.  There was actually a large cooking class inside but they agreed to seat me outside and I had a delicious pumpkin ravioli plus bought a bottle of wine which I took back to the B&B.  The owner (whose sister runs the cooking class) and the other staff person were welcoming and pleasant.

I returned my last night during a deluge when I didn’t want to go far from the B&B.  A family was just finishing a cooking class but the owner invited me into the restaurant, giving me a huge portion of gnocchi and a big pour of wine.  I talked with the owner in my limited Italian for probably 15 minutes and she told me I spoke well. I also had a nice conversation with the family, a couple from New Jersey and their daughter who was attending school in Firenze. Of all the places I ate while traveling alone in Italy, Locanda was only one of three restaurants where I was treated with warmth and made to feel welcome.

If you’re in Sorrento, I highly recommend the restaurant plus I was impressed with the cooking classes I observed.  Here’s the information on the classes: La Cucina del Gusto   

Getting there

For weeks I debated whether to spend a week in Naples doing day trips from there to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast, finally deciding to stay in Sorrento first, then go to Naples.  It wasn’t until my sister and I got to Rome, that I realized how difficult (and expensive) it would be to take the train to Naples then switch to the Circumvesuviana train to Sorrento.  After looking at several web sites including https://www.sorrentoinsider.com/en/naples-to-sorrento-train-schedule, I realized that I would have to buy my ticket to Sorrento after arriving in Naples, then haul my bags downstairs to the separate station for the Circumvesuviana train.

About the only useful thing the owner of BeB Caruso (see below) did for me was to send a link for the Flixbus schedule from Rome to Sorrento.  Although it involved getting to the Tiburtina bus station from my hotel near Piazza Navona, it turned out to be the best and least expensive option to go directly from Rome to Sorrento.

First and foremost for an extra 2 euros I could stow my heavy bags in the bus’s luggage compartment and not have to deal with them.  Secondly, I wouldn’t have to make a change in Naples.  Still I was pretty nervous about getting to the bus station by 7:30am.  I walked out of my hotel near Piazza Navona with lots of trepidation–that I wouldn’t find a cab or that he’d charge me 30 euros.

But as I wrote in my journal after getting on the road: Everything else went smoothly–plenty of taxis, 15 minute trip to bus station Tiburtina that only cost 14 euros, found the bus easily….  For some reason I thought we were going the wrong way initially but once we got on the A1 headed south, I relaxed.  We got stuck in a traffic jam in Naples and then for reasons known only to himself, the bus driver took a 40-minute break in Pompeii, getting us stuck in traffic again, making us more than an hour late arriving in Sorrento.

When we arrived, the bus parked on Corso Italia, about two blocks away from the train station. 

I took the bus back to Naples even though it doesn’t leave Sorrento until 5:00 pm for the same reasons I took it from Rome. I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me that it would leave from the same place where it dropped me off, but I was sitting outside the train station waiting for the bus to Naples when it pulled in and continued down the street to Corso Italia.  It didn’t take long for me to walk down to the bus stop but could have saved myself some time and stress if I’d used my brain. But the late departure from Sorrento and arrival in Naples created numerous problems, especially combined with the fact that the BeB Caruso owner made me check out at 10:30 am (see Where not to Stay below).

Where not to Stay

BeB Caruso

First, contrary to the information online, this tiny 3 room bed and breakfast is not in the centro; it’s probably  3/4 mile east in a working class neighborhood with few amenities. The fact that it took me a good half hour to drag my luggage from the bus stop to the B and B, should have been a clue.  I found one nice restaurant nearby but the pizzeria the owner recommended was awful; visualize a calzone with canned tomatoes. Nor is there a garden. I reserved and paid for a garden room but there is no such thing. I had a room on the main street with constant traffic noise. But the room facing the back is even worse, the circumvesuviana train goes right behind the building every 30 minutes.

And I don’t think I’ve ever met a more unpleasant owner. He persisted in calling me madam in a tone that said ‘you’re old and stupid.’ When the water tank in the bathroom started leaking, he acted like it was my fault and stuck my hand under the hot water to demonstrate ‘caldo’ as if I didn’t know. My last morning he insisted I had to check out at 10:30 am even though he knew my bus didn’t leave until 5:00 pm, then insulted me further by pantomiming how to use the elevator. As someone with 2 law degrees, I think I can figure that out

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