Monday, May 27, 2013

This is us! Feeling at home in Sorrento, Italy

Well, Rose called it this time, she just somehow knew even before the ferry docked that Sorrento is for us. We've been here for four nights now and today we're moving along to Amalfi but somehow she knew that we would love it and we do.

Arriving in Sorrento from the sea, you see a city of 20,000 people mostly perched up on top of a series of sheer cliffs and spreading back from there into the interior. Except for the marinas (there are at least three) and a cluster of houses, hotels and restaurants servicing the marina traffic, everything else is up above the sheer rock walls.


Fortunately we were just there for a holiday and had no plans to invade and were quickly in a taxi and on the way to the hotel, the Ulysse Deluxe Hostel. When we booked it Rose was a bit concerned about staying in a "hostel" but we needn't have worried. We got the scoop from a local fellow and I guess that the developer was refused permission to build a hotel but he had already done most of it and they let him open a hostel/hotel with hotel style comforts and hostel prices, nice for us!

Everyone was so nice and helpful at the hotel, we just loved the place, (good breakfasts) and they helped us get oriented and pointed out a great place for lunch, just a short hike away at Marina Grande. We found a little restaurant that is run by a fisherman's co-op and the food was amazing, there was a little confusion as to what exactly redfish are, (still not sure, but they were tasty little devils) mixed with linguine and Rose had mussel soup and we both loved our dish. Of course it rained a bit but we were snuggled under an awning so we didn't care.

Marina Grande
Our next stop was the "Valley of the Mills" that we had first seen on a friends Facebook when they visited Sorrento last year. The desk clerk had circled it on our map for us because I guess it's nothing special to the locals, it's not even on the tourist map but we loved it, what a beautiful place to stumble upon in the middle of a town.

Valley of the Mills

I took a bunch of pictures with my nex 5n vowing to come back with my big camera at least once and probably several times, (turned out to be 4 times) during our visit. 

Walking down our little shopping alley we came upon a little family run shop specializing in marquetry, (working with inlaid wood) making little boxes, wall art, furniture and various other things, all with traditional local designs.

We've found people here to be so friendly and welcoming and when you take a genuine interest in their work and show appreciation for their skills and talents, they love to talk and show off their products. Laura was just a lovely lady and proudly explained that the shop was a fourth generation family operation and many of the designs were her husbands grandfather's and now her teen aged son was starting to learn how to work with wood.

Laura's shop
At this point in the trip, we don't have a lot of space left in our suitcase so we picked out some small items for ourselves and for gifts, Laura explained how they were made, the wood used and wrote a little story on the bottom of the box that we bought. As we left her stall, the last thing we heard as we walked away was her just saying to herself, "what a lovely couple" awwww, it made us feel good.

Rose likes to say that we are ambassadors for Canada, (unpaid) so let's make a good impression wherever we go. People are always interested in where we are from, but the name, Edmonton doesn't seem to ring a bell with most Italians. Canada yes, Banff maybe, (the idea of meeting bears in the woods makes a big impression) but Edmonton is not well known over here.

Rose is trying to single handedly change that and seems to be succeeding on a small scale. I'm also doing my part, we have been back to the same small clothing store in "our" alley at least 4 times. The lady there speaks about twenty words of English, but we communicate just fine, she now has my size down better than I do and knows just what I like. Every time we leave the store I say, "see you tomorrow." 

Our Alley
We've never had to worry about paying duty before but on this trip we've begun to wonder if we're getting close to the limit. That makes a good excuse to stop shopping, I guess. But the problem is that the prices are so good here in Sorrento, much better than anyplace else we've been.

Our first full day we took the famously rickety and crowded "Circumvesuvia" train to Pompeii and it lived up to it's billing on all counts. On the way there we met a couple from Lethbridge Alberta who were on their way to Naples and the trip went very quickly. Of course at Pompeii it rained a bit, but then the sun would come out for a bit and on and on the cycle would go. I finally used my goofy rain poncho that I've been carrying around for the whole trip, but it would almost be better to get soaked, almost.

The Basilica, Pompeii

We were amazed by the extent of the ruins, of course we've seen pictures before but it goes on and on, this was a city of thousands of people before the eruption. We walked our feet off because as luck would have it, they were out of the free tourist maps and all we had was a few wrinkled pages torn out of our Rick Steves Italy book.Ricks little map was just not good enough all by itself and we would probably pay the $10 for a tour if we had it to do over. But all in all, we saw everything we wanted to, eventually.

The trip back was something else, the train was pretty full already when it reached the station and we just managed to squeeze on and find a little bit of wall to cuddle up to for a long, hot uncomfortable ride back to Sorrento. This was very much like the vaporetto ride in Venice, but about 4 times as long and with very little fresh air. Once you've experienced this particular train ride, you loose all fear of airport security checks, we were packed in there so close it was like getting a full body massage from twenty different masseuses.

The train station is a bit of a walk from our hotel so by the time we got there, Rose was ready for a good, long, foot massage and I of course, was happy to provide one. She quickly recovered her enthusiasm for walking and we headed out for supper at the Aurora Pizzeria. We had walked by the restaurant earlier and noticed their massive, copper hooded forno oven and since Rose absolutely loves anything to do with a forno oven, we had to go back.

It was very good and of course Rose had to let the waiter know, it was the "best in Italy" so that caused him to shout to the kitchen, "hey Gino, the best in Italy!" "Gratzie, gratzie, lady" smiles all around. Score another conquest for the unofficial Canadian ambassador to Italy.

My Pizza, Rose had her own.
On the way back to the hotel through "our" alley, the skies decided to completely open up on us. We never go anywhere without an umbrella in Italy, apparently it is the wettest May in 500 years or something like that. So when the heavens opened up, we were prepared, sort of. We ducked into a shop for chocolates, yummy lemon ones and coffee ones and had to buy a few, then into my clothing store for a few snappy ties (6 for $20), then pop in for a cappuccino, slowly zigzagging our way home until finally running out of stores. 

We decided to just go for it, ( how bad could it be?) and slogged the rest of the way through torrential rain, giggling like kids. When we came to the street in front of the hotel, what used to be a steep street was now a raging torrent, flowing down to the sea. Rose was actually happy that my shoes were completely soaked through and started to laugh at my soggy footwear.

I'm afraid I had been giving her a bit of a hard time about her 3 (count 'em, 3) pairs of similar, open toed sandals and she in turn had wanted me to bring a second pair of shoes. 

Fortunately I was able to use the blow dryer and dry them out so they were ready for the next day (na na na na na, Rose) thus proving, one pair is enough if you have a blow dryer.

The next day was our trip up the Amalfi Coast to Positano (a separate post) and when we returned that evening we asked the lady desk clerk where she would go to eat if she were visiting Sorrento. She gave us a great tip about a place a bit out of town that has a great view and they even pick people up for free, since there is so little parking. After a rest, I packed my camera, hoping for some night shots and a driver picked us up. 

The restaurant was called Ristaurante Il Borgo, and I didn't even stop to look at the menu, I went straight out to the patio and started shooting. Poor Rose was very understanding and waited patiently for the great lighting conditions to change and for me to give up or get hungry enough to return to the table. I'm afraid I was a long time out there in the wind, balancing my camera on the railing while I tried to capture a very spectacular sunset and the lights of Sorrento and Pompeii.

Sorrento and Pompeii
The manager Tony, was very interested in my pictures and asked me if I would mind sending him some of them for their website and so I did. We had a great fish meal and met some nice people, it turned out to be a great evening.

The next day was our last full day and we were really looking forward to it. You see, earlier in the week we had come across a great little gelato shop in our alley and after we got our delicious home made waffle cones stuffed with wonderful icey goodness, the smooth talking proprietor suggested we sit at the cute little table in the alley and noisily enjoy our treat (providing free advertising for the shop)

We sat and watched this fellow work the passing crowd, he would say "gelato today? delicious homemade family recipe" or something like that and if the person said something like "maybe later" as they often did, he would come back with, "don't hurry, we'll still be here, we've been here 153 years, we're not going anywhere, take your time."

As we sat there enjoying the action, I happened to notice a sign advertising a cooking school and from that moment on, there was no looking back.

We signed up for a 7 course cooking class for our last night in Sorrento with our funny chef William, who also doubles as a stand up comedian often found standing in the alley and drumming up business for the gelato shop. But the tale of our experiences with William and Happy (his assistant) and the recipes from that evening, is definitely another story!

Rose has some fun at cooking class
All Contents Copyrighted by the Author, Doug Petry


  1. Sounds like so much fun you guys are having!! I'm going to be interested in what you learned to cook at that cooking class!!
    Love you guys!