So once the Staples2Naples rally was over we were able to spend a few days to the South of Naples in the fabulous Sorrento Peninsular. This turned out a little harder than we'd expected, partly because Doris, the little Red Rover, gave a burst of petulance in a traffic jam on the motorway in Naples and partly when we finally arrived we had some difficulty finding a hotel for the night anywhere we might have considered acceptable.
Ultimately we made our way to a wedding venue with an apartment for rent at a reasonable (100 euro per night for all of us) price. The place is called the Villa Giovan Battista della Porta and we'd have to recommend this bar a problem with a nasty stain on the towels discovered on the final night. Clearly they were not actually laundering the towels, just drying them. In all other respect it was great.
27 September 2006
The next day we went into Naples by train which was packed until Pompeii about which more later. The National Museum was somewhat better than Cairo but that doesn't say much. You've got to see it but make it the first day! We tried to find the portrait gallery mentioned in our guide book but it was shut and no signs to give you a clue as to what's happened to it. Ho Hum
Everything you've been told about the traffic is true so leave the car behind. We did discover why the Neapolitans leave the straps on their motorbike helmets undone, it's so they can use their cell phones while they are driving!
Dinner was much more fun at a family restaurant in Vico Equense (can't remember the name but it's just in the long street that leads to the square, we could only find the one resturant there). There was a children's birthday party going on just in the garden with the owners(?) kids making huge noise. This was real family stuff and provided a hugely entertaining backdrop to the best octopus salad we have ever had. Drink the Chianti recommended by the owner
28 September 2006
We visited Herculaneum the next day. This is a buried town just south of Naples, much smaller than Pompeii and apparently in much better preservation. As with everywhere it was hard to find a car park but once in we were not so much struck with the fabulous preservation but more by the workmen reconstructing walls from some of the rubble lying around.
After a scratch lunch of bread cheese and salami we braved Vesuvius, by car, and the little red rover behaved without fault. Sadly the Italian National Parks authority have seen fit to allow charging for parking and entry to walk to the cone as well as setting up no less than three tat shops including one at the summit and 'guides' soliciting for business. All rather sad.
Dinner in Ristorante La Pentolaccia in Sant Agnello ph 3282050610 which was excellent.
29 September 2006
Pompeii has been much documented elsewhere and while a fantastic site our overwhelming impression was summed up by Bill Brysons words, "do more, try harder, start now". These people are pulling in big dollars but there's little or no sign that they are spending any of it conserving the site. Crowds trampling priceless mosaic floors, wall paintings left to fade in the sun with little or no protection and rough looking building work going on all over. Expect a Roman theme park on this site, Next show of Brutus stabbing Caesar at 2:30! Hopeless.
A trip around the Amalfi Coast and Sorrento peninsular is hugely scenic but it really is a tourist spot. Abiding impressions are of tourists, coaches, hotels, restaurants, tat shops of all descriptions, poor air quality and above all rubbish heaped and strewn everywhere. The driving is a sight all on it's own too but frankly it all gets my "avoid" rating. You had to be there 30 years ago and now you've missed it. Spend your money on something else.
30 September 2006
Stephen and Gerlinde headed off, emboldened by Doris's climb of Vesuvius and the next couple of days fault free motoring.
I picked up a car at the airport and taking my life in my hands headed south to Paesteum, a set of ruins some way south of Sorrento. I stopped for the afternoon near Paesteum but was frankly too tired to do anything except sit on the beach and read my book. The Schuhmann Strand Hotel appears to have little to commend it as it is a german resort hotel but in actual fact it boasts staff who smile, apparently genuinely. This impressed me as well as being a reasonable price (€70 b&b), well located on the beach, clean and comfortable. I decided to live without the karaoke in the bar that night and got a good local pizza and salad in town.
1 October 2006
An early start to Paesteum which was excellent. Ruins left to themselves and not (apparently) 'restored' with truly fantastic temples, bigger than the Parthenon in Greece my book says in wonderful condition. Minimal tourists except for a bus load of obligatory Germans from my hotel and for the most part I felt I had the place to myself. The associated museum is also a treat with captions in Italian and English and an excellent collection of artifacts well conserved and presented. All this for €6.50 it was the best value of the trip and the most wonderful site.
Further south again to the Cilento mountains which boasts the sort of scenic splendor I was expecting of the Sorrento Peninsular. The back roads and villages are simply amazing and as for the coast road, it quite takes your breath away. Spent the night at the somewhat more expensive (€78 b&b) Grand Hotel San Pedro in Palinuro. The room was a bit small but otherwise excellent value. Fabulous dinner in town at Ristorante Pizzeria da Isidoro
2 October 2006
Drove around some of the back roads but found the villages somewhat intimidating for a stop and cup of coffee with the locals, you could almost hear the banjos. I eventually got out of the mountains and drove further south but sad to say once past Policastro it starts to degenerate again. I'd intended to go to Belvedere but gave up at Scalea which turns out to be another dump on the coast and decided to return to Palinuro which was buy far the nicest place I'd seen, and the only place with attractive hotels. In truth I wanted to go back to Pizzeria da Isidoro for another go!
This time I stayed at the La Gabbiano next door to the Grand Hotel San Pedro which was quite a bit cheaper (€50 B7B) but well down market despite it's claim to the same 4 stars. The breakfast was rubbish with instant coffee too.
3 October 2006
Perhaps a misunderstanding about the distance and type of roads but after another skirmish with the mountains I found myself running rather later than I'd have liked to get to Naples airport, fill with gas and return the car. Luckily there was no delay and I got there in good time but with little to spare. The airport is the normal bedlam that surrounds cheap flights but all turned out well and BMI returned me to Heathrow without incident albeit in no great style.