Volcanoes & lemons, more pizza & lemons…
Monday, April 25th 2011: Rome, Pompeii & Sorrento
And there was nooo wake-up call. Had Lizzie not set her own alarm, we may very well have overslept and been late. But we were up and made good time getting ready, packing up and breezing through breakfast. It had rained during the night, and a dreary, overcast morning followed that required a hoodie. In a light drizzle, Cornelius (our stellar bus driver) packed our luggage on the bus and once all 51 of us packed on, we were off to Pompeii. Being our first couple hours on the road, Marlen intro’d us to the day song for the tour – ‘Ragazzo Fortunato’ by Jovanotti …listen to it, it’s one of those songs that gets stuck in your head all day long =).
After the song and a little bus banter, I noticed the mountains… More mountains than I’d seen in a long time. It was quite the welcome sight over the vast flatness of swampland that is south Florida. We made our first stop at an AutoGrill halfway – these would become a regular staple during the long drives for restocking on Pringles, hazelnut biscuits, chocolate bars etc.
Soon Mt Vesuvius came into sight, and we were so close (at least, closer than I had expected), it felt as if we were driving cirlces around it. So the proximity of the people and their homes to the base of the volcano was even more surprising to me. At the ruins we each grabbed a little blue radio with headphones (a blaring tourist marker, lol) so we could hear our tourguide, Enzo. He took us through the ruins at a good pace considering it was busy with other groups and some locals since it was a holiday that day. After some quick but thorough details about parts of the history, we were looking at the plaster moulds of a dog, a man and a pregnant woman who died after the infamous eruption. The ash and soot that covered any living thing would preserve the space left once the living matter decayed and, after digging and excavating began, the spaces were filled with liquid plaster and left to harden. The results were the plaster moulds we’d seen of the bodies of people/animals in the position they died in following the eruption. Pretty amazingly creepy to see for yourself.
One of the twenty-seven brothels came next – complete with picture ‘menus’ of positions and hard, stone ‘beds’ for the magic to happen on. We walked through courtyards, and the open gardens, past the amphitheatre and back out to where we started. We ended the tour with a short video on Cameo-making and then watched as a 70+ year old man with a visor that said ‘Sweetiepie’ worked on one in between posing for pictures. Another margherita pizza for lunch, some samples of limoncello and limoncello cream, and a souvenir venetian glass bracelet with bronze dust later, we were back on the bus and on our way to Sorrento.
The drive was on winding roads along cliffs overlooking the water. It was another instance that reminded me of Jamaica with the semi-fearless driving on narrow roads along a steep enough rockface, while navigating through tight spaces and traffic. The views were beautiful from the road, and we could see the town spread out along the coast with two strips of dark-sand beaches and lush greenery everywhere. Looking up at the mountains all around us you could spot random crosses in some places, which I assumed were churches scattered up there in the high reaches. We had to park down the road and walk up to the hotel because I don’t think the bus could be manuevered to get right up to the front door and, once we checked-in, had an hour to settle before meeting again to head into the town proper for apéritifs and appetizers followed by dinner.
My first impression of the town of Sorrento is it’s a small, quaint, close-knit community, but at the same time a bustling tourist spot that is filled with new and different faces all the time. As we walked through the streets it had a similar feeling to being in the Khan El Kahlili Bazaar in Cairo, just without the constant pressure from the vendors and merchants. There were many little stores and shops with scarves, shot glasses, figurines, clothes and other various lemon-themed souvenirs. There were also a lot of sidewalk cafés and eateries, limoncello stores, gelato shops and (my favourite) fresh produce stands where the lemons were huge and the strawberries the biggest and reddest that I’d ever seen.
Later, we met for our welcome glasses of prosecco and finger foods and then took a short walk to the restaurant where our pizza-making demo dinner would follow. We each started with a bowl of salad and I honestly can’t remember all the kinds now, but there was pizza after pizza after pizza coming out of that kitchen and they were all good. The crust is made only with water, flour, salt and yeast. The toppings are spread first, a little cheese next, and then the sauce in small drizzles all around as opposed to enough to cover the entire area of dough/crust. As if we weren’t already stuffed to the brim, dessert came out next – some kind of apple cinnamon streusel-like pie with (of course) a shot of limoncello. Since we had sampled a good bit of the liqueur that day, I threw back the shot thinking it would taste the same and immediately felt my throat burn and got a spicy, citrussy burn in my nose. Ugh, this was, by far, the strongest limoncello I had had and I wasn’t sure I liked it with that much kick to it.
By the time the meal and after-dinner-table-talk was over, most of the shops we’d passed by earlier were closed so we headed back to the hotel. Note to self, bring pocket money next time specifically just for internet access because there is no such thing as ‘free wifi’ in the hotels. In this hotel I spent more time trying to find the network than I did online, so I gave up. We left the balcony doors open that night and I fell asleep to the sound of the bells chiming nearby.