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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Friday, 20 Jun 2014

Location: Sorrento, Italy

MapExploring Sorrento was most pleasurable indeed. Nowhere near the rat-race of Florence, this town has the vibe of being a tourist destination, going by the number of people on the streets, all speaking a myriad of different languages. It seems that tourists outnumber locals two to one, but the atmosphere is one of fun, relaxation, and sunshine. Being right on the coast, as well as high atop a cliff, Sorrento’s location provides an unforgettable view over the Bay of Naples. From the edge of that cliff, just a block away from the town center, we could look down over people swimming in the bay, or lounging on deckchairs, or heading out in boats of every size, shape and colour. On both sides along the coast are hotels built into the side of the cliff, with every vantage point being exploited for the view.

Following further advice from Giovanna, our landlady, we hired another local tour guide for a day on the Isle of Capri. What good advice it was, for we explored Capri much more thoroughly in six hours than we could have ever done on our own. Our guide was a delightful young lady called Maria, and we soon learned that she was the daughter of Rafaelle, our guide for Pompeii. The day started with the 25 minute ferry ride from Sorrento to Marina Grande on Capri, followed by a two-hour circumnavigation of the island by boat. The only disappointment was that the Blue Grotto was closed, and seeing the entrance from our boat convinced us that it was the right call. The tide and rough surf made the entrance to this cave vary from a metre above to a metre below the surface every few seconds. There was no way a small boat could enter this subterranean cave, so we would have to miss out on its apparently brilliant blue light show.

The views for rest of the boat trip were stunning. Sheer white limestone cliffs rising out of a sea coloured incredibly blue, with dwellings perched high atop, greeted us at every turn of the coast. The guide pointed out homes or hotels where famous people live or used to live – Sophia Loren, Georgio Armani, Mussolini, Jackie Kennedy Onassis. After the boat was a taxi ride from the harbour to Anacapri, taking us up the steep side of a mountain through narrow streets and hairpin bends. The higher we went, the more spectacular the view out over Marina Grande and the Bay of Naples. I think the word is breathtaking. From Anacapri, we took a chairlift to the very top of the island, with a 360 degree panorama of the Sorrento peninsula, Naples and Mt Vesuvius, and the islands of the Bay of Naples. Being afraid of heights, Allison opted to explore Anacapri and rely on our photos. Another taxi ride to the township of Capri, where we explored shops, hotels and restaurants so outlandishly expensive that it made us feel completely out of our depth. Do people really pay these prices? Maria showed us Augustus’ Gardens, supposedly set up by the Roman Emperor to use the amazing views from the cliff tops, which still exist today.

Throughout our entire time in Sorrento, I have the feeling that I’m being watched, for almost every view in the area has a common element. Like some deity looking over its subjects, an omnipresent mountain towers over the Bay of Naples like a menacing omen. Mt Vesuvius can only be described as imposing, as it rises out of the scenery like a dark cloud on the horizon, and it seems to appear in every photo I take. Its menace arises from the fact that it is hundreds of years overdue for a major eruption, and the view from Sorrento shows a mass of civilisation living at its feet. If it ever does decide to mimic 79AD, it would be catastrophic for the people of Naples and Sorrento Peninsula. I can only assume that to live here means that you cannot worry about it, otherwise your life would be in eternal anxiety.