A former teacher and charity worker from the North East of England, I love people and places and like to try out new experiences wherever possible. Capturing that 'perfect pic' is all part of the pleasure. Access issues are a particular interest.
Published February 2nd 2014
History, Hollywood and the High life - Italian Style
With everyone safely back on board, we sailed for Napoli. This part of the cruise had ports quite close together, some only a few hours sailing apart, so once onboard you could relax and enjoy the plain sailing to your next destination. I fell in love with Italy some ten years earlier on a holiday to Rome and the lovely Neopolitan town of Sorrento, and now we were heading back.
This time the trips included visits to Herculaneum and Pompeii, the Roman cities that were destroyed in 79AD when Mount Vesuvius erupted, leaving behind an unbelievably preserved historical record of that time.
Another Bay of Naples excursions was the beautiful island of Capri, a boat trip across the bay away. We've been fortunate enough to visit Pompeii and Capri twice so this time we chose to do 'The Amalfi,, Drive'. Just a few hours drive from Naples (the birthplace of the pizza) to the towns of Sorrento and Amalfi, stretched out along the Neopolitan coast and perched high on granite cliffs with little villages such as Positano in between.
Come back to Sorrento' (Torna a Sorrento)the song says. The story goes that the song was written by a local music teacher in the 1920s to welcome one of Mussolini's government officials who was conducting a feasibility study on making Sorrento a holiday resort. It was a bit of self advertising and the town was trying to attract government funding. It obviously worked as Sorrento has been a long-standing favourite among visitors from all over the world ever since, but the tune was made famous outside of Italy by Elvis Presley when he used an upbeat version of the melody for his 1960s hit 'Surrender'. I can't think of Sorrento without making that connection and humming the tune.
It was quite a cold day, being March, so we headed toward the Foreigner's Club in Sorrento for some hot drinks and to use the loos. We sat overlooking the Bay of Naples through the conservatory double glazing – but still kept our coats on.
Of course the cafe culture is a part of everyday Italian life and on a warm day there's nothing nicer than sitting outdoor watching the world go by as you drink in the atmosphere and enjoy your coffee.
Sorrento itself is a former fishing village with a myriad of little back streets that twist and twine above the bay, with hundreds of stalls and restaurants that exude charm and character. It's main square is Piazza Tasso, where my husband Colin and I got our first experience of typical Italina traffic, we stood totally confounded and bemused as cars and scooters zipped past in all directions, all in some kind of frenetic order, but we couldn't for the life of us work out what the actual traffic system was there.
I dare you not to fall in love with Sorrento.
Houses cling to the cliffs along the Amalfi headland
After our stop in Sorrento, our coach took us along the cliff tops famous for its hair-pin bends and stunning scenery. A couple of photo shoots was all we had time for before heading for Amalfi itself.
The haunt of the rich and famous such as Hollywood stars from Ingrid Bergman and Sophia Loren to Rudolf Nureyev and Hugh Grant the, picturesque coastline is like opening one beautiful present after another.
But the icing on the cake has to be Amalfi itself. I don't think I've seen anywhere more beautiful – with it's stunning Byzantian Cathedral dedicated to St. Andrew and it's narrow cobbled streets, it's one of the places that keeps calling you back.
Reluctant to leave, we headed back to our coach, which took the Autostrada back to Naples – and only took about an hour.
The next day we arrived in Sicily. The sky was a bit grey and the sea was choppy as we sailed the Straits of Messina passing the 'Toe' of the Italian boot.
Mount Etna, which was erupting at the time, soared above us and we were told it was possible to visit parts of the largest active volcano in Europe if you wanted to take an excursion up the mountain.
If you wanted to explore Messina on your own, a shuttle bus into the city centre was available but we decided against that option.
I was quite keen to see Mount Etna but hubby Colin liked the idea of the 'Godfather Villages' half day trip, so that we could relax in the afternoon. More hair-pin bends took us up above Taomina to the villages of Forza d'Agro and Savoca, Where Francis Ford Coppola filmed the first part of 'The Godfather Trilogy' including the wedding scene where Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino) married his first wife Apollonia in the story.
We visited the little church (la Chiesa di Santa Lucia) where the wedding scene was filmed and then walked back down the hillside path taken by the villagers in the scene towards Bar Vitelli, the restaurant where the wedding feast was filmed. The whole thing was very atmospheric, especially as the film director had left some props for the people of the village to attract us tourists.
Al Pacino as the Bridegroom in 'The Godfather'
Chiesa di Santa Lucia looks as though it will topple from the cliff
On returning to the ship, those who had taken the trip to Etna said it was cold up there, with snow and poor visibility, they had the wrong clothes while we had walked around in short-sleeves, ate Italian ice cream and had a rather lovely time. Suffice it to say, when I got home I watched our complete boxed set of 'The Godfather Trilogy' over one weekend.
Here's a slide-show of our holiday, (which another cruise company seems to have taken a liking to).