A year ago today we were in the New Forest and I went for a walk, ending up getting lost. That was 2005. In 2006, I was up at 4am and ready for the 5am taxi to take us to Gatwick for our 7:45 flight to Naples.
British Airways, it seems, rosters on its happiest and brightest desk staff to look after business class customers first thing in the morning. She was so cheerful, we just flew through everything and were sat in the business lounge for an hour and half before our plane was called.
I’ve never been in a business lounge before. Interestingly, the desk staff here were obviously picked for their sourness. What they lack in pleasant demeanour however they make up for in many ways. They have the cutest little French pastries and limitless coffee and beer (not that I had one, given the time). I sat and read the morning paper and Mirinda read her book. She also took a beta-blocker to help her with the flight. Hopefully they will lull her subconscious into a false sense of calm and open space. They did! Thank God.
The flight was pretty uneventful except for the appearance of the youngest stewardess in the BA fleet. I think she was about 8 and dressed very smartly too. Obviously emulating her mum, she is headed for some more air-miles as she gets older. I had a bucks fizz with my breakfast which, having never had one before, I have to say is quite a civilised way to drink orange juice.
We were offloaded onto the tarmac at Naples Capodichini Airport and were hit by the 26° heat – it had been about 10 at Gatwick. Waiting for the luggage I was entertained by a child not above 5 years, who clapped deliriously while jumping for joy when the conveyor belt started moving. This reaction was doubled when he thought he saw their luggage. His face was instantly crestfallen and blame-ridden when his mum told him the luggage was someone else’s. Eventually a stroller came along and he once more went insane with joy and helped his brother haul it off. Our luggage was almost last.
I was concerned that we would just miss the bus to Sorrento and have to wait for two hours or go via Naples main station but as we left the terminal, there was the bus, waiting and filling up. We dutifully joined the queue, stowed our luggage and sat down. Almost an hour later we left Naples airport. This would have been fine except for the complete absence of air in the bus. It is air-conditioned so the windows are permanently closed but the aircon, of course, won’t work when the bus is switched off. It was awful. I had to pretend to remain calm for Mirinda’s sake though I was melting inside.
Naples. What can I say. What springs to mind is a relentless smudge of blocks of flats creating an extremely ugly landscape. They go on forever. Mirinda, not in her happiest frame of mind anyway, was not best pleased with Naples. Everywhere she looked was ugliness. To be fair, this is pretty accurate. But we did only see the airport area and then the freeway edge of the suburbs. Ok, I’m being extremely generous…it’s gross. And the smog! Lordy, lordy it looks like LA during rush hour. AND it gave Mirinda a sore throat!
The bus trip was very nice if you ignore the awful Naples suburbs that seem to stretch unendingly around the bay. Once we passed by the imposing Mt Vesuvius and gradually climbed into the hills, the landscape opened up before us – the Bay of Naples. On a clear day I’m sure it looks awe inspiring. Today it was just hazy with smog. Fortunately this meant that we did not catch sight of any monicelli, the gnome-like creatures which Bernard Wall claims inhabit the gullies around the Sorrentine Peninsular.
We eventually pulled into Sorrento, parking just below the Circumvesuviana station. I was expecting to be in Piazza Tasso which is not far from the hotel so this meant a bit of readjusting. I figured a taxi but the price was €15! This is about £10 to go about 500 metres! Granted it was around the one-way system but Mirinda was adamant we weren’t being THAT ripped off. So I led the way to the hotel.
Once we arrived it was lovely. We were in room 404 with a view of the backs of the hotel in back of our hotel. Mirinda crashed while I went up to the roof top to enjoy a coffee and the view back around the bay. It was still very hazy.
We both had a bit of a siesta until 6 when I left Mirinda to her throat suffering and went to explore Sorrento.
Sorrento, (the Roman resort town of Surrentum) the town is named after the sirens of Greek myth who mesmerised men with their beautiful song only to lure them onto the dangerous rocks. Well, those sirens are still working because I LOVE it. Once you get away from the main street, it’s full of little back alleys with all sorts of shops. Scooters frequently manage to squeeze by you in these thin alleys – I actually saw a car having to reverse because an old guy wouldn’t give way down one of them.
Around Sorrento great cliffs of limestone rise up giving the town shelter as well as suspending it above the sea. These limestone outcrops are all that’s left of ancient ocean dwellers from around the Cretaceous period. Deep ravines cut through some of this limestone giving way to fresh water flowing from deep within inaccessible caverns. There are plenty of these deep ravines with mysterious and inviting ruins deep within them.
The mystery is no more. The Mura ravine, not far from the hotel, once held a factory with a water wheel, controlled by the flow of the river at the bottom. According to a book I’m presently reading about the earth, these ravines may be the result of the collapse of deep caves many millennia ago due to erosion and earth movements.
I had the loveliest hazelnut ice cream I ever remember having and gradually made my way down to the church of St Francis of Assisi where there’s a lookout point with fantastic views across the Bay of Naples.
I gradually made my way back stopping once to buy a book on Sorrento (where I met the world’s smelliest dog) and a mug for Mirinda to use for her Italian Lemsip (Tachifludec).
I returned about 7:30 and we went downstairs to eat in the hotel. The food was fine but a bit bus tour – in fact we were asked twice if we were with two different bus tours. Every time you order something you have to quote your room number and sign a chit. This must drive the waiters insane. Of course it just made me feel like a celeb signing autographs for my millions of adoring fans.
Mirinda wanted an apple juice but the waiter returned to say there wasn’t any left. He suggested apricot, which Mirinda jumped at. A little while later he swung by our table and declared “The apricot is coming!” Mirinda expected a giant one with arms and legs to march up to our table for us to bow to but all that appeared was a little man with an even littler bottle.
Back in our room I took a shower. We all know I can’t resist chatting about showers in my journals, so here goes. The pressure is ok, the temperature is fabulous – like who needs hot water when the weather is this hot – and the bathroom is very big. But the towels. Something I’ve never seen before is giant Chux. Rather than assume my readers know what a Chux is I’ll tediously explain: They come in packs of 10, 20, 50, etc, are generally blue or green and are disposable dish cloths, characterised by tiny upraised squares on the surface which, somehow hold moisture.
These Chux are the size of a bath towel and white but they are definitely Chux. I have to say that they work brilliantly though they feel a bit weird. On the other hand, the hand towels are slightly over-sized tea towels (without the tourist print) and work about as well. So that’s the bathroom dealt with.
Oh dear! I need to mention the sad fact that I spent ages getting all the episodes of Battlestar Galactica and Desperate Housewives on my Archos only to find out when we arrived in our room that the TV doesn’t have a SCART connection!!!! Damn and blast. Mirinda NOT impressed. It’ll be Italian TV then…