Old gurning woman

I was sitting over breakfast listening to a group of three Americans. The wife of a pair said to the woman they joined “We’ve done everyone but you, I think. We like to move around” to which the woman replied, “You had dinner with me last night.” The wife said “Oh that doesn’t count.

The three of them proceeded to discuss what was going to happen that day. The couple was going to catch the train up the coast and hop on and off. The single woman thought this very brave – she was going on the daily tour with the rest of the group. As they left, the couple said “If we aren’t back by dinner, send out a search party!

Eventually Mirinda was well enough to take a stroll through the back lanes of Sorrento. The weather is hot, dry and blue skies (again) though I don’t know the temperature. Sorry, that sounds SO English! I’ll start describing which roads lead down to the Piazza soon.

The main road (see what I mean?) through Sorrento (Corso Italia, appropriately enough) is busy and noisy, particularly where it intersects Piazzo Tasso, the main centre and meeting place of the town. It is named after Torquato Tasso (1544 – 1595), a renaissance poet – his greatest works were a play called Aminta and Jerusalem Delivered, an epic poem of love and adventure during the 1st Crusade – who is Sorrento’s favourite son. An awfully nice statue of him is in the piazza. It was created by Giovanni Carli in 1870.

Torquato Tasso (1544 - 1595)

He actually lived all over Italy but returned here when he fell out with people in Ferrara to surprise his sister by disguising himself as a beggar and saying how hard life was for her poor brother. This fooled his sister, Cornelia into despairing for her poor, poor poet of a brother until he whipped off his disguise and said “Ha, ha, it is really ME!” I dearly hope his poetry is better than his sense of humour. It does not say what Cornelia’s reaction was but I’d like to think she at least threw a lemon at him.

I should explain that Sorrento is famed for its lemons – and boy do they grow some whoppers – as well as all things lemon like Limoncello, lemon soap, lemon sweets, lemon ice cream, lemon lemon, etc, etc it goes on for ever. Everywhere you see lemons. It gives the entire place a yellow, citric glow. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. So any reference to lemons is thus explained.

But returning to Tasso…the most important thing he did for Italy as a whole was to intervene during that famous debate between the supporters of classical poems and those who preferred poems of chivalry. He managed to reconcile the two genres. Whew! I bet Tennyson was pleased. He had a few problems with his mental health though. He once attacked the Duke of Ferrara for some unknown reason and was sent to a mental home for seven years. This mental aberration probably explains the joke he had with his sister.

At the other end of the Tasso Piazza is another statue. This is of Saint Antonino Abate, the patron of Sorrento. This statue was made by Tommaso Solari in 1879. Antonino found refuge in Sorrento when the Lombards attacked. There are other statues to him around the town as well as a church. He has his own piazza, which is why this one is called Tasso…I guess.

St Antonino Abate

Anyway, once you cross through the Villa Comunale (public garden) and head down to the viewing point, the traffic lessens until there is none. What there is then is a very highly priced café. Mirinda decided to throw some money away on the smallest ham and cheese toasted sandwich I’ve ever seen. The coffee was nice.

There was an enormous queue for the single toilet. It was like coach-loads of tourists would appear every now and then and just line up for the loo. It was quite odd. We thought it was just for the café when a waiter and the owner came out to hurriedly talk in Italian while looking at the queue but, according to Mirinda, it is actually for anyone happy enough to leave a tip. Mirinda figured giving them their coffee back was tip enough.

On the way back we stopped off at Frank’s Church (St Francis of Assisi) for a stroll around the small cloisters. This is obviously a favoured photo spot in Sorrento as yesterday a bride and groom were having their wedding snaps taken here and today a group of some sort of graduate chums were busy posing for a big hulk of a guy who may have been their tutor. The cloisters are made up of lots of Gothic columns and many little rooms. Each of the rooms has a ceramic tile outside with the purpose of the room written on it. It’s all very cute though I did find a typo on one – my job has my skills so well honed that I can even pick typos in Italian!

Outside we decided to pay old Frank’s place a visit. It’s a lovely 18th century church with 16th century doors. I assume this means the doors came from somewhere else. Either that or there were a pair of doors standing in an open space for about 200 years which, although tempting, seems highly unlikely.

The church, typical of European churches, is very light and cheerful even though the images of Mary and Jesus are decidedly not. Untypically, it has an interesting form of candle lighting. Rather than having normal little white candles in a box which you purchase and light, an intriguing contraption with lots of little switches and a coin slot is employed. It is extremely confusing. So much so that Mirinda managed to accidentally delete someone else’s prayer.

Having said hi to old Frankie, we continued up the hill stopping for a delicious ice cream (apart from lemons, Sorrento is known for its ice cream) then a stroll through some of the little lanes. Mirinda managed to find at least a million places where we must eat during our stay – looks like the restaurant at Casear Augusto Hotel will not get another look in.

We accidentally came across the Sedile Dominova and admired the frescoes and tromp l’olliel effect arches on the walls. This was a meeting place for 15th century aristocrats to lounge around and laugh at the peasants who were, presumably, serving them and selling them lemons. Apart from such silliness, these sedili (sedile means seat as in seat of government) were also used for local councils to discuss pressing matters of local importance. I guess they were a sort of open air town hall with great murals on the walls. Now they are for people to sit in and photograph.

The exercise was taking its toll so Mirinda decided we’d go back to the room for a rest. She rested while I went up to the roof for a Nastro Azzurro…or five. I could sit at one of the tables in the shade and type till I went insane. It’s great listening to the (predominantly) American tourists speaking loudly in order to make themselves understood by the multi-lingual Italian waiters.

Rooftop cafe at Caesar Augustus hotel

It was very smoggy so the views weren’t as bright and glorious as they no doubt could be. However, this does have the advantage of showing off an otherwise glorious scene as it really is. Mirinda is intent on making sure the world knows how grotty and polluted this place is. And to be fair, it certainly is that. Anything further than about 500 metres starts to appear hazy but the air doesn’t smell as bad as London.

After three beers and a coffee I popped back down to the room to make sure Mirinda was still alive then set out for more exploration.

I wandered down to the quay where you board high speed hydrofoils to Capri, Naples, Ischia and the Amalfi Coast. I was lucky enough to witness just such a ferry disgorge its human cargo onto the dock. There was a lot! All milling and chattering away. I wandered over to the sign that said Peter’s Beach. I wondered who Peter was and why he didn’t have an Italian name.

Peter's Beach, Sorrento

Along the coast here in Sorrento there are private beaches. You eat or drink and lounge on loungers – actually all manner of seating – and go for a quick dip and pay. Generally there appears to be no sand. The loungers are on pontoons or piers stretching out into the protected breakwater. The one public beach is fine (except for the lack of loungers, even of any kind) and has sand but the private ones still have lots of people at them. Maybe it’s a snobby thing.

I wandered around to the ramp that winds its way back up to the Villa Comunale and started up. At one point the ramp becomes an enormous cavern (man-made) with urinary scented steps and mile high ceiling. A bit odd.

I sat for a bit by Old Saint Francis and watched a mad old cat woman gurning the general public as it walked by. The public tended to avoid making eye contact with her which, I think, she took great pleasure in. A few days later when I saw her for the third time, she stamped her umbrella on the ground three times and turned in a circle. I guess she was vanquishing me…or wishing me luck.

Grrrr!

Walking back along the main road I found a public lemon grove. Set above the road there’s an orchard with a footpath running through it. The fruit hangs plump and appealing behind signs which forbid any picking. A tearoom will sell you anything which has come from these lemons.

I gradually wandered back to the hotel, stopping off at the Circumvesuvia station to pick up a timetable. I woke Mirinda as I’d left her the key. Oops.

After a dip in the rooftop pool we managed to watch an episode of Desperate Housewives by crowding round the tiny screen of my Archos and listening via the tiny little speaker! Desperate Tourists more like. Then we set off for dinner.

Now, I have to say that Sorrento is filled with lovely places to eat but what does Mirinda choose? Possibly the WORST restaurant in Italy. Be warned fellow traveller. Should you one day find yourself in lovely Sorrento and you are tempted to dine at the weirdly named Soc 2000 SNC located on via S. Cesareo, back away from that temptation and eat elsewhere.

They advertise Real Italian Service and Service With a Smile. The smile was totally non-existent. Our waiter didn’t stop scowling – perhaps he was in the wrong restaurant. And if it was Italian service then I think I’d rather eat in a café back in old Blighty. A real shame because the location is fantastic as it’s next door to the sedile.

So I had a boring pizza and Mirinda had a green salad consisting of four shreds of lettuce, a plate of fries and a piece of veal. When the bill arrived it claimed we had had two drinks each. We tried to get Mr Misery’s attention but he was too busy being grumpy so Mirinda grabbed a menu from the waiter’s station to find out how much it SHOULD have been. This managed to get him to come over. Turned out the extra drinks charge was, in fact, a service charge – odd since we’d not had any. Needless to say I left no tip.

Once outside we headed for the nearest ice cream vendor and were served by a lovely Italian man who was all smiles – now that’s Real Italian Service…or should be. Cones in hand we then strolled around, (listening to a lonely guitarist perched on a stage in an art gallery) gradually making our way back to the hotel.

We managed to sit through another episode of Desperate Housewives before we both dropped off to sleep.

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