The volcano didn't erupt! Sorrento, Naples & Positano
Mary Beard, marinara pizzas, glorious coastlines, a 2000 year old ruined city and the world's most dangerous volcano. Add sunshine, 30 degree heat and hey presto - you've dreamed up my perfect summer holiday.
Following my 20 year infatuation with all things dark, decrepit and historical, my boyfriend and I planned a trip to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as soak up some Italian sunshine. We stayed at the incredibly swanky Hilton Sorrento Palace for half the trip and moved to an authentic, family run hotel ( Hotel Mega Mare) for the rest of our holiday.
Here are my 10 observations about our Italian getaway:
1) The best food we ate all holiday was at a kebab shop
Food prices are high in Sorrento and if you're on a relatively modest #yopro budget like we were, be prepared to go veggie for the week. After days and nights of (pretty average) pizza, pasta and garlic bread, our dreams were realised in the form of a little Kebab shop, tucked away in a dark alley just off the main square. Kebab Ciampa, an eatery run by two brothers who wanted to bring the wonders of kebab to Sorrento, was everything we hoped it would be and more. The kebab shop has 700 5* reviews on Trip Advisor, making it the third best restaurant in Sorrento. It was easily the nicest food we ate all holiday, plastic cutlery and all!
2) Wtf are you doing here, Vesuvius could erupt any minute!
Vesuvius is the world's deadliest volcano. If it were to erupt, a single pyroclastic flow could vaporise 25,000 people within 4 minutes. I was told...as I stood at the 1,300 metre summit leaning into the damn thing! The imposing volcano (whose presence will haunt your entire trip) definitely added a sense of drama/anxiety to our holiday. A wonderful highlight!
3) Don't stay in Vico Equense
If you can afford it, fork out and stay in Sorrento. Vico Equense was like it's ugly sister.
4) Pompeii and Herculaneum were LIFE CHANGING
From the age of eight or nine, like many history students, my curiosity to visit Ancient Rome spawned from a dog-eared copy of The Rotten Romans in the Horrible Histories series. For me, Pompeii and Herculaneum were simply life changing and their scale was unimaginable. It's not really a museum exhibit or 'red-roped' historical site. The ruins spilt out for what felt like miles and miles. At it's busiest, we still managed to stumble upon roads free from the hustle and bustle of other tourists. The 2000-year-old site really does feel frozen in time; strange like a foreign country but hauntingly similar to our lives as we know them. Despite the fact Pompeii and Herculaneum are sites of tragedy (at Herculaneum, the skeletal remains of lovers and families still embrace from the moment the pyroclastic surge destroyed them), it is, paradoxically, a site of wonderment.
5) Mary Beard is the new Queen B
DO NOT visit Pompeii or Herculaneum without either reading Mary Beard's fantastic Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town or watching one of her brilliant documentaries. The book is filled with myth-busting facts and hilarious anecdotes. Did you know that... some of the skeletons found in Pompeii were not actually victims of the eruption, but tomb raiders from centuries later? Or that most of Pompeii was destroyed during an earlier earthquake in 62 CE, and then again during the bombing of WW2? My favourite parts of the book are Beard's exploration of Pompeiian graffiti, including 'Gladiators are sexy' and 'Issa smells' scattered around the whole city. This book is more entertaining and informative than any official guidebook, highly recommended.
6) Don't forget your swimmers or anti-sick tablets for the Amalfi!
If you're planning on making the trip from Sorrento to Positano on the (very cheap and very popular) shuttle buses, bring your anti-sick tablets. Being stuffed onto a baking hot bus like a tin of sardines and spending an hour winding round the Amalfi coastline, wedged between travel sick pensioners, is not very fun. Also, don't forget your swimmers! My boyfriend and I forgot our swimming costumes so I ended up spending a fortune on a rather unsightly mint-green frilly thing three sizes too small, whilst my boyfriend ended up jumping in the sea in his boxers. Little children were screaming. Seriously.
7) Beware of the omnipresence of the British accent
It's everywhere. If you think travelling to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast is going to be one of those holidays where you find yourself amongst 'the other' - you've got another thing coming. Just be prepared - it's everywhere and most of the time, really annoying!
8) Giala - the Sorrento Zara with Primark prices
As a shopping addict, I'm always on the look out whilst I'm on holiday for the opportunity to purchase clothes, jewellery and beauty products. Giala is Sorrento's very own Zara (but with Primark prices). The stores are surprisingly chic and the clothes and fashion accessories are gorgeous!
9) Italian trains are an experience to say the least
The best way to get from Sorrento to Naples and the surrounding area was undoubtedly the train. It's dirt cheap, very reliable and you won't get stuck in hours of coastal traffic. However, in 30 degree heat (with no air conditioning), they were almost unbearable. That, combined with the sad (but unfortunately annoying) existence of 'train musicians', makes travelling by train in this part of Italy an experience to say the least.
10) No, the Catholic Good Friday procession and paintings around Sorrento are not the Ku Klux Klan
Don't be scared when a procession (resembling the KKK) appear on the Sorrento streets. It's just the Catholic Church celebrating Good Friday!
Have you been to Sorrento? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!