Part I | Sorrento
Last year, The Mister and I decided it was high time we embarked on another adventure to pal around the world, eating our way through a new culture, feasting our eyes on lands yet unseen by us. So to Italy we went! Its renown azure coastlines and hearty fare sang its siren song and we answered with airfare tickets and expectant appetites.
And guessing by how much gelato I planned on eating, I knew we needed to start saving. So we saved. And saved. And saved some more. And once we saved above and beyond what we thought we needed, we finalized our plans and studied TripAdvisor like we were cramming for a final that's worth 100% of your grade. By saving considerably more than we needed allowed us to enjoy ourselves fully without worrying about a budget. Cheers to that extra scoop!
Not only would we be gallivanting around paradise, but we were doing it without kids. (If you're a parent, stop reading right this minute and close your eyes and just imagine...no kids. Meditate in this moment of bliss for the next 5 seconds of quiet you have before said kids bring you back to reality with the impressively pungent aroma of a full diaper headed your way and inexhaustible food requests. Welcome. You are home.) Of course, leaving our Littles was hard and did not go un-agonized over, but for the chance to travel unhindered and alone again - as partners, lovers, kids ourselves without responsibilities - it was totally worth it. For now, we were not parents providing meals and clean laundry and a fount of answers for the never-ending questions, but simply Heather & JD - husband and wife. Besties for life. (p.s. I adore staying home with Alice and Milo and keeping our house, but sometimes you've got to get away to fully appreciate what you have to come home to.)
I spent countless hours researching - deliberating over hotels, restaurants, the attractions we would see - and finally came up with a loose plan of attack for making the most of our time there. By making a few notes now we wouldn't be wasting our time at restaurants that were poorly vetted or B&Bs with bedbugs. For each city, I had a handful of places to visit - and a list of the best gelaterias, caffes and restaurants - that piqued my interest so we could meander at our leisure.
While 8 days is a good amount of time, it isn't enough to explore many places fully, so we avoided going into museums and spent our hours walking and eating, marveling at architecture from the outside and taking in the sites via sunshine. Art History was one of my favorite subjects in college but my priorities weren't seeing frescoes and statues. My priorities according to Me in February as written in my journal were:
- eat gelato
- make good art
- get lost - but not too lost
- window shop - HEATHER YOU CAN ONLY BUY WHAT YOU CAN FIT IN BAG
- eat real Italian food, every day
- learn to like wine? meh
- everything with my mister
(Aren't I wise? I knew I had to put the breaks on my future self who would want to buy every cute thing she wanted. One of the many perks of traveling light - post to come!)
The months ticked by and finally it was our turn. With one backpack and carry-on apiece, we spent a cuddly last hour with our little clan and I memorized every look Milo gave me with those fiery-rimmed blue eyes while he nursed for what might have been the last time. We hugged and "hugga-muggaed" and I held them close, breathing them in. They waved happily from my parents' window (thank you Mom, Lyn, and friends for keeping them healthy and safe!) and then we were whisked through the rain by our enthusiastic chauffeur, Gramma Alice.
Omaha to Newark to Munich to Naples meant a whirlwind of tickets and time travel where finally after a short ride to Sorrento we could settle in.
The rest of our first day is lifted directly from my journal, so read it like a story and enjoy...
"It was cool and rainy once we arrived at our hotel. Our temporary home is perfect, an oasis of the most striking blue, with yellow damask chairs, white gauzy curtained doors, warmly stained armoire and an inviting bed of crisp white sheets. Shoes off...aaaaah.
We claimed a 20 minute power nap, freshened up, changed for the weather and embarked on our first exploration of the city of Sorrento. We walked next door to a magical conservatory of a restaurant - Ristorante O'Parracchiano. The stairway took you up and up through enchanting rooms of glass ceilings, tropical trees, old-world furniture and enticing smells of the feast to come. We found a table oustide protected from the rain, but not the chill. Our waiters were slow in serving but eventually we abated our appetites with anipasti - ravioli, stuffed and fried squash blossoms, fried mozzarella, and mozzarella wrapped in a lemon leaf. Minestrone and a prawn ravioli eventually arrived, all accompanied by a sparkling water. The filtered green, the pitter-patter of rain on leaves, and the Italian violin music set the stage for a lovely, albeit cool and late, first encounter with Italian cuisine. After our two hour stay we ambled along.
Mopeds line the cobblestone streets. Vendors galore attend to the heavy traffic of tourists. Bars invite. Colorful facades beckon camera clicks. It smells like lemons, coffee and exhaust with top notes of eau de cigarette. It would seem that linen, leather and lemons are the goods of Sorrento.
We exchanged some money and walked the corsos feeling rich, but my desires had to be tempered by my suitcase: a Langly camera bag and carpenter tote. Because we didn't bring luggage I have been much more careful in my purchases, so far only buying a couple of scarves and a pair of much-needed sunglasses. A kilo of coveted cherries nestles in my bag quite nicely for the terrace later.
I wander and stop frequently to take a picture; JD graciously looks around and waits. I found a group of local men smoking and playing cards in a temple and they conspiratorially let me capture their game. I could have hugged them :)
We continued to meander the slim sidewalks, weaving through the tides of tourists and eventually landed at the sea. We stepped into San Francesco, a cathedral of magnificent architecture and chintzy religious tableaus. The only thing in my viewfinder were the ceilings. La Villa Communale was a breathtaking walkway of roses, trees, and a view for days. JD made a 360 video to show the kids with the Google Cardboard while I snapped away. It was breezy and cool, but we were prepared with jackets and scarves. Vesuvius rested in the clouds above misty Naples. The scene was gray with slivers of silver light, the sea and sky blending together on the horizon.
We continued on, stopping for the most alluring smell of brownies which turned out to be a stand serving freshly made crepes oozing with nutella. *Sigh* Drool bucket, please. I had to make one mine. Pronto. We acquired the treasure and walked across the street so JD could get amaretto and pistachio gelato along with an espresso. We sat, enjoying our delectable prizes in peace.
After sating our sweet teeth, we walked down the Corso Italia across the bridge to the Grand Hotel Exelsior Vittoria where we learned we were not allowed, but with a little charm and genuine pleading, the guard let us in. Colonnades covered in flowering greenery. Vignettes of roses and orange trees. Beckoning seats and views of the sea...it was one long dream walk, each cove better than the next. We reached the end and marveled at the ancient, climbing trees and blooming foliage everywhere we looked.
Once our eyebuds could take no more, we left to return to the hotel but first popped into a pretty pink chapel with creamy scroll-work. No idea what it was called, but it was so sweet and dainty I couldn't help but think it might be one my favorite of chapels of all time. Back at our lodging we changed and ventured our for dinner. Dress, scarf, and sandal-attired, we followed a winding footpath down to the docks and settled in for dinner at Ristorante O'Puledrone. Our table was literally next to the rocky shore, not even a wall separating us. It was cool, the waves lapped below us, the sounds of birds, tinkling dishes and mopeds playing us a serenade. A pink-tinged sunset gloried over the cloudy sky and house-laden cliff side.
I ate one of the best dishes of my life - a zucchini parmesan - the green melting away between layers of cheese and butter. It was warm and hearty and sublime. The seafood risotto was less so, but the fish was tasty and it all washed down well with half a liter of the house white wine. We capped it off with limoncello and made a brisk walk back in the dark cool night. Lights twinkled merrily along the coast and we laid down for a sweet slumber, finally able to rest. A good first day in Italy."