(eTN) – When Americans visit Italy, I believe we have different tastes and expectations than regional Italians; our way of life is quite different, so I’d like to give some tips to American travelers to Sorrento, based on my experiences today. I embarked on the Pacific Princess yesterday in Civitavecchia, the port for Rome. Today’s port was Sorrento, a beautiful city in Napoli County.
Most of the large ships have to dock in Naples City (Napoli), because it has the requisite facilities. Our ship is much smaller, so we anchored in front of Sorrento and took tenders over to the land. The first tenders were reserved for passengers who purchased the expensive ship tours, and they departed beginning at 7:00 am. I preferred to sleep in until 8:00, then go to breakfast in the formal dining room. Around 10:00 am, I went to the tenders, which had only a handful of passengers aboard. The trip to the shore lasted about 10 minutes at the most, and it was pleasantly comfortable.
At the shore, signs directed me to a free shuttle to the top of the cliff, where most of the city of Sorrento is based. The locals said it was a fifteen-minute climb up the cliff, but Detroiters should allot two hours to reach the top if walking. The free bus is blue and located about five minutes from the landing area. It left every 20 minutes or thereabouts, and took roughly 20 minutes from point to point. I don’t know how a human is expected to climb stairs faster than a bus can drive up the roads, and I would never recommend anyone trying to scale the mountainside; it’s not worth the effort when you can ride for free. I saw other lime-colored busses run by the city that also appeared to offer free rides to the top of the mountain.
Once on top, the shuttle bus stopped at a store selling jewelry boxes and tables decorated with inlaid wood. The prices were outrageous, but the toilets were free. Facing the sea, there is a tiny kiosk in front of an iron fence. Here, they sold tickets to the Sorrento CityTrain, a one-car tram pulled by a baby train engine. Two other competitors sold city tours: a green trolley and a red hop-on-hop-off. The baby train was white, and looked very cute, but it also looked like the tour from Hell. I’m sure the tour is fine for elementary school children and southern Italians, who appear much smaller in size than Americans. Most of the Italian men look like they still wear a size 20 in boys’ attire, but seating a 200-pound American man into that tram, with no leg room, no air-conditioning, and packed like sardines, just wasn’t a good idea. The price was the lowest of the three city tours, but also the shortest at 30 minutes. It’s just enough time to put you in a bad mood and let you get soaked in sweat.
The first competitor is called Sorrento Fun Tram Tours, and is an open-air trolley painted hunter green, with citrus fruit decorations. The price is still amazingly cheaper than a tour offered from a ship, but it lasts only 50 minutes. It runs a tour through the city and along the coast to the tip of the peninsula, where you can clearly see the Isle of Capri. It is not air-conditioned, but breezes from the Bay of Naples blow inward once the trolley is out of the city. I would recommend this tour only if time were of the essence.
I chose the second competitor, the red hop-on-hop-off Sightseeing Sorrento open-roof bus. The price was right, and the tour lasted about two hours. It toured the major spots in Sorrento, then took us for a beautiful country drive through the Sorrento peninsula. There is no shade on the roof level, and no air-conditioning on the lower level, so when standing still, the heat is unpleasant. It would be difficult to keep a hat from blowing away while the bus is touring the countryside, so sunblock appears to offer the only protection from UVB. At two hours, the tour was just right – and the views were definitely worth the cost of the tour. The entire route has something beautiful to look at, whether it is the Mediterranean, oleanders and bougainvillea, sweeping panoramas of Naples Bay and Vesuvius, the Isle of Capri, or the gorgeous villas along the sea. The commentary is offered in five languages, each being pre-recorded on a track, and the passengers are given ear plugs to listen. I don’t like anything being shoved tightly in my ears, but it was the only way to hear the commentary, since a group of rowdy old folks hopped on and decided to yell and scream about the views rather than listen courteously to the audio.
The route is not well-suited for hop-on-hop-off, since there is only one bus, and it takes two hours to complete a circuit. If you hop off, you’ll be stranded for two hours. The ticket barkers said the tour began at the train station, Stazione Circumvesviana, which they claimed was only a five-minute walk from Piazza Tasso (where the shuttle busses drop passengers). Plan on fifteen to twenty minutes to walk up to the station, or just be belligerent and tell the barkers you’re not going to walk that far in the hot sun, when they know the bus stops across the street from them on Corso Italia right after it departs the station. They prefer to load at the station, because they have a parking spot, and they can explain to the uninitiated how to put on ear plugs and select a language; on the Corso Italia, the bus is only allowed to stop for a brief moment to pick up people. They don’t ask for money until the bus is a long way from town; of course, if you discover you have no money on you at that moment, it’s a miserable hike back into town.
The tour ends at the train station, so you have to walk back to Piazza Tasso to catch the shuttle down to the sea. Regular-sized postcards cost 20 to 30 Euro cents each, but the cost of postage from Italy to America is obscene. It’s cheaper to wait until you are in country where postcard stamps are cheaper, like Turkey (60 US cents) or Egypt (50 US cents); we were warned not to rely on postcards actually being delivered if posted from Egypt. For souvenirs, I found large tea-towels with scenes from Sorrento and Capri to foot the bill; I thought they were a better purchase than postcards for friends and family.
The red hop-on-hop-off bus company tours run at 9:30 am, 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 3:30 pm. If you go, I strongly recommend purchasing a few bottles of soda or water at a local shop before boarding the bus.
Some people wanted to take a boat tour over to the Isle of Capri. You can purchase a tour from the ship at an outrageous price, or you can do it on your own for an outrageous price. From the docks of Sorrento, I think the cost of a round-trip ride is totally not worth it. I’ve been to Capri before, and thought it was an overpriced tourist trap. The regional Italians consider it trendy to be seen in Capri, but for Americans who have no pre-conceived notions of where to be seen, Capri can be a waste of time. It’s an island with super-expensive shops like Gucci and Louis Vuitton, but by American shopping mall standards, the place is a dump. When I purchased a diet Coke from a street vendor, he gave me a bunch of worthless coins as my change, grossly cheating me, knowing I wouldn’t know the difference. When Marco saw what the vendor did, he went over and demanded the rest of my money; we were told they will steal tourists blind.
Another option for Sorrento passengers is a visit to the Amalfi Coast. The area is beautiful, but the bus ride to Amalfi is long and arduous, with people packed into busses that have no air-conditioning. A better choice is to take a boat ride to Amalfi, where at least the trip is pleasant. Once in Amalfi, Christians will enjoy visiting the tomb of Saint Andrew.
Don’t even think about taking a tour to the town of Naples. It’s filthy, hot, crowded, and rife with pickpockets. If you desire pleasant thoughts of Naples, listen to a Dean Martin record or watch a film showing the Disney version of the town, or better yet, visit a Little Italy in America, where you’ll get a Neapolitan experience without the frustrations of Napoli.
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