Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sorrento, Italy: The Bay of Naples

 One of the best aspects of a visit to Sorrento is the views afforded of Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples. The blue in the bay is beautiful.
 To get to the bayfront from the town square, one must walk down this narrow street. The Foreigners Club is just above the wall on the right. Once we rounded the curve to the right at the far end of this street...
 This is what we saw. What a view!
 I'm not quite sure what all the people were doing milling about down there, but it must have something to do with the boats at the dock.
 Turning the camera a bit to the right, we can see the coastline. Our hotel, Hotel de la Ville, is on that closest bluff about two blocks in.
 Sorrento has provided a nice little harbor for the boats of residents.
 Another view to the right.
 Looking slightly downward, I thought this group of buildings was pretty interesting. Does it remind you of anything? It reminded me of the ruins at Herculaneum that we had just visited. The red tile roof, the dusty gray colors buildings, the tightly-packed placement. In some ways, not much has changed in 2,000 years. If electricity had not been discovered and automobiles had not been invented, I submit to you life would be almost identical.
 A beautiful little Alfa Romeo squirting up the hillside. Please Alfa, come back to the States.

And now, a shot of a few of the vessels crossing the Bay of Naples...

Sorrento, Italy: Hotel de la Ville in the Daylight

 We awoke on our first morning in Italy to see this beautiful sight - the Bay of Naples with Mount Vesuvius in the background. It was delightful and well worth the upgrade to the Deluxe Plus room. The trees in the foreground are lemon trees. Lemon trees are absolutely everywhere in this region.
 Stepping out onto the patio gave me this even better view of Mount Vesuvius. I can't quite describe the feeling I got from finally seeing that mountain, the one I had read about for so many years...the very mountain that erupted 2,000 years ago and completely covered Herculaneum and Pompeii
 Standing on the patio and turning right (east), this is the view. On the left just beyond the trees in the foreground is a soccer field, it looked like it was part of a school but we never checked to find out.
 Here is that house across the street in the daylight. Over the days, we noticed that they opened the front door in the morning and pretty much left it open all day. There would be a few visitors each morning, but not alot. We began to wonder if it was just shop for the surrounding lemon grove, though it did appear to have furniture in it.
 And here is the rest of the lemon grove. There were plenty of ripe lemons on the trees.
 Going downstairs for the free breakfast, we entered this room which was about half-full with Brits of all ages. Like us, they were wiping the sleep out of their eyes trying to jump-start their morning. The breakfast they serve here is without a doubt the best free hotel breakfast I have ever had. There were tables upon tables of food, including all sorts of meats and cheeses, desserts, breads, champagne, and a chef waiting to cook you an omelet however you wanted it. Top notch - I can't think of a way they could have done it better
 The next morning we ate on the outdoor patio, which was just as delightful as the indoor dining room. And equally full of Brits (they aren't invisible, I borrowed these photos from the hotel website).
 Another view I borrowed from their website.
 This photo was also on the hotel website and, if I'm not mistaken, it was taken from the very room we stayed in. Compare it to the first photo in this post, I think you'll agree.
 Here is what the front of Hotel de la Ville looks like in the daylight. I can't remember which day, but I snapped these pics on the way back to the room. The hotel is the creme colored building.
 Here is my wife in the blue top, hurrying back to the room probably to get off her feet for awhile (I set a fast pace when we are on vacation).
 Looking straight down from our balcony, there was motorcycle parking. Each of these bikes has a helmet stored under the seat, and this area fills up very fast each morning. That is something to note: this street had an abundance of buzzy motorcycles going by at all hours of the day and evening. There was a brief respite deep in the night, but it is worth mentioning. Not that I think any other hotel would have been much different - motorcycles are as common as flies in Italy.
 We spent this first full day in Italy at Herculaneum (details in my next post) and then returned to the room. This store, called New Life, was across the street when looking east from our patio. The next two pictures shows people heading home on the road after a long day. And the last: Mount Vesuvius ushering in the night.

Sorrento, Italy: Hotel de la Ville, Room 306

 To recap our last blog entry, we had a very long, wet, tiring travel day from Paris to Sorrento. When we checked into the Grand Hotel de la Ville, we were exhausted. So...for our first night ever in Italy, how was our room? We were assigned Room 306, as shown in this Fire Exit Plan diagram on the back of the door. We had paid for a Bay of Naples view room (the Deluxe Plus), so the bay would be on the south side of the diagram.
 Notice that our queen bed is basically two singles pushed together. The hotel was up-front about this on their website, so we knew this going in. Not optimal, but it was the best choice out of all the reasonably priced hotels in Sorrento. You can now begin to see why we nicknamed it Gramma's Room.
 The decor and patterns are just what we would have found in our Gramma's house. It seems that most of Southern Italy likes this style - maybe American grandmothers are big fans of Southern Italy?
 The closet was nice and had the usual: hangers, shelves, places for luggage, and a safe.
 This shot shows the nightstand and the floor tile....way too busy for our tastes, but again our Gramma would have loved it. The room was exceedingly clean.
 Opposite the bed was a desk with a flat screen TV and a minibar.
 And here is the bathroom. Clean, functional, dual sinks, and oodles of blue patterned tile. Notice the heated towel rack. Niiiice.
 We think the love of tile is pretty common in Southern Italy. Judging from website pictures, every hotel room in Sorrento is tiled throughout - no carpet at all. Maybe it has to do with the proximity to the coast? It probably makes it easier to keep musty odors at bay - we did not detect any musty smell.
 Another interesting thing about Italian hotel rooms: the tubs all had an emergency cord that could be used to summon help. This seems silly until you actually use the showers - there is something about the tubs that make them a little difficult to stand in. Maybe we've just grown accustomed to our large shower stall at home, with it's perfectly flat floor and ample room to move around.
 Though it is hard to see in the picture, the bottom is quite sloped.
 And finally, the big mystery of Europe. Why do most of the hotel rooms have these cheesy blow dryers? The hose wiggles and gets hot, making it almost impossible for my wife to style her hair properly. We are absolutely, positively, taking our own Euro-current hair dryer next time.
 A peculiarity of this particular hotel: They give you a room key that controls all the electricity in the room. In other words, no lights or anything will work until the key is inserted. Also, the front desk made it clear than, when we leave the room, we are to take the key downstairs and leave it at the front desk. I assume this does two things: (a) it ensures us wasteful Americans don't leave the TV, A/C, and every light in the room on, and (b) it tells the clerk that the room should be empty and any activity in there is probably suspect.

 And to continue with my tradition, a photo of the thermostat. We never touched it as the room stayed quite comfortable. Below that is the light switch - a much higher quality than typical American switches.
Pulling back the curtains and looking outside, one can almost make out the Bay of Naples in the darkness. The distant lights on the uppermost part of the photo would be the Herculaneum area at the base of Mount Vesuvius, with Naples somewhere towards the left of those lights.

 Stepping out onto the patio and looking right (east), this is the view. The wet street in the foreground is the one we had just trudged up with our luggage.
 Looking straight down from the patio was this house. They must just love the tall hotel across the street. did the room compare to what was shown on the website? Here is the website photo of the Deluxe Plus room. I would find only two inaccuracies at this point....the bed looks much wider than what we got (though it is still two beds pushed together), and we did NOT get the table and chairs by the sliding glass door. There wasn't even room for a table and chairs in our room! As we'll see tomorrow in the daylight, the view does look reasonably similar to what is shown here, but if we had been assigned any of the other rooms on the bay side of the building, trees would probably have blocked that view.

Would we recommend this hotel? Well, more on the rest of the hotel tomorrow, but yes we would recommend it. The staff was excellent and the room felt clean and safe. We're not in our room much anyway, so those are the important things to us.

From here, we went downstairs for the three drinks and peanuts dinner we described in our last post, then we returned to the room and crashed for the night. Goodnight, Gramma.

Sorrento: Limoncello!

 One cannot mention this region of southern Italy, particularly the city of Sorrento, without mentioning Limoncello - an alcohol made primarily of lemons. It is normally served in a shot glass - this is a photo of our table in Sorrento one evening as we prepared to order dinner. Notice the waiter has already brought our limoncello.
 Each evening we would stop by a local corner grocer to purchase a bottle of Pinot Grigio before adjourning to our room. This is what we saw as we prepared to enter his store each night - baskets of lemons (the doorway to the store is at the top edge of the photo).
The peninsula where Sorrento is located is covered in lemon trees - they are everywhere! When riding the local railroad that connects the cities on the peninsula, one can practically reach out the window and grab a lemon from the trees.