Thursday, 18 September 2014

Return to Sorrento

We spent a week in Sorrento in 2005, but this morning, Wednesday 3 September, 2014, we awake aboard the Thomson Majesty, look out of our cabin window and breathe a sigh of contentment at one of the most majestic panoramas of the world.

I took the photo from the Promenade Deck once we were up, showered and dressed. We had an early morning coffee on the top deck before breakfast. Whilst the coffee cooled, I trotted up to the very top deck and took several photos of the ship - the next but one article will be all about Thomson Majesty itself. Tomorrow will be, in fact, our last day before returning to Corfu for our flight home.

The evening before had been a trifle rough as we went through a storm force 7, combined with rough seas. Even Miss Franny succumbed and we spent much of the evening sliding down the bunk or up onto the pillows and reading. The captain had expressed some doubt about Sorrento, which has no harbour large enough for a cruise ship and therefore requires a tender boat operation. The alternative would have been to moor up (sorry! "park") at Naples across the bay. But here we are with a magnificent view of...

"It looks a bit like a volcano, doesn't it...?" a fellow passenger remarked to me as we gazed across the water.
"It's Vesuvius!" I spluttered, a little incredulous that someone could come to Sorrento and not know what the huge mountain with a crater just across the bay could be.

The view from the other side of the ship. Sorrento sits on a cliff face that enters the sea in a vertical drop with no beaches. The locals have made up for this lack of sunbathing opportunity with wooden jetties on top of piles of rocks that they call "beaches" and these come complete with sunbeds for hire. One of the ship's tender boats is returning to the ship from the harbour at the foot of the cliff.

All ships tend to prioritise their excursion customers in any tender operation and solo or independent travellers are asked to wait until the waiting coaches have been filled with their passengers. Knowing this we left it a couple of hours before joining the queue, which still climbed the stairwells for a couple or three decks. People were going down to the gangway deck via a lift only to have to climb back up to join the end of the queue.

Eventually though we step off the tender boat and arrive at Sorrento.

We spent a full week here, laboriously trekking up and down the cliff in zig-zags. Now they tell us there's a lift... It's signposted "Acensore" and to reach it you have to follow a very narrow trail of wooden gangways at the foot of the cliff. No wonder we hadn't found it on our own...

At the top we have a great view of Thomson Majesty sitting at anchor in the bay. Vesuvius is on the extreme left. The ruins of Roman Pompeii are on its right hand side as we look towards it.

Near the top of the cliff, just where we come out of the lift are several small narrow streets, lined with cafe bars and tourist shops as well as food and clothing shops by the score. It is picturesque, busy, exciting and tempting all at the same time. We made our way up and down, stopped for a while for a morning coffee, watching as two teenagers on a scooter were given a lecture by a patrolling policeman.

We called in at one of many shops selling the delicious lemon-flavoured liqueur, limoncello. Smiling, the old lady who was shopkeeper poured us a sample and pointed out some bottles aimed at the tourist industry, small and medium novelty-shaped bottles. She smiled even more when I picked up a larger more traditionally shaped bottle that I could be more certain of how much it held. We paid and said our goodbyes and came out into the main street running along the coast.

This is the Piazza Tasso where the coast road, the Corso Italia, is joined by what seems like three streets from inland. In reality the Viale Enrico Caruso is split into two lanes, each a one-way street for traffic. The confusion comes because the Via Fuorimura runs between the two lanes of Viale Enrico Caruso, taking bus traffic... Incidentally Caruso, the famed opera singer, came from Naples rather than Sorrento, but was obviously well thought of!

Walking up Via Fuorimura, you come to a great cleft in the land. There's a huge ravine here, where two rivers meet. It is around 150 feet deep and contains its own micro-climate. There are a couple of factories at the bottom, a sawmill and a flour mill, the latter of which remained in use into the last century. The ravine itself was created by massive volcanic action between 35,000 and 37,000 years ago, give or take a week. The ravine is known as The Valley of the Mills. Romantic, picturesque and so deep that taking photos is extremely difficult because of the huge difference in light levels between street level and the gorge interior.

You just come on this out of the blue. The depth takes you by surprise the first time you see it. It needs treating with respect. A young British tourist lost his life after falling down it at 3:00am one morning in 2011.

Back at Piazza Tasso we are now looking down on the zig-zagging road down to the harbour. We climbed this several times during our week here in 2005. It's easier to go down but the don't underestimate the effect on your knees! There's also a shorter route...

Yes... we really were that stupid... Mind you we did come down, not up, the staircases. Even going down you end up out of breath...

We did a bit of admiring the view (an activity also known as getting your breath back) before getting onto the tender boat. This waited until its space was needed by another tender boat coming in and then the boat captain (driver) pressed the starter and chug---chug---chug-----------chug.... nothing...

Several crew members opened a hatch and looked at the battery, but they weren't looking hard enough because even after all that staring, it refused to start the engine. We swapped to the incoming boat once its passengers had got off...

Just down the coast a little is Sant'Agnello, bordering onto Sorrento. It is where we stayed in 2005 and is a quieter place than Sorrento itself. Mind you, the entertainer chap in the next hotel was awful!!!

We had our usual cruising afternoon, snug in a comfortable chair with a drink to hand and our noses in our books. Then a shower and change of clothes before our next meal and we went up onto the Promenade Deck once again for a last look at Sorrento, Vesuvius et al. The last tender boats were still ferrying passengers from Sorrento. We watched as they were winched aboard. Er... that's the boats, not the passengers...

One of the things I best remember about the week we spent here was the beauty and tranquillity of the Bay of Naples in the late afternoon, right through to some spectacular late evening sunsets. We wouldn't see the sunset here tonight, but this view across the mouth of the bay towards the islands of Capri and Ischia gives some idea of what I mean. This is a view for the souls of poets...

We waited until we had started to move and then went back inside the ship and down to our favourite eatery, the Four Seasons restaurant. The day had one more view to show us. As we tucked into our starters, I looked up and saw the unmistakeable silhouettes of Capri's Faglieri Rocks through the window. If you look carefully you can just make out a small opening at the bottom of the middle rock just to the left of the darker fold of the net curtain. In 2005 we sailed through that hole on a launch!

Italian Flavours Cruise Index

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