When we were deciding where to go in Italy, we did not discuss at all b/c we already knew it was Rome (b/c of love of old things) and Amalfi Coast b/c we saw it on Rick Steves and we instinctively knew it was our type of place

again, great work of the navigator to find the shortcut to cut across the path of the volcano

I think this was the nicest hotel I've ever been in.

yah, when I first saw it, I was afraid I was going to be disasppointed in Sorrento but once you get into the narrow streets, it felt like a quaint city rather than a big shopping area

To Sorrento

We chose to hole up in Sorrento our first week in Italy for the following reasons: It was one of the larger cities on the peninsula, had a large harbor with lots of ferries to other cities/islands, and Rick Steves said that we couldn't go wrong. So our plan was to rent a car, even though the very same Rick Steves said that driving on the Sorrentine Peninsula/Almafi Coast was absolutely horrendous, and use Sorrento as a base for further exploration. I don't know why we only believed half his spiel... the man has experience and should not be doubted!

Landing at Rome Fumicico airport at 11am, we were pleasantly surprised to find that we had both slept fairly well, and were ready for adventure! First up: Where the hell is the rental car place? A shuttle and four motorized walkways later we found the small Avis desk in the parking garage. Hurray! But, we were informed, this was for Express customers, and we had to go back to the main desk in the terminal. Luckily it wasn't far away; just two motorized walkways, but unluckily as soon as Lin-Wei hit the ticket button to get a deli-type "Next!" ticket, the machine broke. Asking a gentlemen behind the desk for help, he told her that all she had to do was press the button to get a number... After a bit of back and forth he came out from behind the desk to press the button for her, only to find out that the machine was broken. "Heh..." he sighed, and took about 5min to fix it. Once that was sorted we got our reservation, a VW Golf, running on Diesel! I naively asked if Diesel gas was hard to find, and the woman helping us just gave me a blank stare and said, "No."

Sal the angry, coughing car at the autogrill
Two motorized walkways later we were back in the parking garage, and into Sal, the angry, coughing car. I later got annecdotal accounts of diesel cars being hard to start, but it was extremely unnerving to be turning the key for 30sec and only hearing "ruh ruh ruh ruh ruh ruh ruh ruh ruh ruh ruh..." I mean, we were going to be going up and down volcanoes in this thing! Eventually it started, and we eased our way out of the parking garage and onto the Italian Autostrade system.

The next few hours were spent battling the radio, as we'd only be able to get a station for about 45sec until the mountains obsured it, and we had to search again. After about an hour the radio got shut off, and we spent the time wondering how our babies were doing. We stopped for lunch at an old, familiar friend: The Autogrill. Home of sub-par sandwiches and confounding ordering procedues, it still hit the spot after a long couple days of travel. And Sal the angry coughing car even started on the first try this time!

Mt. Vesuvius from the road
Once we got to the outskirts of Naples, the route to Sorrento seemed simple enough on paper, but somehow the exit signs for our highway lied, and instead of heading down the coast towards sorrento we were going around Mt. Vesuvius to the East! This would be adding almost an extra hour onto an already long drive, but there was on last highway that cut across in front of the volcano, and we were able to pick that up. After passing the Italian Manson family in a beat up VW microbus, we were back on track.

Rick claimed that the traffic on the Amalfi coast was some of the worst in the world, but the first twenty minutes along the coast was not bad at all. It wasn't until we were 10km from our destination when reality started to hit. The only road connecting the cities was barely big enough for two way traffic. Add a twenty tour buses and 4000 crazy assholes on vespa scooters, and it became pure bedlam.

A small taste of Sorrentine traffic. It gets worse. Lots worse.
We discovered that there are NO traffic lights, and only 2 stop signs on the whole Sorrentine peninsula. And neither sign was to be discovered for days yet. In the mean time, we quickly learned that if you need to turn, you just go. You edge out into traffic, making it clear to everyone around that pretty soon, YOU WILL BE GOING, and either someone is nice and lets you in (rare), or more likely they were distracted and briefly slow down, and you take that opportunity to make your move. For the next fifteen minutes I dodged and weaved my way through the traffic, trying not to hit vespas passing me on the left (in which they were also dodging head-on traffic from the other direction and darting back into our lane), but also parked cars on the right, and the odd bus making wide turns along the coastal highway. I cursed myself for not getting the extra collision insurance. Was €30 a day worth this aggravation? It was a tough call.

We were arriving on a Thursday, which we hoped would mean that there wouldn't be much traffic. Ha! Traffic slowed to a crawl as we entered Sorrento, but that didn't make it any less hectic; just more frantic as you had to worm your way though even more traffic to get to your road. But finally, after another 20 minutes, I saw the road to our hotel, Grand Hotel Capodimonte, which I had previosly looked up on Google streetview, so I knew what to look for. We pulled into the valet area, and Lin-Wei got out with our luggage, and the porter pointed out the parking area for me.

The parking "lot"
I actually missed the driveway the first time because the entrance was so small, and had to make a U-turn back in the main city... yeah, I was sweating that one, but I got back around, and found that the parking lot was a completely undesirable dirt plot below the road, perched on a hillside. To make it even more fun, they left ten large trees there, so that not only were there just a few parking spaces, what spaces there were required must strategic planning before attempting to park, as you may:
  1. Block off the entrance/exit for anyone else
  2. Park in another car
  3. Run our car off the side of the hill if you were careful
  4. May not be able to get your car again

And all this could be yours too for only an extra €15 a night! Frommer's lied when they said the parking was free at this hotel.

Climbing back up the stairs and hill to our hotel, I was greeted by the sight of my lovely wife waving to me from the restaurant balcony on the fifth floor. I was getting excited now, cause even though the traffic was bad, the views in this area were already starting to be spectacular. My impression were reaffirmed when I got to the front door. "That's a big door," I thought. A hotel with a massive door like this MUST be a kick-ass hotel. And I was right!

We upped the ante by getting a room with a view of the bay of naples, but I'd have to say that "technically" it had a view. We couldn't see the volcano, but we did get free wifi! But the wifi could only be used in the lobby, and was spotty at best. But I was able to call home using Skype on the iPhone and talk to my mom. The girls, I was informed, were having a great time. I even got a "Hi Daddy..." out of Josie before she lost interest.

Pools at the Grand Hotel Capodimonte
That even more surprises were in store for us. I'd have to say that I wasn't impressed with Sorrento proper when we were driving through, but after walking down the main drag a bit we make a left turn down a side street, and found a whole pedestrian area with shops and restaurants along the coast which was much much more quaint and relaxing. Our dinner that night consisted of fish fish fish. We are big seafood fans, and planned on taking full advantage.Had some fresh fried sardines with heads still on, of course, on the advice of a co-worker. Yeah, they were ok... After dinner we gazed out over the bay at night, marveled at the volanco, and headed back to our hotel to update Facebook. And with that we called it a night.

Volcanoes! Volcanoes!

Copyright (c) The Sticklers 2009