So here I am, I’ve just got back from a beautiful weekend away with myself in the Naples area – see how Italian I am, I’ve started thinking that ‘beautiful’ is an acceptable adjective to put in front of everything.
I had high hopes for this weekend away, not least because it would enable me to tick a whole three things off my Italy bucket list (bringing me to the somewhat mediocre total of 15/42 so far, though perhaps it was ambitious expecting to be able to tour the whole of Italy, small villages included, in eight months).
I have mixed feelings towards solo travel. On the one hand, I always come away feeling inspired and chuffed with my intrepidness, you can tailor the itinerary to meet your expectations exactly and you don’t have to make conversation while walking uphill (which there was an awful lot of in Capri!) That said, the evenings can be a bit of a bore, even for someone who loves their own company as much as I do.
The expression ‘the only person that notices if you’re dining alone is you’ is total bull. While I tucked into the most sublime pizza of my life* in Naples I received odd looks from fellow diners and waiters alike (though I think one of them might have thought I was a mystery diner as he asked me what I did for a living, so he’s excused). That said, I genuinely couldn’t have cared less – the pizza was so good that it would have been an absolute travesty to miss out on it to save myself from embarrassment. Maybe the phrase should be ‘the only person that doesn’t care that you’re dining alone is you.’ I didn’t even get my book out – but then, I am blessed with having very interesting thoughts to keep me occupied.
In fact, I had a really lovely time with myself. On arriving in Naples I marched straight to a celebrated pasticceria to sample the best traditional pastries – you haven’t lived until you’ve had a sfogliatella or three! Then I worked up an accidental sweat power walking to the National Museum, which houses some of the best preserved artefacts from Pompeii. Naples is an exciting city, but I have to say I’m glad I wasn’t based there for the year. Priorities suddenly switch from ‘How can I get the most out of my day?’ to ‘How can I live to see the end of the day?’ The narrow streets are treacherous motorways for mopeds and the station is unfortunately surrounded simultaneously by the best places to eat and drink and the seediest characters to avoid at all costs. I’m definitely paranoid, but better that than to be mugged as I always say!
The next day I got my tourist on in style in Pompeii. Forgetting that there would be other tourists in Pomps and that it would thus be ok to dress like one, I was left absolutely boiling even in leggings and a t-shirt – Summer has definitely arrived! Pompeii was nothing like I’d expected. I’d imagined it to be a city perfectly stopped in time where you’d be able to peer into houses where tables were still laid and petrified people were frozen in action like Bernard’s Watch. In reality the main thing on show is the rubble of a city, which, if you’re as bad at reading maps as I am and as bad at signage as the proprietors of Pompeii are, is phenomenally difficult to navigate. As such I’m not exactly sure what I saw, although I did find the forum really interesting, and a few of the larger villas have been particularly well preserved/restored. So all in all quite an interesting day, especially once I’d bought a sfogliatella (heh heh heh) and decided to take the advice another tourist was offering to his friend and ‘imagine everyone walking round in togas’.
The forum in Pompeii – one of the few times when I knew where I was.
From Pompeii I headed to Sorrento. Crammed with tourists, Sorrento definitely has a ‘resort’ feel about it, but if anything for me that was its charm. I wiled the evening away ambling through pretty market streets, wining and dining myself and sampling some particularly incredible ice cream (if you’re ever in the area, I recommend ‘nuttellone’ with all my heart and soul!)
View from the terrace where I enjoyed a Spritz in Sorrento!
On my last day I took the ferry to Capri, which is PARADISE. Gorgeous weather shone on gorgeous surroundings, and my boat tour around the island revealed lots of magical hidden grottos. The idyllic image was only slightly marred by the fact that our captain, bless him, seemed to think that we simple tourists wouldn’t be satisfied with the stunning views and crystal waters unless he hyped them up a bit, so a fascinating natural arch became ‘an arch that, with a bit of imagination, looks like an elephant!’ and a grotto adorned with hanging stalagmites became ‘a grotto with stalagmites that, with a bit of imagination, take the form of the Madonna!’ No, they don’t, stop saying that.
The boat tour took us to the famous ‘grotto azzurro’, so named because the way that the light enters the cave creates a blue glow in the water. In my opinion the blue grotto is fairly overrated, and at any rate what would have been an exciting place to visit was ruined by extortionate entrance fees for a max five minute visit and boaters who, in the hope of a tip, belted out a range of italian songs all at the same time. Not exactly soothing. By far the most exciting bit was entering the grotto itself: we descended our tour boat onto little row boats, in which you have to lie completely flat as you go through the tiny entrance – it was the same feeling as when you’re on a roller coaster that suddenly speeds up: I even let out an involuntary squeal, so petrified was I that our guide was going to smash his head on the rock!
Wandering through the quaint paved streets in Capri afterwards was a little like being in Bicester village – lovely atmosphere but everything massively overpriced. As such the only think I bought was a pizza and a beer for lunch, which I ate in a little piazza watching the world go by. (A lot of the world went by two or three times, it’s quite a confusing place to find your way around.)
I had just enough time to pick up an ice cream in Sorrento on my way back to Naples to get the train home. I definitely won’t shy away from solo travel in the future, especially in places where there are lots of tourists, but I must admit that I’m excited to see my big sis in eleven days time!
*Da Pellone, Via Nazionale 93, near the station. The best pizza I’ve ever had in Italy and indeed my life! Queues of locals out the door are proof that it’s not just my opinion, too. I got my tip offs from this website which is worth checking out!