Dr.Dawg

Land of lemons

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Here, as promised, is the last of the Italy series. What with Enbridge and the Middle East and the crushing defeat of one Timothy Patrick Hudak, I’m amazed that I finally completed it. But, for better or worse, from a thoroughly distracted mind, my impressions of Sorrento and the Amalfi coast.

You will pardon the pictorial false suggestion, above: this is actually a cedro, first cousin to the lemon, photographed in Amalfi. Remember that candied citrus peel you didn’t like as a kid? But lemons there are aplenty in Sorrento—the home of limoncello—and its environs.

Up and down the narrow streets of Sorrento, lemons, and limoncello of many brands and differing degrees of strength and sweetness are available. Indeed, many other things are on sale, too, including Sorrento’s trademark inlaid wooden boxes, and a varied selection of pasta, including a “sexy pasta” in the form of…well. Can’t see the average Italian matriarch going for that at family dinners, but some visitors snap it up, no doubt.

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A word about hustling, by the way: better get used to it in this neck of the woods. You can’t walk down a thoroughfare in Sorrento without being implored to buy. The place is under tourist occupation these days, English is the lingua franca, and we’re all fair game. Tips for just about anything are expected, to the point that I could almost imagine buying a loaf of bread and tipping the grocer. I felt like the Man of La Mancia. And the sales din is deafening. Heading for the ferry in the morning? A man with slicked hair stands before a little restaurant: “Coffee time!” he repeats, over and over, in English. Waiting for the same ferry? A fellow shows up selling small bottles of cold water for €1—“special price!”—and does a brisk trade. (In Naples, one of those restaurant greeters took Ms. Mew’s hand, kissed it, and made exaggerated “Italian” gestures, until she spoke to him in Italian—at which point he backed off quickly, apologizing!)

An anecdote: we had lunch outdoors at a little restaurant on a street barely more than an alley. The music? As a break from Torna a Surriento, how about Carol Channing singing “Santa Baby?” And right across the way there was a Christmas store, open for business. In May.

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Ms. Mew, always on the qui vive for items to add to her impressive presepe, actually purchased an item or two.

Well, we got into it, of course, even taking a little imitation train excursion through the city, along with a horde of other people who sounded like they were from the Midlands. We found a couple of bearable restaurants in the harbour, especially one at the Marina Grande (below) and a closer one at Marina Piccola where we headed down a couple of times to eat and then snooze on their lettini prendisole. Very civilized.

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Most evenings we ate decent if undistinguished meals at our hotel, perched high above the city, and gazed from our balcony at Sorrento…

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…and the sunsets.

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But Sorrento tires. So we took excursions, one to Capri, another to Amalfi. Like Ischia (a playground for the wealthy, basking in their geothermal pools, a taxi clip-joint, and fairly ordinary as far as scenery and landmarks go), Capri was a little too much like Rodeo Drive. “One big store,” groused Ms. Mew, and she was right. But the seascape, on the other hand, was well worth the ride. There were the Faraglioni:

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And of course there was the famous trio of grottoes, la grotta bianca:

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la grotta verde:

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and la grotta azzurra.

That last one needs a new paragraph. The grotto itself is entered through a hole barely large enough for a small boat to squeeze through. And no, you don’t just go. You pay a fee of €13 to see it, and our boatman rather heavily suggested a “special tip”— “€5 or €10, what you like.” In we went to a magical place, but, alas, for all of about two minutes at most, the boatmen circling the walls with their human cargo, singing snatches of song, and then out. You must excuse the blurriness of this shot: the boat was in full motion and rocking:

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The place is enclosed, lit only by the sun through the water. Afterwards we found out that locals like to swim into it after 5:00pm, when the shakedown artists have all gone home with their bags of treasure.

I offered the boatman €3, out of utterly misplaced generosity. He scowled.

Then on to Amalfi:

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That was more like it. The main piazza

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with its cathedral from which I took the preceding shot

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was where we homed in, first for a glass or two of something and then down the street for a hardcore gelato the size of my head.

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Back for another day or two in Sorrento. By complete accident, I found what is actually the town’s most famous landmark—the Vallone dei Mulini (photos). Ruined buildings at the bottom of a dizzyingly deep gorge, practically in the middle of town, and neither Ms. Mew nor I were at first aware of what we were seeing. “Go listen to that woman over there,” she said. “She’s explaining in English.” I got there in time to hear her say, “That should be turned into a trendy restaurant.” Exeunt omnes.

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And then the inevitable farewell. One last evening with Vesuvius:

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and then back to Naples to grab the train home. And what did we have for lunch at the station, being the seasoned global travellers that we were? Big Macs!

Returning, Ms. Mew got a shot of the station at Reggio Emilia, designed by world-class Spanish architect Santiago Caltrava:

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Once back in Milan I had the inevitable orecchia d’elefante, a family tradition by now—and then…back to this.

[Photos: Ruined mill, Juan Salmoral; Marina Grande and those honking great gelati: Ms. Mew]

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This page contains a single entry by Dr.Dawg published on June 18, 2014 2:41 PM.

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