Memento of Sorrento – 1

22 Jan

There is a romance about Italy that neither Spain nor France manages. The Italians don’t do as they are told; they’re charmingly corrupt and inefficient but steeped in a love of music and art and food and wine. They seem to sense that civilisation began somewhere near Rome, way, way back when.

The Italians are not proud of Silvio Berlusconi or the trash which lines the streets of Naples or Mussolini or the Mafia…but they smile knowingly if others try to take the higher moral ground. Let him who is without sin…Having already enjoyed the fantasies of childhood holidays in Diano Marina, the misted hills of Tuscany, the brilliance of Venice, Padua, Verona, Pisa…the lakes – I continued my love affair in the Spring of 2014 with a trip to Sorrento.

What follows is a diarised account which, I hope, captures the whole experience of travel and not just the sexy Italians doing what they do best – crashing cars and ogling women.

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Dragging ourselves out of bed at 3.30a.m. is one of the questionable pleasures of cheapskate package tours. Thomson’s slot on the runway at Gatwick was 6.15 so a quick slurp of tea and we were on the road with that slightly fluey feeling you get when your body is reacting to the Godforsaken hour. We saw no other cars along the A 217 until we neared the M25 at Reigate. Then the London orbital woke us up and we were at the Gatwick Summer Parking Check-in in a trice. A group of early risers huddled on to the Airport bus. They were panicking. Only 15 minutes till check-in closed. A mother was chatting about her daughter needing 3 As for Bristol University. She should get them easily. Easily?! I thought – bloody grade inflation. In my day you were a genius if you got 3 As. Now it’s the requirement for Media Studies.

The Thomson check-in was all efficiency and smiles. Then security. There was some guy complaining about his hand luggage being searched. I wanted to say that that’s what security is all about but my attention was grabbed by a tiny child setting the bleepers off for no apparent reason. His little shoes were taken off for further examination with parents looking bewildered. More weird was the ageing English couple who complained they didn’t know that they couldn’t take a litre of vodka and a similar quantity of whisky through security. Voices were raised as the toxic liquids were confiscated. The grey couple were offered the chance to retrace their steps and recall their luggage to house the contraband but, all things considered, they wisely decided to eat humble pie and enter the departure lounge quietly, without alcohol in their satchels.

An hour to go before the flight. We headed for Jamie Oliver’s kitchen where Jamie is everywhere – on posters and screens and packaging. The display counter was groaning with carbo-loaded goodies:pastries, breakfast croissants stuffed with hams and cheeses – never mind healthy eating for kids in school, this was Jamie-fare for adults and we were in cholesterol city. I loved it and went for a £4.99 vast, ham-stuffed croissant. Magic.

The screens alternated video streams of Jamie in Italy with flight updates and soon enough our gate – 47 – flashed up. The Thomson clan trooped off and, as usual, there weren’t quite enough seats at the waiting area to accommodate the plane’s complement. We were Ok, though,  and that was all that mattered. We had numbered seats so unless something very unusual occurred, our places inside the tin cabin were designated and secure. This didn’t stop half the passengers eschewing what seating there was and standing in a snaked line in front of an unmanned checking station. When the Thomson uniforms arrived a painted woman screeched something that was barely audible because of her high frequency and the ensuing vibration in the speakers which served Gate 47. The gist was that passengers should sit down until the boarding was called. Moreover when boarding started passengers would be boarded in ascending seat number order. She didn’t use the word ascending, of course, but you get the idea. No one moved. Again, you won’t be surprised. The triumph of hope over reality when the Brits are queueing is one of life’s comforting certainties. When boarding actually started several high-pitched seat-number reminders had been barked by understandable irritated Thomson staff (appropriately clad in blue and purple). I counted five couples or groups being sent to the back of the dinner queue for misbehaviour.

I’m not a good flyer so every bubble of turbulence sends butterflies racing round my intestines like Lewis Hamilton at Monaco. As we accelerate towards take-off I start counting, slowly – eyes closed. I don’t sit in window seats. By the time I reach 200 the captain has usually turned the seat-belt sign off which tells me that he doesn’t think we’ll crash for the time being. I open my eyes. On this occasion the suave Captain Harris warbled that we were going to rise to 38000 feet but at that height we would still be just sitting on the top of some cloud, so we ‘Might enjoy a bump or two’. I grimaced at his calm levity but couldn’t find much to smile about as we hopped across the Alps and my coffee slopped over my Kindle. Captain Harris’s landing left a lot to be desired. The disc brakes had to work overtime.  I remembered the emergency stop on my driving test and wondered idly whether the co-pilot had slapped his hand on the cockpit dashboard.

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Safe and sound we arrived to a dull but warm Naples airport and were met by James who was gay in every way. He directed us to a bright blue coach which was to whisk us from the grotty environs of the airport to the romance that would be Sorrento – about an hour around the bay. Sam was to be the rep. on board and she was an eyebrow-pencilled Geordie out of the very heartiest hi-di-hi stable. Say hello to Gennaro, our driver, everybody! No seat belts. Something about this pleased me and made me admire the Italians for their clear disregard of some EU Brussels directive. We rumbled on around the Bay of Naples which was built up and ugly. Every now and then a church or a lemon grove would awaken a thought of what was enduring. The rain came on quite heavily.

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As with most package deals punters are dropped off in hotel sequence and our Hotel Admiral was at the end of the line. So inaccessible by large transport was the Marina Grande in Sorrento, that we transferred to minibus and even this couldn’t take us to the front door. Our smart hotel was perched under cliffs at the furthest end of the improbably named marina, as it is by far the smaller of the two. The other – Marina Piccolo – is the large ferry harbour where jetfoils and other sizeable craft take cargo and humans to Capri, Sardinia and beyond, while ocean liners park offshore and cruise-trippers make their way in to Sorrento for the day.

Hotel Admiral lies right on the water. Directly across the bay Vesuvius rises clearly looming above the city of Naples. As we rumbled our luggage over the typical pockmarked black, large cobbles the last few steps to the door, the sun broke out.

 

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One Response to “Memento of Sorrento – 1”

  1. Robbie Ferguson February 7, 2015 at 9:38 am #

    Ah, the Amalfi Coast. One of finest places on the planet, even if a little destroyed by tourism and greed. I love the piece – for whatever reason, the voice of Rick Stein is ringing in my ears…
    I visitied your site as I thought of you the other day – I read a great new collection of poems called My Family and Other Superheroes by Jonathan Edwards, an English teacher. It is full of simple, yet emotive family memories.
    I’m also going to explore blogging with my beloved Sixth Form – what a great way to explore an interest.

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