Back to Reality

We left the Four Seasons palace in Florence and returned to the reality of Mom’s budget.  We took the train – seconda classe – to Sorrento where it was pouring.  There are a lot of Italian phrases to describe how I felt about this, but I discovered when I was teaching that unlike the finer points of grammar and articulated prepositions, all I had to do was utter una parolaccia (pah-roh-latch-chuh) once and it was seared in my students’ minds forever – so let’s just say I was irritata.


My favourite place in Sorrento.  The bizarrely-named, tiny Marina Grande.

To get an idea of the Sorrento I had hoped to show my daughter, have a look at ‘Buon Giorno! First day back in Italy’ (Oct. 19, 2014)


My daughter’s purpose in posing for this photo was to show me why I should not wear this hat, no matter how hard it rained.

The B&B I had booked in Sorrento overlooked Marina Grande, the ancient fishing harbour and my favourite part of the city.  It’s an easy and fascinating, 15-minute walk downhill through the historic centre.  But not when it’s raining a catinelle.  Buckets.  The only cab driver in sight said it would be 20€, an exorbitant sum, as we both knew.  And, he warned me, he could not take us the whole way.  The charge was esagerato, but I knew he was not putting me on about how far he could go. I’d already stayed at this B&B and knew the last part was too narrow for even the smallest vehicle.  But you’ll go as far as you can, I pleaded.  He did.


The laneway to the B&B is not easy to find and definitely not for any kind of vehicle.

We had a fabulous fritto misto at a table set back from the harbour and then went for a stroll but our hearts were not in it.  Some places are meant to be experienced under sunny skies.


Hidden behind those dark clouds is Vesuvius. No spectacular sunsets this trip.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I woke up the next morning.


Blue skies. And a rainbow!

We had a quick breakfast and hurried down to the large, commercial harbour which confusingly, is called Marina Piccola (Small Harbour), to catch the 9:40 am  ferry – the one and only daily ferry – to Ischia.


The ancient harbour as it’s meant to be seen. Our B&B, Casa a Mare, is the low, gray building just to the left of the colourful palazzi.

It was bittersweet to leave on such a beautiful day, but I was anxious to see our next lodgings.  On my previous visit to Ischia I had visited the Castello Aragonese off the north-east tip of the island.  (‘Una Passeggiata ad Ischia’, Feb. 9, 2014)


Castello Aragonese, May 2012

This time I had booked a room in the castle.


The graphics are compliments of my daughter. I have no idea how she added them.  (I probably didn’t need to point that out.)


In keeping with its origins as a monastery, the room, while not ascetic, was very simple.  But with views like this it could have been  austere and we would have loved it.

We gorged on photos and then finally dragged ourselves off to have lunch.


It was my daughter’s idea to open the windows just wide enough to catch the reflections.


On our first foray into town I discovered there was one downside to my daughter’s enthusiasm for our castle hotel.  She was enchanted with the cobblestone tunnel that was the only way up to the castle before elevators were invented.  (For the record, the castle is 113 meters a.s.l.)


Some of the best views of the castle are from the wharf at the end of the causeway. When I’m not bending over backwards, it appears I spend a fair bit of time on my knees.

As we walked along the main street I overheard scraps of conversation and was, as always, surprised to hear something that sounded a lot like napoletano, the dialect of Naples.  The  same thing happens in Capri. No matter how many ferries I’ve taken between the islands and the mainland – full of locals going to work or to doctors’ appointments or to do some shopping – I still have a hard time digesting how closely Capri and Ischia are tied to Naples.  To my visitor’s eye, they seem worlds apart from that sprawling, gritty city.


Forza Napoli‘ (left side of taxi) shows which soccer team this cab driver cheers for.

We walked all the way to the harbour we’d arrived at a few hours earlier and I was thrilled to see the restaurant I’d eaten at years before was open.  Luckily the water level wasn’t quite as high as the last time.


The mozzarella for this Insalata caprese had been brought over from Naples that morning.


Fritto misto. We thought the one we’d shared in Sorrento would be hard to beat. Now we weren’t sure.

One evening we went for a walk along the shore.  I was hoping there would be a good sunset to make up for the one we had missed in Sorrento.



We saw a bar up ahead that looked open.  A good place to have an aperitivo and watch the sunset.  As we got closer I became a little uneasy.  It was even more rustic than I’m used to and there didn’t seem to be anybody around.  When I finally tracked down someone to take our order, the young man initially struck me as dodgy.   I began to feel uncomfortable again about ten minutes later when he still hadn’t returned with our order, which was pretty straightforward – an Aperol for my daughter and un bicchiere di bianco for me.   I hadn’t counted on him preparing a special tray for his foreign lady guests. In retrospect he was probably just shy.


They say the sunsets over Forio on the west coast of the island are the best…


…but I doubt the storm clouds over Forio were putting on a more dramatic show than these ones.

Next – On the Postman’s Island





It’s Been a While

Buon giorno.  Back in September (ouch!), when I said I was taking a break for a while, I had no idea how long that break would be.

First there was a Mother-Daughter trip to Italy.  It was as wonderful as the first trip I’d taken with my adult daughter to France in 2015.  (‘Happy Mother’s Day and the Pleasures of Travelling with a Companion’, May 10, 2015).  If you’re thinking about taking one of these trips, my unsolicited, but heartfelt advice is to start meandering around the internet for places you’d both enjoy and start booking pronto.  I am sure it will be an experience you won’t regret.


Exploring the island of Procida was a wonderful experience, made even more enjoyable with my daughter alongside.

When I returned home, before I could get back to blogging, I first had to work on a new talk – ‘La Sicilia’ – which I had somehow not finished before leaving.  It took me a lot longer than I thought it would.  Goethe best captured the challenge I was facing –  ‘To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is to not have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.’  While you – and no doubt Italians from other regions – may have a few things to say about the German author’s take on the issue, he does have a point. For such a small area – Sicily may be the largest island in the Mediterranean, but it is still only 1/40 the size of Ontario – a lot happened in the island’s long and often tumultuous history and it’s jam-packed with an astounding number of must-see sites.


The Cappella Palatina, one of seven UNESCO  World Heritage Sites in Sicily.  The same number as in Tuscany.

In addition to the UNESCO sites there are charming fishing villages from a bygone era,  wine tours with (the most important part!) degustazione at vineyards across the island, and olive groves and lush gardens in once-desolate areas.  And the food.  And filming locations for the Godfather movies. And on and on.  My talk was dissolving into un gran casino (cah-zee-no), a rather earthy way of saying ‘a big mess’.  Eventually, to my great relief, it was decided that I would split the talk into two parts.  All of this took me until the end of October when the talk was due.


Along the north-west coastline.

But I wasn’t yet fuori dai guai. Fwoh-ree die gwhy.  Out of the woods.  I had to deal with a few glitches I had run into as I worked on the talk, one of which was that when I went back to see if there was anything in the posts on Sicily that I could use in the talk, an errant finger somehow, one day, pressed ‘Trash’ instead of ‘View’, which is why one of the posts on Agrigento is now missing.  (Note to the wizards at ‘WordPress’ – how about moving the ‘Trash’ button far, far away from ‘View’?)  And then the ‘geniuses’ at Apple decided to mess around with their photo apps.  Whatever happened to leaving well enough alone?


Sicily is a great place for people-watching. Here a fishmonger weighs sardines along an alley in Cefalù.

In any event, to ease back into things, I thought I would spend a bit of time reliving the recent trip and then continue from where I had left off in Sicily.  My daughter, who now works full-time in an office, wanted to spend as much time as possible outdoors and close to the sea.  So we decided to go to the Amalfi Coast, Ischia and Capri.

We started in Florence.  An odd place to begin a trip to southern Italy, but my daughter works for Four Seasons and an irresistible perk of her job made it possible for us to stay at the very palatial Palazzo Scala Della Gherardesca, the Four Seasons Hotel in Florence.


The 15th century Cortile di Sangallo, now lobby at the Four Seasons Hotel in Florence, sets the tone.

I agreed to make the detour to Florence only after my daughter reassured me that she understood we would be returning to ‘reality’ once we left the hotel.  (I might have overdone this – there was a lot of rolling of the eyebrows and groaning and ‘Yes, Mom’ before I was satisfied.)


The Chapel is one of several rooms off the grand corridor that surrounds the lobby.

In the evening Il Palagio is the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant. If you don’t feel your palate is up to a gourmet extravaganza you can still enjoy the room, which, in the morning, is where la prima colazione (the first meal) is served.

We were the first to arrive and I felt totally under-dressed for the surroundings, but the staff were super friendly. Although I had a moment when they insisted – OK, they didn’t insist – they ‘invited’ me to put my old travel bag (which I had put out of sight on the back of my chair) on a stool obviously intended for bags in an altogether different league.


Il Palagio.  Michelin-starred restaurant in the evening, breakfast room in the morning. The floral towers are orchids.

Apart from the interior, which really does give a sense of what the palace-residences of the Renaissance would have been like, the other extraordinary feature of the property – the first ‘city-resort’ in Italy – is the garden.  During the years I lived in Florence I walked by the walls that surround the property countless times.  It’s close to Piazza San Marco and the university, and only a a 15-minute walk from the Duomo.  But I never imagined that hidden behind those walls lay an enchantingly beautiful garden.


The garden is enormous – 11 acres. Whimsical installations like this dispel any hint of stuffiness.

The evening of our arrival the lobby was the site of a lavish cocktail reception.  Regrettably no photos – there were burly security guards everywhere.  I whispered to my daughter that I had never seen so many tall, thin, Italian women.   And I hadn’t.  As we walked by on our way to the garden I overheard a couple talking.  They were Russian.


Cleaning up after what had obviously been a high-end wedding.


Roses, orchids and hydrangeas lay tossed on the ground. Sigh.


Beyond what is left of the altar, Brunelleschi’s famous dome.


It was surprisingly quiet in the garden. There are 145 trees, many of them enormous. Perhaps they absorb the sounds of the city just outside the walls.


An orchid blossom dangles precariously on the edge of the upper basin.


How long before it will be swept over the edge to join the mass of petals and flowers below?

Of course as we wandered around, me covetously eyeing all the flowers destined for the garbage bin, it was my daughter’s turn to get all antsy.  ‘You can’t pick them up, Mom!’ she warned. ‘I know’, I said, with just enough hesitation to make her keep a close eye on me.


At the far end of the garden, I was setting up a photo of my daughter in front of the living tunnel when one of the clean-up crew came over and handed her a fabulous spray of orchids.

‘We can’t keep these!’ she said as I eyed the orchids in her arms.  After I’d taken a few shots, she walked over to the young man to return the lovely ‘prop’.   ‘No, no! he protested, they’re for you!’  During the trip I got (somewhat) used to these innocent, little gestures of gallantry, which given the fact that in each case, I was standing right there, keeping a steely eye on things, is all they were.  Still, even though she’s all grown up and quite capable of looking after herself, the old ‘Mamma bear’ instinct was hard to suppress.

She didn’t keep the flowers – probably didn’t want the staff thinking her Mom had taken them.  Besides, we had no place to put them.  They definitely wouldn’t have survived the train ride to Sorrento.  But it did seem a shame.


A White Wonderland in May. In Tuscany. My guess was that this is where the dinner had been held.

We strolled around the garden a while longer and then headed over to the pool.


Where did those dark clouds come from?


Pee Gee Hydrangeas close to the pool are a perfect match for the medallion on the wall behind.

The pool was beautiful, enormous – and for someone who hates the cold – most wonderful of all – heated!  Unfortunately those dark clouds were the real thing.  We’d been in the pool only a few minutes when it started to rain.  Soon it was pouring.  My daughter lingered, but I got out and grabbed my camera. As I dashed for the closest bit of shelter it occurred to me that the pool attendant’s hut was not a place Four Seasons guests were normally expected to be found.  In any event, my daughter soon joined me and we huddled there while the attendant dashed around rescuing guests’ possessions, including – over our protestations – our Aperols.  I would have loved to get a photo of the raindrops bouncing off the pool surface and the mist rising from the warm water below.  But there was no way I was going to risk getting my camera wet. It will have to remain one of those uncaptured moments.

Luckily the rain didn’t last too long and we were able to eat in the casual – relatively speaking – outdoor restaurant in the garden.


I almost didn’t order the primo del giorno. Pasta of the day. Prawn and porcini seemed an odd combination. That would have been a mistake. It was straordinario!


When our waitress brought our secondo I looked at her in disbelief. She assured me it was una porzione divisa in due (one portion divided in two) as we had requested.  My daughter and I looked at each other and started eating.  Delizioso!

Next – A short visit to some of my favourite sites in Florence