When I packed for my trip to Sorrento, I obsessively watched the forecast. Nary a drop of rain was predicted, and every day was supposed to be in the upper 70s and sunny. I stuck an umbrella in my suitcase, then removed it.
I arrived on Wednesday night, Sept 12th, reaching my hotel right as the sun set for a lovely, clear night. Exhausted, I checked into the hotel, freshened up a bit, and set off to find dinner. I ate fresh clams and pasta while sitting just 10 feet away from the shoreline of Marina Grande, chatting with a nice Welsh couple at the next table who urged me to “ring my mum” and let her know I’d arrived safely.
But the next morning dawned dark and ominous, and by the time I headed down to breakfast, it was raining. By the time I finished breakfast – served every morning in the cave-like grotto beneath the hotel, replete with fresh pastries and fantastic cappuccino – it was raining much harder.
Undeterred – this was vacation, damnit – I recalibrated my plans. I had planned to spend the first jetlaggy day in Sorrento anyway, but now I thought I’d take the bus into the center of town rather than make the 20 minute hike. That way I could stay a bit drier until I bought an umbrella.
Of course, while waiting for the bus, it poured. Monsooned. A 30 minute, wring-out-your-underwear deluge while the late bus was stuck in traffic.
Never fear. I still made it into the center of the medieval town and went exploring, drying out while in the Museo Correale di TerraNova. After spending a pleasant hour looking at nifty old furniture and artifacts from pre-Roman times (Sorrento was Greek before it was Roman), I left the museum to wander.
It promptly began to pour. Again. So I ducked into a small pizzeria for lunch and had my first “real” pizza of the trip. Pizza was born in nearby Naples, made with the fresh mozzarella and tomatoes for which Sorrento is famous, fired in a wood-burning oven. With a glass of local wine, it was perfection, especially on a chilly, rainy day.
The rest of the day was much of the same. It would stop raining for an hour or two, and I would start to dry out and explore, and then another downpour would hit, driving me into a cafe for coffee or wine. My pictures from that day aren’t great – they’re gray, and some are rain-streaked, literally. But the medieval part of town was incredible, with some buildings dating to the 13th century. The lanes are so narrow that, in places, I could nearly touch both sides if I stretched out my arms. And once you get off the more touristy streets, the little side lanes were very charming.
Since the town – and entire peninsula – is built into the side of mountains, it’s very steep, and getting anywhere involves climbing up and down hills and stairs. I quickly realized that to get from my hotel at Marina Grande to the restaurants and ferries of Marina Piccola required climbing a couple of hundreds steps up a mountain to a main square, then taking a similar number of steps back down the other side. My map didn’t show such elevation changes, so the first couple of days were pretty strenuous until I started strategically planning my routes.
I ended up grabbing dinner in a little trattoria as rain came down again. The restaurants was cozy, especially sitting by the wood-burning stove, and I watched the waiters use a deli slicer to cut antipasti to order. As I watched people around me, I heard thick Texas drawls at the next table, trying to figure out how to get back to the marina. I offered my map and guidebook and chatted with the family, and older couple and their middle-aged daughter. We snapped pictures for each other and talked about travel and Italy in general. When I asked for my check, I learned that they had already paid the bill for me – a very nice surprise!
When the rain let up, I left for a bit of a stroll, walking down towards the marina myself. As I passed by a small cafe, I heard, “Chicago!” in a thick Texas accent – and there was the same family, waiting for their tender boat back to their cruise ship. I joined them for a glass of wine, thanked them profusely, then decided to call it a night.
By the time I got back to my hotel – relatively early, as I was in the worst throes of jetlag – my socks and shoes were still wet nearly 12 hours after the initial deluge. I took a hot shower and collapsed onto my rock-hard bed, listening to another rainstorm blow in.