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Riding the Rails to Sorrento

rain 69 °F

Thursday, May 16th starts with a rainy morning. Today's the day when we'll be vacating our apartment in Venice, and beginning the long trek south to our destination in Sorrento.

We check out early, wrap our luggage with plastic trash bags, and make our soggy way to the Vaporetto for the ride to the Ferriale stop, the rail terminal. The waters of the canal jostle us about, and the vaporetto is very crowded with commuters, tourists, and a large group of very young French students on an outing. We find a spot to stand where we're relatively dry and relatively stable, and wait out the crush.

This will be our first experience with the Italian train system. We've booked second class seats on the Frecciargento ("Silver Arrow") from Venice to Rome. This is a high speed train that should take about 5 hours to make the trip.

Finding our way through the train station to our platform ("binario") is simple. We're glad we're traveling light...there are no porters or baggage compartments on Italian trains...if it doesn't fit in the overhead or behind your seats, it gets stacked in a common luggage area at one end of the car. Having taken an Amtrak ride many years ago from Philadelphia to Florida, I'm very pleasantly surprised by the comfort of the 2nd class accommodation. Mrs. Zukini and I have facing seats, with a table between us.

Our carry on bags fit handily in the overhead rack above our seats, and train whizzes through the Italian countryside, affording brief views of the rolling hills of the Veneto, Tuscany, and Umrbria on our way south.

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We're surprised at the discomfort we feel in our ears each time the train passes through one of the many lengthy tunnels. I surmise that the train passing through the tunnel at high velocity actually causes either a bit of a vacuum or a bit of a pressure wave, but our ears block and pop each time we dive into one.

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The train, unlike a plane, is the perfect vehicle for lulling us into a stuporous slumber, and we doze frequently during the trip.

Some 5 hours later, we coast into Napoli Centrale, the hectic Naples train station, roughly a half hour late. Before the trip, we debated the choice of paying a pittance to take the Circumvesuviana commuter train from Naples to Sorrento, or to hire a private driver for a substantial fee. In retrospect, after seeing some of the crowded conditions on the Circumvesuviana we experienced later in our trip, we're glad we sprung for the big bucks to hire a private driver.

Emmanuele from Astarita Car Service is waiting for us at the end of the platform, and takes command of our luggage. We drag him around the terminal for a bit...we're looking for the Tourist Information Office, with the intention of purchasing the Campania Artcarde Tutto Regione, a combination ticket that will give us access to transportation and museums throughout Campania at a discounted rate. Unfortunately, the card is being revamped (with higher prices) and temporarily unavailable.

Emmanuele escorts us out into the chaos of Naples, seats us in a very nice Mercedes sedan, and skillfully navigates the insanity that Neapolitans call a daily commute. Once we're out of the crush of Naples traffic, he starts to chat with us, and inevitably, the subject turns to the state of the Italian economy.

It takes about an hour (with some truly breathtaking views) before we reach our destination in Sorrento. Our apartment rental is on a limited traffic street, so Emmanuele parks his car about a block away, and escorts us to our apartment. Our rental agent is no where to be found. I attempt to call her, but I get to practice my Pimsleur Italian almost verbatim. "Il numero non e il numero giusto."

In a coincidence that repeats itself many times during our trip, the owner of the apartment takes exactly that moment to call ME. He sends Anita, the agent, around immediately, and we bid Emmanuele a fond farewell.

The apartment itself is in a historic old palazzo. After passing through the massive front door, we make our way up the stairs to our rooms. The apartment is nice enough for what it is, pretty spacious. The kitchen is poorly equipped...there's no toaster or kettle (electric or otherwise), and the coffee maker, a small moka pot, is rusted and disgusting.

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There's a small balcony over the noisy, shop filled street below, and a loft bedroom. The bathroom sink is cracked, and the shower is caked with mold and mildew.

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Every drawer and cabinet in the place has a torn piece of notebook paper with a full, written inventory of every cup, knick knack, and button taped to it, and most have zip ties securing them closed. There's no TV, just an 80's era boom box. We both feel like we're invading someone's grandmother's house. Of all the vacation rentals we've used, this one is the most unwelcoming. We feel like intruders rather than guests.

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I setup my laptop to check in with my job, and find that the WiFi we're supposed to have in this apartment doesn't exist. I call Piero for an explanation. He tells me they had trouble with the DSL line and had it disconnected, but if I stand on one foot with my left arm in the air in the corner by refrigerator, I should be able to get a signal from a neighboring apartment. Good thing I had the foresight to get that data plan for my phone, which will now act as my modem as well.

Sorrento doesn't really have the feel of a destination to me. It has more of the atmosphere of hub, a base of operations for other, more attractive locations. The shops selling lemon products and ceramics, the restaurants with eager touts rushing to explain their menu if you accidentally glance their way, all give the impression of a place that is trying too hard to impress, trying too hard to show you a good time.

We freshen up, explore the town, then head to Zi'Ntonios, a restaurant that had been recommended to us by Emmanuele (he's friends with the owner). We enjoy a delicious meal there, with stuffed zucchini flowers, ravioli, and a wonderful baked fish, and our waiter, Carmine, is a joy.

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We meander the streets of Sorrento until it's time to return to our palazzo. Next installment, we'll be heading out on a day trip to Pompeii and Herculaneum.

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Posted by Zukini 17:30 Archived in Italy Tagged venice naples sorrento trenitalia frecciargento

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