Europe, Day Four: Naples, Pompeii and Sorrento

by Jenn (eating bender) on April 22, 2013

Recaps so far:

Though we were sad to say goodbye to Paris, we were very excited for the next leg of our European adventure: Italy! On Easter morning, we woke up bright and early for our flight to Naples. Once we arrived, we took the shuttle to the rental car hub and picked up our transportation for the next six days – a small but sturdy Fiat. And I mean sturdy. Little did we know when we decided to rent a car in Italy just how necessary that quality would be to our sanity. But more on that later.

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Our “best laid plans” were to immediately re-park the car at the airport (check), take the Alibus into Naples (check), sit in on an Easter mass at the Duomo and try some authentic Neapolitan pizza, Eat, Pray, Love style. (As a side note, we had read that parking in Naples was a nightmare, which is why we opted to take the bus instead.) Unfortunately, when we arrived at Piazza Garibaldi, we realized that the entire city was shut down for the holiday, which in hindsight makes a lot of sense.

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Doubly unfortunate was the fact that my map was less than stellar – the first realization that the roads in Italy are a lot more difficult to navigate than our Google maps would indicate. We came to the conclusion that finding the Duomo was not going to happen in the limited time we had before the Alibus picked us up again, and so we opted to let those best laid plans go awry in favor of taking in the fantastic Easter celebrations on the street instead.

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And I mean fantastic! The businesses may have been closed down on Easter, but there were people parading down almost every major street and alleyway. Many of the groups were carrying statues of Mary and Jesus, waving flags, playing music and cheering.

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I took a short video of the group above because their music was so cool. Check it out below:

It was fun to have the chance to see how a major Italian city celebrates a major Christian holiday. Soon enough, we made it back to our car and were on the road. The first part of our drive was pretty straightforward and within 30 minutes we had arrived in Pompeii!

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The Rick Steves podcast for Pompeii was another winner – so informative and interesting. Our tour began on the same main street that the citizens of Pompeii used. The basalt stones are the original pavement, and the three main stones in the photo below were like an ancient crosswalk. Chariots traveling in either direction could straddle them because they all had standard-sized axles.

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See those ruts in the road? Those are from the chariots of 79 A.D.!

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Next we toured the Roman Forum, Pompeii’s commercial, religious and political center. Although there are clouds covering it, you can make out Vesuvius looming ominously in the distance.

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Can you picture the toga-wearing residents walking among the gleaming white columns?

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The Temple of Jupiter stands at the far end of the forum. Jupiter was the king of the Roman gods, and people came to the temple to make offerings.

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We then headed toward the fish and produce market. The frescoes painted on the walls are still in amazing condition! These indicated that this was the place where residents bought their food.

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The market is also where they currently display plaster casts of two Vesuvius victims. Although it’s eerie to know that these casts are 1) real skeletons and 2) a glimpse at the citizens’ last terrifying moments of life after the volcanic eruption, it was pretty incredible to witness.

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From the market, we moved on to the baths of the forum. A courtyard outside was used as a gymnasium where people could exercise. I’m curious as to what “exercise” looked like in 79 A.D.

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There were six baths in all, each with a section for men and women. Patrons could choose from hot, warm or cold water options. The first room we entered was the dressing room – you can see the holes on the walls, which used to have pegs for hanging clothing.

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This big tub was filled with hot water. Double walls held in the heat. There was also a fountain that spilled hot water onto the floors to create steam. It definitely sounds like a relaxing experience.

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Upon exiting the baths, we found Pompeii’s version of “fast food.” Since most citizens did not cook for themselves, these ancient restaurants were typically pretty busy.

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The rectangular marble counters have holes for pots. I find it fascinating how they were able to keep food hot and cold back then! At this point, we actually grabbed some fast food of our own at the food court nearby. I didn’t take a picture, but the panini we shared was delicious.

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Next our tour took us to the aqueduct arch. As part of Pompeii’s water delivery system, it used to have a tank hidden at the top. Water flowed downhill into the tank, which gave Pompeii residents better water pressure. Their entire plumbing system was really impressive.

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Another impressive aspect of Pompeii that has survived the test of time are the mosaics on the ground. This one outside the House of the Faun reads “Have,” which in Latin means “be well.”

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Here’s another one that caught our eye:

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We also got a kick out of the many public fountains, all of which had interesting designs.

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And as a bread lover, I was a big fan of the bakery and mill. The stone fixture in the foreground was a flour grinder. Grain was poured into the top and donkeys (or unfortunately in some cases, Roman slaves) would push wooden bars that turned the stone. The grain powder would then come out at the bottom and be ready to bake in the brick oven behind it.

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Last but not least, we checked out two of Pompeii’s theaters. These were built into hillsides in the Greek style. The bigger theater could seat 5,000 people in three sections. While we were there, we actually got to see an impromptu show – a group of girls were singing on the theater floor.

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The smaller theater was cool, too – different shows would appear at each venue.

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Pompeii was such a treat, and we ended up spending roughly three hours exploring. By then it was getting to be pretty late in the afternoon. Since we wanted to reach the hotel before sunset, we got back in the car and headed further south toward the Amalfi Coast.

When we were researching where to stay, Sorrento seemed like a great option. But instead of staying near the heart of the city, which is down by the beach and marina, we chose a hotel 15 minutes further “up” into the mountains. Although this made for a bit of an interesting drive (imagine tiny roads where it seems as though you could be pushed off a cliff by a speedy incoming car all too easily), Hotel Prestige was well worth it.

 

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We opted to upgrade to a “romantic” room upon arrival. It was still extremely reasonable, but would be on the second floor (rather than the first or ground floors), included a private terrace and gave us access to a solarium.

Though I can’t speak to the room we were originally going to have, this one was incredibly spacious and nice with its bright colors and funky bathroom. I should also mention that we had free parking, which was a huge bonus in Italy.

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The private terrace was cozy, but really it was the solarium that made it all worth it.

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Step out the small door of the terrace and be greeted with this view? We’ll take it.

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We also had a northern view of Vesuvius, which still looked menacing with those clouds! The hotel has a pool, as you can see below. Unfortunately it was too chilly to take advantage of it during our stay, but I can imagine it’s a hot spot in the warm summer months.

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We headed back downstairs to grab a bottle of local wine from the hotel, just in time for sunset.

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Once the sun had fallen below the sea, we hopped on the hotel’s complimentary shuttle service for dinner at Il Panorama. Hotel Prestige has a special partnership worked out with the restaurant since they are so close together, but I had also read a number of favorable reviews on Trip Advisor. It seemed like a great and convenient option for our first night.

Immediately upon being seated, they brought us out a small plate of lettuce, tomato and mozzarella wedged in between puff pastry and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. A perfect beginning!

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Bobby and I decided to share a bottle of Ruffino Chianti, which he swears is now the best wine he’s ever had. It really was amazing. We also munched on some bread while looking over the menu.

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To start, we ordered an antipasto of Bruschette e Frittelle, which was hands down the tastiest bruschetta I’ve ever eaten. The tomatoes were so fresh, and when paired with olive oil and pepper it was truly fantastic. We loved the puff pastry that was also included.

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For my main pasta dish, I went with the Gnocchi Sorrentina, a potato pasta in the Sorrentine style. There are no words to do it justice, so I’ll just say that it was excellent.

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But I have to admit that Bobby’s selection, the Scialatielli ai Frutti di Mare (seafood pasta) was the overall favorite. The pasta itself was relatively simple and without sauce, but the marinade that they used with the seafood was mouthwatering. They were very generous with the mussels, clams, shrimp and other ingredients, too.

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Bobby and I also shared Bistecca alla Brace (grilled beef steak) – another two four thumbs up.

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On the side we were given a plate of marinated vegetables that included mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, red pepper, artichoke and squash. Each piece practically melted in our mouths.

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We were so happy with our food choices that we decided to order something sweet to round out the meal. Although the lemon sorbet was not made in house (it came in the manufacturer packaging), it was still very refreshing.

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Bellies full, we headed back to the hotel and enjoyed a nighttime view from the deck…

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…anxious to explore the twinkling city of Sorrento after a good night’s sleep.

Abrazos,

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cara (Twinthusiast) April 22, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Love the local feel of the Easter pics. Pompeii looks so cool. Those casts are amazing (and awful, but amazing). The courtyard colonnade looks like the Mission out here. I’m picturing the decorator at the hotel going to the design shop and thinking “YES! These crazy striped tiles will go PERFECTLY with my purple floral sink!” Also, two very enthusiastic thumbs up for the Vesuvius views, the pool, and the wine.
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2 Jenn (eating bender) April 29, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Haha! I can totally picture the hotel decorator saying that. It was quite funky, to say the least. :)

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3 Erica April 22, 2013 at 7:18 pm

ohmygosh! Sending this to my Mom- my parents are going to Italy in June. Um that Gnocchi …gah!
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4 Melissa @TryingtoHeal April 23, 2013 at 10:17 am

What an amazing trip and food! I seriously want to eat everything on the screen and I’m dying to see Pompeii. It’s a huge bucket list place for me! So much history too!
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5 Nicole @ The Marvelous Misadventures of a Foodie April 23, 2013 at 11:40 am

Your first day in Italy sounds wonderful! Pompeii looks really awesome – I know Lance would totally love it! I’m in awe at all the stuff they had going on there.

And that terrace – absolutely breath taking!! Now I really am wanting to go back to Italy!
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6 Megan (Braise The Roof) April 23, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Wow, the view from your hotel is stunning! I think touring historical sites was my favorite part of Italy – it blows my mind that people literally live around ruins. The food wasn’t bad, either. ;) Looks like you guys certainly ate well – ohhh, the pasta.
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7 Jenn (eating bender) April 29, 2013 at 4:19 pm

It really is so cool that you can live just steps away from history AND delicious pasta! Not a bad setup if you ask me. :)

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8 Shannon April 24, 2013 at 8:48 am

yum. loved touring pompeii, so this definitely brought back fond memories of my own trip!
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9 Elle April 24, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Hi Jenn,

The cobblestone roads look absolutely lovely in Italy!

I am jealous. Italy is definitely near the top of my to-travel list (mostly because I love food… and pasta especially).

I found that Pompeii fast food restaurants to be really interesting. It would be exciting if they made a replica of one of those fast food restaurants to serve real food today! I’m not sure how food safe it would be though.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip and continue to eat amazing food.
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10 Jenn (eating bender) April 30, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Hi Elle! It would be so cool for them to replicate those fast food restaurants. I’m sure they could find a way to make it safe to eat, and it would definitely draw a crowd! Thanks for stopping by. :)

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11 Plumberwollongong.Com November 9, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Saved as a favorite, I love your blog!|

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