Sorrento, Italy

Why is Sorrento on my list of favorite cities I have ever visited?  Let’s start with lemons.  I love lemons.  Chocolate lemon tarts, lemon meringue pie, lemon shortbread, lemon gelato, and until I figured out how bad they were for my teeth, I even ate them like oranges.  I have many cookbooks about lemons.  This town is all about lemons, which makes it the perfect town for me.


You can barely walk past 4 or 5 shops without seeing an entire store dedicated to lemons.  The main product of Sorrento is limoncello, a lemon aperitif, with a curious history.  Bottles of limoncello line the shop fronts.  In addition to limoncello, you can find about every variety of lemon food or drink you can imagine: lemon gelato, lemon slushies, lemon candies, lemon chocolates, lemon desserts.  Delicious!  You can also find lemon soap, lemon dishes, lemon kitchen utensils, lemon aprons, lemon dresses, lemon purses, lemon scarves, lemon decorations, and about everything lemon that you can imagine.

Leaving lemons out of the picture, Sorrento is still a place that would likely make my list of favorite cities.  It is a beautiful, perched on a Mediterranean cliff, and is delightfully walkable.  It is well connected by train, bus, and boat, and makes a perfect base for exploring the region.  Highlights of our stay included the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, and a cooking class!

Monday, June 18, 2018

We arrived in Sorrento around 8:15 in the evening, after a flight from Tel Aviv to Rome, a bus from Rome to Naples, and a train from Naples to Sorrento.  While most of the trip was fairly smooth, there was some difficulty with the train.  First, as we were about to get on a train, a girl helpfully told us that this was not the train to Sorrento, and that it was on platform 1.  Since Sorrento wasn’t on the board, we went with it and walked to the other platform.  When we got to platform 1, a guy told us that this platform is usually the one to Sorrento, but today it was moved to platform 3.  Back to platform 3, which now had Sorrento on the board after the train that the girl warned us about had left.  Then there was an announcement in Italian that had everyone on the platform sighing and moaning.  Then another announcement that caused more sighing and signs of frustration.  Then Sorrento popped up on platform 2.  Then it disappeared.  Then a train showed up and all the sighers got on it.  We asked someone if this train went to Sorrento and got an affirmative answer.  Then we realized that we were on a local train rather than a direct train, which was likely the cause of the bigger sighing.  Quite the opposite of our experiences with Swiss trains, but we made it to Sorrento, even if a little later than planned.

A stop or two before we got to Sorrento, we used WhatsApp to text our apartment host that we were almost there.  He helpfully met us in the main square near the apartment and led us down the alley-like streets to the place we would be staying, then gave us a tour of the very large apartment.  The boys were thrilled with the place.  They were even more thrilled when the man opened the refrigerator and showed them that it was stocked with soda, chocolate treats, juice, prosciutto, eggs, and yogurt.  Plus there was a bag of chips, peanuts, bread, Nutella, fruit, and a lot more.  Yay!  No grocery shopping for us tonight.

The best part was the washing machine.  Sure, it was tiny, and there was no drier, but it was something that would clean our disgustingly sweaty clothes that we had been wearing for the last two weeks.  We immediately got to work.  Fortunately there was a very large drying rack, plus a lot of plastic backed chairs and cabinet doors that wouldn’t be ruined by hanging wet things on them.  Oh, how wonderful it felt to know that within a day or two we would have clean things again.  I also had a rope that I tie to furniture and use as a clothesline as needed.  Note that even though we re-wear pants and shirts up to 3-4 times before washing them, we do bring a lot of socks and underwear (my goal is usually 10 pairs, which give a week plus some wiggle room to find a washing machine) and we hand-wash them as needed if we don’t have access to a washing machine during that time.  Rick Steves guide to packing is awesome.  The first time you read it, it will sound like way too little, but after you have lugged super heavy bags up and down stairs through numerous train stations, or tried to fit your bags and family into a tiny rental car with not enough trunk space, you will suddenly agree with him.  Once you have done it his way once, you won’t go back.  I used to take his numbers and add a few to them, but this trip, we are very close and haven’t regretted a thing.  The main thing I changed was to double his number of socks and underwear, since hand-washing for 4 is a much bigger pain than hand-washing for 1, and I avoid it if I can.  Jeremy and the boys have pretty much exactly the number of items he suggests.  I added a couple of tank tops and coverups for myself so that I could layer, particularly while visiting the middle east.  You can get away with bare shoulders in the super touristy areas, but in the more conservative areas I felt a lot more comfortable with more coverage.  Also in both Italy and Israel, most churches forbid bare shoulders, some forbid bare knees, and others forbid shorts of any length.  It was easier just to pack one or two more things that I could stuff in my day pack or purse, than to deal with being hot for the entire trip because there was one  or two countries that I was concerned about.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Today was supposed to be a day with low probability of rain, so we took a day trip down the Amalfi Coast.  You can read the full post here.  This was an amazing trip!  The views alone were worth going for.  Add in the delightful towns of Positano and Amalfi, and you can have one of the best day trips ever.

In the evening, we enjoyed a walk by the cliffs where James managed to capture an amazing sunset picture, then we stopped by the grocery store to pick up some dinner.  One of my travel staples is a salad made of a couple of tomatoes, a cucumber, a bell pepper, some olive oil, and a little pepper, if we have it.  Easy, keeps for a few days, and doesn’t require a lot of ingredients.  You can add feta, olives, basil, and/or a little lettuce if you want to turn it into a Greek salad and make it a little more filling.  Or pair it with bread and cheese, and it is perfect meal to eat in an apartment with limited supplies.  The olive oil can be used to dip bread in, cook eggs in the morning, and more.  You may need to also buy salt and pepper for the eggs, but many apartments are stocked with this.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Today, we decided to stay in town and have a more relaxing day.  We slept in, had a nice breakfast of eggs, croissants, yogurt, and fruit, then finished up some laundry and caught up with some emails from home.  All our clothes are now clean, and as long as we are here, we can keep them clean.  Yay!

Our morning started with a stroll through a lemon grove, which surprisingly had a lot more orange trees than expected.  We also felt like the lemons and oranges were surprisingly similar to the ones in California.  I still remember a friend visiting our house  in California.  He got very excited to pick his own orange and eat it, but when he bit into it, he said, “It tastes like an orange.”  Not sure what we were expecting, but “they looked like lemons and oranges.”  Still, it was fun.  The woman hosting the tasting booth told us about the limoncello factory, but since it is alcoholic and we had the boys in tow, we decided not to visit.


We then wandered through town.  I loved looking at both the linen stores and the lemon stores.  The boys even got into it.  I really liked looking at the lemon themed kitchen supplies.  Similarly to yesterday, the boys enjoyed trying to find more lemon themed dresses and accessories for me.  They found a fairly cute black jumpsuit with bright yellow lemons scattered around it, there was a matching scarf and purse, and some bright yellow shoes.  Paired with some earrings from another store, I could be “Lady Lemon,” as the boys dubbed me.  So much fun, but since Jeremy probably wouldn’t walk anywhere with me dressed like that, we passed it by.


For lunch, we found a restaurant that had cannelloni on their fixed lunch menu.  It wasn’t as good as some I had when we were in Italy a few years ago, but was passable.  The roasted chicken was also fine, but not stellar.  John was very happy with his spaghetti bolognese.  “This is why I was so excited about coming to Italy!”

After lunch we did some more wandering, including visiting a few churches.  Even the small ones were beautiful.


We also purchased some “lemon cookies” that turned out to taste more like dog biscuits.  Think crunchy breadsticks, shaped into a circle, then coated with lemony powdered sugar.  John was the only one that found them tolerable, although they may be growing on Jeremy.  On the other hand, lemon drops (a hard lemon candy), were very tasty.  I also picked up a tiny bottle of limoncello, which is quite good when cold.  The boys were disappointed that I wouldn’t let them try it, but at 30% alcohol, there is no way they are getting anywhere near it.


There was an 80% chance of rain, so we decided to head back to the apartment to rest.  After several weeks of traveling, all of us are a bit worn out.  We knew that both Egypt and Israel were going to be go, go, go, which is part of why we decided to stay in Sorrento for 5 nights.  A perfect place to do things when we want and rest when we want.  Of course, the rain came a bit later than planned, so we ended up getting a little wet while getting dinner groceries.  But is wasn’t a big deal since the boys delighted in running through the rain!


Thursday, June 21, 2018

Today we took a day trip to Pompeii.  Amazing!  The city is huge!  You can read my full post about it here, but we really enjoyed exploring a well preserved ancient city.  The amphitheater had strong resemblance to Rome’s Colosseum, but was in much better shape due to the thick layer of ash acting as a preservative for thousands of years.  The forum and other buildings were also quite interesting.  My favorite thing was simply wandering the streets of town and imagining what life may have been like 2,000 years ago.

James had read a book on Pompeii earlier in the school year, and for whatever reason, he really liked the idea that you could see 2,000 year old olives here.  You can imagine his excitement when he found them.


He also really liked this dog mosaic.


After getting back to Sorrento, we were quite exhausted from both the train ride and from walking for hours in the heat, so we took a nice nap, then headed out for our cooking class!  On the way we saw a beautiful old flour mill.


The cooking class was a ton of fun!  We started with a meat and cheese course that was quite tasty.  Apparently, three-year parmesan cheese is the best choice for this, and is supposed to be difficult to find outside of Italy.


Next, we made some tiramisu, then stored it in the fridge.  The boys loved being su-chefs and mixing up the whipped cream and eggs, dipping the lady fingers very briefly in the “weak American-style coffee,” then assembling the final product.


Next up was the chicken cacciatore.  The secret is apparently that you need to sear everything in way more oil than most Americans would ever pour into a frying pan, and heat the oil a bit longer than I usually do.  I always thought it was supposed to be until the oil started sizzling around a piece of vegetable or a bread cube, but it is really supposed to be until that item starts to turn brown.  Searing the meat at 350 degrees keeps the oil out, the meat in, and when everything is done cooking, you simply dump the excess oil.


We were surprised to learn that the carrots were left unpeeled and that you should never mix both onions and garlic, and that “Americans also use way too much of both.”  I’m definitely guilty!  The chef also had a lot to say about fast food, at which point the boys delighted in telling him that Jeremy loves fast food.  Guilty again!


Now, we needed tomato sauce for both the gnocchi and the eggplant parmesan.  It was surprisingly simple.  Simmer some basil and garlic slices in some oil, add a couple of cans of whole tomatoes and a couple of pinches of salt.  Simmer for 5 minutes while breaking up tomatoes, and it is done!


This was followed by eggplant parmesan, an addition for the vegetarian in our group.  I was super excited since eggplant is one of my favorites, and one I never get since the rest of my family isn’t a fan.  The chef said that Americans do it all wrong when they dip it in egg, bread it, and make it soggy with way too much sauce.  Given how good the end result was, he may have swayed me.

While these two dishes were simmering and baking, we started on the gnocchi.  The secret is the potato ricer.  I told the boys that since we aren’t doing birthday gifts while traveling, this can be their gift to me when we get home.  John had a ton of fun squishing the red potatoes, the type that should be used for gnocchi, through the ricer.  The eggs were folded in by hand, then the flour.  The boys made their gnocchi snakes, sliced them up, and we were ready to finish dinner.  The gnocchi cooked until it floated, then was added to the tomato sauce to get some extra flavor.


Cubes of fresh mozzarella and some fresh basil were added and we had our next course.

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The chicken cacciatore and eggplant parmesan were done by this time.  The surprise was that even though chicken thighs were used, Jeremy had seconds.  I was in shock as this never happens at home!  My personal favorite was the eggplant parmesan.

This was followed by the tiramisu, which was equally amazing.  I loved that the coffee was very subtle and that the ladyfingers still had a tiny bit of crunch.

A wonderful evening!  Followed by a beautiful evening walk.


Friday, June 22, 2018

This was our last full day in Sorrento.  Our morning started with a walk by all my lemon shops, stepping into a few to get a better look.  Fascinating!  I could have spent hours in some of them.  The boys got another pack of lemon candies.


We continued on to the Marina Grande Beach, about a 15-20 minute walk, and stopped at a coffee shop.  Jeremy and I enjoyed some delicious cappuccino ,while the boys alternated between sipping their soda and playing on some of the beach rocks.


We wandered around the fishing village a bit, enjoying the different feel from the main town.  If the boys would have had their swimsuits with them, this would have made a good place for them to swim.  The lounge chair and umbrella rental prices were a lot more reasonable, and we don’t think the water dropped off quite as quickly as at the Marina Piccola Beach.


We then went back up the hill to town, then walked down the steep path to the Marina Piccola Beach.  The water is amazing down there!  Perfectly clear, protected from the larger waves, a little rocky, but not too bad.  There is even a very tiny public beach, although most of it is only accessible by renting very expensive lounge chairs.  The only bad thing is that the water drops off very sharply after only a couple of feet.  The boys are reasonably good swimmers, but I’m not sure how comfortable I am with them being in that deep of water for a long period of time.

After wandering a bit, we took the 1€ elevator back up to the top.  Much better than sweating our way up the steep ramps.  The boys were getting hungry, so we stopped by a restaurant that had good reviews.  Both the bruschetta and the lasagna I had were delicious.  Jeremy also really liked his fish.

We went back for a rest, then wandered the town a bit more.  The boys got some gelato, while I decided to try the lemon slushies.  Yum!  As our cooking instructor said, “Americans use too much sugar.”  The slushie was very tart and very delicious.  It made Jeremy pucker his lips, but I thought it was amazing!


We ended our walk at a playground near our apartment.  The boys thoroughly enjoyed themselves while Jeremy and I got to have a nice time chatting on a bench.  A great end to our time in Sorrento.  Tomorrow morning we head out to Lake Como!

Keep reading our travel blog for more posts from our Gap Year!

Here are some more posts from this trip to Europe:


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