I’m skipping over writing about our 6-day trip to the UK. To be honest, I still don’t know what to say about it. It became slightly marred by the UK’s unclear COVID laws, but we definitely had some good times there and a couple of great follow-up interviews with two of the subjects of the new film, so the bottom line is, the trip was worth it. I’ve included a few photos and my UK lodging review below to record that trip.
It also rained on us every day we were in England, and when we arrived back to sunny, beautiful Italy, somehow the rain had followed us. But in Italy, it seems, there are always pockets of nice weather to find and we succeeded in getting enough good weather to see Sorrento and have a great day in Pompeii.
We arrived back in Italy at night on a flight to Naples, so we spent a night in a Naples hotel (review below) before picking up our rental car and driving onward to Sorrento the next morning. During our single night in Naples we went out for a late pizza dinner, because Naples is the birthplace of pizza and I really like pizza.
We arrived at our Sorrento-area hotel, Hotel Susy Relais (review below), the next day in the late morning in the rain and they were kind enough to let us in early. In fact, the two women who run the hotel were incredibly kind and helpful throughout our stay. We actually stayed in the town adjacent to Sorrento, which is called Sant’ Agnello, because the hotels are a little cheaper there and we needed one with parking.
After picking up groceries and having lunch, we worked for a while as it rained, but in the afternoon it cleared and we walked about 20 minutes to the town center of Sorrento. It was a very pleasant walk and at least warmer than England. We saw the seaside and the main town center and visited the Parco di Villa Fiorentino and the Vallone dei Mulini. All very charming. We considered doing a limoncello tasting but ultimately decided to head back to our hotel to avoid the returning rain.
That night, we followed the hotel’s recommendation and went to a nearby restaurant called Moonlight. It turned out to be a great choice. We wanted something light and their menu featured a couple of soups, so we each ordered one with seafood – one was listed as seafood soup and the other mussels in black pepper. Both were actually just seafood with a little bit of flavorful broth, but this turned out to be a perfect meal with the bread they provided and the side of grilled veggies we ordered. The restaurant also did a complimentary bubbly drink and amuse bouche when we arrived and gave us limoncello and creme de pistachio at the end of the meal. It was really a great dinner and creme de pistachio is Chad’s favorite digestif now.
Pompeii was probably the attraction I was most excited about on this trip. The morning after we arrived in Sorrento was our only non-rainy window in the forecast, but it was also our ideal time to visit Pompeii because we like visiting sights right when they open to beat the crowds. I prebooked our tickets online the day before to further save time. Unlike most of the sights we’ve visited in Italy, you have to bring your printed tickets to Pompeii, but luckily our kind innkeepers were willing to print the tickets for us at the front desk. I also bought a Pompeii audio tour app for $5, to give us context about all we would see at the sight.
We took the Circumvisuvius train that would arrive about 20 minutes before Pompeii opened at 9 and all worked very well with transportation. We were among the first to reach our chosen gate, Porta Marina, which is closest to the train station. And once they sorted the line into online purchasers versus those going to the ticket office, we were at the head of our line and the first to show our green passes (which were barely looked at) and in through the metal detector and down to the entry gate. We kept a good pace so that we’d be able to see the Pompeii streets with no people. The empty basilica and forum were especially cool.
We decided the Villa dei Mystere would be sort of the Mona Lisa of Pompeii and so should be our first stop if we wanted to see it without a crowd. It is a must-see of the sight and all by itself in the northwest corner. In fact, it was technically outside the city walls and considered in the suburbs. The villa was owned by a wealthy family and had many intact frescoes, including the one from which it gets its name. We were there all alone and it was really cool. You really got a sense of what it felt like to live back in 79 AD.
We walked back up along the Villa delle Tombe, which is where there are many necropoli still standing, and toward some of the other must-see Pompeii buildings – the House of the Faun and the House of the Tragic Poet. Each ruined home really brought to life the idea of Pompeii as a vibrant city. We especially enjoyed learning about the thermopoliums, which were basically the fast food restaurants of the day where people could buy a fast hot meal. When Chad saw the counter tops with space for basins, he suspected they were for serving food and he was very pleased when we learned from my app that he was right.
We also visited the great theaters, the amphitheater and the House of Julia Felix, which were all very interesting. By this time the tour busses had arrived and the site was full of people, but it’s sprawling size meant that it was still possible to find quiet streets to walk down. One of our final stops was at the Lupanare, the brothel, which we had to wait behind a tour line to enter but was very interesting with its frescoes that my app said may have been a “menu” for services that could be purchased there.
It took us a little about three hours to see all of Pompeii we wanted to, and then we took the train back to Sant’Agnello to find a nice late lunch with a sea view. We had the rest of the afternoon to work and after our big lunch spent a quiet night in our room with a couple bags of popcorn.
Pompeii and Sorrento were definitely worth our two-night visit. If we’d had more time in the area, we could have seen the Amalfi Coast and walked the Path of the Gods, but will have to save that for a future visit. We also decided to forego taking the ferry to Capri, but that may be something for the future too. We love Italy, so we know we’ll be back.
England Highlights (in photos)
Villa Susy Relais, Sorrento – We chose this hotel based on the price and the availability of parking and it worked out great for us. The parking situation is pretty tight, but our rental car fit and it was nice to leave it there and not have to worry about it on our trip. The two women who run the hotel were very friendly and helpful. The optional breakfast is a great value. Easy walk to the Sant ‘Agnelle train station for the train to Pompeii. About a 20-minute walk to Sorrento. They provided lots of tips and a great restaurant recommendation for the restaurant down the street called Moonlight. Good size comfortable room and it was nice to have a balcony with a bit of a view. We’d definitely stay here again.
Hotel Clinton, Napoli – The hotel is showing its age and was a pretty expensive taxi ride from the airport since it is apparently actually in the suburbs and so rates are doubled. But if you have a car it could be a really good choice because it has a nice parking lot right out front. Good pizzeria down the street called Pizzeria Angilotti if you’re looking for a meal within walking distance. The morning staff members were kind and helpful and the continental breakfast was better than we expected.
Thistledown Hotel Heathrow Terminal 5, London – Staying in this hotel the night before our BA flight worked out really well. They let us check in early so dropped off our stuff and took a nice walk on the Harmondsworth Moor and then had a great lunch at a pub in Harmondsworth Village. So charming! We used the public bus system to go over to Terminal 5 that evening for our COVID tests and to check our bags during BA’s twilight check-in time. The bus is no longer free but it is inexpensive and you can pay when you board with a contactless card. We used the bus again the next day when we returned to Heathrow for our flight. The hotel was clean, had good wifi, and very friendly and professional staff. Everything you want in airport lodging and more!
Maidenhead Airbnb – Very comfortable Airbnb. Excellent communication from Donna and Sarah throughout our stay. Tons of space and a good kitchen for cooking. Near a good supermarket for groceries. Great wifi. We were glad we stayed here.
Bath Airbnb – Very comfortable Airbnb. Excellent communication from Sue when arranging check-in and she gave us lots of tips for Bath. Very nice walk up to the canal. Near a good supermarket for groceries. Great wifi. We were glad we stayed here.