Thursday, March 12, 2015

Italia After All, Part Two: Sorrento

After saying our final good-byes to Ana, we were out the door and onto the next part of the adventure! Getting to Sorrento from Napoli was incredibly easy, thankfully, because we hadn't done any planning ahead. We arrived six minutes before it was scheduled to leave, which was a great way to start off!

The train took perhaps an hour, I believe they leave every half-hour, and had we not already wasted a large sum on the ArteCard (a card that is well worth it if you plan on using public transport a lot while you're in Napoli, want to travel around the region, and/or enter a variety of archaeological sites, museums, and etc), we'd have only have had to pay between 2-5€ for the trip, I believe. The train wasn't the kind of train you're probably going to expect, but more like metro trains, that happen to run for longer distances. For example, between cities. I'm sure the view was lovely, but as I mentioned here, our timing with arrivals and departures was quite late, and we spent the trip in the dark, trying to guess what was outside.

When we arrived in Sorrento we were overcome by its relatively calm feeling. It's set into the  mountains on the coast, and is a pretty nice place, so it had a posh-beachy feel to it. And after having spent the last couple days in Napoli, where life is buzzing all around, it's loud, it's in your face, and it's big, to switch to a small, coastal haven was quite the switch. But, it didn't take us long to adapt to it, and within moments we were looking at each other with that, "Oh yeah, I like it here," look in our eyes. Then we found our hotel.

Now, I've gotta address this aspect of the trip/my travels here, because, well, I want to, and it fits in nicely at this point. That said, let's talk financials. 

I live to travel. It is my passion, makes up a major part of my purpose, and is pretty much the only reason I moved away in the first place. It's the only thing I can imagine doing forever, and I know I will. I'm planning my entire life and career around having the ability to spend prolonged periods of time in other places, and few things get me as excited as experiencing a new culture. I am a CouchSurfer, a backpacker, a long-term traveler -- truly a lifer. This means I do not/try not to pay for places to stay, except for on rare occasions or trips where I want to be relatively cut-off from others (sometimes I like to take trips and go with the intention of spending the time in solitude, only communicating when necessary, i.e. to order food or greet people), I try to hitchhike when I can/it's safe, walk as much as I can to save money, and use public transport instead of cabs when I can't, and I'm always trying to think of how I can get my euros to extend a little further. (Which is why I sometimes find myself in situations like this.) I want longer trips for less money, and am incredibly good at making that happen. Sometimes I splurge on a good meal, because food is a passion of mine and one of my favorite parts about traveling, but I usually try not to pay more than 8-10€/meal, if that, and cook them as often as I can. (I've been known to go on weekend trips with a set amount of cash, leaving all cards at home, and eat fruit as my meal to stay within budget. Sometimes it doesn't turn out so well, but I've scored some good stories this way. hehe) That said, this trip is nothing like anything I've ever funded before, and I probably bring it up because I'm a little self-conscious about how much we spent. 

Both of us work two jobs, and this trip was going to be so special for so many reasons. We went to celebrate our birthdays, it was my first time in Italy, and we also happened to go to a couple places that are a bit more costly than others (Sorrento and Capri), though not terribly expensive when held against my homeland standards (USA) or P's (The Netherlands). So, we didn't hold back. Kind of like the over-the-top New Year's celebration I've never spent money to have. We stayed in nice hotels/B&B's, ate incredibly well, took some taxis, and, well, went to four different cities/places within five days. We were on holiday, and we lived it up! (I'm now 12 days late on my rent and not sure where I'll come up with the 800€ I need to buy a flight home, but do I regret it? No way! That was the trip of a lifetime, and I'll never forget that celebration of life!)

This is all just to say that this isn't usually how I treat myself on trips, but it was a blast to experience it, and I'm really glad we did. I don't want anyone out there reading/seeing this to fall prey to the commonly held misconception that traveling is expensive -- it's not! I'm going to write about this all on it's own, because it's incredibly important to me, but I don't want you to think that a trip like this is unattainable if you aren't making big bucks. I mean, I'm a teaching assistant for crying out loud, but felt like I must have a much higher paying job than that while on this trip. It doesn't take a lot to make a lot, especially not if you remain grateful for EVERYTHING. But now I'm going off in a totally different direction, so I'll save that for later, and get back on task... (Insert giant, dope-ish me smiling here.)

The hotel we stayed in was the kind of hotel that I'd see and think, "Wow! What an amazing hotel! The people who stay there have got a great view, they are so blessed to be staying there. I can't imagine what it'd be like to stay there." Well, that was us for this one night.

In order to get there, first we had to walk down the hill(?)... mountain(?)... well, the entire path down to the water, and then we were confused, because we didn't see the hotel number we were looking for. The people from, the site we used to book the room had started to call on behalf of the hotel, because by this time, it was oddly late for people to be arriving for their stay. So my phone keeps ringing, I keep asking questions, the guy on the other end keeps having to put me on hold so he can call the hotel, get the answers to my questions then relay them back to me, all the while, we're wandering around this little port, and feeling pretty sure there's not another hotel around. Until we asked some people and they directed us, at which point we came around a little corner, into a semi-private beach, and realized that we were literally staying on the water. We actually had to walk through sand to reach the front door. It was magic.

Ladies and Gentleman, the Excelsior Vittoria Hotel in Sorrento, Italy...

See the third little balcony on the left? That was ours O_o

The view from the room wasn't half-bad...

Nor was the breakfast buffet the next morning...

Not my spot, not my coffee, don't worry, I didn't let Italy break all my lent!

I felt like a freakin' princess! And you know what? I was -- the Birthday Princess! ;) The whole time, we kept saying, "I feel like I'm my parents traveling," and I couldn't stop imagining that, "This is what it must feel like to be my uncles." We are wildly blessed, and immensely grateful. (Thank You, God, thank You, God, thank You, God!!!)

As we were checking into our hotel, after being greeted by a, "You're just arriving!?" the woman gave us some suggestions on what to do in town, and more importantly, offered up our favorite information: where to eat. She asked us if we'd ever heard of Top Chef, we said yes, and she proceeded to tell us that there's a Pizza Masters, Italy edition. We instantly knew where she was going with this one, and scooted closer to the edges of our seats to fully absorb all the pizza-y goodness this goddess was about to drop on us.

Well, it turns out that the winner of Top Chef Pizza Masters Italy has his restaurant in Sorrento, and it just so happened to be about a stone's throw from the hotel! Ohhh yeahhh, that's what we're doing tonight! So we ditched our stuff, embraced the beauty of the room and view for a while, freshened up, cheers'd some limoncello (recurring theme), and headed off to our long-awaited destiny: The Best Pizza in the World.

Now, I know I'm mentioning Liz Gilbert "a lot" (author of a variety of books, but best known for Eat, Pray, Love), but it's because I'm obsessed with that book/movie/story, and in a way, I imagine she and I would make great friends and travel mates. But I must call her out on something...

In her book, she talks about getting a recommendation for a pizza place in Napoli from her language exchange partner who is from Napoli. She-says-he-says it's the best pizza in Napoli, to which, she reasons it must be the best pizza in the world, because the best pizza comes from Napoli, and if this is the best pizza in Napoli, then, well, it's gotta be the best in the world. But I daresay that actually, I have eaten the best pizza in the world, and while hers might be one of the best, this one is acknowledged as the best. Because, while the two men who sweat and slave over the pizza oven she ate from might not have entered the competition, this guy, Antonino Esposito did, and he won that stuff, opened a restaurant, and in the end, I lost my mind at it! (Not that it's a competition. I just have a thing for seeking out the best food in the world wherever I am, and commencing to consume every bit possible. So when I realized I wasn't going to have a chance to hunt down the place she talks about and try it, I was a little bummed. Till I learned about Antonino Esposito and Acqu' e Sale. And hey, Liz, if you ever somehow come upon this, wanna meet up and eat??:)

Simply put, the whole experience was mind-blowing.

We decided to sit on the deck outside first and have some cocktails. He noticed on the list there was one called Pimm's No. 1, which seemed too perfectly named to not order, and he then suggested that I order the Americano, since, well, io sono Americana (I'm American). (And we were both quite curious to see what alcoholic beverage would behold the name we had only associated with coffee before then.) His drink was delicious, and we both ordered one for our second round, mine was... kind of terrible. Well, ok, not terrible-terrible, but I did not like the taste of the bitter campari, which I think made up 90% of it. But probably, no, undoubtedly, the best part of the whole experience (before the pizza) was the appetizers they brought out with the drinks (which aren't free, and cost 2€ each, but are worth, worth, worth it!!!). We couldn't believe what we were seeing, and instead of try to explain it to you, I'm just going to show you...

Yes, that is a perfectly sliced and fried piece of zucchini, a miniature piece of salmon, that somehow was just the right amount and added a delicious burst of its fresh flavor to the entire bite, tiny olives, sweet, succulent pineapple, and a piece of carrot, on a tiny little bed of cream cheese, all in a not-as-hard-as-it-looks ravioli half. I mean, could I fall more in love with anything involved in this equation!? And it only got better as we went inside, only to be greeted by tons of smiling Italian waiter's faces, and the Big Daddy that was going to deliver to us the best pizza we'll probably ever eat in our lives...

There were actually TWO side-by-side, sitting there in their blazing, red, hot, sexy glory. 
My good gosh, I love you so much!

The entire situation only got better as they took our order. We ordered the local beer, which turned out to be a delicious Pale Ale, and I lost my mind, again, when I realized that it tastes almost exactly like Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale, which I would have never expected from a "basic beer." Then, when our waiter came to take our orders and saw how indecisive we were (the menu is quite extensive), he decided to take control of the reigns. Simply he said, "For you (pointing at me), I suggest the ______ (whhyyyy didn't I write down the name!?!), and for you (pointing at P), the _______ (again, whyyyy didn't I take better notes!?)." We looked at each other, and threw down some, "Well then, sounds good!"'s, leaving our fate to the pizza god. And my good God, he read us right! The moment we've all been waiting for, and that I want to relive every week I possibly can -- I now present to you The Best Pizza in the World...

P's crust was filled with ricotta cheese, he thinks he must have eaten an entire roll of it, and mine was as well, but only in that beautifully folded part on the bottom there. There wasn't too much sauce on the pizza, nor were there that many cherry tomatoes on top, but their juices somehow saturated the entire thing, delivering an amazing flavor. For once, I did not object to eating pizza with a knife and fork, but embraced the moment and all it wanted to offer me. And the prosciutto on it? MY GOSH. We actually could not contain ourselves, I still can't! It was one bite after another of YYYYUUUUMMMM. I think we got pizza drunk, because after, we were in such bliss, nothing else mattered, and we couldn't stop talking about it. 

So in short, go to Italy (#1), go to Sorrento, and go to Acqu' e Sale. The pizzas cost between 7 and 9€/each, which is a ridiculously good price to have the best pizza in the world. But to put it into perspective, the pizzas we ate in Napoli cost about 4.50€, so in comparison, it is "quite expensive," but still incredibly reasonable, especially considering what you get. We had already decided to have lunch there the next day, when we heard the heartbreaking news that they are closed on Mondays (something to take note of). "It's a good thing we ate it tonight then! Guess we'll just have to come back someday!" was the unanimous response...from all two of us. 

The next day we planned to take a day trip to Pompeii to see the ruins, but cut our visit quite short, because we wanted to make the 17h ferry from Sorrento to Capri where we'd be spending our next night. (Read about Part Three, Capri here, and/or Pompeii at this one!) It was a little rainy, but we were on holiday, so we didn't care, and actually, in contrast to the greenness of our setting, we both commented that the grey sky and drizzle was kind of nice. It added a beautiful affect, and only elevated the contrast in colors around us. So we skipped going back down the mountain to get an extra layer, and embraced the rain, walking hand-in-hand, allowing the skies to wash our souls clean and soak our hair. And Sorrento continued to reveal her beauty to us as we walked around. 

It's an incredibly small place, and I'm happy we didn't plan out more time to spend there, not because I don't love it, but because more time wasn't necessary. It's a place full of small streets, kind people, shops full of yellow (hello limoncello!), and a comfortable, easy feel. We wandered around for a while, mostly in search of the other restaurant the lady at the hotel recommended, and finally found it. Which only produced another insane eating experience, not so much with the meal this time, but with dessert.

I'd given up sweets for lent, but blew it almost immediately on the airplane when they gave us a snack, and a small piece of cake/muffin was inside. I think I'd known going into the trip that Italy would break me in an instant. I mean, birthdays...pastries...cakes...who knows what's...tiramisu...Italy...Italy...Italy.... And then I kinda broke my lent again, when I bought a little "birthday cake" for P, which we shared the next morning. And then again with the chocolate rice crispy treat that was at the breakfast buffet in the hotel, and I think a couple other things as well. But who's counting? And in all honestly, nothing was worth breaking lent for (ok, maybe the chocolate rice crispy treat was) before we ate this...

Again, I should have written down the name so I could tell you, but I can say this, if you like lemon/limoncello, spongecake, and creamy-ness, then try this if you see it! A spongecake that's soaked in limoncello, with a middle layer of good-God-I-love-you, and then engulfed in another cream of some sort, hailing from the I'm-going-to-wrap-you-up-and-make-your-head-spin variety. I wish you could see how much my mouth is watering right now just looking at this picture and recalling it's taste. Again, we couldn't control ourselves. It melted in our mouths, almost disappearing, but leaving behind a blend of flavors so delicious, our eyes closed and rolled back with each bite. Heaven can be found on Earth, and we found it in Italy.

But then again, it was time to go. And even though we'd planned our entire day around making this certain ferry, and had spent the last 2 1/2 hours sitting at a restaurant just five minutes from our hotel/the marina, we somehow managed to be getting to the hotel with only five minutes till the ferry was meant to leave, which wasn't enough time considering we needed to get our bags, buy the tickets and make it on the boat in time. Thankfully there was another one leaving within two hours, so we enjoyed a coffee/tea, the view from the hotel, and some time to read and reminisce. Then truly, we were on our way. All aboard for Capri!

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