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Exploring Italy, Pt. 1: Naples, Sorrento, and Capri (2023)

Naples: it’s been 11 years since our last visit, and the place seems the same: gritty and stinky. It feels like every day is trash collection day, yet it’s not clean. Loose garbage can be found up and down many streets. After a trash pickup, this place could still use a good power wash:

trash strewn on the streets of Naples, Italy at night

When we arrived here a few hours ago, we figured out our checked suitcase wasn’t on the flight. From there, it took about 2 hours for the 100 (or so, seriously) people in front of us to file a “lost luggage” claim before it was our turn. Fortunately, I put a tracker in the suitcase, so we know it didn’t make the connecting flight. That was our fear while running through the airport in Paris, and that’s where it remains. We will find out more tomorrow morning….

​TOP TIP: Make sure the most important things like charging cables, medications, deodorant, and a toothbrush are packed with your personal item. Packing a change of clothes, or even just a pair of underwear and socks, can be very helpful, as well!

Since we’ve spent the better part of our evening at the airport, there aren’t many restaurants still open, at 9 PM on a Monday. Our first meal back in this country ends up being at a chain that we almost never visit at home: McDonalds. But we just need to eat.

In the U.S., I’ve never seen chicken wings and panzerotti on the menu, so I’ve gotta try those! Of course you know about chicken wings… and panzerotti are little dough pockets (like empanadas) filled with mozzarella and tomato sauce. The outside is sweet like a glazed donut (but without the glaze, of course, because that would be weird).

chicken wings and panzerotti are shown at a McDonald's in Italy

Day 2 of 24

The plan for today is to visit the Amalfi Coast, then we head to Italy’s east coast early tomorrow morning. We kinda/really need to get the suitcase, since we won’t be staying in any one area for very long. At the airport, “Lost and Found” and the Customs office open at 10 AM, and the suitcase isn’t pinging anymore. It’s probably in-flight. There’s this feeling among us that if we wait around for more info, we might wait around all day. We do know those offices close at 8 PM tonight, so let’s just stick with the plan for now and deal with the luggage again later.

At 9 AM, we get on the train to Sorrento. From Naples, it takes an hour, and the path takes you past Mt. Vesuvius, which is most famous for burying Pompeii in 79 AD. We visited that archaeological park in 2012, and it was truly incredible, but we are on a different mission this time.

In Sorrento, we snack on some delicious gelato and take a stroll through a lemon grove. Then we head to the marina, so we can find the ferry that goes to the Amalfi Coast.

There are two main ticket windows, and the signage at both is confusing. I hear multiple people trying to make sense of the posted info and wonder aloud if they are in the right line. That includes us. Finally, at the window, we find out it will be a couple hours before the next Amalfi Coast ferry leaves. Then, we would need to come back early, so we can get back to the Naples Airport for the luggage by 8 PM. Roundtrip, the ferry ride would eat up 3 hours, and spending an hour somewhere, anywhere along the Amalfi Coast just doesn’t seem worth it.

We certainly feel dismayed, then reconsider something we had quickly written off while planning this trip months ago: a visit to the nearby island of Capri. We don’t know a whole lot about it, other than the Blue Grotto being there and some murky detail from Rick Steves about a chairlift that takes you over some backyard gardens and up to the top of a mountain. Either we wait in Sorrento for the time to tick by or go see Capri. Let’s go with the latter!

No doubt, the harbor area is the hotspot on this island. It’s buzzing with activity, with tour groups, people of all ages, speaking a wide variety of languages. The energy is exciting and just the opposite when people aren’t paying attention and bump into you… or when you’re walking behind someone who decides to suddenly stop. Out of the way, people!

The Blue Grotto experience has always seemed more hokey than intriguing… get on a little boat, the guy rowing might sing like you’re in a Venetian gondola, you go around in circles a few times in a cave, and that's it.

As it turns out, we have just enough time to visit the Blue Grotto, before we need to hop on the ferry back to Sorrento, then to get on the train to Naples, then take a taxi to hopefully grab that pesky luggage.

Before you know it, we’re on a boat destined for the Grotto. On the top deck, we bake under the sun for a while, then finally pull out of the harbor 20 minutes late. Either the people last to board were stragglers, or the office held up the boat so they could keep selling tickets. I’m sure you know which one my guess is.

Outside the Blue Grotto, it feels like chaos in slow motion. Our big boat maneuvers around for 15 minutes, some boats pull forward, some boats move back. I have no idea how this dance works.

boats outside the Blue Grotto of Capri, Italy - photo by KilmerMedia

Also, it turns out the 42 Euros ($46 USD) we paid was only for the boat ride to the Grotto. From there, a rowboat takes you over to the ticketing boat, where you shell out 15 Euros (~$17 USD) per person before you can enter the cave.

prices for entry to the Blue Grotto of Capri, Italy are shown - photo by KilmerMedia

You’re then rowed over to the narrow entrance, the riders all lie down, and the boatman yanks on a chain, pulling the boat into the cave.

Blue Grotto cave opening - photo by KilmerMedia

Inside, it's stunning! It literally feels like artificial lights are somewhere down below, almost like you’re being rowed around in a swimming pool at night. Learning more about the place makes it even more intriguing: light spills in through both the visible entrance and a large hole in the rock below the surface. The water filters out red light, making the water look such a vibrant blue. Also to note, Emperor Tiberius moved from Rome to Capri in 27 AD, had this cave decorated with statues, and would swim here. The recovered statues are on display at a nearby museum, and the rest are believed to down at the bottom of this cave.

Blue Grotto interior

For having “meh” expectations about this excursion, it turned out to be really neat, quick, and expensive!

Surprisingly, we get back to the harbor with some time to spare and grab some lunch. From there, the boat ride back to Sorrento is uneventful. We’re feeling pretty good about how the day has worked out and that we should have plenty of time to get to the airport… until there’s an announcement saying “this train will be delayed by 20 minutes, sorry for the inconvenience.” Noooo!!!

Back in Naples, we rush out of the train station and, for once, a cabbie asking if we need a ride gets our business. Off we go... but it's rush hour. Ugh. My navigation app says we should get to the airport at 7:50 PM, which is 10 minutes before the offices close. Somehow, the cab driver takes a shortcut and shaves a few minutes off the trip. Nice work!

At the airport, the only way to connect with the “Lost and Found” office from the general public area is through a callbox. Someone picks up, the speaker feeds back, and the person hangs up. We try calling again - no answer. 8 PM is fast approaching, so I start running around the airport, trying to find a sign of anyone or anything that might be helpful.

In the meantime, Janine talks with someone, who says to follow a line taped on the floor. That leads to a security area, where we end up waiting behind a security checkpoint well beyond 8 PM. Finally, we recognize a guy who was working in the office last night, and he takes us to get the luggage. Finally, relief! Our whole day hinged on this moment. It’s annoying paying for another trip from the airport to hotel, yet a relief that we will board the train tomorrow with our suitcase.

I’m excited about dinner. On our previous trip, we stopped by Pizzeria Brandi (credited with inventing the Margherita pizza in 1889). At that time, it was closed for the afternoon siesta, and we didn’t have a chance to stop by again… until tonight!

It closes at 9 PM, so we hop on the subway and get going toward our pizza! The problem is that the wonky GPS app has us get off two stops too soon. In fact, it randomly wants us to walk to a restaurant that isn't Pizzeria Brandi.

Along the surface streets we huff and puff and sweat in this heat, just on the verge of summer. Finally at the pizza joint, and a half-hour before closing, we request a table for two. No problem! In the meantime, we try to cool down outside, although there's no breeze tonight. I'm feeling eyes from people dining in the alleyway, as if they're wondering "Why is that guy sweating so much?" Don't worry about it, people! I just need my pizza!!!

A few minutes later, we are led upstairs, where it's air conditioned. We take our seats and wait and wait and wait to place our order with the slow waitstaff. The cold beer is damn good while we are still cooling down, and the pizzas end up being... eh, good.

Margherita pizza - photo by KilmerMedia

Honestly, as expected, the originator of the Margherita pizza doesn't make the best Margherita pizza I have ever had. I like it... it's enjoyable, and I truly like the contrast of charred dough that's also slightly-undercooked. But I'd kinda rather eat a pizza my foodie brother-in-law makes on the grill in his backyard. Either way, Pizzeria Brandi was on my bucket list, I am very grateful for this experience. Plus, of course, we are in Southern Italy again, and there's really nowhere else I'd rather be.

Up next in this journey:


"Exploring Italy: Naples, Sorrento, and Capri" - experienced in 2023

Written by Justin Kilmer, Edited by Janine Kilmer

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