July 28, 2005 10:49 AM | By Adam Roberts | 18 Comments

The Bottom of the Boot and the Soccer Ball Midflight: Sorrento and Sardinia

I like my title for this post but it isn't entirely accurate: Sorrento isn't really the bottom of the boot. It's at the bottom region of the boot but above the toes and the calf area. Opposite side of the calf area. What's that area called? Maybe I should've studied podiatry. Here's a map:


See, Sorrento is where Naples is. How would YOU describe that anatomically?

Then Sardinia is the soccer ball "midflight" because as you can see the boot is kicking Sicily but Sardinia is the ball it's already kicked in a traditional soccer ball arc. Those are my visual metaphors for these places I visited. These are also metaphors in the sense that these were my least favorite ports: the bottom of the boot and the kicked soccer ball indeed.

Oh Adam, you meanie, how could you call SORRENTO your least favorite port? Sardinia, ok, but Sorrento? Beautiful Sorrento, home of Capri?

I know, I know--what am I thinking?--but first let's look at a volcano.


Ok that's a joke because you can't see anything in that pic but I assure you there's a volcano in it. On the way to Sorrento we passed Mount Etna at 1 in the morning. You can see from this map of Sicily where Mount Etna is:


We were told to stand outside and wait for eruptions. Much of the cruiseship did and we sat there patiently passing the darkened silent volcano waiting for sparks. "Keep watching, keep watching," chanted my dad. And just when we'd given up, sure enough, there were orange sparks in the sky. But tiny compared to the size of the mountain. It's like going to see the Macy's Fireworks show and having them set off a tiny firecracker. Here's an eruption up close that I found on Google:


Now imagine seeing that from far far away and having it comprise 4% of the mountain and that gives you a sense of it. But that's still cool.

Ok, back to Sorrento. Here's why I didn't like it. Actually, it's not fair to say I didn't like it: we didn't see Sorrento. We went straight to Capri (unless Capri is in Sorrento in which case please ignore previous sentence.) Getting to Capri was such a pain that maybe that's part of why my impression is tainted. We had to take a tender into Sorrento, then we had to wait in line to take a hydrofoil to Capri and we missed the first one so we baked in the hot sun for an hour waiting for the next. Here's dad buying the hydrofoil ticket:


The ride on the hydrofoil was equally unpleasant. These rotten Italian women with big moles on their faces pretended to save seats for their husbands so my dad and brother couldn't sit and they maintained that their husbands were coming for the entire 45 minute journey. Plus it was really hot out.

When we finally got to Capri we had to get up the mountain. You have a choice: cab or fenicular. (You know that song "feniculee, feniculah" that's based on the fenicular which takes you up the mountain (kind of like the skybucket we rode in Santorini.) My family opted for a cab to avoid the crowds. This was a big nightmare for me because cars scare me as is and then going up these narrow one-lane roads with two-way traffic on the edges of cliffs made me want to barf. Then, FINALLY, we were in Capri.

What makes my anti-Capri stance more interesting is that I visited Capri in high school on that trip I told you about. My first time there I was awestruck and I declared Capri the greatest place I'd ever been on earth. I told my parents I wanted to scatter my ashes there. So what happened?

You know in writing school one of our teachers, Mark Dickerman, when you tell him you didn't like a movie he says, "Did you not like it or did you have a bad viewing experience?" His point is that a lot of times the viewing experience itself can taint your impression. Imagine watching a favorite movie for the first time with someone you hate--would it still be your favorite movie?

This trip to Capri was kind of like that because by the time we got there I was pooped and bitter. And then mom went on a shopping rampage and I began to see Capri as a giant shopping mall on a mountain. Here she is where the cab dropped us off:


Here she is looking at a jewelry store where there were pictures of Sarah Jessica Parker and Catherine Zeta Jones buying jewelry:


Now loyal readers of the site are aware of my parents secret hobby: accosting celebrities and asking for photos. I retired from this sport years ago: my hope is that one day I'll work with celebrities on plays and movies that I write so professionalism is my new stance. But mom and dad still jump at the opportunity to be seen with big famous stars. And as we were making our way to lunch I spotted a familiar face calling after his wife. It took a moment and then I tapped dad on the shoulder: "Dad, that's Mike Nichols calling after Diane Sawyer." Dad and mom sprung into action and here's mom with Mike and Diane:


I'm sure all of you know who Diane Sawyer is but I was more starstruck at Mike Nichols: he basically invented improv with Elaine May back in the 50s then went on to direct a million movies that I love: "The Graduate," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?" and more recently "Angels in America" for which he won the Emmy and now "Spamalot" on Broadway for which he won the Tony. I got mad props from my folks for picking him out in the crowd.

And maybe here's a good place to disclose the celebrity passenger on our ship. One thing that bothered me about my cruise was how white it was: almost everyone on the ship was Caucasian or Asian but there were no people of color. And then one day on deck or on the elevator or somewhere we spotted this familiar face. We saw him in port too----here's Michael with him:


That's right SIDNEY POITIER was on our boat! How cool was that? Let me tell you it's a funny experience to be standing in line for all you can eat shrimp and lobster next to a man who made Oprah so nervous she could barely sit through the interview; a man who originated the role of Walter Lee Younger in Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun" back in 1959, and the speaker of one of the most famous lines in film history: "Call me Mr. Tibbs!" So much for a racially lopsided boat: having Sidney Poitier on board makes everything better!

Boy, talk about tangents! So those were our big celebrity coups in Europe. (Plus: Michael spotted Brian Wilson in the Rome airport but really, we're getting ahead of ourselves.) Now for the food in Capri. Mom made reservations for lunch at the big fancy hotel: Hotel Quisisana. (Or do you really use that V? Hotel QVisisana.)


This was a beautiful hotel and I have no doubt Mike and Diane were staying here. (Actually, our shipboard friends Greg and Laura ALSO spotted Mike and Diane and said they were with Warren Beatty and Annette Benning. How's that for a missed opportunity?)

Lunch was had near the pool in their poolside restaurant:


They had a menu with moderately expensive dishes and then on the antipasto menu was "antipasto buffet" for the same amount as the other appetizers. I decided to explore and the antipasto buffet looked tremendous: enough for my entire lunch. So I ordered that making dad happy. Mom, Michael and he, though, ordered from the menu. Here's the buffet from a distance (cue Bette Midler):


And here are some of the items I chose---anchovies and I think that's chicken but it could be fish:


Plus the requisite mozzarella caprese:


Mom and dad ordered theirs from the menu:


Michael had a pretty wonderful pizza:


But all in all this lunch was just ok. As I said, I fell out of love with Capri on this trip. I understand it's allure and certainly it's a place that, if I were a big celebrity, I might come to revel in my fame and wealth and power. But I'd take a day in Venice or Rome over a week in Capri any time. But maybe that's just me...

There is one thing that Michael found redeeming, though, and that's Limoncello. Look at the devious look on his face surrounded by all this lemon liquor:


We bought a bunch of little bottles but mysteriously mine are back in Boca and not where they should be in my apartment. I'll remedy that next time I'm back in Florida.

And that was Capri. Hope I didn't turn you off too badly---it is really beautiful. Just soulless and empty.

Ok! Now on to Sardinia.

I'm surely in the minority when it comes to Sorrento but as for sentiments onboard our ship, I'm right in the majority when it comes to Sardinia. People hated Sardinia or they hated the idea of Sardinia. First of all, the seas were rough that day my friend. Looking out the window we saw the tiny tenders slam against the waves and my mom took one look at that and said, "I'm staying on the ship."

Dad, Michael and I braved it and here's dad looking a little green onboard the tender:


We got splashed a great deal but I actually thought it was fun. Dad told me the difference between pitching and rolling and I think our boat was pitching. Then we reached the shore and beheld the excitement and beauty of Sardinia:


Looks like a ghost town, right? Actually someone compared it to Mizner Park in Boca which is just a big pink shopping center. The stores here were trendy and fancy--Gucci, Louis, etc--but that's not for dad, Michael and I. We're men of adventure and substance. Our need to explore was overwhelming.

We'd heard back on board that the place to see was a hotel called Calle di Volpe where all the celebrities go to stay. They had a famous buffet lunch and after some consideration we hopped in a cab and made our way to Calle DV.

Here it is:


I really liked the architecture and the decor. It was like the Grand Floridian meets the Delano (if that means anything to you). Here's the pool:


Michael tried to go in but they asked for his room key so that didn't work out.

Now for the big fancy buffet lunch. We saw people from our ship heading that way and we decided to stop in and check it out. Guess how much this big fancy buffet lunch costs a person? Are you ready? Are you sitting down? 150 EUROS a person. For a buffet. That's like $180 a person. Say WHA!

At this moment I took some initiative. I went up to the conceirge and said, "Excuse me, can you recommend a place to eat lunch around here?"

The conceirge weighed me up and down and said, "Well sir we have our buffet..."

"Not the buffet," I jumped in. "Anything else?"

"Well," he thought, scratching the chin. "There is a place that's casual..."

"I like casual," I said.

"Very very casual."


"Super casual."

"What is it?"

"Well," he said, "if out the hotel and make a right you walk down the road you'll see Bar Baretto on the left. It's very good food...locals eat there."

Perfect! So I led dad and Michael outside and we started on our way. Only we were walking on a hot dusty road with heavy traffic coming from either side and there was no sign of any restaurant in any direction. Still, dad and Michael posed for this picture:


"If we don't see it after the next hill we're going back," said dad.

And sure enough after the next hill there it was:


We made our way inside and sure enough every person there, I'll be brave enough to say, was a local. We were eating locally! Woohoo!

As for what we ate well we shared a salad:


Very fresh and peppery. I think there was arugala in it...

But the best was my entree. I had seafood pasta with huge giant prawns in it:


This was terrific. Dad had a white clam sauce pasta and then Michael ordered "pizza marinara." It came without cheese but it still tasted good.


The best, though, was the dessert. Dad loves Tiramasu and this one was the best I've ever had. Here he is showing it off:


This was heavy in the egg yolks and the creaminess and it made it so rich and awesome. We scraped that plate clean.

Of course we had espresso to wash everything down like a real Italian would:


Dad had one too and he couldn't get over the fact of how little there is in the cup. "That's all you get?" he said staring sadly down at the tiny cup.

"Believe me, you don't want much more, it's strong!" I assured him.

But dad was not an espresso convert.

We went inside and studied the kitchen:


And then the owner offered to call us a cab. "You're a cab," he said.

We made our way back to the ship and ended our day in Sardinia. It was, indeed, a charming place if a big pointless. Wow, I just called an entire region of Italy pointless---but I mean pointless in the sense that it's probably not worth visiting unless you're doing research on Sardinian argiculture or you want really good Tiramasu.

And, by the way, our entire lunch cost $50 Euros---1/3rd of what one person would've cost at that buffet. We spoke to people who went to that buffet and they said it wasn't all that. "It was good," they said, "but totally not worth the money." Dad, Michael and I smiled internally. We were the Rachel Rays of Sardinia.


Adam, doesn't "pizza marinara" MEAN without cheese? As a cheese hater, that's what I always order, and I've yet to get one befouled by any cheese whatsoever. Just let your brother know.

Also, thank you for not posting this until I had something in my stomach-- the seafood was less torturous this time.

Capri and Sorrento are two different places - one is not part of the other. It sounds like you only visited Sorrento in that you caught a boat there at the harbor, midway to Capri. The city of Sorrento is up on the cliff and in the surrounding mountains on the mainland. It really is quite charming and nothing at all like Capri.

Hi, Adam! Long-time lurker, first-time commenter.

I just wanted to say that the dish next to the anchovies at the Capri buffet might well indeed have been fish - tuna, perhaps. It looks like a antipasto I made a few years back from Joanne Weir's _From Tapas to Meze_. My fish-hating brother loved the dish; he thought it was chicken!

Love your blog, and look forward to more reports on your trip.

Another lurker here. Love your blog! You just took my dream trip with someone else footing the bill? Score! But anyway, I digress. I would like to suggest that Sorrento is at the shin of the boot.

btw, keep up the delicious posts!

Another lurker here. Love your blog! You just took my dream trip with someone else footing the bill? Score! But anyway, I digress. I would like to suggest that Sorrento is at the shin of the boot.

btw, keep up the delicious posts!

Sardinia is incredibly beautiful, just not prepared to share its beauty with anyone and definitley not in consummer mode. The hotel in the pictures is not Sardinia, just a place which could be anywhere built for celebrities and turists who can't be bothered to use their own eyes and see what really is there.

Your Sardinian salad makes me wish I was in Italy - looks just like most of the green salads I've had there: tomatoes, carrots, greens - and sometimes lovely crisp slices of fennel or a handful of corn - dressed with splashes of balsamico or red wine vinegar with lovely EVOO.

Would love to have a look at that pricey buffet - Ballys in Vegas has a Sunday brunch that goes for mega bucks but not THAT expensive.

Lots of people traveling - next time I recommend either early spring or late autumn traveling - mo bettah.

Sidney is aging.

Oh, man...that's unfortunate. I recognize that kiosk where you bought the tickets to Capri, and you definitely did not get to see the best of Sorrento (which, as Brian said, is perched on the cliffs). Sounds like Capri was everything I didn't like about Sorrento, but isolated and taken to the power of ten...

On a tangential note, if/when you go back, you MUST hit Sicily and the Aeolian Islands. We were basically winging the itinerary when I went, and stumbled across the most amazing little hotel on Salina: Hotel l'Ariana. It's in a sleepy little flyspeck fishing village that is so small the hotel requires half-board of its guests. This seemed like a losing proposition until we figured out their resident chef was some kind of crazy seafood demigod.

(Of course, if we'd been thinking, we would have realized this when driven to translate the dinner menus given to us upon check-in using two skimpy phrasebooks and a combination of Italian-French and French-English dictionaries. Crap translations, excellent food. Now that's the Language Law in action!)

150 Euros for a buffet? What kind of ritzy crowd is that hotel used to serving that they can charge that much for a buffet? Man I really wish you guys could have snuck in and taken some pics of the food.

Meeting Mike Nichols must have been awesome.

Hi, I've been reading this blog for ages and I really like what you write... but I just had a question, and please don't take offense...what reasoning led to you define Asians as not people of color? Because really, I don't think that, as a Chinese American, I'm treated the same way as a white person, and I definitely get defined by the color of my skin...

Hi Adam and Everyone!
Nice pic of your brother and Sidney P. I love tiramisu. Wish I could have tasted some of your dad's. ;-) Good thing you found another place to eat at a much cheaper rate.


savina Im not quite sure what your talking about. That hotels is most certainly in Sardinia. And sardinia is most certainly willing to share it's beauty with anyone with $$$$$$$$.

Its called the shin.

Pizza marinara IS meant to be without cheese. That's just the recipe.
Same goes with the espresso, there's meant to be just a little of it. At leat if it's real italian espresso. *smiles*

I guess only Italians know the real places to stay or eat without being fooled or wasting lots of money... .. may it be in Sardinia or Sorrento or Capri. Eh, I don't like when they try to vampirize tourists, even in my own country.

I think Sorrento would be a shin? No?

Jane, I agree with Savina and I guess I understand what she means. The hotel is surely "in" Sardinia but "is" not Sardinia. In every touristy place in the world, there are such rip-offs, be it hotel, eating, whatever. I have been to Sardinia (and talk good italian - is important) and have gotten on a very tight budget but still housing and eating great. Meaning local, fresh, tasty. We loved Sardinia.
I guess it is in the nature of such a travel (as Adam made it - too much in too little time, without the local language, with a big group) that you do not get to experience "the real thing", but as Adam as well wrote, he got a taste of it all and now knows where he would like to go again for deeper immersion.

Awesome reading, as always. But why in the world did the lack of non-Caucasian or non-Asian people on the ship bother you? Diversity based on skin colour is only skin deep...

I'm loving this holiday multi-posting thing; good on you for having the energy and mainting the interest in doing it. It's easy to come back from holiday with great intentions, and then lose focus.
Anyway, the way the U is written as V in the Hotel Quisisama is just the way U's are written in Latin; particularly early Latin. Something to do with the history of writing, and the way curved letters evolved. It always confused me at school that our motto included the word "LVX", but was pronouned Lux; there's your reason.
My dad's family are from northern Italy, about 50km west of Venice, so I've particularly enjoyed reading about your stops in Italy. I must admit, as northerners, the regions of southern Italy are often classed as a separate country, with many differences to the northerners. Italy is a wide, varied, amazing country of very independent regions.

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