Postcard from Lecce, Italy: Evening prowling recommended

We arrived at the train station in Lecce about 8 p.m. and walked to the place we were staying less than a mile away. The streets were softly illuminated to highlight the historic center’s Baroque architecture, and everything seemed as gentle as a whisper after the ever-present bustling hubbub of Naples.

We stayed in Lecce around the beginning of November, past the high tourist season so almost the only people around were locals. The narrow streets and limited parking discourage automobiles from entering the historic center enclosed by ancient limestone walls. Weeknights were fairly calm, but the town always turned out in full force for the traditional weekend night passeggiata, a relaxing evening stroll. Young people filled the cafes and bars later, but most of the streetscapes were as soothing as these photographs.

Lecce is located in the heel of Italy’s boot in the state of Puglia, or Apulia.

Postcard from Sorrento, Italy: An Amalfi town overwhelmed by people like us

Our Lady of “Please Save Us and the Entire Amalfi Coast from this Latest Wave of Invaders”

Mythologically speaking, Sorrento was founded by a grandson of Ulysses and Circe, but the geographical features making it a natural fortress – a deep gorge and steep cliffs fronting the coast – placed it in high demand by all powers interested in staking out turf in the neighborhood for thousands of years.

And now the invaders are tourists. Obviously, we are among them. But visitors slipping in two by two is a far cry from the hoards cruise ships docking in nearby Naples deliver to Sorrento, viewed as the stepping stone for exploring the beauty of Italy’s Amalfi Coast. The pedestrian streets of Sorrento are lined with shoppes, as opposed to stores that would offer anything of interest to the city’s less than 17,000 residents.

The small-town streets are clean and orderly compared to the scene in Naples, but are swarming with, well, people like us. Sorrento is a place where we could enjoy a morning cappuccino in a small café for three times the price we would pay in Naples. The setting is dramatic, and the views of the Isle of Capri and Naples are beautiful. But wait, we had a wonderful view of the Isle of Capri from our apartment in Naples.

Sorrento is blessed with several handsome baroque churches, and my favorite part of the jaunt by boat over there from Naples was a visit to the Basilica Sant’Antonino. Little Saint Anthony of Sorrento (555-625) was a Benedictine monk who became a hermit. The citizens of Sorrento coaxed him into serving as abbot of their Saint Agrippinus Monastery. Saint Michael appeared to persuade him to take up their offer.

The most miraculous deed credited to Antonino during his lifetime involved a whale. A mother arrived pleading to him for help, as her son had been swallowed by a leviathan. Antonino was able to reach deep inside the creature’s mouth and pluck the boy out, safe and sound.

After his death, the grateful people of Sorrento built a crypt to house his remains and then erected a basilica above in his honor. His work was not yet done though. The saint is credited with protecting the city from a Moorish naval invasion, the bubonic plague and cholera. The walls of the crypt are lined with cases of silver milagros left by those requesting his intervention in healing various parts of the body and reliquaries of bones of other saints to multiply the potency found within. Retablos depicting some of Saint Antonino’s dramatic rescues of endangered sailors at sea are abundant.

Sorrento takes great pride in its limoncello, ceramics and lacework. We strongly recommend the perfect panini produced in the little kitchen at A’Marenna.

Oh, and the city appears taken with Sophia Loren, particularly after her mambo scene in Scandal in Sorrento.

Sophia Loren and Vittorio de Sica mambo in 1955 film Scandal in Sorrento

We enjoyed dipping our toes into the Amalfi scene at Sorrento, but by late afternoon found ourselves eager to return to the bustling chaos of Naples.

Postcard from Naples, Italy: A month there. No regrets.

When people asked where we were headed next and we answered Naples, their reactions reflected the city’s reputation. People tend to associate it with crime. Garbage. While there are people who travel there now specifically because of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet of novels, I must confess her descriptions of the gritty, rough neighborhoods of her childhood almost deterred me.

People also asked if we were mainly going to use Naples as a base for exploring the Amalfi coast. For visiting Pompeii. But, no, we were not. We were planning to spend a month primarily exploring the city itself.

I am asking you to stop now. Throw out all your preconceived ideas about the city for the upcoming blog posts.

Yes, there are some gritty, grimy areas, as there are in most big cities. Garbage does accumulate in narrow streets filled with bars where young people party late in an overwhelming volume that would prove challenging for most municipalities. But there are also miles of clean pathways skirting around the bay. There are enormous pedestrian-only pristine plazas. There are layers built upon layers of buildings climbing up its high hills. Some handsome; some not.

The city feels so real. So alive. A place operating not simply to appeal to tourists, but to function as a place where people live. A place with an engaging quirkiness and surprising discoveries around every corner.

And the Bay of Naples is drop-dead gorgeous. Mount Vesuvius and the islands of Capri and Ischia frame the shimmering water. No one told me that in advance, so I was unprepared for the beauty encountered everywhere.

Staying up in the Vomero neighborhood high above the city might seem like cheating in a way. An escape hatch from the hub-bub. How high is it? Not far as the seagull flies, but it amounted to a climb of about 60 stories. We only used the twisting-stairways once. But we descended into the city almost every single day via the inexpensive funiculars to explore her museums and churches. To admire the Baroque architecture. And to experience her restaurants. Pizza, pasta and fresh seafood everywhere.

Below is a random sampling showing some of Naples’ beauty and some of her warts.

 

Maybe Naples will grow on you as it did on us.