Friday, August 7, 2015

Sorrento, Italy: Where Life Gives You Lemons

Sorrento Clock Tower

I arrived back home from our two week Great Big Western USA Roadtrip to find a package waiting for me. It was the goody box I'd won from the "Where in the World was Ms. Toody?" giveaway hosted by the charming Ms. Toody Goo Shoes blog. I love surprises, and I had no idea what was inside. The contest involved figuring out where she had traveled based on her picture clues. I took one look at her photos and was immediately transported back to the Amalfi Coast which we had visited last summer. My kids wanted to visit Pompeii, and I decided that scenic Sorrento was a much, much better place to stay than the more convenient Naples.

Watching a suave man and a woman dressed in white climb into their Ferrari and zoom away. La Dolce Vita!

Sorrento is named after the mythical Greek creatures called sirens whose enchanting songs lured men to crash their ships. In Homer's The Odyssey, Ulysses heard the sirens' song and survived, causing the sirens to throw themselves into the ocean near here. In some ways, it was still a dangerous city. I was afraid I'd emerge with a much lighter wallet.

Warning sign on train to Pompeii

No, I wasn't scared of pickpockets. I was leery of how much I loved and adored everything I saw in the stores. Our hotel was located in the old city. The front of it faced the main street, Corso Italia, filled with higher end chain stores like Max Mara and Swatch. The back of the hotel overlooked Via S. Cesareo, a narrow pedestrian street with one irresistible store after another that beckoned me to enter and buy something.. or everything. By day, it was filled with tour groups from the nearby cruise terminal. I preferred exploring it at night and in the early morning before it got too busy. It was so different from the Asian Night Markets that I'd grown accustomed to.

Looking down on the pedestrian street from my hotel room balcony.

I had recently decided to give up my practice of buying handbags as souvenirs when I traveled. Then, I came to my senses and realized that I should implement the change after I had left Italy which is renowned for its leather goods. I couldn't take my eyes off all the painted pottery. The popular blue, white and yellow color scheme would fit in perfectly with the decor in my Texas home. My daughter acquired a taste for aged balsamic vinegar, as sweet and thick as honey. How could I leave without buying a bottle? The only thing that saved my wallet was the fact that our luggage was stuffed to almost overflowing. We were in the midst of moving back to the USA from Malaysia, and our suitcases held everything we would need before our sea shipment arrived a month later.

If Life Gives You Lemons

As I walked around Sorrento, I quickly realized that what it must be most famous for is its lemons. My daughter wanted to return to the store "next to the place that sold lemon stuff," and I informed her that didn't exactly narrow it down in this town. The soil here is ideal for cultivating the large and sweet Sorrento lemons. I stared in disbelief at how big they were. I watched a storekeeper weigh one, and I couldn't believe that the needle on the scale pointed to almost 2 kilos. 

Lemon Grove Garden (Giardini di Cataldo) near the train station

Lemons are everywhere. Painted on dishes, made into soaps, and turned into one delicacy after another, of course. In the granitas and the gelato...

Getting scoops at Gelataria Davide (while listening to Arianna Grande blasting over the speakers). 

In the cakes...
Delizia - Sponge cake soaked in lemon sugar syrup and covered with lemon custard

But the most prevalent delight is the Limoncello.

Limoncello - a sweet and lemony alcoholic digestif

Every store seems to have its own recipe handed down from one generation to the next. Most are happy to give you a sample to taste. You could really make an afternoon of trying to find the best limoncello in Sorrento. They even had limoncello at the toy and candy store.

Candy, toys and limoncello. How to keep the both kids and happy.

Have I mentioned that I love lemons? Lucky me. Life was giving them to me by the bushel.

And other miscellaneous quirky things

Sorrento wasn't 100% lemons though. There was the water and beach which we somehow never made it down to. There was the pizza. We try to get the kids to try local food when we travel, and we received much less resistance than usual when we suggested pizza.


Pizzeria da Franco had delicious pizzas and hot sandwiches. The odd thing was the fire escape map at every single booth, like the kind you typically find on the back of a hotel room door. Our booth was only a few feet away from the door, but the map clearly showed us the best escape route via a dotted line.

Teeny, tiny Tic-Tacs

At the train station, I found the teeniest, tiniest box of Tic-Tacs that I've ever seen. I think there were all of 6 regular size pieces in here. 

Sorrento Train Station
Foosball/Table Soccer anyone? 

I also found a small foosball/table soccer game at the train station. Three little plastic players per team. In contrast to that, I walked past an imposingly tall and big man dressed in a caftan. I whispered to my husband, "I think I just saw AndrĂ© Leon Talley." 

"Who's that?" he replied.

"The former editor-at-large of American Vogue."

At this point, my husband looks at me like I'm a little loony and asks, "You think you saw the editor of Vogue at the Sorrento train station?" Well, when he put it that way, it did sound a little unlikely. He'd probably zip off in a luxe car like those La Dolce Vita people I'd seen earlier at the Hotel de la Syrene. 

My last surprise from Sorrento came as we boarded the train to Pompeii. Music was pouring out of one of the train cars, the exact car that Hubby decided to get on. As we leapt on board, I came face to face with two men serenading the passengers with their merry Italian songs.

A little live music

My sadness at having to leave Sorrento the day after touring Pompeii was only appeased by the prospect that our next stop was Venice. I came away with a leather handbag and a small bottle of 10 year aged balsamic vinegar. The storekeeper tried to sell me a bigger bottle, but I explained that my suitcases were full and a few additional milliliters were more than I could manage.

The Goody Bag

So, it was with excitement that I opened the package from Ms. Toody Goo Shoes earlier this week. What goodies had she sent me? 

Goodies from Ms. Toody Goo Shoes 

A year after I'd last seen Sorrento, a part of it arrived at my door. Thanks, Ms. Toody!

What's your favorite souvenir that you've brought home from a trip?

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  1. You were very lucky to win such a lovely prize. Well you figured it out so it wasn't really luck but still - so lovely. We were in Sorrento in early May this year - it is certainly all about lemons!

  2. I wrote Ms. Toody that her posts have made me want to go shopping in Sorrento -- I can't get enough lemon 'stuff' and we don't have a lot of it in either Greece (why aren't they jumping on the olive/lemon souvenir bandwagon??) or the Pacific Northwest. Now your post comes along and I am more desirous than ever to get back to Sorrento!

  3. i think i would love sorrento. i love Limoncello and the fun bottles they put it in. I also love lemon cake and lemon gelato. I agree Italy must be the easiest place to get kid to eat the local food -- pizza and pasta and gelato!

  4. Those are the funniest warning signs! Love Limoncello - one of the best things Italy has to offer along with pizza, pasta, gelato etc. It's all good, really :-)

  5. I totally agree with you Sorrento is a much better location to base yourself to explore the historic Pompeii and Herculano. Plus you get to stroll the beautiful streets in the evening eating that delicious gelleto.

  6. This looks like so much fun! Love the goody bag. Would love to visit there sometime. Found you on #WeekendWanderlust!

  7. We loved Sorrento and trying all of the lemon products including the limoncello

  8. I so want to visit this part of Italy. I am absolutely aching to go! As for Italian leather handbags and lemons - I'm even more tempted!

  9. What a nice prize you won! You make Sorrento look and sound great. Adding it to our ever-growing list.

  10. Very cool! This definitely makes me want to visit Sorrento and sip lemonade.

  11. I love lemony things, so I think I would love Sorrento! Great post!

  12. I miss Sorrento too! It is so beautiful and there are so many things to eat. Your family seems a little bit like my husband and me. We always want to bring food souvenirs only. Awesome that your daughter likes aged balsamic vinegar . How not to love that amber, gooey stuff? The goody bag looks amazing.

  13. I loved all the lemon flavoured produce in Sorrento. We bought a 1 litre bottle of limoncello to bring home...and in a total brain-fade moment put it into carry-on luggage. Oops. Had to throw it out at the first international check-in. Sorrento is a fabulous place to base yourself for Pompeii as well as exploring the other Amalfi Coast towns and the island of Capri. I definitely have it on 'the list' for a revisit.

  14. Michele, I loved reading this post so soon after we returned and everything is so fresh in my mind! And thank you so much for the mention, and the photo of the goodie box! I hope you and the family enjoyed the little taste of Sorrento!

  15. When life give you lemons, love the title... love Sorrento too. My memories I also bought home from Sorrento a leather bag but with a bottle of Limoncello which I must admit I'm not too fond of. I really enjoyed being taken back with your post, thank you.

  16. Hello, what a great post. Now, I would like to visit Sorrento. The Balsamic Vinegar and Limoncello would have to come home with me. Lovely images! Congrats on winning the Goodie Box. Enjoy your new week ahead!

  17. Ah, Sorrento is such a beautiful place! This is where I spent my 15th wedding anniversary. Good idea to stop buying bags only after you left Italy. What greater place for handbags? I loved the lemon flavored ice cream in Sorrento.

  18. See...that's a great reason to travel. What memories!

    Happy Weekend Travel Inspiration!

  19. LOVE Sorrento! I'm not really sure what my favorite souvenir has been, but I did really enjoy the Limoncello. ;)

  20. "Do you know the land where the lemon-trees grow,
    in darkened leaves the gold-oranges glow,
    a soft wind blows from the pure blue sky,
    the myrtle stands mute, and the bay-tree high?
    Do you know it well?
    It’s there I’d be gone,
    to be there with you, O, my beloved one!"


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