Today was a pack-up and change-location day. We collected ourselves and headed to the now all-too-familiar Circumvesuviana for a long shake, rattle and roll to Naples this morning. The train was on time, which is the kindest thing one can say about this line. But it does ferry hordes of tourists to Pompeii and Herculaneum from Naples and Sorrento, so at least it has a real purpose in life, despite numerous discomforts.
When we arrived at the train station in Naples, everything got zippered and locked. The staff at the hotel in Sorrento and the public address system here made sure we were aware of the prevalence of pickpockets, so we were duly warned. Haven’t seen one yet, but we are on guard.
In the afternoon, we took a short stroll, and had a peek at the Galleria Umberto, built in 1892. It is in the process of being cleaned, and the difference between old and new is astounding. But really, was the old version so bad?
Then we went across the street to the Teatro di San Carlo, Europe’s oldest opera house, built in 1737. We were able to tour the theater and see the auditorium. The Royal Box was impressive, and the mirrors in each of the other boxes were there to reflect the candle light from individual chandeliers. Evidently there was a lot going on in those boxes during performances other than attending to the stage. Today we have continual texting and phone calls, so not much has changed.
In the Piazza del Plebiscito nearby, there was a huge musical event going on. The square was filled with singers and musicians, which was being broadcast around the perimeter. We couldn’t get close, but it seemed very festive.
We had to settle for an afternoon break next door at the famous Gran Caffé Gambrinus, which has been an elegant place to sample local delicacies since 1860.
Don’s Food Corner
Not much of a food day today, but we tried some Neapolitan specialties at the café. I had a coffee, which was actually a very heavy espresso, by my standards. You don’t need much Neapolitan coffee to keep you going. Jo had a Campari orange. But the main treats were sfogliatella — a ruffled flaky pastry shaped like a scallop shell and filled with a ricotta custard — and a rum-soaked babà with a huge dollop of sweetened whipped cream. Fantastico!
About the ricotta: All the ricotta we’ve had in desserts and pasta dishes is wonderfully light and fluffy. Much more creamy and tangy than the stuff we’re used to. I guess I’d better upgrade from Polly-O and other supermarket brands which seem always to be thick and grainy. Not here.
And about the tomatoes: I didn’t realize it until today when I looked it up, but the famed San Marzano tomatoes are from the area around Naples, specifically grown in the volcanic soil of Mt. Vesuvius. Well, if that’s the secret to the incredible tomato sauces we’ve had since coming south, then I guess I’ll have to upgrade my tomatoes too, along with my ricotta. Good-bye, Hunt’s.