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Last Days of Summer - Rome & Sorrento

A wedding in Rome followed by a chilled few days in Sorrento.

Day One - Friday

Following a late flight from Stansted last night, I eventually arrived at the Air BnB in the early hours of Friday, joining the others in our party that had arrived earlier on Thursday.

After a night sleep, we got up to look around shops in central Rome for some last minute clothing additions for the wedding later that day - still managing to do a sketch over lunch in Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina. When returning to our accommodation near the charismatic Jewish Ghetto, I noticed some young sketchers nearby in Piazza Mattei sketching the Turtle Fountain (Fontana Della Tartarughe) and before changing for the evening wedding, I decided to go down and sketch in the same location.

The wedding itself was held in the church at San Pietro in Montorio - sitting behind a gate is a famous small temple - the ‘Tempietto’ - designed by Bramante and considered a masterpiece of High Renaissance Italian architecture. It was just a shame that we couldn’t get inside to walk around it.

The reception was held in a very cool restaurant in central Rome and we all had a great time before returning home in the early hours of the morning.

Day Two - Saturday

A lazy start after a late night and straight to a brunch and a quick sketch at Largo di Torre Argentina before a visit to the stunning but busy Trevi Fountain. It was great to see it finally, as four years ago when I first visited Rome, the fountain was being restored. The water feature provides so much drama within the urban fabric - so very beautiful.

Then off to visit Gelateria Della Palms - famous for having 150 flavours of ice cream. Disappointingly we were not overly impressed with our 3 flavours each - I’ve certainly had better. Again the old saying of ‘quality not quantity’ seemed apt.

Then to one of my favourite spaces in Rome, Piazza Navona for beers, lunch and of course a doodle - this time of the imposing facade of Sant’Agnese in Agone that forms the centre-piece to this wonderful public space.

Later we walked along the river passing Castel Sant'Angelo towards the Vatican and were overwhelmed once again by Bernini’s awesome St Peter’s Square and the imposing colonades that capture the space perfectly.

We continued walking along the Tiber and found chilled riverside bars and restaurants for dinner away from the tourist crowds before eventually returning to the Air BnB.

Day Three - Sunday

We returned to the Colosseum district in the morning passing the amazing historic sites that sit in the middle of the city centre. Another warm day required some cold coffees followed by beers and a pizza in a cafe overlooking the imposing amphitheatre (and food and drink that was not too expensive surprisingly).

This gave me a chance to people watch and sketch including some watercolouring.

The weather suddenly changed in the afternoon with thunder and a short period of heavy showers, but we managed to make our way along the retail streets to Piazza del Popolo.

More sketching followed over coffee (warm this time after the weather change) before returning to the area around the river and Tiber Island for an al fresco dinner in one of the delightful restaurants under the stone bridges that link the island to the city.

Day Four - Monday

After another leisurely start to the day, we all had a wander around the city stopping for breakfast in a market piazza and later for coffee and a sketch where we received some additional nibbles from the waiter who noticed me sketching. There are some advantages to urban sketching!

After a little window shopping for some of the cool Italian linen white shirts, we headed to Piazza del Popolo for lunch and a chance for me to have a go at one of the distinctive churches that form a dramatic gateway to the city - Santa Maria dei Miracoli. Then we made our way to the Villa Borghese Gardens - so close to the centre of the city but such a relaxing escape.

On the way back we encountered our first ‘rip off’ cafe where we ended up paying almost 70 euros for four (albeit very large) drinks! The cafe wasn’t even in a great location lol.

Then a final dinner in the nearby Jewish Ghetto before returning to pack ready for the second part of our Italian adventure.

Day Five - Tuesday

An early start to catch a morning train from Termini to Napoli Centrale. Italian intercity trains can be fabulous - as good as I’ve experienced.

It took around an hour to travel south sometimes touching 300km/h and not wobbling all over the place like my regular London commute with SWR.

On arriving at Naples, we decided to take a boat from the port to Sorrento - a really lovely way to arrive in this beautiful coastline. I did manage to get a super quick sketch done whilst waiting for the boat to leave - still trying to finish as we left the harbour!

Fortunately the our room in the delightful Hotel Antiche Mura was ready so we could quickly get sorted and have a look around the town.

We walked down towards the water and enjoyed the dramatic views over the cliff, found a really cool cafe in one of the piazzas and wandered around the delightful old town - sketching from a street corner cafe.

Then out to dinner in a street restaurant in the bustling old town.

Day Six - Wednesday

After breakfast, we headed down to Marina Picola to catch a boat to Capri. I love being on water in great weather and the 30 minute journey along the beautiful coastline was no disappointment.

On arrival at Capri, we paused for a coffee at Marina Grande to decide how we were going to get to Anacapri. The easy answer was by bus, but we decided to take the hard route - walking up the Phoenician Steps.

The walk was hard work but the views were awesome.

After several breaks, we eventually arrived at the town with its quaint boutiques and workshops. We had lunch in a street with a beautiful view of one of the main churches - too good not to sketch!

We then got the slightly scary chair-lift up to Mount Solaro for even more dramatic views across the Tyrrhenian Sea towards the mainland.

After returning to Marina Grande via the steps (so much easier on the way down!) and a late lunch, I walked out onto the quayside for an early evening sketch looking back towards the town while waiting for the boat home. My idea of heaven!

Day Seven - Thursday

I woke up early to walk to Piazza Tasso a short distance away from the hotel to sketch the heart of Sorrento before the visitors arrived.

The forecast was great and we decided to have a chill day around Sorrento and the hotel pool. Walks and coffee around this delightful town filled the morning (including a cheeky sketch) before returning to laze around the pool for the afternoon. I tried an abstract watercolour which worked out better than I had expected - the chilled environment obviously had an effect!

In the evening we walked down to the stunning old fishing harbour in Sorrento for a delicious fishy dinner - a perfect way to round off a relaxing day.

Day Eight - Friday

After yesterday’s rest day we were keen to visit Pompeii so without booking a tour, we headed to the railway station after breakfast. Unfortunately when we arrived we found a chaotic scene as there was train strike until 1pm.

We quickly booked a bus tour that included a guide at the historic site which actually proved a sensible idea in retrospect - the site probably needs the narrative of a guide to understand and enjoy the ruins.

Pompeii covers a large area and the tour centred on the Forum and surrounding sites including the baths, houses and even one of the brothels. It was interesting to understand the background to the tragedy physically standing under the shadow of Vesuvius that slightly ominously dominates the entire Bay of Naples.

Before leaving I managed a quick sketch within the central Forum area before we returned to Sorrento by train. We enjoyed more relaxation time around the pool before returning to the old fishing harbour for another delicious dinner.

Before the meal, I sketched the waterside as we watched the sunset - challenging light levels made picking out detail interesting!

Day Nine - Saturday

One of the highlights today - a trip along the beautiful Amalfi Coast.

After various thoughts of different methods of transport including hiring scooters, we took the safe route and took a bus. The coastal road is stunning and dramatic all the way to Amalfi - although the traffic approaching the town was incredibly slow.

We walked to the main square dominated by the ornate Cattedrale di Sant’Andrea Apostalo. I had to draw this so we stopped for a drink before continuing our wander around the town.

We came across a small art shop that sold Amalfi watercolour paper - I’d looked at some leather bound Amalfi paper sketchbooks in Rome and was very tempted to buy my new Symposium book for Hong Kong and beyond.

Here in the actual place where the paper is made and in the shop run by the grand daughter of the person that hand stitches the bespoke sketchbook, I finally was convinced. So after meeting the mother and father of the shopkeeper, I walked out with a lot less money but the proud owner of a gorgeous new watercolour book. Hopefully my sketches do it some justice next year!

Then we caught a boat along the coast to Positano - a place I had stayed over 40 years before when on a family holiday. So long ago!

Amalfi is beautiful but Positano is stunning. Full of lovely little streets that hug the hillside with cute shops and populated by real artists for a change - everywhere including Rome these days seems to be full of people selling generic artwork that pretend to be the actual artist!

After a sketch close to the beach, we walked up the little streets, making a few purchases on the way. The views got more spectacular the higher we walked. We had dinner overlooking the water as the sun set. A beautiful way to finish our day and our trip before returning home finally tomorrow.

The journey back to Sorrento however was interesting - sitting at the back of the bus in darkness while constantly swinging round hairpins was let’s say challenging. Anyway I managed to survive the one and a half hours of feeling rather rough somehow!

Day Ten - Sunday

An early start to get the boat to Naples, the bus to the airport (through a busy city), a plane to Amsterdam, dinner in Schiphol, a plane to London City, tube to Waterloo, a train to Southampton and finally a walk home. Exhausted but with great memories of a fabulous trip and beautiful places.

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