PARADISE IN THE COVID ERA

PARADISE IN THE COVID ERA

When I got to Termini rail station in Rome yesterday to get my train to Sorrento, I knew I would be seeing the largest number of people I had seen since early March. What was this brief excursion out of Rome going to be like? Will I be safe, notwithstanding taking all precautions and obeying all the rules? All the worries that we have because of Covid come to the surface when you plan travel. Here’s what I saw and experienced….

It seems that all major rail stations now in Italy have one, possibly two entrances from the station area to the track area and one, perhaps two, exits from the track area back into the station. I had no problem accessing track 12, I simply showed my ticket and in about 10 minutes the train arrived and I was boarding my car. At no point, however, did I see any personnel – all of whom wore masks – taking temperatures.

What was so fascinating was that each passenger, once in their seat, got a bag with a mask, gloves, a headrest cover and a bottle of water. So it was apparent that TrenItalia is very aware of the needs in a Covid area and it seems they wanted to reassure passengers. There was, of course, social distancing on the train with only families being allowed to sit together, that is to say, side-by-side in two or four seats. It was just over an hour trip to Naples (Napoli Centrale had only one way from the station to the track area and vice versa) where I then had a driver waiting for me to take me to Sorrento.

The usual way of getting from Naples main station to Sorrento – something I have done for years – is to take the local train called the Circumvesuviana (you guessed it – it means ‘around Vesuvius’ as that is the route taken travelling south). It is notoriously crowded and often people have to stand with their luggage for half if not the entire 55- minute trip to Sorrento.

I had tried to be so careful for so many months about avoiding crowded situations that it seemed to me that hiring a driver and avoiding challenges was the sanest thing to do. It was just under an hour to Sorrento, my beloved Sorrento, a place I have been visiting on and off since 1993. I had booked a wonderful small hotel in on a very quiet no-traffic street I know well and yet it is just five minutes from all of Sorrento’s major sites, including my favorite part of Sorrento, her churches.

Because of a technical mixup in Rome, I was unable to film my segment for the live Monday show of “At Home with Jim and Joy” and thus my first hour in Sorrento was spent doing that.

About 6 pm, I started to walk around in this town I so love and that is so very beautiful, seeing so many of the lovely familiar spots that bring a smile to my face and inside my heart. I was hoping to find a 6 pm Mass and went to several churches that were open but had no evening Mass so I stopped in San Francesco church and said a rosary.

It was after 7 o’clock when I finished and I walked to Piazza Tasso, the very lively main square in town and had a glass of white wine while waiting to go to dinner. This is the best place in town for people-watching! What was interesting was that they brought some little snacks but, as you can see, they were all in individual, throwaway containers.

Dinner was at one of my favorite restaurants in all of Italy – L’Antica Trattoria. I’ve known Aldo, the owner, and many of his amazing staff since 1993 when my mom and I spent a week in Sorrento the summer after my dad had died. Any time since then that I’m in Sorrento, I come back to this very special and beautiful place. In 2000 Aldo completely re-did the kitchen and I’ve never seen one I thought was more beautiful with separate areas to prepare the antipasti, the main meals, the desserts, and they have a very special wine cellar.

I ate in my favorite area – the garden-like terrace – where I enjoyed a superb dinner. Aldo’s chefs are amazingly creative, marrying flavors you might never have thought of. Some of the best meals I’ve ever had in Italy were at L’Antica Trattoria, and that included last night, as you can see. There are some very, very special rooms inside as well.

So my Monday was a very busy one – travel, work, then being a tourist, but maybe you’re not a tourist if you’re very much at home in a place that is not home.

Incoming days I’ll try to recount some of my adventures and post a lot of photos and spend as little time as I can on papal and Vatican issues! Don’t be too shocked! This is still actually a work week for me, and we can be together again on Wednesday because I’ll be with Teresa Tomeo on her show “Catholic Connection”. I’ll also be preparing my radio special for the weekend for “Vatican Insider.

I’m signing off but come back tomorrow for a visit. Join me in Piazza Tasso for a Prosecco!