Three weeks ago we met up with some friends, Tony & Caroline, in Rome for a week of traveling. The plan was to spend a week in Italy and then they would come back to our flat in France for a week of relaxing at the beach. Tony’s family is Sicilian and Italian so he speaks the language really well. We had to rely on him for everything but he was a great sport about it all. He had also set up the entire trip and we lovingly bestowed him with the title of “Cruise Director”.
Here’s some highlights from our trip:
June 25-28, 2008
Tilly and I started our trip around Italy in Rome. We weren’t going to meet up with Tony and Caroline until the next day so we were on our own for the first day. Within minutes of arriving at the train
station we were reminded that we had not brought a book of simple phrases in Italian. We
were warned that fewer people spoke English in Italy than in France, but conveniently
forgot that fact as we continued our education in “cafe French.”
First stop in Rome was our hotel and the weather was hot with just a touch of stifling,
suffocating, sweltering humidity. By the time we reached our hotel, backpacks on our
shoulders and sweat dripping, our fingers were swollen – you know, like when your parents
used to drag you around those antique shops in the summer – and our throats parched. In
only 300 feet of walking we had sweat about 3 lbs off. If this kind of weather continued
we would loose all that office worker fat off our bodies in no time.
Since Tony and Caroline weren’t coming in until the next day, we decided to venture out
into the sun and see some of the free sights.
The Colloseum was magnificent from the outside, and definitely grand. Ignoring the crap
the vendors sold and going the opposite way as the tours was helpful in maintaining some
feelings of historical significance. Just walking around areas of the city that weren’t
on our tourist maps was great too.
The next day we already had a good idea where to buy tickets where there were no lines
and what was worth seeing and what wasn’t. The only thing we miscalculated was the
Sistine Chapel. It closed at about 3pm. We thought it was open until 7pm. Ah, well. That
leaves something to see next time. But, the Vatican was an amazing tribute to
decoration, opulance and the handiwork that man can do when motivated. We did see
Michelangelo’s first sculpture attempt, which looks better than my first attempt (an
ashtray for my mom, even though she never smoked in her life).
Next stop: The island of Capri
June 28-30, 2008
To get to Capri we had to do some creative mass transit judo. We took the train to Naples
(where we were told by Tony’s Italian relatives to remove all jewelry). The outskirts of the city still
showed some results of the trash collectors strikes – bags lined the streets where they
hadn’t yet been.
Once we reached the Naples train terminal, we lugged our bags through throngs of taxis, across streets where crosswalk signs apparently don’t mean a thing and hopped on the #1 bus to the port to catch a boat to Capri. I smelled more stinky, unwashed armpits on that bus than my entire life up to that point.
From the port, we had to wait in a line to purchase boat tickets to the island. Once we felt
more comfortable having secured our passage for the last leg of this trip, we picked up a
few handfuls of pistachios and fresh coconut from the tanned, weather-worn old man
pushing his cart around the port. We hoped the boat ride would cool us off, but
there was no air conditioning and no breeze for the 45 stuffy minute boat ride.
Alas, we were herded off the boat onto Capri. Finally. The last leg of our journey was a
few minute cable car tram ride up the hill. We jumped off, turned a few corners and ended
up in probably the ritziest village I’ve personally set eyes on. It wasn’t the shops so
much as the people. And, I’m sure the stink of the Naples bus people hadn’t quite worn
off yet. So, we looked like the four most out of place visitors in the middle of the rich
A few minutes later, of course walking up hill to our hotel, we dragged our smelly bodies
into the hotel, dropped our luggage and fought for the shower. Within a few hours we
witnessed an amazing thunderstorm from the outstanding view from our balcony. Caroline
captured some of it on video. After the rain let up, we explored the town a little more,
got ripped off at a back-alley pizza place (119 Euro for dinner), and cruised around the
village thinking up all the nasty things we could do to the thieves. The next day we
planned to see Capri’s “Blue Grotto” – one of the top 500 things to see before you die.
The “Blue Grotto” was definitely amazing. We took the long and more expensive way of
getting there (you can get there by bus for less). But the boat ride around the island
was nice and relaxing. For €3 more, we didn’t expect much more than a relaxing ride, so
that was fine. The entry fee into the grotto is €10. But no matter which way you get
there, it is worth it to see once in your life. I might suggest getting up early to get
there though. The light is best (giving the best effect) and the crowds are lightest in
the morning. We spent the rest if the day in the sun and sea. It was suggested for us to
go to a beach on the south side if the island, which we unfortunately didn’t listen to,
so it was crowded. But, the water was refreshing so we were happy.
Next stop: The Amalfi Coast
June 30-July 1, 2008
We left Capri the way we came, by cable car tram, boat, train, and bus, with our pockets
a little lighter and our memories vividly fuller. This time we headed for Amalfi through
Sorrento though, which had significantly fewer people on the boat. We didn’t stay too
long in Sorrento, just passing through, but it looked like a great town to visit if we
get the chance to come back. Charming, on the cliffs, which means crazy bus rides, and
generally nice looking. Parts of it were definitely asking to have its photo taken.
We hopped one bus up the hill from the port into the central part of town, and then
another to take us to Amalfi. If you get car sick, take your meds before this trip. The
bus drivers seem insane, but its the only way to travel this coastline, and they are so
calm, jetting around blind corners on one lane roads, honking to give warning to oncoming
traffic, with a few thousand foot drop inches away from the tires. It’s a true testament
to conditioning, training, and Italian culture all in one hour.
Reaching Amalfi, we were approached immediately by someone toting “Chris’s B no B”
business cards, instructing us to get in touch with him if we don’t have accommodations.
We were warned before about these types of scan artists, so we are happy to pass on the
warning to you. Skip these guys no matter what.
Amalfi was booked up solid so we headed to a place about 1.5km away. It had a great
terrace and nice rooms. After naps and showers, we took a bus back to Amalfi and walked
around, sampling paninis and taking photos of the huge church which dominates the town
square. We took a stroll along the sandy beach and the Sea water was so incredibly warm! I had to restrain Tilly from jumping in fully clothed.
Next stop: Pompeii
July 1-2, 2008
Taking a bus from our hotel back to Sorrento, we jumped on the train headed toward
Pompeii. We hit our stop and immediately saw the entrance to the Roman city which was
forever held in time by the Mount Vesuvias eruption in 79 A.D.
We walked, again in the sweltering heat, around these ruins. If you haven’t been there
it’s worth a few hours of your time. You could spend all day there if you wanted, but
either way you should read up on it or get a site tour book before going in. There are
almost no signs in the city, which makes it really difficult to learn much more than what
you already know.
Anyway, if you pay attention, and maybe venture off the “public” areas a little, you will
see some amazing fragments of history. Not just pots and a few petrified people, but
paintings, mosaics, architecture, water fountains, gardens, paved roads, chariot and
wagon wheel ruts in the rocks, plumbing, rain collection methods, and more. If you have
ever wondered what life was like back then, this is as close as you can get to it – in
some cases actually touching the painted walls that still hold designs in the wealthy
As a side note, I don’t recommend taking the time to see the volcano itself. If you’ve
seen one volcano, you’ve seen this one too. Plus, the bus doesn’t take you all the way to
the top. There is still a decent hike to get up near it. It’s better to spend your time
reliving the history in the old city.
As we were leaving the ruins the skies suddenly turned dark and we could tell there was a storm brewing. The wind started blowing and actually blew some of the vendors items off their carts. It was incredible! We reached the hotel right before the floodgates opened up. Tilly and I sat in the hotel bar drinking coffee (a cappuccino for her and an espresso for me) while we watched the lightening and thunder outside. The storms here are incredible and awe inspiring. They come out of the blue and end just as quickly.
Next stop: Guyeta
July 2-3, 2008
This day started off early. We left Pompei at 8:30 am, which is the earliest we’ve stared
off a day yet. It seems to have taken a toll on Tony and Caroline because after lunch
(notably the worst food we’ve eaten on this Italian trip yet) they took a very long nap.
Other than the fact that this is Tony’s namesake town, there wasn’t much to do or see here. It’s was a pretty sleepy town so we took the cue and relaxed and read. Thanks to Tony’s planing though, we stayed in a nice hotel overlooking the bay. The dominant feature outside our window was what looked to be some small version of a battleship though. It makes sense, considering this town has a strong military presence.
Next stop: Theoule, France
July 3-11, 2008
We had a wonderfully relaxing time with Tony and Caroline at our flat. We spent our days planned around the beach and mealtimes. It’s a good life and I can’t complain.