Friday, September 2, 2011

Italian Adventure, the Final Chapter - Sorrento and the Caesar Shuffle

And now for the last leg of an amazing trip, one I will never forget and wish I could do all over again...

The first thing we did once we settled into our hostel in Sorrento was go exploring by the water.  We checked out the menus at some of the waterfront restaurants and settled on one that turned out to be a great choice.  Aside from the amazing view of the water and the island of Naples, dinner came with complimentary items, which is nearly unheard of in Italy.  We were given fresh bruschetta, a bread basket and two glasses of limoncello (think very sweet lemon flavor with a side of vodka).  Sorrento is all about its lemons - so dessert consisted of lemon cake with lemon whipped frosting; I'm pretty sure at least one layer of the cake was laced with limoncello.  We certainly took our time and enjoyed the slower pace of life in Italy. 

We enjoyed a walk along the water after dinner and then returned to our hostel, the Hostel Ulysse, which I assume pays homage to the Greek hero Ulysses.  In fact, the origin of the town's name, Sorrento, comes from the Greek work for "sirens".  The staff there was so friendly and the rooms were so nice.  We were able to catch up on the happenings of the world since we had a television in our room and we had internet.  And while I did appreciate being 'unplugged' form technology for a few days and having nothing to worry about but exploring Italy with my amazing husband, it was nice to feel connected to the world again.  

The next day was one of the only days where a tour or an event wasn't planned and we had no schedule to follow.  We decided to head out for a nice Sunday drive, so we rented a scooter and spent the better part of the day driving along the Amalfi Coast, a beautiful stretch of land in Southern Italy.  Along the way, we stopped to sample fresh lemonade from a roadside stand (all lemon juice with a splash of water - very tart), take in the view and snap some photos.

 The weather was gorgeous, as it always for our entire trip, and the scooter riding kept us cool; we didn't feel hot for the first time in days! And once I got used to the crazy driving habits of the other motorists, it was a very relaxing day.  Brian adjusted to the practice of using the middle of the road as a scooter-only lane, and I  joked that he reminded me of the drivers in "The Italian Job" . Unlike our tow-wheeled vehicle at home, the scooter was pretty quiet, so Brian and I could talk while he drove, and we enjoyed pointing out different sights to one another - the ocean views, the giant rock faces (guess who was itching to climb?!), the enormous yachts and the endless lemon groves high on the hills. Our scooter adventure turned out to be one of the best things we did the entire trip.

my driver

out for a Sunday drive

the view

a lemonade stop 
giant rock cave 

Welcome to Amalfi


looking back at Amalfi 

The next day, our final day on the coast, was spent touring the island of Capri.  We booked a boat tour, which took us entirely around the island and allowed for about four hours of free time on the island.   After arriving in Capri, we had to catch a few buses to the town of Anacapri, the only other town on the island. We rode a chairlift to the highest point on the island, and from there, we had amazing views of the island, Sorrento and Vesuvius.  I was really excited about our lunch find; the menu had toast al formaggio, grilled cheese - YUM!  We spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach, and Brian perfected his rock diving skills.  We caught our return boat in the late afternoon, and we both struggled to stay awake on the ride 'home'.  It was a long, fun day in the sun!  This was certainly another one of our favorite days, and I still can't get over how much of a beach bum Brian became - he used to hate the idea, but now he is talking about a beach vacation (I hope it's back to Sorrento or Capri)!

heading toward Capri

outside the Blue Grotto

chairlift to the top of the island

looking out over the sea

a GREAT day 

our boat drove through the rock


back in Sorrento taking it all in

Sorrento at night

gelato - yum!

After our scooter and boating adventures, we had one more travel day and one more major city to explore, Rome.  On our way to Rome, we made a slight detour back to Pompeii to explore Mt. Vesuvius, another activity on my to-do-in-Italy list.  A bus takes you most of the way to the top of the mountain, and while that is nice, the buses don't fit well on the road and there is a lot of honking around blind corners and backing buses down the hill to make room for other vehicles. Once we got  to the parking area, we were able to officially enter Parco Nazionale del Vesuvio

looking down into Vesuvius 

Master Hiker Extraordinaire 

view from atop Vesuvius 

The next day was a day I was very excited about; it was the day of the 'Caesar Shuffle'. After a pleasant walk to the subway station - it was a very comfortable temperature for once, and there were clouds in the sky to give us breaks from the sun - we began our day at Palatine Hill, then went to the Forum and finished our shuffle at the Colosseum.  I am glad we chose that order since the Hill was the least engaging of the three stops.  I really enjoyed the Forum and found the Temple of Julius Caesar, the place where his body was supposedly burned, made you really feel like you're experiencing history.  The Colosseum was impressively large, as were so many of the things we saw.  It was neat to see the inter workings of the Colosseum, the tunnels under the floor where prisoners and wild animals were moved about and released into the arena.  It's a good think I didn't live in Ancient Rome because I never would have made it through a day at the Colosseum with all the brutality and killing!

Palatine Hill 

in the words of my husband, "Lots of old broken sh**" 

we were lovin' the trees

The Hill and a view of the city 

Arco di Tito (Arch of Titus) at the Forum

Tito and his namesake 
The House of the Seven Vestal Virgins 

The Forum
The Colosseum 

hidden passages and trap doors 

Brian and me at the Colosseum

After our Caesar Shuffle, we returned to our hotel, which was the worst of all of our hotels (think very, very small and moldy/smelly).  We rested our feet and then ventured out again and completed our day with a Night Walk through Rome.  Our first major stop was at the Piazza Navona, which is surrounded by restaurants, shops and colorful street vendors.  Then we ventured to the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and ended at the Spanish Steps after a stop at the famous Giolitti's Gelateria.  And for the first time during our trip, I got a chlll. Oh, to not be hot and sticky was so nice.

some of the restaurants on Piazza Navona had actual food out to draw you it - it mostly attracted the pigeons

Yeah, what it says...

a fountain in Piazza Navona

Trevi Fountain 

This guy sure loves his gelato!

Spanish Steps - always crowded at night 

The next day was our last major day of trekking about in Italy.  We had breakfast on the go, hopped on the subway and rode to Vatican City, where we spent most of the day.  Having planned ahead and bought tickets before leaving for Italy, we skipped the lines and were inside quite quickly.  We toured the Vatican Museum, which culminates with Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel.  I was surprised to see such extensive collections of art from other cultures in the museum (lots of ancient Egyptian pieces, for example, and a room devoted to animal statues).  The Sistine Chapel was amazing!  To think that one man had that kind of vision, patience and talent is unbelievable.

Later, we toured St. Peter's Basilica, another impressively large Italian structure.  There are markings on the floor denoting the size of other great basilicas, all which pale in comparison to the size of St. Peter's. I am glad that we were able to take pictures because I don't think the grandeur of St. Peter's can be captured in words - really, nothing we saw or did in Italy could ever be fully was absolutely AMAZING!



so much to see 



the altar at St. Peter's Basilica 

looking back at the Vatican from the Square 

Vatican Square 

After returning to our hotel for a brief but much-needed rest, we continued our sightseeing and visited the Pantheon.  Though we had seen it on our Night Walk, we hadn't been inside.  The fact that it was built hundreds of years ago and still stands and functions in nearly unbelievable.  We ended our day with dinner and a walk around town, which we became very familiar with quite quickly (it felt like being at home - we knew where things were and how to get there and even saw familiar faces night after night).   And no night in Rome would be complete without a stop at Giolitti's.

The Pantheon 

Loose translation - Marcus Agrippa commissioned  the building in....
he commissioned the Pantheon as a temple to the gods

the dome of The Pantheon 

Brian's favorite street artist 

Giolitti's - the best place for gelato in Rome

Our final day in Rome was very low key.  We took our time getting going with the day, had a late breakfast on the Spanish Steps and then went to the subways station to make our way to the National Museum of Rome.  The subway line we needed was not operational that day, though we couldn't figure out why, so we tried to find the recommended city bus.  When it never showed, we walked to the museum, and though it was a long walk, it was nice to be on our own schedule and exploring the less touristy areas of Rome. That evening we returned to the Piazza Navona and walked around Rome.

It's hard to adequately articulate it, but early in the trip we thought about how much time we had, often thinking we were going to be in Italy for too long.  By the end of the trip, having stayed in Sorrento and Rome for about a week, we really felt comfortable, and I wasn't sure I was so excited to get home after all.  This trip was an amazing adventure.  I am so glad Brian and I decided to do it.

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