A Travellerspoint blog

September 2021

Flying Out

Early Monday morning, our shuttle picked us up for the Rome airport. The airport was efficient, comfortable, and very modern. It may be the best we have seen in all our travels.

Now, we were headed back to the US, a little glad to be home, return to family, friends, and dogs, but a little sad to leave Italy. The people have been exceptionally friendly, helpful, and pleasant. By any standards, the food has been good to outstanding. I will miss the cappuccino, gelato, squid, and even the pasta. I didn’t think much of pasta before I came to Italy. Oh, and not to forget the Florentine steak. Try and beat that Omaha.

We have come close to a staggering amount of human history, art, and achievement. From the sweet little display in Parma about the brutality of Italian colonization in Africa to gladiators to the WWII resistance to Pompei, we have been given a real glimpse of the pain alongside the glorious. There were magnificent buildings, sculptures, paintings, and mosaics. Beyond all that, we have walked down hundreds of streets where people were sitting, talking, laughing, drinking coffee or wine, and overhead laundry hanging from balconies. It is a place of families and friends. It is a real place where people live their lives with enthusiasm. When I get home, I will remind my children I love them and look forward to our next family meal or even a trip to Paris or Montreal.

This trip has been good, even with the effort, complications, and frustrations. They are all the price of travel with is different from a vacation. The point of travel is to grow, get someplace, learn, and not just get away from the struggles of life. When I am old and need a rest, I will spend more time on vacation.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 20:42 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

A Return to Rome

Heading home

We were up early, packed our bags, and headed to the cafe. This was our day to leave Sorrento for Rome, the end of our trip. We dropped the keys to the apartment a the cafe, “These are for Antonio.” “Ah, yes, Antonio, I will give them to him.”

We took the lurch-and-jerk train to Naples then boarded the sleek high-speed train to Rome. In Rome, we headed outside the terminal to the Red Cross tent for our COVID tests needed to get out of Italy and into the USA. Oh crap, the line snaked around the tent and down the sidewalk. All Italian lines are orderly and people polite. “Please, is this the end of the line?” “Please, can you show me where I should stand?” A Red Cross worker moved the line from one side of the tent to the other without anyone complaining. There was no butting in line, and Rome is a big city where people tend to be a bit pushier.

Testing was slow, and since it was Sunday, they would close at 4:00 PM (16:00). It was already 1:30, and the wait looked like it would be over two hours. Cindy counted the people waiting and calculated the time it took to process each person. Sally was sure they would not stop if we needed testing for our flight. “They wouldn’t just close at 4 if we really need a test?” There were at least 200 people in front of us.
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Finally, a man walked up in a Red Cross uniform. Cindy immediately assumed he would tell us that there wasn’t enough time and the people in front of us would be the last tested. I presume nothing when we travel.

“Please, how old are you?” We were a little puzzled. I tried to look as young and spritely as I could, but my knee hurting. We gave our ages. “Come, you do not need to wait in line. We will test you now.” We were tested and out in 45 minutes.

Hotel Katty is a small, inexpensive hotel on the fourth floor of a nineteenth-century building. Through massive wooden doors, we walked into a dark and slightly dingy courtyard. Several businesses had offices. There were signs for several hotels, obviously not on the ground floor. Most of Europe does not count the ground floor as the first floor. You must go up one flight of stairs to find the first floor.
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Hotel Katty had a brass sign stating, 4th floor. We had a choice, the marble staircase or the steel caged elevator slightly larger than my suitcase. Cindy and Sally threw their suitcases into the elevator with me and were off. I could barely move to push the button. Rattling and creaking, I reached the fourth floor before they arrived but could not get the door. On the fourth floor, we discovered the hotel was actually on the 5th floor. The sign downstairs lied, but I figured things changed, and they didn’t want to mess up a nice brass sign. The lady to came to the door directed us to the 5th floor.

Hotel Katty is on one floor, just a few rooms that are smallish but with large showers, the largest we have seen. The lady who checked us in was friendly. We dropped our bags and headed out.

Just down the block, we stopped for a beer at a hostel, then checked out a restaurant and walked around after that. We walked back to Restaurante Julie and had a delicious last meal in Italy.
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We went on a last gelato quest. Still, even with directions from the soldiers guarding the National Bank of Naples, we never found one open.

We went to bed early.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 20:25 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Sorrento to the Amalfi Coast

Sharing the Mediterranean with the rich and famous


View Italy for three on Deuxenvacances's travel map.

In the morning, after cappuccino and pastry, we took the bus down to the port and dock 6. A burly man with CREW writing on the back of his blue polo shirt immediately asked, “Positano, Amalfi,” but his accent was heavy. We probably looked a bit unintelligent, so he repeated. He pulled down his aviator sunglasses to start at us, still trying to determine what he was asking. Then it hit us. “Yes, Positano.” “Six, you go stand at the number six.”

Since we were twenty minutes early, Cindy and Sally went off the toilet while I watched. Some people completely ignored the guy calling out “Positano, Amalfi,” some said yes, and some just stood bewildered. “Capri is that way. You walk to number 5.” Sometimes, they still stood there, puzzling.
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Our boat was large. We sat inside at a table shared with another couple. We watched the coast pass by, cliffs, ravines, landscape similar to the Highlands of Scotland except for the occasional brightly painted house. On our right was the Capri. After that, we passed a small island once owned by the ballet dancer Nureyev.
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Finally, we reached Positano, a haunt of the rich and famous. I was still not sure about the decision to spend all our time here and not divide it with the town of Amalfi or to spend all our time in Amalfi. What did we know?

Positano bay was busy, tour boats, small craft, and kayaks. The sky was blue and the sun warm but not unbearable. The city stretched up the cliffside, a jumble of stair-stepped buildings zig-zagging their way. About halfway up the cliff was a narrow road with cars and buses threading their way.
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At the lower level, the beach was divided, first the tiny public beach, then a roped-off area in front of a cafe. After that, another roped area. The ropes went from the stone boardwalk across the sand and hundreds of feet into the water, private territory, 30 euros to enter. The further we walked down the boardwalk, the more exclusive it became until we finally ended at the hotel entrance.
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We backtracked and headed up an alleyway., zigging and zagging our way up the stairs and alleys lined with shops, higher and higher. The place was crowded but not packed. We finally stopped for a delicious lunch. After lunch, we walked higher, along the road which hung over the cliff and the houses below. At every turn, there were houses above and houses below. The sidewalk had a railing and every so often an iron bench. It seemed that every girl that came to Positano thought she was a model. They posed with the sea and the houses as a backdrop, fluffing their hair, licking their lips, adjusting their blouse as some boy in a t-shirt and baseball cap held a camera or phone. We took photos too, but they were not the same.
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We turned around, wandered down the hill, shopped a little for limoncello cups, and then finally began making our way back down to the docks. We stopped for lemon ice served from a cart. Cindy wanted to stay right and have a second.
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I haven’t mentioned limoncello, the local liquor, after-dinner drink made from lemons and vodka with some sugar. It can be made at home if you have excellent lemons, like the lemons growing here, between houses, in courtyards, along the roads. Limoncello, lemon ice, and lemons wedges with our food were rich and flavorful.

We returned to the boardwalk, then took our shoes off to walk across the sand, at the public beach, of course, and put our feet in the Mediterranean. The sand here is dark, maybe volcanic sand, and there are round pebbles in areas. Cindy immediately began looking for sea glass which was fairly easy to find.
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The crew at the dock, loading several tour boats, hustled us onto a different boat, not even the same company, but everyone assured us it was correct. Sally was not reassured. “But this is not even the same company.” I assure her travel was like this, trusting people. It usually works until it doesn’t.

Back in Positano, we took the bus up the cliffside. We returned to the restaurant from our first night and another excellent meal.
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It was a good day, and our choice of Positano was good. We had enough time to actually enjoy the town a little.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 16:47 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Sorrento to Pompei

Urban life old and new


View Italy for three on Deuxenvacances's travel map.

Before alarms rang, Sally was at our door to talk about solving our lack of agreement the night before about the next two days. Before our alarm rang, Sally was at our door, knocking quietly. Have I mentioned how much Sally worries about waking us? She often is up before us only to fret about flushing the toilet or running water. Reassurance is not enough. She tiptoes around a little anxious until our lights are on. This morning she desperately wanted to resolve our lack of agreement the night before. During the night, I weighed the options. After discussion, we agreed that we would go to the port after visiting Pompei and investigate the ferry for Positano and Naples. One step at a time.

We were off to Pompei, but again, there were some navigational problems, and I had us get off the train, thinking we needed to change trains. There were two choices, get off at our last stop or get off as we did and take another train just a short distance. On my phone, I saw two Pompei destinations.

I asked the locals standing on the platform, which led to a riot of miscommunication with little understanding. A man collecting trash along the tracks said we needed to be on platform 1, but the pack of school kids said no, platform 3, but then they began to disagree. On platform 3, a couple said platform 1. The students and the man picking up trash began to argue. At this point, it was getting funny. Finally, I figured out that what I thought was the Pompei ruins was the Pompei sanctuary. The ruins were one-stop back on the train we just departed. Another train arrived in a few minutes.

Pompei was as good as I hoped. What impressed me was that this small Roman outpost city of 20,000 people (in AD 79) had a complex urban organization. There were one-lane streets, two-lane streets, and pedestrian-only streets, all with the appropriate signs. A bakery was in every neighborhood. Like some countries today, most people don't cook at home but ate at street food stalls located in every neighborhood. There were water tanks and a system for supplying water. If they were short of water, there was an orderly process of who lost water first: the baths, private houses, and finally public water sources at street corners.
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After Pompei, we headed back to Sorrento and our planned check of the port and ferry connections. That walk from the train station to the port was a great adventure. However, there was considerable complaining along the way about being on the correct route and how many steps we had to take, etc. Along the way, we passed a photoshoot for a wedding. That had us standing around for at least fifteen minutes, hoping to see something dramatic. The only thing dramatic was that this street barely wide enough for a queen-size mattress was busy, cars, trucks, and motorbikes. It was an intersection, and vans loaded with tourists could not make the turn without going on the sidewalk. We were on the sidewalk. I keep saying, as we spread ourselves against the wall, "Count your toes."
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It ended up that our level of town is about a hundred feet above the port level, and they are connected by stairs and a narrow road carved into the stone cliff. Cars and trucks took turns in the hairpin turns and breeze by pedestrians close enough to make a bit of passing contact. I am sure only cowards would avoid this route, the scenic route.
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At the bottom, we bought our tickets for the ferry to Positano. We rode a small bus back, the driver talking on the phone, gesturing, yelling as the bus swayed back and forth in the turns. Finally, we were at the train station, then walked down to Pizzeria di Franco's pizza restaurant, recommended by our landlord. We had no lunch, so we ordered two pizzas, which ended up more than we could eat. Franco has its own wine label, and we bought a bottle of red.
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Full and happy, we walked the two blocks to our apartment.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 12:36 Archived in Italy Tagged italy sorrento pompei squid Comments (0)

Leaving Montepulciano for the South of Italy

A train to Sorrento


View Italy for three on Deuxenvacances's travel map.

It was sad to leave our Montepulciano parking lot, drive through the winding streets, pass under the arch of the city wall, and jiggled down cobbled street lined with cypress. After a few minutes, we were on the motorway, then finally Florence. Navigating back into Florence through morning traffic was a lot harder than getting out. “No, that’s a one way street.” “Oops, missed the turn, rerouting.” We passed a ZTL sign, Zona Traffico Limitato means only authorized cars (local residents, businesses etc) could enter but what the hell, we may have a ticket in the mail when we get home but this is the way to the car rental agency.

After dropping the car off, we pulled our luggage the few blocks to the train and were soon off on a high-speed train to Naples at 300 km/h (about 185 mph). These are like very roomy airplanes on rails.

In Naples, we needed to change to a local train. In the train station were two machines, high-speed trains and regional trains. None of them seemed to show Sorento as a destination. There was some frustration, then we asked for information. In addition to machines for train tickets was the machines for metro tickets. This added a little more confusion. Finally, at a kiosk, we purchased the local train (Circumvesuvius) and raced to the attached but separate station for this line. At the train platform, an ancient train, brightly decorated with graffiti pulled up. We later rode on newer cars but the old ones were still in service.
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Have I mentioned that we are now in the shadow of Vesuvius, which last erupted in 1944? Vesuvius is an active volcano with millions of people living at its feet. One shouldn’t forget that in AD 79, it destroyed nearby Pompei. Currently, south of us on Sicily, Mount Etna is erupting, 9,000-meter plumes of ash, lava flows, and all the show. Italy is an exciting place.

Our train rattled and rumbled through tunnels and over bridges for an hour, nothing like the smooth quiet train from Florence to Rome. At Sorrento, we followed my phone in the wrong direction (set on the center of town and not our hotel). People warned us that driving in the south of Italy was different, more emotional, more daring. As we walked we saw cars ignoring signs and lights. We backtracked four blocks and, in a few more blocks, turned a corner on a cobbled street that twisted around a corner and under the train track we had just been on. The location was not promising, but more importantly, we needed to cross the street. Watching the locals, we went to a zebra crossing. In the slightest gap between motorbikes, cars, and small trucks, we stepped out, giving the oncoming cars just a few feet to stop, but they did. It is a game of nerves, but they will stop if you do not hesitate. They do not take the time to second guess an indecisive pedestrian. Sally and I held Cindy’s hand.

We grabbed a beer (actually two) at a cafe around the corner and texted the landlord. We were a few minutes early for the appointed arrival. A man at the next table stood up, “Julian?” He greeted us like family.

We followed Antonio. He unlocked a metal gate. We climbed a few steps and entered a pleasant courtyard of lemon trees defined by four connected tall buildings. On the third floor of one building was our apartment with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. It was quiet, and out the back patio was another lemon grove behind us.
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After dropping our bags, we walked the neighborhood, then headed to a restaurant I found online but also recommended by Antonio. We arrive at 7:00, the typical time for restaurants to open for supper. The place was half full, but they gave us a table, and within thirty minutes, there was a long line snaking down the alleyway. The shrimps were not so good, but the fried squid more than made up for any shortcomings with the shrimps. The mussels and clams were almost as good as the squid. We had wine and followed the meal with limoncello, the local digestive, bursting with the flavor of lemons. We promised to come back for another meal.
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We made it to our room, worked on the finances for the day. Sally and I keep parallel tabs on what we spend, alternation who pay so that each is paying their share. Since we usually order a variety of dishes and share, this works out.

After expense, we talked about plans. We didn’t have advanced tickets for anything from this point on, and it was now or never. For many things reservations are important. Unfortunately, we had different visions of our intended itinerary. Furthermore, there was some suggestion of going to the Amalfi coast by bus, an idea discussed and dismissed weeks earlier. We all got fed up and with only an agreement to see Pompei the next day, ended the discussion. I bought tickets online for Pompei then went to bed.

Posted by Deuxenvacances 12:08 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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