Tantalizing Italia

Italy is such a wonderful country full of diversity, romance and history.  Who wouldn't want to walk on the shores of her beaches and play in her modern cityscapes built adjacent to ancient ruins? So, when planning this Italian adventure I was allotted a total of three cities to visit. My number one destination had to be Venice, for how can one travel to Italy without experiencing the city built on water? Second, of course I had to tour Rome, the city of love and lastly, I must visit the ruins of Pompeii.  I have always been fascinated by these people and the tragic events that happened there. So here we go, off to Italia!

Venice

We arrived in Venice on May 22nd to cloudy skies and unpredictably chilly weather. After experiencing some very choppy channels in the water taxi from the mainland, we arrived in Venice with suitcases in tow, made our way through the cobblestone streets and finally reached our hotel.  So, right here and now I am going to admit, I packed too much stuff for a trip overseas. I got the big fat, orange heavy bag sticker on the return trip and I felt like such an unfortunate, uninformed American, with the "I never travel" sticker on my forehead, and that, will never happen again!  Our hotel in Venice was called the Arcadia Venezia on Rio Tera S. Leonardo and our concierge was amazing. Even though our room was small, it was so adorable and faced the city street were we could watch the street vendors setting up each day.  We toured the beautiful Doge's Palace and crossed the Bridge of Sighs. The line of people trying to enter St. Mark's Basilica was way too long, so we admired the building from afar and went on to our next site. The weather was a bit too chilly and rainy for gondola rides, so we made our own sunshine and did a lot of walking and touring. One of the things I enjoy the most is getting off the beaten path in a city and exploring the backstreets.  Venice did not disappoint, for after dark it came alive with life, live music and delicious food.  You must stray from the crowd, get off the beaten path and discover some of the local haunts. 

After two days in Venice we hoped the Frecciagente Train from Venice to Rome. Whenever you ride the train, it is always better to upgrade, especially if it is a longer trip. Service is impeccable and the seats are way more comfy!   There was so many times along the way that I wanted to stop the train and explore the Italian countryside because it was simply breathtaking! We were in Rome from May 24-28, which was certainly not enough time to explore this great city, but we gave it a good shot. While in Rome you must learn to ride the subway, for it will take you anywhere you need to go in the city.  Ours took us to the Villa Borghese Gardens which led us to our apartment located at #4 Via di Porta, Princian, Penthouse, Rome.  We could not have stayed in a better location. The apartment was rented from a friend of the family and we had a 180 degree view of the City of Rome off our balcony.  With a gorgeous view like that, it was so tempting to just stay in this apartment and not venture out anywhere!  From our balcony we had views of St. Peters, the Pantheon and the Monument to Victor Emmanuel. Our apartment was located in an area of town filled with locals and I found the Italians were unaffected by our presence. They went about their daily lives with not the least bit of care that a couple of Americans were invading their space. 

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The City of Rome is all you have ever dreamed of and more. There is so much history and architecture to explore with a gorgeous cathedral on every corner.  My two favorite sites in Rome were the Pantheon and the Sistine Chapel.  Upon my first glimpse of the Pantheon I was stopped in my tracks, for I had seen this building many times in the history books, but those glimpses did not prepare me for the monstrous, magnificence of this building. It took us quite a while to make it into the Sistine Chapel for there were many people visiting that day and many corridors and hallways to navigate through in St. Peters. The attendants hustled as many people as they could into the Chapel and instructed us to "be quiet" and to "not take photos".  As I looked around at the masses crowded into this holy place, I could not help but get emotional.  The hand of God touched my heart and as I looked at the people trying to secretly photograph the room, my heart felt sad to know that most of these people crowded into this chapel did not understand the significance and holiness of this room. My eyes teared up as I gazed upon the ceiling and felt the spirit of God and the spirit of the Holy Men who had prayed and worshiped within its walls. 

So, here is where I have to add a very funny memory.  In Rome, in any restaurant, and on just about every table there is a bottle of olive oil, usually of a green tint, used to dip your bread in or pour on your entree. For this particular meal we had ordered white wine as well and, you guessed it, the wine was in a green bottle as well.   I take a bite of my food and look up and my sidekick is pouring white wine over his entree mistaking the wine for olive oil.  I could not contain my laughter and my sides were aching so bad from laughing really hard, right there in this fancy, "real" Italian restaurant. Our laughter was so loud and obnoxious, that the whole restaurant was looking at us as if to say, "those rude Americans"!  I think I had to finally go to the restroom to calm my laughter.  When it comes to touring an area, I am more of a "ruins" girl, but I soon  realized that my sidekick could literally tour cathedrals all day long. So, I came up with the tagline, "a lot of marble and a little baby Jesus", when being dragged into another cathedral. Oh, the memories made. 

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Before we knew it our four days in Rome were complete and it was on to Sorrento, Pompeii and finally the Amalfi Coast. Our train took us to Napoli Centrale Stazione, but our train attendant told us it would be dangerous riding the local train to the city of Sorrento with all our luggage, so we opted to a taxi, and to me, the taxi ride seemed even scarier.  This guy took us through what seemed the seediest places in Naples, and let me tell you, I was not impressed with this city.  Our taxi ride seemed to take forever as we reached the two lane, hilly roads around Sorrento.  It was such a relief when we arrived at our hotel in Sorrento, the Palazzo Marziale, a 15th century mansion with a pink stucco facade and Catalan-Durazzo architecture. It is located in the center of town just 8 minutes from the shore and a 4 minute walk from Piazza Tasso and it overlooked the beautiful gardens of Piazza San Francisco.  From Sorrento we hopped on the local train for about a 45 minute ride to Pompeii.  This was the local train the attendant had warned us about and it was really not as bad as she had explained.  The locals ride this train to and from work and there are a few gypsies who hop on and will sing you a tune or two for money, which was fine by me and I was more than happy to tip them for their entertainment. However, as in any city, be sure and keep a watchful eye on your bags.  Pompeii was amazing and a must see, but the only regret I have is that we did not spend more time there.  After two days in Sorrento it was off in the newly acquired rental car to drive the Amalfi Coast.

The Amalfi Coast was truly a driving tour of dreams.  I have never experienced a more beautiful place, but the driving was a little precarious! The winding, mountainous roads were narrow and hazardous and we had to share them with huge tour buses that felt that they owned the road.  We stayed in a little hotel called the Villa Gabrisa in the town of Positano, which had an amazing patio overlooking the Mediterranean Sea,  There were lemon trees everywhere, and the local drink limoncello, made with those lemons, was available on every street corner and in every restaurant. We toured the coast and along the way we stopped at The Grand Hotel Tritone, which is built into the side of the mountain with a massive elevator that brings you all the way down to an amazing beach.  The Tritone Hotel may be our next hotel of choice when visiting the Amalfi coast in the future. We drove on though the cities of Amalfi, Atrani and ended up in a quaint, little town in the mountains called Ravello. In Ravello we toured the Belmond Hotel Caruso which had the most gorgeous infinity pool overlooking the towns of Minori and Miori. 

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The day we had to leave Italy was truly bittersweet. We tried so hard to devise a business we could start in Positano so we could stay in this gorgeous paradise, but reality set in and we knew we would have to leave and return to the US. It was a whirlwind trip with many great memories made and we hope to return some day. 

May you begin your Earth Quest today!

Mckenzie