Friday, March 29, 2013

Vietri sul Mare, Amalfi Coast, Italy

We arrived in Vietri sul Mare, the first Pearl of the Amalfi Coast, last Saturday afternoon. The sun was shining and the weather very comfortable; the warmest we had experienced since arriving in Italy.

Vietri sul Mare and the Amalfi coast pics

We were picked up at the Salerno train station by Andrea, the owner of the apartment we were renting. He drove us into Vietri sul Mare where he introduced us to his wife and 2 daughters.

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Then he took us to the apartment. We walked through the streets that were filled with little shops. There was the meat shop, the fish shop, the detergent shop, the bread shop, the wine shop, the produce shop…you get the picture. Everything is bought fresh daily. The shops all open in the morning, then close around 1:30 PM and reopen about 5:00 PM until around 9-ish.

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The apartment is located right in the heart of the town up on a hill so it requires a bit of climbing to get to it. This is just the beginning :) It was good exercise :)

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Eventually, we arrived at the gate and entered the courtyard.

gate

terrace

The apartment was a nice size and had everything we needed including a clothes washer which came in very handy and just in time. We were about out of clean clothes! When you travel light, like we did with just one carry on bag, washing clothes is a necessity. We were lucky that each rental, except for the hotel rooms in Rome & Naples, was equipped with a washer. There are no dryers here. Everything is hung out, or in, depending on the weather.

Once we settled in and loaded up the washing machine, we took off to explore and find something to eat. That’s when we found that most places were closed until later. This is an Italian tradition throughout the country, but the areas we had frequented up until this time were mainly tourist locations and most things, but not all, remained open in the afternoon. The little village of Vietri gave us the opportunity to  experience Italian culture more closely than we had previously. Almost no one spoke English and we had to get creative in our communications. It all worked out fine :)

Vietri sul Mare is famous for it’s ceramic art. The streets are lined with ceramic shops to the point that we wondered how they could possibly support so many. It was the same on Murano Island with the glass shops. I’m guessing once tourist season arrives things improve for them.

Ceramic Art

We found a little restaurant that evening that turned out to be a gem and we returned a couple of times before we left. It was a family operation. Because we were earlier than the Italian diners, we were the first customers of the evening. Mama seated us, took our order and then went to the kitchen to cook the meal! It was fantastico! Her daughter became the waitress later when business picked up. We chose to return at lunch time a day or two later. The food was so good, we decided to do lunch as our large meal. We wanted the opportunity to walk it off, not go home and sit/sleep. This worked out really well and we’d just have something light for dinner later at home. When we stopped by for the third time another day, later in the week, we were treated like old friends. I think another week or so here, and we could be one of the locals :) Except for that language thing :) This would be the place to really learn Italian though. You’d be immersed in it with very little English help.

Food

Our first couple days here were pleasant weather-wise. This gave us the opportunity to explore by foot. The vistas were beautiful from our vantage point.

Vietri sul Mare

Coastline

Beach

There was a little park where you could walk and view the coastline. The ceramic culture was on display!

Ceramic Park

Park 2

Park 3

And a lemon tree, another thing plentiful in this area.

Lemon Tree

After Saturday and Sunday Mother Nature pulled the plug and rained on our parade.  Monday wasn’t too bad. It only rained in the afternoon and rather lightly. Tuesday and Wednesday were totally lost. It poured most of both these days so we caught up on laundry and sleep :)

We took the bus up the famous Amalfi Coast Highway on Monday, before the rain started. It was a magnificent drive but not for the light hearted.

Amalfi Coast Highway

The road is barely wide enough for 2 cars to pass each other. When a big bus comes along, all the car traffic stops and pulls over as far as possible to allow the bus to get through. That in itself is quite a feat. There are no shoulders on any roads in Italy. None, nada, zilch. Somehow, everyone squeaks through. That is until one big bus met another big bus! Oops!

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Everything stopped. Both busses backed up until one could get over far enough to allow the other to pass. We were in a bus right behind this one which is how I got these photos. It was interesting :)

We got off the bus at Amalfi Town, about an hours ride from Vietri. It was a beautiful little town with white houses clinging to the rocky hills above the Mediterranean. Very Picturesque.

Amalfi Town

Amalfi Town 2

As with all towns in Italy, there is a center square and a church. In Amalfi, it is St. Andrews Cathedral.

St Andrews Cathedral

We no sooner arrived in the square than it started raining. Rick purchased his 2nd umbrella of the trip in a little shop nearby. Umbrella #1 was forgotten on the train between Rome and Naples. An umbrella turned out to be a very necessary accessory on this trip :) Even with protection, it was raining hard enough to drive us to the nearest cafe where we sat outside, under a huge umbrella, next to a propane heater and enjoyed a nice glass of vino della casa, rosso (red house wine) while we people watched :)

Once the rain subsided we meandered back toward the bus station stopping for a gelato on the way. The Italians take their gelato (ice cream) seriously and there is a gelato place on every block…or so it seems. It’s also incredibly good and we indulged a few times during our 3 weeks here :)

The ride back wasn’t near as exciting. No big busses coming from the other direction. There were plenty of cars squeezing by though. I took these pictures through the window from my seat on the bus.

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All in all, we enjoyed our time on the Amalfi Coast. We would have enjoyed it more and seen more if Mother Nature had cooperated but that can’t be helped. It’s a beautiful part of Italy and it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular vacation destination.

Yesterday, March 28, we bid arrivederci to Italy and flew to Amsterdam. After a quick overnight stay, this morning we boarded our flight back to Houston ending our amazing 3 week adventure.

Thanks for taking this trip with us and thanks for stopping by. wlEmoticon-turtle[2]

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Roma, Italia!

The sun was shining Tuesday morning, our travel day to Rome. I can’t say we were disappointed. Walking in the rain with luggage isn’t much fun :) We left our countryside apartment at 10 AM and drove the rental car into Center City to return it. Once that was accomplished, we headed for the train station. The new train service, Italo, had a very nice lounge for us to wait in so we settled in and did a little reading while we waited on our train to Rome.

High speed rail is pretty cool. This photo has a lot of glare, but it shows us going 300 km/h :)

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We knew our hotel, Mercure Roma Piazza Bologna, was within walking distance of the Tibertina train terminal, so I plugged it into Google maps on my phone and we headed in that direction. Less than 10 minutes later we were in the lobby. Love Google maps :)

We settled into our rooms and then headed out to find something to eat but it was the wrong time of day. Most restaurants close around 2 PM and don’t reopen until 7 or 8 PM for dinner. The Italians like to eat late. You know what they say, “when in Rome, do as the Romans” :) We had gotten used to eating late from the very beginning because that’s just the way it is here. Today, however, we hadn’t had any lunch due to travel so we were hungry. No problem! We found a little meat market around the corner, purchased some cheese and some wine and headed back to our rooms :) We had crackers left over from a previous grocery stop, so we snacked nicely until the restaurants opened for the evening :)

Wednesday started out nice and sunny and we headed out somewhat unprepared for the rain that would eventually come, but all in all, we didn’t even melt :)

We spent the better part of the day touring the Colosseum which is amazing. We toured the inside but frankly, getting off the Metro, stepping onto the sidewalk and looking across the street to see this

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was awe inspiring for me. Here was the remains of a structure built 2000 years ago!

Colosseum

Inside Colosseum

Right next to the Colosseum was the Roman Forum, the center of public life in ancient Rome.

Roman Forum

A closer look shows some of the cables used to hold things together.

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The entire area surrounding the forum was filled with ruins. 

Ruins

We also toured Palentine Hill, where the Roman Emperors’ built their palaces.

Palentine Hill

The garden area of the hill gave a splendid view of Rome

Roma

After all of that, we stopped for a wonderful late lunch/early dinner and returned to the hotel for the night.

Thursday was a beautiful day and we headed out early to see Vatican City. It was hard to believe that just a few days earlier a new Pope was elected in this very same place and he said his first Mass as Pope here yesterday (Wed).

St. Peters Square

St Peters Square 

St. Peters Basilica

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All visitors were required to go through security but it didn’t take much time and shortly after we were at the doors of St. Peters. Us and 1000 of our friends that is :) Keep in mind, this is not tourist season yet. It’s not even close to being busy like it will be in another month. I can’t even imagine.

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Our first glimpse at the opulent interior

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The artistry was magnificent

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The entire perimeter of the Vatican is enclosed by a brick wall.

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We wanted to walk the perimeter but no one was allowed into the private areas.

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That didn’t stop us though! We walked around the outside of the wall and now can say we’ve walked around an entire country :)

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The Vatican also sports it’s own Post Office and there were many people posting items at this drop. It must be a popular thing to do.

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Once we left the Vatican, we took a walking tour of part of Rome. I’m including links to these stops should you wish more information. This post is long enough :)

The Spanish Steps

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Trevi Fountain

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and The Pantheon

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We also did a little shopping before stopping for dinner. How about the size of this salami?

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It was a very full day and we all slept well that night.

We left Rome on Friday, the first day of a city wide transit strike. I think our timing was pretty good on that one :)

We enjoyed a yummy Italian pastry and a coffee Americano at a little cafe close to the hotel before checking out.

We took a train to Napoli (Naples) just for an overnight stay. Sheila and Vern were flying out of there first thing Saturday morning while Rick and I were going to continue on to the Amalfi Coast on Saturday.

I have no photos of Napoli. What we saw was a run down, dirty city. I’m sure if we had spent more time there, we might have found a few things to enjoy, but an overnighter was all we were inclined to do. The unemployment rate was 30% and pick pockets were everywhere. It was the only time on our entire trip where we did not feel comfortable.

I think this post has gone on long enough :) Next stop: Vietri sul Mare. Stay tuned.

Thanks for stopping by wlEmoticon-turtle[2]