A Travellerspoint blog

The amazing cliffs of Amalfi

overcast 25 °C

Well, we're back home now and didn't get to update the last leg of our trip - the Amalfi coast. Better late than never! So George had been waiting the whole trip to drive along the coast, which is known to be one of the most beautiful and hair-raising drives in Europe. It did not disappoint! It wasn't the scariest drive we've ever done (word of advice, avoid the mountains of Albania) but it was definitely tight, windy, and wonderfully scenic. There were many fruit stands along the way and we decided to stop at one of them, which turned out to be a mistake since the fruit vendor tried to rip us off. Almost $10 for a couple peaches and figs? Who do you think you're fooling buddy?? He ended up cutting the price in half and although the fruit was good it was not worth the effort.

Can you see why George was excited?

We found our hotel and the entrance was unlike any we've seen before - literally stepping right out onto the road. The B&B was on the fourth floor with no elevator. I definitely got my exercise this trip! We walked into the centre of town, which was virtually across the street from our hotel, and were really impressed by the feel of it. Yes, it was touristy, but it was quaint with very few cars going through it. Just what we needed after a couple days in Naples!

Many a capuccino were had on this terrace

Our first full day in Amalfi was our beach day and ironically, the first day we saw clouds on our trip. Actually it seemed like there would be a downpour at any minute but luckily that never happened. It managed to clear up later that morning and we had a beautiful, relaxing day at the beach. Perhaps the best thing that happened that day was George learning to tread water! All these years I've tried to teach him how to tread and float (how does a 31 year old man not know how to swim?) and finally he managed to pick it up. He's turned into a guy who wasn't particularly interested in swimming to not wanting to come out of the water! I'm so proud.That night we had a fancy dinner for one of our last nights before we went home. It was nice to get dressed up and enjoy a real restaurant.

The next day we took a boat to neighbouring Amalfi town, Positano, a 25 minute ride away. Again, it looked like there would be a downpour at any minute but it managed to hold off. We walked around town, which had narrow pathways and lots of tourist shops, and ended up at a more secluded beach than the one we went to the day before. This was what I had in mind when I imagined our time in Amalfi. The scenery was beautiful, the water was crystal clear, and George was on his way to becoming the next Michael Phelps.

If only George's arms were longer you could the full beauty

It's almost like Barack Obama was on the boat

Before leaving the Amalfi region we drove up a mountain to Ravello, a small town with spectacular views. We walked around trying to find the best view and enjoyed the quiet that was so rare on this trip. We also stopped at a town called Maiori but unfortunately they were shutting down for their siesta just as we arrived so we didn't get to see too much of it. As North Americans, we can't get used to this siesta concept! Especially when they have such obscure closing times, like 1:20-4:10. What?!?

There is no getting tired of this view!

Our final stop on our little Italian adventure was a resort in the middle of nowhere before we drove back to Rome for our flight the next day. The hotel was super modern and we had a very relaxing evening reading by the pool and just sitting in the room looking at the mountainous view. It came time for dinner and there was barely anything around so we went down to the hotel restaurant thinking we'd eat there. It opened at 8pm - gotta love the late Italian eating time - but there was nobody in there so we decided to take our chances at one of the 2 restaurants we saw on the way in. We went to a local pizzeria where there was a kid's birthday party going on and nobody spoke English. It was as authentic as you're gonna get! It was fun to stumble upon a place like this where there were no tourists and you get a glimpse into real Italian life. We had a blast!

I think something is wrong with these lemons

The next day we drove back to Rome's airport but not before we got another taste of Italian culture when we stopped at a highway reststop. Unfortunately we stopped at the same time a massive group of older Italian women stopped and the bathroom was like a war zone! Yelling at those taking too long, shoving for space, and banging on the stall doors, these women meant business. I got so scared I ran away and contemplated holding it. But I waited outside for the scene to die down and hesitantly went back into the fire. Although my door got banged on, I made it out alive. It was a little too much for this polite Canadian girl to handle.

With that, our time in Italy came to an end and on our drive to the airport we reflected on our favourite moments. There was the history and art of Rome, the food of Naples, the amazing Tuscan beauty, the miraculousness of Pompeii, the entertaining drive through Amalfi. Basically, every stop had its own unique quality that made it memorable to us. That is one thing we've learned throughout our travels - the question "where did you like best?" cannot be answered. Every city brings its own experience as long as you are open to it. And these experiences imprint themselves on who you are, even when you don't realize it. Travel is a wonderful thing. And the love for it is something we hope to pass along as our travel team goes from two members to three.

Posted by jgjourney 23:49 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Remarkably Preserved Pompeii

semi-overcast 31 °C

Before we drove to Amalfi we made a stop in Pompeii, the town at the base of Mount Vesuvius that was buried when the volcano erupted in 79 AD. Because it was buried under ash, the town is remarkable preserved. Our visit started off slow when we realized we were inside and didn't have a map or audioguide and there are no signs whatsoever to give you an idea of what you're looking at. George had to backtrack outside the entrance to find us the audioguides, which we normally do not get but here it was definitely a good investment (and also the only way to get a map!). Inside we were met with the most amazing ancient Roman city - yes, it feels like you are walking down the actual city of nearly 2,000 years ago it is that well preserved. One of our first stops was an ampitheatre, where out of the blue some Asian tourists burst out in a sponatneous Italian opera song! The entire place erupted in applause when they were done, it was fantastic!

Seconds before the lovely opera

We walked around for about 4 hours and although it was very tiring it was completely amazing. Particularly haunting were the moulds of the actual people who were buried under the ash in the same position they had died in trying to escape. This is one place that cannot be described and although pictures don't do it justice, it is probably the only way to convey the magic of it all.

Not sure if there were audioguides 2000+ years ago

Far more moving in person

Bring back the mules to turn the wheat grinder, I need to make more bread!

Posted by jgjourney 18:57 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Mamma Mia Pizza! - Naples

semi-overcast 33 °C

We left the quiet of the Tuscany region and started our drive to Naples, a supposedly chaotic and congested city. On the way there we stopped in Asciano, a very small town, mainly to stretch our legs. This is where George found the first cannoli of our trip so it was well worth the stop according to him.

Driving into Naples was probably the most stressful part of our trip so far since our GPS was telling us to go a direction we couldn't (closed roads) and we were having difficulties finding our hotel. Combine the direction problems with chaotic Naples traffic and a much, let's say, grittier city than we've been used to and it was enough to frustrate us from the very beginning. We knew Naples would be much less refined than the rest of Italy but we certainly were not expecting what we saw. Garbage everywhere (which we were prepared for since they are known to have garbage strike issues but the amount of it was shocking), graffiti on every building, and people that did not look like the put-together Italians we've been accustomed to. We were spending 3 nights in this city and we were nervous to say the least.

At least the food is fantastic!

The main reason we came to Naples was because it is said to have some of the best food in Italy, particularly pizza. We decided to eat away our uncomfort by going to the top rated pizza place in the city, in Italy, and maybe even the world - Da Michele. The fact that it was featured in "Eat, Pray, Love" would make you think it's a tourist trap but nothing could be further from the truth. When we found it there was a huge group of people outside, mostly locals, and we ended up waiting over an hour to get in. When we did, we were crammed together into a very simple mom and pop restaurant. They only have two choices on the menu - Margherita and Marinara. We ordered one of each. Our pizza came out in a matter of minutes and oh my goodness it was love at first bite. Hands down, the best pizza we have ever had. All the stress of the city was worth it! We learned then that the people of Naples live, drive, and eat fast. Everyone around us scarfed their food down in minutes! Even George couldn't keep up! We had pizza almost every meal in Naples and although they were all outstanding, nothing could beat Da Michele.

This is what heaven looks like

We started off the next day by going to some underground ruins directly underneath the old part of the city, which were extremely impressive. We continued along the waterfront and saw a different side of Naples than the dirty, chaotic mess. There were lovely buildings and it was a nice atmosphere. It was the Naples we were expecting to begin with. We learned that the city has two sides - gritty and uncomfortable, and pleasant and interesting. I guess you can't fully appreciate the city unless you know both of it's personalities.

We liked this alter-ego better

We were told about a pizza festival going on that day and we walked a very far way to find it, only to figure out it started at 7pm that night. Why didn't the 3 people we asked for directions tell us that?????? We did go back that night with the train and we experienced a huge amount of pizzerias that set up wood burning ovens on the street to serve their pizza to the masses.

We got more pizza from another famous pizza place and were served out on picnic tables with thousands of others. It was a fun experience and also a hectic one as the night got busier. Our third day in Naples we took a hot, packed tram to the shopping street and to the higher end part of town. We did our own walking tour of the historic part of the city and then went out for pizza once again. Our walk back to our hotel in the dark was crazy with fast cars, motorbikes that almost sideswiped George, and interesting characters. As interesting and tasty as Naples was, our three days there left us mentally and physically exhausted and we were ready to move on to Pompeii and the Amalfi coast.

Posted by jgjourney 18:34 Archived in Italy Comments (3)

Imbibing in Chianti (For one of us at least)

sunny 33 °C

After being in town after town, we were looking forward to staying a night in the Chianti wine region. This was where we were doing a "food and wine experience", although I'd unfortunately be missing out on the wine part. The drive was incredibly scenic and the views from the winery were stunning. Our group, which was made out of mostly Americans, took a tour of the winery into their cellars and learned about the wine making process. The second part was the tasting, where we sat for a four course lunch paired with different wines. I got to try their grape juice, which is no substitute for wine but tasty nonetheless. The food was great and made with fresh ingredients (the winery is also a farm) by the families that actually live there. The end of the lunch got fairly loud after everyone had their few glasses of wine and we left with many predictions about the great intelligence and prosperity of our future baby.

Soaking in the scenery before the wine and food expeience

As luck would have it, we managed to be staying in the Chianti region during their annual wine festival. We went into town and found a great atmosphere of wine tasting and festivities. George bought a wine pass which came with seven tastings but as the end of the night drew near, the vendors got generous and he came out with three or four extra tastings. After a week of hardly any wine at all, he made up for it all in one day!

This was before the wine started pouring more freely

We stayed the night in a farmhouse associated with the winery and had a peaceful night. This experience will definitely be a highlight of our trip and a memory we will take with us forever.

Janet was too chicken to steal a couple grapes for the ride

Posted by jgjourney 17:52 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Lovely Siena

sunny 32 °C

Siena is a place we were excited to go to but didn't really know much about. We got there in the evening and went out for a walk in the historic part of the city. Even though most places were closed we could tell it was a wonderful place. At some point along our walk we looked down one of the alleyways and noticed we were right beside the huge piazza that Siena is known for. There were tons of people around eating at the restaurants and just lingering in the square. We got pizza slices to go and just sat in the piazza for a while watching the life around us. It was the perfect way to spend our first night in Siena.

Nighttime pics never work out as well as intended - here's a repeat during the day

On our way home we walked by an old building and heard the sound of opera through the open doors. Peering through, we learned it was actually an opera right there by the roadside. Only in Italy!

The next day we walked around the city some more and really ended up enjoying it. It is definitely one of the nicest cities we've been to in Italy. It's a culmination of old, gothic architecture and narrow, windy cobblestone streets. It also has more of a higher end feel to it with the main street lined with nice boutiques. With those narrow streets came more hills to walk up and down. Didn't the people of the past know how to level out the ground? That night we went out for dinner outside in one of those streets and had an enjoyable night. Siena definitely charmed us into putting it on our highlight list.

This church was basically at the highest point in Siena - took a while to get there

This flatter street was more to Janet's liking

Posted by jgjourney 20:39 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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