Week 15 – Italy (Rome, Pompeii and Amalfi Coast)

We did it again… but this time it was Europe’s most dangerous Volcano, Mount Vesuvius. The beauty of this blog is that our parents find out about these adventures after we do it, so they can’t protest and make us think twice about it. My mother did make me promise that I wouldn’t swim with sharks again and so far I’ve kept my word. This week has been a busy one as we’ve made our way from Rome down to Amalfi Coast by train. Anna wasn’t too thrilled about our flight to Barcelona today but it was our first flight in 6.5 weeks. It was our 14th flight though, so we earned our break. It’s funny how we never planned on spending that much time in Italy, but that’s the beauty of a trip like this, we’re just making it up as we go.

Our arrival into Rome was relatively smooth as we navigated ourselves from Roma Termini to our local metro station. We went to our Airbnb apartment and dumped our bags because the owner was still cleaning from the previous guests. Having been caught out in Florence where we only received 2 towels, Matt thought it would be best to go back up and double check that the owner would be leaving 3 towels. I’m guessing the owner thought she was in the clear as she was going number two when Matt let himself back in with the key. I’m not sure who was the most surprised but the look on Matt’s face when he returned was very entertaining.

We covered a lot of ground on our first day in Rome considering that we had a 630am start in Florence. We jumped straight into the cliché touristy sites like Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and the Pantheon. We did it all on foot racking up around 30,000 steps, which is quite amusing because Matt says he doesn’t like walking. I guess when you have iconic sights to see then it makes it a little easier to push on. Matt was impressed with the sights with the exception of the Spanish Steps which are currently being renovated. It really did ruin the atmosphere as only a narrow segment was still open so people were using them for climbing, not sitting around chatting. That night we went to a local Trattoria which served fantastic thin crust pizza and lasagna. Well the lasagna was really good but my Mum’s lasagna still remains my favourite :-).

After a good night of rest we made an early start (well a relatively early start) and headed for the Colosseum to beat the crowds. I remember the first time I visited, I was a little disappointed at how weathered the structure was as I was under the impression that it was still in good condition. I think Matt was the same this time as it was his first visit. It does take some imagination to realise just how tall and grand the stadium would’ve been. Don’t get me wrong I fully appreciate it’s over 2000 years old and it’s amazing that it’s standing at all, but I found the Pantheon much more impressive as an old structure of similar vintage. Included with the Colosseum ticket is access to the old Roman Forum which requires an even greater imagination to look at the outline of walls and guess what the structures would’ve looked like. Still exhausted from the day before, we decided to retire early and cook a homemade meal of pesto pappardelle and Caprese salad. The funny thing is that we then found a second wind of energy and decided to go take night shots in the city. After witnessing a Trevi Fountain marriage proposal (which Anna said is so cringe!) we decided to go in search of a drink. We stumbled across a place which had a special of buy 3 cocktails and get the 4th free and felt we should investigate. We only had a couple but they were very strong. We ended up missing the last metro and having to walk home. Matt was not impressed with all the walking, but letting him pose in some of the night shots cheered him up. And yes that does mean he held poses for 30 seconds while people watched him.

We were staying near the San Giovanni metro station which turned out to be a great spot because we were not only walking distance to the city centre but also walking distance to the Catacombs of St Callixtus and Via Appia Antica which is the original road that connected Rome to southern areas of Italy. It was amazing how we only had to walk around 20 mins from our apartment and we were walking through fields and pleasant countryside. It definitely wasn’t expected so close to Rome. It wasn’t until we went on the tour of the catacombs that we discovered that they were scattered for hectares. Not only did the underground cemetery spread almost 20kms in length but it was also 4 levels deep. The tour guide was quite funny but very informative, and told us the historical significance of several of the tombs, namely Saint Cecilia and the Crypt of the Popes. After the catacombs we walked along the ancient road which still carries a decent amount of traffic until you reach the pedestrian sections which have the road in its original form. This was quite rough with large cobblestones and it was quite entertaining watching an ambulance trying to speed through. I just hope there was no patient was inside.

Rome Via Appia Antica

Our last day in Rome we went to Vatican City where we went through the museum including the Sistine Chapel, and climbed the dome of St Peter’s. It was very impressive and grand as you would expect, but again I was disappointed by the feeling that people viewed St Peter’s more as an art piece than a place of worship. It was very noisy and the loads of tour groups created barriers that snaked their way across the floor. The herd mentality of tour groups still baffles me where the oldies panic about letting someone pass because it might mean they’ll be lost forever. I actually enjoyed our visit to Basilica di San Giovanni more which happened to be right near our apartment. This cathedral was the first in Rome and up until the late 14th century was the Pope’s official place of worship. The building again was very grand with ornate features, but the mood inside was much more genuine.

The pace in Rome was quite relaxed with almost 4 full days at our disposal, but we had to step it up a few notches for our stint at Pompeii and Amalfi coast. Across 3 days we went to Pompeii, Mt Vesuvius, Sorrento, Positano and Capri. Quite a busy itinerary but well worth it. We managed to navigate the whole journey without getting robbed which is a definite bonus and it’s amazing how dodgy Naples and Pompeii feels in terms of general security compared to other parts of Italy. Pompeii was great to see again and Matt enjoyed how well preserved the site was and allowed him to see how the old town was designed. We were surprised by the amount of restoration work being completed with whole sections closed to visitors. After this we caught a bus that transported us to big MOG trucks that transported us to the top of Mt Vesuvius. It would be awesome if you saw a bubbling pool of lava in the bottom of the crater but unfortunately not. Perhaps thats why it’s so dangerous, because the pressure is building up inside. The government has tried providing relocation incentives to the population in the high risk area of the volcano with little success.

When we first arrived in Sorrento we dumped our bags and headed for Positano by bus. The road was extremely narrow and windy but provided spectacular views. The buses were purpose designed being shorter and narrower but the driver still had a tough gig, with many parts being single lane. Positano is absolutely stunning and we must’ve taken 40 photos between us just walking from the bus stop to the town centre. We jumped at the opportunity to spend a few hours at the beach and the water temperature is starting to become more pleasant allowing more than just a quick dip. I learned that Matt doesn’t like laying in the sun but this was solved by finding an abandoned umbrella. It may have looked a little homeless, but paying EUR10 per person for a deckchair and umbrella wasn’t an option.

Yesterday we headed to Capri for a boat tour around the island and then had 6 hours to explore. I didn’t realise that the Blue Grotto is only able to be visited on average 1 in 4 days because the entrance to the cave is very small and high tides or rough swell can make access dangerous. Well we were very lucky to fluke picking a day where access was possible. You need to climb into small wooden row boats and then lay down flat in the bottom while the captain pulls the boat through by chain. The 1 hour wait and difficult access was definitely worth it though, as the cave is so unique and the glowing blue water is spectacular. It was difficult to take a good photo with the continuous movement but we did get a few good ones. From there we caught the local bus services around and took a chairlift up to the highest point and whilst the view was great, the chairlift was probably the best bit.

Last night we went out for a celebratory dinner for one last chance to have our favourite dishes. It was a lovely meal until I was fiddling with a decorative display behind our table and I bumped it sending items crashing to the floor. Matt was in hysterics as I scrambled to pick up the items. Nothing was broken… just a little bent. Oops. We then went in search for some nightlife and were told that the Old English Pub was good on a Friday night. The place wasn’t quite buzzing with about 15 people spread out in a large beer garden with loud music playing. It was a depressing scene but we decided to have a drink before retiring home. About 10 minutes later it was like 2 Contiki buses parked out the front and filled the place with 18-20 year olds. Apart from feeling like a parent at a 21st birthday party, it was a great night out.

Our last dinner in Italy – complete with Aperol Spritz and Caprese salad

My overall impression of Amalfi Coast is that it’s beautiful but so touristy. I can’t even imagine what it would be like in July/August and I don’t think I’d want to see it. All the short buses are packed with many people left disappointed as they don’t make it aboard. For us Taormina in Sicily was just as beautiful but without the craziness, so we’re very grateful for Greta putting us on the right track there.

We’ve arrived in Barcelona this evening but haven’t done anything yet.

Ciao Italia and Hola España…

B&A

Fail of the Week
Our accommodation was 3 metro stops from the main Roma Termini and we needed to get there by 8:45am for our Napoli train. We noticed that the metro was quite busy in the mornings so we allowed an hour for the 15 minute journey. That still wasn’t enough. The platform was so packed that we couldn’t get anywhere near the train and then when one would come in only 2 or 3 people would be able to squeeze on the completely packed train. Watching the clock, we decided we’d have to abort the plan and go by other means. Upon reaching street level the buses were packed and a taxi was nowhere to be seen. Lucky we were all wearing trainers because the only option left was to go by foot. Google maps said it was a 30 min walk and we had 30 mins, and that wasn’t allowing for navigating through the station and finding our platform. We paced it out pretty hard and made it with about 5 mins to spare. Nothing like an unexpected morning workout.

Our tips for touring Italy:

  • For visiting Capri it’s best to catch the public ferry and plan to catch the last ferry back. All the tour groups clear out at 5pm so you’d have a couple of hours without the crowds.
  • Hiring a car is the best way to see the south of Italy but make sure to avoid the main towns because local traffic zones and parking can be a nightmare.
  • English-speaking Italians can be hard to find in smaller towns but don’t be afraid to have a go. They’ll happily persist until they understand what you’re saying. If all else fails google translator will help.
  • The refrigerated pastas in grocery stores are really nice and the jar sauces can be jazzed up with some local produce. It’s also the cheapest meal going.
  • If you hunt around for accommodation you’ll find great deals, especially apartments not in the very centre of town.
  • They do 2 for 1 tickets on the intercity trains on weekends.

Average spend for Italy was AU$87.50pp per night for everything including car rentals.

More photos

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