Assisi is in the Umbria region of Italy, which is lush and full of green vegetation. This is where St. Francis lived and died. In this little town there is a chapel within a Basilica which has three levels. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take any pictures inside. St. Francis is actually buried there. Inside the chapel are original frescoes which tell the story of his life. The property itself is quite large and houses many priests. The Basilica was set among the medieval town complete with old cobblestoned and curved, narrow streets. Brick and stone buildings housed shops and private residences. Tragically while looking out at the city, I dropped my new camera and jarred the regular lens so that it didn’t work. I was able to still use the camera with the zoom lens, but had to revert to the iPhone camera for the last half of the trip.
As a side note, we took out an extended warranty on the camera when we bought it, so I was able to get it fixed with no problems. 🙂
As we traveled on we went to a museum where they had a robe and belt worn by St. Francis. I thought it was a neat thing so I took a picture. Well, this isn’t a great picture but it was incased in glass, behind more class, so a bit of a living challenge for an amateur photographer using an iPhone for a camera.
We never imagined we would be in Italy, much less on the
Isle of Capri! This spectacular island was so picturesque. We took a hydrofoil from Sorrento to the island and began our tour of the tiny town. Once docked we needed to take a funnicular up to the center of town. It wasn’t just a tourist town, as locals live here year round although many of the shops close for the winter. The streets were narrow and winding and painted in white. Houses are wedged into the mountainside. Capri is known for its lemon production. They sell everything you can think of with a lemon design on it. You can find lemon pottery, thimbles, clothing, Limoncello, glassware, pastries, etc. There is even a perfume factory! Views are seen from every point of the island.
It was our plan to take a boat around the island, but the seas were too rough, so we chose to take a gondola all the way up to the tiny town of Anacapri. I am not a fan of heights, but I figured I would only be here once, so I had to buck up and take the ride. It was a single seat gondola and it was a LONG, high ride. Amazingly though it was a smooth ride and once I opened my eyes, the view was once again spectacular.
So glad we took this adventure!
As the day came to a close, we wandered the evening streets back in Sorrento using our Rick Steves’ book to guide us. At the center square where we ended up, cars could not be on the street after about 7 and the town seemed to come to life with locals and tourists alike. Street-side ristorantes began to fill up and shops were all open for business. We used our guidebook as we began the hunt for supposedly the best gelato in Sorrento. It took us forever to find and once we did, the joke was on us…it was closed that evening! No worries though, we found more gelato along our walk home. Only 13, 984 steps this day. Keep reading, more of Italy is on its way to you!
The drive to the Amalfi Coast took us into the region known as Sorrento. Refreshed from the bus nap, we were ready to begin our view along the Amalfi Coast. It was spectacular! Our pictures really couldn’t do justice to the sight we were seeing. The sky was clear now and we got our first good look at Mt. Vesuvius. The narrow two lane road hugged the seaside cliffs
with shear drop-offs. Scary when you consider we were doing it in a HUGE touring bus! Makes you wonder what those tiny Fiats thought as we came looming around the curves! Our late afternoon arrival gave us time to walk along the seashore, looking for sea glass and interesting rocks.
Sorrento is famous for its intricate use of wood inlay products. We visited one of the few factories still in existence in Italy and saw how the thinest pieces of wood are cut in a pattern and then set into a larger piece of wood. Very few woodworkers still produce products today with such delicate designs. After seeing how the process worked, we went into the showroom to see pieces ranging from formal dining tables and chairs that a seated 12 to small music boxes and coasters. I noted the design of a particular music box and I was sure it matched one I inherited from my Aunt. Sure enough it was a piece she had picked up when she was there years ago! It has even more meaning now. As the day was ending we enjoyed strolling along the coastline of Sorrento, before walking back to the hotel for a late buffet dinner.
I use to teach my students about Pompeii, so this was a dream come true to actually visit this ancient site. It was an overcast, drizzly day and we couldn’t see the top of Mt. Vesuvius. Makes you wonder if that was what the sky was like as the mighty volcano awoke. As we began our tour, the air around us was heavy and a bit eerie. A perfect day for archaeological exploration! We were able to climb ancient stone stairs in the Large Theater and have a splendid view of the city of Pompeii. The Theater was built in the 3rd Century B.C. during the Augustan era. It held over 5000 guests and was a cultural center as opposed to a common sporting venue.
The landscape around us was lush and green, including what we could see of Mt. Vesuvius. It was a wealthy resort area for the Roman Neapolitan’s. The fertile land, and close location to the sea made it a perfect destination city. Well, until the top of the volcano blew off!
Along with our guide and hundreds of other tourists, we walked along a 2,000- year old cobbled stone street, complete with ruts for ancient carts to move through. We could see remains of brick and stone structures, complete with still standing fireplaces, and multiple rooms. Based upon pottery remains, archaeologists have determined where homes were verses shops. It was easy to imagine this as a wealthy, advanced city complete with government buildings.
Much of the ancient city was not available to us because we were there for such a short time. It would easily have taken a full day or more to do justice to this site. We did see some beautiful frescoes in a bath house.
The human cast seen below was made from impressions by archaeologists as they dug beneath layers of ash. This filling of the negative space allowed scientists to further study what happened when Vesuvius blew. There is a large museum in the city of Naples where most of the artifacts can be seen.
Unfortunately, we had to “rush” to get on the bus to make the long trek from Pompeii, which is near Naples, northward up to the Amalfi Coast. Before leaving we purchased a Pompeii “coffee table” book, so we could read more at home. Our time there was just too short for this incredible site.
It was a LONG bus ride to reach the Amalfi coast, but it enabled many of us to catch up on sleep. By this point, Dan and I realized that the pace of the trip is nothing like the relaxing cruises of other adventures we’ve taken. Two nights in a hotel – pack up and repeat. Travel expert, Rick Steves is right – travel light! This was definitely shaping up to be a trip for hearty, active, and adventurous retired folks.
The “official” Best of Italy Tour began today! We embarked on our Vatican experience with the Musei Vaticani. We climbed an amazing spiral staircase up to see ancient artifacts, massive tapestry designed by Raphael, paintings, pottery, and much more. It reminded us of the Hermitage in Russia. The walls and ceilings were works of art in themselves.
At this point we headed for the Sistine Chapel. No pictures are allowed inside as it is considered a holy site where mass is still heard. Once inside, it is everything you have imagined! It is overwhelming to say the least. We bought a book so we could go back and take time to really look at Michelangelo’s work. Surprisingly, the Sistine Chapel isn’t that big! Of course, a clue could have been the word ‘chapel’ instead of ‘basilica.’
Leaving the Chapel, we header for the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica. WOW! Fortunately we could take all the pictures we wanted. The challenge now is to whittle them down! We’ve been in other grand churches and cathedrals all over the world and St. Peter’s left us almost speechless. It was opulent and yet had intimate, mini chapels where confession was heard or you could prayer and meditation.
One of the most magnificent things we saw was the elegant statue of Mary and Jesus-The Pieta. It was hard to pull your eyes from the masterpiece! It is so intimate and spiritually moving. How could Michelangelo have imagined what was inside that huge block of marble? Unfortunately, not that long ago someone came in and attempted to destroy the statue, so it is now behind protective glass. Pompeii is our next stop, so keep reading!
Our last stop in Rome was to visit the Colosseum where the Roman’s held gladiator battles. The huge structure is right in the center of Rome and remains a tribute to the powerful early Roman Empire. It was hard to believe that this building could have been constructed so long ago! We were awed by the magnitude and architectural complexities of this site. Once inside the Colosseum, you could see all the varied levels, seats, etc. After going through this site, it was time for lunch and then our little foursome headed back to the hotel to rest and prepare for an evening in Rome where the real Italians go-Trastavere.
As the sun set we slipped on a clean set of clothes, comfy walking shoes, and headed out to go where the locals went! Our tour guide gave us great directions and we were most grateful. Such a fun evening walking through winding cobblestone streets, open air cafe’s and people out walking. The rest of the tour group went to do things we had done before the actual tour started, so we decided to explore some more on our own.This was a perfect evening to dine with our friends and find places off the touristy paths.
We found a ristorante where tables were spilling out onto the street. The place was packed with diners and smelled so good. Very relaxed setting! So, why not ask how long for a table to open up? Crazy us! “No problem,” the fellow said. He shoved two large planter boxes out-of-the-way, grabbed a slatted folding table, set it up and put 4 chairs out for us! Perfecto! An hour later, with pasta in our bellies we left. The long walk toward the hotel made room for, you guessed it, gelato! A mere 18, 202 steps this day. Keep reading, we’re just getting started with this trip!
Now about the bus! A bus tour is very different from cruising. First of all, everything is time managed. Bags out your room door by 6:45, breakfast done and on you’re on the bus by 7:45. Then there are things to remember like, “Where do I sit today?” based upon the daily seat rotation chart. Then you ask yourself, “Should I take the steep steps at the back of the bus to get to my seat quickly,” or “take the easy steps up front and then push my way through to my seat?” Keep in mind you have your backpack with you, a camera, and the ladies have purses! Very touristy. A sense of humor is required and perhaps more than one cup of coffee!
The bus is ultra comfortable. All the creature comforts you can think of are on board: restroom, seat trays, armrests, wide seats, seat belts, leg rests, and nice wide clean windows. You could easily fold up a pillow or sweatshirt and take a nap if it was to be a long day of driving. Most of us on the bus were over fifty and a few pushing eighty! We napped! Our thirty-something guide would use his soft, Italian voice over the microphone to say “Wakey, wakey,” when it was time to gather our “stuff” for either a comfort stop (pee-pee break) or time to see our next site.
All 48 of us were pretty good about scooting off the bus pretty quickly…especially for those “comfort stops!” This scenario repeated itself every two days. When you travel via bus, the hotel bed covers are not turned down with chocolates left on the pillow! Definitely not the comforts of cruising!
We got up nice and early and headed back toward the Vatican Square and then passed the Castle of St. Angelo, which runs along the Tiber River. This castle was originally built as a home for the Pope if he needed to escape from the Vatican during times of upheaval or threat. Located in the lower level is the tomb of Emperor Hadrian.
We kept walking until we arrived at The Spanish Steps. IMPRESSIVE! This magnificent structure was built in the 1700’s to house the Spanish embassy to the Vatican. It is a tourist attraction today as the embassy is located elsewhere. The view from the top of the 138 steps is breathtaking.
But let’s not stop there! We continued on our hike to Trevi Fountain. We have no fountains like this in the USA. It is massive in size and made of gleaming marble carved with mythical sea creatures, fish, and ornate spouts. It is said if you toss a coin over your shoulder into the fountain you are sure to return to Rome. Keep reading, our adventure is just getting started!
This was another LONG day of walking (1 7,774 steps). We found a great little street-side ristorante to eat a meal and head for a gelateria on our way home. So far our favorite gelato is vanilla and dark cherry in a cone – not a cup!
Out the door nice and early to walk to the open-air market at Campo de Fiori. You could buy everything from fresh food, clothing, olive oil, to pastas. This was a fun place to browse and people watch. Everything was so enticing.
From the Campo we walked to the Pantheon, which is right in the heart of Rome. It is Rome’s best-preserved monument. It was constructed in 27 BC, but updated in 120 AD by Emperor Hadrian. The dome itself is so high and remarkable that it provided inspiration for the greats like Brunelleschi and Michelangelo. Originally, it was a temple where you could come pay respects to all the pagan gods (primarily pan). Think of it as a one stop-shopping house of worship! During the middle ages it became a Christian church dedicated to all the martyrs. Today the Swiss Guard, just like the Vatican, watches over it. What a beautiful monument this was!
Next, we hailed a cab and headed toward the outskirts of Rome to see the Catacombs de Priscilla. Seriously, Catacombs! Down in the tunnels there were over 40 thousand people buried! Through the years tourists and thieves have robbed the bones. It is believed that the oldest fresco of the Madonna and Child is painted on the walls. There are frescoes and carvings all over the walls and ceilings depicting redemption through Christ and the resurrection. Many martyrs were buried there although it was not a hide-out for those being persecuted. Unfortunately we were unable to take pictures inside to share with you. Today it is an active monastery. We finished off the day with a total of 14, 010 steps and a gelato. Are your feet and legs aching yet?! What happened to retirement was supposed to be relaxing?
Want to hear more about our Italian adventure? Keep reading this series!
We started our long-awaited vacation in Rome and managed to walk a mere 18, 798 steps, on our first ½ day. The plane landed before noon and rooms weren’t ready until 1 p.m., so off we hiked to explore around the Vatican. Right away it became apparent that I would not be the navigator as I managed to take the four us on the “long and scenic” route around the outside perimeter of the Vatican! Well, it got our circulation going after the 12-hour plane flight! We found our first gelato stop and made it back to the hotel in time to shower and rest before heading out to find dinner. Pizza along the Tiber River was a great way to end our first Italian experience.