Tuesday, April 10, 2007

My favorite things

A lot of people asked what my favorite things about the trip were. I swear, this will be the last post about vacation. These are my favorites:

1. Our Casa. I don't have to say it again, but renting a villa on the Amalfi Coast was one of the best vacations we've ever had. It was the best way to see how the Italians
La Dolce Vita (the sweet life).
2. The SITA bus. Driving on the Amalfi Coast is just not an option. Don't do it. For the small fee of 1Euro you can get up and down the Amalfi Coast and have the biggest thrill ride of your life. Not only are the driver hilarious, but the fact that 2 buses can't fit on the road makes every single trip a total amusement.
3. Mamma Agata's Cooking Class. I know I explained in a prior post. But if you are even a little bit interested in cooking. Do this class. Not only will you feel like a whale when you leave the class from eating so much, but the food is amazing, and you'll learn a lot. It's totally worth it.
4. La Brace. Restaurant. This place was "inexpensive" and wonderful. We ate there twice. The first time I asked for a suggested and got some type of fish and it was so good, I didnt even care what it was. The next time we got a seafood platter for two and it was SOO good. I wish we would have been there in the summer to have all the windows open looking out at the water.
5. Wine. We came across some great wine. After drinking 3 bottles a day, we never woke up with a hangover and always were eager to try more. I can't wait to come across some of our favorite Italian wines in the US and remember our vacation in every drink.
6. Bar Del Sol latte. This place was literally a 2 minute walk from our casa and it was fun to go there in the morning and get a latte. It was right by the scuola (school), so there were lots of moms there after dropping their kids off before going to the markets.
7. Speaking Italian. By the end of the week, I think Rob and I both felt like we could get around with our Italian. Turns out when most people heard our horrible attempts at Italian, they would just repy with English. But, we did get by ordering the items we wanted and getting through the day to day with Italian. That part was fun.

To recap the week on the Amalfi Coast

Saturday - Caught the metro to the Staziono Central Roma Termini, where we would catch the train to Napoli. They have a few different trains to Naples and the one we chose to take the cheap one. IC plus (39 Euro total). It was 2 hours and 9 minutes. Once we got to Naples, we ran downstairs to try to make the Circumvesuviana train to Sorrento. We did get on the wrong train, but I guess we stuck out like a sore thumb and people quickly told us we got on the wrong train.

Finally, we arrived in Sorrento and we bought our SITA bus tickets to Praiano, the town where our casa was. It was rainy outside and we couldn’t see much. Our first time on the Amalfi Drive and it was probably a good idea that it was foggy and cloudy, because at any moment you literally felt as if you would fall of the cliff in the bus. A very interesting ride.

We finally got to the casa and met the really nice owners. They didn’t speak much English, but everything was pretty easy. We had fresh lemons at the table and a bottle of wine as a welcome gift. How nice. Rob and I were so tired, we just went to bed. It was a long day of travel and you constantly have to stay on your toes when you don’t speak the language well.

Sunday – We decided to spend the day walking around Praiano. Sadly, Sunday is truly the day of rest. Not many shops were open and there wasn’t much to do. We ate at a really cute Pizzaria and came back to the casa. The casa was so much nicer than we expected! We got upgraded the day before we left because there was going to be construction at the original casa. We had 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. 3 sets of French doors going out to a patio that looked out at the water, Positiano, and Capri. Amazing. It was on the top floor of a building that was right on the Amalfi coast main drive (163). This turned out to be a great location as we were able to just watch the never-ending entertainment of traffic below.

Monday – We thought that the cooking class started at 11am, so we were already a half an hour late, that was my fault. We needed to take the SITA bus to Amalfi and then transfer to Ravello, way up in the hills. Ravello is a beautiful little town that is really well known for the place where a lot of celebrities stay. We stopped by the tourist office to get a map of Mamma Agata’s country house.

Words cannot express how much I enjoyed this class. I love to cook and I especially love to cook Italian inspired food. Not only did we get about 7 recipes of food, but we also got a lot of great cooking tips that I’ll remember forever. We took the class with a couple who was from the Worcester, Mass area, which is crazy since that’s where the Gifford’s are from. Always a small world. The Cooking class with Mamma Agata, for me, was a highlight of our week. Next time you come to Seattle, expect a meal of what I learned to cook while there.

Tuesday - Beautiful Positiano. Beautiful sunny day. The resort town on the Amalfi Coast. What a great place. The hotels and bars on the beach were just opening up. We took this trip just as the off season was ending, so it was good and bad. I’d love to see the Amalfi Coast in full swing, but hate to deal with the traffic and crowds. We ate lunch at a great restaurant where we could sit outside and enjoy a bottle of wine.

Wednesday – We decided to take a day trip to Pompeii today. In order to get there we needed to Take the SITA bus again to Sorrento and the Circumvesuviana to Pompeii. It’s important to spend the money for a personal guide or at least an audio tour for this. Pompeii is so big there is no way to read the book and meander around. We did spend the money on a tour and it was a great idea, even if I wasn’t completely thrilled my the guide we chose. Worth the trip for sure. Gotta see it once.

On the way back we stopped in Sorrento and walked around. That is a total resort town with no beaches. I personally would never stay there, but there are fewer stairs and walking than in some of the other towns.

Thursday – We decided to rent a scooter for the day. A lot of the scooter shops were closed for the season, but we found one where the guy was willing to rent us a scooter. With the scooter, we drove through all the areas that we didn’t get to go on the bus. Maiori, Furore, Ravello, etc. This was a great way to see the area and not as scary as I thought it would be. We did almost run out of gas and had to wait at a gas station for about an hour while the man got back from his Siesta. That’s another thing. Do you think Siestas are a joke? It’s not. Towns literally close down between 1:00-3:00. If you need gas at 1pm, sorry there is nothing you can do, except wait till 3pm. On the flip side, all the stores are open till 8:30pm. And nobody goes to dinner till 9pm.
I stopped in a ceramic shop that was suggested by Mamma Agata. I fell in LOVE with a design there. Unfortunately they didn’t have any plates in that design, but during the high season they may and she told me to check back. I’d love a while set of dishes, but it’s not like the ceramic is really very affordable.

Friday – Our last day on the coast. We spent it in Amalfi. Saturday – We left for Naples. We were so sad to leave. I think we’ll be back. Especially if we can find another couple to come with us someday. Do NOT take the boat from Positano to Naples, if nobody else is on the boat. It's a sure sign that you will get sick. I spent the whole evening with sea sickness.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Roma - Day 1 & Day 2

I’m happy to report that we're home. I would like to take some time to write up a pretty detailed analysis, just so when someone else is researching their trip, they can have this to look on. I’ll have to write in installments.
Day 1 & Day 2 – Roma
We left on our KLM flight (Airbus A330) to Amsterdam from Seattle. What a nice flight. Not only are the engines really quiet but everyone gets their own TV! I watched – That thing you do (all time fav), Bobby, Mr & Mrs Smith, and some others. We were there in what seemed like no time. KLM also feeds you like crazy so I was stuffed when we landed - 9 hours later.

After a short layover, we boarded for Rome. We landed about 2 hours later. There are 2 trains that will take you downtown Rome from the airport and they are pretty easy to find. We boarded the cheaper one with more stops and got off within walking distance to our hotel.

Tip 1 – always have a small map of where your hotel is with the street address. (The big maps won't help). I forgot to print that off and we needed to find an internet cafĂ© to get to the hotel.

Il Roserio is where we stayed it’s a convent turned b&b with very simple yet cheap accommodations. It was about $85 a night, which in Rome, is a great price with breakfast. The nuns spoke very little English and you needed to get through the secure gates when leaving and coming in -making it very safe for us to leave our things.

Getting up early was tough, but we tried. Starting at the Vatican, we knew it would be busy and it was. The line was 3 blocks long - no way - we couldn't waste a whole day in line. Instead seeing the free St. Peter’s Basilica. We'll save the museums for another time. The Basilica was amazing and huge. It's the largest church in Christianity and holds over 60,000 people. While there, we fell upon the tombs. The burials of the past popes, including Pope John Paul II, a security guard by that one. After that, we walked over to the Spanish Steps then down along the Pantheon, Capital building, and a bunch of other churches, duomos and monuments and building along the way that were highlighted on our map.Next, the Colosseum and audiotour. Really Interesting. The Forums & Ruins were really neat. we spent a few hours just walking around that area. So interesting when you think of the history right there. Unreal. Back at the B&B, we rested a little until dinner, anticipating a full day of travel to get to Praiano the next day.

Tip 2 – You can't see Rome in a day, so why try? I loved Rome, I'll come back in a heartbeat.

Stay tuned for more on our trip...