I've been meaning to post this forever - better late than never...
Sunday, April 12 – Departure
We used frequent flyer miles, so our choices were limited. We flew into and out of Rome - non-stops. We left the house at 2:15 and walked into Dulles International Airport at 3:00. It was a fairly light travel day, and the lines at security were short and quick. We paid $90 apiece for Economy Plus, and ended up with an entire row to ourselves – 5 seats for the price of 2 upgrades! I stretched out actually slept, as did DW. We arrived in Rome at 8:40 am on Monday morning.
Monday, April 13 – Rome to Naples
We had carried on our bags, so we breezed through the Rome Fiumicino Airport, and got tickets for the 9:06 Leonardo Express train from the airport to Roma Termini train station, about a 30-minute ride.
We arrived at the train station at 9:40 – but we had pre-bought Eurostar tickets from Rome to Naples on the internet, for an 11:44 departure. That was too long to hang around the train station, so we paid an 11Euro surcharge each to get on the next train, departing at 10:44. The Eurostar is a great service, just 1 hour and 20 minutes from Rome to Naples nonstop (140 miles, or the same distance as from Washington, DC to Philadelphia, which would be a 2 1/2 hour drive). On the train, we sat beside the most darling Irish family who were going to Pompeii from Rome on a day trip. The two daughters, aged 3 and 6, were adorable. The older girl borrowed my iPod and watched Bugs Bunny cartoons while the precocious 3 year-old drew pictures with her dad. She was a severe art critic. (“That’s not a lion, daddy!”) I slept again - for 45 minutes or so, and awoke when the train pulled into Naples.
We got into a taxi at the station entrance for the relatively short ride to Piazza Gesu Nuovo. I had read that dishonest gypsy cabs were a thing of the past in Naples, but this guy must have been a holdover, because he charged us 25 Euro for a 10-minute ride! Boy, was I angry. I paid, but wanted to call the police!
Our hotel, the Decumani Hotel de Charme, was in a converted 18th Century palazzo a few blocks from Piazza Gesu Nuovo, in the heart of Naples historic district, the Spaccanapoli. Although some streets are pedestrian-only in name, scooters and small cars buzz down the narrow alleys with impunity. Walking was a challenge, and the drivers were all quick to honk to get us to move out of their way. The hotel entrance was a little scary looking, but the rooms were lovely: 20-foot ceilings, beautiful antique furniture, dark hardwood floors, marble bathroom (with bidet and Jacuzzi jet tub), tasty complimentary breakfast, and very friendly and helpful staff. Our room was €100/night.
We went out immediately after we checked in because it was lunchtime and we were hungry. Claudia at the front desk recommended Lombardi, a pizza restaurant right beside the Piazza Jesu Nuovo on via San Benedetto Croce. We had delicious roasted vegetables and shared the famous “Four Seasons” Napoli pizza – one quarter with cheese, one quarter mushrooms and garlic, one quarter capers and olives, and one quarter with shaved ham. It was very good, though the wait staff kept giving us the wrong bill.
We walked around the neighborhood for just a few minutes after lunch, but most of the shops were closed. (The day after Easter is a national holiday in Italy.) Also, we were both severely dragging by this time, so it was back to the hotel for a long, hot bath and a two and a half hour nap.
We got up at about 6:30 and got ready to go out, taking a long walk, about 10 blocks toward the Duomo, then south about 14 blocks to via Nuovo Marina, which borders the Bay of Naples. We couldn’t see the water, though, because the dock area was very industrial, built-up, and grimy. After following the water almost a mile, we cut north at the Piazza Municipo, and vollowed via Monteolivetto back to Piazza Gesu Nuovo. It was about 8:30 by this time, and we were ready for dinner. We chanced upon an outdoor café called La Locanda del Grifo beside the ancient St. Peter’s campanile (bell tower) on via Tribunale in the Spaccanapoli. We had an excellent dinner of hot and old seafood appetizers (including delicious whole octopus and tasty marinated anchovies) and pasta. My pasta was called calamataro, calamari-shaped rings of pasta with flaked fish sauce. DW had spaghetti with tiny, sweet clams and tomatoes. We walked back to Decumani Hotel and collapsed at about 10:30 and watched “Ben Hur” in Italian on the TV.
Tuesday, April 14 – Naples
We got up at 8:30, feeling like we were officially in synch with the time change. We got dressed and stepped literally across the hallway into the breakfast room, where there were delicious pastries, espresso and cappuccino, salami and cheese, fresh fruit, water, juice, and yogurt – all very good, much better than a typical hotel breakfast. We chatted with a young man from California who has been living in Vienna the last four years and works for the United Nations. (Which explains why he’d brought “Foreign Affairs” magazine to breakfast. I told him we have a son who reads “Foreign Affairs” for fun.)
Then we headed out for a walking tour of the Spaccanapoli churches, palazzi, and piazzas. We started at the Santa Chiara complex, which includes the church, monastery, museum, archeological excavation, and cloister. The church was built in the early 1300s, though it was almost destroyed in WWII. The museum holds marble and wood statues and decorative elements damaged and recovered from the 1943 Allied bombings of Naples, and also leads out to a dig uncovering a 1st Century Roman bath. In a separate area, an enormous presepio (Nativity scene) is set up, with hundreds of figures. Naples is famous for its presepio, and many artisans still make the figures (from tiny to half life-sized), many engaged in everyday activities like baking bread, selling vegetables, making shoes, etc., and paying no mind whatsoever to the Holy Family. Finally, we explored the Majolica cloister garden. Oranges and lemons hung heavily – especially the lemons, which were as big as grapefruit! The gorgeous painted tiles depicted outdoor scenes and scenes from the lives of the nuns and monks of Santa Chiara. The tile-covered cloister columns (72 of them) had floral and fruit decorations. It was amazingly beautiful, and so peaceful.
Next stop was right across the piazza to Chiesa del Gesu, which has a severe, fortress-like facade. The beautiful spire at the west end of the piazza was erected by the Jesuits.
We then made our way to Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, with another ornate baroque spire, this one built in thanks for the end of the plague in 1658. We toured the church, which rise above the plaza, showing its rounded back end to the public – the facade is visible only from an inner courtyard. Most striking inside the church was the room with velvet covered coffins of past kings and queens of the Kingdom of Naples.
We stopped for a coffee at the historical pastry shop Pasticceria Scartucchio, drinking at the counter. The pastries looked inviting, but we were still pretty full from breakfast. Next, we struck out a three different churches: Cappella di San Severo (closed on Tuesdays), Cappella del Monte di Pieta (open only Saturday and Sunday), and Chiesa der Santa Severino e Sossi (just plain closed, no particular reason). So it was on to the big kahuna, the Duomo. The church is dedicated to Naples’ patron saint San Gennaro. St. Gennaro’s skull and an ampoule of his blood are kept as relics in the basilica. Three times a year, the blood miraculously liquefies before a congregation of thousands. The crowd shouts, “Hurry up, Saint Genna, do the miracle!” If the blood fails to liquefy, bad things can happen: Mt. Vesuvius eruptions, cholera outbreaks, or the Napoli soccer team can lose.
After four churches in three hours, we were ready to eat. We went to the famous Sorbillo Restaurant and split a filled pizza with ricotta, mozzarella, and ham. It was outstanding! Then a few blocks back to the hotel for a well-earned nap.
Around 3:30, we headed to the “top of the hill”, to the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, a splendid art museum about 3 miles north of the center of town. We took a cab from the hotel. The Capodimonte has a fantastic collection of paintings that are Naples-centric, starting with 14th Century religious paints moving all the way to contemporary 20th Century works. We covered about half the exhibits, and then the lovely park outside the museum started calling to us. Families and couples relaxed, played, biked and hung out on the sprawling lawn.
After a brief rest, we bought bus tickets and bussed down to the town below, until the driver took the bus out of service and kicked us all out. Luckily, the remainder wasn’t too far to walk, and we were back to the hotel by 7:00. We rested awhile, then left for dinner at 8:30, walking to the nearby Ristorante A Canzuncella. We were welcomed with a glass of champagne, and let our waiter (who was also our entertainment) choose our menu. We had a wonderful white wine from the Capi Flegrei, or “burning fields” to the west of Naples. (So called because there are sulfuric geysers and bubbling mud craters in the region.) We had an immense seafood antipasto with oysters, steamed mussels, fried fish balls, grilled vegetables, octopus, and tuna carpaccio. Then our waitress sang for the patrons (all four of us – DW and me, and a Russian couple). She had a great voice, and sang Neapolitan popular songs. You know, “O Sole Mio”, “Return to Sorrento” and “Volare”. It was big, campy fun, and the food was superb. Our second course was pasta, big tubes of al dente pasta with salmon in cream sauce. Yum! And an Easter cheesecake with candied fruits and limoncello for dessert. At 11:00, we waddled back to the hotel and to bed.
Wednesday, April 15 -- Naples to Amalfi via Herculaneum
We asked for an 8:00 wakeup call so we would have time to shower, dress, pack, and eat breakfast before our 9:15 pick up by the private excursion company “In Italy”. Our guide Deborah was right on time, along with the driver Diego; both were native Neapolitans. I had pre-booked the “In Italy” half-day tour with transportation to Herculaneum both as a way to get a knowledgeable personal tour of Herculaneum and also as a way to get from Naples to Amalfi without having to deal with the slow Circumvesuviana train or renting a car, something we were both much too chicken to try! (And it was a wise decision, believe me – between the incredibly wild Naples traffic and the challenging and somewhat hair-raising Amalfi Coast Drive, we would not have enjoyed the vacation nearly as much if one of us had been behind the wheel of a rental car.)
The city of Herculaneum, like Pompeii, was destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. When the volcano erupted, the city was engulfed by a river of boiling mud over 30 feet deep. The residents of Herculaneum, a resort town on the Bay of Naples, took to the sea in boats, but a violent tidal wave forced them back to share. More than 300 skeletons were uncovered, along with petrified wooden boats, at the city's port when Herculaneum was excavated. In the early 1700s, King Carlo of Bourbon commissioned the first excavations, which tunneled down to the buried city.. It wasn't until the 1800s that open air excavations began, and Herculaneum became an important stop on the 'European Grand Tour'.
Our tour was not so grand, but it was personalized and very informative. Deborah was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. The ancient city is only about 25 percent uncovered, because the modern town of Herculaneum sits right on top of the buried city, and those people don't want to move. We saw amazingly well preserved mosaics and wall frescoes, and even furniture, still intact. Some public areas of the city, such as the baths, swimming pools, and shops were fairly whole as well, and gave wonderful insight into the everyday lives of almost 2000 years ago. We spent about 2 hours touring Herculaneum, then dropped off Deborah with our thanks in downtown new Herculaneum, so she could return to Naples on the train.
Diego drove us on to our next stop, Amalfi, in the center of the beautiful Amalfi Coast. We came down through the Lattari Mountains (mountains of milk), climbing up and up around twisting roads through terraced agricultural outposts and mountain villages. Agerola is known for its cheeses (fior di latte agerolese, a sheep milk cheese and Provolone del Monaco, an aged cow milk cheese). The next town was Furore, built on a terrifyingly steep fjord, where we could finally see the Gulf of Salerno visible about 1000 feet below us, with the serpentine Amalfi Coast Drive falling away in a ribbon of hairpin turns. We were very happy that we had not rented a car, and even happier that we hadn't eaten a big meal before starting the drive.
Then down, down, down to the water's edge and the beautiful town of Amalfi, which was an important maritime republic in the middle ages, but is now just a small town that is well-loved by the touring masses. Diego dropped us off in the port parking area, since the main street of town, the historic center, is pedestrian only, except for residents. Our hotel for the next three nights was one short block from the medieval town square (Piazza Duomo) at the foot of the 9th Century Arab-Norman cathedral, in striking black and white stone blocks with imposing bronze doors at the top of 62 broad steps. The Hotel Floridiana is tucked away halfway up a narrow stepped vicoli, or staircase passageway. Inside, we were greeted by the hotel manager Agnese, who invited us to sit down in the ornate breakfast room with some pineapple juice while she checked us in. Our room was on 2 levels, with a bedroom, bathroom, writing desk and TV on the lower level and a loft sitting area leading out to a private balcony. It was almost 2:00 by this time, so Agnese steered us to a restaurant just a few doors up the main street, Il Tari, where we had the usual choice of pizza or seafood. However, I gravitated toward some yummy fried mozzerella and chicken breast piccata in lemon sauce. DW had fried fish balls and pasta with seafood.
Afterwards, we considered wandering the town or perhaps shopping, but our legs said, 'no, no!', so we returned to the Floridiana for a lovely long nap. When we awoke, we sat on the balcony, listening to the Duomo bells ring each quarter hour, reading and journaling. At about 7:30, we wandered out to the piazza and had coffee in the twilight, looking at the gorgeous Duomo and lively street life. Then we walked a few blocks along the beach to the Silver Moon, a restaurant on the water's edge, for more pasta and grilled fish. It was not a stellar meal, but the staff was warm, friendly and very attentive, and the view up the mountain, sparkling with lights, was lovely. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel to turn in. We are dedicated to taking this part of our vacation at a slower pace. Naples was energetic, but Amalfi is laid-back.
Thursday, April 15 – Amalfi and Ravello
We slept in until 8:30, and had a very nice breakfast of croissants and coffee. Agnese (who apparently works 12-hour shifts) made sure we had plenty of coffee. We walked down to the central parking area, bought SITA bus tickets (the local Amalfi Coast transit system), and took the 10:00 bus to Ravello, about 20 twisting minutes up the mountain (only 4 miles!). Ravello was founded in the 9th Century and grew to a population of about 30,000 by the 15th Century, though the 17th Century plague killed off the majority of the city’s inhabitants, bringing its size down to the 2,000 or so people who live there today. Ravello is a cloud-high city of gardens and lovely villas and palazzos that has special attraction to composers and artists. Wagner, D.H. Lawrence, Greta Garbo and her lover Leopold Stokowski all lived here for a time, drawn by the peace, otherworldly views, and the beauty of the town itself. The annual Ravello Music Festival is held here, and we just missed one of the first concerts of the 2009 season (it had been Wednesday night).
We started our visit at the Duomo, the town cathedral, which is dedicated to patron Saint Pantaleone and built in 1086. The outside is very plain, but the inside is lovely, with two incredible pulpits on either side of the central aisle, one in mosaic showing Jonah being swallowed by the whale, ad the other sitting atop six twisted columns on lion pedestals, with complex bas relief mosaics of animals in gold and white. There is also a vial of St. Pantaleone’s blood in a hidden chamber behind the main altar, which miraculously liquefies every July 27th. (Just like St. Gennaro’s blood in the Naples Duomo.) Next, we walked up the hill to the west of the main square, stopping at the quiet cloisters of the Franciscan monastery for a breather.
At the top, we reached the Villa Cimbrone, a castle/villa in medieval style with astonishing gardens and the legendary “Belvedere of Infinity”, a stone parapet hanging 1,500 feet above the Bay or Salerno, with amazing views of the Lattari Mountains to the east and west, as well as out over the bay, where the sky meets the sea.
The gardens were meticulously maintained, and had temples, grottoes, loggias and pavilions dotted among the trees, vines and flowering shrubs. It really was like Heaven, except instead of the sound of angels, there was the whine of weed whackers.
We made our way back down to the main piazza, and crossed to the east side of town, stopping for lunch at Cumpa Cosima, a trattoria run by the motherly Signora Netta Bottone for the last 50 years. (The restaurant itself has been in business for 300 years.) The food was hearty and delicious and we had NO pizza! NO fish! Instead, I had a hearty bean soup and variety of homemade pastas; DW had marinated anchovies (OK, that IS seafood), and the best sausage I’ve ever tasted, with sautéed zucchini and crispy French fries. Signora Bottone insisted that we have a complimentary piece of tiramisu before we left, even though we were too full to speak coherently. After a couple of bites, we were speaking in tongues! Seriously, if you go to Ravello, you must eat at Cumpa Cosima.
We were too tired and full to do any more touring, so back to the bus for another thrilling descent. Back in Amalfi, we wandered the town for a bit, visiting the Museum of Paper, which is at the residential end of the town’s main street, where there is a stream and water wheel. At one time, there were 16 different paper mills in the Amalfi river valley, mostly making paper from cotton fabric, rather than wood pulp.
After a brief sit in the hotel room, we then went to visit the Amalfi Duomo. The inside of the cathedral is beautiful, but we didn’t stay, because there was a mass going on in one side chapel and a baptism in the other. We did tour the cloister, the original Basilica, dating back to the 10th Century (with traces of the original frescoes still showing on the walls), and the incredibly gaudy and gorgeous crypt, where the bones and skull of St. Andrew are preserved. The crypt was highly decorated with multi-colored marbles and ceiling panel frescoes depicting the stations of the cross.
We lingered down at the main dock, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper, then headed back for showers before going out to dinner. We went to a small place in the heart of Amalfi called Trattoria de Meme, and had a wonderful meal of shrimp, anchovy and walnut dressed spaghetti, and whole fished baked in paper, along with an excellent local white wine, Per Eva. (I had to buy some of that to bring home!) We rolled back to the hotel at 10:00.
Friday, April 16 – Amalfi Coast
We wanted to catch the 9:00 SITA bus west toward Sorrento and visit the Grotta Smeraldo (the emerald grotto), but we must have just missed the bus, so rather than wait another 30 minutes, we grabbed a cab. It’s only 8 km (5 miles) – how much could it be? (25 Euro, that’s how much!) Sadder but wiser, on our arrival at the grotto, we took an elevator from the Amalfi Coast Drive 1,000 feet down to the water’s edge, and entered the small and somewhat underwhelming cavern. (To be fair, the weather was gray and overcast, which meant that the reflected sunlight that turns the cavern waters their trademark blue-green color was sadly lacking.) We were the only customers that early in the day, and got a private tour with our garrulous, singing boatman. (“O Sole Mio”, yet again. We listened but didn't encourage).
We came back up just in time to get on the next westward bus, and rode a hair-raising 30 minutes to Positano, one of the jewels of the Amalfi Coast. Positano was favored by Steinbek, Picasso, Toscanini, and Leonard Bernstein, and used to be a very exclusive resort town. It is nearly vertical, with one main street leading from the top of the town at Chiesa Nuovo (where the bus dropped us off) down about 1.5 miles of winding switchbacks to the sea and the main piazza, anchored by the large, domed Chiesa Santa Maria Assunta. There are no other roads, just endless stairs. Once we walked all the way down, we knew we weren’t going back up – we were returning to Amalfi by ferry!
We stopped and visited the lovely Santa Maria Assunta, white and frothy like a wedding cake. Then we walked along the seaside promenade to L’Incanto, a bar and restaurant, for a coffee and to give our calves a chance to stop trembling from the long walk downhill. We grabbed a gelato to go, and ambled over to the ferry dock, taking the 12:00 ferry to Amalfi. It was a smooth ride, despite the cloudy conditions.
Back in Amalfi, we headed uphill far away from the main square, looking for a less expensive, less touristy lunch spot. We found Trattoria Carteria, almost all the way to the Museum of Paper (“Carteria” means paper mill), which offered inexpensive pizzas and tasty house wine. After lunch, a little shopping: limoncello (of course – we are at ground zero for lemons!); local wine; candied fruit and chocolate filled with limoncello (delicious!); and ceramics. Then back to rest and read for a couple of hours in the hotel room.
We made one final outing early in the evening to have coffee, people-watch, and read the paper, then checked on our logistics for taking the ferry to Capri (there are 3 ferries from Amalfi to Capri each day, at 8:30, 9:00, and 9:30 am). I asked the ever-helpful Agnese to make dinner reservations for us in the neighboring village, Atrani, at a venerable seafood restaurant called A Paranza. To get there, we walked along the coastal highway about 1/4 mile, then took steps down to the beach level, where the one main street of Atrani begins -- a medieval town of narrow alleys and steps, that was very quiet compared to Amalfi. At the restaurant, we had the three-course degustazione. Many foods were very familiar: marinated anchovies, carpaccio, octopus, pasta with clams, roasted fish; but others were new – a tiny fish baked on a lemon leaf, treasure bags of seafood deep-fried inside a zucchini blossom, and fish rolled up like sushi with cheese inside. Everything was delicious, definitely the best seafood of our trip (and there was a lot of seafood!) We walked back at around 10:30 and went to bed.
Saturday, April 18 – Amalfi to Capri
We got up at 7:00 or so and I began to pack. We had breakfast and wished Agnese and Eva a fond goodbye. The staff at Hotel Floridiana are amazing, just the nicest ever. Agnese called a luggage cart so we could just walk down to the dock and buy our ferry tickets. The ferry was enormous, probably seating about 300 people, though there were only about 40 passengers. And it was FAST. The ride was 75 minutes from Amalfi to Capri. We were met at the dock in Capri by a luggage handler from our hotel, La Minerva. The Grand Marina was bustling, full of hawkers for boat trips around the island, tourist groups organizing around upheld umbrellas, and people getting on and off the ferries. We bought tickets for the funicolare to take us up the mountain to Capri Town. The heart of the town is La Piazzetta, a stage-set drawing room of a town square with cafes lining the sides. The pedestrian-only roads lead up and down hill southward, lined with every designer clothing, jewelry, and handbag shop imaginable.
La Minerva Hotel was about a 10-minute walk from the Piazzetta. It was only about 11:00 when we arrived, so our room wasn’t ready. So, we set off for the nearby Giardini di Augusto, which overlook the famous via Krupp trail and offer a spectacular view of the two stone sentries at the southeast corner of Capri, the I Faraglioni.
We made our way back to the hotel and checked in at noon. La Minerva was the only 4-star hotel on our itinerary, a little more than we usually get, but in Capri the way to go, IMO. The room had a king-sized bed, walk-in closet, bathroom with Jacuzzi tub, Sky Net satellite TV (lots of English language stations), and a balcony overlooking the bay with two comfortable recliners. Pretty nice!
We set out alone for an afternoon hike. Returned to La Piazzetta and walked down via le Botteghe, stopping at a small grocery store for prosciutto and cheese, fruit and water, and then at a bakery for a couple of rolls. Then we continued for about 2 miles, mostly steeply uphill, to Villa Jovis, the Roman Emperor Tiberius’s palace and fortress. Tiberius actually ruled the Roman Empire from here for the last 11 years of his life, sending signals back to Rome via the lighthouse and his naval fleet. The view from the top of the Villa, in Tiberius’s private quarters, was staggering. From one side, I could see the Lattari Mountains, and from the other, the beautiful Bay of Naples. I was most struck by a cliff at the eastern edge of the property where Tiberius was said (by the historian Suetonius) to “watch his enemies being thrown into the sea. Mariners would be stationed on the rocks below, and when the bodies came hurtling down, they whacked at them with oars and boat-hooks, to make sure they were completely dead.” Even on a sunny afternoon, that’s enough to give you the shivers!
After our picnic lunch, we started the long walk back down to La Minerva for a well-earned bath and relaxation, an early dinner and early turn in. This was the relaxed part of the vacation - a pleasure not to have any sights to see.
Sunday, April 19 – Capri
We both woke up on Sunday feeling completely energized after a good night’s sleep, and had a delicious hotel breakfast with fresh-squeezed orange juice, delectable fruit, pastries and omelettes. It had rained very hard overnight and was still overcast, but at about 10:00, we put on our jackets, squared our shoulders, and set off. We started our explorations with the Certosa di San Giacoma, an old monastery set in a park that overlooks the I Faraglione. It was beautiful and peaceful – we had the whole place to ourselves.
Next, we walked back to the Piazzetta and took the Funiculore down to Marina Grande, and bought tickets for a “Giro” tour around the island with the Laser Capri touring company. Our boat was wonderfully uncrowded, and the crew gave commentary in both Italian and English. We made a counterclockwise circumnavigation, stopping at the Blue Grotto, where about two-thirds of the passengers elected to take the tour at separate cost. We passed, having just been to the Emerald Grotto. (Though we checked out some other passengers’ photos, and the Blue Grotto looked more impressive – but it was still cloudy - if you go to the Blue Grotto, pick a sunny day) Our next sight was the Point Carena lighthouse on the southwest corner of the island, the second-oldest lighthouse in Italy. We also saw the Green Grotto, wide enough for the boat to back into; and Marina Piccola, the small marina on the south side of the island. Then we passed through the arch of the I Faraglioni, and were told that if we kissed as we passed under the arch, we would have good luck. Even though the weather was cool and gray, the 75-minute “Giro” tour was a real highlight of our trip.
After the boat tour, we had a light lunch at Marina Grande, then hopped on the tiny orange bus that goes to the west side of the island, to the smaller town of Anacapri. After the crowds and high-end store in Capri Town, the simpler, quieter Anacapri was a real pleasure. It is also much more LEVEL for walking, because the town is at the top of the mountain. We visited the Casa Rossa, a 19th Century villa built by the American Colonel J.C. Mackowen around a 16th Century stone fort. The Casa Rossa houses an exhibition of 19th and 20th Century paintings of Capri, as well as various archeological items. We walked on a bit further to the Chiese di San Michele. The church has a splendid majolica tile floor dating from 1761 that depicts Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden, and includes every kind of animal. It was stunning, and made me so happy that we had decided to check out Anacapri.
We bussed back down to Capri Town and walked back to our hotel, getting a little lost on the way and also stopping for some very expensive coffee. (10 Euro for two cups!) We were back in the room by about 6:00, after a really wonderful day. We rested and watched a couple of “I Simpson” episodes, then set out for dinner. We weren’t in the mood for another fancy 3-course meal, so we ducked into a “Gastronomica”, sort of a hot table buffet place a few blocks off the Piazzetta, called Scialapopolo. We had an assortment of pastas and antipasti and a carafe of house wine. It wasn’t bad at all, but nothing to write home about, either. We returned to La Minerva by about 10:30 and turned in.
Monday, April 20 – Capri to Rome
After another delicious breakfast at La Minerva, we checked out and headed up to the Piazzetta for the last time. We rode the Funicolare down to the Marina Grande, and caught the 9:35 jet ferry to Naples, a very comfortable 45-minute trip. At the dock in Naples, we caught a taxi to the train station (only 15 Euro this time – much more reasonable), and lined up to buy our train tickets to Rome. The regional train service left earlier and was 30 Euro less per ticket than the faster Eurostar service (though the ride is 50 minutes longer, at 2 hours 10 minutes). That was fine with us. We got in to the Roma Termini at 1:35 pm, after a very relaxing ride.
At the Rome train station, the taxi driver wanted 25 Euro to go to Campo de Fiori, which is just a couple of blocks from our Hotel Smeraldo. Not again! So for 2,50 E apiece, we to the #40 bus that goes from the train station toward St. Peter’s Basilica, and were dropped just a few blocks from the hotel door. Smeraldo is what it is - basic, cheap and well located. If that's all you require, it's OK. I wouldn't stay there again. By the time we checked in, it was 2:30. So – what to do in Rome for one afternoon and evening? We had made NO plans for Rome whatsoever, other than getting our hotel reservation and arranging the ride to the airport on Tuesday.
We walked. Staying within the “sweet spot” on the inside curve of the east bank of the Tiber River, except to cross over to the Vatican for a trip to the Basilica. We started with coffee at the piazza in front of Villa Farnese, then walked through the Campo de Fiori, and then walked all the way up via Giulia, our old stomping grounds from our Rome vacation. We had gelato at L’Angelo, a gelateria we had visited many times previously when we were staying just a couple of blocks away.
Then we crossed the Ponte San Angelo, and took a quick walk through St. Peter’s Basilica. It is big and gaudy in the most impressive way possible. Crossing back over the river in front of the Castel Sant’Angelo, we walked east on via Coronarei, stopping for a lovely, 2-1/2 hour break at a wine bar called Sangallo on Piazza San Salvatore. We watched children playing soccer, moms chatting while they watched their kids, the restaurant manager gently scolding the kids when the ball rolled into the dining area, and people-watched as everyday Roman life passed before us. It was enchanting. After that long restful interlude, we continued on to Piazza Navona, then toured the Pantheon (always worth a look!).
Then it was back to the hotel at around 7:30 – ready to drop. Ironically, We found a very close-by recommended restaurant called Del Ditirambo on Campo de Fiori. It was a wonderful and imaginative restaurant, full of Italian and American patrons. We had delicious antipasti, including roasted artichokes filled with boar sausage, a salt cod soufflé, and tiny octopi. Our pastas were amazing, silky risotto with asparagus and gnocchi with shrimp. We split a main course of Guinea Hen prepared three ways – roasted, baked in phyllo pastry, and as meatballs. It was all delicious, a perfect last dinner for a wonderful vacation! Then back to the hotel (practically limping – we were so worn out), and to bed.
Tuesday, April 21 – Returning Home
We awoke at 7:00 to pack, and had an unspeakably awful breakfast at the VERY basic Hotel Smeraldo. (Magenta orange juice and coffee like sludge.) I had arranged for a driver to pick us up at the hotel and take us to the airport. He was masterful – knew all the shortcuts, including one through a municipal dump, But we got there in 30 minutes flat. It was raining, and we were getting that feeling that it was time to go home. Since all U.S, airlines are in the lonely Terminal 5, check-in was quick and easy, and we had time to spend the last of our Euros at the airport shops. The flight back was much longer than the flight over – a full 9 1/2 hours, plus take-off was delayed by a half-hour. What a wonderful trip – you could go to Italy every year, and have a completely different experience. But Germany, Moscow and St. Petersburg are calling...
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I've been meaning to post this forever - better late than never...