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Trip Report Things in Italy are so old it makes us seem young--we celebrate our 50th

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How do I describe our trip?

Well, we explored some new (to us) places and revisited old favorites, but most of all we had fun. We laughed a lot, drank wine, and, although we had plans, much of this trip was made up as we went along. If you read this, I hope you can enjoy it along with us.

I’d better say right up front that we are 74 and 77 years old, which puts us well into the Fodor’s “elderly” category, and, according to some threads here, old enough to have been on speaking terms with the early Romans.

However, if you are waiting to hear that we were unable to handle cobblestones, stairs, or, God forbid, loading luggage onto trains, you will be disappointed. We may be old, but we are sturdy.
So here is our trip:
Who: Byrd and John

Why and when: Our 50th wedding anniversary in November 2011.
Where: Italy, to include two places we know and love,and two places new to us.
How: We knew that we would be traveling by train That’s our preferred transportation in Europe, and we have logged many miles.

I think I answered a post of Fodor;s once which asked “Where in the world would you like to br at this moment?” My answer was “standing on the platform in a little Italian train station waiting for the next train.”

The planning: In May we booked flights to and from Rome November 15 to 27.on Delta (Air France) from Atlanta to Rome with a short time connection in Paris.
After much discussion, map-reading, e-mailing, ordering new guidebooks, making and breaking hotel reservations, we decided upon:

Fly to Rome, immediately take train to Orvieto for two nights.

Take train from Orvieto to Bisceglie, stay five nights and take day trips to Matera, Trani, and maybe others.

Take train to Sulmona for two nights.

Take train to Rome for three nights before coming home.

After we have booked flights, fI like to check our schedules on the airline website occasionally (make that frequently) just to make sure all is well.

This time, sure enough, just a few days after we made our reservations, Delta added an ominous note to our flight information. In red letters, it said of our connection flight from Paris to Rome, “You may miss this flight.” Whoa.

Several phone calls ensued, in which Delta assured us that if we missed the flight, they would send us along on another.

However, since we were not staying in Rome, but going immediately to Orvieto, we had visions of our bags disappearing into the vast netherworld of suitcases in search of owners.

Our only hope, we thought, was to use carry-on only. It was a good decision, and one which prompted disbelief and astonishment from friends and family.

So here we go.

We drove from home in Alabama to Atlanta for our 6:30 p.m. flight.

Does anybody else experience that wonderful feeling when you are in the airport, you have made it through security, you have boarding passes, you have found your gate, you’re having a drink at the bar, and you realize that you are really truly about to go to Europe? Well, if you don’t, you are missing a good beginning to a trip.

The plane was packed, but things like that can be overlooked. The uneventful flight landed in Paris on time, we grabbed our little bags, raced to go through CDG security and made our flight with a little time to spare.

The day was clear and bright, and the flight to Rome over the snowy Alps was spectacular.

We arrived in Rome and , with no luggage to pick up, scurried on to the train station where we boarded the Leonardo Express.

At Termini, John bought our tickets to Orvieto as well as our tickets from Orvieto to Bisceglie while I guarded our bags and did my best to discourage offers of help from a Roma girl . A euro from John convinced her that her “help” was not needed.

However, we did need (and received) help from a very kind man who guided us to our faraway track (track 2ES is far far down from the other tracks,) and when neither yellow box at the train would work to stamp our tickets, he actually found the conductor and told her our problem.

All was well. (Of course, we have all been told for years that failure to stamp your ticket in the yellow box was practically a capital offense). Never underestimate the kindness of strangers.

Orvieto! We had been there twice before, loved it, and wanted to go again.

We arrived at the train station and took a taxi to B and B Valentina. I was sorry we didn’t get to ride up the funiculare, but it was getting late, and we really wanted to see the sunset light up the gold of the Duomo facade.

We hurried, checked in, and rushed to the Duomo piazza and there we were, actually in Italy, drinking wine on the deck of our usual bar. (Our “usual bar”? You’d think we were every afternoon customers! And don’t we wish!)

The sun went down and so did our spirits, since we had been up and traveling for well over 24 hours by then. We were also hungry and it was just after 5 o’clock. Uh oh, the restaurants don’t open until 7:30!

Starvation was averted when we found a deli-type place named Clandesdtin just opening. They took us in, and before we could say “grazie” loaded our table with all sorts of ham and cheesy snacks and sandwiches, and big glasses of beer.

We managed to find Valentina’s again, and collapsed into bed.

Morning began with fresh croissants and cappuccino brought to our room, and we spent the day wandering the town, and checking out the old town walls and spectacular views. It’s a long way down from this hilltop!

A good night;s sleep had done wonders, and tonight we were more than happy to stay awake for a delicious dinner at Da Mora, close to Valentina’s. John had osso buco and I had a grilled beef dish.

Orvieto was all that we remembered and more, and we may just have to manage another stop there someday to make sure that is still true.

We were up early to take the train back to Rome Termini where we were to change trains for Bisceglie and the Adriatic. ( On a trip to Croatia, we had fallen in love with the Adriatic and were hoping to find a waterfront hotel similar to the one we had in Dubrovnik. After much searching, we found the Hotel Salsello, which was just right—with a balcony overlooking the Adriatic.

We had purposely taken the early train from Orvieto so we would have about half an hour before our train to Bisceglie. All went well until about halfway to Rome.

The train stopped..just stopped. We sat and we sat. There was much discussion among the other passengers, and I asked one what was happening. “The line is not working,” she said, with a firm grasp of the obvious.

We sat there about 20 minutes and we were beginning to worry that we would miss our train, for which we had assigned seats..

Finally, the train came to life, and off we went.

We arrived in Rome with eight minutes to make our train. We jumped off the train, took off running, and John caught a glimpse of a status board that told us which track we needed. We got to the track, found Car 2, John waved our tickets at the railroad man, and he waved us on. We were still stowing our bags as the train was moving out.
t was time for a nice peaceful train ride, which we had through lovely and varying scenery as we enjoyed pastries, courtesy of Valentina.

About noon we arrived at Barrletta, where we changed trains for the short ride to Bisceglie. In just a few minutes we were in Bisceglie, our home for the next five days.

On all our trips, John writes the names, addresses, and phone numbers of our hotels on 3 x 5 cards, which makes giving directions to taxi drivers easier. But when we stepped outside this station, we saw a pretty town with palm trees, but no taxis in sight

The man in the coffee shop called a taxi for us, and it arrived quickly. The driver, we think, possibly has the only taxi in town, since every other time we called a taxi, he was the driver. When he took us back to the station on the day we left, we said goodbye like old friends.

Bisceglie is, in November, a rather quiet beach town, but according to local residents, it’s a very lively resort area in the summer.

Our hotel, the Salsello, is located just across the street from the beach and the pretty walkway which runs several miles along the Adriatic. We enjoyed walking there, and watching the fishermen on the rocks, especially the ones pulling out buckets containing octopi (but I did not like seeing them being snashed on the rocks—yuk!).

Most of the beach area is rocky, but our hotel has a sandy private area, which looks like a good spot for swimming and sunning.

Aside from just enjoying the warm sunshiny days, while in Bisceglie we:
--Took the bus a few miles up the beach to Trani, which is so pretty and the park area along the waterfront was full of colorful blooms and boys 0laying soccer (sorry—football).

--Enjoyed wandering in the old town of Bisceglie and checking out the Sunday market in the park.

--Took the train to Matera to see the sassi. This trip inv9olved training to Bari, thena changing trains to the FAL line. This was easy, as the FAL station is next door to the main station (Bari Centrale).
The sassi area is much larger than I expected, and is very impressive. It’s easy to see why this pace has been inhabited since Paleolithic times.
-Loved the Moby Dick (really!) restaurant just up the beach from our hotel. We ate there several times, including our anniversary dinner. The fresh seafood dishes and pasta were so good.The restaurant was always filled with local residents who obviously knew each other and were having fine times.

Off we go on the next leg of our adventure. Again, we were up early, Our taxi driver took us to the train station for our journey to Sulmona, via Pescara.

Let me say a word about the coffee shops in little Italian train stations. They seem, in our experience, to be the early morning social centers of the towns, where everybody on his way to work stops for espresso and pastries. I, of course, always had cappuccino while John joined the Italian men in tossing back those little cups of “really-wake-you-up” strong coffee.

We had seat assignments on the train from Bisceglie to Pescara, and after one or two stops at towns along the way, we were joined by a family –grandma, granddaughter and granddaughter’s husband. The seats were arranged two-facing-two, with a table in the middle.

It seemed that nobody could determine just which seat was his or hers. We played a game of musical seats, everybody laughing, until we finally settled in to watch the beautiful Adriatic out the windows.

The change to the train to Sulmona was uneventful , the scenery became mountainous, and in a little while we arrived in Sulmona. Outside the station was a bus. And John showed the driver the card with Albergo Stella and the address on it. He waved us on, told us where to get off, and just how to find the hotel.

Albergo Stella is located right in the middle of town just off the Corso Ovidio, the main street. Sulmona was the birthplace of Ovid, thus the street name.

By this time in the trip, I was getting a little tired of my “carry-on” wardrobe, particularly when I noticed the ladies of Sulmona. They all seemed to have stepped out of an Italian fashion show, and I came to the quick conclusion that my pants were not tight enough nor were my heels high enough. I would have loved to spend a few hours in those swishy shops!

Sulmona is a very pretty town, with a lovely park and piazzas, including the Piazza Garibaldi, which is entered through the stone arches of the old aqueduct. The Piazza is lined with nice shops and outdoor cafes, of which we took full advantage for morning coffee and afternoon wine.

The evening passeggiata was fun to be a part of, and, watching the lively conversations in the piazza, we remarked, not for the first time, that Italian men certainly do have a lot to say.

Sulmona is the home of “confetti,” almond-shaped candies that, we heard, are good luck symbols and, as such, are given as favors at weddings. The confetti shops featured the candies in many colors, and arranged into many forms, such as bouquets of flowers. It was fun to look at the shop displays. And the confetti are delicious, too.

Our departure from Sulmona involved yet another early morning train station appearance, and, of course, coffee and pastries.

The trip to Rome was through and then down from the mountains of Abruzzo under bright blue skies and sunshine.

The train arrived, not at Termini, but at Tibertina. We had e-mailed our hotel (the Genio) in Rome to ask for advice on transportation from the station to the hotel, and they recommended either a taxi, (20-25 euro, 20-25 minutes), or bus 492 ( 1 euro each, 30-35 minutes).

Guess which we picked. Once again, with the help of John’s 3x5 card and friendly Italians, we found bus 492 and had a nice ride through parts of Rome we had never seen.

The hotel is just outside Piazza Navona, and when we got off the bus (at the advice of fellow passengers) we entered the Piazza from the south end.

Lo and behold, there among the Bernini fountains, were a carousel, carnival games, stall after stall of stuff for sale, loud music and lots of families with children and dogs. It looked like a county fair .

My first thought was “They heard we were coming, so they threw a party.” As this seemed a little unlikely, we determined that this was a Christmas market.

We made our way through the crowd and to the hotel. We had stayed at the Genio some years ago, but now it is a place transformed. Everything looked new, our room was good sized, the bathroom nice and big.

When we stayed at the Genio before, breakfast was served in a darkish downstairs room, but now the breakfast room is just off the rooftop terrace, with beautiful views.

Dinner our first night was at Navona Notte just down the street. I had spaghetti carbonara and John had gnocci with porcinis and clams.

Our days in Rome were spent in large part walking and revisiting the city that has charmed us for years.

We walked to St Peter’s (big crowds, of course) , Castel Sant’ Angelo, Piazza del Popolo (Sunday morning coffee outside at Canova), Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain (yes, two more coins in the fountain) , Pantheon (lunch outside at restaurant in the piazza, serenaded by Police Band in concert) , with many stops for coffee or wine, depending on the time of day.

The weather continued sunny and warm, and we ended every day with wine on the rooftop terrace of the Genio, overlooking the domes and rooftops. Flocks of birds furnished entertainment.

For the first time on our trip, we saw other tourists. We met another American family while we were all reading the menu at Tre Arche, which we remembered from an earlier trip, and which lived up to our memory of it. John had roasted veal in sauce, and I had pasta with clams

An early morning check-out, a taxi ride to FCO, and before you could say “arrivederci” we were on our way to Amsterdam, and them home.

I wonder what the next 50 years will bring?


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