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isabel Aug 31st, 2014 03:44 AM

July in The Mezzogiorno – 3 weeks in Southern Italy: Amalfi Coast & Puglia
I usually take rather ‘eclectic’ trips each summer and this year was no different. I started with a solo two weeks in Norway, Poland and London (separate report) and then met my husband (G) and his brother (Alan) and sister-in-law (Allison) in Rome, and then went to the Amalfi Coast. Then G and I followed that with Puglia.

My husband and I have been to Italy numerous times and for their first trip there we wanted to show Alan and Allison someplace we hoped they would really like. Alan loves ruins and Allison loves beautiful scenery so Rome/Amalfi Coast seemed like a good choice. They were only able to take about a week so after they returned home G and I spent 8 days in Puglia and finished up the trip at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli and a last night in Rome.

3 nights Rome
5 nights Sorrento with day trips to Herculaneum, Amalfi/Atrani, and Ischia
1 night Paestum
2 nights Matera
2 nights Lecce with day trips to Otranto, S. Cesarea Terme, & Gallipoli
4 nights Polignano with day trips to Ostuni, Alberobello, Locorotundo, Cisternino,
Conversano and Trani
1 night Tivoli to see Villa Adriana
1 night Rome

We rented a car (Europcar through Kemwell) as we left Sorrento and returned it in Rome. The first part was public transportation.

For the Puglia portion, the trip reports here were an incredible source of information. There’s relatively little in the guidebooks and on-line on Puglia (compared to the rest of Italy) so I really depended on trip reports to decide where to go, what to see and how long to spend. And it turned out great.

All the hotels were booked on and we were very satisfied with every place we stayed.

<b>Photos</b> (there are a LOT of them) are at:


Galleries of photos from this and previous trips to Rome:

isabel Aug 31st, 2014 04:37 AM

We were all meeting in Rome from three different destinations and I was arriving the evening before the rest of them. Their flights from the US were pretty uneventful. I was coming from London, on British Airways. We boarded the plane only ten minutes late but this apparently caused us to miss our slot in the ‘take-off queue’ so we sat on the tarmac for THREE HOURS! The actual flight is just over two hours, then there’s the hour time difference. Add the getting to and from the airports at each end and that’s how what looks like a ‘short’ trip can take all day.

It was after 11pm by the time the Leonardo express got into the city so I was real glad I was fairly familiar with Rome and had booked a hotel only ten minutes walk from Termini. In retrospect I guess it would have been smarter to take a taxi from the airport, but I was supposed to get in around 8 – not even dinner time. Fortunately plenty of people are still out and about at that hour in Rome in July.

<b>Hotel Floris, Rome</b> The hotel itself is wonderful, completely redone in 2013 it’s all modern and clean and bright. Rooms are large, bed comfy, great bathroom with rain showerhead, mini bar with free bottled water, there is juice and coffee (espresso, cappuccino) available for free all day. Breakfast has a huge selection. Location is good, about ten minute walk from Termini and 15 from Piazza Venezia. It’s on Via Nazionalae, which is a busy street but the hotel was very quiet. The building has three other hotels in it, on different floors, so it’s a little confusing to find it the first time; the Hotel Floris sign is less obvious than the others (seriously, they need a much better sign), and it’s on the fourth floor. The lift is the typical old European building add-on and is tiny. 104€ double (Overall I like it better than the Hotel Julia which is where I’ve stayed the last couple trips, and it’s 40€ less). The staff was great.

Monday, July 7 – After a great hotel breakfast I went for a little 7 mile walk to scope things out. The others weren’t arriving till mid afternoon. Having been to Rome several times in the past few years I’ve done most of the biggies in terms of tourist sites so I had no real agenda. Trevi Fountain is completely covered with scaffolding. Would have been a major bummer if it were my first time, fortunately I have a lot of photos of it already. Piazza Navona is looking good. Campo de Fiori had the market in full swing. Then I did some shopping and managed not to buy anything, found a bank machine and got some more Euros (I always bring home a hundred or so for the next trip so I don’t have to worry about getting them right away), walked along the river over to Piazza S. Maria in Cosemedin and then around in front of Vittorio Emanuele II and along the via dei Fori Imperiali to the Colosseo, which also has a lot of scaffolding. Around the back it’s OK but the first impression is not as good as it usually is.

So as of July three major tourist attractions (Trevi, Colosseo, and Spanish Steps are all being renovated). Feeling confident I could serve as a decent tour guide I went back to the hotel to wait for the others.

isabel Aug 31st, 2014 04:48 AM

Tuesday, July 8 We started the day at the <b>Forum</b>. There were literally two people ahead of us in the line to buy tickets at the main Forum entrance (we were headed to the one for Palentine Hill as I’d heard that was where the shortest lines were but when we saw there was no line at the main entrance we went in there.) It’s 12€ for a combined ticket to Forum, Palentine Hill and Colosseum. There were a few tour groups but it didn’t feel overly crowded. It’s a fairly large space so it can absorb a good number of people without feeling crowded.

Then we went to the <b>Colosseum</b>. It was a madhouse at the entrance, no queue or order of any kind. People all jammed up against each other. We made it through the first ‘gate’ and then there seemed to be three lines, with no signs or direction or anything. So people without tickets ended up in the line for people with tickets and then had to go back against the crowd. What a mess. The whole thing only took about 15 minutes (if you had a ticket) but was not at all pleasant, lots of pushing and shoving. Once inside it wasn’t all that bad, again, it’s a large space so the crowds get absorbed. I’d been inside it once, twelve years ago – it hasn’t changed much (duh). But Alan and Allison seemed to enjoy seeing it, although they agreed it’s better on the outside (despite a third of it being covered with scaffolding).

Later in the day, after a siesta, we walked through the heart of Rome, past Castel St Angelo, to St Peters. Given our limited time in Rome we hadn't intended to go inside, but I did make note of the length of the line to the Vatican Museums. It was long - but no longer than the time in November that I waited over a hour and then gave up. Both times were in the afternoon, so all the people who say you can avoid the lines by going later in the day, don't appear to be correct whether in high season or not.

Then we walked along the river to Trastevere to ‘Bir & Fud’, a place I’d read about in a trip report that was supposed to have lots of varieties of specialty beers. Given that both G and Alan are beer snobs they had to try this place. They certainly had a large variety but I think they were a bit disappointed in the beer itself. The food selection is small, mostly pizza and it was OK, not as good as the pizza we’d had the night before near the Trevi Fountain. Goes to show that the food in the ‘tourist corridors’ is often as good or better as in little out of the way and/or trendy neighborhoods, and often less expensive. Well, G got to attempt to discuss beer brewing in Italian – his two hobbies being brewing beer and learning Italian.

We walked back through Campo di Fiori, Piazza Navona (where we stopped for gelato – a larger and better dish than the night before on a side street), and Piaza d. Rotonda. All beautifully lit as the lights were coming on, music and street performers all around. And it was a lovely cool night. Can’t believe how breezy and cool it was in Rome in July!

bilboburgler Aug 31st, 2014 05:50 AM

on for the ride

bon_voyage Aug 31st, 2014 06:37 AM

Settling in--I always enjoy your informative trip reports and photos!

gertie3751 Aug 31st, 2014 06:38 AM

Lovely pictures as usual Isabel. Enjoying this already.

jelopez33 Aug 31st, 2014 08:13 AM

Reading with interest your great report, as we are leaving to Amalfi Coast and Rome on Sertember 16th.

bobthenavigator Aug 31st, 2014 08:15 AM

Always one of my great pleasures when Isabel returns with her latest images---they are pure art.

aprillilacs Aug 31st, 2014 03:35 PM

Nice start to your report, which I will be reading with great interest--it will be so fun to get your perspective, since our itineraries overlapped in many ways. So sad that the Trevi Fountain is covered in scaffolding--we definitely lucked out there. I love that fountain!

Love your pictures, too. Looks like you had more pure blue skies than we had in May, and the Puglian towns appear to be more lively, with many more potted plants. And lots of summer crowds. Especially fascinating are your pictures of that pocket beach at Polignano a Mare, which was only lightly visited when we were there. I imagine the water was much warmer in July!

Looking forward to more.

kybourbon Aug 31st, 2014 04:49 PM

You can't go anywhere in Italy without encountering the dreaded scaffolding (usually the very thing you were looking forward to seeing the most). Can't be helped if we want to continue to enjoy the sites. I can't imagine the cost of upkeep in Italy. I watched them vacuuming statues in the Vatican Museums one time. Seemed like a never ending job. They had backpack vacs.

isabel Sep 1st, 2014 04:10 AM

aprillilacs - yeah, there seem to be quite a few people who either recently went to Puglia or are currently planning trips. So interesting to see how our trips compared. We did have some rain, maybe not as much as in May, but more than normal for July. I was also struck by the difference in the way that beach looked in your photos and mine.

kybourbon - I agree that scaffolding is necessary for the sights to look good. Sometimes when I get home and look at photos I've taken compared to the same place from a previous trip I'm really struck by the fact that it had been renovated since I was there last and looks so much cleaner. There was an article in an Italian paper saying that some people thought that having three of their major sights under renovation at the same time might hurt tourism. I rather doubt that since I don't think most tourists know which things will be under scaffolding till they get there.

isabel Sep 1st, 2014 04:15 AM

July 9 – On to <b>Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast</b>

I had bought the tickets from Roma to Napoli on line for 19€ per person. The train kept being delayed by 5 minutes until it was a half hour late. We stood around Termini for half an hour waiting for the platform to be announced, which didn’t happen till ten minutes before the train left and then we had to run for it. Our train was on the furthest platform and our car at the far end of the train. The ride was comfortable enough and no one ever came to check our tickets. The Naples train station has been recently renovated and is much nicer than it was a few years ago. We easily found our way down to the circumvesuviana station, which is down stairs from the main station. No ticket kiosks, only two windows open and long lines so we just missed the next train. But trains come every half hour or so. €4.10 each. The train to Sorrento was hot and crowded; we had to stand the first half hour. The trip took about 1¼ hour, longer than I remembered. Lots of gypsy children playing plastic accordions. We got talking to an American family that was basing themselves in Naples to visit the Amalfi Coast and Capri and really regretted their choice. We’ve been to Naples and while I did find it interesting and am glad I went there, I totally agree that if your main purpose is to see the Amalfi Coast, Capri and Sorrento as well as Pompeii you should not base in Naples.

If you’ve done lots of traveling, especially in Italy, these train experiences are just par for the course. Alan and Allison have been to Europe a few times but they aren’t really fans of public transportation or cities, living in a rural area where everyone drives absolutely everywhere, so I could tell this wasn’t really ‘fun’ for them.

isabel Sep 1st, 2014 04:19 AM

<b>Sorrento</b> – I really love this little town. There is a lot of negativity regarding it by some people on the forum, referring to it as a ‘city’ and pointing out that it ‘is not the Amalfi Coast’. Calling it a ‘city’ is definitely misleading – it’s population being only 16,000, so larger than the villages of Amalfi and Positano, but a far cry from a city. And the fact that it is on the Bay of Naples side of the Sorrentine Peninsula rather than the Bay of Salerno side of the peninsula seems kind of nit-picky. The Sorrento (north) side of the peninsula that juts out into the Mediterranean is more built up and less dramatic than the south side - the actual Amalfi Coast - but it is no less scenic. Sorrento has a gorgeous cliff side setting, sweeping picturesque bays, narrow alleyways in the old town, and ancient and endless stone stairways leading down to crystal clear waters.

While there are no lack of tourists there in season, and on days when a cruise ship is in harbor it is most definitely unpleasantly crowded, the same is even more true of Positano. No question that, of them all, Positano is the most ‘wow-ing’ site, especially when seen from the water, but once you are actually in the town, Sorrento has more atmospheric corners to explore. Most of the time Sorrento feels less crowded and busy than either Positano or Amalfi and there’s more choice of restaurants, more back alleys to get away from the crowds in, in my opinion a much better sea view, better shopping, more interesting places to visit (e.g. Marina Grande and the Convento di San Francisco cloisters) and it’s clearly a better base to visit other places such as Naples, Pompeii, Capri, Ischia, etc. The fact that it is on the Circumvesuviana rail system makes it easier to get to as well as easier to day trip from.

My favoroite places in Sorrento are Villa Comunale, the park overlooking Marina Piccolo (the larger harbor) which is next to Convento di San Francesco which has gorgeous (free) cloisters, and Marina Grande. The main shopping street is very touristy but interesting enough to browse and the back alleys are fun to explore.

isabel Sep 1st, 2014 04:22 AM

After meeting back up with A&A we showed them around and ended up down at <b>Maria Grande</b> where we had dinner. We ate at an outside table, right on the beach. We could listen to the waves lap on the shore and the church bells ring while we ate. The sun was glistening on the water and the boats when we started and then as it set made the clouds all pink, yellow and orange. Really pretty. I had spaghetti with garlic oil, cherry tomatoes, capers and olives, and an eggplant parm appetizer. G had lasagna. A&A had gnocci with shrimp, sardines for appetizer, and then fried calamari. It was all delicious. The restaurant was <b>“The 5 Di Leva Sisters”</b> and it looks like it really is completely run by these five middle age sisters. Hardly any tourists down at Maria Grande, they all looked local. However, Sophia Loren apparently ate there, and they had a sign saying Jamie Oliver recommends them. After dinner we strolled around Sorrento and got gelato.

<b>Ulisse Deluxe Hostel</b>: Via del Mare, - we stayed here on our last trip to the area and liked it enough to not even look for anywhere else. per night 88€ double, including breakfast, free wi-fi, AC, Satellite TV with CNN, mini-bar. It’s considered a “deluxe hostel” rather than a hotel but the rooms are huge, very nice marble floors, nice wood furniture, etc, great bathroom with shower and Jacuzzi tub. The lobby and breakfast room are also huge, modern, nice. There apparently are a couple of rooms that fit 6-8 people so that qualifies it as a ‘hostel’ but the majority of rooms are normal doubles, many with an extra single bed as well. There is also a connected fitness center with pool, exercise rooms, etc but that is all extra. There is also a large parking garage, also extra. No view though (well you can see the ocean from the window but just barely). But for the price it was a great deal.

kybourbon Sep 1st, 2014 08:11 AM

>>>The train kept being delayed by 5 minutes until it was a half hour late.<<<

Trenitalia has an app(free) for both Iphone and Android - ProntoTreno. I don't know if you would get the track info any faster than the boards in the station, but perhaps as it does have a tracking feature.

yestravel Sep 1st, 2014 08:33 AM

Enjoying your report. We'll be in Rome in October. Too bad about the Trevi Fountain, but as someone said, somethng is always being restored, cleaned etc.
Interested in you take on PUglia as we were there 2 years ago and rally loved it. We were there Mid Sept/Oct and very uncorwded with pretty much deserted beaches.

annhig Sep 1st, 2014 08:55 AM

Hi isabel,

just joining in as i have recently been to Sorrento [and Rome, come to that] and still have Puglia on my wish list.

great start so far!

tedgale Sep 1st, 2014 02:30 PM

Eagerly awaiting the reports on Matera and Puglia, which we're visiting in mid/late October this year.

raincitygirl Sep 1st, 2014 02:56 PM

Enjoying this Isabel, thank you. We are off to Puglia on Sept.26th so looking forward to that report as well.

isabel Sep 2nd, 2014 02:45 AM

good to know about that train app

It's exciting that so many people are planning on going to Puglia. I'll try to get the report done as soon as I can.

Thursday, July 10, 2014 - <b>Herculaneum</b>

We woke to some blue sky but mostly cloudy. We even had a brief (less than a minute) shower early in the day and a longer (still only about 5 minutes) shower mid afternoon. Not bad, but not 85 and bright blue sky like it’s supposed to be. Good thing we’ve been here before and that A&A like cooler weather (since it’s hot and sunny where they live all summer). In fact, if you believe, at one point it said it was currently 68 in Sorrento (although it felt warmer), 79 in Bergen, Norway (where I had just been), and 76 in the town in Massachusetts where we live.

After the hotel breakfast (scrambled eggs, decent croissants, fruit, cakes, juice, coffee) we took the Circumvesuvina Train to Herculaneum. It cost 6.3€ per person for a day ticket (unlimited rides, so there and back and you can stop in Naples, Pompeii, etc.). The trains are slower, more crowded and crappier than I remember. Took close to an hour to Herculaneum, close to 40 minutes to Pompeii (from Sorrento). We did get seats at about 9am, and later coming back got seats after standing a few stops. Not a horrible experience, but not really pleasant either.

The walk down the 6 blocks or so to the Herculaneum entrance is a piece of cake (short and easy). Unfortunately ‘something washed out’ so you couldn’t use the normal entrance so it was an additional 10 minute or so walk around to the parking entrance. Tickets are 11€, or 20€ for five sites in three days including Pompeii. We had planned to do both Herculaneum and Pompeii. Unfortunately Alan got sick just as we were finishing Herculaneum so we never got to Pompeii. I didn’t really want to go to Pompeii again anyway so it was fine with me, but G had been adamant that I was ‘depriving’ them if I pushed for just Herculaneum over Pompeii.

Herculaneum is much smaller than Pompei but more ‘complete’ – there are roofs, there are even sections of wooden beams and such that are original. There are quite a few mosaics and frescoes that are pretty well preserved, and some of the other features of Pompeii like the ‘fast food outlets’. We moved very slowly but still covered most of it in a little over 2 hours. I think the fact that we’d done Pompeii a few years ago, and prior to that visit I had done quite a bit of research and reading about both these cities and Roman houses in general, really enhanced my visit. I really think that’s the best way to get the most out of these sites. Of course you can hire a guide or an audio guide but I like to explore on my own, yet if you don’t know what you are looking at the experience is much less. The entire pamphlets that you get when you buy your ticket are available online so you can download and read these before you go, which I think is much more enjoyable than trying to read it while you are walking around.

Now having seen both, I’m glad that I did, and if someone were limited in time I would probably suggest doing a couple hours at Herculaneum, followed by at least a couple hours at Pompeii (probably take a good hour between the two between the walk to the train, waiting for the train and the actual 15 minute train ride) – and up to 3 or 4 hours depending on your stamina and interest. You can see the ‘highlights’ of Pompeii in 2-4 hours certainly, and the additional time I think is better spent at Herculaneum, than in trying to see absolutely every house at Pompeii.

Since the walk back to the train station was uphill, twice as long as it supposed to be due to the ‘washout’, and Alan was not feeling well, we took a taxi (5€).

Back in Sorrento, A&A&G took a taxi back to the hotel (20€) since Alan was not feeling well and I went in search of Europcar so we’d know where it was on Monday morning when we were to pick up our rental car. Turns out it’s almost directly across the street from the train station, we could have seen it if we had just looked in that direction.

Even though it wasn’t a great day, weather wise, it certainly wasn’t terribly windy or wet, yet when we were asking about the time of the boat to Amalfi for the following day, they told us none of the boats (public or private excursion) ran today due to the weather. Something about ‘angry weather from Germany’. Extremely unusual in July, but goes to show it does happen.

For dinner we picked one of the ‘mid’ scale places on the side street near the Villa Comunale. Allison’s pasta and G’s pizza were ok but my carbonara was terrible. The wine was ok, the dessert – A & I got one chocolate and one lemon cake and they were both tasteless and boring. Could have come from a convenience store. My pasta the evening before down in Marina Grande was less than half the cost and twice as good.

So not the best day – weather and Alan being sick. Forecast is actually pretty bad – more cool and rainy weather. What’s with that!? At least A&A think this is a good thing cause they are sick of hot and sunny, and I did have decent weather in Northern Europe for a change, and we’ve been here before, but still.

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