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Scullysioux Oct 16th, 2006 12:00 PM

Southern Italy & Rome Trip Report
 
I returned from Italy :( a little over a week ago and have been procrastinating doing my trip report so I will start it and do it in increments. My mother-in-law and I spent two weeks in Italy and this was our itinerary:

Amalfi Coast (based in Sorrento) - 3 days
Procida - 2 days
Naples 1 day
Puglia (based in Ostuni) - 4 days
Rome - 2 days

It was a lot of travelling to different areas, but we wanted to see as much as possible and we did. If anyone has any questions about anything, feel free to ask.

Amalfi Coast

We stayed at Il Nido in Sorrento which we had stayed at on a previous trip. It's a great family run place, reasonably priced with an excellent restaurant. It is not in the town which I found to be a good thing because Sorrento was really crowded. September is definitely still high season in Sorrento.

We made day trips from Sorrento to Positano, Amalfi and Ravello. They were all beautiful, but Ravello was my favorite. The view is so spectacular and it was not so overrun with people, plus it is just so darn quaint. Amalfi was ok, but extremely crowded and touristy, may be different if you stay overnight there, I don't know.

We took the SITA bus to the Amalfi Coast each day. If you are afraid of heights don't sit on the cliff side. Wow! What a view! The bus drivers must have nerves of steel. They don't drive slow either on those hairpin turns and curves. Our bus driver smashed the mirror of another bus when it was trying to pass it. Quite exciting. People on the buses were taking pictures of the incident.

The first day we took the SITA bus we had to wait in a very long line at the train station to get on the bus and we did not make it on that bus - too many people. We made in on the next bus, but some people had to stand. The next day we got smart and caught the 8:30 am bus - no line.

Gotta get back to work, more later!

LoveItaly Oct 16th, 2006 01:14 PM

Welcome home Scully..love your comments about the busdrivers LOL. Looking forward to the next installment!

Scullysioux Oct 16th, 2006 05:09 PM

The day we went to Positano, we walked down to the bottom of the cliffs looking at the view along the way, taking photos etc. When we got to the bottom we were a little daunted about the walk back up. We kept seeing these little orange buses riding around, but had no idea where they went. We found out later that we could have taken the bus back up the hill, but instead we walked back up. Actually it was not that bad a climb, the worst part was dodging the traffic. It didn't seem that bad at the time, but the next morning my calves and MIL's calves were on fire. After walking a bit the pain went away. Our maybe our legs were just numb by then.

Anyway, when we got back up to the top of the hill/cliff we were starving and ate lunch at a restaurant on the side of the road. We had canelloni and penne arrabiata with a side dish of exhaust. We then planned to catch the bus back to Sorrento and hang out in Sorrento for the rest of the afternoon. The bus from Positano comes from Amalfi first on its way to Positano, and there were too many people waiting for the bus so we could not fit on the next bus. We waited for the next scheduled bus and that bus would not even stop because it was so packed with people. At this point we and the growing line of people at the bus stop were getting mildly irritated. The next bus also would not stop because it was too full. At this point we had visions of never making it back to Sorrento and having to sleep in a hole in the cliffs that night. So we decided to catch the next bus to Amalfi, stay on the bus and ride it to Positano and then Sorrento. Which is what we did. It worked, but it took us 4 hours to get back to Sorrento, when it should have taken a half hour. What a day! We later found our that the reason the buses were so crowded was because the ferries to Amalfi were not running due to rough seas.

One cool thing in having to wait in line for all these buses is that you meet people from different places that you otherwise wouldn't have. We talked with lots of people from England, and some from Australia and New Zealand. It's interesting that you go on a trip to Italy, you expect to interact with Italians, but really you meet all kinds of nationalities.


aranda Oct 16th, 2006 05:33 PM

Love this report Scullysioux.

Just one question, how did you get to Ravello? Did you bus to Amalfi, then bus up to Ravello?

Any more info in Positano? I'm going there in a few days.

Thanks for sharing your experiences!

Aranda

Dayle Oct 16th, 2006 05:41 PM

Hi SS,

I can't wait to hear the rest! I'm laughing that you had the same experiences with the SITA buses that I did last Sept. Crowded, crowded, impatient people getting passed up.....

I got a big kick out of the houses along the road with chunks missing from close encounters with tour buses.


Scullysioux Oct 16th, 2006 06:09 PM

Dayle, yeah, that's funny about the chunks missing from the buildings. When we were walking along the road in Positano we were looking at all the cars and every one had either dents or nasty scratches on the side or pieces missing from the body. I guess that goes with the territory from living there.

Aranda,

We unfortunately did not spend a lot of time in Positano, but it was unique and beautiful. We mostly walked around taking photos and window shopping. It seemed a little more expensive in Positano than Sorrento or Ravello, but it is a lovely town.

To get to Ravello we took the bus from Sorrento to Amalfi (it took about an hour) and then caught the bus to Ravello in Amalfi. It was very easy. You pick up all the buses in the same area where you get dropped off at in Amalfi. I recommend going to the Villa Cimbrone if you go to Ravello. The view is amazing and the gardens are very pretty also. If you are into ceramics, there are lots of ceramic shops in Ravello too. I thought it was nicer stuff than you would get in Sorrento.

Gerardo Oct 17th, 2006 03:06 AM

If You have the time consider the walk back from Ravello to Amalfi.Obtain a copy of thwe walking guide from the Ravello Tourist Office next to the Duomo.

Scullysioux Oct 17th, 2006 08:07 AM

After hauling ourselves up and down the hills of the Amalfi Coast we were ready for some downtime to relax. Luckily, our next stop was Procida which everyone was telling us was nice and quiet and slow paced, just what we wanted. We took a rip off taxi from the Sorrento train station to the port, not a long trip - for 17 Euro. That was with a meter too. Sorrento's taxi's are expensive! From the port we took a hydrofoil to Naples and from Naples caught a hydrofoil to Procida. All very easy. Upon arrival at the port in Procida, there were all these little tiny Ape vehicles that they use as taxis called microtaxis. They were so cute we had to take one. This taxi drove us to the other side of the island for only 9 Euro which was much more reasonable than Sorrento's rip off taxis. There is also a very good bus service on Procida that comes around every 20 mins at various stops around the island. The island is so small you can walk everywhere too if you want.

Procida was what we were looking for. We arrived during the siesta and the streets were quiet and everything was closed except for a couple restaurants. We stayed at Hotel Celeste. Very reasonably priced, room had a view of the neighbor's laundry and the sea and Ischia. The owner speaks English and was very helpful in showing us how to get around and what the see. The hotel is near a small marina, very nice to walk down to and there are several restaurants there. At night kids ride their Vespas around and around and around the block cruising. Very entertaining to watch. Other people come out and walk and it was just nice to sit by the water and watch the people.

stuart2611 Oct 17th, 2006 08:56 AM

I plan to be in the same area in April. Hope I don't have the problems with overcrowding. Thanks for the details about the bus routes. Any advice for someone who does not speak Italian. Is there room for luggage on the buses?

Scullysioux Oct 17th, 2006 09:34 AM

Stuart,

People were loading their luggage on the bus in a compartment underneath, so there is room for luggage on the buses.
If you will be in the Amalfi Coast/Sorrento area you won't have any problems if you don't speak Italian. I tried speaking Italian with people and almost always they would answer me in English. Kind of frustrating because I wanted to practice my Italian. Later on in the trip though, I got to practice my Italian plenty in Procida and Puglia, since English is not so widely spoken in those places. I was very glad I brushed up on my Italian Even so half the time I had no idea what people were saying to me. At the Amalfi Coast and Rome though, no problem. I would recommend learning some key phrases though, like thank you, some numbers and where is the bathroom. (We used that one a lot)You'll get by just fine. The Italians are wonderful helpful people.

Scullysioux Oct 17th, 2006 09:59 AM

The first night in Procida we tried to eat at 7:30, but the restaurant did not open until 8:00 so we waited a little longer and went for pizza at The Fishbone restaurant.

I must tell you that MIL (I will call her Millie from now on, since MIL doesn't sound very nice, her name has been changed to protect the not so innocent) Anyway, Millie has an aversion to fish or seafood especially any with heads on still. I had to interpret the menu at most meals to ensure there was no fish in what she ordered. Being on the water, and being called The Fishbone, most dishes had fish or seafood. We both ordered pizza. I had chips pizza which had french fries on it. It sounded weirdly good to me and it was ok, the fries could have been crispier, but it was ok. Millie had normal pizza margarita with no fish. After dinner, we went back to the hotel for a peaceful night's sleep.

It was relatively quiet except for the church bells on the pretty pink church down the street, that chimed every 15 minutes, and the rooster crowing in the morning, and the Vespas running up and down the street and the children playing in the courtyard of the hotel all day. Except for those things, it was quiet.

We had a plan that morning to walk to the fisherman's village and to the port and then take the bus back. We left the room very quietly as to not attract the attention of our neighbor in the next room. We wanted to avoid an international incident because the day we arrived, Millie was looking in the windows of his room ( I think she thought it was empty). I asked her what she was doing and she said she wanted to see what the room looked like. Well, apparently the room was not empty because later that day as we left the room, an Italian gentleman came out of his room yelling at us in Italian. No idea what he was saying, but he was not a happy camper. We quickly got out of there.

We walked to the fishermen's village, took lots of scenic photos, then walked to the big port and ate lunch. There is a pretty yellow church there that has bells that ring every 15 minutes too. We caught the bus back (you can buy tickets on the bus, but they are cheaper if you buy them at the Tabacchi store) to the hotel and took naps. Millie had caught a cold so we just relaxed until dinner at the Fishbone again.

Procida is a good place to go to unwind and take in typical Italian life. The hotel was in a residential area, there were not a lot of tourists at all this time of year and I felt like I was part of a neighborhood. I got to practice my Italian at the pharmacist buying some mosquito repellent (he had no idea what I was asking for, although I was reading it right out of a book), shopped for snacks at the local market and hung out at the port at night with the Italians. We rode the bus with the kids getting out of school. It was great.

Having said that, there is not much else to do there, but I really liked Procida. Very pretty and relaxing.

Scullysioux Oct 18th, 2006 09:34 AM

We took the hydrofoil to Naples from Procida, and an exciting taxi ride from the port to the train station (6 lane road with 5 lanes going one way, our lane going the other way). Naples traffic is a sight to behold. At the train station we dropped off our bags at the baggage deposit and we were off for our day in Napoli.

This is what we did:

Market in Piazza Garibaldi
Spaccanapoli
via San Gregorio Armeno
Capella San Severo
funiculare to the Vomero
walk along the Lungomare
marina at the Castel Dell Ovo

It was a LOT of walking. We did some shopping and found Naples to have a lot of reasonably priced shops. Unfortunately, the stores started closing during the siesta or I would have shopped more. In the late afternoon we were becoming exhausted so we had cocktails at a bar at the marina at the Castel Dell Ovo. I wanted to try a Bellini since I had never had one. I must say I am now a Bellini fan! Delicious and refreshing.

I loved Naples, but Millie did not. She found it dirty and not well taken care of. I find it exciting, and there is so much to do, we barely scratched the surface. I have been there before though so I was happy with one day. I know there is a lot of talk of how Naples is unsafe, but we did not feel unsafe except at the train station in the evening. We wore money belts and kept a firm hold on our purses which were worn across our bodies. No problems. The train station at night brings out the transvestite hookers (who did not bother us), and several unsavory characters who appeared to be checking people out and just looked suspicious. We kept an eye on them and kept our distance.

We took a train from Naples to Rome and then the night IC train from Rome to Ostuni to save time and have an extra day in Puglia. We really liked the night train, the beds were comfortable and we got to sleep easily, but we woke up every time the train made a stop seemed to be about 10 times. So it was not a great night's sleep, but I enjoyed the experience. There was a small sink in the compartment. The toilet was at the end of the car, but it was very clean. We were provided a bottle of water upon embarking and coffee in the morning also.

linawood Oct 18th, 2006 10:26 AM

I'm really enjoying this report and am looking forward to the next part. Thanks!

Scullysioux Oct 18th, 2006 04:36 PM

Upon arrival in Ostuni we got a taxi to the Sixt office where we rented our car. Our car was an Alfa Romeo, but we would give it a new name later. I had bought a used Puglia map off of Amazon before we left and it was the best purchase I could have made. Since I can not drive a stick shift (well I can drive one, but I stall out constantly, which is not a pleasant thing), Millie graciously volunteered to drive. She was a little nervous because she hadn't driven a stick shift in a long time and she has never driven in another country. I think seeing the traffic in Naples may have freaked her out also, but she did a great job driving.

So, I was the navigator. Navigating around in Italy is certainly different than in the U.S. In some ways I liked it and some ways I did not. Most signs do not have the route number on them, you just head towards the sign that has a place in the same direction you are going. It's not difficult really, but it is something to get used to. On the plus side, if you get lost, it is easy to find your way because there are always signs pointing in a direction you want to go.

We found our hotel easily and arrived at about 8:30 am. We were very early for check in, but they let us check in early and eat breakfast there. We stayed at the Masseria Refrigerio which is an old stable converted into a hotel. There is a farm right next door still with animals. The hotel is very close to the sea and the whole area has miles and miles and miles of olive trees, some of which looked very old. The trunks were enormous and gnarled and twisted. It was great.

The staff at the hotel were all extremely nice and helpful. Only one staff member, the owner spoke any English, so again I was glad I brushed up on my Italian.

After showering and washing off the Naples grime and having some breakfast we were refreshed and ready to go. We took the car out and went to Alberbello. The ride through the countryside was very pretty and we saw a few trulli (which are small beehive shaped buildings built in this area) on the way. We parked at a lot right outside of the Centro Storico and walked into a fairytale wonderland of little white houses. Alberobello was so cool. There are tons of trulli all packed in together in a little village. It was like nothing I have ever seen before. We both agreed that there were too many tacky souvenir shops though ruining the quaintness of it. I don't have anything against tacky souvenir shops, but they could at least not display all the junk outside. Anyway, although it is touristy, Alberobello is worth seeing.

We headed back to Ostuni through the back roads towards Martina Franca and there were trulli literally everywhere in the countryside along with farms and more olive trees and some grapes too. It was a nice drive. Very little traffic too. We got to Ostuni and stopped at a supermarket to pick up some snacks and wine. When we came out, the key would not turn in the ignition in the car. We thought it might be some kind of anti-theft thing, but the guy at Sixt did not tell us anything about this. We tried all kinds of things, I looked in the manual, but the manual was all in Italian, we were at a loss. We asked an Italian man coming out of the store with his wife and kids to help. He tried the key too, looked at the manual and finally he got it to turn. Since he spoke no English, and my Italian is pretty bad, we had no idea what he did. We were just glad it started. We went right back to the hotel and drank our wine and had our snacks and all was well again.

Pilates Oct 18th, 2006 05:25 PM

Wow! What an adventure! That area fascinates me and there is not a lot of info available on Puglia, so Thank you for your trip report.

I must say that I was surprised to read that you went all the way north by train to Rome and then south again to Ostuna. You said you did it that way to save time. Please tell me how you save time by taking what appears to be a much longer route. I was thinking of visiting that area and I'd do so by flying into Naples. Maybe I should just fly into Rome and take a quick flight from there to Bari. Flying into Naples, visitng Pompei and then training to Bari seemed like a good idea but maybe it's too time consuming?

Scullysioux Oct 18th, 2006 05:40 PM

Hi Pilates,

The trains from Naples to Ostuni did not leave at a time that would let us spend a whole day in Naples so that is why we went to Rome and caught the train from there. What I meant by it saved time was that we would be sleeping at night anyway so we may as well be travelling as we slept to save time, rather than travelling the next day. It may not seem like it saved time, but it worked out well for our schedule. We left Naples at around 9:00 pm, arrived in Rome about 11:30 and left Rome at 11:58 pm. There was a train from Naples at night we could have taken, but we would have had to change trains in Caserta at 2:00 am and we wanted to be sleeping by then.

We originally wanted to do Puglia either at the beginning or end of the trip and either fly into or out of Brindisi, but the cost of that did not fit our budget.

I know what you mean about there not being a lot of info on Puglia. It was not an easy trip to plan, but it was worth it. Puglia is so different from any other part of Italy I've been to. I bought a couple of guidebooks on southern Italy to plan what we wanted to see, and searched the internet endlessly for info, but a lot of the time we were flying by the seat of our pants. There is so much more that we could have seen that we did not, but if anyone has any questions about Puglia, I'll try to answer them.

Pilates Oct 18th, 2006 07:44 PM

SS: I'm interested in Alberobello and also a town called Carovigno. I stumbled across their website and there is something about that piazza that speaks to me. I looked on their website where it says, "Carovigno Nights" and looked through many of the pictures in their photo gallery and it looks so interesting to me. In August, I watched as they had entertainment almost every night in the piazza for a couple of weeks. I had wished my hubby and I were there :-)

Thanks for explaining the logistics of getting there. It makes sense for your plans. Did you consider staying the night in Naples? How was the weather in Puglia? I'm guessing you were there the first week in October? Oh! lastly, do you happen to know if train travel in and around Puglia is good? For example in Sicily, train travel is limited to certain areas. Sorry, I don't mean to pull you away from your report. Keep it coming!

http://www.carovigno.com/webcam.htm

Scullysioux Oct 19th, 2006 09:52 AM

Pilates,

I love the look of that piazza on the Carvigno website. Especially the palm trees. I think I remember seeing that town on the map, but we did not go there.

We originally did consider staying overnight in Naples because we were hoping to be able to see an opera, but we then found out we would not be there at opera season (I believe it starts in November).

Our trip was the last week of September and the first week of October. We arrived in Puglia on Sept. 30. The weather was beautiful. Perfect really. Sunny every day, temp in the upper 70's. A few mosquitoes here and there, but not too bad.

Train travel is not the most convenient way to get around Puglia. I would have preferred to take public transportation myself, but it is not very extensive like it is in the bigger cities. There is a main FS line that goes from Bari to Lecce so if you can get on that line to go to places that train stops at, it is convenient, because that train runs about every hour. Other than that, you'd be better off with a car which is why we rented a car. We had our adventures with the car, as you will see.

Feel free to ask more questions.

Scullysioux Oct 19th, 2006 10:10 AM

The second day in Puglia, we wanted to go to Ostuni which is a white town up on a big hill. Since the hotel offered a free shuttle into town, we took them up on it. At 11:00, the shuttle dropped us off in front of a church at the edge of the town and we asked to be picked up at 3:00.

It was Sunday and most everything was closed, but Ostuni is just fun to walk around in among the white buildings which is what we did. Pretty soon, we had no idea where we were and had lost our bearings. Millie and I generally get lost everywhere we go anyway, so it was not a surprise to find ourselves lost this time. The problem here was, we had no map and we did not know where it was we were dropped off at or the name of where we were dropped off at to ask for directions. A little panic began to set in, but we kept on walking trying different directions, but nothing looked familiar. :o

Sorry, I have to go back to work. My lunch is over. Our adventure will continue tonight....

LoveItaly Oct 19th, 2006 02:14 PM

Well Scullysioux, you certainly know how to create a "Cliffhanger" LOL. Do come back when you can..since you are now at work it appears you did figure out where to be to be picked up by the shuttle bus, lol. Such an enjoyable report!!


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