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Trip Report - Just back from Amalfi Coast and Rome

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May 22nd, 2012, 06:16 AM
  #1
AMV
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Trip Report - Just back from Amalfi Coast and Rome

First, thanks to all who were patient with all my planning questions and who provided so much excellent input. Just returned from an almost 24 hour journey home from Rome yesterday and thought to share a few bits before my memory completely goes. In general, we had a wonderful time, savored some fantastic meals, and were lucky with the weather.

Day 1: Arrived on day one in Naples after overnight flight from Newark. Flight and arrival were fine but picking up car at Hertz at Naples airport was awful. Every other rental desk offered prompt service. Hertz was woefully understaffed. It took over 2 hours to get a car we had reserved months in advance. Part of the problem: when we arrived they no longer had the car we had booked. They tried to force a mini-van on us but since we planned to drive on the Amalfi Coast we wanted a smaller car - not a larger one. Eventually took off with no adequate map in hand and discovered only too late that our navigation system from the states was not working correctly! Several wrong turns and bad words later we arrived at our first destination - Pompeii! Stayed at Hotel Forum who provided us with a free upgrade to a lovely suite. Could it be because I had liked them on fb? The room itself was lovely, modern and clean; location ideal across from the ruins entrance, and the free parking was much appreciated. Next morning, the breakfast room in the lemon garden was enchanting. The Hotel was only too happy to let us store our luggage while we ventured out for seeing of sights.

The ruins of Pompeii were a fantastic experience. Perhaps because we didn't arrive until after 3:30 p.m. but we basically had the city to ourselves. The experience of walking through the Forum in late afternoon sunlight - just the two of us - was worth it all. Don't know what I was expecting, but we really felt like we had traveled back in time and had a sense of what it might have been like to have lived there. We took neither guided nor audio tour - just rambled along reading the signs and with a simple paper map.

Walked to a fabulous dinner at Il Principe that night. Not cheap but then we found dining nearly everywhere on this trip to be on the dear side. Chef was very attentive repeatedly coming over to the table to check on our satisfaction and the Prosecco a lovely way to kick off our first meal.

Day 2: Drove to Ercolano. Again without out fully functional GPS or adequate map had a bit of a sitcom experience getting there. We had so been looking forward to Herculaneum based on all my reading and research on this and other boards. So we were frankly a tad underwhelmed. For us this spot, while interesting, was nowhere near as evocative of time and place as Pompeii had been. Or maybe there was just too much sun. What I really found well worth the trip was the next stop to Villa Oplontis. This fantastically well-preserved summer palace of Nero's second wife was breathtaking. The colors and designs in the frescos looked almost new in some places. One could certainly imagine what it must have felt like to call this place "home".

We then drove on to our home for the next 4 nights - Nocelle. Nocelle is a small simple hamlet high above Positano. No frills at all. We stayed comfortably in the family-run B&B of Casa Cuccaro. Our hosts Pepe and Girardina were always friendly and accommodating. We were fortunate to have our hosts provide free parking. Every room plus the terrace offer romantic AC views - look right and see Positano melting down the slopes below and to the left see the twinkling lights of Priano. Breakfasts were simple and nice and the coffee delicious.

Our first night we dined at the next village over in Montepertuso at Il Ritrovo. They picked us up and dropped us off free of charge. This was probably our favorite meal the entire vacation. Despite or maybe because of its being tucked away in a steep mountain village above Positano, the prices were also steep. And worth every penny! DH enjoyed the seafood tasting menu and I the steak version. Every course and every dish was sublime. The selection of artisanal cheeses and selected cold cuts in the antipasti showed evidence of being hand-picked and exquisitely balanced for taste. Service was friendly, free homemade post prandial cordials delightful. At meal's end we were presented with the gifts of a free demi-boteille of their house wine as well as a nice pasta spice mix. Nice touches!

Day 3: A late start and a lingering breakfast overlooking the waters. Took local bus down the hill to explore Positano. Have to say Positano was not our thing. Wall to wall shops and vendors of tourist goods and tourist restaurants. Beach not very appealing. Our favorite part was a the brief walk along the "corniche" on the right side of the bay. The bus drivers on the route between Positano and Nocelle deserve standing ovations. They are punctual, stoic, and can seemingly turn on a dime in the tightest of corners. Enjoyed dinner at one of the two restaurants in Nocelle. It is the first restaurant you pass when walking into town and seems to have no name. It is attached to the local grocery store. At first you think you have the wrong place because there are only a few plastic chairs and tables in an empty and viewless setting. But that's just the "picnic" spot if you pick up a sandwich at the store. Once you walk down a flight of stairs you come upon a dreamlike space -- tables and chairs nestled into a cave looking out over the bay. Service friendly, if unrushed. Menu basic, fresh, and delicious. House wine just the thing. Totter home to our B&B in a state of vacation bliss.

Day 4: Our only morning of rain. By lunchtime we were in the car and on the road to Ravello. To be fair, we did not give Amalfi itself much of a second look. We were very goal oriented that day to make it to and from Ravello before the evening. We very much enjoyed both the Villa Rudolfo and Villa Cimbrone. The gardens were perhaps the nicest we saw the entire trip - so colorful and varied. Views once again breath catching. The town itself was somewhat crowded with more restaurants, and shops and tourists. But it was definitely one of the highlights of our week there. Back in Nocelle, dinner at Santa Croce overlooking the bay where a delicious whole Sea Bream was enjoyed by DH. Homemade gnocchi as light as air.

Day 5: Took the bus down to Positano to catch the 10:30 hydrofoil for Capri. Missed it. As did a number of other tourists coming from Priano. Some kind of traffic issues on the roads that day. Eventually caught the noon boat. Immediately took bus to Anacapri. Had a simple pizza lunch in a quiet cul de sac before exploring Anacapri. Loved the Munthe house and gardens. Again, almost empty except for one small school group who came and went with blessed rapidity. Took the ski lift up to Mt. Solari. That was exciting and views spectacular. Because waters had been a bit choppy, we knew there was no going in to the blue grotto so did not bother. Enjoyed homemade gelato down by the Marina Grande before boating back at 6 pm to Positano. Bus upwards once again and dinner again at the no name restaurant in the cave. It had become rather nippy that evening but they had a lovely large space heating unit which kept us all cozy. Sort of like camping out but with exquisitely prepared Italian home cooking.

Day 5: On the road to Paestum. Wow. What a wonderful road trip! Stopped in Cetara because DH adores anchovies. Picked up some bread, cheese, assorted hams and cold cuts. olives and anchovies. Picnicked in the park along the water and enjoyed the show. About 8 fellows wind-surfing most capably. Then a wedding party showed up for the official wedding photo shoot. We also stopped along the way at Minori or Maiori and enjoyed the scenes there too. Made us consider retiring in this part of the world one day.

Paestum was absolutely fabulous. If it weren't for the umpteen school groups which came and went, we might have been alone. As it was, we were there by the end of the day so enjoyed that mellow westerly light. Sat at the cafe in a corner of the site and listened to the wind rustle the leaves and envisioned the temples and city as it might have been back when. The museum was superb. It seems small from the outside but was brimming with statues, stele, mosaics, and objets excavated over the centuries. Loved the frescos from the Tomb of the Diver. This helped to make up for our never making it to the museum in Naples - our only regret on this trip. We then departed for Caserta.
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May 22nd, 2012, 06:53 AM
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Well done you!

Shame about the GPS, but always something has to go wrong - and better that than anything major?

Peter
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May 22nd, 2012, 11:52 AM
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What Peter said above. More, please about Caserta!
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May 22nd, 2012, 12:08 PM
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AMV
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Arrived at Hotel Bruman in Caserta without problems. GPS finally working correctly! Free parking. Room nice enough. Based on TA recommendations and because it was just down the block from our hotel, went to dinner at Ristorante Sunrise. On the plus side: location and food was perfect. On the negative side: outright hostility on the part of some of the wait staff. It was very apparent that they preferred to only serve regulars and not tourists. In observing the other clientele, perhaps I have watched too much HBO but suddenly we became a big paranoid. Suddenly it became apparent that everyone else there was part of one big happy "family" that we were not members of. Never before during numerous visits to Italy did we ever feel this way. So although seafood could not get any fresher or better, I would in hindsight avoid this place unless you know the secret password.

Day 6: Got up early to explore the royal sights of Caserta. The gardens were huge but totally devoid of flowers or color. A lot of older woods and some stagnant pools of water that might have been lovely in years gone by. We visited the chapel in the Royal Residence and then decided we were ready to head out to Rome. Having visited so many Palaces over the years, we felt we could imagine the rest of the interior of the building and just did not feel that tempted to stay on.

Found our hotel off the Via Veneto without much ado. It was the Roma Boutique. We found the location to be nice enough - it's around the corner from the US embassy. This hotel now occupies multiple floors in the same office building. Design is very sleek, modern and new. It is very crisp and clean and stylish. Staff are very accommodating - it is another family run operation and everyone was very solicitous of our welfare. We spent the first night on the 4th floor in a room facing the street but DH found the foam mattress a bit too hard. Also the sleek design of the hallways means no carpeting and a lot of hard surfaces. So we could hear just about anything said in the hallways or reception area. We requested and received a different room on the 5th floor. Even newer and sleeker. Also on this floor is a lovely little breakfast area so you don't have to eat in your room, as we did on the 4th floor. Mattress while firm was not too hard. Sound still a bit of an issue however.

After checking in we immediately went out walking the town. We proceeded down the Spanish Steps and we enjoyed people watching at Vitti in the Piazza S, Lorenzro in Lucina over some glasses of Prosecco. Women in Rome wear the most fascinating shoes.

Based on reading Elizabeth Minchilli's EatRome App, we had a wonderful dinner at Osteria dell'Ingegno in the Piazza della Pietra. A very innovative menu and decor. Lots of young and vibrant people enjoying wonderful ambiance. Cool artwork everywhere. Definitely a change from the more traditional Italian eateries we had been visiting to date. I would definitely return.

Day 7: Rome. Walked our feet off although did make use of both the A and B lines briefly. Revisited (from the outside only) the Colosseum, the Forum, Quirinale. At my insistence made it to the Pza. Mattei to see the Tortoise fountain. Continued through the Ghetto, over the Tiber island where we came across a Jewish funeral, and ended at our luncheon destination in Trastevere.

Again, thanks to the Eat Rome app, we found and enjoyed a restaurant we would probably never have entered otherwise. It was La Gensola. We sat by an open window on the Pza. Gensola and enjoyed a fascinating and leisurely meal. Items on the menu unlike other places. DH once more enjoyed his lunch which included fabulous fresh anchovies. I had an interesting
eggplant, mushroom, beef dish. Mostly regulars here but service extremely friendly and without attitude.

We then meandered our way over to St. Peter's and the Vatican. We were disappointed to see an immense line for the the Basilica so did not see it then. We had 7:00 p.m. tickets for the Vatican Museums so had a light snack across the street from the entrance. I am glad we opted for the Friday night because the number of people present was minimal. Again we opted out of any guided tours or even the audio tour. It did take quite a bit of effort however to track down a floor plan/map. We did not have to deal with crowds blocking our view in any room or of any artwork. We were able to enter the Sistine Chapel twice and sit down and soak in the beauty. We stayed until 10:30 p.m. And surprisingly some of our favorite art was the art of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Egyptian and Assyrian art was fantastic as well. What a collection!

On the way back to the hotel, DH was delighted to discover a Turkish kabob place that hit the spot.
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May 22nd, 2012, 12:14 PM
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Reading with interest...Rome is this Fall for us. Amalfi Coast, I hope, next year! Already loving the EatRome app and we are planning to take a food market tour with Elizabeth!

Anxiously awaiting more!
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May 22nd, 2012, 12:40 PM
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AMV...loving your report. I'm thinking of a return trip to the Amalfi Coast next spring and your descriptions are making me think I really need to make firm plans! ;-)

I was in Rome just this past March and had lunch at Osteria dell'Ingegno (great salads!) and dinner twice at La Gensola (based on EatRome app and a friend's personal recommendation). Elizabeth Minchilli says La Gensola has THE freshest seafood in Rome...I believe it, because it both times there I found it to be delicious!
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May 22nd, 2012, 01:16 PM
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I think you had one of my dream trips! It must have been wonderful to stay up high above the coast in such a charming B&B with amazing views. We stayed in Praiano, and I had the same reaction to Positano that you did. Next time I have to get to Paestum.

Thanks for taking the time to tell us about your experiences.
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May 22nd, 2012, 02:29 PM
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AMV
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Day 8: Rome. Got up super early on a Saturday morning to hopefully beat the crowds at St. Peter's. And we did. Got there before 8 a.m. We were glad we had seen the Pieta close up during the '64 World's Fair. Didn't realize they kept it so far away from the average visitor. Enjoyed finally making it to the Basilica. Couldn't resist however comparing it to the Hagia Sophia which we saw last October in Istanbul. We were also very surprised to note the absence of stained glass. After seeing so much of it in the Cathedrals of France and elsewhere, just assumed there would be some here. Nice that it wasn't so predictable.

Strolled over towards Piazza Navona. Had an American style breakfast with eggs on route. I also had my first hot chocolate ever in Italy. It was so thick I really could stand up a spoon in it. Such a deliciously decadent way to start the day! Revisited the Pza. Navonna. Trekked over to Campo di Fiori. Did my spot of souvenir shopping here. Since so many of my friends are foodies, there was lots to choose from. I have to confess I was very sceptical of the so-called authentic Murano glass jewelery for sale. It looked remarkably identical to the jewelry I almost ordered from China as Christmas presents in the past. And for the prices being asked, I really doubt they were authentic. But who knows. After a bit of coffee and people watching, walked all the way back to hotel for some down time. Without a map! For me this is a major accomplishment as I am known for my lack of any sense of direction.

Took a late afternoon turn around Pzza. del Popolo. A few families were gathered around a street performer/clown/juggler. Climbed up to Pincio Gardens for an aerial perspective of Roma, sipping Prosecco on a park bench as the sun set. Not a bad way to live.

Dinner that night was probably our least interesting. We foolishly failed to make reservations in advance and so were turned away from Lo Stil Novo which was right on the corner of our hotel block. Had an unremarkeable bite at La Scala where service was very friendly and it was nice and quiet and uncrowded. Early night.

Day 9: Rome. Woke relatively early since we had reservations for the Villa Borghese Museum. I had been looking forward to it and it was indeed a jewel box of a museum. Love those Caravaggios! But we especially were blown away by the Bernini sculptures on the lower level. That man worked miracles with stone turning it into flesh and nature.

We took the metros back to the Ghetto to check out the Jewish Museum. Amazing stories were heard from both the docent and the video the Museum has prepared. Artifacts dating back two millenia. A fascinating and moving look at another side of Rome. Also enjoyed exploring the Portico d’Ottavia and the Theater of Marcellus.

It's our last afternoon and now it begins to rain. We revisit Vitti for some coffee and wine. People watching in the rain is fascinating. There was a fancy wedding going on in the neighborhood and we watched an elegantly attired woman dash barefoot across the Piazza carrying her shoes in her hands under the protection of her umbrella. We also resisted the never-ending sales pitches from the umbrella sellers. There were so many of them on the same patch of territory, that their manager had to come over and sort things out before there was a turf war.

Rain finally ended and in the mist we headed back uphill to prepare for our big night out.

This being DH's birthday,months ago I had reserved dinner at Ristorante Eleonora D'Arborea. We were able to walk there and back without any problem. It was actually fascinating to enter neighborhoods that were not historical. It seemed we were in a very nice upper eastside type of environment with lovely apartments and businesses. The restaurant lived up to it's glowing reviews. We enjoyed fabulous food. We split the special fruit de mer appetizer. We couldn't finish a shared plate of shrimp risotto. Love that cream and butter. I could not finish my steak and grilled veggies. DH did justice to his roasted sea bass. We loved the Sardinian wine, Maimone, so much we are looking into buying some at home now.

Mandarin sorbet, Sardinian cookies, and various flavorful cordials after dinner. The waiters shook our hands upon departure. They were exceedingly friendly. At first when we arrived we had been a bit worried that all the other customers seemed to be Americans, but the place soon filled up with locals as well. And while some reviews on the internet refer to this place being very expensive - that was not our experience. In fact, throughout our trip it didn't seem to matter where we ate; all meals seemed to add up to the same total in the end. So might as well go for the good ones!

Day 10: Departed early in the rain. Took us forever to get home. This was my third time to Italy and I guess it was a charm. All told we consider ourselves to be very fortunate to have had this opportunity to visit such an ancient and beautiful part of the world. DH is making chicken cacciatore for dinner tonight.
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May 22nd, 2012, 02:57 PM
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A nice report, and I've copied your restaurant tips. Thanks.
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May 23rd, 2012, 02:56 AM
  #10
AMV
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I realize today, post jet-lag, that I left out quite a few sites we visited and loved including the Pantheon, and the churches of Sta. Maria Trastevere and Cecilia. We also enjoyed a spectacular late night "show" of classic cars including original pristine historical Jaguars, Rolls, and a Bugatti which motored up the Via Veneto one night and parked at the Excelsior. No matter how much planning I have done in my life, it is so often the unplanned for moments that make the trip. Thanks again to all who have assisted us.
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May 23rd, 2012, 03:52 AM
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Nice TR! Sorry to read that Caserta was a bit of a bust.
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May 23rd, 2012, 04:27 AM
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Whoa! 1964 World's Fair? Are we that old?
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May 24th, 2012, 12:37 AM
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Well done you!

Shame about the GPS, but always something has to go wrong - and better that than anything major? Google street view and maps,Be able to find your home! http://www.realmapa.com
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May 28th, 2012, 08:48 AM
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What a great trip report AMV!! It sounds like you had a sublime trip and covered so much ground but none of it sounds hurried. You should be a professional travel writer. Makes me want to plan a trip to Italy immediately.
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