Monday, October 19, 2015

Travelogue: Italy

Innocents abroad

I had an absolutely wonderful time on a recent two-week vacation in Italy in early October.

First stop, Venice

Room with a view....Venice. Yes, that's laundry drying!

What, no canal picture?  Well, this was the view from our hotel room and I think it captures the homey feel of the Venice we fell in love with.  Venice is a completely unique place--the canals, the gondolas, the palaces, the bridges all make this a water-based city that was fascinating.  But, the calle, the narrow auto-free streets, in which you can get lost while discovering a little restaurant that delivers a memorable meal that blows your socks off, is what I loved about Venice and made it so charming to me.

We purposely didn't plan to do a lot of typical sightseeing in Venice as we just wanted to enjoy the city itself.  So we didn't tour the Doge's Palace or St. Mark's Basillica.  We did walk through St. Mark's Square and walked over the Rialto bridge, but my favorite activities were riding the vaporetto (water bus) up and down the Grand Canal and around the outer perimeter of the city and walking around Dorsodoru and popping into the tiny art galleries and artisan workshops.

We did tour the three synagogues in the Jewish Ghetto, which was about two blocks from our hotel, we walked through the art gallery in Ca' Rezzonica, and we visited the Naval History Museum.  We found La Fenice opera house, which featured prominently in John Berendt's The City of Falling Angels, which I've now listened to three times!

And, we found some lovely little restaurants and my favorite new dish is Sarde in Saor (Sweet and Sour Sardines).

Next up is Florence

When I was in the early stages of planning this trip, Florence wasn't on the list.  Then, I started reading Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy about Michelangelo, and Florence went on the must-visit list, but with only about 36 hours in the city.

That turned out to be okay as Florence turned out to be my least favorite stop on the trip.  It is a beautiful city, and I loved being able to visit the Duomo and I was thrilled to see Michelangelo's David in the Accademia and his Doni Tondo Holy Family in the Uffizi.  However, the tourist crowds were almost overwhelming and I never felt that we ever really were able to get a feel for Florence as other than a tourist town.  I didn't dislike visiting Florence, by any means.  But, I'm not sure I would put it on the must-visit-again list.

Florence from Fiesole

Here is a view of Florence from Fiesole, an Etruscan town in the hills outside of Florence, where we went to dinner.  It was a welcome escape from the tourist crowds and gave us an opportunity to gain some perspective...and have a delicious dinner!

On to Sorrento

We chose Sorrento because of its proximity to Pompeii, which after Venice, was my number 1 destination for this trip.  I also wanted to enjoy a small town on the Mediterranean as opposed to the urban jungle that I've heard is Naples.
Room with a view...Sorrento

The day we traveled from Florence to Sorrento was a long day, involving a high-speed train to Naples and then a transfer to a slow, local train (35 stops) between Naples and Sorrento, which was very crowded and so we stood for 25 of the 35 stops. However, we wanted a feel for how locals live, and taking the local train definitely provided a bit more of that than did the tourist crowds in Florence.

Lemon tree, very pretty
Sorrento was lovely--blue skies, blue seas, lemon trees, sea breeze.  So refreshing and relaxing.  One day was devoted to loafing on the balcony of our hotel room, reading, watching the scooters buzz by, enjoying the teenage soccer team run drills across from the hotel.  We stopped in at the local supermarket and stocked up on goodies for the room, took the city bus, sipped prosecco, and enjoyed life.

A glimpse of the Mediterranean 

Looking north 


First of all, I was totally blown away by how big the town is/was.  We spent over four hours and saw about a quarter to a third of the town.  Many buildings were closed, but we saw most of what we wanted to...the theaters, some villas, some shops, the Forum, some baths.  It was crowded, it rained (for only about 30 minutes), the footing was tricky (made the cobblestones of Venice and Florence seem easy to navigate), but it was wonderful!

Bathhouse art
Storm brewing over Vesuvius

Cave Canem

I was happy to see that the reports of stray dogs hanging out in Pompeii were accurate.  These guys minded their own business and didn't seem scruffy, mangy, or malnourished.

All Roads Lead to Rome

Room with a Rome.
Our final destination was Rome...again, the local train to Naples, and then a high-speed train up to Rome.  We stayed in a hotel on Piazza della Rotonda, with a view of the Pantheon.  Rome, like Venice, is unique--no other place like it on Earth. Almost every time you turn a corner, there is something breathtaking...a monument, a fountain, a church, a ruin, a Madonna painted on the corner of the intersection.

Cats rule.
Our first afternoon we went for a walk to get oriented and about dusk came upon a city block of ruins that was unexpected.  Turns out we stumbled into Largo di Torre Argentina, a square in Rome that hosts four Roman temples, and the remains of Pompey's Theatre, where Julius Caesar was murdered over 2000 years ago.  It is also a cat sanctuary and I counted over 50 cats roaming through the ruins--curiously, we saw quite a few stay cats hanging out in Sorrento.  They all seemed fat and happy.
Largo di Torre Argentina

I loved the fountains of Rome...

 And the ruins...

The adorable...

And the unexpected...

Our last stop, after we spent the morning touring the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums, was to take the subway to the Spanish Steps and visit the Keats-Shelley House Museum, which contains the house where John Keats died at age 25 in 1821.

My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains my senses as though of hemlock I had drunk.


  1. So many amazing photos! (But I think it might be hard to take a bad picture when you're in Italy.) Love the fountains, and the cats, and the laundry in Venice and the ruins. Thanks for sharing!!! Now if I could only go there, too. :)

  2. Great pictures!

    It looks and sounds like you had a great trip.

    I really need to get to Italy myself as soon as possible.

  3. Wonderful photos! I'm impressed that you planned it all yourself... not sure I would have felt confident enough. But I'm sure you got a much better feel for the cities than any package could have provided. Italy is on my bucket list.

    1. I am so glad we rolled our own. Everyone we encountered while traveling who was on a tour complained about how tired and rushed they always felt.

  4. I went to Rome this year and my hotel was right around the corner from that elephant obelisk!! We were right behind the Pantheon. I loved, loved, loved Italy.

    I've also been to Florence but it was the end of March/late April. We bought city passes so were able to bypass a lot of the lines to see David and the Uffizi.

    I really want to go back now and see Pompeii and Sorrento! I'd also like to see the Cinque Terra. Sigh.

  5. What a wonderful holiday you had and your photos brought back memories of our visits to Italy over the years too as we've been to those places except for Venice that is. I'd love to go there and revisit Florence as we only had a few days there. We had a fortnight in Sorrento one year, so also went to Pompeii and Herculaneum - spectacular and as you say so much bigger than I expected. And Rome - such a tiring place to visit with so much to see, but well worth it. I tossed a coin in the Trevi Fountain on one visit and so HAD to go back a second time - I'd love to go again.

  6. We've always intended going to Italy - some day, but have never got around to it. In fact I'm not that keen on flying and it's a long way to drive from Scotland, but your photos make me think I should just bite the bullet and go.

  7. Welcome home! Thanks for sharing your holiday so beautifully with us. Your views from your hotels were especially good to see. What a view in Sorrento! And I would have loved a view of the Pantheon like that. We stayed in a hotel in a residential area farther out which was lovely too. Glad you read your way there first and interesting how that interacted with your in person itinerary.

  8. It seems you had a terrific time and visited lots of great places, Jane. You were so close to me, you know? Only 1-hour's drive away. I love Rome!