Christmas in Italy 2018

December 2018 - January 2019
December 2018 - January 2019
  • Day19

    Last Day in Rome

    January 7 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 5 °C

    So, this morning as I was mapping out a walk to some of the parts of the city we hadn’t visited, I decided to check Vatican tickets for the day. And tickets were available, so we decided to head back, visit St. Peter’s, and go to the Vatican Museums.

    There were no lines to get into the church so we sailed through security and were inside in no time. The basilica is overwhelming, the size of everything is so giant. Some of the statues of popes really made them look human, though, even at that size. I am glad we went. My favorite part was walking to the top of the cupola — Joe took the elevator but then had to walk the last couple hundred steps anyway. The views from the top were great, and it was another crystal clear sunny day.

    We were exhausted by the time we left the Vatican, about three hours after entering. I understand why they leave the Sistine Chapel till the end, but it was hard to feel bright eyed after hours of statuary, papal apartments, and Raphael rooms. The colors are just as brilliant as they look in pictures, and I particularly liked the Noah’s Ark panel. All in all, a good way to end the trip.

    Tomorrow we will be up at 4:30 for a 5:15 car to the airport. Yikes. Going through London, glad it’s before Brexit!
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  • Day18

    Museum Day

    January 6 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 7 °C

    We slept in a bit, no need to rush, and since it is January 6 (Epiphany), it’s even more of a holiday than Sunday usually is. Our hotel had tons of special traditional sweets at breakfast, added to the overabundance of sweets they serve on normal days!

    I was skeptical about these museums (the National Museum of Rome has two locations about 5 minutes apart from each other, one on each side of the train station), but I have changed my tune. The first had the best statuary that’s been found in Rome, some Greek, some Roman, and mosaics and frescoes from two huge villas excavated in the 1900s, one of them under the Termini train station!

    After a couple of hours at the museum, we took a break in an old 19th century cafe where we got the Italian equivalent of sliders for lunch. Very tasty and a nice break from the pasta, pizza routine.

    Then to the second musum, which is located inside what were the largest public baths (capacity for 3000 bathers, with a huge outdoor pool as well). It was really interesting, and we also got to walk around a cloister designed by Michaelangelo at age 86, when the pope converted part of the baths into a church, to recognize the 40,000 Christian slaves who built the baths.

    With another hour or so of daylight, we hoofed it over to see the Colisseum in late afternoon, as opposed to early morning, light. Very nice both ways!!!
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  • Day17

    Walk till you drop

    January 5 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 6 °C

    Today was our walk walk walk day with no museums. But we did start with a church (Santa Maria in Trastevere) and end with a church (Santa Maria Maggiore), because both of them had amazing mosaics spanning the 5th - 12th centuries. In between we just walked and enjoyed the sunny day — along the river, to St. Peter’s (the crowds and the lines even to get into the basilica made us decide to skip an inside visit), to Hadrian´s mauseoulum, to Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, many ruins of temples, forums, and theaters.

    Since last night’s dinner at Crispi 19 was very good but just too much pretense (many different waiters for different functions, including one whose only job seemed to be to use that bread-crumb-remover on the tablecloths), we’re looking for something above paper tablecloths, but not fine linen.

    Only two more days here, and I guess it’s only fair that tomorrow I go along to the National Museum, since Joe was such a good sport today.
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  • Day16

    Still cold, but sunny in Rome

    January 4 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 2 °C

    Lesson to self: Buy fast train tickets a few days in advance. We could only get seats on the 10:40 “intercity” train, and to add insult to injury, we sat on the tracks somewhere between Palermo and Rome for 45 minutes. Luckily, I have a couple of good books. We didn’t get to our Rome hotel till about 2 in the afternoon, had a quick lunch, and walked around for a couple of hours to get our bearings. We are in a good location, not far from Trajan’s column. The Trevi Fountain was mobbed mobbed mobbed, much more crowded than my pictures showed from spring break 1995.

    Planning to get a good fish dinner and plan a walking route for tomorrow. Probably no museums tomorrow, but we will see. Three days in Rome is not much time, but we will do our best.
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  • Day15

    Osteria dei Sapori -- Salerno

    January 3 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 2 °C

    So if you dream of eating in a non-touristy, small, family-run osteria in Italy, this is the place for you. In a 7-table place, with food options written on a piece of paper, we were the only foreigners over the two hours we were there. The entire operation took place in one small room. Dad was the cook, mom his assistant, daughter did everything else (except wash the dishes—there was a woman over in the corner continuously washing and drying). The food was excellent, the family so hospitable, and even with the most expensive bottle of wine at 25 euros, our bill was 80 euros. And that was with two courses each, and one dessert.

    Very nice way to end our stay here.
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  • Day15

    Paestum!!! Wow!!!

    January 3 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 4 °C

    One half hour, 2.90 euros each way, and the Regionale train takes you to Paestum, the ruins of a Greek city from about 5th century BC. Three large temples remain intact, with the residential area, forum, baths,theater in ruins. One of the temples is roped off, but you can walk throuh the other two. Amazing.

    We had bright sunny, cold weather (in fact, on the way back to the train, a few snowflakes started to fall). Crowds were very moderate —two big groups of American college students, one tour bus of Italians, and about 50 others like Joe and I, straggling along on our own.

    The museum had many artifacts from graves, and some of the painted grave slabs themselves, including one that appears to be quite famous, The Diver. Lots of urns, statues of gods and goddesses, with very nice information panels, in both Italian and English for a change.There was a short video about the Allies´ WWII invasion, Operation Avalanche, which took place near Paestum. The Brits brought their own archaeologist, and while constructing an airstrip, an ancient burial site was found (by ancient, I mean really ancient, like Iron Age). He documented it all, excavated and tagged all artifacts. Turned them over to the Napples Archaeological authorities at the end of the war. The film ended with a comment along the lines of — it is a treasure for humanity that the British realized that preserving ancient history was just as important as winning the war.

    This is the end of the planned trip. When I was buying the plane tickets, it seemed like a shame to get on a plane in Rome without spending some time there. So we have a hotel reservation for four nights, an old Michelin Rome guide from our 1995 trip with the kids, and a recent 36 Hours in Rome article. Just hoping to have good weather for walking and short lines in front of whatever we decide to visit.
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  • Day14

    Moving on to Salerno

    January 2 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 8 °C

    Salerno is not exactly a highly renowned tourist stop, but it is the easternmost point of the Amalfi Coast and a convenient way to get up to Rome. And there are some very highly recommended Greek temples about an hour from here, so we decided to make Salerno a stop. It has a huge port and an ancient centro historico. The Allies invaded Italy here, but unfortunately the small museum documenting the event was closed.

    The bus ride from Amalfi to Salerno was another one of those 90 minute rides to go 25 kms. This time we had several points where two buses met head on and there was simply no way for them to maneuver. It involved backing up, stopping traffic, and eventually squeezing by with only inches to spare. The ride was beautiful, but there is no way in the world I would want to drive it — the bus was scary enough.

    In Salerno, we found our little B and B in the old town and were out and about in plenty of time for lunch. At Mamma Rosa’s, we found ourselves in with lots of regular diners. A very popular place, Mamma Rosa is still there, and her quote on the wall is “I love cooking more than anything except my children.” Watching her interact with what must have been her grandkids gave credence to that quote.

    Afternoon was spent at the amazing 11th century cathedral, where the apostle Matthew is buried (the apostle Andrew is in Amalfi, so this must be a popular area for apostles). The mosaics were gorgeous.

    Then to the archaeological museum, where the 2nd century BC bronze head of Apollo was the standout.

    We are in a weird little place, picked because it is about 4 minutes from Novella Fitness, where I was able to use the elliptical for a mere 7 euros! Dinner in another totally crammed and popular place, Irys, where they had just run out of red wine (in Italy?!) but the food was very good.
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  • Day13

    Architecture, Music, and a Hike

    January 1 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 9 °C

    What a very nice way to start 2019– first, a visit to the cathedral (unfortunately the stunning romanesque facade was not matched with a similar interior — on orders of some king, the whole inside got a baroque make-over). St. Andrew is buried here, and his remains are reported to undergo a similar annual miracle as San Gennaro in Naples — instead of his blood liquifying, it is some substance that oozes out of the container of his remains. Rather grotesque, actually, but I get the role that faith plays in these things and in the lives of the congregants.

    Then a surprise — a chamber orchestra playing all sorts of music in a free concert inside the basilica. Our favorites were the various opera pieces — all very well known, from Carmen, Merry Widow, Granada, a few more. We enjoyed it a lot.

    From there, time to walk. Up, up, up again, just as high as yesterday, but to another town, Pontone, which looks across a gorge at Ravello. In Pontone, luckily, we found an unexceptional pizzeria open, so Joe could sit and eat while I went on to the Torre dello Ziro, and up to the ruined church of Sant Eustacio. Unfortunately, the site was closed —I would really have liked to see the apse up close.

    Back down just as the sun was setting — time to think about dinner options. Lots of restaurants seem to be closed, but there are crowds in the square outside our room again, enjoying more folklore. I am pretty sure there will not be late night concerts, at least I am hoping that’s the case!
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  • Day12

    Happy 2019!

    December 31, 2018 in Italy ⋅ 🌬 12 °C

    Very good dinner in the little enoteca, though we could have stopped eating after the antipasti. But I guess it is a night for wretched excess.

    It is a very good thing we squeezed in a few hours’ nap before the fireworks, because the concert in the square went on till 4 or 5. I didn’t even bother to look at my watch when it finally ended, I was just so relieved to hear the silence.

    At about 11:30, we awoke to the sound of traditional music, and followed a long procession of music-makers in traditional dress out to the beach. Then the fireworks (they were super!), with a return procession to the cathedral. At that point, the traditional music gave way to loud loud loud. First a live band (I was so happy to hear someone say what sounded like “last song” in Italian, only to realize that it was just the last live song and. a DJ had taken over). Though I wouldn’t say I reallly enjoyed the music, it was fun to see the square filled with so many others who were.

    I woke up around 8, to another day of brilliant sunshine, and was surprised to see that though the light and sound equipment was still up, the square was spotless. Amalfi takes its public places very seriously.
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  • Day12

    Up to Ravello

    December 31, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 9 °C

    Ravello is about 4 km and 500 m up, a good aerobic walk! So I walked while Joe took the bus. We met up top and after the obligatory cappucino, we visited the Cathedral (some beautiful mosaics) and the Villa Rufolo (an old hodge podge of buildings from the XII century onward, bought by a rich guy and restored in the 19th century— the main attraction was the VIEWS!!!). Absolutely gorgeous views from up there.

    Trying to get good information on bus options down was nearly impossible, since it is New Year’s Eve. So a group of 8 piled into a cab and in a few minutes we were back in Amalfi.

    All of the restaurants are booked with gala dinners, so we have found a little enoteca that will feed us some dinner as long as we are out by 9:30. We hope to see the fireworks from the seaside promenade, but I fear that thousands of others will have the same idea!

    Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year!
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