Wednesday, September 22, 2010

No place like Rome, part 1

Leaving Sorrento, Bob and I took a Circumvesuviana train (fare was 4 ) to Naples, where we got off at Napoli Centrale to get another train to Rome. Our original plan was to have a quick visit of the historic center of this major Italian city before proceeding to the Eternal City.


On the train to Naples. Bye Sorrento!


But fatigue had set in. We wanted to focus our remaining energy, time and money--all diminished by this time--on the final leg of our trip. So out of a list of must-dos in Naples that I got from the Internet, we got to do only two: 1) Eat pizza. 2) Eat sfogliatella.

Naples is considered the birthplace of pizza. We had to eat pizza where it originated, and not just any kind but pizza Margherita, first made in Naples in 1889. We already did this at the airport upon our arrival from France going to Sorrento. Now headed to Rome, we wanted sfogliatella, a kind of pastry made from phyllo-like dough and shaped into a cone with some yummy sweet filling. Bob went outside the train terminal to search for it.


Yummy!! (Image from buzznet.com)

As soon as he came back with sfogliatella and a MacDonald's combo meal, we hopped onto an Intercity (IC) train to Rome. Compared to Eurostar, IC trains offer a cheaper form of traveling between major destinations. They are slower and less comfortable, but cheaper. For me, that was an easy choice. Or rather, the only choice. We were not in a hurry anyway.

The train trip from Naples to Rome cost about 21  per person and took more than 2 hours. We got off at the Roma Termini Station past 4 pm. According to our hotel information, we could reach it from Roma Termini by taking the Metro Line A train and getting off at Vittorio Emanuelle, the next station about 5 minutes away. We could also take the bus, or walk 15 minutes. We chose the Metro subway train. Wrong choice!

We didn't realize that Roma Termini, located in the heart of the city and serving almost half a million people daily, was HUGE! Just following the signs to the correct Line A platform underground took us, I’d say, 30 minutes. Up, down, around and around…

What a relief when we finally found our hotel on Via Giusti. It was actually a convent called Albergo Giusti operated by Suore di Sant’ Anna, but they accepted paying guests. From the street, the place was unimpressive, just one in a row of buildings that stood closely side by side. But inside, it was very neat and quiet. The nuns were friendly and helpful. I felt safe in Rome already.

At 90 € a night for a double bedroom, including breakfast and a private bathroom, this was our priciest accommodation on this vacation. But compared to other hotels in Rome, it was still cheaper or at par. Hostels cost less, but our primary concern, based on several articles we had read on visiting Rome, was safety. Hostels give you less privacy. Besides, I thought we deserved a comfortable last two nights after two weeks of non-stop traveling.

That same afternoon, we went out to see the Colosseum, just a few blocks away. It was awesome to see for the very first time this iconic symbol of the Roman Empire and one of the greatest Roman architecture.


The Colosseum is located near a busy intersection.

I wondered how it looked like like in its heyday. It seemed so far removed from the time of gladiatorial games and other barbaric events that took place in the arena leaving thousands upon thousands of men and beasts bleeding to death.

Uri, vinciri, verberari, ferroque necari (“I will endure to be burned, to be bound, to be beaten, and to be killed by the sword”), gladiators made a solemn oath those days. The "gladiators" at the Colosseum today might probably swear, "I will endure to wear this costume, to be be photographed and to pose with suckers for an exorbitant fee."




It was near closing time at the Colosseum but there was still a lineup of people wanting to go in. Tour organizers were giving their last call. We decided to come back early next morning to beat the crowd.


The Colosseum from another angle


Meanwhile, the sky grew dark and within minutes there was a thunderstorm like we don't experience in British Columbia. We sought shelter behind one of the stone pillars together with a "Roman gladiator" until the rains died down.

Back at the hotel, I went to bed early. Bob went out again to see the Colosseum and surrounding areas at night. I needed to recharge.


The Colosseum at night


(To be continued)

Next, No place like Rome, part 2
Previous, Amalfi Coast in three days, part 2

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Amalfi Coast in three days, part 2

Day, 3, took a day tour to the Isle of Capri. We had reserved a boat, with a boatman, for the whole day for 300 . This was the cheapest I found online. You can probably rent one upon arrival in Capri then negotiate the price right there.

Different kinds of boats for rent
As soon as we got into the boat, the young ones excitedly proceeded to the bow and sat there. The oldies cautiously followed. 

Daughters of my three sisters-in-law

We pretended to be people from the upper echelon of society, those who owned boats and yachts, maybe even islands... Ahh, the life of the rich and famous. 


Bob looks good at the wheel. Photo op! Photo op!



We posed like camera-hogging celebrities, and waved at passing boats of tourists as if we knew each other from Beverly Hill(y billie)s. What a blast! 

Hey there!

After about 20 minutes, however, Nikki started to feel seasick. Poor Nikki. The rough waters badly nauseated her. She was mostly lying on her belly or sitting on the floor and holding a plastic bag. 


Seasick :-(


It took us only about two hours to go around the island. On better weather, we could have stopped at a cove to take a dip in the water, or have lunch, or see the famous Blue Grotto, which was closed that day for safety reasons. Even so, we, with the exception of Nikki, were thoroughly mesmerized by the beauty of the island.


About to go through the Faraglione

Back at the marina, the boat operator charged us only for the time we used the boat. Thus, we saved some money and had spare time to explore the town which we discovered was up the mountain.

While Nikki was recovering on a bench outside a store, Bob and I, as well as April and Warren, hiked up to town on a narrow concrete path and steps passing through residential areas. We did not know how far it was. It was tiring. But the view got better and better. 

View of the marina from Capri town
Finally, we reached the town square. Tourists crowded the piazza, and it wasn't even the peak tourist season. I wondered how this looked like in the summer.

Town square


We walked further and saw many ritzy boutiques and restaurants. We kept walking, stopping often to take photos, until we reached the Punta Tragara Hotel overlooking the Faraglione, This hotel was the American command centre during WWII. 

It must be wonderful to stay here in Punta Tragara especially at peace time.

I was so awed by the natural and man-made beauty of the island. I kept telling hubby I could spend a month  there. I think I would be inspired to do something creative on the island, write a book perhaps, or take to painting. No wonder famous people, writers, and artists have stayed in Capri. It will release your creative juices.


How would you like to have a patio like that?
"OK, so which house do you want to live in?" I  kidded Bob. We started daydreaming. Finally, he said, "Hindi tayo bagay dito (We don't belong here)." Back to reality. Yeah, we can only mountain climb--not social climb--to Capri. For now, I was happy to visit and savour its rich ambiance.

After a delicious lunch of seafood and salad greens back at the marina, we rejoined our group who were already at a pebbly beach. Nikki seemed to have recovered. Michelle, April and Warren were in the cold water.  Brrr...ave!

Now they can say they've swam in the Mediterranean.

Later that afternoon, we rode a ferry ride back to Sorrento. This was our last night together as a group. Warren and April were leaving for Naples Airport to spend the night before their early morning flight to the US. Bob and I were leaving the next day for Rome where we would spend the next 2.5 days before flying back to Vancouver. Noemi and Michelle were spending a few more days in Sorrento with Nikki before going home to the Philippines. Nikki would then go back solo to Paris, where we started from together.

It was parting time again. Thanks, everyone, for a wonderful holiday.

On to our next adventure. Rome!


Next, No place like Rome, part 1 
Previous, Amalfi Coast in three days, part 1



Saturday, September 18, 2010

Amalfi Coast in three days, part 1

If there was any place Bob and I wanted to visit together in Italy, it was the Amalfi Coast. It had been on our bucket list for the last few years. The stunning coastline, picturesque villages clinging to cliffs overlooking the azure waters of the Mediterranean.... Ahhh, breaththtaking!




When our group was deciding on whether to go to Italy or Spain after our time in France, Bob pushed for the Amalfi Coast. Thankfully, the others were easy to convince. Spain would have to be for another time--hopefully.

Amalfi Coast is located in Campania, Southern Italy in the Sorrentine Peninsula. We decided to make Sorrento our base as it was recommended by several online articles and discussions. We were glad we did. Sorrento, although not along the same coast, had a lot to offer in terms of natural beauty, shops, food, transport and accommodations. It was also less expensive to stay there than in the resort towns of Amalfi Coast, and provided easy access to the region.

Amalfi Coast Map by James Martin, (About.com: Italy Travel)

With only three days together in Campania, we planned an itinerary that allowed us to experience the Amalfi Coast and surrounding areas by both land and water:


Day 1, explored Sorrento. Our original plan was to go boating around the Isle of Capri on the first day, but due to rough waters brought about by the rains, we stayed in Sorrento instead. Sorrento had many interesting shops along narrow alleys and on main roads. I think Bob and I did the most shopping for souvenirs and pasalubong (presents) here of all the places we visited. We found a good pizza place there too called Franco's, and had good gelato.




Sorrento


Day 2, took a day tour of the Amalfi Coast by land. We made a prior reservation with a rental company that provided us with a Mercedes Benz van and a driver for 350 . Split among the seven of us, the price seemed reasonable, considering that it took us to three towns--Positano, Amalfi and Ravello--and a couple of stopovers along the way.








Taking the public bus would have been a lot cheaper, but it could be very crowded at peak seasons or hours. We wanted to see a lot of places in a short time and renting a van was the more efficient way to go. Driving on very narrow winding roads along the coast was quite an experience in itself. You gotta respect those drivers.



Ceramics galore!


Amalfi



Amalfi Coast, at last we've seen you with our own eyes and you did not disappoint. Now we can take you off our bucket list.


Positano


(To be continued)
Previous, To Sorrento!



Thursday, September 16, 2010

To Sorrento!

If you are planning on a France-Italy trip without the aid of a travel agent or outside of a package tour, compare prices. I was surprised to know it was cheaper to fly out of Paris to Naples than to take the train between these two cities. Our Paris-Naples flight on EasyJet cost us $155 US each for a flight that took a couple of hours. The train ride would have cost us $210 US each and 18 hours of travel with a change of train in Rome.

Depending on your itinerary, the France-Italy rail pass might suit you better if you plan to take a lot of train rides. This is what my son Gino and I did in 2007, but this time, it was not the practical or cheaper way. Compare, compare, compare.

The only downside in taking a small plane was that it had a smaller baggage limitation than regular international flights. Our airline was very strict with the one carry-on policy. We tried to fit smaller bags into bigger ones, but hubby and I still ended up paying €22 for an extra bag because my bulky shoulder bag couldn't fit anywhere. Even with that additional cost, the plane ride to Naples was still cheaper than the train ride.

Napoli Airport is the closest major airport to Sorrento, which we planned to make our base in Southern Italy. From the airport, you can take the public bus, commuter train or hydrofoil to Sorrento unless you are renting your own car. We took the bus that was conveniently stationed just in front of the airport and paid €10 per person. It was a comfortable drive on a winding road that passed through several coastal towns. We were in Sorrento in about 1.5 hours.

Piazza Tasso, Sorrento city centre

We got off at the Sorrento train terminal near the city square and took a cab to our hotel. The cab driver charged us €5 per person, or €35 for all 7 of us, which we thought was a good deal. We learned later from the hotel manager it was overpriced. She could get us a taxi for €20. Oh well... Next time, tell the driver to use the metre. 

Finally we were at our hotel about a 10-minute drive from the city centre. It was on a mountainside overlooking the Gulf of Sorrento, and from our hotel room balcony, we could see the tranquil water, mountains, greenery, limestone rocks, and the city. Lovely!  Even if our hotel was an old villa that could use some sprucing up, I think the view made up for it.

Our room had an awesome view. The skies were gray at this time.

With only three full days in Sorrento, we were eager to have a head start that evening and immediately go sightseeing. Alas, the light rains we had been experiencing since arriving in Naples suddenly turned into a strong downpour. It felt like a tropical storm reminiscent of typhoons in the Philippines. The young ones, Nikki, April and Warren, braved the wind and rain and went to the city anyway.

The oldies went back to the hotel.