A Travellerspoint blog

Capri and Sorrento

Southern Italy at its finest

Sorry for being behind on these updates - not only is wifi hard to come by and I take forever to write one entry, but I've finally been having a life at night after the daily excursions! Anyways....

The day began early with a bus ride from Rome to Naples, roughly a 3-hour drive. The trip was interesting as we drove along the Apinine Mountain Range, which extends down the middle of Italy from north to south. The Alps are taller mountains go from the east to west coast. It was funny to see a hand glider out the window during the talk of this information. Italy seems to be on top of their energy efficiency- aside from the numerous houses I’ve seen with solar panels on top of them, we came across a few huge fields covered in countless solar panels, and maybe 8 consecutive windmills on the tops of mountains. I also saw Mt. Vesuvius along the way, which was surprisingly topped with snow but that only made it easier to spot. The mountain actually has a slightly shorter twin summit, and the area between the two mts is called The Valley of Inferno. The volcano is still active and could erupt at any time, but now scientists will be able to notify the people of Pompei about a week before an eruption in order to evacuate.

We arrived in Napoli, a less glamorous city than Venice or Rome or Florence. It did not have much history or ancient charm because the Greeks originally built Naples and then the Romans fought them for the city. It was a big battleground for territory back in the day so the city had to be rebuilt in a more modern, concrete style when the two countries joined forces. The port in Naples is one of the largest in Italy, and from there we boarded a large ferry to take us about 45 min. out to the island of Capri.

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Capri by the port

Once on Capri, we took a smaller boat tour around the island to get better views. The waters and wind were unusually choppy and strong but the little boat still made it around, feeling like a personal rollercoaster; I even sacrificed potential sickness and crazy hair to sit on the upper deck for better pictures. Capri deserves to be seen by boat. It is a very mountainous island, covered in cliffs in which 2 separate grottos are naturally carved out. One was famous because coral-colored flowers grew there, and the other for its special white stone that usually shines like a hologram in the sun. At the top of the second grotto, there is a small cave that has a stone naturally carved (not manmade) which looks like the Virgin Mary. From there we continued on to the infamous “Lover’s Arch” – two stone structures detached from the island, but people may specifically hire a boat just to go to these structures.

Although Capri is not the biggest island off the coast of Naples, it is certainly the most famous. Celebrities and those living the jet-set life vacation in Capri, such as Eddie Murphy, Eva Mendes, and Jennifer Lopez – as seen by their pictures in town. But because it is such a hot spot, it is quite expensive to stay or dine here. Capri is famous for creating the Fiora de Capri perfume, caprese salads, and growing lemon trees.

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The coast of Capri, featuring the Lover's Arch and beautiful blue water

When we got back to the mainland, we had to take a cable car that would bring us up the steep mountain to the actual village of Capri. We went on a short walking tour and ended in a garden that had amazing views right on a coast – of the mountains, the port area, etc. After a nice lunch, the group took the cable car back down in order to catch a ferry to Sorrento.

When we got there, we climbed a steep hill single file and proceeded to climb at least 200 stairs because again, Sorrento is at the top of a hill. We were free to go shopping on the main street, which was quite long for Italian standards. The most exciting part for me was that I found a leather shop and bought myself an Italian leather jacket!!!

Finally met up as a group to take a bus to the hotel, which we had to walk a little ways down a tunnel because the hotel was on the oceanfront and the bus couldn’t make it that far. This hotel was quite nice and modern – all white cement walls, and some parts had holey grotto walls built in. We had an arranged dinner at the hotel’s restaurant. The first course was gnocchi with a marinara sauce; secondi was eggplant parmesan; and tiramisu for dessert. All of it was fantastic and taste homemade! After dinner, the students and some of the adults hung out in the hotel’s lobby and played drinking games with wine and limoncello. It turned out to be really funny and we even learned a lot as I introduced the games of Harm and Kill A Brew, and 2 truths and a lie (a good ice breaker game to get to know everyone).

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Morning view from our balcony at the hotel

Buonanotte

Posted by dtoussi 21.03.2013 17:06 Archived in Italy Tagged naples sorrento pompei capri Comments (0)

Florence

Leather central

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Firenze! We all took an early morning train from Rome to Florence, about 1.5 hours, and walked through this smaller town to Leonardo's Leather Workshop for a demonstration on how their leather products are made and how to tell the real from the fake stuff in the markets and shops. It can take months to make an item because it takes a week at a time for each layer of leather to dry after it is molded onto the object in the shape you want it to take. There is no stitching or hinges or even the original mold necessary for the finished product of the infamous Florence Box, which is quite impressive.

Florence is known for its leather and gold (up to 18K only). After the leather demonstration, we went on a guided walking tour of the city, passing statues of local celebrities such as Michelangelo, Donatello, and Galileo. In one of the larger squares, there was an incredibly large and colorfully decorated church called the Cathedral at Piazza del Duomo. The inside of this church was grand and beautiful just like the many other churches we've seen. At the alter, there was a huge dome painted with The Last Judgment, and 2 layers of balconies from which we could see people standing up there which was curious. Then we learned you can pay 8 euros to climb to the top of the Dome to get beautiful views of all of Florence. Anyways, from there we walked to the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) which was beautiful, crossing the Arno river. The bridge itself was filled with lots of expensive jewelry shops.

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Ponte Vecchio looking at the back of the shops

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On the bridge, looking down the river

After the tour, we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves. A group of us older people went to the markets at San Lorenzo, which are all outdoor markets selling lots of leather products and other souvenirs of the city. Instead we went to the indoor market which was basically a huge food market selling lots of local produce, meats and cheeses, as well as having little places to eat which is where we got lunch. This was necessary before climbing 400+ stairs to the top of the Duomo! 4 of us decided to climb these dungeonous, clostrophobic, spiral stairs together. Sounds scary, but it gets better. At one point we exited the dungeon part and had to walk into one of those balconies inside the church! I felt great about this climb until I got to this balcony, only wide enough to fit one person but wrapped around the entire dome, and I looked down at the alter which made me extremely nervous all of a sudden. If you are feint of heart, or scared of heights I wouldn't recommend this because walking across the balcony was necessary to make it to the next set of stairs within the 2 layers of the dome. The next set of stairs was even more narrow and harder to maneuver because it had to be shared with the people coming down from the top. There was lots of waiting and even the group of Asians in front of us were panting so hard, that the 50-year-old in our group wanted to pass them! After we finally made it to the top, it was well worth the hassle of the stairs in the creepy dungeon feel. The view of all of Florence was incredible, because I believe the top of the Duomo is the tallest in the city. We could even see the mountains with snow on the top in the distance. Because we were much closer to the sky and in open air (not covered by buildings down below) it actually felt warmer at the top, I could've hung out there all day...sadly it was closing in the next 45 minutes. The climb down would have been to descend on the opposite side of the building, but because it was closing soon they closed that side off and had us go down the same stairs we went up. One point- coming down in the dome part only, we were able to touch both layers of the dome which was about the length of my arm span. This dome was built by Michelangelo, and in two layers because the first would have been too weak and could collapse, so the outer layer was built over it to protect it and keep it durable which is still has after many centuries.

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The Cathedral, bell tower to the right, and the Duomo (dome) in the back in red/orange

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View from the top!

The climb was refreshing from walking on cobblestones the past few days, and getting a view from a higher elevation. But I was ready to shop for some leather! I ended up buying a pair of leather gloves, but was on a mission for a jacket. Unfortunately I didn't have enough time and the shops I went to were too expensive even though real Italian leather isn't going to come cheap.

During the walk around town, there was a parade and drum line marching through. It was followed by many students holding up brightly colored flags. A local had explained to us that the students march together once a year in memory of those who were murdered by the mafia. The city changes each year, but we were happy to catch this moment.

We finally took the train back to Rome where we were staying for one last night. Us group of older people went to a restaurant around the corner from the hotel, and highly recommended. It was a large place but very homey with arch ways dividing the rooms, stone fireplaces, and your grandfather taking care of you kind of hospitality. I must say, aside from the pizza dinner the first night this was probably the best, most authentic dinner I've had in Italy. I ordered spaghetti tossed in olive oil and crush red peppers with clams. Delicioso!

Buonanotte

Posted by dtoussi 20.03.2013 15:43 Archived in Italy Tagged florence firenze duomo david michelangelo leather leonardo Comments (0)

Roma Day 2

Beware the Ides...

semi-overcast

Today was the first official day for the structured tour! As in the fashion of our incredibly organized and timely Tour Director, Gabriella, I will just list where we went and some highlights of each place. (Andrew, I know you'll love this)

Vatican Museum- Because the Sistine Chapel isn't open due to the events of electing the new Pope, we could only go to the Vatican museum. We saw rooms upon rooms upon hallways of paintings, frescos, mosaics and decorated ceilings depicting scenes and culture of ancient Roman history. Much of the works were modern restorations, but we were able to see a couple of originals that have not been touched for comparison. A lot of work we saw were paintings done by Raffaela and more importantly, Michaelangelo who was a sculptor all of his life and then decided to become a painter. The characters in his paintings are very well portrayed anatomically because of his sculpting background, but he also made women and girls look more buff than they should. His famous works include the statue of David; the Pieta which is a depiction of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus in her hands after the crucifixion...M sculpted it in 22 months and finished by the age of 24 (thanks for making us feel bad about ourselves); and the Sistine Chapel which I learned he actually had his next tilted back to paint the entire ceiling and because of that got lots of paint falling into his eyes causing lots of oracular problems. Everything there was fascinating! Especially some of the rooms with ceilings that gave the illusion of being 3D but were actually flat once the introduction of shadows came into art.
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That ceiling

Quick side note- St. Peter's Basilica contains 284 columns lined in 4 rows. Scaffolding was put up on one small section of it to clean and restore the columns. Half have already been done and you can certainly see the difference, but I wonder how often they have to do that?
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Half of the 284 columns, and these have been cleaned!

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Francis, donde esta?

St. Peter's Church- Big beautiful church with the bronze alter at the front, felt more like a museum again with the many larger-than-life statues. But this church held Michaelangelo's sculpture Pieta enclosed behind a bullet-proof glass because apparently in the 1970s, a crazy man came with a hammer and started going at this statue trying to destroy it! They have tried to fix it and ever since it can only be seen behind this glass. Another impressive piece was what seemed like a painting of Jesus coming from Heaven to the people, was in fact a complete mosaic! There were no spaces between each tiny tile and the shadows and colors were elusive that this mosaic became 10x more impressive!
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The mosaic "painting" inside St. Peter's

Lunch break and souvenir shopping

Colosseum- What I've been looking forward to this whole trip! I learned that all of the original marble structure, or what's left of it after natural disasters and weathering, etc. is still there but there are holes in the structure because the marble had to originally be held by ivory clamps so that it wouldn't collapse on itself. But during the medieval times, people of other regions would steal the ivory for their own building purposes, leaving those spots from the Colloseum empty. In modern times, a second layer of arches surrounding the stadium was built to protect the original inner layer. The differences are seen because this more modern layer was made with bricks instead of marble. The stadium was originally called Amphitheater Flavium and it could hold 60,000 people! It's main use was to entertain the emperor by having slaves fight each other to the death or even fight animals such as lions in the center ring. It was named the Colosseum because Nero (the emperor at the time this was constructed) had a colossal statue made after himself to be put in front of the building so that all who passed by knew where they were. But with each new emperor came a new head on the statue and the previous one would get chopped off the statue and replaced. Personally, it was so amazing to be inside this stadium after taking years of Latin and learning of Roman history and this was a common topic.
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Inside the Colosseum

Roman Forum- Ancient structures (basically what's left of them) are contained within this "garden" very close to the Colosseo. The Forum was used as the Senate and government's place to gather to discuss political matters and also became a place for markets and vendors to sell their items. It was both the political and economical center of Rome in ancient times. Hearing all of the stories our group leader told us about the different temples and buildings reminded me of Latin classes and how all that seemingly boring stuff was so well worth it now. Granted my Latin is incredibly rusty to try and translate what's inscribed on the buildings, the stories and seeing it all in person was very valuable for me. Though what creeped me out the most was that we were in the middle of all this on THE IDES OF MARCH dun dun dunnn (Julius Caesar was killed on this day as part of conspiracy led by his right hand man, Brutus Casius). I even saw a temple dedicated to Caesar, who was the only emperor to become deified after his death.
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The columns on the right was the Temple of Vesta, goddess of the hearth. Legend has it that a flame was lit inside this temple and it represented Rome's fortune for as long as it was lit. Girls were continuously chosen around the age of 8 to stay in this temple and become Vesta's Virgins and make sure the flame stayed alive, for utmost 30 years of their lives.

SPQR - Senatus Populesque Romanus. "The senate and people of Rome" I saw this carved everywhere in random places and forgot what it meant, but whichever building this was inscribed meant it not only belonged to the senate (gov't) but also to the people.

After all of this exhausting walking, we walked some more to the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and Piazza Navono because the rest of the group did not get to see these sites the night before. It was still just as beautiful to see all of these as the sun was beginning to set. At the Trevi Fountain my mom and I found a couple of seats in front of it just to hang out and relax, and 2 feet in front of us some guy was talking a picture of his girlfriend but knelt down with the camera to get a large view of the Trevi in the back. Little did she (or any of us know) that right before he took the picture he pulled a ring out and PROPOSED TO HER!!!! No one else really saw except me and my mom being creepers legit 2 ft behind them but it was soo cute! I wanted to clap for them but didn't wanna be the only loser...who was still creeping.

My favorite part of the day was our tour bus driver who kept unnecessarily driving in a big circle for us to see certain buildings while Gabriella was giving us the history of the buildings. It was the funniest thing, but so nice of him!

Buonasera

Posted by dtoussi 15.03.2013 15:44 Archived in Italy Tagged rome colosseum forum vatican_museum st_peter Comments (0)

Roma Day 1

Incredibly overwhelmed in this ancient city

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We have finally made it to Rome after a long train ride from Venice with crying toddlers next to us. Our hotel is about 1km (0.5mi) away from the train station so we decided to walk our luggage down, even on cobblestones...ha! The large group with all of the college students and some relatives arrived that afternoon. The same 4 of us from Venice decided to search for a bank and walk to Santa Maria Maggione church - said to be the most beautiful church in Rome, by some. Since we didn't happen to go inside any of the many churches we passed in Venice, I'm sure this would've been a great culture (religious?) shock for me. With my fantastic navigation skills, I brought us to the back of the church in the middle of the piazza. So while this incredibly massive building overwhelmed me from the back, as we walked around to the front, I was about to pass out by all of the detailed statues and relics built onto the church! I won't go into the details of the church and bore you because a church is a church but in Rome, a church is a church on steroids. Built in ancient times. No big deal... but I love that you are easily able to walk into these churches free of charge, take pictures, and even sit down at the pieus and attend a mass that may occur while you're there. What amazed me the most was how this partly felt like walking through a museum - floor to ceiling paintings and incredibly detailed works/sculptures, statues in many of the outcoves carved into the walls, marble floors, and a fully covered ceiling! There was even a beautiful stained glass scenery above the entrance which I haven't really seen at any of the other churches I've been to so far. Best part was seeing people going into the confessional booths, available in either Italian or English!

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Santa Maria Maggiore church

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The inside of the church..not sure why it was so dark in there

Anyways, after spending about an hour there, it was time to meet up with the group for a scheduled dinner at a place right in that square. Everything was already set to be served - an appetizer of bruschetta and some breaded vegetables, lots of wine, and a pizza covering an entire large plate - one per person. Really?! As the first pizza I'm having in Italy, I wasn't expecting that much! But was it seriously delicious with a crisp thin crust, not at all oily and the perfect amounts of tomato sauce and cheese. I wasn't at Charlie's anymore... After only getting through half of it, we had dessert also. So glad the rest of my night entailed exploring more of Rome by foot after that meal.

While much of the group went back to get some sleep, a handful of us went on our own to check out Rome by night. First, the Trevi Fountain!! It only looks so grand and beautiful in the movies, so seeing it in person was spectacular. The Romans know how to display their stuff with all the right lighting in the right places. Shadows were created on the sculptures of gods and on the columns, it was so pretty. We took a few pictures, but didn't throw coins...yet. But I learned that you toss the 1st coin in to come back to Rome, the 2nd is your wish (which most people wish for a husband/wife), and although there's some song about 3 coins in the Trevi Fountain that's actually bullcrap, so the Romans said the 3rd coin is for you to get a divorce. (don't worry, all of this money goes to charity) Then we walked about 10 min to the Pantheon, which is actually a Greek-style building with a hole in the ceiling of the dome built on purpose. I was surprisingly able to get a picture without a single person in the frame or background. Lucky me! After a hop, skip and jump we ended up in Piazza Navona, a square that's actually oval shaped because it was originally a stadium and some ruins of the stadium can be seen today. Aside from the restaurants and shops that create the perimeter of the square, there are 3 fountains within the square and a very large church. The main fountain in the front of the church contained 4 incredibly large marble sculptures of men representing the 4 continents. Of course there aren't 4 continents, but at the time this was built, the Romans only knew of four continents. Haven't they heard of Google?

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Trevi Fountain by night

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Me against the Pantheon

In the middle of the square, many street vendors were selling artwork mostly water color paintings, but because there were so many who knows if half of them were even real. But I bought a small one of the Colloseum anyways just because it looked nice and was already matted, and I've been looking forward to seeing this the most. After that excursion, we tried to take the bus back towards the hotel. Two blew right past us, because well Italians just don't really care, especially for tourists and I don't blame them. But we got back eventually.

Buonasera

Posted by dtoussi 15.03.2013 14:03 Archived in Italy Tagged rome pantheon piazza_navona trevi_fountain maria_magiorre Comments (0)

Venice Day 2

Lived on public transporto de Venizia and left my heart in Burano...oops

rain

Despite the rain that started this day, we took the train back into the city in order to visit the islands of Murano and Burano via vaporetto which is Venice's water bus. There are no buses, cars, or bicycles on these islands so the natives travel by boat which is pretty cool. Nonetheless after buying a 12-hour pass for unlimited travel via the vaporetto system for the day, we headed for the island of Murano where they have many glass blowing factories. But since we missed the stop for Murano, we went to the very neighboring island of Navagero. We walked down a small street at the end of which was a glass blowing factory. There were 3 men hanging out/chatting in this empty warehouse as they worked together to create an item. I was mesmerized trying to figure out what they were making as they each took turns adding pieces of molten glass to the original piece on a large steel rod and popping it in and out of the firey oven! After watching for a half hour, and a gentlemen who worked in the gallery explained what they were making, the end result was a beautiful vase with an abstract top that flared up on one side. Then we shopped in the store associated with the factory and saw so much more of their work, bellisimo. We met a woman who worked in the shop that told us about her brother-in-law's restaurant in Burano that we should visit for lunch so we took down the information to try and find it there.

We were told by multiple people that this time of year and especially this day of the week, it was not worth going to the center of town, we decided to head to Burano which I was more excited for. After a 30 minute boat ride to Burano, we made it to the charming little island filled with brightly colored houses, of which two consecutive ones were not painted the same colors. Although it was cloudy, these houses brightened the day. We took a million pictures at first because it was all so unreal; trying to pick my favorite color was impossible and I just could not believe every single building on that island had its own unique color. Burano is known for its hand-made lace, as this is historically what the women gathered on the porches to do while their men went out to fish all day. After stopping through many of the shops to check out the lace items from tablecloths to handkerchiefs and scarves to little lace bookmarks, I knew I had to leave with an Italian scarf (or two). Along the walk, we stumbled upon the restaurant recommended by the woman from Navagero! The owner was there and he convinced us to have lunch there even though we had packed ours earlier this morning. He specially prepared for us a platter of various fish that he receives fresh everyday - wow, was it amazing. Aside from the raw sliced salmon, there was lots of cooked and cured fish, half of which I didn't know but it was delicioso! I wish I took a picture of the beaut before we dug in. It was also interesting to see a mounted TV in the room we were dining that showed a live camera view of the kitchen so you can watch the chef prepare your meal!

After lunch, we continued on to visit the center of town which was a large empty square filled with lots of shops selling more lace and Murano glass items. I learned that all glass items are not from Murano. And all lace items are not from Burano (well, even if they are they are made by a machine now and not necessarily by hand). But the ways to tell are by asking the shop keeper, comparing prices (the cheaper one is not authentic), and looking at labels - some items such as wine toppers will have "Murano Glass Italy" engraved in it. These shops have been very easy to browse through because we are here during the off-season (Italy picks up after Easter) so it's been very quiet around many parts of Venice.

We took the vaporetto back to the mainland in order to take a waterway tour of Venice, the most scenic way to view the city! Because we spent most of the day exploring and shopping the islands, this tour became an evening one for us. This was beautiful because the houses, museums, and hotels line the water on both sides with many of them lit up to create gorgeous shadows of the statues on the larger buildings. It created such a romantic scene, especially with some restaurants lining tables outside with lights strung above them. If I wasn't so cold I would've sat at the front of the boat to take videos of the ride. We had to stop to find an ATM before going to San Marco's square, and when we did so we heard lots of bells being rung and we weren't sure what was going on until we realized that a new pope has been elected!! It was so amazing to realize we were in the middle of something quite historic. And then realized how bananas Rome will be when we arrive there tomorrow.... But anyways, hooray!

We continued a few more stops to S Marco only in order to find the infamous Harry's Bar where the Bellini (a peach liqueur with champagne) was invented and Ernest Hemingway always hung out. But because we walked around much of the San Marco area yesterday and didn't find it, we weren't sure we would be able to tonight. Until I walked right off the dock of the boat and BAM! Harry's Bar was right in front of my face. Hooray! We stepped inside this swanky little restaurant where many chic couples wined and dined and here are us 4 clowns coming off a boat looking like hot messes. No big deal, the owner even came to greet us. The prices on this menu were out-of-this-world-ridiculous! 16,50 euro for a glass of bellini??! It may have been invented there, but no thank you. I'll take a "cheap" glass of prosecco for 10 euro please. Alongside complimentary olives, that was our dinner. Cheers!

Up early for a train ride to Rome tomorrow and to meet the rest of the group to begin the tour. Can't wait to try the heavenly tap water there! Also, I'm so annoyed I can't upload pictures because they're too big. Sorry :(

Jk, they took FOREVER to upload, but here are some teasers
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Burano and it's charming decor
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Venice in the evening

Buonasera

Posted by dtoussi 13.03.2013 16:24 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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