Last week I had the amazing opportunity to bring my family on a whirlwind trip through Italy. No one besides myself had been, so we had a lot of ground to cover if we wanted to see all that Italy had to offer. We took 8 days to see 5 cities and it was beautiful, sometimes frustrating, appetizing, and mostly awe-inspiring. Today’s blog post will start with the first leg of our trip, 2 days in Rome and a day trip to Pompeii and Positano.
We started our first day in Rome catching up on sleep with a nap in the Airbnb and getting our phones switched to Italian SIM cards. In the off skirts of Rome, graffiti strewn but quieter than its chaotic center, we experienced our first taste of the language and culture dealing with the brusque sales clerks in the phone store and discovering a shop owner has no qualms telling you to get your feet off the chairs. We would come to learn in the coming week that while as Americans we are used to false cheerfulness from every encounter, Italians wear more of their true emotions on their sleeves. I wouldn’t consider it rude in hindsight, it was more they were giving you the honesty we probably need. There’s something to learn from them telling it how it is, they don’t bottle their emotions and they probably have better mental health for it.
As we prepared for an evening of light sight-seeing, we encountered an American living in Rome that gave us some helpful insight and a dinner recommendation in the Campo di Fiori area. We ventured over and found the charming ristorante, all warm wood details, antique tapestry and cozy niches. Our waiter (who was also presumably the owner based on his care for how much we did or did not like the food) gave us stunning recommendations on some starters for the table. Sliced zucchini folded with tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella, paper-thin salted duck layered with chunks of cantaloupe and almonds, and eggplant rolled with Parmesan and spices. Ryan and I being the pickier eaters of the bunch, leaned toward the zucchini, which our waiter discovered and promptly brought more in order for him to feel satisfied that we enjoyed our meals there. Our main courses were varied and equally delicious. Dishes like Ryan’s pesto tagliatelle with crispy squid, my spinach ravioli or my father in-law’s sea bass with sliced potatoes.
Our bellies full , we walked around the Piazza Novana, a large square bustling with evening activity. The square was glistening in the street lamps, lined with outdoor restaurants strung with lights and tiny tables covered in checkered cloths. The large fountain tinkling with water beautifully framing the church behind. We continued our walk towards the Trevi Fountain, meandering through the narrow streets filled with leather purse shops, gelaterias, and cafes. Crowded with tourists and vendors thrusting trinkets your way, we did quite a few zig zigs towards the famed fountain and gently pushed our way towards the front. The water was glittering from hundreds of coins and the statuary artfully lit as we tossed our wishes into the fountain, and then hurried away from the humid crowds. It’s a bucket list item that is more a check mark than an awe-inspiring experience.
Bright and early the next morning, we met our guide for our day trip to Pompeii and Positano. The van zipped through the narrow streets and onto the highway, a long journey ahead full of naps, lemon candies, and chit-chatting. A few hours later we arrived at our first stop, the ancient city of Pompeii. As our guide brought us through the archeological site, he explained that it was so well preserved because of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius; the volcano erupted and covered the city in a thick layer of ash. The city stayed buried for hundreds of years, the remnants of this once bustling area preserved. We made our way through ancient brick and stone walled buildings, the hot sun on our backs as our guide pointed out the various shops, houses and even brothels of the city. The saunas were of particular interest to me for their beautiful frescos and interesting traditions. After a very interesting tour, we said our goodbyes and zipped away towards the Amalfi coast.
If you’ve ever experienced a drive along the Amalfi Coast, its a memory you’ll never forget. Extremely narrow roads curving along the edge of a cliff with speedy Italian drivers is an ulcer in the making. However, the views of the sparkling ocean and rocky cliffs were absolutely stunning, and we made it to Positano all in one piece. Our guide gave us a couple of hours to explore and have lunch, and we took full advantage.
As we wound our way down the hill, we took in the colorful shops, full of lemon scented everything, rainbow glassware, and summery linen clothing (sadly above my price range). Ivy and flowers scaled the stucco walls and the sea breeze creeped through the passageways. We found a simple cafe for pizza and sandwiches so we could enjoy most of our time exploring. However, as with everything in Italy besides driving, the cooks took their time, and lunch took a little longer than expected. We hurried up and walked down to the beach. Despite being crowded with sun tanned bodies in swimsuits, the ocean was still a welcome retreat for our feet among the black pebble beach. We took in the amazing sights of colorful buildings tucked into the rocky cliffs, the shiny white boats bobbing in the water, and the sun bright in the blue sky. I wish I could have stayed longer to see that beautiful town, but I guess I have something to look forward to when I visit Italy again. We made our way back up the hill, small shopping bags in hand (for those lucky to find a deal), ready for another nap on our way back to Rome.
On our last day in Rome, the parents decided they wanted to attend mass at the Vatican. Ryan and I stayed back and enjoyed a nice lie-in, which I’m grateful we stayed behind for, after hearing all the mishaps. When we met our family in the square outside the basilica (after dealing with crowded security lines of sweaty people) we learned it was a literal crush of people trying to attend mass and the heat would almost make you pass out. It was not have bided well for me to attend being as claustrophobic as I am. We waited among the crowd outside for the Pope’s blessing, the Pope a tiny blip in his window. Ryan and I wanted a quick look inside the basilica, and I took in the familiar but still amazing interior while Ryan experienced it for the first time. Being a Sunday, we could not tour the Vatican, so we opted to head out for lunch instead.
DO NOT make the same mistake we did on lunch. We had planned on finding something to eat in another area known for great cafes, but we were sweaty, hungry and thirsty…and decided on a place right near the Vatican. Never pick a place near a super touristy area, the food is subpar but expensive and they tack on ridiculous fees like a “bread basket fee” even if they don’t actually give you bread, and their table fee (which is a norm all around Italy) was higher than other places.
After lunch, we waited in the blistering heat for tickets into the Colosseum and Roman Forum. Constantly bombarded by vendors selling water, cheap paper parasols and “skip the line” tickets, we grew weary of the heat and crowds. Finally we had our tickets…only to wait in another line to get inside. The Colosseum is a great treasure to see, imagining the gruesome and spectacular fights they had there, but the family was growing tired of the heavy crowds in Rome, and looking forward to the quieter Florence that awaited us. The Roman Forum was more of a crowd pleaser with our group, with its gardens and stunning views of the ruins and city below, but the day had taken its toll on us, so we didn’t stay long. An evening of pizza and gelato at the Airbnb was just what we needed before an early train ride to our next adventure…
Stay tuned for Part 2: Florence