“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”
Arriving in Rome gave us a feeling of comfort. In a four month journey of new sights, sounds and smells, Rome was the familiar friend that we longed to see again since our last trip there in 2011. We got right down to business and found a take-out pizza place for dinner our first night. Two pizzas and two arancini in front of the TV made it feel like we were right at home.
We only had one day in Rome before we headed down the coast, so we decided to tour the Colosseum, as we had not gone into it the last time we were in Italy. Learning about the history of the monumental structure and the events which took place there gave us a much deeper understanding of ancient Roman culture. It was difficult to read about all the lives lost there and not feel remorse. Simply seeing the Colosseum from the outside does not do justice to its history and importance.
The next day we took an Italotreno train to the rough and tumble city of Naples. We had read, and been warned, about the reputation Naples has received over the years; a city of crime, poverty and pick-pockets. We had our guards up from the moment we left Rome and had plans to be in before dark and avoid particular areas of the city altogether. After our first day and night of being there we were able to form our own opinions; the reputation is a major exaggeration. Of course there are seedier parts and interesting characters, but not any more than any other city we have visited. We took our regular precautions as sensible travellers, but did not let other’s fears stop us from enjoying our time there…and enjoy we did!
We had met a Neapolitan in the Rome Termini and he talked our ear off about all the Napoli hot spots. We took his advice and began our exploration of the city at Via dei Tribunali, a pedestrian only area with shopping, gelaterias, pizzerias and and at least one ornate church squeezed into every block. Naples is known globally as having the best pizza in the world, and Sorbillo Pizzeria had come recommended to us as the best pizza in Naples. After a 30 minute wait for our table, we ate the best pizza in the entire world. Maybe it was the mid-day bottle of wine that we had with it, but we had never eaten anything so scrumptious in our entire lives. After our pizza lunch, and a cannoli to go, we continued to wander Napoli and found ourselves at the Castel Nuovo. Built in 1279 this castle is much newer than most historic structures in Italy and still perfectly in tact, where it sits towering over Piazza Municipo. We ended our day wandering along the boardwalk at the Naples waterfront. During our time in Naples we skipped out on visiting any museums, but considered a visit to the popular Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, which houses numerous artifacts from Pompeii. Instead we decided to visit Pompeii and Vesuvius themselves.
The Circumvesuviana train from Naples goes all the way around Mount Vesuvius, stopping at many small town along the way. We got off in Ercolano and took a small bus to the start of the path where we hiked to the top. It was not until we were hiking the edge of the crater that we saw that Vesuvius is a volcano inside a volcano, Monte Somma. The challenging uphill hike on the red volcanic rock was well worth the panoramic view of the entire Bay of Naples from the top. Visitors are torn away from the spectacular view, only to be reminded that they are standing on an active volcano, seeping gaseous vapours and awaiting its next eruption.
After hiking Vesuvius, the only next logical thing to do was visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pompeii, the city that had fallen victim of a Vesuvius eruption in 79AD. The city was covered in seven meters of volcanic ash, as a result of the eruption, and perfectly preserved in time for over 1,500 years, until it was uncovered in 1599. Houses, baths and temples are still standing in all their glory, decorated by the most well preserved murals of ancient times. It has since then become an area of fascination for geologists, archeologists and historians alike, not to mention the many tourists that visit the fascinating site on a daily basis.
After traveling to the northern coastline on our last trip to Italy, this time we decided to head south to the popular Amalfi Coast. A hot spot, especially during the summer, the Amalfi Coast spans 40km of mountain and waterfront and includes numerous charming coastal towns. We stayed in the town of Minori in an apartment right at the beach. The timing could not have been any more perfect for us to both get sick, and spend a few days relaxing. That being said, our runny noses didn’t hold us back too much, as we still ventured on daily hikes, through the mountains, to neighbouring towns of Ravello, Atrani, Amalfi, Maiori and Salerno. The hiking trails are lined with lemon and olive trees in the rural areas and tight narrow paths between homes throughout the towns. Always hiking up or down a set of stairs provided us with many opportunities to stop to catch our breath, as we gazed out over the Tyrrhenian Sea with the soundtrack of church bells in the distance. Hiking not only offered spectacular views and excellent exercise, but it also kept us off the SITA buses, which wind along the snaking cliffside roads and are sure to cause, even the strongest stomach, motion sickness. We appreciated having some time out of big cities and enjoyed small town life during our time on the Amalfi Coast.
We headed back up to Rome on December 23rd to spend Christmas in the city. We treated ourselves and stayed at beautiful B&B just steps from the Colosseum. Our last three days in Italy were spent wandering around Rome, visiting the popular spots and treating ourselves to indulgent dinners out which included many bottles of wine and champagne. Our favourite restaurant, and where we had our Christmas dinner, is tucked away in the narrow streets surrounding Piazza Navona; it’s called Cantina & Cucina. The décor is cozy, an atmosphere that is also created by the warm and welcoming staff members working there on Christmas Day. The food was some of the best we’ve had in Italy and the service was fantastic.
It was the first Christmas away from home for both of us and, although there were moments of longing for family, friends and home cooking, we had a great time. It was within these days that I came to realize that Christmas is just a day, like any other day, and we did not miss our loved ones because it was Christmas. We find things that remind us and make us miss our families and friends everyday and we can’t wait for our reunion with them in April. However, in the meantime, we’re going to sit back and enjoy the ride, because we’re having life changing experiences daily and we’re loving every minute of it!