A Travellerspoint blog

Back in Roma!

sunny 24 °C
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It is hard to believe we are more than halfway through our trip. Our time in Sorrento and Amalfi was lovely, but our hotels were not in ideal locations. They were on main tourist streets, and thus a bit noisier than we would have liked. They were, however, centrally located and close to everything. We enjoyed our tour of the lemon groves in Sorrento and had a wonderful time on the farm watching mozzarella being made. Pizza making was pretty funny, especially the throwing part.

We had a wonderful cooking class in Sorrento. It was just the two of us with the chef. We made eggplant parmigiana, gnocchi with red sauce, and tiramisu. Dinner at my house when we get home! lol What a fun evening that was!

The day we drove from Sorrento to Amalfi was a holiday, so it was very crowded. Positano was barely walkable because there were so many people. It seemed rather commercialized, too, but it was beautiful there. In Ravello, it was lovely and much quieter. We enjoyed lunch at a small family restaurant in Pantone overlooking the green, lush valley to the gorgeous, blue sea. We ended our drive in Amalfi where we stayed a few days. During that stay we toured another lemon grove.

This tour was led by the owner, Salvatore, making it much more personal. He had left the family business, gotten a college degree, and become an accountant. When the family business was having struggles, he returned to try to save the business. His family has run the same farm for 8 generations. Some of the lemon trees are over Such a wonderful family legacy! Working the farm is very difficult. It is built on the side of a steep hill and terraced to get maximum usage of the land and make use of water drainage from area to area of plantings. I think we walked something like 22 floors that day in a short mile and a half. Gruelling! We learned a great deal about the growth of the lemon tree and some of the struggles to grow all organic fruit. It was a very interesting tour.

After the tour, John and I were privileged to prepare the big midday meal with the family and to sit at their dinner table in the open air patio. We prepared two kinds of pasta, one with a pesto sauce and one with a lemon garlic sauce. We learned how to make orecchiette and scialatielli pastas from scratch. In addition, we made a different type of eggplant dish that is similar to parmigiana, but it is rolled. It can be eaten as soon as it is made because the eggplant has already been fried or heated just enough to melt the smoked mozzarella inside the rolled eggplant. Delicious! We also made dessert which was a small cupcake style of light cake. A bit of the cake was cut out and pudding was placed inside. After that the whole cake was placed in a bowl of cream and pudding mixed, and we put this all over the outside. The cream covered cake was then placed on a serving platter and refrigerator until ready to serve. Lastly we prepared salmon with a bit of olive oil, lemon juice, and pepper. This was placed on a bed of sliced cooked potatoes and baked until flaky. Our meal was delicious, and the wine flowed. What a wonderful time with the family. We were able to see life from the perspective of a lemon farmer and the generations working together to diversify and make their lives successful.

Upon returning to Rome, we arrived at Termin,i the main train station, and immediately got in the long line for a taxi. Taxis are assigned as they pull up. We were not lucky! We got a driver who was so bad! He lied to us and said there was unfortunately a bus strike, so he would have to take a long way around to get to our hotel. It would cost 36 Euros! John immediately said, "Stop! Let us out!" Fortunately, we were wise to him. The buses were not on strike, and we knew our ride should only be 10-12 Euros. We walked back and got in line a second time. Our new driver was very nice but his car was a bit broken down. The latch on the hatchback didn't latch well. John and I reached over the back seat and held onto the luggage the whole way just in case. The ride cost us only 10 Euros.

After we settled into our room, we were off to tour the Colosseum and the Forum. It was terrific! We had booked an underground tour through Walks of Italy. Little did we know, only 800 people are allowed in the underground portion of the Colosseum each day. It was such an interesting tour that I would recommend to anyone coming to Italy, but book in advance because it is very limited. On this tour, you get to go underground where all of the animals were kept. We saw the tunnel where the gladiators were brought over from their training camp. In the training camp, they practiced with wooden swords because it was feared they might use the real swords to commit suicide before making it to the colosseum showing. We also saw a remake of the lift that took the animals to the arena level. What an intricate system they developed! Very sad for the gladiators and animals though. Later we saw the other floors, including the top floor, which is again only accessible to 800 people a day. We were able to look down from the top to see all the way into the underground area. It was quite something. We were fortunate to have a very good guide who had majored in history and was quite knowledegeable in the history of Rome from prior to the birth of Christ to the present. We learned about the different layers of the city that were built on top of one another, who tore down certain areas in an effort to restore others, and so on. We also toured the Forum and Palentine Hill. I learned that the St. John's Church was the true first church of Christianity built here in Rome. I wasn't aware of that, and I'm sure you know how that thrilled John! :-)

Yesterday we took another tour of the "Hidden Gems" of Rome. These were areas that a lot of people may walk through, but they do not get a detailed history and depth of understanding of the importance of the areas historically. We stood in the square near the Jewish Temple where 2,090 Jews were rousted out of their homes by the Nazis in the predawn hours on the Sabbath during World War II. Unjust, for sure! Only 16 people survived and returned to Rome, one female and 15 males. The one female spent the rest of her life taking groups of young students to Auschwitz concentration camp to explain and educate the young about her experiences, so it will never happen again. It is important to remind ourselves that this horrible treatment of human beings happened only a short time ago, about 85 years. Of course, there are still much mistreatment of people throughout the world still today, but the Holocaust was one of the most widely cast injustices in history. This one woman was a heroin of her people for her willingness to share her experiences for the education of others.

During our visit to the Jewish Ghetto, I learned an interesting thing about the top of the temple. It is square as opposed to the domed style of the Christian churches. It makes it easy to distinguish immediately when looking at the buildings as we tour.

We went to the Appian Way and saw the first aqueducts of Rome. It is amazing to me the sophisticated architecture and methods for building complex systems the ancient Romans developed. I am certain I must have learned that at some point in my schooling, but when you see it first hand you can better appreciate the complexity of it all. It's just like standing beneath giant square blocks creating the overhead of the passageways underground at the Colosseum and realizing there is nothing holding them up aside from the pressure of the blocks against one another. Simply amazing!

And so, that leads us to today. Today we rest. We have absolutely no plans. We barely got up in time for breakfast. It feels good to have some down time before we meet up with the photo tour. Since none of that group has already been on the go for almost two weeks and undoubtedly we are the oldest of the group, we decided we needed time to recharge before the busy days ahead. In the past then days, we have been acquainting ourselves with the workings of our Sony cameras hoping to be up to speed. John has used only Manual Mode during the trip which is thrilling. We are excited to be led around for the next eight days by MeRah and Brian and to learn many wonderful, insightful techniques to improve our photography.

And so Ciao for now!

Posted by Jandjlaurich 02:01 Archived in Italy Tagged italy rome amalfi sorrento Comments (0)

From Rome to Sorrento

A Bit of a Dichotomy

rain 15 °C
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On Thursday, May 27, we took the speed train from Rome to Naples. Just getting to the Termini (main train station) was quite an adventure in the morning traffic jam. Our cab driver was excellent though. It still amazes us at how people here drive. There is little regard for right of way it seems, and do not think because you are a pedestrian that means they will stop or slow down for you, even if you are in a crosswalk. You take your life in your own hands just stepping off the curb. When you finally courageously step out into the street, you must rush to cross, dodge the cars who just keep going or those that edge up on you sort of like saying "Hey, hurry up!" and continually twist and turn your head to ensure you are still safe and remain in one piece. It was an interesting experience and makes me appreciate that in the United States you are somewhat safer in a crosswalk. As you travel in a vehicle along the streets, there can be people on scooters whipping around you on all sides. Some even travel on the wrong side of the street hoping to pass as many cars as possible before scooting back into the flow of traffic. Going one direction, there can be several cars traveling the same "lane" because many of the cars are tiny Smart cars or Fiats, but then there are giant buses and trucks, too. As John says, you can barely slip a credit card between the cars, yet we never saw even one car accident. It was truly amazing.

We had prepurchased our train tickets before coming to Italy, so when we went to the station we just had to show our printout to pass through into the train area. There was very little security there which surprised us after seeing police everywhere throughout the city, many with automatic rifles, especially at the major tourist attractions. It took awhile for us to find our gate, and then we had to keep watch on the ever-changing board to catch sight of our platform number. Lots of people were there scurrying around like little ants. They obviously knew what they were doing and regularly rode the train.

Much to our pleasure and surprise, we did not encounter any real difficulties. We had been warned of the possibility of pickpockets and such, but we must not have looked very vulnerable because we never saw anyone or encountered anyone who offered to carry our bags or help us in any way. I was happy not to deal with that issue. We will see if we are as lucky when we return to Rome next week.

The train ride was peaceful and pleasant. They come along and give you free water and snack bags in Business Class. I'm not sure that is the same throughout the train, but it was a nice surprise. In the little bag they gave each of us were crackers, a paper cup, a candy, and a hand wipe in a package. The travel from Rome to Naples was a quick one hour. Upon arrival in Naples, our driver met us just inside the station. From there we were off on a pleasant drive to Sorrento. The beauty of having a personal driver is you can stop whenever and wherever you want. We stopped for photos and to buy a converter for charging our devices. It is not an adapter like we brought from home which turned out to be malfunctioning. Most devices now are able to be used with just an extra plug because the device itself has built-in ability to adjust to the different voltage. Our first hotel loaned us one, but we needed to buy one before returning to Rome. It was great that our driver, Tomasso helped us find a store that carried the needed plug.

There is such a contrast between Rome, a city with busy, streets, crazy frenetic drivers, a church on every other street, and a ton of monuments and significant sights to see and the quieter city of Sorrento. Sorrento is really a city area created from four separate cities along the coast of southern Italy. The popular tourist location is the final city of Sorrento. It is filled with tiny tourist shops selling herbs, lemon everything, handbags, belts, and sandals made from leather, trinkets, and did I mention everything LEMON! They even sell limoncello ices at ten in the morning. That's a little early to imbibe. John and I call this area where our hotel is located Cruise Ship Way. It seems like all the cruisers come to this street to walk the little shops, and they are open from about nine until eleven at night. The street is active and engaging all day and night.

Although we are located on a busy tourist street, the remainder of the city seems quiet and rather peaceful. The drivers are not in a huge rush. They don't push you or rush to go through the intersection barely missing hitting people are very relaxed as well. We found the people in Rome were polite and helpful, but seemed more rushed kind of like some places at home.

At meals in a restaurant, you are never, ever rushed! You can sit for the entire evening if you'd like. They do not bring the check to you until you request it. That's very different from home. It was also the same in Rome. You are allowed to linger and visit, and people from table to table chat with one another. It is not unusual to have a full conversation with people from another table as a part of your evening.

Our hotel is lovely, the service is terrific and accommodating, and the room is huge with a very long hallway to the bathroom. John thinks it is larger than our first apartment, and I'm sure he is correct. It seems there is air conditioning, but we are not allowed to use it at this time of year. When you only have double doors that open to a Juliet balcony with our screens, you cannot get any cross ventilation. John is always too warm, so we have opened to doors anyway to keep the room cool. It is interesting to listen to all the goings on on the street below. It is silent when the doors are closed, but every conversation is easily heard when they are open. Breakfast is included each morning, and the breakfast room is huge, so we know there must be a lot of different rooms in this hotel. We don't hear anyone though within the hotel. There is a quaint elevator you access from the first floor above registration. You enter the courtyard at the ground floor, then climb up the stone staircase. After that you can access the elevator to go up to the other floors. In order to enter the elevation when it arrives, there is an outer door you open just like you were going into a room. Then there are two small doors that you push into the elevator before you step in. These doors must be closed, then you push the floor you want. You must push zero to go down to the floor where you get off and climb down the stairs, even though that is not the bottom floor. Now that was quite confusing at first, in addition, you must be certain to shut those little inner elevator doors, or the next person who wants to access the elevator cannot call it to their floor.

Upon entering the room, you must put a metal card into a slot by the door. In doing this, you activate the electricity in the room. If the slot is not filled with the card, then the electricity goes off automatically. It is quite clever, and I'm sure it saves on the electric bill! We removed the card from our key chain because we wanted it in there when we left the room in order to charge batteries and devices. We spoke with our maid, and she agreed not to remove it. We were sure to turn off all of the lights in order to conserve.

Today we were supposed to go to Pompeii and Herculenium but it was threatening rain all day. We moved our tour to Sunday, so we will have a very full day that day. We thought we'd go to Capri and see the Blue Grotto, but with the inclimate weather and wind it's not going to happen. If we don't get to go, then it gives us a reason to return to Italy. 😊

As we took a walking tour of the city today, we were approached politely by a small group of young students. They were doing a survey for school. As a part of it, they had to ask us a set of interview questions and record the entire process. At first John was quite cautious thinking it might be a scam, but it was just a bunch of small groups of three or four students who were given an assignment requiring them to practice their English skills. They though it wa super funny when they asked me my occupation and I responded retired teacher. There was a lot of giggling because they knew I would help them. One girl was very shy and not proficient in her English. The others made her talk to me, so I helped her a lot. She was so cute.

Eating is a big part of traveling because of course in a hotel it is difficult to bring food to the room to prepare. We have found the food to be delicious and really not as heavy and large portions as at home. Everything is more or less a la carte. Each course is selected separately. You can eat one or many courses. We have yet to eat more than two courses, like soup or salad and either pasta or meat. Well, if dessert is a course, we are experts at that one. 😂 The food in Italy is surprisingly different from the Italian food at home, at least so far. We haven't had anything yet that has as much garlic as Italian food at home. That has been a bit of a surprise. Everything is delicious though, and from what I understand the food is different in different regions of the country. We shall see as we go along.

Tomorrow our driver, Tomasso, is taking us to olive oil tasting, making mozzarella, making pizza, touring a lemon grove, and then following with limoncello, of course. It is addicting. This tour was at Tomasso's suggestion. It is out of town and will be a nice opportunity to see more of the area. But for now, we are off to dinner before it gets super late. We are enjoying a more relaxed day today and resting up for activity-filled days tomorrow and Sunday. Ciao for now!

P.S. I don't have time to proofread this, so I hope it makes sense. 💕

Posted by Jandjlaurich 08:53 Archived in Italy Tagged sorrento Comments (0)

Highlights of Rome

In 20,000 Steps or Less

Over 6 hours of walking during our first full day (Tuesday) in Rome, and we have not begun to see but just a small part of this ancient city. The people are wonderful and the sights are truly amazing. We use a walking guide I found online and had a great time just being absorbed in the historic significance of the places, sights, and smells of Italy. Everywhere you turn is a mix of the modern and the ancient. Such a city of historical importance, it leaves you awestruck.

Walked our socks off and saw the Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon, many piazzas, churches, and lots and lots of people. It was Liberation Day, so it was a national holiday. Families were out and about along with all the tourists. There were bands and displays and all kinds of excitement everywhere you turned. What surprised us was the massive police presence at every turn. We are unsure if that is due to the attack in Paris, Liberation Day, or just the norm. They were armed with rifles and very attentive to the crowds, and emphatic they not be caught in a photo by tourists passing through. Every piazza, street and especially the more popular sights were filled with police cars, officers, and even armored vehicles. We were not witness to any incidents which was wonderful.

We had lunch at a small out of the way cafe on a side street. The waiters were charming. We were surrounded by Italians enjoying a bite same as we were. The people are friendly and open. Our day ended with a wonderful dinner at a small out of the way restaurant that served the best Osso Bucco ever. Our waitress was delightful and helpful, leading us to savor each aspect of our meal. Mealtime is such a relaxing event in Italy.

I posted a few photos last night, but it got to be midnight here before I finished. I think I am still working on getting my body clock set to Italy. I slept 6 hours straight through though, so I am energized for a new and exciting adventure today.

Today, Wednesday here, we will tour the Vatican. I am prepared to be in awe and overwhelmed by its beauty, history, art, and architecture. We will enjoy a private tour guide who I'm hoping will share us with a wealth of knowledge.

Ciao for now.

Posted by Jandjlaurich 23:03 Archived in Italy Tagged rome Comments (0)

First Day of Our Travels

Wonderful But Not Without Challenges

sunny
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To start off, our flight was delayed in Los Angeles, but to no surprise! The good thing was that we had plenty of time on our layover in Paris, so we were not worried.

As we went through TSA screening, I (Jenny) got pulled out. I was scanned and patted down in every imaginable area of my body and they even ran some kind of special paper over my hands to make sure I did not have bomb residue on my hands. I do look like a shady character I guess, and NO I did not say anything stupid to draw attention to myself. LOL

Then when we lined up to board the plane, an announcement was made to please use the toilet before boarding. People began to get rather concerned since this was not a short flight. We were told there were 4 malfunctioning bathrooms on board. Not being familiar with the plane, we were quite curious how many bathrooms actually would be functioning. There were a total of 16 bathrooms, 12 functioning properly, and a total of over 500 passengers. As it turned out, all of the bathrooms on the top floor of the plane where we had our seats were functioning just fine. We were happy to hear that!

On arrival in Paris, all was well. We had plenty of time to get to our gate, or so we thought. First we went through the French version of TSA. The guy we got must have been having a rather bad day. John did not hear what the man said and the guy started yelling at him, "You must listen to me!" Then he mumbled a bunch of stuff I didn't understand. Once through the scanner, we were held up because they wanted to thoroughly check the camera bag. The lady in front of us, also American, was extremely late for her flight and expressed concern. Ultimately, the contents of her bag were thoroughly removed and left in a pile for her to try to squeeze back into her bag. Not an easy task. We waited, then it was our turn. The woman who began taking our camera gear out of our bag did not understand the complexity of all of the pockets and sections of our bag. I will admit it is not simple. I tried to point to the zipper she should use to open the largest compartment with gear in it, and she began getting angry and telling me not to touch. There is a compartment inside the inner portion of the bag that is attached but also can be removed. She was ripping at it and becoming frustrated. Again I tried to explain, but she shut me down immediately. It seemed to take forever before we were let go to repack our equipment. We celebrated having made it through relatively unscathed. Oh, I forgot, I also was hand scanned here too and the same procedure looking for bomb residue. I must have had a specific look today that just attracted that kind of attention.

On to Customs. Ah, yes. The least efficient aspect of France. Unfortunate for us, everyone but one poor sole had gone to lunch. People were yammering and complaining they were going to miss their flights. We had 30 minutes, so we figured no sweat. Needless to say, I guess we were being way too positive. It took forever, and we ended up at our gate just in time to board. But the good part is, we made our flight and arrived early in Rome. Hooray!

In general, both flights were uneventful overall. The food was great for airline food. The people sitting near us were quiet and also wanted to try to sleep just as we did. I was successful but John was not as much. Hence, I am writing this while he has already crashed.

Our hotel had a driver at the airport to meet us, and off we went into the center of Rome for our stay. Our hotel is lovely, and they even upgraded us from a standard room. Woohoo for us! If we stick our heads out the window, we have a view down the street to Piazza Navona. Quite beautiful at night.

Our hotel made a reservation for us for dinner at a small restaurant which was great. We enjoyed a delicious meal and a walk along the river. We saw St Peter's Basilica lit up and reflected in the river. I took some handheld shots, but it remains to be seen if they are any good. We will go back to the bridge tomorrow night with a tripod. We also visited the piazza for shots of the fountains at night. There were police everywhere with machine guns. I'm guessing they are taking extra precautions due to the incident in Paris, but also because tomorrow is Liberation Day, a national holiday.

Considering we sat on planes the whole day, we still walked over 9,000 steps today. I'm sure tomorrow we will walk three times that at least since our plan is to just get out and walk everywhere in the city center and surrounding areas. No special plan. Hopefully, I will also be able to post some photos tomorrow, but now I must try to sleep. Good day all!

Posted by Jandjlaurich 13:31 Archived in Italy Tagged travel day rome 1 Comments (0)

Woohoo! Packing

We have practiced packing, and it went well. We each have only one bag, and then we have the camera equipment backpack. I think we are good to go! We are down to less than three weeks until take-off! It's hard to believe all the time that has passed since John gave me the photo tour for Christmas, 2015. Such a wonderful, thoughtful husband!

Posted by Jandjlaurich 13:28 Comments (0)

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