Ten days is not enough time for Italy. It was enough time for a "sample" or "taste." But what a taste it was!
We arrived in Rome ready to roam. My mom met Tracey and me at the airport after she sat for several hours, people watching. We had rainy weather off and on most of the trip. It was so wet the first day that Tracey splurged on a 5 Euro umbrella. The first gust of wind and, well, you can see the results below!
We were into wandering around the first day, aided by a map. A map is helpful, except when it doesn't tell you what you are looking at. The three of us were standing in an amazing piazza surrounded by tall buildings with the customary fountain in the middle. It looked important, especially with the military guarding the buildings. A French couple was just as puzzled as we were. They came up to me and asked, "Do you what this is?" It wasn't until our return trip to Rome at the end of the trip did we learn that we were standing outside the Italian equivalent to the White House. Duh.
The first night, we met up with Sarah, her mom Linda, and her aunt Raylene at the hotel where we all were staying. They had arrived the day before and had been on an all day tour of Rome. We went to a corner of town that was reputed to have excellent food. It took us so long to find a restaurant, but when we found one, it didn't disappoint.
The next morning we set off for Vatican City. We were roped into a tour right away after getting off of the subway. I didn't have the best feeling about the tour, but the price was right. After waiting for 15 minutes outside a corner cafe (that's Raylene, Tracey, my mom and Linda waiting patiently... I wasn't waiting so patiently), the tour guide showed up. She, Maya, was an art history major and very knowledgeable. She knew all the scoop about the artists and their work. It was an amazing tour. Every room had something that made me stand open mouthed in absolute awe. Maya described the 3-D effects found in the Sistine Chapel and the optical illusions found in the Tapestry Room (Rafael's design).
Sarah, outside the Basilica.
St. Peter's Basilica! The marble for the columns was recycled from the Colosseum. It was interesting to try to imagine the area during the time of Peter and Paul and to imagine Peter's crucifixion (upside down).
That afternoon, we all took a train down to Naples and then hopped another to Sorrento. We finally arrived just as the hotel restaurant was closing (which didn't make the waiter too happy). We spent the next day bumming around the shops in Sorrento and planning excursions for the next two days. As you can see in the picture above, Sorrento had beautiful alleyways and excellent shops.
That evening we went to the BEST restaurant in Sorrento. We didn't even realize that we ate at the top restaurant until we read about it in the guide book... It was so good that we went back two nights later! I had salmon in a white wine sauce. There was an army of servers waiting on us. They brought us appetizers, cookies and lemoncello, all on the house. We even got my mom drinking a bit of the lemoncello!
Raylene was eager to take a boat tour down the Almafi Coast. We all enthusiastically embraced her plan and signed up for an all day excursion which included swimming stops along the way and time in the town of Almafi.
Sarah and I went below deck to change into our swim suits. Here we are with our, "Don't try to get me to talk; if you do I'll throw-up," smiling faces.
What's the best cure for seasickness? A swim in the Mediterranean Sea! We stopped off the coast of the Island of Capri for a swim in the warm and clear waters. Sarah pointed out that the Mediterranean, though it's as clear as the Adriatic, is a very different blue. It reminded me of the blue that you get from a watercolor paint box.
These children were in a family that we had met the day before. We had told them about the tour. They were staying at our hotel and we saw them everywhere! The kids are Josh and Sarah. Little Sarah really wanted to swim in the Mediterranean, but was nervous about the open water and about getting off the steps of the boat. She did it though! The kind sailors gave her a life jacket. Once she was in the water for a while, she was comfortable enough to let go of my hand and swim around freely.
We were in the town of Almafi when we were hit with a sudden down pour. Everyone raced back to the boat and jumped aboard. We spent a good hour below deck play a dice game that, thankfully, Tracey brought along. Once the sun came out, Sarah and I raced to the bow to take in the fresh air and sunshine. We didn't get our second swim stop because the water was too choppy.
I've been dreaming of visiting Pompeii since I was eight years old and read about it in the children's National Geographic magazine. Of course it was interesting and bigger than I imagined (Pompeii was a huge Roman town), but I was expecting to see preserved bodies along with their jewelry and pottery all set up in their houses. We saw a bit of that in the Forum area, but not as much as I had hoped (does it sound wrong to hope to see dead bodies?). However, I learned so much about the Roman lifestyle. Our tour guide did a fine job of painting a picture of the thriving Roman town. I could almost smell the soup drifting out of the soup kitchens and the bread baking in the ovens.
The second half of the day ushered in low clouds and fog. Perfect for hiking in a volcano (note sarcasm). We didn't actually get to see the second crater which was created by the massive Vesuvius eruption, but the hike was excellent and our guide superb.
Our moms hiked too!
After nearly five fun filled days with Sarah, Linda and Raylene, Tracey, Mom and I headed north to Tuscany. I truly love Florence. It is a city with such an artistic soul, beautiful surrounding countryside, and incredible people.
We took a five hour, 28 kilometer bicycle ride through the Tuscan countryside. We didn't stop for wine tasting since all the wineries appeared to be closed (and I wasn't sure about riding under the influence). It was a tough bike ride up hill, but it was definitely a highlight of the trip!
See the ominous looking clouds? Yep, it poured on us! We all made it though and kept on riding! We are quite the troopers.
After our bike ride, we hit the shops! This sales associate, Melina, sold Tracey and me beautiful dresses. Mine is purple (my current signature color) and long and gorgeous! Tracey's is the one shown above. It isn't customary to take a picture with a sales associate, however, Melina really knew style and fashion. I didn't feel like a customer, I felt like I was a canvass for clothes. She really is an artist.
After going to visit David (one word....WOW), we headed back to Rome. We walked to Trevi Fountain and up the Spanish Steps. I did the touristy thing and threw a coin in the fountain insuring a return trip to Rome and a wish come true. Why am I always the cheesy one?
Our last day in Rome was our "Ancient Rome" class. We went to the Colosseum and the Palatine (which I totally appreciated since so much of Quo Vadis is set in the Palatine and has so much of the gladiator/games history in the story. I love reading a book in the actual setting. Quo Vadis is my new favorite book...Thanks Amy and Travis for letting me borrow it!!!!!) Here we are playing gladiators. I'm trying to go for the jugular.
We wanted to go to the Pantheon on Monday, but since it was St. Peter and St. Paul's Day, the church closed at 1:00. I was truly sad, but it gives me all the more reason to go back to Italy. We did get to look through a crack in the door. Mom was trying to go for a "spy girls" shot.
Our last meal in Rome! We finally found the yummiest pizza in Italy. This restaurant was recommend by Rick Steves (thanks Melinda for a great guide book!), but we stumbled upon it quite by accident. The best part was that the cute waiter behind me in this picture brought us free red wine at the end of the meal. Tracey thinks that it was from cute waiter, but I think it was from cocky British guy who was sitting at the table next to us. He was talking to his own countrymen and women about how hard it was to meet nice girls around his age (which he announced at the top of his lungs to be 35) and taking periodic long looks over at our table. Yep, we've still got it!
What memorable way to end a memorable year. I'm so glad that there is at least one more year of adventure to look forward to with my "Albanian" family. Oh, but I'm glad to be home for the summer!