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Best of South Italy May 23 - June 4, 2022 Tour Report

Tour Report: Best of South Italy, May 23 – June 4, 2022

I'm going to follow the same format I used for my Loire to the South of France tour earlier. The first section will be a general overview, while later installments will get more specific, probably going day by day. Those of you who have read that report will see quite a bit of overlap in this first section.

I must tell you that we have been trying to take this tour for years, since 2015, I think. And every single year, something would come up that kept us from taking it. This time, I was bound and determined that we would do this tour, no matter what!

Our guide was Caterina Moore. She has been a guide with RSE for many years; South Italy is her favorite tour to guide. Our bus driver was Massimo, whose first RSE tour was earlier this season, also with Caterina. His brother has driven for RSE for years. It is a good tour, and we enjoyed it. This was our 16th RSE tour.; we had completed our 15th, Loire to the South of France, 10 days earlier. We split the 10 days between tours between Venice and Rome, where this tour began.

The tour members: Our group consisted of 22 people, mostly couples. There were 9 couples, a mother/daughter pair, 1 single woman, and 1 single man. The age range was from the about 40 to mid to late 70s. Most people were probably in their early 60s.

There was, as usual, a wide range of occupations, including a dancer and a woman who runs a professional rodeo. (That was a first for us.) About 1/3 of the people were retired. Two couples and the mother/daughter pair were RSE newbies; others had as many as 8 or 9 previous tours.

Packing: Stan and I each took an Appenzell backpack (23L) and one personal item. My personal item was a smallish cross-body bag I got as a premium for renewing our Sierra Club membership. Stan carries an older laptop bag, without the laptop. His Appenzell and laptop case each weighed in at 10 pounds. My Appenzell was 11 pounds, and my shoulder bag was 6.

Here's what I took. This includes what I wore on the plane:

• 3 pairs of slacks, including one very light, loosely cut linen blend, and 2 heavier cotton blend pants, one black, one light beige.
• 6 tops, 4 long sleeved, one of which I only wore once, and two short sleeved. One top was very heavy, the others were more lightweight. Mixed colors, but all went with my neutral pants.
• one heavy cardigan
• one very light jacket
• one windbreaker
• 2 bras
• 3 pairs of underpants
• 4 pairs of socks, 2 white, 2 black
• 2 pairs of shoes
• 1 set of “comfy clothes,” including a tee shirt and a pair of light jersey pants. These were my sleep clothes, as well as my lounging-around-the-room clothes.
• 1 hat – a straw fedora I bought in Paris the week before the tour began,
• 1 long but lightweight cashmere scarf

Also in my bags were toiletries for both of us, our 3-1-1 bag, my supplements, useful odds and ends such as tweezers, safety pins, and a tiny sewing kit, my journal, and all the paperwork we would need. I also carried a number of OTC medications, mostly pain killers (aspirin, acetaminophen) but also some antihistamines and tummy settlers (pepto equivalent.) OTC painkillers are very expensive in Italy, and can only be bought in pharmacies.

I also brought my tablet and, for the first time, a cell phone. I missed my bluetooth keyboard for my tablet, but several of the keys (like a, m, n, r, and s) had quit working, and it evidently cannot be repaired. I found this out too late to replace it.

I also packed the Veloce Guide bag, 2” shorter and 1” narrower that the one they sell now. This was my usual cross-body day bag. And finally, a very small cross-body bag, about 6” x 6.5” and very thin, made of heavy tapestry fabric, with an amazing number of zippered pockets. It's big enough to hold a small wallet, a credit card, and a few tissues. I can just barely squeeze my phone into it, but prefer not to.

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Continuing...

Stan carried all his clothes. Including what he wore on the plane, that was
• 3 pairs of slacks (one dark, 2 light,) 4 shirts (3 short sleeved, 1 long,)
• 2 knit shirts which he wore when he needed an extra layer or as his sleep shirt,
• 2 pairs of shoes,
• undies, socks, and comfy lounge pants,
• a hooded jacket
• a windbreaker
• 1 cap

He also carried his supplements, the maps, and the guidebooks. The windbreakers had been sprayed with water-proofing, and served as lightweight rain jackets.

Hotels: Most of the hotels were typical RS hotels: small, centrally located, quirkily laid out, and family run, with a wide range of room sizes and amenities. The exceptions, as usual, were the first and last hotels, which were business class, or nearly so in the case of our Rome hotel. All were acceptable, some were delightful, and all served a good breakfast.

Most of the breakfasts were buffet style, but this is not as common now as it used to be, because of Covid precautions. Stan and I stayed in at least 2 hotels this trip, (not on the tours,) where breakfast was served by staff. I think most of the tour hotels had elevators; I'm not sure about air conditioning (we almost never use it.)
I'll add comments about the individual hotels as I go through the daily reports. I will say that my least favorite hotels were the two business class ones. As I noted in previous reports, business class hotels seem to prioritize the public areas, rather than the rooms, and in general the reception staff tend to be less … I'm struggling for a word here. They tend to be more formal. Still helpful, but less warm and personal.

Bus: The bus was comfortable, with plenty of seats for people to be able to spread out. There was no wifi on the bus; I didn't notice charging outlets, either. Caterina was adamant that people wear masks on the bus. In fact, she insisted we put our masks on before we even got on the bus. Most people remembered, although there were a few lapses.

Massimo kept the dashboard cooler stocked with water, both still and sparkling. We paid only €1 per bottle, which was very reasonable. He kept a list of our names, and we just made a mark when we took a bottle. The last bus day, we settled up.

Per EU regulations, we had rest stops every couple of hours. The rules are for the benefit of the drivers, but we profit from them. The rest stops were always at Auto-grills or the equivalent, with clean (free) bathrooms, and plenty of snacks and beverages available. Some of them had hot food as well, which is often quite good.

I think from here I'll switch to day-by-day. I may throw in a sidebar or two every now and then, as the spirit moves me or a topic seems to raise questions.

Rome, pre-tour: We actually arrived in Rome on the Wednesday before the tour began on Monday. We spent most of that time at the Aberdeen, rather than at the Smeraldo, the tour hotel. We like the Aberdeen, like the neighborhood, and it was considerably less expensive. We did move to the Smeraldo the day before the tour began.

I'm not going to detail what we did in Rome before the tour, because I'm hoping to do some mini trip reports describing what we did in Venice and Rome between tours, as well as the 10 days we spent in Siena and Bologna after this tour. I will say we finally made it to the Galleria Doria Pamphilij, revisited Ostia Antica, spent hours just wandering around, and made it to St Peter's on Sunday, where I attended Mass and we joined the crowd to hear Pope Francis' Sunday Angelus address.

And of course we had many wonderful meals. We ate twice at Ristorante Terme di Diocleziano, Viminale 3/A. Great staff, handy location, and good food.

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584 posts

We visited Doria Pamphijli in Rome too before our SOI tour. We rated it highly, quite the palazzo and wonderful art! A very pleasant escape from the hordes of tourists streaming up and down the street.

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170 posts

Thanks for the report and looking forward to the remainder. We will be on that tour late September through early October after completing a Best of Italy tour. Like you we will have a few days between tours in Rome so looking for recommendations.

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Hi Jane,

We finished that tour 2 days before yours started. Caterina was our guide and Massimo was our driver as well. We liked the Hotel Smeraldo and stayed there a few days before the tour started. We got an upgraded room for our independent stay as it was larger and had a small balcony and then switched to the tour arranged room. That room was fine but quite a bit more cramped. We also liked the final hotel in Naples - the Grand Hotel Oriente. This was a really nice hotel with a great view from the roof where you could have drinks at night and breakfast in the morning. The room was really nice and large and the hotel was well located but I agree that the staff at the Hotel Smeraldo were more personable especially since it is a much smaller hotel. I think Caterina got stricter with the masking thing after our tour as there were a couple of scofflaws on our tour. This was her first tour since the pandemic. It must have been so frustrating for her to have to be the mask police. We didn’t have sparkling water on the bus just still which was fine and as you said made a mark each time we took a water from the fridge. When we settled up we actually gave Massimo a bit more than we owed as a tip for his troubles. I am looking forward to more of your observations. Your packing lists are perfect. I packed too much as I was out of practice. The next two trips will be better packing wise I hope.

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6363 posts

Hi, Mary. Our group stayed at a different hotel in Naples, the Palazzo Turchini. I'll talk a bit about it later.

I appreciate your observations. Yes, Caterina was adamant that we all be masked on and even before entering the bus. She was determined that none of her group would test positive before going home!

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Continuing, pre-tour:

After hearing Pope Francis, we went back to the Aberdeen to pick up our luggage, then took the bus to the tour hotel, the Smeraldo. Our room was small, but very clean. A big window opened to a noisy street, filled with bars and restaurants. We explored the neighborhood (near Campo dei Fiori), then went back to the hotel to try the rooftop bar. It was far too noisy for us, so we just went back to our room. This was a very long, hot, and tiring day.

Day 1, Monday: Breakfast at the hotel was good. There was salami, cheese, eggs, yogurt, cereals, and very good bread. Coffee and tea, of course, and probably juice, although I didn't note it.

This was one of the first tours after RSE started requiring a negative Covid test taken the day the tour begins. We took our tests right after breakfast, so we wouldn't be worried about the outcome all day. Luckily, sweaty palms didn't affect the results: we both passed! (Stan had suggested taking our tests at the Vatican, for a little extra “help,” but that would have been before the first day of the tour. It would have been funny, though.)

Much relieved, we went out for a walk, followed by lunch. We bought sandwiches at Forno De'Fiori, and beers at the bar across the street, “The Drunken Ship.” They had a great advertising scheme. A big sign invited people to buy their sandwiches at the Forno, then retire to the bar, where they were welcome to sit with their beverages.

At 3:30, we met our guide Caterina just to show our CDC cards and test results, then left to await the 4:00 first meeting. Those of you who have been on these tours know the drill: the guide lays out some general principles and summarizes our tour, we all introduce ourselves, and we choose “buddies.” Your buddy on a RSE tour is just someone you don't know, but whose presence you will check whenever the guide or bus driver says “Buddy check!” It's easier and more efficient that counting heads, and works very well.

Caterina made two points she wanted everyone to pay attention to: first, that she was going to be very strict about following Covid protocols, and second, that since Italians consider wine a food, all group meals would include wine!

Our first group dinner was at La Piazzetta in Trastevere. There was good pasta amatriciana, and excellent eggplant parmigiana. Even the eggplant haters liked it. This was our chance to start getting to know one another, and everyone seemed to have a good time. One of our group substituted beer for the included wine, but nobody seemed to mind.

After a leisurely dinner, we ambled back to the hotel, stopping on the way to replenish some supplies.

Day 2, Tuesday: The hotel breakfast was good, but Stan wasn't feeling very good, and opted to skip the morning activity. Which was really too bad, because this morning we had tour of Rome with... Francesca Caruso! For those of you who don't know, Francesca is the ultimate, the superior, the status of guide to which all other guides aspire. We've had Francesca as a local guide now at least three times, and she only gets better. This time, she absolutely outdid herself.

Francesca grew up in Rome, but her mother is American. Her English is flawless and idiomatic, but her heart is Roman. She can bring cold stones to life. She can take any tourist who is saying, “Yeah, so what. Another statue...” And bring them to tears with her deep but accessible descriptions and explanations.

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Continuing, still day 2:

We first went with Francesca to the Jewish Ghetto, where she not only pointed out landmarks, but showed us how to trace the history of Jews in Rome in general, and of specific individual Jews in Rome in the 1940s. We all had lumps in our throats, and many of us had tears streaming down our faces as she described the Jews being rounded up and removed, how the local Gentiles reacted, and how now the city of Rome is honoring their memory with individual markers in the sidewalk for every single individual who was removed, most of whom never returned. Every. Single. Individual.

Then, for something completely different, it was on to the Capitoline Museum. Jump back a 1000 years, back to the Roman Empire. See what the statues, carvings, and mosaics actually meant to the people of the time. See how the story and the art has been distorted over the centuries. And most importantly, take with you the lesson that history is people. That every artifact, every stone, every brick, was carved, placed, moved, venerated, or discarded by people. History is personal. Art is personal. Politics is personal.

I often quote one of Francesca's favorite sayings: “The more you know, the more you see.” When you know when and how the art was created, and for whom, and by whom, you will look at it with totally different appreciation. When you look at the Theatre of Marcellus, or the Colosseum, and know who went there, and when, and why, and who paid for it, you suddenly have a grasp of Roman history that most people will never appreciate.

One very telling story. Francesca said that when the city was beginning to open up after the lockdown, she and a fellow guide was wandering the main parts of town: the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon. Their first reaction was to revel in how much they could see, with no crowds surrounding them. But then they realized: Rome is all about people, and it always has been. Crowds of workers, scholars, and slaves in the Empire; hordes of tourists and students now. Without people, Rome is a pile of stones.

I have never seen Francesca so moved, so close to tears, as she was this time. I mentioned that to Caterina, who agreed. The last two years has changed us, changed Europe, changed Francesca.

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I'm following along. I'm booked at Smeraldo for my upcoming trip 😊

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2459 posts

I agree. Francesca is wonderful! Sorry Stan didn’t feel well but maybe it was good he opted out because that was a lot of walking and stairs in the museum.

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2857 posts

Jane, You and Stan finally made it to the South of Italy tour. So happy for you, You talked about it when I was planning SOI as my first RS tour in 2019. Your reports are so well written. They brings back wonderful memories.

A few things have changed since our tour besides the givens, like hotels and restaurants. We went to Capitoline Museum first, then to the Jewish Quarter, then breaking for lunch. You're absolutely right; the 1940s broken promises and Jewish history are sad and upsetting. Lessons to learn and remember if you believe history repeats itself. Francesca is a marvel; weaving history into reality.

One quote we remembered in Rome was by our Walking Italy Colosseum guide's visual description: "Think of Rome as lasagne. All the history layers built upon each other."

Eagerly waiting your next post...
Kathy

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6363 posts

Thank you, Kathy. No more tonight; I'll get back to it tomorrow.

I'm hoping to finish this one more quickly than the South of France report. Real life is calling!

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170 posts

Love the report. We will be transferring from the Hotel Aberdeen to the Hotel Smeraldo too. Taking a bus is better than taking a taxi?

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1860 posts

Jane, I agree Francesca is the best local guide I have ever had and I am lucky to have been guided by her twice. She is so passionate and knowledgeable. Can't wait for the rest of your report.

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Thanks, everyone, for the positive comments.

Jim, the bus isn't better; we just prefer it. For some reason, it almost never occurs to us to take a taxi; we usually either walk or take public transportation. And we already had weekly bus passes, since we were going to be there almost that long.

The bus does require some walking; it's about a block and a half from the Aberdeen to the bus stop, then another block or two or three (depending on which bus you take) from the bus stop to the Smeraldo.

The taxi, of course, would be door to door. I doubt it would cost very much, and would certainly be easier.

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3297 posts

Wow Jane!!! Cold stones to life?!!! Fantastic description. I know you don’t much like doing trip reports, which is too bad, as you are a VERY good writer!!

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Continuing, still day 2:

After Caterina let us loose for the rest of the day, I went back to the hotel, taking the scenic route. As in, I got lost. I passed by the Theatre of Marcellus, and then about 10 or 15 minutes later was surprised to see another building that looked just like it. Ummmm... Oops. I did finally make it back to the hotel. (Note to self: twisty, scenic, atmospheric little lanes can be charming, but only when you're not actually trying to get somewhere specific.)

When I got back to the room, Stan was up, feeling better, and ready for lunch. We tried the Ristorante Sant'Anna at Via S. Anna 8, quite near the hotel. They were getting ready to shut down for the afternoon, but said we could stay as long as we understood they were closing soon. We had very good lasagna and pasta carbonara, and a carafe of the house wine.

After lunch, we walked to the Ghetto area, and I recapped for Stan what Francesa had told us that morning. We then did a bit of shopping, and headed back to the hotel to get ready to leave tomorrow, and for Stan to get some rest. We did slip out for dinner that evening, but ate on the Campo dei Fiori, just because it was convenient and didn't require reservations. We ate at one of the many touristy cafes there, and the food wasn't at all bad. I had a good salad, and Stan had pizza. The wine was very good, and Stan managed to down a brownie served with gelato and chocolate sauce.

Day 3, Wednesday: Moving on! We all trundled our baggage a short distance to meet driver Massimo just across the river. Our first stop was at Hadrian's Villa, not too far out of town. This is a beautiful place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that includes ruins, gardens, archeological sites, lovely walks, and a small museum. It merited far more time than we gave it, though. Stan and I could have happily spent the better part of a day there, rather than the hour or two we had.

Then back on the bus. This is a long bus day; the itinerary said 6 hours on the bus. On the way, Caterina taught us how to order and pay for food at the Auto-grill at which we'd be stopping for lunch. This is one of those places where you decide what you want, go pay for it, then go back to order it. It is indeed very confusing. Even those of us who were familiar with the system and/or speak some Italian had some trouble.

The food was good, though, and the portions were huge; I had broccoli pizza, and Stan had a wurstel (wiener) sandwich. Either would have been enough for both of us. Back on the bus, through miles of beautiful scenery, to Vieste, in Puglia on the Adriatic.

This is a beautiful and charming village, and everything is uphill. I don't care where you're going, it's uphill. One surprise: our luggage was transported to the hotel for us! We certainly didn't expect that. Our hotel was the Seggio, beautifully situated on a cliff overlooking the Adriatic. The family who owns the hotel has been adding to it and renovating it for years, doing most of the work themselves. The result is delightful. Lots of handcrafted bits, lots of staircases and hallways heading off in different directions. Our room was a wow: Huge, with two big windows opening onto the Adriatic. Because of all the recent renovations and hand done work, the owners did ask that we not have food or wine in our rooms, but there was a handy little piazza very near the hotel where we could enjoy drinks and snacks.

After we were all settled in, the group walked to the nearby Taverna al Cantinone for a seafood dinner. We had a wonderful risotto for a first course, followed by cod. I didn't note the dessert. Then it was back (uphill! But not far) to the hotel. Some of us stopped at the little piazza on the way for some quiet time and wine. Side note: this is where I tripped over a concrete slab supporting an umbrella. I managed to rip my main pair of pants, as well as bruise and scrape my leg. Not major, but a nuisance. And embarrassing.

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Continuing, still day three:

Those pants weren't going to make it the whole trip, but luckily I had a small sewing kit and could ment the tear. It didn't look good, but it held them together. But it took weeks for my bruises to heal.

Day 4, Thursday: Today was a real treat. After a good breakfast at the hotel, we walked down to the dock (okay, this one was downhill) to meet our captain for our two hour boat ride along the coast. Our group was not the only one on the boat, but there was plenty of room. The descriptions of the scenery were all in Italian, but Caterina translated for us (we had our “whisper” radio systems) and added her own commentary.
The boat ride was much more interesting than I thought it would be. I almost didn't go, because I sometimes get seasick, but did go, didn't get sick, and was glad on both counts.

The captain pointed out a number of interesting historical and cultural sights along the way, and managed to nose his craft into beautiful grottoes. The coastline was a hotbed of interesting geological features, with cliffs, grottoes, unusual islands, and more. Caterina mentioned that she had once had a geologist in the group who was able to explain the various features; it occurred to me that this would be a great addition to that part of the tour, to have a local guide along who could tell us more about what we were seeing.

Back on dry land, we went up (and up, and up) to our hotel, where the group gathered again to go back to Al Cantinone for a pasta making demonstration and light lunch. The demonstration was somewhat interesting, but the food was good.

We had a little bit of free time after lunch, but not much. I went up (up!) to the Cathedral to see their much venerated stature of Our Lady Of Merino, but there was a wedding, and I couldn't go in.

Back to the hotel (okay, it was downhill) to meet the group for aperitifs and buddy introductions. Buddy introductions are an ice-breaker, a way to get the tour members know a bit more about one another. We've only done this on two other tours, so evidently it isn't very common. Each person is supposed to introduce his or her “buddy,” giving three facts about that person. (On a tour in 2018 with Dimitri as guide, this was modified to two true statements and one false one. Of course, we were supposed to guess which “fact” was false. That was a hoot. Who knew that that quiet, middle-aged woman had won a log rolling contest, or that the professorial looking man had been a circus performer!)

None of our revelations was that interesting, well one was. The youngest person on the tour, traveling with her mother, ran the biggest rodeo in the US. Wow.

We had free time after the buddy intros, and I was finally able to see the statue of Our Lady of Merino, as well as some relics of Padre Pio, in the Cathedral. It took two more trips up, but it was worth it. Back to the piazza for more wine – I didn't trip this time, but was touched when one of the employees at the bar came running out to see how I was doing. Then back to the hotel: we're moving on tomorrow. People are sorry to leave; this is a beautiful area.

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Continuing:

Day 5, Friday: Alberobello and Matera today! One of the best things about this tour is how varied the sites (and sights) are. It seems each day has something we've never seen before, and sometimes something we had never even heard of. After an early breakfast (and even earlier luggage drop; yes, our luggage was taken down to the bus for us) we made our way down to where Massimo was waiting for us. Our first stop, other than a brief snack and bathroom break, was Alberobello. We were treated to a food and wine tasting that morphed into lunch at Enoteca Tholos, hosted by Gino, a Slow Food expert. This was a great chance to try a number of local cheeses, meats, olive oil, and breads. There were three or four kinds of wine available, as well as our choice of digestivi, the postprandial liqueurs so beloved by the Italians. A lot of goodies were purchased here; Stan and I bought a bottle of wine. The presentation was great, as was the food and wine, but I would have appreciated more information on the provenance of the food items, as well. Not complaining, mind you; I'm just thinking of ways to improve the experience, especially for those of us who love learning new things.

I do have one minor complaint, though. The itinerary states “In Alberobello, we'll explore cone-shaped, stone trulli houses that are still lived in today.” No, we didn't. Caterina pointed to a couple of them from the bus, but we didn't get to explore them or learn much about how they were built and used. She did comment that most of the ones we could see from the bus were used for storage these days. And to be fair, we did see a few that had been converted into shops in the tourist area.

We did have some free time here, which we spent on a charming shopping street (all uphill again!) This was a good place to buy souvenirs, but we found the going dangerous. The street and sidewalks were made of some highly polished stone that was often very slick. My “buddy” commented later that she watched me slide several feet down the sidewalk, and believe me, it was not deliberate. But the town is charming. It's another place we would like to have spent more time.

On to Matera. This whole town is a wow. It's divided into two parts, the old and the new. The old part is carved out of the local rock: homes, churches, and shops hewn from the chalky limestone. This may be the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the world, and is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also well know for its horrific poverty. If you're read Carlo Levi's “Christ Stopped at Eboli,” this is the kind of place he was describing.

The view of the Sassi, the cave structures, from an overlook in the new part of town, is heartstopping. A number of movies have been filmed here, particularly those who wanted to depict the ancient Middle East, “The Passion of the Christ,” for example. It does indeed resemble something you might expect to have seen in Palestine several thousand years ago.

We walked down (down! And down!) to our hotel, Locanda San Martino. Yes, we are staying in the Sassi area. Our hotel was indeed carved from the rock. Our room was very nice, big with some interesting (in a good way) pieces of furniture, and a very big bathroom. It was rather dark, though, which shouldn't have surprised us. Our room was on a lower level, and shared a small patio with two other rooms. Oh, this was the second time on the tour that our bags were transported for us. Another surprise.

Another group dinner that evening, at L'Arco di Antonio, not far from the hotel. This was another multi-course dinner, with all the courses you see on an Italian menu, and lots of wine. I must have been very tired indeed; I didn't write down what we had! There was a pasta course, and (I think) a fish course, but I don't remember the details. I must be slipping.

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That's one thing we like about traveling in Europe - wine by the carafe! Always affordable and usually good, at that.

We did take a food tour in Bologna that served wine with breakfast. That was a bit much, although a number of bottles were emptied by our group of about 10.

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2459 posts

Your descriptions have sent me down the rabbit hole of Matera on Google Maps. Wow indeed.

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Day 6, Saturday: The breakfast at the hotel was particularly good. I noted lots of pastries, several cheeses, and a selection of fruits. After breakfast, we gathered for a walking tour of the Sassi with local guide Terry. She was very good, and we enjoyed the tour very much. We walked through the inner streets of the Sassi, then out along the outer edge, where the region is divided by a deep canyon. The city is on side, and across the river there are hills. But scattered amongst those hills are more dwellings, many of them churches or homes of religious orders. It is possible to visit them, but needs some planning.

The tour lasted most of the morning, and included an overview of the history of the community, how it has changed in the last 60 years or so, and a visit in a beautiful church with breathtaking frescoes.

After lunch, Stan and I walked through the newer, modern part of town. We had a quick sandwich lunch at Piadé, then went to the archaeological museum. This was very good. There aren't a lot of exhibits, but what they do have is well displayed. The top floor has any amazing collection of Greek artifacts, and of course there's a lot of Roman things as well. My favorite part, though, was a special exhibit on local foods: what is (and was) grown, how it was processed, how prepared and served. Only about half had descriptions in English, though.

After a brief rest stop at our hotel, we went back into the modern town. Stan found some gelato and good people watching in front of St Francis of Assisi church, while I went to Mass. We wandered around afterward looking for dinner, and ended up at a lovely little place in the Sassi, not far from our hotel. La Bottega di Nadí, Via Fiorentini 1/3. The server was charming, the food was very good, and the local red wine was good. We sat outside and watched people struggle with the stairs (more on that later.) Stan had a very good lamb casserole, and I had grigliata mista, mixed grill. That was wonderful, and included lamb, a local sausage, and something called gnimredd, which the menu translated as “offal.” Well, why not? It was delicious, and tasted vaguely of liver. It was weeks before I could find a translation: stuffed lamb intestines. Something new for the memory book!

Back to the hotel to pack; we're leaving in the morning.

Day 7, Sunday: We had an early start today, a very long and busy day ahead of us. Our luggage went ahead of us again. This is so not Rick Steves!

Our first stop was at the Vannulo organic water buffalo farm. This is a favorite for folks on this tour. We were able to watch mozzarella cheese being made, and then went to a viewing area where we could watch the buffalo being pampered. They can choose when they want to be milked (to classical music), and can step into massage machines that give them a good rubdown. We were also invited to get up close to them, and even pet them if we wanted. People always talk about this as the ultimate high life for water buffalo, but I swear the one I was looking in the eye said “Get me out of here.”

There was also a shop that sold very original (and very expensive) items made from water buffalo hide. Evidently, the productive and pampered period lasts about 6 years; then they are dispatched. Most male calves are also dispatched quickly, with a few kept for breeding and to keep the females “freshened.” We were also served a very nice light lunch, featuring, of course, different dishes made with fresh mozzarella.

Correction: life of 14 or 15 years. See posts below.

After lunch we traveled on to Paestum. This is an amazing place, the remains of an ancient Greek settlement which was taken over by several other peoples, including the Romans. The site has three well preserved Greek temples dating from the first millenium B.C., and a number of Roman features as well, including a forum. The interpretation and explanations have been much improved since Stan and I visited it in 1995.

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Wait! When we visited Vannulo Farm in April of this year, we were told that the water buffalo were slaughtered at 14! I guess the group tours are told "dispatched" as opposed to "slaughtered". I was skeptical about this place, recommended by the owner of our B&B, but I loved it, and ended up buying a purse - which is now my "go bag" for dog activities.

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EP, “dispatched” was my word, not theirs. I’ll check with Stan later to see what he remembers about the length of their productive life.

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We had a private guide for the two of us, and she just came out and said "slaughtered". I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this place. It was like a Napa/Sonoma winery, except with cows, cheese, and leather.

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Thanks again Jane. This is a wonderful trip report. I get to enjoy my trip twice; once reading your report and again in September when our tour starts. Can't wait for further installments!

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6363 posts

EP, Stan doesn't remember, but he's leaning your way. I checked their website, and there's nothing about what happens when the ladies become less productive. But a google check says water buffaloes live from 25 to 40 years in captivity, so your figure may well be more accurate.

And the guide on our tour didn't use any word about ending the buffaloes' lives; she just ran her index finger across her throat in a gesture we all understood.

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Continuing, still day 7:

Paestum. It's somehow very special to stand there in a field of wildflowers, being cooled by the breezse, studying and enjoying the temples and other structures out in the wild, as it were. I was affected more than I thought I would be.

There is also a very good museum at Paestum, with some beautiful Greek and Roman art.

Back on the bus, on our way to the Amalfi Coast. We made our way up the coast by bus and ferry, landing at Maiori. The tour used to stay at Positano, but rumor has it the hotel they used no longer accepts groups. Rumor; I've heard others. But I'm fine with the change; in 1995 we stayed in Positano as guests of my sister and her business partner, and frankly, we spent almost all of our time elsewhere.

In Maiori, we walked to the hotel San Francesco, just off the beachfront walkway. Caterina had told us that this was another hotel that was in the process of being renovated, and while some rooms were adequate, others were pretty special. We hit the lottery on this one; we had a fantastic room, huge, with a couch, desk, tables and chairs, and a balcony with a table and chairs. And as we sat on our balcony, our view was of the Mediterranean and the beachfront. This was lovely.

No group dinner here, or indeed any group activities at all. That evening, Stan and I had dinner at Eldorado, Via Amendola 2 bis, on the Lungomare, the beachfront. It was very nice, and we were one of the last parties to get in without a reservation. I had a good fritto misto – fried seafood platter. Stan had tuna, but it was overcooked and dry. However, he said the chocolate truffle dessert made up for it!

Then back to our hotel to spend a quiet evening on our balcony.

Day 8, Monday: This was a free day, and we declared a day off. It's been a very full week, and Stan was still having some trouble with his knee. We're both ready for a break.

We had a very nice breakfast on the hotel's open breakfast room, then I spent a fair amount of time catching up: I had to book transportation from Siena to Bologna for our post-tour trips, and had a lot of emails to catch up on. Later we went for a walk around town, exploring as many side streets as we wanted. We saw a seafood restaurant that looked promising, with a proprietor who was also promising: “My wife Maria is the best cook in Maiori! You will love everything!” We didn't want a big lunch, so we made reservations for dinner, instead.

We continued our amble around town, and stopped for lunch at Bussola, a snack bar just across the street from our hotel. I had a salad, Stan had a toasted sandwich, and we shared a carafe of wine. Oh, there was a language lesson here: when Stan was perusing the menu, he saw saltimboca listed. He had had saltimboca in Rome and enjoyed it, so he ordered it here. Um, no; evidently in this part of the world, saltimboca doesn't mean ham and veal seasoned with sage; it means a toasted sandwich, not unlike what we call a panini.

We did a bit of shopping for some toiletries we were running low on, and returned to our hotel. Stan napped while I continued to try to catch up on emails and social media posts.

That evening, we walked a few blocks to “Mario e Maria” for dinner. It was quite good; we had sea bass and sea bream, both of which were delicious. We walked along the Lungomare for a while, savoring the beautiful evening, trying to make it last; we're hitting the road again tomorrow.

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If you are interested in south Italy I recommend watching an Italian "police procedural" called Imma Tataranni - Deputy Prosecutor (Italian title: Imma Tataranni - sostituto procuratore). In Italian with subtitles, it's a fun, lively, quirky show with fabulous views of Matera and the surrounding area. We took the SOI tour in 2019 - loved it - and it's wonderful to watch a show based in that area, seeing it in a whole new light.

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2459 posts

I could be mistaken but I recall the guide saying that the buffalo live for about 15 years before being “dispatched”. At any rate, they have a short happy life.

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6363 posts

OK, I will say I didn't take notes at the buffalo farm, and several people remember a higher age for the buffalo to be ... ahem... removed from active production. Mary and Estimated Prophet remember 14 or 15 years; Stan doesn't remember but he's pretty sure it was double digits.

I checked the farm's website, and although they mention their leather goods (as well as chocolate, which I had forgotten about,) they don't mention where the leather comes from, or when.

I'll add a note to my above post. Thanks everyone, for keeping me on my toes.

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Continuing:

Day 9, Tuesday: We're rested up after our day off, but most of our tourmates had more exciting (and exhausting) tales to relate. I'm dont regret our choice though; we needed the day off.

We transferred to a smaller bus today; the Amalfi Coast road has strict rules about when and where full size tour buses can go. We were to meet up with Massimo later. There was some excitement when Caterina realized she had left the case with our “whisper” radios behind at the Maiori hotel. She called them, and they immediately sent one of their staff on a motorcycle to rendezvous with us and deliver the case. Wow. After the case was handed over, and a proffered tip waved off, Caterina said to us “This is why I'm always nice to people.”

After meeting up with Massimo and changing buses, we made our way to Pompeii. Local guide Gaetano was excellent. He was informative as well as entertaining, always an attractive combination. He said both his father and grandfather had been guides at Pompeii, and now his son is guiding, as well. In fact, we bumped into the son with his own group fairly often that morning.

Gaetano did an outstanding job of making the ruins speak. He took us to the most famous spots, such as the Forum and the House of the Faun, but was more focused on making sure we understood that this was a city with real people with real lives. They worked, cooked, bought and sold, handled their businesses, raised their families... While we were listening to him, and pondering what he was trying to get across to us, I remembered something Francesca had said to us in Rome. As she was finishing up her presentation to us, she said (loose quote, but close:) When you go to Pompeii on this tour, I don't want you to think about those people the day the volcano erupted. I want you to think about the a few days before, when they were living their normal lives. That is the lesson I want you to take away.”

Indeed.

We spent about three hours with Gaetano, and it was pretty intense. It was a hot day, and there was a lot of walking and navigating high curbs, rough streets and sidewalks, and a surprising number of stairs. After three hours, we were ready for a break. Gaetano had arranged for us to have lunch at a pizzeria just across from the park. We were on our own, but most of us stayed together. Lunch was better than we had been led to expect. I had a very good salad with smoked salmon, and Stan had a toasted sandwich with spicy sausage, similar to our pepperoni. Wine and water, of course. A number of folks had pizza, and it did look good.

After lunch, it was on to Sorrento, to the Hotel Mignon, just a block off the main drag. Our room was small, but just fine, with a balcony complete with table and chairs. The street we faced was pretty quiet, making the balcony even more attractive.

After we checked in, Caterina led us on a brief orientation walk through the main part of Sorrento, pointing our shops, restaurants, churches, and a few exhibitions. She also took us to a cameo shop, where the proprietor explained how cameos are made, and showed us some beautiful examples. We also had a couple of minutes to watch one of the carvers at work.

Then the group went to Gelateria David for a gelato making demonstration with proprietor Mario. He was a practiced showman, and kept us laughing while he educated us about gelato. And of course, there were free samples for everyone. (None at the cameo shop though; darn!)

We were on our own the rest of the day. I made a dinner reservation at O'Puledrone, a seafood restaurant on the Marina Grande. We had been there before, years ago (2014?), and were delighted to find it was still open. It's run by a fishermen's cooperative, the fish couldn't be any fresher. It's a long steep downhill walk to the marina, so we allowed plenty of time.

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Jane, was the cameo shop Bimonte Cameo? I bought a ring there. Had a wonderful interaction with the owner. He and his staff are true artists. Did you see the cameo he carved from the back, that lets light through to highlight the praying madonna?

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6363 posts

Horsewoofie, I didn't notice a name, and I don't think I picked up a card. I have one cameo I never wear, so it seemed silly to buy (or even covet) another one.

They were beautiful, though, and yes, I saw one at least, maybe more, carved from the back. Lovely work.

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Continuing, still day 9:

We were glad we had reservations, because they were packed. However, when new prospective customers showed up, they were not sent away. Instead, they were given a glass of wine and told to wait. When the wait time got pretty long, the waiters took pitchers of wine to the people waiting! Gotta love it!

The food was as good as we remembered. I had an excellent mixed grill, with amazingly tender grilled squid. Stan had swordfish, and kept eyeing my plate. He said his was good, but mine was better. (We usually split our meals, but I don't care for swordfish. I did give him a shrimp and a bite of the squid.)

After climbing back up to the center, we stopped for coffee at a bar just across the main road from our hotel turnoff, Caffee 54. Stan had to try a spritz while we were there, and said it was the best he had ever had. And all drinks come with munchies – chips, nuts, and little crunchy morsels.

We were glad to get back to our hotel to shower and rest. A long, full day.

Day 10, Wednesday: Another free day! We had a good breakfast at the hotel, then headed for the Cathedral, just down the street. This was on my list as the first place I wanted to visit in Sorrento. The Cathedral has one of the best presepi I've ever seen. A presepe, or presepio, is what we would call a creche or a manger scene. The holy family, complete with shepherds and a couple of animals, adoring Baby Jesus, and angels floating above. But it is so much more.
A presepe will show townspeople going about their lives, but perhaps ready to share what the have with the Child. There might be a baker, bringing loaves of bread, someone with a basket of fresh vegetables, a woman with cheeses. And in the background is the town itself, with houses, huts, perhaps a church, a bar... There are people with their animals; there is always someone off in the corner, perhaps on a haystack, sleeping off whatever he had been up to the night before. Often there's a scene of the interior of a house, with a family sharing a meal, each dish painstakingly portrayed in detail.

The one in the Sorrento Cathedral is set, of course, in Sorrento. The big canyon that runs through town, paralleling the main road? It's there. The cliffs overloking the sea? Yep. Every time I look at this, I find something I hadn't seen before, and am always delighted. They are common in Italy, and France has something very similar, with the santon figures populating their creches.

In addition to the presepe, the Cathedral is renowned for its intarsio work. Intarsio is wood inlay, or marquetry, and the Cathedral has some beautiful examples. The church doors, the stations of the cross, are all done in intarsio. Again, I kept finding more examples that I hadn't noticed before.

This is not just an old art, by the way, but still a major craft industry in Sorrento. Intarsio portraits, pictures, and boxes are common, and make good gifts and souvenirs. The designs can be abstract, representational, or geometric.

In fact, after we left the Cathedral, we headed for the intarsio museum, Museobottega della Tarsialignea, Via San Nicola 28. This is a fascinating place, with four stories of arts and crafts created in or depicting Sorrento. Furniture, maps, tools, and many examples of decorative marquetry. And the building itself is worth studying. A tiny hidden spiral staircase was discovered when the building was being renovated. It was evidently intended to allow the family to escape to the roof unseen. This is one of those museums where someone has collected a wide range of items over years, and you can wander in for hours being surprised at every turn.

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4853 posts

Jane, I've just begun reading your report and have been eyeing the South Italy tour itinerary, even though I've been to about half the locations. After my just finished RS tours in Turkey, I know well that there's a difference between going somewhere on your own and going with an outstanding guide.

I've just read your wonderful description of Day 2 with Francesca in Rome. Sure, I've been to Rome, but I haven't been to Rome with Francesca. Thank you for sharing the stories and her sayings and insights!

Love this: “The more you know, the more you see.

What a great saying to keep in mind as I make planning decisions for my travels!!

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47 posts

On Jane-what a fabulous report! We took this tour about 4-5 years ago and I feel I am reliving it! Thanks so much. And by the way you are a great story teller!

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2459 posts

Jane and horsewoofie, the cameo shop was great and the owner was so funny and engaging. I was tempted to buy one but I didn’t as I already have 2 antique cameo brooches and a ring from Italy that I inherited from my Italian great grandmother and as you say I never wear them. But several people in our group did buy cameos. They are works of art and a great souvenir.

CWsocial - this tour was a repeat for us of some places that we had already been (Pompeii, Ravello, Naples) but we saw things on this tour that we missed on a previous trip to southern Italy so it was worth it for us.

Jane, we loved the presepi, too. I can see that I would develop a serious collecting habit if I lived there as there are so many adorable little individual pieces that you could add to your manger scene. So fun.

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6363 posts

Mary, I have to stick my hands in my pockets when I see presepi figures. I love the entire concept. We have several Nativity scenes at our house, (my favorite is one from the Dollar Store!) but compared to Italian presepi? Not even close.

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Continuing, still day 10:

We also visited several churches in our wanderings, to view the art. And two of them had special photography exhibits, in addition to the regular religious art. We found lunch at a kebab place, then headed back tot he hotel for rest, laundry, and quiet.

We met the group later that afternoon for the family dinner. This is the “wow moment” for many people. It's not really like joining a family for dinner, but it comes close. A local family prepares a dinner for us. The mom and her sister do all the cooking and serving, Dad keeps everyone's wine glass filled. It's more like an Amish or Mennonite family style restaurant than a family dinner. The family has equipped a large room on their property just for this purpose, rather like an event center. The hall was big enough to hold all of us, a fully equipped kitchen, and banquet sized tables and chairs.

But I'm nitpicking here. The 11 year-old granddaughter of our hostess did eat with us, and charmed everyone. A huge spread of antipasti came first, probably at least 6 or 7 different offerings. Then came two more courses, both of them pasta based, but neither of them what we would think of as “typical Italian.” Lots of small plates, lots of vegetable dishes, all of which were welcome. We tend to miss our vegetables when we travel in Europe. I believe there were a few offerings that included meat and chicken, but would probably not have been considered a secondo. Feel free to disagree with me here.

There were mountains of food, and a wonderfully varied selection. There was not one dish that I remember that would be considered “typically Italian.” Instead, the dishes were more what real Italians actually do eat, instead of what we get served in restaurants.

Caterina had us ready to sing for our supper, having had us practice “That's Amore.” (Talk about an earworm!) The family not only enjoyed and appreciated our efforts, they chimed in wholeheartedly. It was a very pleasant evening, and frankly, better than I expected.

Back to town we went; (the family dinner was in a neighboring town.) Against better judgment, Stan and I went to Caffee 54 for drinks. I had coffee, and Stan discovered limoncello spritz. Uh-oh.

Finally back to the room. I packed; we're leaving tomorrow. Stan went to bed; he'll finish packing tomorrow.

Day 11, Thursday: Up early; Stan still had to pack. I had an email from my local travel buddy Kim, about a mass shooting at our premier Tulsa hospital. Crap.

After breakfast, we loaded up the bus again, this time headed for nearby Naples.

Our first stop was the Capodimonte Museum with local guide Pina. This is a huge, beautiful museum. Rick calls it “Naples' top art museum.” Local guide Pina was an archaeologist, as well as an art historian, so was a great choice to lead us through the main museums of Naples. She led us on a fairly brief tour of the museum, hitting the high points. We then had some time on our own to check out other exhibits or revisit some of the things she had shown us. I headed for the room with the Michaelangelo and Raphael drawings. I think drawing is the purest art form, and am a big fan.

We said goodbye to Pina here, and took off for our hotel, the Palazzo Turchini. Our room was very nice; not enough windows to suit me, but we did have two levels in the room, one with just a couch, and easy chair and a desk. We also had a very small private walled patio, that did open to the sky. The only window was tiny, in the bathroom, and opened to the patio.

This was a nice hotel. Caterina told me that she had tried to convince RSE that “we needed a strong finish to balance the 'Stendhal Syndrome' that is Naples.” Something to counter the noise and chaos that we would be experiencing the next couple of days.

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Continuing, still day 11:

After a quick lunch next door to the hotel, we rejoined the group for a walking tour of Naples with local guide Antonella. This was very well done, and rather long. She took us through some tiny, characteristic streets, but also along Via Toledo and Spaccanapoli, pointing out major churches and other places we may wish to return to on our own time. We didn't climb the San Martino hill, but Antonella did explain the different ways to get to the top for the view and the historical sites there.

Our walk ended at Vesi, a popular pizzeria. This was not technically a group meal; we ordered and paid individually, but Caterina had arranged with the restaurant ahead of time to be able to handle a group of 20 or so people. There are three branches; I think we went to the one on Via Tribunali, but I'm not sure. The pizza was very good and the staff were great, but we were very tired after this long and active day, and were glad to return to the hotel.

Day 12, Friday: The last full day of the tour! After breakfast in the lovely top floor breakfast room, we joined the group and local guide Pina, and walked to the Sansevero Chapel to see its amazing sculptures. The most famous is “The Veiled Christ” by Guiseppe Sanmartino. If you haven't seen this, you need to google it right now. I'll wait.

There are a number of great statues that show flesh beneath wisps of veil, each carved from a single block of marble, but this one must be unsurpassed. There are no words to describe the effects that Sanmartino was able to achieve. But as wondrous as this work is, Stan and I actually preferred another statue, “The Disenchantment” By Francesco Queirolo. This is a life size (at least) depiction of a man disentangling himself from the net in which he is wrapped. Again, the man and the net are carved from a single block of marble. There are other great works of art here, but these two are themselves worth the trip.

Our final stop that morning was the famed Archaeological Museum of Naples. Again, there are few words one can conjure up to describe the treasures in this building. (Although a Forum friend described the museum itself as her “stair climbing nightmare.”) Yep, lots of stairs. Pina took us up to the top floor first, and we worked our way down.

The highlights of the museum are the Farnese marbles (on the ground floor) and much of what has been excavated, rescued, taken, from Pompeii. Much of the art at Pompeii itself consists of replicas and reproductions, even the frescoes. The originals are, in many cases, in the Archaeological Museum. Pina again showed her background as both archaeologist and art historian in her detailed yet accessible descriptions of the art, especially sculptures and mosaics. And of course, everyone wants to see the Secret Room, which contains erotic art and artifacts from Pompeii. We were glad to have had the great tour of Pompeii with Gaetano, to put everything in cultural and historical context.

There are also artifacts, art, and a trove of papyrus scrolls from Herculaneum, some of which Pina has been able to work with, if I remember correctly.

And in addition to the art, there are plenty of everyday artifacts: household items, tools, utensils, dishes, glassware, even decorative trinkets. As much as I love fresco and admire mosaics, these everyday items are what grab me. The help us imagine how these people actually lived. As Francesca admonished (gently:) think of these people a couple of days before the eruption, how they lived day to day.

Free time for a few hours. Stan and I checked out the nearby Piazza Bellini, where our next (non-tour) hotel is located, and had a very good lunch at a small restaurant called NAM43, Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli 43, just north of Piazza Bellini. We had grilled squid and baked fish. Both were excellent, as was the service.

Then back to the hotel to get ready for our final evening with the group.

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Continuing, still day 12:

Caterina had planned a get-together before dinner, with a aperitif and tour recap in the rooftop breakfast room at the hotel. We spent probably about an hour or so sharing memories and email addresses, then walked down near the harbor to Antichi Sapori for our farewell dinner. Via Santa Lucia 16, I think. There's another restaurant in town with a very similar name, but I think it's too near the center to be the one we went to.

Dinner was very nice. We shared a table with our “buddies” and two other couples, one of which was the youngest couple in the group. The food was good; the ragu was excellent. There was some musical entertainment, a strolling guitar player. Caterina got him to play “That's Amore” so we could sing it together one last time. (Earworm!)

Even after we left the restaurant, most of us hung around outside, sharing final hugs and goodbyes; some people will have left before we get to breakfast in the morning. Oh, the good news is, every person that Caterina took for the pre-flight Covid test was negative!

We finally headed back to the hotel, ambling with Caterina. We strolled through the nearly empty Galleria Borbonica, to admire the Liberty style architecture and design. Even though this was a Friday night, the streets were surprisingly quiet. There were people out walking around, even with children, but the almost oppressive crowds and bustling atmosphere were missing. A pleasant evening, and a nice way to end the day.

Day 13: Saturday: This is the official last day of the tour, but of course the tour is over after breakfast. People who didn't have flights out today tended to come down to breakfast later, so we had another chance to share thoughts with Caterina and some tourmates. Then it was down to our room to finish packing and check out of the hotel.

We left our bags at the hotel just long enough to go buy metro tickets, returned to get our bags, then back to the metro station. We took the metro to our new lodgings, Hotel Piazza Bellini. We'll stay there until Monday, when we're leaving for Siena.

I will have some final thoughts, observations, and opinions, but not right now. I want to reread what I've written, and meditate on this a bit. I will say that we enjoyed the tour very much. I'll check back in with you later.

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6363 posts

Thanks, Jim. I think you and I need to talk, but not tonight.

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648 posts

Jane, I cannot thank you enough for the very detailed report of your South Italy Tour. We will be on this tour late August.
I plan to reread your report and write down what to expect on each day. We only have the first and last hotel names right now, and weren’t clear where hotels would be located in between.
Thank you also for your detailed accounts of restaurants…the good and not so good. I love seafood, but you are a more adventurous eater than I am, even though I grew up eating very fresh fish!
Thank you also for the “warning” about hills and steps. Yikes!!! I’ll try to seek out stairs and slopes BEFORE our tour. Just a couple of days ago I downloaded and printed out the trip itinerary. Yep! Just about every day on the tour mentions stairs and uneven surfaces and hills.
And we’re older than you!!! What were we thinking!

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14159 posts

Jane!! I saw you post this earlier in the week but wanted to have time to have a leisurely read. What a wonderful, wonderful report! I felt like I was with you two!

Thanks so much for taking the time to take notes AND post!!

PS…were your ears burning this morning?? We were talking about your trip reports at the CdA meet up, lol. All good, I assure you!

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241 posts

Thanks for this wonderful report. We did this tour 4-5 years ago and you brought back so many good memories. And, yes, I’d do it again.

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584 posts

Ahhhh it’s like taking that tour this spring all over again, loved it Jane! You have such great details and tidbits and analysis. It’s so good to see the tour through your eyes. Many many thanks!

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124 posts

Jane,
Thank you for taking the time to write this report. As I was reading this one and your Loire/South of France report, your descriptions and observations made me feel like I was there with you.
And after many years of independent travel, reading and hearing about your trips makes me want to sign up for a Rick Steves tour! :-)

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6363 posts

Carol, I'm going to talk about those hills and steps a bit in my wrap-up, which I'm working on now. If you have any specific questions about the tour, ask me here or send me a PM. Jim, same goes for you.

Pam I had to laugh when I read your post, because guess who we talked about at our Tulsa meeting yesterday? You! I had mentioned that Stan and I had dinner with you and Tammy in Paris, and several people immediately piped up. "You met them??? Wow!"

Two people there didn't even know about the Forum, and they couldn't understand how much we feel like we know one another, even the people we haven't met In Real Life. After years of sharing comments, tips, sad stories, happy times... yes, we do. And peoples' personalities just shine through. We've met probably about a dozen folks IRL that we first met here, and it has always been a pleasure.

Patty, thank you, and I've come to the same conclusion, which rather surprised me.

Luv2Travel, I especially appreciate your comments, knowing you just completed the same tour. (Mary too!)

Samatudd, I know how much you and your husband love your independent travels. You're much more adventuresome than Stan and I are. But there is room for guided tours, as well. We favor a combination.

From the first time we took a RS tour, we've always added on a fair amount of time on our own, at least a week, sometimes 10 days or so. This year we added almost 4 weeks: 6 days before the first tour, 10 days between the tours, and 13 days after the second tour. It was probably about a week too long, but we had a great time visiting Paris, and Chartres before the tours, Venice and Rome between them, and Naples, Siena, and Bologna afterward.

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Some (probably not final) thoughts:

Favorite hotel: All the hotels were fine. My favorite was probably Il Seggio in Vieste (even though they wouldn't let us have wine in our room!) The room was lovely, with huge windows opening on the Adriatic and a view of the cliffs on one side and the little piazza on the other. The staff were great, the hotel had charm and character, and let's not forget the little piazza just a few steps down the street.

A close runner-up would be Hotel San Francesco in Maiori. The room was very nice, with useful furnishings and that balcony overlooking the Mediterranean was hard to beat. And Locanda San Martino in Matera gets an honorable mention. It was certainly unique, but also roomy and comfortable, with a small shared patio.

Favorite meal: All the group meals were good, but our favorite group meal was the family style dinner in Sorrento. It was a wonderful spread, with a wide variety of foods, many of which we had never had before. That was a real treat, especially for people who had been eating in restaurants or picnicking for weeks.

Our favorite meal on our own was probably at O'Puledrone, also in Sorrento. The food was great, the atmosphere was lovely, and the service was very casual, but very good. Another contender would be La Bottega di Nadí, in Matera. Very romantic, great food, lovely service. And lamb innards!

Packing list: Even though I wore one of my long sleeved shirts and my heavy cardigan only once each, I don't regret anything I brought. Those two items saw a lot of use in our 2019 trip to France, during much the same time of year.

I did discard one shirt, one pair of underpants, and two pair of pants, all of which were pretty much in tatters. I almost relented on my lovely linen pants, but they were so threadbare that my fingers went through the fabric when I was trying to remove a (wine) stain.

I would rethink my shoe choices next time, especially if we're visiting places like Matera and Vieste. The streets and steps were so steep and slippery that I often felt unsafe, especially in Matera. I wasn't the only one, either. As we sat enjoying our meal at La Bottega di Nadí, we watched a number of people slipping and sliding. Some women took their shoes off before descending the steep stone staircase. I'm going to start looking for some shoes that might be safer, but still comfortable and not too heavy. I do have a pair of low-cut hiking boots that would work, but I don't think I would wear them often enough to make it worth packing them.

Local guides: All the local guides were very good. Top vote goes to Francesca in Rome, with Gaetano at Pompeii a close second. We had no local guide in whom we were disappointed (unlike our recent South of France tour.)

What I would do differently: I would be in better shape. Usually I start “training” for a tour months in advance. Not this time. Those of you who followed my South of France report (https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tours/better-late-than-never-loire-to-the-south-of-france-tour-report#bottom) know that Stan had an unusual health problem late this winter that left him pretty much sedentary for about six weeks. That meant I had to step in and cover all our obligations myself, which seriously limited my free time. As a result, when it was time for the tour, I was still post-pandemic flabby, and Stan was still weak. I suggested we postpone our trip, but he was sure he'd be okay. And he was, pretty much, but had no stamina and had to rest every couple of hours. Add in our usual achy joints, and Stan's new knee problem, and we definitely lagged behind our normal condition.

Overall conclusion: After thinking this over, spending several days reviewing the tour, I decided that yes, I would do this tour again. But not yet...

Let me know if I've left something out. And once again, thanks for sticking with me.

Jane

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14159 posts

"Pam I had to laugh when I read your post, because guess who we talked about at our Tulsa meeting yesterday?"

That's hilarious! And yes, I continue to be convinced we are somehow related!

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2459 posts

Well done, Jane. Matera was a bit challenging with lots of hills and stairs. I availed myself of railings when they were available either going up or downstairs. I agree that shoes with good nonslip tread is a good idea. I was careful and took it slow as I didn’t want to take a tumble. Add in the hill climbs in Vieste and the stairs in the various museums, this was a strenuous tour. We had the same guitar player visit us at the final tour dinner and sang That’s Amore as well. That might be something that Caterina arranges in advance. It was fun anyway. And I am still wanting to figure out a recipe for the (vegan) gnocchi with pistachio sauce that I had in Vieste. And not to forget the delicious family meal in Sorrento. So good!

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6363 posts

Thank you, Mary. I agree that this tour should be considered “strenuous.”. The morning at Pompeii was demanding, as well.

We had one person on our tour who opted out of almost everything in Matera. She used a walking stick in some of the other places we were.

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648 posts

Jane, thanks for the “heads up” of slippery steps in Matera. I can’t even visualize how slippery they are. We’re there hand rails for those steps?
Reading your report, I think I will take only “grippy” shoes, ie, trail runners and low cut hiking shoes. They’ll be useful in Switzerland, where we’ll be after South Italy.
I’ll also pack my collapsible trekking poles, which fit in my everyday backpack. I usually take a pair of slip on shoes, but won’t for this tour.
The details you have in your report are so helpful. Thank you so so much.

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648 posts

Hotels: I’m interested in comparing hotels (when we receive our complete list for the tour) because your first and last hotels are different from ours.
In Rome, are staying at Hotel San Francesco, but on our own we are staying at Hotel Smeraldo pre-tour.
Our Naples hotel: Grand Hotel Oriente. We are extending our stay an additional night.
Our tour also begins on Monday; same as your tour.

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Carol we stayed at the Hotel San Francesco on this tour. The hotel was fine and we loved its location in Trastevere. Have a great trip.

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Carol - the Hotel Smeraldo was nice. We opted for an upgraded room there pretour and then moved to the room that RS had booked for us. Our upgraded room had a balcony and was a bit larger than the RS room but otherwise pretty much the same quality. There is a small rooftop bar that opens after 4:30 pm I believe. The staff at the Hotel Smeraldo were outstanding. They were so, so helpful to us with getting us a taxi including instructions to the taxi driver to avoid a certain route and the best walking route to St. Peter’s and how long it would take to get there on foot. The Grand Hotel Oriente in Naples is upscale with larger rooms than the normal RS rooms. The breakfast room is at the top of the hotel. You can dine inside or out depending on the weather. You can also have cocktails on the rooftop patio. There is a nice view from up there. We really enjoyed it.

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Carol, when we were booked on this tour in 2020, the tour that didn't happen, our hotels were the ones you have this year. We were planning to stay longer in Naples, 3 nights instead of the 2 we stayed this year, and planned to move from the Grand Oriente to the Piazza Bellini, even though the Grand Oriente was much more convenient to the train station. The Bellini just looked more like our kind of place! And indeed, it was. Just as in Rome we booked into the Aberdeen pre-tour instead of the San Francesco in 2020 or the Smeraldo this year.

About the slippery steps in Matera, yes, there were usually handrails, but we're talking staircases wide enough for 4 to 6 people to walk abreast, often crowded, so you may or may not be able to get to a railing. I always headed for the rail immediately, but wasn't always successful.

And yes, I'm going to start looking for grippy shoes. I had a response from someone on another thread about the Portugal tour, and she said the streets and walkways there are also very slippery. We're booked on that for 2023. I need to check my hiking boots; it may be time to replace them. They are very light; I think I got them from Land's End.

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Jane, thank you so much for your wonderful trip report. I am signed up for the last South Italy tour in 2023 and am super excited. This trip has been on mg bucket list for ages!

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6363 posts

Roxasamonte10: I felt the same way. Thank you for your kind words.

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Thank you for your amazing trip report. I’m going on this tour in early September, and your report has me looking forward to the trip even more now. I hope and pray that Francesca is our guide in Rome. When I went on the Best of Italy tour several years ago, she was our guide through the Roman forum and she was wonderful!

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11350 posts

Jane,
I enjoy reading your trip reports, very well written! Thanks for spending the time to share your experiences. We travel independently but have taken a few tours. As we get older, we probably will take more of them.
We spent ten days in Puglia a few years ago and your description of your visit to Alberobello baffles me. You didn’t go inside a Trulli home? We toured several and walked through the streets for hours where there were so many of them. I would write Rich Steves about that rather large omission if I were you.
I had a hard time in Matera hearing the stories of the very poor people who had lived in the cave houses without water or heat. The city looked nice today but it’s past haunted me and I was very happy to return to Puglia.
Happy travels! Suki

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707 posts

Jane, I so glad that I just read your trip report. We are doing the same tour starting on September 5 and I'm getting all sorts of great ideas from you. Thanks for all the tips!

My packing problem is that we are going to be in Norway and Switzerland for the two weeks prior to this trip and I'm trying to figure out how to bring a wide variety of clothing. What a problem to have, right?

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What a wonderful, thoughtful review. We will be taking this same tour September 12, with our initial hotel being Hotel Smeraldo. We will have been in Florence for almost a week before taking a train to Rome, so maybe we will have figured out the best way to order afternoon capucinno (kidding—it’s taboo, I hear). You have given us several good suggestions for food and packing. It looks like it is going to be hot as blazes in mid-September—much warmer than our last RS tour of Northern France in June 2018.

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6363 posts

Galawdog, thank you. This is a great tour, and you should have a wonderful time, with or without an afternoon cappuccino! (Stan suggests a spritz instead.)