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2+ Weeks in Eataly with Friends

Just returned from 2 1/2 weeks in Italy with three of my best traveling friends, and hope sharing these highlights may give you some ideas for your next trip. Love these “girls’ trips” because without husbands, we seem to cover twice the ground for half the money. We’re calling this trip “Eataly!”

We flew out the Tuesday after Easter, direct from Atlanta to Rome, on what, through no fault of Delta, turned out to be the Vomit Comet! With the first gut-churning drop, I dove into my backpack for Bonine and made it through fine, but there were some seriously sick people all night long on that flight. I’ve been flying internationally for years, and I’ve NEVER experienced a flight like this one.

We were all thankful to finally be on the ground. Our shiny new black Alfa Romeo was waiting for us at Europcar, another smooth rental arranged by gemut.com. This is about as big a car as you are going to get in Italy without going to an expensive SUV, but it works for four people if you’re not too overloaded with luggage. This was the first time I didn’t bring my Tom-Tom from home or rent their GPS, because we recently switched to T-Mobile, and their free, unlimited international coverage let me use GoogleMaps on my iPhone, constantly, driving and walking!

Especially in Italy, I like to settle in and stay a while, and Umbria is one of my favorite regions, the beauty of Tuscany without the crowds. We rented http://casaspello.com in Spello for 10 nights. (Thanks, Laurel in Rome for the rec!) We chose the largest Tiberius apartment with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Loved staying in Spello. It’s a beautiful small hill town with very few tourists. Just like all hill towns, you do need to be prepared for lots of uppa, uppa, and downa, downa to get anywhere. Our house owner gave us a parking pass so we could park in the local’s lot near the town center, which was helpful, but this apartment, or town, would not be easy for anyone with mobility issues.

One of the best parts of staying anywhere 10 nights is claiming your favorite coffee shop and restaurants. Every place we ate was welcoming, but on return visits we were treated like friends. Pasticceria Gelateria Tullia was our morning coffee stop and our afternoon gelato break. Its outdoor seating overlooks the local elementary school entrance, and it’s always fun in the mornings to queue up with nine-year-olds ordering cappuccino. Il Pinturicchio (www.ristoranteilpinturicchio.it) was nearest our apartment, and we returned several times, delighted with everything we tried on their menu. One night we really had no room for dessert, but ordered one tiramisu with four forks, and our friendly server returned with what can only be described as a giant slab of tiramisu for us to share.

We also liked Osteria del Buchetto (www.osteriadelbuchetto.it) a tiny family restaurant perched even higher up in Spello. On our final night we discovered La Locanda dei Postiglione (www.locandadelpostiglione.com) which is apparently the place to be and be seen in Spello, with amazing food, and even on a very busy Friday night, their service was attentive and friendly. Spello also has a big grocery store near the base of the town where we stocked up on wine, Parmiggiano, and Italian crackers. The Wednesday morning market was great for strawberries and oranges and Pecorino. There was a line to buy from the porchetto man, but we were headed out on a day trip and couldn’t leave it for hours in our car.

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Day 2

Another joy of a long stay in one place is choosing day trips as the spirit moves you. Our first was to nearby Assisi. Parking was easy at the lot near the top, and there were few tourists on a weekday as we made our scenic, somewhat downhill walk with the RS guide. Too many wonderful churches to see before they close for their long afternoon siesta. Pizza al Taglio da Andrea, not far from San Rufino, was a great quick lunch stop for takeout slices and Prosciutto/truffle/mozzarella sandwiches. Farther downhill on the road to the Basilica there’s a small Memorial Museum honoring brave locals who resisted the Nazis and forged documents to protect their Jewish friends and neighbors.

We arrived at St. Francis’ Basilica mid afternoon where heavily armed Italian solders directed us to start at the basement crypt level where he’s buried, then work upward to the wonderful frescoed sanctuary. Very few visitors this afternoon and plenty of time and space to listen to our downloaded RS audio guides. Afterward, we made life easy and taxied back uphill to our car.

Down the curvy mountain road to the flat valley where we can see the big dome of the Basilica da Santa Maria degli Angeli. Inside is the little wooden chapel where Francis originally served, and built all around and above it is this massive ornate church, kind of incongruous with all of Francis’ ideas about simplicity. Out in the cloister they do have a pretty rose garden, with live white doves nesting on the statue of St. Francis.
Day 3
Daytrip to Orvieto! Started out on a busy, truck-filled main road. Hoped for something more scenic...and got it. Wound over a very curvy mountain road passing Lake Trasimeno on our way. Never found the “huge free lot” below the train station, despite directions from two locals. (My very limited understanding of rapid-fire Italian probably had something to do with that.) Parked easily in lower Orvieto where the funicular stops and took the little electric bus up to the main piazza. Unboarded in front of the Duomo in glorious spring sunshine. Before tackling the church we decided to get a quick lunch. Had an unmemorable one at a Rick Steves recommended tavola caldo, one of those places where the food is offered cafeteria style, and you choose two or three dishes. Soggy panzanella and bland pasta looked better than they tasted. Now I remember reading somewhere he said he even liked college cafeteria food.... [This would be the only culinary miss of our entire 2 1/2 weeks in Italy!]
When we got to the Duomo, we were almost alone inside. The San Brizio chapel is painted wall to wall with Signorelli’s Day of Judgment and Life After Death. Fun to follow the story all the way around with angels batting the condemned away from the heavenly gates and the resurrected climbing out of their graves in their new skins. The entire church has an ethereal golden glow from the alabaster windows high overhead.
Back outside it’s interesting to work out the Old and New Testament stories elaborately carved into the marble pillars. Today there was a grand piano parked just outside the front steps and an accomplished but emotional pianist with his CDs and tip jar. We window shopped through town, ate gelato, and returned to the piazza to listen to the pianist some more. Finished our afternoon at the Museo Emilio Greco where there’s a small but very good collection of figure drawings and bronzes. There was a massive bronze replicating one he did for the Vatican Museum in honor of one of the recent popes.

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Retrieved our car and drove to nearby Civita di Bagnoregio, the 2500 year old, near ghost town which perches high on a mostly eroded hill. The only parking is far below, and the only access is the long steep suspension bridge up to the village. Almost lost one friend for the trek, but she was a good sport for venturing onward and upward through what must have sent all her bridge phobic senses on high alert! There’s not a lot to do once you get to the top, but the afternoon light was brilliant on the mostly deserted buildings, and there were lots of cats...probably intermarried. Very peaceful.
Our trip home was back over the curvy mountain in the dark. Cheese and wine, olives and strawberries and biscotti at home for late dinner. Most food groups covered.
Day 4
Sunny day for return trip to Assisi for what we had missed, the interior of San Rufino, St Clare, and the Roman temple of Minerva.Lots more visitors on this sunny weekend. A little shopping, back to da Andrea for more of the prosciutto sandwiches, then left in time to make the hour drive to San Gemini to meet Chef Lorena Autori for our cooking class at four.
Percorsi con Gusto, our cooking class with Chef Lorena, was one of the highlights of our entire trip. Chef Lorena sent us two pages of options for what we could cook, and we’ve narrowed it down to our final five: panzanella, a pasta with fresh vegetables, a gnocchi with pesto, and two desserts — strawberry tiramisu and lemon caprese cake. We spent most of the first hour being served tea and special Easter cake and sharing our gift of southern foods we brought for her. Chef Lorena’s apartment is a historic one with a tall, beamed ceiling, and a tiny well-organized kitchen. We’re doing most of our work on the dining table that will transform for a place for us to eat later. Lorena and her assistant have been chopping and prepping since 8AM, so what’s left for us to do is the fun part.
The most fun was when we all sat down together to eat our wonderful meal. Chef Lorena is not only an accomplished cook and teacher, she’s very charming and a great hostess. Midway through our meal, a knock at the door revealed a delivery man with four boxes of potato flour, the ingredient we were sure we would never find in Atlanta, for us to take home. We ate and laughed until way after 10PM. What an experience. Great fun; wonderful food! We must be good Italian cooks!
Day 5
Off to Spoleto this morning for their monthly antique market. Lots more fleas than treasures in the modest market in the center, but it is another beautiful day. Our next plan was to drive on to Cortona, which sits high on a hill and is usually lively even on Sundays. Plan for parking near the top was soon stymied by unexplained road barriers. Went around three, wondering why we were the only car on the road. Came to a halt at the top of a long uphill stretch where there was a small crowd, and carabinieri, blocking the road. Found a lucky empty parking place, distressingly close to a hillside drop off, and got out to investigate what was happening. It was a road race up the mountain, apparently near the end of it, but we saw half a dozen race cars make the hairpin curve in front of us (separated from us by only a short stack of hay bales) and roar on up the mountain.
With directions from the on-duty ambulance crew we found a back route up into Cortona, but my favorite Trattoria La Grotto and most of the other restaurants were already closed for lunch service. We did find decent pizza and an outdoor table on the main shopping street to watch the Sunday afternoon passegiatta. Mid afternoon is a peculiar time to eat in Italy, but a number of small children gazed longingly at our pizza. Afterward, doing some window shopping of our own, we discovered gold glittery tennis shoes may be THE spring fashion statement for Italian women.

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Day 6
Umbrian sun couldn’t last forever. Watched the crowds of schoolchildren with their colorful umbrellas making their way up Spello’s main street while we sipped our morning cappuccino at Tuilla. Rainy morning for a traffic-clogged drive to Siena. Downpour stopped just as we found our parking garage mere inches from the start of the ZTL and headed on foot for Il Campo to meet our guide Antonella Pirreda. She’s a guide I met a few years ago, and she’s a great window into the mindset and customs of the Sienese who live in 17 fiercely loyal districts called contrade, and culminate their rivalries twice a year with the Palio, the free-for-all bareback horserace in the main piazza. She walked us through back streets off the tourist path, pointed out the small animal signs marking the different contrade, and offered great insights about the Siennese, the architecture, and the intricate inlaid marble floors in the Duomo.
Great lunch at Antonella’s favorite bar, Il Palio on the main Campo. Rain mostly held off until we sat down under cover for our lunch. A very good day in spite of less than stellar weather.
Day 7
A slow start morning and a day to explore Spello. Left the car parked today, although I don’t think you can really see Umbria without one. This was a peaceful vacation day from our vacation.
Day 8
Market day in Spello, then on to Gubbio, St. Francis’ other town. Easy parking at the base of town, then up the lift to the town center with the big piazza and the grand view. Took the town tour on the shiny red tourist tram. Saw plenty we could never have covered in one day on foot. Up another lift to the Duomo. Planned to catch the two-passenger wire cages up to the mountaintop, but it is no more. Must have been liability problems. Dang it. Would have made a great video, especially if one of us had fallen out!
Our house owner recommended we drive up the mountain to nearby Collepino to see the view. We put it in the GPS when we left Gubbio, but the route didn’t start in Spello as she had recommended. We headed up a narrow, curvy mountain road with no room for two cars to pass. Going higher the switchbacks got tighter and more exciting. From Collepino down to Spello the views over olive trees to the green valley far below were stunners. The road home on her recommended route was still narrow and curving, but an autostrada compared to what we just came up.

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Day 9
Firenze day trip! This will be a blitz, but one of my friends has never been here, and we will see as much as we can!
I had an address for the out-of-the-center parking lot where I once parked and then took the little electric bus into the center. (It’s in the RS Italy book.) I remembered it being an easy drive into the outskirts of Florence to find. We must have come from a completely different direction this time, because our route from Spello took us through blocks of city traffic, past the main train station, and way too close to the ZTL for my paranoia. I think we safely avoided a ticket but guess I will wait a year to find out!
With no time to waste, we hopped a taxi to drop us at the new museum L’Opera directly across the street from the Duomo. Antonella had recommended this one, and it was stunning. It’s a big contemporary light-filled space housing the treasures that decorated the outside of the Duomo. The environment was wrecking these sculptures, so they’ve been replaced with replicas, and the originals situated creatively inside the museum. Among the treasures are Ghiberti’s famous golden doors from the Baptistery, which have been hidden away undergoing restoration for 30 years. Now they're in a climate controlled glass housing, beautifully restored, and perfectly lit, and finally on view for the hordes of teenagers on field trips staring at their iPhones.
Other major highlights were one of Michelangelo’s later pietas and a wooden Mary Magdalene sculpted by Donatello, depicting her aged, emaciated, and dressed in the rough, hermit clothes associated with John the Baptist.
We had time for a quick dash through the Mercato Centrale and porchetto sandwiches at a counter with some friendly conversation with the owners. We’re meeting our Walks of Italy guide at the Galleria dell’Accademia in a few minutes. Constanze was our guide, and she gave us plenty of info to enhance our viewing of the David. Afterward we had enough free time to revisit my favorite sculptures here, Michelangelo’s unfinished prisoners, and see some of the early religious paintings and watch the video about how plaster reproductions are cast.
Florence can be confusing, crowded, and over touristed, and it was helpful to have a guide to explain the former grain house turned into a church, the bronze boar where the tourists were rubbing his snout and balancing coins on his tongue, and the Piazza Della Signoria with its replica of the David. We walked through more narrow back streets and along the Arno before ending our tour on the covered Ponte Vecchio bridge which is now a row of jewelry shops. The drive out of Florence was in the rain during rush hour, but we survived that, and the autostrade drive home in glowing after rain evening light was a gift.
Day 10
Our last day in lovely Umbria and no big plans. We will spend this day on peaceful joyrides on tiny roads through vineyards and olive groves and whatever hilltop villages we come across. Montefalco was our best find. Parked outside the ancient arch and walked uphill to the main town square, which is actually a grand circle. Recognized a restaurant where I had been before in 2005 and tried some new dishes Our best find in Montefalco was a tiny church with crumbling frescoes, but what remained of the wall paintings was unusually high quality for an Italian village church. Later found out they are world-renowned. The usual altar trappings had been replaced with dozens of colorful handmade dolls, all ages and nationalities, walking together toward the cross in the center. Read on the English handout that they represent the plight of refugees across the world today.

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While inside the church a local gentleman asked us if we had seen the sacristy. He led us through a door adjacent to the altar, into a vaulted room painted top to floor with frescoes and decorative details. He explained the four main figures were the doctors of the early church, something we must have missed in Methodist Sunday school. Lovely to see, and grateful for his kindness.
Day 11
This is a day with many moving parts. Had one last cappuccino at Tullia and one last squeak through the double stone arches of our parking lot. GoogleMaps chose us a new and different route to Rome which took us through some beautiful countryside. The EuRopcar location nearest Tiburtina railway station was in the thick of a construction zone, but I handed off the car and gratefully, for the first time ever, signed the line for “No accidents/no damages”!
Taxied to Tiburtina with time to spare for a sit-down lunch, then down the escalator to the train tracks. I’ve read the departures board, and know our track number and what time the train leaves, and ticket confirmations are on my phone, but it’s always unnerving to sit there practically alone, since the locals tend to show up about five minutes before boarding. Our train was arriving from elsewhere, and of course almost all of the easy end-of-the-traincar storage racks were already full, so we got to heaveho three now heavy duffels up to the overhead racks, but with teamwork, we did it. Relieved to sit down, knowing my driving part is over, and we’re on our way to the Amalfi Coast!
Napoli’s train station can be a legendary hot mess, but our sign holding driver was right there to meet us and lead us through the confusion. He spoke only a few words of English but seemed pleased to find “Come Back to Sorrento” and some other well known Neapolitan tunes for us to hear on his radio. He pointed out Mt. Vesuvius and the exit to Pompeii, and in less than an hour he was handing us off on a side road to Pasquale from our B&B Villla Monica. [I’ve done the hot, pokey Circumvesuviana, once, but now consider a 100 euro (especially split 4 ways!) driver a no-brainer.]
Sorrento’s busy, pretty city center is all about tourists with its numerous hotels and eateries. That’s why I like staying out of the center, high up on the hill overlooking the Bay of Naples. Villa Monica has only about six rooms, but each has a balcony with a view. Pasquale is a great host. He’’s funny and drives like a crazy man, but he’s always ready to help find the best experiences. As soon as we unloaded, he was ready to drive us the two miles or so into town to see some sights.
Dinner tonight at Il Leone Rosso, an old favorite from other visits. Apparently half of Naples comes to Sorrento on Saturday night for dinner. We were lucky to get a table, even through it was a not great table, near the front door. As soon as we dropped Pasquale’s name, the service level picked up and they delivered a fresh warm round of pizza bread with our huge platter of seafood antipasti. A fun dinner with more fresh seafood for mains. When you stay at Villa Monica, Pasquale makes regular scheduled runs to take you into and pick up from the center of Sorrento. And he’s also very kind to transport you when your scheduled activity doesn’t fit exactly with his scheduled runs.

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Day 12
Amalfi Coast day! I’ve made arrangements with Rafaello Monetti to drive us all day along the coast. Pasquale is taking us to meet him at 8:30. Lobbied for a later start, and Pasquale called him, but Mr. Monetti explained the early start was to keep us ahead of the buses, which makes sense. [This turned out to be the best plan!] It’s a little overcast, and the water’s not as brilliant a blue as it can be in full sunlight, but it’s not raining, which was a distinct possibility. Rafaello explained the haze is actually sand carried from Africa by the Sirocco winds. The view is still beautiful, and it’s great to be in a Mercedes van instead of a packed bus.
Our first long stop was colorful Positano. There’s only one walkway of steps down, and though we all stopped to look at different places, we soon found ourselves together again on the beach gathering sea glass.
We drove on through Amalfi town, which was already inundated with big buses, to get to cliff top Ravello while it was peaceful. This was our long stop with time for lunch, and I had asked Rafaello to find someplace simple so we would have more time for looking. He took us to Trattoria Cumna Cosimo, which was perfect. We were their first lunch guests on this Sunday morning, but it filled rapidly.We all ordered their special combination pasta plate with their specialties, and they served us from a massive plate of pastas. The Italian nona who’s owned this restaurant for three generations came by several times to be sure we were happy. When we told her we’d eaten too much to order dessert, she brought us all tiramisu anyway, on the house. When my friend, on the way to the restroom, admired something else she was serving, Nona sent a couple of plates of that dessert to our table too. Great food, lots of fun.
The main attraction in Ravello is the Rufulo Gardens overlooking the sea, and they were in glorious bloom. We had plenty of time there to see them all, then wander back through the main piazza in Ravello before our time to meet Rafaello again. We made a quick stop in too busy Amalfi town, long enough to see the piazza with its statue of St Andrew and his X-shaped cross at the base of the tall steps to the Moorish tiled Duomo. Another short roadside stop in Praiano to see the hillside grotto the elderly local resident has created with little houses and replicas of local churches. At Christmas it’s all lighted and the tiny river is filled with water and boats.
Back in Sorrento late in the afternoon, and back to Il Leone Rosso for dinner again. This time Pasquale walked us in, and the owner asked us to pick any table. We wanted to sit near the pizza maker for the entertainment. He put on quite a show for us, throwing dough from hand to hand, then up in the air. We’re all starting to develop a taste for limoncello, which appears in shot glasses at the end of every meal here. Back at Villa Monica we slept with our doors to the balcony open, and the wind sounded like waves on the ocean again.

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Day 13
Woke up to fog over the Bay of Naples. Not good, because today we’re booked for an all day trip to Capri on a small boat with Mondoguides. The wind was whipping all night, and I’m picturing 12 people in a rowboat on crashing waves...and the misery that will ensue. Started emailing the company early this morning. They say it’s a perfect day; I say I can't even see the water from my window. They say the sea is calm; I say the wind is blowing pretty hard up here. Pasquale has already told me the company I booked with from Naples contracts with whichever of the eight or so boat companies in Sorrento that is available that day, and I’m thinking I should have asked him to find us a trip first. Eventually, I quit second guessing everything, and decided we should just go for it. As we bounced down the road in Pasquale’s van the sun broke through, and when we met up at the hand off point, it was his favorite boat company Capitan Ago that was making our trip that day!
The “rowboat” turned out to be a 32-foot yacht with antique teak decking. Roberto the captain and cute Fonzi his mate were both charming, the sun was bright, and the seas calm. About as perfect a day as we could have hoped for! We left the harbor in Sorrento as they were setting up to start filming a movie and arrived at Capri about 45 minutes later. We circled all around the island, stopping at the Green Grotto and then the Red Grotto where they find the coral for the red jewelry popular in this area. Roberto took us close to a waterfall and through the famous rocks on the Capri postcards. He pointed out the ancient Roman villa where the cruel emperor tossed his enemies onto the cliffs, and the cliffside villas where the rich and famous hang out today — the Dolce and Gabbanas, Fendis, and Sophia Loren.
And then we came to the Blue Grotto. Everybody (Rafaello, Pasquale, Roberto) had downplayed our chances of actually getting inside it. In spring the water’s usually high; in high water the 3-foot opening is too small. Yesterday it wasn’t possible. Today there are half a dozen small boats jockeying for position, and then we’re transferring to a tiny rowboat, trying not to fall in the water. The four of us lie down flat in the boat, probably flatter than necessary, but I’m taking no chances on scraping my nose off! The boat rower grabs the overhead chain at the small hole in the rocks, and we’re going IN! We had been warned that if the sun isn’t shining enough, the water won’t be anything special, but it’s a spectacular, glowing, ethereal blue. And now our boat rower is belting out O Sole Mio while he rows us around the cavern. I did this once when I was just turned 20, and I don’t remember it being this entertaining. Totally touristy; totally fun!
This would be a memorable day even if we did nothing else, but soon Roberto is docking our boat in the big harbor at Capri, passing out sandwiches, and we have four hours to explore. The funicular's been out of commission since January so we looked for sea glass on the tiny beach for a few minutes, then bought RT tickets for the little electric bus. Stopped first in Capri for a very quick look and a dripping gelato. Used our next ticket to get higher up to smaller, less commercial Anacapri. We wanted to ride the chairlift up to the top of the mountain. We could see clouds up above, but maybe we thought we would miraculously pop through them. We didn’t. After a very few minutes of riding with a view, we ascended into fog, then a total white out, and a very cold one. At the top we could see absolutely nothing, so we lined up and rode right back down, passing a busload of young Asians with selfie sticks on their way up into the whiteout.

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Once back on terra firma in Anacapri we found the little white church, Chiesa di San Michele, with the glorious majolica ceramic floor depicting the Garden of Eden. No one is allowed to walk on it any longer, but there’s a narrow wooden walkway encircling it, so you can see all the wondrous beasts close up, then climb the tight spiral staircase to look down on the floor as a whole. Very beautiful and magical.
We’re well over the half way point on our four hours, and getting back to the harbor on one of the tiny buses is not the easiest part. We cued up at the main square, in a long line, that did not move. After a few minutes we decided this would not work, that we needed to walk to where the bus originated if we were to have any hope of getting on. GoogleMaps got us there, but we needed to buy another ticket. Eventually we headed downward, packed in, standing like vertical sardines in a box. All was going well until we got to the Capri and the driver said “Everybody off.” Time is getting really short now, and we’ve got to find another bus and buy yet another ticket. Eventually we got to the bottom, and there’s a reason they call these the Mama Mia buses —- the view as you drive down swaying over the cliffside in standing position. I’m sure Roberto would never have left us, but we ran/walked the last 100 yards to the boat and got there only about five minutes late. Wonderful day.
Tonight we’re going up the mountain to Sant Agata to Lo Stuzzichino. They sent a car and a server to collect us from Villa Monica. The restaurant wasn’t too busy on this weekday night, and the owner was very welcoming. We let him choose most of our dishes, and our dinner and wine were wonderful.
Day 14
No major plans today. Took the local bus to the local Sorrento beach this morning to look for sea glass. Spent part of the afternoon following the Rick Steves guide walk through the old streets of Sorrento. (And the older man at the local men’s club that doesn’t allow women, especially not tourist ones, welcomed us to come in and have a look!)
Back to Lo Stuzzichino for dinner tonight. It’s packed, and there’s music. The Neopolitan singer was singing Country Roads when we arrived. He worked his way through some Sinatra and Eric Clapton and ended belting out a really good Nessun Dorma from Turandot. Another great dinner in festive surroundings.

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Day 15
We’re leaving peaceful Villa Monica this morning for the bedlam that is Napoli. Pasquale’s found a driver who will deliver us to the door of the Renaissance Naples Mediterraneo near the harbor. Our Sorrento driver had a rough time finding that door in the maze of one-way streets and lawless traffic. We had thought about taking the ferry from Sorrento to Naples, but now I’m grateful for our driver. I usually avoid big chain hotels, but this was an intentional choice. This was my very congenial friends’ first trip to Naples, and I’m never sure how much anyone else is going to share my enthusiasm for the grit and confusion here. This was also the last stop on our trip, and I really wanted it to end well. This is a good hotel with an extremely helpful front desk. The rooms are not huge, even the upgraded sea-view ones we booked, but they are immaculate. The breakfast room on the 11th floor overlooking the bay is really wonderful. A good choice for the ending of our trip.
We have a full afternoon of walking tours ahead, so taxied to the front steps of the archeological museum to meet Vincenzo for our three-hour walk of Old Historic Naples organized by Mondoguides. Our group is only six people, and we cover lots of ground and several of the main churches. I think we are all a little surprised at how much superstition and legend intertwine with Catholicism in this ancient city. Lots of saints. I think Vincenzo told us Naples has 52 official city saints.
Vincenzo did a good job of explaining the melting pot of cultures and languages here, and confirmed my thoughts that the perils of Naples streets are highly overblown. [I never felt unsafe, and several locals went out of their way to help us. It’s probably similar to how southerners can be stereotyped.] My Italian is very slim, but the dialect here is almost impenetrable for me. Vincenzo told us it’s not just a dialect; they are speaking a completely separate language from Italian: Neapolitanese!
We ended our walk in the square of the Jesu church, with about half an hour to look (and sit) inside before our second walking tour started. Next is the DarkRome Ancient Naples Food Tour. We’re getting hungry, but we’re also getting tired of walking. We never exactly understood our friendly guide’s name but it sounded like Columbo. The other American couple on our tour had spent the day tromping all over Pompeii, so we we’re all flagging a bit, and our patient guide quickly realized this, and took down the pace a notch. Lucky for us, almost all our food stops were on the same long narrow pedestrian street. We started in a tiny grocery store with cups of caprese with the freshest imaginable buffalo mozzarella and a really good local red wine. They also had a fine wine and olive oil selection, but we all knew our already overloaded luggage status and constrained our purchases to cute little cans of lemon-flavored olive oil.
This tour focuses on street food, and our next stop was for tall paper cones of fried vegetables. Potato croquettes, eggplants, peppers, and a chunk of fried bread that was tasty but we all realized would be the end of our appetites for the night, so we nibbled and then pitched that one. Next was the pizza stop. This was a big folded slab with simple tomato sauce and too much for anybody to eat. Next was the limoncello manufacturer who showed us the steps from peeling the lemons to aging them in a huge vat for a week. When the top was lifted, the lemon fumes were brutal! The final product is pretty good, especially the milder limoncello creme.
Next came the pastry stands, but we were all stuffed already. He had the famous sfogliatelle cut in halves so we could at least taste it, and bagged up the last sample for us unseen, knowing it was hopeless.

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I’ve done food tours in Rome and London that had lots more stops and foods than this one, and we all kept eating until the end. Maybe Naples street food is just heavier, but it was impossible to eat even the six samples here. It was still a fun time with a friendly local, and we all left understanding a little more about the Neopolitans.
Day 16
Our last day of Italian holiday; tomorrow is all moving parts and travel. We have museums to see and a plan of how to do it. First taxi to the Sansevero Chapel, through the unnerving morning traffic with no rules at any intersection! We have skip-the-line tickets to see the amazing veiled Christ. It’s in a private chapel, not a very big one, but the wonderful marble sculpture draws you in for a long view. Originally “they” thought the sculptor was also an alchemist who mixed some potion to create the effect of a marble veil, but this was thoroughly discounted, and the skill of the sculptor was recognized.
Next, with the help of GoogleMaps, a morning walk to the enormous National Museum of Archeology. Big rooms, well lighted, and all the treasures from Pompeii inside, plus some exquisite sculptures. This could be overwhelming, but the Rick Steves book has laid out a very good path for seeing the highlights without going museum-numb. The huge bronze horse head by Donatello is in the entrance hall. Italy’s largest one-piece marble sculpture of the Farnese Bull, where a woman is being tied to a raging bull, had a well-behaved group of schoolchildren sitting on the floor listening to the docent’s explanation. This particular sculpture was a group effort, and there was a diagram listing who did what parts. Michelangelo did the dog. Love seeing the school groups in their smocks — cobalt blue jackets for boys and dress-length white artist smocks with floppy blue bows at the collar on the girls.
The mosaics from Pompeii have been transported here, and up close you can see the minuscule fragments of glass that make up their intricate detail. After about two hours we were content we had seen all the best pieces here and headed out to find the food street from last night. Ate our final pizza in the shade at an outdoor tented restaurant.
Walked the famous street of the prescepe again, where Neapolitans buy the figures and doll house furniture for their intricate family manger scenes. Along with the usual sheep and shepherds, we saw popes and soccer stars, Trump and Kim Jong-un, Queen Elizabeth with her purse and Prince Harry with no clothes. Not sure how this fits in, but they were all there in plastic miniature!
Taxied up to the highest point overlooking Napoli to the National Museum and Monastery of San Martino to see the exhibit of nativity scenes. The largest one had over 160 figures. Angels suspended from the sky and a costumed marching band making the uphill trek to see the Baby Jesus. Outside the museum we looked down on the rooftops of Naples counting church domes and could see far into the Bay of Naples to Vesuvius. Another taxi thrill ride back down the mountain to our hotel, where we made it only as far as the lobby bar. The complimentary afternoon drink filled a large punchbowl with a colorful orange brew of prosecco, aperol, and blood orange juice. After those we only had to move 10 feet to a table to order four, always consistent anywhere in the world, Marriott hamburgers with steak fries. We’re finally pizza’d out, and this was the perfect last meal.

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Day 17
The front desk loaded our luggage with our pre-booked driver so we could make a fast dash upstairs to the breakfast room when it opened at 6:30. No time to savor the view this morning but on the rooftop terrace overlooking the Bay of Naples everything glows in the morning sunlight. Our Italo train to Rome left right on time at 7:20, and since it originated here, there was plenty of luggage space in the lower racks. Our driver from Rome Chauffeur met us in Rome at Termini station and whisked us through the thick traffic to Fiumicino. Our flight has been delayed an hour, so we have plenty of time to wait some more and finish off the few euros left in the kitty.
I never understand how flights to Rome are usually full, and flights from Rome back to the US often have plenty of open seats. Where did all those extra people go? Thankful for this smooth and boring flight, the main insult being the TV dinner ravioli and cardboard cup of vanilla ice cream, both a travesty following the glorious food we have consumed on this Eataly trip. Another grand adventure in the books! Ciao!!

If you read through all the way to the end of this, wow! I did not intend it to be so long!!

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901 posts

Ruth, no apologies necessary about the length of your trip report. I wouldn’t have wanted you to leave out a single detail. You did an amazing amount of planning for your Eataly trip and it sounds like it all paid off. Enjoyed reading every detail. I’ll be returning to Italy next year and will keep some of your recommendations in mind. Thanks for your report.

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293 posts

Oh how fun with girlfriends!!! Wonderful trip report, thank you ! !

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679 posts

Really enjoyed your trip report. It sounded really wonderful. I had to laugh when you mentioned sea glass. I live in Palm Beach County and have collected sea glass for years. I always look for it when we are vacationing and have found it all over the world. I am going to Greece in a few weeks and am looking forward to another sea glass adventure.

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5258 posts

Thoroughly enjoyable read. Thank you for taking the time to share.

I foresee a return trip to Italy soon because you’ve reminded me how wonderful travel there can be!

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1846 posts

Oh, Ruth! I have enjoyed coming along with you and your gal pals; what a fun trip! I loved every word of your report. Thank you for taking the time to write so beautifully about your wonderful adventures.

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276 posts

Oh Ruth I enjoyed reading every bit of your trip report. If you ever feel brave to travel with a stranger I volunteer!!

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3378 posts

Ruth, I really enjoyed reading your trip report! Your adventures and the animated stories & situations - I’m printing this one for reference for a future trip. Appreciated hearing how the locals enjoyed you at their restaurants, etc. which speaks highly of your group’s friendly attitude, also.

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901 posts

Ruth, thanks for the great trip report. I’m headed back to Italy in late spring and am bookmarking your post so that I can visit some of your favorite restaurants. What a wonderful trip with friends! I’m sure they were appreciative of all your detailed planning.

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614 posts

Ruth, thank you for such a delightful trip report. I enjoyed reading about the adventures on your trip, felt as if I took a vacation. You have inspired me for my next trip to Italy.

Sandy

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875 posts

Thank you for a fabulous trip report! Clearly your extensive research and planning paid off a gazillion times over for you and your friends! Thanks for helping my planning for my next Italy trip! Your descriptions and details are marvelous! Beautiful! Perfect!

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1083 posts

Lovely Ruth!!
Thanks so much for a well written and amusing report!
I'm off to Italy next month for my 11th visit there, so you got me in the mood!
(Have a look for a book called "Il Bel Centro" by Michelle Damiani.
It's about her family' s year living in Spello, and well worth a read.