Here I go again
Here’s a report from my very recent (April 17-29) Best of South Italy tour, based on the travel journal I keep on Facebook, mostly impressions and photos rather than specifics. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. We had great weather, not too hot, not much rain, great guides, and the itinerary is notable for its combination of the well-known (Rome, Pompeii, Naples) and unknown (Vieste and Maiori), two free days and minimal bag dragging. This was my second RS trip; the first was Village Italy in June 2022. I hope it’s helpful to anyone considering the tour.
I arrived in Rome very early on a Sunday morning. The city was quiet-ish and my ride to the tour hotel (Hotel Smeraldo) easy. I’m traveling as a single, which can yield anything from a big room with a view to barely enough room to turn around. That’s the case here, plus my window faces the street where lively, noisy crowds gather for takeout pizza from Roscioli (one of the city’s best bakeries) and it’s not yet AC season in Italy so temperature control relies on the cool outside air. Still, I’m in Rome!
Sunday afternoon I fought my jet lag (random, persistent turbulence on the flight made it hard to sleep) to visit Domus Aurea, the active archeological excavation of Nero’s palace. This meant a nice, long walk through Sunday crowds at the Victor Emmanuel Monument and then the Coliseum. Domus Aurea is fascinating, chilly and damp and only open for small tours on weekends; I’d read about it and booked in advance. There’s a neat virtual reality moment in which you can see a recreation of the gardens and palace at their peak. I walked back to the hotel, had something to eat that I do not recall and zonked out.
The tour didn’t start until 4 p.m. Monday, so I spent the morning walking up to the Janiculum hill (stairs and inclines) for quite a view and then walking through Trastevere for three hours with a photographer who showed me some favorite spots and taught me a lot about photography in general and my iPhone in particular. I booked this in advance through withlocals.com and would recommend it.
We gathered for introductions in the hotel breakfast room and met our guides – Sarah Corfield, an American who has lived in Italy for 20ish years and is a RS veteran, and Vanessa Nichol, who has guided other RS tours and is on this one to prep for leading it later. We chose buddies, reviewed rules, agreed to be prompt and not grumpy then took a walk through Trastevere and had a delicious dinner together, at which we were introduced to two iconic Roman pastas, cacio e pepe and amatriciana, and started getting to know each other. I hadn’t been to Rome since 2018 when my husband and I spent a week there and had forgotten how busy and vibrant and jammed with people it is. I kinda love it.
Tuesday morning, the tour began in earnest after breakfast that included lots of delicious crostata and other baked goods from Roscioli, across the street. We had an exceptional local guide (Francesca Caruso; she’s featured in some RS videos) for a walk through the Jewish Quarter to review its long, painful history and then continued to the Capitoline Museum, which I’d visited before. It’s so rewarding to walk through history with someone who’s passionate and knowledgeable, as you learn so much more than just reading a guidebook. The Capitoline is an excellent museum and usually not crowded but there were school field trips galore, which we’d see throughout the trip. Apparently there’s a lot of post-Covid pent-up demand. After the museum, a tour friend and I returned to the Jewish Quarter for lunch – it’s artichoke season and we wanted to try the famous carciofi alla guidia – and walked back to the hotel in a drizzle.
to be continued ...