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RS South Italy tour May 2019

This was my 6th RS tour, chosen especially for two reasons: 1) This is the last area of Italy that I hadn’t seen yet. Public transport not quite so easy to manage as farther north, so it seemed wise to choose a tour. And 2) I’ve been studying Italian more diligently recently and wanted to practice it in what seemed to me to be less touristed regions.

As is my custom, I arrived a day before the tour. First things first, I dropped by Vodafone to purchase a SIM card for my iPhone. This was the first time I had not, instead, purchased an international plan. I’ll do it again next time, as I found it very useful to use my phone whenever I wanted. Spent my free time wandering around Trastevere, which I love. Also toured the Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentino near Trajan’s column. This is an excavated Roman dwelling located under a current governmental building. The ruins are below a glass floor, which was a bit disorienting until I got used to not feeling as though I were going to fall through the floor. A fascinating tour.

The morning my RS tour began, I visited the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, still in the family’s possession, containing a vast array of art. I enjoyed the audio tour recorded by a family owner, especially the anecdotes about polishing the terrazzo floors as a child. Since it’s right on a main street, it’s easy to find and makes for a cool, peaceful stop on a hot, busy day. Later in the afternoon we met our guide, the personable Tommaso Pante, and our fellow tour members. I was happy to match faces to usernames of Patty and Kathy, both of whom I’d “met” on this forum. We were then off to a short walking tour and our first group dinner.

Before we left Rome we enjoyed a tour of the Capitolene Museum and a walking tour of the Jewish Ghetto , with wonderful Francesca Caruso. Although I’d visited both places before, I learned a lot from her informative and interesting commentary.

The next day we were off to Vieste via a stop to see Hadrian’s villa. It was interesting to me to learn that Hadrian didn’t particularly like city life in Rome, so he moved not only his home but the entire seat of government to the country.

We were pleased to learn, upon arrival in Vieste, that the city was celebrating its local saint, Santa Maria di Merino, with processions, concerts and fireworks. We also enjoyed a boat ride along the coast, dotted with scenic caves and beaches. The weather wasn’t optimal — cold and rainy — so the optional stops for swimming were cancelled. Although Vieste was a charming small city, this was one stop I would have omitted in favor of more time elsewhere.

Our next stop after Vieste was Alberobello, home of the round stone homes with conical roofs. Our time there was somewhat limited, with a wine, meat and cheese tasting and an hour or so to explore. Then we were off again, headed to Matera.

I was especially looking forward to seeing Matera. I belong to an Italian language group in Portland and had watched a fascinating Italian documentary about the history and revitalization of the cave homes in the town and the selection of Matera as European Capital of Culture in 2019. Seeing the town was fascinating, especially a home abandoned with furnishings and belongings when the government forced the residents to move to more safe, modern apartments. Our hotel, built into the side of a canyon, with cave-like rooms, was wonderful. All our rooms had views of the city lit up at night, and many had terraced areas with tables and chairs. We had a great impromptu happy hour there one night. I would have liked to stay here a little longer. There’s a historic cave with frescoes of saints located a few km. from the city that wasn’t included in the tour, and we didn’t have enough free time for me to schedule a private visit.

Posted by
5532 posts

Isn't Francesca amazing?

I'm enjoying your report; we're probably going to take this tour next year.

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1056 posts

Our next move after Matera involved several stops. First was a water buffalo farm, where we saw the pampered buffalo cows, who were living the life of luxury, lining up at the automatic milkers when their udders were full, then enjoying eating, massages and classical music. Not so the life of the baby male calves, who are slaughtered at two months, with meat shipped abroad and hides turned to luxury leather goods sold at the farm. Although I am not generally a shopper, I succumbed to the lure of a beautiful purse — after all, where else am I likely to find a baby buffalo purse? After a lovely lunch, we boarded the bus again and headed for Paestum.

Paestum was amazing, with both Greek and Roman ruins, but our time here was limited, as we were headed for the Amalfi Coast and Positano. The legendary curvy, narrow roads along the coast proved no problem for our great bus driver, Salvatore, but even he had his limits, as the road tour hotel was too narrow for the big bus. So he maneuvered us into a tiny roadside stop so that we could transfer to two smaller buses to get to a Positano.

Positano was free time for exploring. I took the public bus to Amalfi and Ravello. The reports about the buses being packed and people getting carsick proved true. I was fortunate to have a seat and to have a strong stomach, but two passengers were not so fortunate. I’d advise Dramamine for those who have weaker constitutions. In Amalfi, I enjoyed the cathedral, very large for the size of the current town, befitting its importance in earlier times. I wanted to visit the paper museum, but after hiking the considerable uphill climb, I was disappointed to see that they gave preferential treatment to several school groups, with no public tours in between school group tours. After waiting an hour, I left. Vistas from hilltop Ravello were mesmerizing, and I enjoyed lunch at a hillside restaurant with a view. While the gardens were well designed, the cooler than usual spring weather meant that fewer things were blooming than usual. Upon return to Positano, I enjoyed dinner with several tour mates.

Next city was Sorrento. I’d been there many years ago and was surprised to see how much the city had grown. I was pleased to find the cameo handworker from whom I’d bought a cameo years ago, still doing exquisite work. One of the things I enjoy about visiting workshops in Europe is seeing second and third generation artisans still plying the family trade. There was also a worker in wood inlay who also did stunning handiwork.

Our major activities in Sorrento were learning to make gelato at David’s gelato shop and visiting Pompeii. Gaetano, our 3rd generation guide at Pompeii, showed us and explained so much more than I had learned on a previous Pompeii visit that it was nearly like seeing the site with new eyes. Even though most of the artifacts from the site were removed to the Archeological Museum in Naples, he was able to bring the city to life with his detailed and interesting descriptions.

Next was a free day in Sorrento where some took a side trip to Capri. Since it was cloudy, windy and cool, I chose to stay in town, relax and do a little window shopping. That evening, we enjoyed a group dinner at the home of Gigino and Theresa. While it thundered and lightninged outside, we enjoyed plate after plate of home cooked delicious food and homemade wine. Our tour group was especially friendly and cordial, and this dinner with such a welcoming family was a true highlight. Although entertaining RS tour groups is a regular occurrence for this family, it did not seem in any way to be routine or an effort for them. What fun!

Posted by
2193 posts

Patricia, I am so enjoying reading your trip report and revisiting the places I also enjoyed when I took this tour a couple of years ago. I thought this was one of the best of the all the RS tours I have taken as I saw places and things I probably never would have seen (much less had an understanding of) unless on a tour. Matera was an educational wonder for me and I marveled at how spoiled the 'lady' water buffaloes are with their self selected massage times. The lunch there was fabulous. Buffalo milk gelato???......And I found that I loved Naples! Oh, the awesome sculptures in the tiny Capella Sansevero and the Museo Archaeological Museum (my favorite museum in all of Europe), wondrous for me. I look forward to more of your report; I do love revisits of places I have enjoyed through someone else's eyes. I know there never seems to be enough time on the RS tours to explore places you'd like to but I feel like the tours are designed to give one an overview of places you might like to revisit and spend more time exploring someday, with the idea that you will go back! Thank you for taking the time to post this report. I loved reading it.

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1056 posts

Our final stop was Naples. While some find this city dirty, gritty, and dangerous, I enjoyed it. I actually stayed a couple days after our tour had finished, in order to see more of the city.

Our tour started in the Capodimonte Museum, which was featuring a Caravaggio exhibit. Pina, our local guide, was really helpful in bringing the art to life, explaining the circumstances in which the art was created and the life of the Bourbon family, whose hunting lodge the museum had once been. Later in the day Tommaso took us on an orientation walk through the town. I enjoyed the SpaccaNapoli area, especially the San Gregorio Armenia street, which houses many shops featuring nativity scenes. I had read a series of detective novels set in Naples prior to this trip, and it was fun for me to see places I had read about earlier.

That evening I set out to locate Nennella, a restaurant in the Spanish Quarter that had been recommended to me by someone on an Italian language app I was using. Nennella caters to the student crowd and features a variety of inexpensive food and wine in a facility with loud music, singing and dancing waiters. While it was entertaining and the food was good if not great, I’d advise eating there on a week night rather than a weekend. I returned on a weekend night to treat a young family friend I ran into in town and found that it was very loud, very crowded and the site of numerous bachelor and bachelorette parties. Not my style at all.

Our last full day in Naples included a visit to Cappella Sansevero and the Naples Archeological Museum, again with local guide Pina. The statues of the Veiled Christ and Disenchantment, both carved from single blocks of stone, are truly mesmerizing. I had seen these as well many years ago, but didn’t know the backstory of Masonic symbolism that Pina explained to us. This is only one of many reasons why having a local guide really adds to the enjoyment and the knowledge of attractions. In addition to the wealth of info we had learned about Pompeii the day before from Gaetano, Pina also added depth to our understanding of how advanced the civilization at Pompeii was. Many of the objects we assume are modern inventions and conveniences were also present way back then in Roman daily life.

We had the afternoon free after the Archeological Museum. I took the time to stroll around the waterfront and to visit Cafe Gambrinus, a famous coffeehouse that was mentioned in my Neapolitan detective novel. It was nice and the food tasty, but not so good as the pastries at a bakery Tommaso had shown us earlier.

The last evening was our group farewell dinner. Of course, by this time our group had become a sort of travel family, and we had anecdotes and stories to share. I so appreciated our RS guide, Tommaso Pante . He was entertaining, telling us story after story about being a Mamone (mamma’s boy); professional, seeing to all the expected and unexpected occurrences during our trip; and knowledgeable, especially being a native Italian. I would heartily recommend him to anyone fortunate enough to take a tour where he is their guide.

I stayed an additional two days in Naples after the tour ended and then traveled on my own to Bologna and Lake Como. If you’re interested in reading about that portion of my vacation, it’s listed as a separate tour report.

Posted by
431 posts

So informative and fun to read Patricia. Thanks for this trip report!

Posted by
256 posts

Patricia, having finished this same tour earlier in May, I have to second the review of the local guides, Francesca Caruso and Gaetano, both were fantastic. Pina was good too but the other two had set the bar VERY high. Matera was beautiful and would love to get back there some day. And having had Tommaso as a tour guide for the Sicily tour, and really enjoyed having him and would love to take another tour with him anytime.

Posted by
681 posts

Sounds like an absolutely fabulous trip. Thank you for the trip report. I need to look into this tour!

Posted by
984 posts

Thanks for going into such detail about the things you got to experience. I'm dying to take this tour!

Posted by
2277 posts

I enjoyed your report on this tour, it is on my list! I, too, love Naples, spending two days there after a RS Best of Rome tour. I was by myself and felt safe wandering the streets and alleys watching religious processions and listening to musicians. Saw the Veiled Christ and the Archeological and Capodimonte Museums. Just blown away. I would love to revisit them.
I read your “between RS tours” report too. I look forward to reading about your experience with the Switzerland tour.
Thanks for sharing.

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1056 posts

For those who wonder, the author of the detective series I read about Naples detective Ricciardi is Maurizio de Giovanni..

Posted by
103 posts

Thanks, Patricia, your thorough and enjoyable report. We are taking this tour in early September and really looking forward to it. I'm going to look for the detective novels; thanks for the author's name. I recently read Murder in Matera, a story by an American writer who searched for her family's roots in the Matera region. Factual, but read like a novel. Fascinating! You mention a movie about Matera you saw with your Portland group. Can you recall the name?

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1056 posts

The movie was in Italian. The name Mathera. (With the h — ancient spelling I think) it’s a documentary, not a movie per se.

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2 posts

Enjoyed your post. Francesca is a poet. I took the same tour earlier in May. It was rainy and cool which I hadn't planned for but it was a wonderful trip. All of our guides were great and we got so much more from their very good local tours than if we had gone on our own. Matera is not to be missed. It was fascinating. Our guide had older family members who lived there when the relocation occurred. Although the documentary is very interesting, i am glad that I listened to our guide first because I appreciated the courage and ingenuity of these people that time forgot. When you think of how much of human history people lived in caves, it puts the whole thing in greater perspective. This was a jam packed tour with lots to do and see. One thing, Herculaneum is very much worth a visit. You will have to do it on your own. The train works fine and the crowding disappears as soon as you pass Pompeii. It gives you a very different angle of life in Roman times. Buy new walking shoes.