The following trip report is the final installment for our 5-week trip to Italy and nearby. The first installment covered Venice, Plitvice and Bled. The second covered the Dolomites, Cinque Terre and Tuscany. We are a family of five with three children ages 16, 13 and 9 and this was our 5th trip to Europe, but our first to Italy. If you would like any additional information or see some photos, you are welcome to read our daily blog. Just PM me for the address.
Amalfi Coast; We stayed in an apartment for five nights in the village of Massa Lubrense, just southeast of Sorrento. We had a rental car and drove everywhere we went. This was a considerable challenge. The traffic to get to Massa Lubrense either from the north (toward Naples) or from the east (toward Positano) was horrendous. It was a mad obstacle course with other cars, scooters, pedestrians, bicyclists, and more threatening the body of our rental car at every moment. Getting around by any means other than public transport was chaos. But the layout of the towns, buildings and public spaces (such as they were) was chaos as well. The area was a cluttered collection of nicer homes next to derelict buildings placed seemingly at random. I'll grant that there was some stunning scenery to be seen from a distance. But nothing seen up close looked like anything other than chaos. We visited Pompeii while here and enjoyed it despite the temperatures. By far the best stop was Paestum. It was not only amazing to see the three Greek temples, but also to be free to roam and climb upon the remaining Roman ruins and to do so without the crush of too many other tourists. As an added bonus, Paestum has a fine sandy beach nearby of the sort that you can't find anywhere on the Amalfi Coast. I think the best way to get around in this area is public transport. The prospect of getting anywhere by rental car simply made me cringe, and that's a poor basis for day trips. Using public transport, it would have been much better to stay in Sorrento instead of the much smaller and more remote Massa Lubrense. There was very little we could walk to.
Rome We stayed in an apartment in the old center of Rome, just a short walk to the Campo di Fiore and the Piazza Navona. That location made it possible to see almost everything we wanted to see on foot. It was amazing to be able to stroll from one classic site to another in just minutes. We actually returned to St. Peters and the Vatican three times at dusk just to linger in such an amazing place in the peace of the late evening. Our 2nd favorite site was probably the Pantheon. What an amazing 2000-year-old building! We were somewhat disappointed in the presentation of the Forum. More could have been done to help visitors visualize how it once looked. Very little of what is left there is complete enough to visualize without some help. We were somewhat surprised to find the Castel Sant'Angelo so appealing. The interior isn't much to see, but the views are good from there and the historical and physical connection to the Vatican was fascinating. Be warned that you immigrants trying to sell you junk along every wide space in the sidewalk will be relentless, as will restaurant employees trying to get you to stop and sit. The schtick gets old fast. We spent one day visiting Ostia Antica just outside of Rome. It was very easy to get to. For someone debating whether or not to go as far south as Pompeii/Naples just to see the famous excavation there, I would suggest simply seeing Ostia Antica instead. What you see there is essentially the same without the drama of the volcano in the background, but also without 90% of the other tourists. The sites in Rome were so easy to visit on foot that we saw most of what we wanted to see in about four days. The other two days were somewhat superfluous. Rome has an energy that is infectious, but it isn't what I would call a beautiful city. For beauty, you could go to Paris...
Paris Our trip somewhat unconventionally ended in Paris because we had found a great airfare home from there and because it would give us a chance to return to the city we enjoyed so much three years ago (our first return visit to any city in Europe) and be there again on Bastille Day. After having spent four consecutive weeks in 90-plus temps and zero rain (and hardly any clouds) in Italy, we entered a Paris that had seen temps of barely 70 and almost daily rain for weeks. If anything, it got even cooler and wetter when we arrived. But no matter how gloomy it might have seemed to others, it was beautiful to us. After spending so much time in everyone-for-himself Italy, it was such a welcome relief to be in a city that seemed so civilized by comparison. Paris seems to exude a sense that we are in this thing together and as long as we are, things might as well be nice. Since we had been here before, we felt no need to fill our days with frantic sightseeing. We just relaxed. I took a long walk along the Canal St. Martin one day and we visited Montmartre briefly on Bastille Day instead of going to the morning parade (doing that once was enough). Thankfully, the sky remained dry for the fireworks that night over the Eiffel Tower. The theme this year was disco - complete with a giant disco ball hanging inside the tower. That was a little odd, but we enjoyed it anyway :) Overall the trip was great. We saw a lot of Italy and small pieces of several areas nearby. We saw some amazing history and through a lot of walking and sweating, actually lost a few pounds along the way!
Randy, Your trip seems to have mirrored ours. We too did Italy during the heatwave, Rome and Florence in our case and followed that up with Paris. We too found the cooler weather and rain a blessing in Paris. Like your family we enjoyed Ostia Antica. We didn't go to Pompeii this trip, but have been there in the past. I agree, virtually everything in Pompeii can be seen in Ostia except the crowds. Ostia also has trees and shade, two wondrous things during the Italian summer. I'm curious about your driving experiences. We were thinking of staying in Tuscany and renting a car to do some of the hill towns. Have you driven in that area?
Wow! Really loved reading about your trip, Randy! Thanks for sharing with us. :0)
Jenny, We did drive in Tuscany. The driving itself was not so difficult, but the signage directing you where to go was confusing at best. And at no point will you have more than a half-second do decide which way to turn because a local will be on your bumper behind you the entire time. Rural speed limits are ridiculously low (like 50-70kmp) leaving you with the choice to either break them and risk a photo ticket or follow them and be a slow hazard on the road. We once saw a sign that showed Florence with an arrow left and Florence with an arrow right. That's what I mean by confusing. If you have a GPS, that would help, as would a really good map and a good navigator sitting in the passenger seat of the car. Parking in the villages was easy. We also found Rick's suggested parking places in both Siena (by the stadium/fortress) and Florence (piazza Michelangelo) to be easy as well.