Thursday, September 4, 2014

Italian Places That Took My Breath Away, Part 1 (2012)


When I travel internationally, I usually stick to one country and focus on visiting its many cities, towns and villages.   Staying in one country helps me to really understand the culture, focus on understanding one main international language or dialect, and it just makes sense.  Too many international travelers tell me how tiring it is to go from one country to another, and to another, and so on.  I've been there, done that, and will avoid country-hopping at all cost.  Let me share with you my love of Italy, and what I loved most on my first trip  there:

The Amalfi Coast is a stretch of coastline in southern Italy, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We took this highway from Naples to Sorrento, where we spent a lazy day cruising the main street that soared above the white beaches below. The Amalfi coastline continues around the peninsula to the small villages of Palermo, Amalfi, Ravello and Salerno, which we didn't see but will on our next trip to Italy.  The heavy scent from the cliff-side terraces of lemon trees filled the air as we coasted the highway.  The bus ride was scary and exhilarating at the same time. The road literally hugs the cliff and curves this way and that way.  It was like being on a slow roller coaster ride. The views were gorgeous, though, and thus made everything about this day cosi perfetto!





Florence is an art lover's dream!  I appreciate all the different periods of the arts, but really know nothing about it.  I also love beautiful architecture and know nothing on that subject, either.  However, I don't think you need to be an expert to truly appreciate either medieval or renaissance art or architecture.  After two hot days in Rome, we boarded a train at the Rome Termini Station going to Florence.  I really had no idea what to expect there.  I can honestly say that Florence wasn't a city I would dream about, but did want to visit.  In Florence, though, I remember turning a corner and POW, the view dazzled me.  I'm not a fan of marble, but these buildings are exceptional beyond comparison!


This is what I saw when I turned the corner.  I nearly drooled, the buildings were gorgeous!  This is the  piazza where the Duomo di Firenze, its cathedral and the Baptistery stands.


Giotto's Campanile (or the bell tower) is accessible to visitors, and offers a magnificent view of the city and the cathedral's dome in particular.

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiori  rounded out this UNESCO World Heritage Site.  These travelers are a just a few of the members in the group that I organized and escorted from San Diego to Rome.  Great people!


The Isle of Capri is an island located off the Sorrentine Peninsula, on the south side of the Gulf of Naples in the Campania region of Italy.  The main town shares the same name as the island, and there is where we spent most of the day -- at the very top of the island. Everything about Capri was so pretty.  It even smelled pretty, never mind that it has two harbors, the Marina Piccola and Marina Grande.  Harbors are supposed to smell like the sea and fishy.  Not this resort.  We took the funnicula from the harbor to the Belvedere of Tragara, the panoramic promenade at the top of the cliff.  The promenade is lined with villas and high-end shops. There are also the small shops intended for tourists.


A stunning 180-degree panoramic view of the Isle of Capri from the Gardens of Augustus.  From here, you can see Monte Solaro, the Marina Piccola bay, Via Krupp and the famous Faraglioni.


I took so many amazing photos of our cruise around the Isle of Capri, and settled on this one to show you. I didn't bother to turn on the grid on my camera, and it wouldn't have mattered anyway.  Our small boat was gently rockin' in the waves, and about 95% of my photos didn't come out straight-on.  We sailed through rocks jutting out of the sea, past caves and grottos, and basked in the glow of the mediterranean sun.  The beauty of the sea made me think of everything romantically Italian -- a glass of vino Brunello di Montalcino, a couple riding together on their vespa, Sophia Loren, and Romeo and Julietta.


Pompeii is vast, creepy-ancient, yet beautiful in my imagination of what this wondrous city was like in its day. I must warn you that it's a pretty tricky place to visit.  Paving stone pathways take you in all directions, so if you don't have a map to guide you, if you're lucky to read it well, you're going to waste a lot of time finding your sites of interest.  We hired a guide to take us through this ancient city that sits near the base of Mt. Vesuvius.  He spoke very good English and didn't skip a beat.  Every villa, courtyard, fresco, and the bath begged to have its picture taken. I couldn't keep up with my group because I was so busy taking pictures!  It was all amazing stuff.  A lot of artifacts, statues and plaster casts of citizens are locked in open-faced buildings that you can view through caged doors. However, the better stuff can be found in the Naples National Archaelogical Museum.  Absolute good footwear is required because you're going to slide off a couple of pavers if you're wearing flip-flops, and I guarantee you're going to trip at least once as the roads are not smooth.




That's Mt. Vesuvius in the background.  What a view!

Sorrento is this old town that straddles the cliffs overlooking the waters to Naples and Mt. Vesuvius.  The drive from Pompeii to Sorrento was so breathtaking.  The higher we climbed (actually, we were on a bus), the view of Mt. Vesuvius became more beautiful.  Cosi bello.  Again, the scent of lemons filled the air. Such happy and natural aromatherapy going into this gorgeous town.  I had this micro-moment where I felt I could be happy living there.  The view from our hotel room was to die for.  When I pulled aside the curtains and threw open the shutters, oh mio dio, I couldn't speak.  I was utterly speechless at the view before me. The sea, the mountain, the town below.  Sorrento is quaint and cozy, and I saw families living the beautiful life there.  So perfect. My husband, Gerry, and I took a walk that afternoon along, and above, the beach, and followed children sporadically arriving and meandering down this road.  We decided to follow them, and saw they were entering their school grounds.  It was a catholic school and church.  There were lots of laughing children and adults present getting ready for what appeared to be an evening community event.  As the evening drew near, the sunset beckoned us to watch and watch until it was no more.  We were back in our room when the church bells tolled.  It was mesmerizing to sit at our window listening to the church bells, and viewing the cars driving that curvy road that hugged the cliffs.  We were in Sorrento mainly as a base for our next day's trip to the beautiful Isle of Capri.


I need more time here.  I will definitely come back to this place because as the song "Come Back to Sorrento" goes:

Then say not goodbye
Come back again, beloved
Back to Sorrento or I must die.


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