Jet lag - Kate didn’t sleep well on plane but we still managed to get a lot in! We visited the Trevi fountain (where we saw someone propose - I suppose it happens all the time!), Pantheon, and Spanish steps and we got our first of many gelato visits near the Trevi fountain and an espresso with pistachio cream. Also funny to remember that Kate tried to pay in pesos that was left in her bag from Mexico - hahah!!
We really enjoyed our private tour of Vatican City and Rome. Highlights include seeing the Vatican and while we didn’t see Pope Francis he was going to be there the next day for the beatification of Pope John Paul I. We decided we didn’t want to fight the crowds to see that. We also lucked out with getting to go down the Holy Stairs that the Pope is usually the only one to use as they started letting visitors go down right before COVID hit (Although the Pope would go up the stairs so similar to the walk to the Sistine Chapel we were looking at things backwards because they have the traffic flowing in one direction). Like the Sistine chapel, we couldn’t take pictures but it was beautiful! We marveled at the Sistine chapel and enjoyed our guide pointing out some key things to look for before we went in - like Michelangelo and his face in the image. As we entered St Peter’s Basilica, you could feel that you were in the biggest church in the world - pictures don’t do it justice. We also visited the grotto where we went to the underneath and saw where John Paul 2 was buried (below at first and then above now) and the Crucifix brought from Pope Francis from another Church to help with the COVID plague like in the 1500s.
Then our tour guide took us to some key areas that had we been walking about ourselves, we probably wouldn’t have understood some of the significance. We saw where the assassination of Julius Caesar happened. We then visited the Travestevere area and saw the Jewish quarters and the plaques to remember the people taken to Auschwitz from there.
After seeing those areas, we stopped at a famous bakery and ate some wonderful pizza.
Our day continued with over 8 hours of tours since we had to move the Colosseum to Saturday since it opened to the public on Sunday so we couldn’t do our tour and skip the line. It was interesting to learn that the part of the story about the Gladiators was for “only” 100 years of its 1100 year history and sometimes fought until death. They also sat by class rank.
We then saw the Chariots and the key hole to see the city but the lines were long so we opted to stop at St Mary’s Basilica where Pope Francis comes to pray before he travels and then to see City Hall where it’s required for people to have a civil wedding (we saw at least 3 there)!
Rain moved in while we were eating dinner that night so we moved inside and had some of the best pasta of the whole trip - at Agrodolce Roma (Eric’s pappardelle was especially delicious!)
We had a free day in Rome since we had to move the Colosseum to Saturday so we ventured out to another new area that we hadn’t been to - the Villa borghese- the largest green space and really pretty park. It was raining so we put on our rain gear and walked around in the rain.
Then the sun came out so we had an almost 3 hour lunch and truly lived like the Italians. We had wine, scotch, gnocchi and burrata and shrimp and sat on the sidewalk as the cars passed quickly by.
Then we just had a casual dinner and walk around some more and we tried to order off the menu at more of a quick service place and couldn’t get the translation of the webpage to work and of course ordered tuna—-yuck! —- so Eric had to eat that while I ate his pizza!
We had an 8:30am hotel pickup for a short transfer to the Rome train station which meant an early morning. Neither of us fell asleep easily the night before and Kate was tired. Also to note was that we were able to pay city/hotel tax (36 Euro) on our credit card which helped as we are closely monitoring cash because we didn’t bring debit cards as we thought they would all be mobile-enabled and work with our phone. We were wrong and never did find an ATM that worked so we had no access to more cash. We learned Italy is still very much a cash preferred society, especially for smaller transactions.
Our driver brought us into the busy train station and explained the process which was helpful. We had a 75 minute train ride to Naples at 150 mph. Of course we managed to board the wrong car and had to walk from car 10 to car 2. On board the train Kate read and Eric worked on Wordle while enjoying scenery.
Our stop that day was the Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius, which was last active in 1944!
What a fascinating place where we saw the areas similar to a spa and country club, enjoyed seeing the frescos and murals with the 5 colors they used. And saw the tragedy too like the molds of people that were asphyxiated from the gas from the volcano. But they were just so many things - like ovens, heating systems and water systems with pipes, and doctor tools that were clearly there so long ago! Our wonderful guide left us at the restaurant and we enjoyed two types of caprese salad and the house wine. Delicious!
Our driver then continued on to Hotel Eden roc in Positano with some scenic stops and lemon granita. It was spectacular and our scenery and balcony was the best. We saw lots of American tourists there but the view was just spectacular. We got to see the sun come down while we ate at Bruno’s - got spaghetti with clams and tried Limoncello (Eric liked - Kate did not)
We had a relaxing day in Positano and found the beach that more locals use. We took a wrong turn to get to it initially so just about 25 flights of stairs out of the way - ha! In total most days we averaged about 50 flights of stairs. We floated in the salt water and enjoyed the time.
That night was our dinner at a 2 Michelin star restaurant, Don Alfonso. There are 28 chefs that we could watch as we ate- both from the kitchen and the TV screen and we also met the chef and owners. We enjoyed the food and wine pairings but most of all the beautiful grounds and wine cellar. The experience was fun and it’s not often you get to dine like that but we agreed that smaller restaurants all over Italy have food that’s just as good.
This was the day for our yacht cruise to Capri. It was a very busy port and we realized after walking all the way down there that we didn’t have cell service so we waited for an hour and Eric had to walk most of the way back to the hotel to get wifi to call them so that was unfortunate. It was a nice day, though, and we enjoyed seeing Capri by boat. On land, it was very very busy. The transportation like the cable car and the busses were very busy so once again we walked up the stairs. That allowed us to see the sights as we walked up and smell the food cooking in the local homes as we were a bit off the beaten path with not a lot of people around. 65 flights of stairs total this day! We grabbed some gelato at the top and shopped for ornaments and charms that reflect the legendary of St. Michael and the Capri bell.
Then we went to Nerano for a lunch over the water and then swam both near Capri and near Nerano where you float on the salt water and could see the bottom.
That night we ate at our hotel’s restaurant and we think one of the best views of Positano.
This day was our last day and a free day in Positano so we decided to relax and shop and not try to go to another city on the Amalfi Coast. Kate got handmade sandals that they made in 10 minutes from thousands of options. She’s a half size bigger on the left foot (which I think I knew!) so they made them to that size.
We walked around some more to see additional areas and ate pizza across town at Saracenodoro. Eric wasn’t that hungry but had to finish both pizzas that she said was for 1 but could easily have split (don’t think they split plates) and got a 1/2 carafe of wine in a cute ceramic and then Eric asked for limoncello and the waiter made him finish the pizza before he could. Haha
Then we had Gelato down by the beach - Coffee and Oreo flavored then walked it off up the stairs again and relaxed at the hotel pool. Kate was so full from lunch so skipped the olive oil tasting but Eric went and had a private tasting and enjoyed it and learned a lot.
Overall, it was nice to have some relaxing time and the scenery was beautiful but there were a lot of people there, even though our drivers tell us they blocked tour busses from coming through. I guess they just all arrive by loads of boats!
We got a driver for our trip back to the train station in Naples to take the train to Florence from Naples. Our driver was from Ukraine - world of knowledge and recommendations on a good donut that we tried at the train station. Luckily we got in the right train car this time - easier than last time and more people were confused so we weren’t the only ones before.
When we arrived in Florence, our room had a wonderful view of the Arno river and Ponte Vecchio. We had added tickets a few weeks before the trip on a recommendation to climb the Cupola tower. We didn’t know what it entailed and after enjoying some Prosecco from IC Bellagio (our travel agent) we climbed 463 stairs to get a view of all of Florence. Kate was a bit claustrophobic and afraid of heights so Eric got some great pics of the city.
We then shopped a bit and got some leather goods and gifts and Dinner at Aqua Al 2 - Eric ordered two blueberry steaks because it was so good! That’s what he considers a secondi!!
This morning was our cooking class and we met the chef and headed to the market. Here are a few things we learned:
- Parmesan Reggianno - labels - more yellow, more months of aging
- Over 1000 types of cheeses in Italy
- Pigeon meat - is more popular (they don’t have chicken)
- Use induction for cooking - for best source of heat
- Tiramisu- Eric worked on the peaks with the egg whites
- Lots of desserts In Italy are soaked in alcohol - so the lady fingers would be soaked with rum and instant coffee
- Santa Maria Novello- near there for the pharmacy - alcarmaz- use for sponge cake (from bugs)
- Ravioli- nutmeg, ricotta, spinach (fresh, boiled down), Parmesan, salt and pepper
- Cod- plated with skin on, safe to eat skin if fish served with skin. Added flour to fish skin side only after searing. With sauce with pine nuts and raisins
- Pasta in the same shape as the machine
- Then make sure the air it out of the pasta so you get it all around the filling
Then we had a city tour and went to the Academia to see the statue of David.
We saw the church where Galileo and Michelangelo are buried. We saw the statue of the Father of the note scale - Guido Aretino - and learned all about the cool artisan shops where they make many things like paper, leather, perfumes made to your scent. Eric ended up getting some cologne that they had but didn’t wait the 2 hours for them to find his own scent and also purchased 2 new leather wallets.
We saw the museum and it had exhibits on music - like the invention of the Piano in Florence and then we saw Michelangelo's work (both unfinished and finished) and saw David and our tour guide showed us how to view all the different angles. They moved him inside and had to break the building and build around him.
That night, we ate near the Ponte Vecchio where the chef recommended and it was delicious - Bucca dellOrafo
Our last day of our trip was spent touring the Tuscan region and Chianti. We started with a stop at San Gimignano- a small town in Chianti and a province of Siena. It was a town from the middle ages / medieval town and of the original 72 towers, only 14 remain.
Next we stopped at Santa’ Appiano - 80,000 bottles per year - where we saw their wine cellar and had a delicious lunch.
Our last stop was our favorite where we tasted and learned about Chianti Classico and the strict rules for this to be considered.
What we learned at Casa Emma-
- Black rooster - organic
- Chianti Classico - more on the Florence side than Siena
- Needs to be more than 80% Sangiovese’s and also Montepulciano and Brunello are types of Chianti but a diff region
- Chiantis are best paired with food
- IGT - only brown in Tuscany, above the law -- indigenous geographical terrain
- Chianti is south facing- and it’s a sangiovese grape
- “Meditation” wine- drink without food that’s a Tuscan super wine
Other fun things to note:
Each city someone thought we were on our honeymoon
Walking fast and through the crowds
Wines that we liked during our visit - Barolo, Montepulciano, Chianti Classico and the house wines