Ciao, Italia! 10 YEARS since ITALY!

How can it be possible that it's been 10 years since my & JB's last Italy trip??? (Even more upsetting, how is it that I haven't traveled out of the country since? Absolutely crushing realization for this girl who lived abroad and prides herself on being a world citizen. I know we've spent the last decade learning how to parent and moving a gazillion times, which has made leisure travel impossible; but I can't deny, it still makes my heart ache.)

I remember almost every part of this trip like it was just last year. It was my big "we need to do this before we have kids" request...and obviously a very valid one! :-D (It's also hard to believe this was 5 full years even before FB for me! :-P) I remember specific meals and dishes in every location. I remember everything...

Here's a complete photo recap!

Rome: June 30 – July 4, 2003
Hotel Orazia

Day One ~ We got to Rome at 9 AM on Monday, June 30th after a direct flight over from ATL and checked in to our hotel. That first day we went to all the ruins of the Roman Forums and the Colosseum area. That afternoon, jet lag kicked in, so that was the only evening we did absolutely nothing.
[First glimpse of the Colosseum down a long, narrow street]

[The ruins of the Forum]

[Inside the Colosseum]

Day Two ~ The second day, we spent roaming around the city center: the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, etc. We ate and ate and ate, (JB's fettuccine alfredo at Cafe Dolce Vita was stellar!) We sat around at every cafe we felt like and did lots of window shopping. On the way up to the Spanish Steps, we went into Dolce & Gabbana and they asked me if I'd like to try on an amazing $2000 dress with $900 shoes - ahhh...

[Trevi Fountain]
[The Column of Marcus Aurelius (and tiny JB at the bottom)]
[Fountain in the Piazza della Rotonda in front of the Pantheon]
[Valentino couture]
[Fresh drinking water flowing freely throughout the city]

That night, we actually went to an opera concert in a beautiful cathedral! It was a concert of famous arias, (including my favorite, Nessun Dorma, and my audition piece for the Atlanta Opera, O Mio Babbino!) I cried.

["The Wedding Cake" as the Romans call it, lit up on our walk after the opera]
[Again, the fountain in the Piazza della Rotonda in front of the Pantheon, but at night]
[Looking into the fountain, with the Pantheon looming large in the background]

Day Three ~ Day three we took a day trip to Pisa! I guess we can see why no one would spend more than half a day there; the tower and cathedral are about it, but we had a blast. It was a 3-hour train ride from Roma, but it was really pretty. We followed the coast up, so when we weren't passing gorgeous seaviews, we were riding through the famous sunflower fields of Tuscany in full bloom!!!

We had the BEST antipasti before lunch - fresh bruschetta and pecorino romano cheese with fresh pears. After lunch, we shopped around a bit and then got to go up to the very top of the Leaning Tower! JB helped me with my slight fear of climbing up tons of tiny circular steps, and it was AMAZING!
[JB leaning with the tower, (and yes - that tree is actually leaning for real, too!)]
[The degree of lean changes as you move around it.]
[Lunch in the shadow of the tower]
[You feel the lean dramatically at the bottom entrance!]
[The baptistery and cathedral]
[Along the Arno River]

Day Four ~ Thursday, July 3rd we spent all back in Roma. We spent five hours walking through the Vatican, looking at all of the amazing, famous artwork and being generally awed.
Also while at the Vatican, we went to the very top of St. Peter's Cathedral - yet another teensy stair-climbing-very-high-up triumph. The view was totally worth it!
[St. Peter's piazza]
[And the inside of St. Peter's gorgeous dome...]
[...done completely in mosaic!]

After the Vatican, we had a delicious lunch, (tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms in a light cream sauce followed by an awesome gelato sundae!) And what better way to follow a meal than to go see a bunch of skeletons? The Capuchin Crypt was incredible - all of the walls are seriously decorated with the bones of dead monks! We had dinner in front of the Pantheon, followed by the usual second cone of gelato (Italian ice cream - NOTHING like it in the world!!!) of the day.

Day Five ~ Our last full day in Roma, we went back to the ruins of the Palatine Hill beside the Forum and Colosseum, because we'd skipped them on Monday. We also did a little shopping; we got some bath soap made from Tuscan herbs right in front of us at a wonderful botanical bath and soaps store behind the Pantheon. JB got the most stunning humidor ever crafted at a leather store on the Via Veneto. We spent the whole evening on the Piazza Navona, reveling and celebrating the 4th of July!
[Everyone comes to stick their hand inside the Mouth of Truth. Legend says that if you have a penchant for telling lies, the Mouth will chomp down on your hand and bite it off!]

Baia & The Phlegraean Fields: July 5 – July 6, 2003
Hotel Il Gabbiano

Day Six ~ On Saturday, July 5th, we left Roma and went down to the Naples area. We went away from Naples to the west, over to Baia and the Phlegraean Fields. It's an area where so many myths - Odysseus, Icarus, etc. - have roots. Very heavily Greek-influenced.

During that day, we went over to Cuma. It's where the famous Cave of the Sybil, the second most famous oracle after Delphi, is located. You can go all the way inside to the very back. So eerily cool! This whole area is kind of out of the way and certainly not the simplest to get to, but it's amazing and more than worth it to get off the beaten tourist path. The history is astounding, and it's something that not every one who's been to Italy (or even the Naples area) has done.
After we left the Cave of the Sybil, we hiked up the acropolis there to the very top. At each stage, we thought, "This is the most beautiful view," (because it's right on the Mediterranean Ocean,) but it just kept getting prettier and prettier. There are the ruins of a Temple of Apollo and a Temple of Juno there, and you can climb all over.
Our hotel was home to a very famous restaurant; apparently it's the #1 spot in the area to get married, and we were there over a Saturday night, so there were two weddings while we were there. (And the food at the restaurant surely did not disappoint! Their pasta special was incredible.) The view from our room was also breath-taking!

Day Seven ~ The next morning, while still in Baia, we got to take a glass-bottom boat out on the bay. Almost 2000 years ago, Baia was built out more, and due to the volcanic and seismic activity in the earth, all of the old Roman roads and villas built by the emperors who'd vacation there have sunken into the sea. On the glass-bottom boat, we could actually SEE the ruins of roads and villas under the water!

Pompei & The Vesuvius Area: July 6 – July 7, 2003
Hotel Grillo Verde

Day Eight ~ After we left the Baia and Cuma area, we went back east past Naples over to Pompei (1 "i" in Italian) and Herculaneum for July 6th and 7th. Those two places were mind-boggling. I just could not get over the fact that ALL of what we were walking through had been completely covered by ash and mud from the volcano and that it had all been dug out to be able to see what we saw today. I grew up watching National Geographic specials on Pompei with my dad, so this was such a huge historical thing for me to see. All the guide books we read said you need at least 4 hours to give Pompei even a cursory look. Totally right! We were there for 5 hours and STILL didn't see everything!
[Mt. Vesuvius rising behind the Forum]
[The streets of Pompei were so cool! Apparently they used to flood often, so their "crosswalks" were big stepping stones, so you wouldn't have to wade through the water.]
[There were many ancient storefronts with huge jars set inside of marble counters. These jars were for mixing drinks for customers. Yummy!]
[There are two theatres in Pompei. The minor one (above) is better preserved. The Major Theatre (below) was slowly being restored.]
We were astounded by how much color is throughout the place still. Tons of bright red. I can't believe so many paintings survived.
There were also a few preserved bodies and several casts of some of the victims of the volcano that were found as the place was excavated. They were in glass cases to protect them. It wasn't freaky or scary at all. Just amazing...

We did Pompei and Herculaneum both in the same day. Our advice? Please don't try to do that. It's not impossible, because we successfully did it, but it's exhausting. The ancient, uneven stone streets are so hard on your feet, and the sun beats down extremely hard; we both got fried. After five hours in Pompei, we knew we had to leave, if we were going to make it to Herculaneum in time (~20 minutes by local train) to see everything there, too, before they locked the gates. Herculaneum was even better than Pompei! It's much smaller and better preserved, because it was covered in mud by the volcano, instead of burning ash, like Pompei. The mosaics there are fantastic! It originally was a very wealthy town, so it has some more showy sights. Everyone should see both, though; Pompei is so epic!

Capri: July 8 – July 10, 2003
Hotel La Minerva

Days Nine and Ten ~ Tuesday, July 8th, we went down to Sorrento to take the hydrofoil over to Capri. Next time we go to Pompei, we'll stay in Sorrento, because it's only ~30 minutes by local train, and it's gorgeous! The Isle of Capri is perhaps our most favorite place on the planet. No kidding. It is amazing! The most gorgeous azure water, lush plant life, a few beaches, mountainous rocky cliffs, killer upscale shopping, (every designer you can think of has a boutique there; best window shopping and dream trying-on in the world!) amazing food from people who make an effort to get to know you, because they know if you come once, you'll come back, again...I could go on and on. It's also the only place I've ever been where I can't find postcards that are as pretty as the real thing.
[Waiting for the hydrofoil]
[Cliffs of Sorrento]
[Our room in Capri]

The previous time I was in Capri (April 1999), I didn't go to the famous Blue Grotto, so we had to do it this time. You take a motor boat out around the island to where a bunch of little row boats are, because the motor boats can't get in there. You get in a row boat, (it was just the two of us together with the boat rower - very romantic!) and you literally have to lay down flat in the boat to get into the little hole of the cave. The boatman said, "You go in now in the love and you come out, you gonna have a baby with the blue eyes like the water!" [Sidebar: Will was born 13 months later! ;-) :-D] Once you're through the tiny cave opening and your eyes adjust, it is the most gorgeous thing you've ever seen. The most breath-taking blue sparkling up from the sea! We rowed around inside and our boatman sang a few opera songs for us! (The acoustics are GREAT in there!) He even sang the Andrea Bocelli song we love so much, Con Te PartirĂ³/Time to Say Goodbye.

The food on Capri is FANTASTIC! It was the home of two of our most favorite restaurants in the WORLD...and they just happened to be right across the tiny street from each other! Da Gemma and La Cisterna. Da Gemma closed just last year (SAD!!!) but had the best gnocchi (and I am a gourmet gnocchi lover) on the planet! It was the perfect texture - not gummy or pasty nor falling apart. Perfect size and the sauce? That made it! Not drowning in tomato sauce. They knew that the sauce is a condiment to the pasta, not a whole nother dish, and they did it best: equal parts tomato and real Mozzarella di Bufala (the ONLY acceptable kind!) made it able for you to literally clean your plate...
[Sunset view from our table]
And Sal, the owner of La Cisterna, is the happiest man you've ever met in your life. He's lively, fun, and he's there at all times when his restaurant is open. He's a big jolly man, and he is fantastic! His house wine bottle label is what drew us in there in the first place. You can't tell me this charismatic guy wouldn't suck you right in, too!
[OMIGOSH! I found a pic of him online from THIS MAY! Sal shaved! :-D]
More around Capri & then the walk to dinner:

Rome: July 10 – July 11, 2003
Hotel Orazia

Day Eleven ~ We left Capri and went back to Rome Thursday afternoon, July 10th. (We took the hydrofoil to Naples and then the Eurostar high speed train from Naples back to Rome. So fast!) When we got back, we had this feeling of, "Ah, we're home!" Heehee! We had our last night's dinner in front of the Pantheon, again. (Different restaurant, though; there are tons right on the piazza there.)
[No filter! This was "back in the day" - over 5 years before I learned anything on Photoshop! You can see the natural blue sky at the cloud line; the sunset literally turned these clouds this pinky purple!]

Day Twelve ~ We woke up to a gorgeous Roman sunrise, caught a quick last European breakfast, and flew out at 9 AM. This trip was everything we dreamed it would be and more!

Arrivederci Roma...

We bought our very first digital camera for this trip. We had two CompactFlash cards to hold all our pics; each was 64 MB - that would hold 8 pictures with the quality cameras we have now!!! EIGHT!!! Thinking how dramatically technology has evolved just over the last decade, these pics seem pretty great "for the time." :-D ;-)

I planned this whole trip by myself - no tour guides, nothing but me and the 2003 internet ...and a lot of confidence in my European travel abilities. I had lived in Germany August 1998 - July 1999, and I wasn't the least bit scared about doing it on my own, b/c I had already done it on my own before. :-P Now, though? I have to admit, I'd be nervous about being a bit rusty, esp. w/ train nuances. And how has internet access everywhere (iPhones, people!) changed travel planning? I used to be able to teach people how to travel in Europe, but I'm worried I'm the one now who needs a refresher! :-P Not that it's on our radar anytime soon...but I pray one day not toooooo many years away! [After we get to buy our long-term house here and replace our vehicles, which are older & almost as old as this Italy trip! :-D]

World travel is just such a deep passion of mine, and going through this today has brought it all back to the surface. I still can't get over how long it's been...


  1. Such gorgeous pictures! What an awesome trip! I *know* you'll go back!

    I've only been to Italy once...I did a bike trip with my friend Robbie with my beloved Blue Marble travel company, in 2004. The itinerary is here: . At the end of the trip, we also spent a few days in Venice. I'd love to go to Rome (and pretend to be Audrey Hepburn ;) ), and Capri, and Tuscany...need to figure out how to talk Steve into going there...he's become spoiled with spending so much time in the Bavaria and the Alps. :)

  2. Venice is the one place in Italy I haven't been that I'd LOVE to see!!! ♥ ♥ ♥


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