Rome in a Day


Romeo

We left Agropoli Tuesday morning and drove to Rome. On the way, we stopped at the best rest stop ever. Very modern and a big cafeteria style array of all kinds of food beautifully displayed food. We chose the cooked greens…..it was the first time we found cooked vegetables the whole time. Italians live on pasta and protein. It was delicious.

This is Romeo on the left. We stayed at the B&B run by he and his wife, Bibi.

BiBi & Romeos

It was located in the building above. Great location about a 10 minute walk from the Vatican….make that 15. Romeo converted his apartment in this building into a 4 room bed and breakfast. He was the greatest. And his wife BiBi makes these delicious cakes each morning for the guests. Italians like cakes for breakfast – fancy pastries. It’s a cozy place with a small communal kitchen shared by the guests and four nice bedrooms each with a private bath. There’s a cool elevator…..old style with the door that you close manually.

Elevator

After we had some fun riding the elevator for a while Romeo gave us a 30 minute orientation to Rome on a great map showing us how we could see Rome in a day.  First stop…..a nap. Then we headed out to Travestere for an evening walk and dinner.

Tiber at night

Above or maybe to the left or right (it’s hard to control photo placement in this blog) is the Tiber river at night. Travestere is just on the other side of the river and a 10 minute bus ride from where we were staying. It’s full of street cafes and has a Bohemian feel to it.

Travestere cafe

We ate at this one…..one of the more affordable places we found and the food was good. Restaurants are pretty expensive in Italy. Everyone asks us about the food. To be honest, we weren’t wowed by it. It was fine but we got starched out and missed our Asian food and cooked vegetables. We saw one Chinese restaurant in Rome and never saw anything but Italian restaurants in smaller towns.

Beth posing

It was a little cloudy and rainy as we started our tour of Rome on Wednesday morning. Here you see Beth posing smartly in front of the monument to the nation (I think that’s the name). It’s this huge structure built a couple hundred years ago that Italians aren’t fond of apparently. It’s pretty gaudy.  But I think Beth looks pretty good in front of it. Italians are really good at posing for pictures, they look like models when they get their photo taken. Beth started to get the hang of it…I was a little slow.

From here it was time to walk to the Colisseum!

Wow, what can you say. I’m sorry but no matter what the tour guides say, there’s no way that was made with Play-doh.

In truth, it is made of stone and it’s impressive.  

Wow…I got a photo to go to the right side..cool

Still trying to figure this blog stuff out

Ruins somewhere

The thing about Rome is that you get lulled by the volume of ruins and history. “Oh look, there’s some more…” After a while you just can’t take it all in, they are literally everywhere. Everywhere they dig, they find ruins and so the whole city becomes a museum with thousands of scooters and little cars buzzing around in the midst of it.

Forum area

The Forum extends over a large area, we know because we walked around it. I admit, I got grumpy…..I can only do so many ruins and city things before I want to go back to the beach and relax and swim. Beth is much  more of a city person and she really loved the whole energy and vibrancy of Rome. I guess she should really be writing this part. Oh well….here are some more ruins pictures

It was time to go to St. Peter’s Basillica. As you may know, St. Peter’s is the largest church in the universe and it is really something to see.

The dome is huge and so ornate and beautifully crafted it blows your mind to think of how they did it.

Beautiful floors and tile work

Pretty nice marble too

and then there’s time for…

Confession!  This could take a while. “Bless me father it has been 35? 40? years since my last confession….”

Have to be Catholic to appreciate that one.

Yes this is actually Pope John the 23rd! I didn’t know they did this kind of thing. There a few popes in caskets like this in the Basillica, preserved somehow and on display. Kind of creepy.

Beth applied for a job while she was there and was shown the door by these goofy looking characters. I have no idea how they got jobs.

On another note…..I forgot to mention that early that morning we went to the Food Market that was right across the street from our B&B. Romeo gave us the tour and showed us where to get the best stuff.

Market

It’s this big, indoor market with tons of stalls with bread, cheese, meat, fruit and veggies, wine, and so on.

Wine vendor

Check this out….kegs of wine of all types. People just bring their litre plastic bottles in and get them filled up. It’s really cheap too.

What’s that Romeo is holding in his hand? What else…..a Wine Punch Card!! That’s right, the 12th liter is free. Priorities are clear in Italy.

We got some good tastes and then emptied a water bottle and filled it up for lunch. We also got some great cheese and bread and Arugula (Rocket greens the Brits call it) and went back to the B&B and made some great sandwiches.

There we are with Romeo and some other guests of the B&B. These kind of encounters with local folks were the highlights of the trip.

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Paestum – ancient Greek and Roman ruins

Paestum is an ancient city, first built by the Greeks around 500BC, later taken over by the Romans and other conquerors. Paestum is the largest Greek ruin site in Italy. It’s amazing and it was only 2o minutes from where we were staying.

There are 3 large temple remains on the site and the remains of lots of other structures and roads and so forth. It’s incredible that these structures are about 2500 years old and they’re still standing. Part of the reason is that the area became infested with mosquitoes carrying malaria and it was abandoned for something like a 1000 years. If not for the mosquitoes, the later and less civilized invaders of the area might have trashed it.

They were having a regional festival on the weekend that we visited….the Buffalo Mozarella festival, with all the buffalo mozeralla you could eat, and then some. I didn’t even know buffalo existed outside of the states. But I did after this festival because we ate way too much of that cheese and I could feel those buffalo roaming in my stomach for quite a while afterwards.

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Historic Hill Towns

Sperlonga old city

We were really taken by all the old towns in this region that are built into hillsides in the most amazing way. I guess this is a common thing but I had never experienced it before. I’d been to Europe back in college days and seen lots of old towns but nothing quite like this before.

The first town we stayed in, Sperlonga was built this way and then Agropoli, where we stayed for a week at the B&B was like this too. Then we went to Castellabate and Cicerale….all the same style.

The buildings are 1000 or more years old and nestled into the hillside, spiraling up in cobblestone walkways to the top of the hill. These days, some are occupied, some are empty, some are being renovated and sold to wealthy Europeans looking for an exotic vacation hangout.

Speaking of renovating…..while we were visiting a hill town called Castellabate we met the gentleman on the left, Luigi. He was shlepping 5 gallon buckets of sand into his house for some project. We were wandering around feeling hungry, and we asked him in our limited Italian…”Sa dove restaurante perforvore?” (is there a Chipotle around here?” Of course, everything is closed because it’s 1 o’clock, even restaurants in small towns, so the answer was no. But he invited us in and showed us around his little house and served us Espresso made in his little mocha coffee maker. Who needs lunch when there’s Espresso, right?

It was really interesting to see the inside of one of these places. It’s a tight space, kind of dark, lots of peeling paint, tiny stairway….then you crawl out of the upstairs bedroom and onto the little terrace/flat roof (no railing of any kind) and you see the view in the photo to the left. Not bad. We managed to communicate some basic things, found out he was a train conductor in Naples, enjoyed our espresso, talked about remodeling a very little bit. Great guy and a fun experience.

From there we headed down the big hill to the seacoast town of the same name, Santa Maria Castellabate. We were actually still hungry and there was a cafe/bar/pizzeria that was open. That’s where we met the woman pictured here who ran the establishment. She was a doll. They were done serving food but she found us a piece of pizza and heated it up for us. We got to chat with her for a while and she was just something special

She had such a warmth and depth about her. One of those serene kind of people that you feel right at home with. She told us a little about her family….her husband had been a fisherman, she had kids in the area, etc. We wanted to take her home with us.  After chatting with her for a while we wandered down the plaza and checked out all the cool little shops.

Later, we had dinner at a nice restaurant that was right on the beach….don’t have a picture of it but it was right on the other side of the buildings at the end of this wharf that you see to the left.

Below you’ll see some more photos of some of the other Hill Towns that we visited.

Sperlonga stairs

Agropoli cafe

Agropoli stairway

Agropoli view from top of old city

Agropoli castle at top of old city

Cicerale old city

Cicerale door

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Driving in Italy

Typical Italian street in Agropoli

OK…I need to talk a little about what it’s like to drive in Italy. In a word, it’s insane. First of all, there are no rules. You read that in the guide books and you think, ok, maybe, but it is absolutely true. People will drive as fast as they possibly can, which is pretty fast in the little go karts they drive. They will pass you on a two lane road with a semi-truck coming at you in the opposing lane without a thought. And while you’re pulling over as far to the right as you can to try to squeeze some extra room out of the narrow road, be careful because there is probably another crazy guy on a scooter trying to get by you on the right. And the really great thing about all of this is that it somehow works. People squeeze by you in these incredibly tight spaces at very fast speeds and nobody gets hurt.

Speaking of tight spaces…..city streets. These are old streets that were undoubtedly designed for horses and little wagons and motor scooters (because those have been around in Italy since the Roman Empire…..for real, that’s why they’re so popular.) So, you’re driving down one of these little narrow streets, with cars parked on your right, and people walking in the street and you have just about enough room to get by, leaving a smidge extra space for the scooter that’s passing you on your right or your left or over or under you and then you see another car coming towards you from the other direction. And you say to yourself, there’s no way this is a two way street….but it is and the car approaching you is not stopping, because that just never happens in Italy, if you’re friends found out that you used your brakes you would be laughed out of the Gelateria, and so you’re freaking out wondering how this is going to work out….you, the people walking in the street, the scooter screaming by you…..and it does, just like magic…..every time.
I’ve been wanting to take pictures or a short video of all this but I just haven’t quite had the time or nerve to take my hands off the wheel to do that.
Oh, and another thing about driving in Italy….roadsigns. I laugh as I say that, Roadsigns….ha ha ha. You see in Italy, they don’t believe in road signs. Actually, you usually get one road sign for your destination, after that, they figure you know where you’re going and they don’t need to bother with any more signs. This is for real. You either develop your intuition about directions, get a GPS or use a lot of gas while you drive in circles. It adds a little extra excitement to the usual thrills of the driving experience.
To be honest, once you get in the groove, it’s a lot of fun to drive on the country roads outside of town. The roads are really good – well paved, no potholes, nice winding curves – and you can get your sports car driving fix without fear of getting a speeding ticket….I don’t think those exist here.
Here is a true driving story that Adrianna told me this morning when were talking about driving. They had an English cop staying here who wanted to drive to Naples. Naples is at another level of lawlessness from what we’ve heard. Street signs and traffic lights are totally ignored there. So, this guy goes there anyway and in his well mannered British way, he stops at a red light. Everybody is beeping at him and passing him on the right and left and to add insult to injury, a scooter actually drives right over his car and down his front hood!!
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Agropoli – Baia di Trentova – our Bed and Breakfast

Our terrace...pinch me...is this for real?

Hate to make you too jealous but this is actually the view from the terrace outside our bedroom door. Unbelievable!! We look out onto the Bay of Trentova, beautiful green hills around us, it’s so perfect. We’re staying at a B&B run by a really nice and English speaking couple, Adriana and Oreste, with a little two year old girl Alissa. They have been great to us and we’ve been able to talk with them a lot and learn about the area and just have a good time.

Funny story about trying to get here. We got to Agropoli and Beth had directions from Google maps. We did our best to follow the streets, which is really challenging because street signs are optional and were going in circles. So, we started asking people in our version of Italian….”Scussi, dove Bai di Trentova” (where is Bai di Trentova?) Everybody knew where it was and was happy to direct us, only we could never find the bed and breakfast. Later, after some kind soul in a furniture store called the B&B and got Oreste to come down and rescue us, we found out that the the B&B is named after the body of water at the foot of the town…..the Bai di Trentova. We were of course being directed there by the locals. Pretty tricky for the out of towners.

The B&B is Oreste’s family’s house which he converted into the lodging about 4 years ago. He did an amazing job as you can see. He built the terraces on the upper level and did all the tile work on the terraces on the main level and finished the rooms and so on. It’s just a beautiful place and everything is clean and new in a beautiful older structure…best of both worlds.

Adriana handles a lot of the reservations and client contact…and speaks fluent English. Oreste is an incredible cook. They provide dinner on request, full multi-course meals that have been fantastic. Literally, the best food we have eaten here has come from their kitchen. They are so friendly and helpful, it’s been a total pleasure. It’s  a real family affair too, Oreste’s mom cleans rooms everyday, his brother helps out with landscaping and his dad is here everyday.

South view from our terrace
Oreste & Alicia
Adrianna
Antonio (Oreste’s dad) and Beth
Alicia with blinking horns!
Ground floor patio

We would highly recommend this B&B to anyone, you couldn’t do better.

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Fast and Slow in Italy

Some things in Italy happen really fast……like Driving!! The trip from Rome to our first destination, Sperlonga, was invigorating. There are actual speed limits, like ones that say 60km which are completely meaningless. And there are lanes, which are also meaningless because people will pass you in a lane or in an oncoming lane or on the median or the sidewalk or whatever they can drive on. And then you have to be careful about avoiding a car that is passing you on the left because there may be a scooter passing you on the right at the same time. Scooters are the kings of the road, they can squeeze in anywere and pass everyone at stop signs and at toll booths. It’s wild out there, especially when you have no idea where you are going and there are virtually no signs to direct you.

Another old Fiat, couldn't resist, no highway pics yet.

Then some things happen really slowly in Italy…..like going into a bank and trying to get money or getting a rental car or eating….people are so relaxed and casual. When you sit down at a restaurant or even just an outdoor cafe, you’re good for the rest of the day. There’s no sense that someone’s waiting to get your table or that there’s a time limit of any kind. It’s great. And of course meals are social times and they’ll never bring your check until you ask for it….so relaxed.

Dinner at the beach

And then you get back in your car to drive home and watch out….dinner is over baby….strap your self in and hit the gas.

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Sperlonga

Sperlonga was our first stop, that is after an exciting introduction to driving in Italy on the highways and biways. See my post on Driving in Italy for more on that. Sperlonga is a beautiful, historic town with an incredible old city that is built into the hillside by the sea.

The beach gets crowded in summer but it's the offseason now so we have it to ourselves.

Sperlonga old city

The old city is Amazing! It’s about 1000 years old and it’s built organically and over time into this hillside by the sea. You can walk up through the buildings through various narrow streets and up endless stairs. The walls are beautiful, old stone in various states of disrepair and then there are houses that are being remodeled and fixed up. Apparently, the locals have moved out of the old city and they are popular for foreigners to purchase and fix up. Imagine owning a pieced of history like that….but for a price, they are expensive.

Cafe in old Sperlonga

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