I never dreamed of walking in fields of lavender, sunflowers, or poppies; strolling through olive and grape vineyards, or lemon tree orchards, walking down steep cobblestone streets in 10th century villages, yet I’ve been blessed to be able to do all of these things several times in my lifetime.
Having travelled to many places in this world, I can’t really name one favorite place! I’ve collected many unforgettable moments and pictures in my mind and film. Most of these moments and images have been in Italy, Spain and France. I’ll write about my travels through Spain and France in another blog post. I love these countries for so many of the same reasons! They offer great city and countryside experiences, which we take advantage of during each visit. This blog will focus on Italy.
We usually begin our trips in Rome, Italy for several days; always staying in a small boutique hotel within walking distance to most of the site-seeing attractions and Piazzas we want to explore again. We stayed at The Hotel Julia on our first trip and Hotel 900 the second time. The middle of our travel is exploring to new destinations, then finally ending each jaunt in the Roman Riviera, Ostia. Lido di Ostia is a sleepy beach town located just north of the airport. It’s were most Romans spend the summers holidays; it’s located on the Tyrrhenian Sea. I love beaching on the Roman Riviera, the sand is a fine black and the water is so calm and clear. I also love walking the dimly lit pier in the evenings and watching the fish under the sea. The smell of the ocean, sound of the waves, the ocean breeze against my body and the moon light wakes up all my senses; yet has the most calming effect.
September and October are our favorite months to travel in Europe; the weather is normally perfect and we can normally find art, music, neighborhood and ethnic festivals. My husband Bob and I usually research antique shops, flea markets, and festivals beforehand and schedule stops accordingly. Because I love mingling with people so much, I always gravitate to the city life. Watching the hustle and bustle of the local people always intrigues me. Sitting with my husband at an outdoor café, sipping an expresso or mineral water, people watching and mapping out our daily plans is always exciting. We also explore the halls of museums and art galleries. Visiting a farmer’s market is the perfect place to find the makings for a nice picnic.
One of our favorite locations in Rome is in Piazza Navona; also called the Jewish Ghetto. It’s always busy with locals, their dogs, pigeons and tourists. Eating salads, antipasti, bread and pasta dishes is always enjoyed slowly while sipping sparkling water at outdoor cafes. The Italians don’t rush customers when eating in their cafes (like Americans do) or restaurants. We always have to ask for ice and butter, it’s not given. Every breakfast, lunch and dinner is a culinary and social experience to remember. Even stopping for an expresso, snack, water or gelato can prove to be interesting as well. Piazza Navona had fun artists, locals, children, pigeons, and buskers to watch while eating. As you walk around the plaza, the outer streets are lined with retail shops, art galleries, antique shops, small pharmacies, kiosks selling leather goods, bakeries, churches and appliance shops. We purchased an antique, a wooden Pinocchio puppet, in an antique shop and artwork in a gallery nearby. I love sitting in a plaza and hearing mother’s calling (yelling) for their children out of their windows.
Another area in Rome we love is the village of Trastevere. It’s a small village across the Tiber river. It is said that the locals never cross the river. This cobblestone village is alive with tourists, street peddlers and dogs; there is always an old woman selling Parakeets. I made the mistake of taking her photograph! She wasn’t very happy with me! In fact, she started yelling at me, as if I had killed one of her birds; we quickly walked away. Most restaurants have outside seating which we take advantage of in nice weather. On our last visit, we ate outside, I had the best gnocchi dish I’ve ever eaten in my life! What made the dinner even more special was listening to the violinist at our candlelit table; another forever memory.
Siena was our countryside base in Tuscany. On our first trip to Tuscany, we rented an old farmhouse in Siena at the address, Podere Casalino, Badesse, 53035 Monteriggioni, Siena. The properties we rented were called IL PORCILE & IL GATTO. The owners were Dot and Signora Geremia Amatucci. Geremia was a Cardiac Surgeon and they lived on the second floor of the estate. The Plaza in Siena was a 15 minute drive from the farmhouse and 45 minute drive to Florence. Close by is a small grocery store which we visit several times during our trip.
The farmhouse was lovely! Beautiful tiled floors, marble floors and walls in the bathrooms. A huge stone fireplace, with a sofa and big overstuffed chair to read in in the evenings after our ventures out. Rustic and original wooden ceiling beams and archways from one room to another. The windows were dressed with Italian lace. The kitchen was completely supplied with fresh spices, pots and pans, china and great appliances; really everything one needs to prepare meals. What we enjoyed the most was the: patios; the infinity pool which had views of the Tuscany hills; and the surrounding sunflower fields; olive trees; grape vineyards; tomato gardens and stunning cypress trees that stood tall, lining the property. Geremia had his own wine vineyard and offered nightly wine at sunset; it’s too bad we didn’t drink! Views from every angle were breathtaking. The owners had two small children who played on the grounds and several cats who stayed very close to our farmhouse doors. That’s what the word Gatto means in Italian…”cat”.
Monteriggioni is a village built in the 13th century, the wall still marks the boundary between Monteriggioni’s inner sanctum of sun-splashed piazzas and flower-clad trattoria gardens and the olive-dotted lands of central Tuscany. This is where Bob and I ate a romantic dinner of gnocchi with locally hunted truffles on a stone, candlelit patio surrounded by several other guests and their dogs; a very intimate experience. I was able to worship in the 13th century Church of Santa Maria, it was quiet the spiritual experience for me. Being so close to our farmhouse, we ate lunches and dinner’s in the Piazza’s inside this village built in 1213.
San Gimignano. …: Built in the 12th century, San Gimignano’s beauty and majestic surroundings of rolling cypress groves and saffron-hued fields. This town was filled with narrow cobble stoned streets. Most had laundry hanging from their balconies; with beautiful potted flowers to decorate their own piece of heaven. Along with the laundry was elderly women and men people watching out their windows.
After thoroughly enjoying Rome, we ventured out to Florence, Pisa and Cinque Terra.
Florence is like heaven for someone who likes jewelry! Both sides of The Ponte Vecchio Bridge were lined with jewelry shops. It reminded me of the diamond district in New York City.
We also visited the Uffizi, a Science Museum with a huge collection of medical tools, several church cathedrals and the Duomo. We visited many art galleries, museums in Florence. The only thing I didn’t enjoy about Florence were the crowds.
Pisa was the leaning tower and that was it. It was great to see.
Cinque Terra was another beautiful location to explore! Cinque Terra means “Five Lands”. It’s a coastal area within Liguria, in the northwest of Italy.
It comprises five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Riomaggiore was my favorite of the five lands.
What I remember the most about the hiking in the Five Lands: I didn’t think I would survive the walk back up the hills; Having to use a restroom that was simply a hole in the ground and a place to anchor your feet; The beautiful array of colored boats on the water; How many people were lying on the cliff rocks sunbathing; and The aroma of fried calamari waiting for us.
On another trip we visited Amalfi. We took a train from Rome to Naples and then had a driver drive us to Amalfi. Amalfi is the main town of the coast on which it is located, named Amalfi Coast, and is today an important tourist destination together with other towns on the same coast, such as Positano, Ravello and others; we explored Positano and loved it.
Our hotel in Amalfi was a story in itself! When we arrived, we had a tough time finding the lobby because the entrance was under a very busy, underpass bridge.
Once entering the door, we discovered there wasn’t an elevator and our suite was located on the 4th floor. Each step was marble and about 12 inches high! Walking up each floor, with 5 pieces of luggage nearly killed us! Upon our trek to the lobby, we encountered a frosted door which we gleefully thought was the lobby; no such luck! We called the halfway mark “the doors of false hope!”. When finally arriving to the 4th floor, the lobby, we crawled to the front desk. The first thing the manger told us, is that we could have used the pulley for our luggage; I wanted to scream!
In Amalfi, there was The Museum of Handmade Paper, located in Mill Valley in the northern part of the modern town, celebrates the long-established paper making tradition in Amalfi. The town was one of the first centers of paper making in Europe, the skill having been acquired by the Amalfitans from the Arabs. We purchased some sheets of paper to have them framed for our home. We also gave some to our two daughters. One of our favorite pieces purchased in Amalfi, was a ceramic Opera Singer.
The Amalfi coast is famed for its production of Limoncello liqueur and the area is a known cultivator of lemons. The correct name is “sfusato amalfitano”, and they are typically long and at least double the size of other lemons, with a thick and wrinkled skin and a sweet and juicy flesh without many pits. I also ate an abundance of fresh, buffalo mozzarella cheese; it melted in my mouth it was so good!!!
As special as our trip to Amalfi was, the cherry on top was Capri. Many rich and famous people live in Capri. It was worth taking the boat for the day. many stunning scenic moments, great restaurant’s, shopping, churches, glass blowing and history.
So many special memories.