The Italian Diaries – Mt. Vesuvius

Telling someone you’ve climbed a volcano is a surefire way to impress them. Following up by saying you’ve done it 3 times is pretty badass!

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Yes, this would be my third time climbing Mt. Vesuvius, the volcano famous for destroying the city of Pompeii in 79 AD. I wish I could tell you it gets easier each time. But, it doesn’t.

There used to be a funicular that you could ride up to the volcano. You were even able to walk down into the crater. Unfortunately (?) due to the volcanic eruptions in 1906 and 1944, the funicular was destroyed and not rebuilt. I can’t imagine it was that safe anyway! And you are no longer able to walk down into the crater, which also was probably not the safest idea, as there are holes all over releasing volcanic smoke and fumes. Yea…pretty cool stuff!

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You will see a wealth of interesting people when you arrive at the base of the mountain. My favorite are the girls in high heels. Do you know you’re here to climb a volcano? Good luck. There are some clothing and food vendors, as well as places to sit if you are not climbing.

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Then begins your trek. It is extremely sandy, which makes it hard for your feet to grasp much of anything. There are railings in some parts, which I used often to pause and catch my breath. But basically you climb upwards in one direction, then there will be a brief landing, and you continue your climb in the other direction. A zigzag pattern of sorts.

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You’ll see pretty amazing views of Naples on your way up.

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When you reach the top, there are numerous views inside the crater.

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As I mentioned earlier, you can see the smoke rising in parts, as Mt. Vesuvius is still an active volcano.

It’s quite chilly at the top, as you are literally in the clouds!

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Check out this picture from my grandmother’s balcony looking out at the top of Mt. Vesuvius – as I said…literally in the clouds!

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It’s freaken hard, but totally worth it. You’ll have some serious bragging rights and probably not meet many other people in the world who can say they’ve climbed a volcano! And remember, wear sneakers for the journey.

The Italian Diaries – Ravello

It’s easy to miss Ravello. It’s a town that doesn’t appear on many maps. When we first arrived in Italy, we had no idea it even existed.  And yet, as we drove around the coast, we kept seeing the sign with an arrow pointing up.  Back at our hotel, we would constantly overhear other guests talking about it, in particular, the spectacular views. Finally, we decided we had to see it.

Ravello is a small town that sits above the Amalfi Coast and truly offers some of the best views of the mountainsides that line the coast.

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Similar to Amalfi, there is a piazza right in the center of town and then the streets and shops branch out from there. Right in the middle of the Piazza Vescovado is a cathedral called Duomo di Ravello.

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Known for it’s bronze door and bell tower, Duomo di Ravello is the centerpiece of town.

As you start branching out from Piazza Vescovado, you’ll encounter quaint details, like stone tunnels and curious doors.

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The one thing you’ll see everywhere you look in Ravello? Ceramics. All hand-made and hand-painted. We actually bought a mail holder to bring back with us.

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We wanted to buy more but were concerned with transporting fragile items back to the states.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see as much of Ravello as we would’ve liked due to our late afternoon arrival. But that also meant we got some great pics of the area at dusk.

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Keep in mind though, the drive up the mountains of the coast is NO JOKE! You can only go about 20mph so 10 miles can feel like an eternity to drive! Make sure you allow some extra time when you visit.

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As is often the case, the best spots are the ones you find by going off-the-beaten path. And Ravello certainly did not disappoint.

Next stop…Mt. Vesuvius!

The Italian Diaries – Pompeii

Pompeii is filled with wonder, just as you would imagine. In 79 AD, Mt. Vesuvius erupted and destroyed everything in its path. The ruins of Pompeii are still standing today, and it’s really amazing to walk down the streets and think about what life was like 2000 years ago. I’ve been there 4 times, and I still haven’t even scratched the surface of all there is to see.

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A couple of important things to know about Pompeii before you visit. First, there is the actual town of Pompeii. Within this town, you have the gated ruins of Pompeii, which is a tourist attraction that you pay to get into. The actual town of Pompeii is NOT a good area. It’s very sketchy. One of the times I visited with my family, we got ripped off in the parking lot. We paid the “parking lot attendant” who showed us where to park, then all of a sudden he broke out into a sprint. Yea, he didn’t work there. We then had to pay the actual parking lot attendant. And this was with my Italian-speaking relatives.

But the ruins are well worth the trip.

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Keep in mind, when you are walking through the ruins, it is hot. Take what you imagine hot to be and multiply it be 5. It’s that hot. You are entirely out in the open without any shade or cover. The sun is just beating down on stone. All day. IT’S FREAKEN HOT, YO! Bring water, lots of it.

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Next – the bathrooms are scarce and there is only one place to eat inside the grounds. And that place is not that good. My recommendation? Eat right outside of the grounds. You’ll find vendors, similar to American food trucks, that make delicious paninis. They are also selling lots of little trinkets related to the ruins and volcanoes. And if you’re in the mood to negotiate, you can barter with the vendors and get souvenirs for much cheaper than inside.

OK – now to the actual ruins.

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It’s quite stunning to see Mt. Vesuvius looming in the background of the towering pillars that once made an alter to worship the gods.

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Tucked away in the ruins are houses with intricate carvings and details.

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Something that has always been fascinating to me are the casts of the bodies. The volcanic ash literally preserved bodies in their moments of death.

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Sounds morbid, I know, but quite fascinating to see.

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It’s also pretty amazing to see some of the marble statues that are still perfectly in tact since 79 AD.

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There is an amphitheater where shows were presented to the people of Pompeii.

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And even a colosseum where gladiators performed for the crowds.

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Sadly, the colosseum has become quite overgrown, but you can still imagine its magnitude.

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Pompeii is filled with so many mysteries. The ruins, the volcano, the story behind the people are all so fascinating that Pete and I gobble up any new information we can find about it. We’re constantly seeking out books and documentaries that tell us more.

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You’ll just have to visit and see for yourself. But remember, wear a hat and drink lots of water!

Next stop…Ravello!

The Italian Diaries – Amalfi

*I’ve asked my husband, Pete, to write another guest post to give his perspective of our trip to Amalfi*

I can’t even tell you how many times Maria has mentioned that the town of Amalfi is her favorite place on Earth. And as we rode along the winding coastline and looked out over the water with Positano in the distance, I started to understand why.

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Look, I’m no world traveler, but I have to imagine the drive from Positano to Amalfi is one of the most breathtaking (and sometimes frightening) trips you can ever take.

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When we finally arrived in town, we quickly learned that it’s not easy to find a suitable parking spot for a minivan in a seaside town full of Fiats and Vespas. But we (eventually) made it happen.

Shops, restaurants, and gelaterias lined the streets, and limoncello was everywhere (that’s not a complaint). We spent some time browsing around and sat down to eat at a little cafe in Piazza del Duomo, the main town square.

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Then finally, after years of preparing for the moment, I had a chance to practice my Italian in my first true one-on-one chat with a local shopowner.

Me: [holding up a hat] Quanto costa? (How much does it cost?)
Shopowner: Dodici (twelve)

…90 seconds later…

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Of course, if you’ve ever been to Amalfi, you know the most memorable part of the Piazza del Duomo is the Cathedral of Saint Andrew.

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What I found most amazing is that a towering cathedral, originally built in the 9th century, sits right in the middle of a fairly small town (around 5500 people) and somehow doesn’t seem out of place. It was truly a masterpiece.

We ended the visit with a round of gelato at Pasticceria Savoia and headed back over to the car for the drive back.

Next stop…Pompeii.

 

The Italian Diaries – Capri

Can you believe this picture has #nofilter?! 

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This, my friends, is the stunning island of Capri. Pronounced in Italy as KA-pri, this island sports rocky beaches, cliffside highways, stunning boat rides, and high-end shopping.

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Having been to Capri a couple of times, I can tell you that my favorite part is the boat ride around the island.

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You’ll get to see caves filled with colors, the three most popular being the green grotto, the blue grotto, and the white grotto. (Grotto meaning cave).

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Coral, which is sold to the affluent vacationers, lines the rocks.

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You’ll get to pass right through the Faraglioni, which Capri is famous for.

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 They literally drive you right through that opening in the rock on the left!

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However, what Capri is MOST known for is the Blue Grotto. The “Grotta Azzura” is a cave that you can only get into by boat at certain times of day, depending on the tide. If the tide is cooperating, you will face a line of boats so deep that it will take you hours to get inside, if you get inside at all. There is no method to the line, complete chaos rather, so it is a choice you have to make when visiting. Wait and lose precious time exploring with the possibility of not getting in. Or, wait, and possibly get in to see the reflections of the blue water sparkling all around the cave.

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When you actually arrive on the island, you’ll find the beaches packed. There are two main beaches, Marina Piccolo and Marina Grande (small and big, respectively). However, they are quite uncomfortable to sunbathe on, as the “sand” is actually rocks. That doesn’t stop the locals and tourists though, who are there to bask in the magnificence.

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If you want to go to the top of the island, called Anacapri, you need to take the Funiculare. This is the “train” that the famous song Funiculi, Funicula is based on. Basically it is a monorail of sorts that is extremely steep, but it takes you quickly to the top of the island, which is filled with expensive boutique hotels and shopping.

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Based on my experience, we were never too impressed with the restaurants on the island. Anacapri is out of range in regards to affordable dining, lodging, and shopping. The marinas are lovely, but again uncomfortable and the restaurants are not the best.

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But you simply cannot beat the boat ride around the island and the stunning views you will encounter.

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Next stop…Amalfi!