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!

FunicularRailwayonVesuvius(source)

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 – Massa Lubrense

*To kick off The Italian Diaries, I asked my husband, Pete, to write a guest post about our first day in Italy.*

Back when we first met, Maria and I decided that we wanted to travel to Italy together. She had already been there twice before (in 2005 and 2007), but it would be my first time in Europe.

In August 2014, we finally made it happen. For two weeks, we had the chance to explore Rome, Naples and the Amalfi Coast (as well as a few other surprise stops along the way). Joining us on the trip were Maria’s brother Joe and their parents, who were both born in Italy and are extremely knowledgeable about the area, the people, and the culture (and they speak the language).

Since we’ve reached the 2-year anniversary of our trip (and are becoming increasingly nostalgic), we wanted to take a look back at all of the incredible experiences.

First stop…

Massa Lubrense

Well, technically this isn’t the first stop. We flew into Fiumicino Airport in Rome, rented a car and headed towards Il Mezzogiorno (Southern Italy). “Mezzogiorno” literally means “Midday” and refers to the area from Naples south (including the islands of Sicily and Sardinia), where the intense sun beats down during the mid-afternoon hours.

After a 3+ hour drive, we arrived at Hotel Delfino in Massa Lubrense, a small fishing village on the Amalfi Coast located near Sorrento. And if we weren’t excited enough about being in Italy, check out these views:

Capri From Hotel Delfino

Capri From the Balcony

Wow!

By the way, that island off in the distance is Capri (we’ll get to that later in the trip).

Maria and I soaked it all in for awhile before making our way down to the pool area for a late afternoon snack. I want to take a moment here to say that a typical late afternoon snack for us at home usually consists of a yogurt or a few pretzels. In Italy, it’s this:

Caprese With Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato, and Basil

Caprese with ingredients as fresh as they come. Not a bad way to start our trip.

Earlier on in the day, the woman at the front desk mentioned that there was a little trail right around the corner that would take us to the town, so after a quick bite, Maria and I wandered out to explore.

We didn’t go all the way down (the trail was a little longer than we prepared for), but we were able to take this shot from above the village.

Massa Lubrense on the Amalfi Coast

I’d say the locals have a pretty good view to wake up to every morning.

When we made it back to the hotel, we joined the family at the on-site restaurant and talked over the itinerary for the next two weeks. My father-in-law is a seafood lover, so of course, he went with the Catch of the Day for dinner.

Seafood Dinner at Hotel Delfino

After dinner, we were just about to call it a night and rest up for the adventure ahead, but the hotel had other plans. In a small room off the main hotel lobby, we stumbled across this:

Italian Music and Dancing at Hotel Delfino

Dancers and musicians playing all the Italian classics, everything from Funiculi Funicula to Volare. And they even let the hotel guests join in.

Italian Group Dance at Hotel Delfino

Overall, it was a pretty memorable first day for both of us. Next stop…Sorrento.

Homemade Sunday Sauce

Growing up in my family meant pasta every Sunday for family dinner. It is one of those things I didn’t really appreciate as a kid, but now long for it. For generations, the women in my family have made their own Sunday sauce. My mom and husband always jab at me whenever I take the shortcut and buy a jar of sauce from the grocery store. Really though, this sauce recipe is so easy that buying the jar is just plain laziness! Once you’ve tried this sauce and realize how simple it is to make, you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ingredients

  • 1 can of Red Pack Tomato Puree
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh parsely
  • Fresh basil
  • Salt and Pepper

Start off by peeling 6 cloves of garlic and then cut them in half. Throw your garlic into a pot with some olive oil. Warm up the garlic and olive oil on the stove. Listen for the “crackle” noise of the garlic and oil. Once you hear this and smell the aroma, turn off the stove and let cool for a few minutes.

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Grab a can of Red Pack Tomato Puree. Mom says, “Red Pack, Red Pack, it’s gotta be Red Pack.”  Pour the can of Red Pack into the pot with a dash of salt, pepper, and some chopped parsley.

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Fill up the can halfway with water. This gets the extra puree off the sides of the can. Pour it into the pot. This water/sauce mixture thins the sauce a bit. Throw in a handful of fresh basil leaves.

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If you don’t have a beat up wooden spoon in your kitchen, I’m doubting your Italian heritage ;).

Let your sauce cook on medium heat until boiling, then lower heat. Continue cooking on low heat for about an hour and a half.

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That’s all! How easy is that?! I like to make a big batch on Sundays and then freeze the leftovers in a mason jar. Makes it so easy to just defrost whenever we need it.

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Serve over pasta, on meatballs, with stromboli, on chicken parmesan, or eggplant rollatini…really the possibilities are endless. For us…it will be baked ziti tonight and stromboli later on in the week!