My first trip to Italy over twenty years ago, I felt much like the girl in the iconic photograph American Girl in Italy by Ruth Orkin. Now much older, I returned to Italy to view it with fresh eyes, and because my husband has never been and he really wanted to go.
This trip was not off to a good start I promise, including mishaps with unfortunate and costly setbacks that could have soured anybody’s mood, like missed flights, lost luggage, stolen items and a vanishing computer. I like to think of myself as an experienced traveler, so this was an eye-opener to say the least. We wore the same clothes until resorting to buying Rome t-shirts out of necessity. We glared like a neon sign pointing out that we were tourists. It made me think of the old saying, “When life gives you lemons . . .” But, what in the heck do you do with so many lemons!
While Rome is still not the top of my list for amazing and magical places to visit, Italy offers so much more than this big sprawling cosmopolitan city. Most people have Italy high on their travel bucket list and for good reason; Italy is full of art and artifacts everywhere you turn and is rumored to have the most masterpieces per square mile of any country in the world. Also, Rome, the Eternal City, is almost 3,000 years old and the foundation of most western civilization. Rome is always a good jumping off point for a visit, followed by the ever popular Florence.
These cities have amazing fast train connections to each other and in just a little over an hour and a half you can travel from city center to city center. Neither of these cities can be properly visited on a day trip, so if you want to do more than sampling, give yourself plenty of time to really get to know each of these culturally packed destinations. However, if you don’t see yourself returning a sample is better than nothing.
There are museum passes in both cities that will help you bypass the tryingly long lines and can be an extremely good value. However, do a bit of research before you go and avoid the overpriced passes. For example, Vatican City has lines that wrap around its walls, and in the summer line with thousands of people sweating in the Texas-style heat and swampy Louisiana humidity, the wait can be a daunting task. My best advice came from my friend Anita Jean, who directed me straight to Vatican City’s website where you can arrange an appointment time and print it out on your computer at home before you leave. It is only about $5.00 more per ticket, but when you see the lines of individuals and tour groups you will email me directly to thank me for this helpful hint. With your ticket in hand, you just walk straight up to the main entrance and show them your ticket and in you go. Yes, it is just that easy!
When you have had your fill of the crowded, tourist ridden, overpopulated metropolitan cities that overwhelm even the most seasoned travelers with street vendors and beggars, hop on the fast train and head south to find the real magic of Italy. Within an hour you will be in Napoli, but don’t stop there head on over to the dumpy little private train that will whisk you down the coast to the archaeological treasure of Pompeii. When you get off the train, you will still be bombarded with vendors and people trying to get you to go on their guided tours, which are fine if that is what you want, but may I suggest avoiding the pseudo ticket booth and keep walking down to the official entrance and go it alone. There are maps available at the gate. Do pick one up. It is vital to find the places you want to see. Also, there is a free storage locker available for you to stow your luggage for day visits. If you are continuing south to Sorrento or the Amalfi Coast you can easily make this a stop along the way. Get to Pompeii early to avoid the direct heat of the day and allow yourself three hours or more to really experience the ruins and the amazing views of Mount Vesuvius that will one day claim this spot again. After you are finished, grab your luggage and before getting on the train have a seat at one of the little restaurants and enjoy a frozen lemon drink made from the largest lemons I have ever seen in my life. This will cool you down and get you ready for the vast lemon groves and Lemonchello that await you in Sorrento.
I have often watched movies and looked at travel books showing the breathtaking cost of Sorrento and the jet setting Isle of Capri and thought to myself can anything really be that beautiful. Yes, yes, yes! It can be, and it is well worth the journey no matter how you choose to get there. I booked a room in Sorrento and splurged for a sea view, which I highly recommend.
This amazing little city clings to the side of the mountain, as it spills its way down to the most deliciously blue water you can imagine. Many hotels offer a private beach, and this is a vacation, right? Here is where you just live in the moment and go for it. If you are going to indulge anywhere on a trip to Italy, it should be the gondola ride in Venice and the sea view and private boat charter in Sorrento. Yes, I said private boat charter. It is not as crazy as it sounds, because in Sorrento that is what to do. Our amazing hotel arranged for us to go on a small private yacht with a group of eight other people. It was almost like they matched us up without us knowing, because we all got along splendidly and are even keeping in touch since our trip. The price is extremely reasonable for this excursion and should not be missed.
The driver picks you up at your hotel about 9:00 a.m. and whisks you to the dock where you will check in and then board your boat. This will be a very long day, but every moment will be thrilling. We had an amazingly funny and informative Captain, Jon Marco, who took us completely around the Isle of Capri, including through the distinguishable cavern Faraglione di Mezzo. It is here where you kiss and make a wish, very romantic! The excursion provides light snacks, beverages including beer, and Lemonchello, as well as life jackets, snorkeling equipment and noodles for the kids (and adults). We stopped at three different locations to snorkel and swim in this amazingly clear blue water. After viewing the White, Green and Blue Grottoes, you are dropped off to explore Capri and its splendor.
There are views that are truly spellbinding! Take the funicular to the top so you can just stand and sigh, soaking it all in. While visiting Capri, there is time to stroll, shop and have a lunch with million dollar views, but mind you many visitors to the island come in on their very own mega yachts, so your lunch can be surprisingly expensive. Order with caution, and be prepared to pay cover charges and other unexpected fees. After your afternoon on the island, you will meet back at your boat and head back to Sorrento after one last dip in the water. The view of Capri and Sorrento from the water will leave you breathless! When you arrive back at the dock, there is a driver there to take you back to your hotel.
As we packed up to leave the enchanting coast, heading back to Rome for the remainder of our trip, I took one last long view at the amazing gem of a city and forget all of the mishaps and lemons that were tossed our way at the beginning of our adventure. I decided to do what they do in Sorrento with all their beautiful giant lemons and splendid lemon groves. I savored a nice chilled delicious Lemonchello!