A Blonde, a Brunette, and a Red Head take on Italy. Part 4 – Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast

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Marina Grande

Sorrento was…well…BELLISIMA! Surreal. I felt as if I was part of Homer’s odyssey and listened intently for the Sirens as our ferry pulled into port.  The sheer cliffs were impressive, with the homes and hotels sitting precarious atop, beckoning us to visit and admire their views from their respective balconies.  It was not as I expected. In fact, is was much more than I could have ever dreamed. It is no wonder that Sofia Loren, the iconic actress, found this area of Italy her favorite. She filmed “Scandal in Sorrento” here. There are images of Sofia all around town.  I had found this remarkable city to stay in after reading about it in a few tour books, etc., to be a great place to stay and visit all the nearby locations such as Positano (#1 on my list), Pompeii, Naples, Capri, and the rest of the Amalfi coast. My co-travelers agreed, and we had booked 3 nights in the Hotel Del Mare (http://www.hoteldelmare.com/ ), a wonderful hotel in the infamous Marina Grande in Sorrento. We had called ahead while in Orvieto and inquired as to if we would be able to come a night early and they were more than accommodating. In fact, they placed us on the very top floor, with a door that opened to a sunroof with the most amazing views, one of which is my current desktop wallpaper. The hotel was the tightest space we had slept in so far, since we had previously stayed in much more spacious Airbnbs with separate bedrooms, but found the sacrifice of space was well worth it. The view from the window alone took my breath away. It was at this window that my niece, Sydel, proclaimed to us that this was, by far, her favorite place she had visited out of all her world travels that year (this girl has gone some places, let me tell you!). The hospitality provided by Tony, and all the others who worked there, was amazing and they deserve to know how great they made our stay.  Thank you, Hotel Del Mare!!

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View from the Sun deck at the Hotel del Mare. Mount Vesuvius in the distance.

4 nights means a lot of stories from Sorrento. I will try to keep it short and sweet.

Day 1 – Traveled by slow train from Orvieto to Roma. In Roma, we never left the train station, but did eat some amazing McDonald’s cheeseburgers before we boarded the high-speed Italo train to Naples. And by highspeed, I mean sign of the holy cross, please let me live through this, highspeed!!! The train was operating at speeds up to 220 MPH (360 km/h). The countryside was breathtakingly beautiful here. When we arrived at Naples, we were very wary of pickpockets due to the many warnings we received from other travelers, and guidebooks alike. We took a cab from there to the Ferry station Mollo Beverello and took a €12 ferry to Sorrento. From there we took a €20 cab to our hotel.

Day 2 – walked up to town from Marina Grande. Ate at an English pub. Staff was uber friendly, Sydel got her first Italian kiss from the server Luigi.  Walked to center of town. Looked at the old mill. Train ride that takes you to all the tourist locations throughout the city. ½ hour ride.  Interesting. Not as good as walking to them yourself.

Day 3 – Laundry day. It had been a while, so we walked our laundry up the hill to the city and waited in line for one of the 4 washing machines to open at the laundry mat. It was very nice to have more of a selection of clothes to pick from since we were living out of our 42L backpacks.  Came back and got ready for dinner on the Marina. I had freshly made raviolis with a vodka sauce from the restaurant called  RISTORANTE BAGNI DELFINO  Delicious!  But a very small serving.  I was disappointed that I couldn’t eat more of the delicious squares of goodness.

Day 4 – Took an early €2 bus ride from Sorrento to Positano. The roadway is infamous for its scenery and sheer cliffs. Unfortunately, the woman who was forced to stand up next to me since they ran out of room, easily got carsick and began throwing up between my friends and me. It was horrible. We took the ferry home for €14, which I have to say was worth the extra splurge. Our first stop after leaving Positano was Capri (where the rich and famous go). It looked just as beautiful as the Italy I had seen in Sorrento, just a bit more secluded being on an island.  The ferry then took us back to the port in Sorrento where we were welcomed again by those beckoning cliffs.  I MUST SAY, COME TO SORRENTO BY FERRY. YOU WILL NOT REGRET THE EXTRA FEW EUROS.   Upon our return, we sauntered over to a near by a day use sun deck/eatery, who rented lounge chairs that sat on a small pier with umbrellas, food and drink service.  The three of us women jumped into the water off the ledge of the pier and quickly swam back. It was cold!!  And different than swimming in the beach or bay like we were used to. The water was choppy, the ground was mossy, and I wanted out of there to go worship the sun. We took the pic and got out.

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Day 5- Time to get ready to go. (sniff sniff) Sorrento, I will never forget you. I bought the T-shirt and wear it proudly.  One day I will bring my husband to your welcoming arms and he can revel in the wonder which is you.

Journal Entry September 20, 2017   Wednesday;   SORRENTO, ITALY

“Where do I begin? What can I say about Sorrento? How it rises 1500 meters from the sea on cliffs, switchback stairs leading pedestrians to the main city. Streets winding up with mopeds, trucks, and cars maneuvering around each other with what seems to be no actual rules, just the occasional consideration to allow someone to have a turn into the lane.

Drivers honk as they pass, and wave as most seem to know each other here. A friendly awesome from the natives is easy to come by. Surprisingly with the hordes of tourists who arrive via ferries daily.

Our hotel sits 50 meters from the beach in Marina Grande, the old fishing village. We must walk 8 mins to reach the city center upstairs and inclined sidewalks consistently bringing us higher and higher. We must stop and catch our breath several times, but use this as a happy excuse to appreciate the amazing views. When we reach the top, we arrive just in time to see the bustling town come alive. I am glad for the hills as they help me feel justified for the gluttonous eating I do here. Yesterday alone I had 2 breakfasts, a pizza for lunch, and raviolis for dinner “Bagni Sant’ Anna”  http://www.ristorantebagnisantanna.com/.  Let us not forget the wine! At least a ½ liter. But the house wine at €7 a liter is hard to pass up, and harder to find anything bad about it (yummy!) I ate so much yesterday I had to go to bed early.

Our plans here include relaxing on the beaches here by the water, which my companion determine to be the Mediterranean. We will drink limoncello, eat more pasta (Lord help me), and rejuvenate our souls. Tomorrow, we adventure to the Amalfi coast and set our sights on Positano. Positano!!!! The only thing missing is my husband. Hard to be without him in such a romantic place. The sites, smells, sounds, all lead me to wishing I was in his arms and creating these memories with him. He tells me that our daily calls and many pictures help to feel that he is here too.

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Sorrento Swimming

Journal Entry September 22, 2017   Friday; LEAVING SORRENTO FOR ROMA

Sorrento stole my heart just a little. The window towards the sea, the marina with the local fisherman bring up their catch for the day, the sun decks with the tanned bodies, both large and small, old and young, worshiping the sun and relaxing. We swam in the sea while small fish swam around our legs. Drank Bellini on a sun soaked deck above a rumbling green sea.

The food, the sights, the sounds. Climbing up steep hills just to be in shock at the beauty before my eyes as the sea draws my eyes to it. The volcano Vesuvius looming above the cities across the water, knowing just 2000 years ago, it buried the civilization of Pompeii.

I will miss Sorrento as one who misses a dear friend they made at summer camp. Always cherishing the memories and hoping, one day, the wonderful things I did could be relived again. Like your fist kiss, first slow dance, and the first time I ever met my husband.

If I could put it all in a bottle and sell it I would be rich, and could afford to come back as often as I wanted, but Sorrento is to be experienced in person. You must feel the sand in your toes. Look up the cliffs at the homes above. Eat the pasta at Emelia’s and chase it down with a limoncello. Feel the sun kiss your skin as you close your eyes and lay down on a deck above the water. Feel the burn in your legs as you climb up the hills, and know this is one of the reasons Italians are so fit. Order a carafe of house wine and split it between those you love. If I could do it again, I would stay longer.

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Caroline Nelson © 2017 unpublished work. All Rights Reserved.



A Blonde, a Brunette, and a Red Head take on Italy. Part 3 – Orvieto


On a whim, the three of us agreed that, at least one of our unplanned days, would be spent in Orvieto, taking us out of Tuscany and into Umbria. We knew Orvieto was on a train line and it would be easier to get to than some of the other medieval hill towns we considered (Montepulciano, Cortona, and Montalcino to name a few.) Our train, although dubbed a slow train, got us from Florence to our destination in two and a half hours. The countryside had several fortresses and we could spy small towns perched upon hills in the distance. I loved seeing the small Italian cities demonstrating their thriftiness, and attachment to the old days decorating yards, terraces, decks, etc. with hanging linens and clothes drying in the sun on their respective lines. I thought to myself about how I was going to work on saving resources and respecting Earth more when I got back to America (recycling, clotheslines, yard sales, more walking, etc.)
The Orvieto train station is small and mostly vacant. Across the street is a building with the words “Funicolare” on the front. I walk in and, to my surprise, find that the funicolare is a trolley which rides up a steep hill, through paths cut into the cliffs, diagonally up to this hill town. Very cool! I had seen a you tube video about this while researching my Italy trip, but hadn’t recalled that this was one of the cities where one was located. I felt like a kid in a candy store, clapping my hands giddily. I was delighted, and my friends were laughing at my reaction. The town is in Southwest Umbria in Central Italy built on tuff volcanic rock 1000 feet above valley floor. We were on our way up, to Piazza Cahen, where our hosts were going to pick up and take us to our apartment.  (Funicolare you tube video)
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Right off of the Piazza Cahen
Piazza Cahen is where the Funicolare drops you off in Old Orvieto, next to Medieval city gates. You can walk through the Fortezza Albornoz and see an awesome view of the cliffs the city is built on.  The Pozzo di San Patrizio (Well of St. Patrick) is near here and is a recommended architectural wonder worth the short walk.
Our lodging is close to the city center adjacent the Maurizio Clock Tower. We ate at an over 100-year-old restaurant named Bar Montanucci where I had one of my favorite meals in all of Italy. It was a freshly made pasta with 4 cheeses off their special menu while the girls ordered some more authentic Etruscan eats (see photo).  It was divine, and I still dream of it.  We purchased a delicious Chianti from here to take back to the apartment, where we went back and enjoyed the tranquility of our evening listening to the thunder outside.
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Bar Montanucci deliciousness. Orvieto, Italy
In the morning, for €6, we took a one hour long underground tour and were surprised to learn that the city is built over 1200 tunnels, 3 of which we explored. Many houses have their own tunnels. Some dating before Christ.  The Etruscans originally began digging them out and the continued inhabitants continued over a 2500-year span, using them for businesses such as oil making, pigeon farming, ceramics, etc. It was very fascinating, and I enjoyed it immensely. The tour guide made a good point stating that any visitor to Orvieto ought to take the underground tour before anything else because of the wonderful history lesson you are provided about the whole town.  From there, your piqued interests may take you to the Pozzo di San Patrizio (famous well), or the cloth from the Miracle of Bolsena that started the feast of Corpus Christi and encouraged the building of the grand Cathedral.
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Orvieto Underground Tour

Afterwards, we strolled into the Duomo (1290 AD), with its gold and mosaic façade, and marveled at the frescoes inside. That evening we had our first taste of Brunello (the best of the best Chianti) at the Enoteca al Duomo which had a quaint little patio adjacent to the Duomo itself.
Our time in Orvieto was a true opportunity to really observe the culture, buildings, and the people, without being rushed. We spent a lot of time just relaxing, closing our eyes, and listening to the town around us. It felt like the first time we just stopped and soaked it all in. We were in ITALY!!
Journal Entry Day 2 Orvieto, Italy:  “Currently, I sit on our rented apartment’s terrazza (terrace) in the sunlight with a breeze going by. Neighborhood cats approach me, meowing their requests to come inside or for me to bring them some snacks. I hear the doves and pigeons cooing. The Duomo looms above me, with only one small building between it and our terrace. The apartment is called Apartment Casadarte (Casadarte on booking.com ) and, I’m guessing, is about 400 years old. The ceiling is wood beams and you can see the brick floor for the apartment above through the spaces between the beams. I love that every building I have laid my head to rest in here is older than anything I’ve been in before. The history of each of these buildings must be positively fascinating.
This city honors the Italian tradition of taking siestas, where the shops close for a few hours and re-open later (usually around noon to 4pm). The other, bigger cities we have gone to, we stuck to the areas that were heavy with tourists and found that the stores there seemed to not observe this tradition. So, when we saw this in Orvieto, we knew we had really found an authentic hill town. We also had observed that the tourists who came to town seemed to spend maybe 1 or 2 hours total here and then they were bussed out of town. I had the pleasure of walking around at night hearing nothing but Italian being spoke. It was a surreal, calming moment and I took it all in, taking pictures with my mind and hoping I would never forget the memory. “


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Eating Gelato

Eating Gelato
Caroline Nelson © 2017 unpublished work. All Rights Reserved.

A Blonde, a Brunette, and a Red Head take on Italy : Part 2 / Florence, Italy

Caroline Nelson © 2017 unpublished work. All Rights Reserved.

Florence is the capital city in the dreamy area called Tuscany (Tuscania) and is the birthplace of the Renaissance. Most of you can recall the movie and book, “Under a Tuscan Sun” by Frances Mayes. Us three women were really looking forward to this part of the journey and were imagining similar adventures for ourselves here. We planned on sampling Tuscan wines while in this area, infamous for being the home of, arguably, the best wine in the world from the Sangiovese grape, Chianti!

We arrive at the Firenze Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence after a memorable 2 nights in Venice, and all Sydel and Michele are craving is some McDonald’s Cheese burgers and fries. The main allure for Michele and myself was that we could actually purchase beer at McDonald’s, which you cannot in the U.S.  I find this incredibly humorous due to the fact that I had planned on eating authentic Italian cuisine on this trip for both myself, and for the ladies who I feared I might disappoint if I appeared to be too picky about food. I was far too concerned about other’s opinions.  I had promised myself I would say YES to foods that were put before me and I was going to be brave about trying new foods, and here we were looking for a McDonalds!  This was a turning point for me. I realized that I would stop worrying so much about what people thought about me but, for my own personal growth, I would make it a point to try different foods here.  On my trip of all trips, my very fussy palate tried foods such as artichokes, eggplant, mushrooms, fish, spritz, toast (proscuito and cheese), Lemoncello, Tagliera, Cantuccini with Vin Santo (biscotti with sweet wine), Sicilian Arancini, and so much more. Incidentally, we did go to the Firenze McDonald’s a total of 3 times, at least one of those times I was a reluctant participant.


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Wednesday : Arrived around 4pm to discover my husband and daughter had a floral bouquet, Baci Chocolates, and some Orvieto white wine delivered to our Airbnb as a surprise and to let me know they were thinking of me and missing me.  It was reminiscent of the movie, “P.S. I Love You”.  So Romantic!!  We sampled wines at Da Fiaschino (an Enoteca), found the Conad grocery store at stocked up on snacks, and ate Lasagna and Pizza at a nearby restaurant.

Thursday : We walked to the Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) which was absolutely breath taking. We stopped for our first gelato and then visited the Ponte Vecchio, which had amazing views of the river Arno. Next, was lunch at the Piazza della Signoria where we saw the many beautiful sculptures.  We went back to Da Fiaschino ( Link to tripadvisor for Da Faschino) and tried Vino Nobile for the first time. It was heavenly.


Friday: We got up super early in the morning and quickly walked to the Train Station to meet up with Walkabout Florence Tours and join our group for the Tuscany in One Day Sightseeing tour (Link to trip advisor site where we purchased our tour) . We were embarking on a 12 hour long adventure to see some of the major sites in Tuscany : Siena, a winery for lunch with wine tasting, one hour of personal time to tour San Gigamano on our own, and Pisa. It didn’t take long for Michele to befriend Jenn, a woman who had been traveling solo through Europe celebrating her divorce, and we quickly adopted her. At the wine tasting, I made it a point to speak to our neighbors at the long picnic table to get to know others.  We sat near a couple from Chicago, another couple from London, and a family from Australia among others. Sydel made new friends there as well, a married couple from Florida who were an absolute crack up.

In San Gigamano, Jenn went with us walking around the ancient city and it started to storm. We found a table at a café and I had my first Spritz, they drank wine.  We saw the married couple looking for shelter and invited them to squeeze in on our table since all tables were scooped up quickly by tourists trying to avoid the rain. We all ended up clicking and became the “fun” group on the tour bus going forward.  They were an absolute blast!

When we got to Pisa we all took the obligatory photos of each other holding up the leaning tower. These were unique photos we were going for here, not the generic holding up Pisa pics. We were going for flavor! Plus we were definitely in a wine induced fun loving spirits. Unfortunately, they are not on my camera. 😦

12.5 hours later, our tour was over. We had some planning to do as we had yet to decide where our next destination was going to be. We purposely did not book the next 3 nights because we wanted to be open to what ever adventure presented itself to us. We went back to our apartment, exhausted, and contemplated where our journey would take us from here, over a little bit more Chianti, of course!

Caroline Nelson © 2017 unpublished work. All Rights Reserved.

A Blonde, a Brunette, and a Red Head Take on Italy : Part 1 \ VENICE, ITALY

Our 10:30 am plane from Los Angeles to Montreal is 2 rows of 3 seats. A tight squeeze up and down the aisles for sure. It would be great to be a little skinnier but too late for that… can’t dwell on the things I cannot change now. While we were preparing for takeoff, Sydel asks me, “What are you going to watch Care?” In all seriousness I replied,” The ground sinking below me.” She started cracking up and I realized she was asking what I was going to watch on the plane’s in-flight entertainment system.  My response was the truth though! I did watch the ground go away from me, losing all remaining control of my situation. There was no turning back now, I was on my way to ITALY!

I am regretting that I drank 4 glasses of wine last night and have quite a hangover. I just feel icky. Like I need a nap. But I can’t really sleep yet because I should acclimate to the 9-hour time change I was facing. I decide then and there that I will not spend my time in Italy hung over. I wanted to remember every moment.

When the plane reaches our cruising altitude, the flight attendants begin to make their rounds and my friends order red wine. She asks my buddies, “Isn’t it a little early for wine?”, a foreshadowing of the first few wine infused days of our trip. When I order a ginger ale, she calls me the designated driver and we all laugh.  On our red eye flight from Montreal to Venice, the flight attendant graciously gives us free bottles of wine when she learned that we are 3 women on our way to explore Italy on our own. Not really wanting to drink it I offered it to the girls who instructed me to “save it and we can drink it in the morning.” The morning?! Wine breakfast?! Oh boy… this was going to one crazy trip! I decide to rest for a few hours and gave my wine up to the others.

My companions on this trip are my world traveling single niece, the brunette 2 years younger than I, and her red headed best friend who, like me, left her husband and kids at home for our half month adventure. This was a trip they had planned together, and by God’s grace, had invited me along. I was determined to hang with them and not slow them down in any way.  I had the mindset that us three fun loving San Diego women were about to take over Italy. Little did I know that Italy was going to have so much power over me, my disposition, and melancholy outlook on life that it was going to take over ME.

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The Grand Canal. View from the Rialto Bridge

In Venice, you must take water transportation from the airport to your destination since there are no roads or cars.  We took the Alilaguna shuttle for €15 to the San Marco district, where our Airbnb is located. In Venice there is something called acqua alta, or high water. It is when the city begins to flood due to high tides, etc. You can actually see the water bubbling up out of the drainage holes along the streets. On our arrival day, we found many streets to be somewhat flooded as the clouds rumbled with thunder.

I stepped into the water with my sketcher sandals, not caring that my feet were going to be wet. Wasn’t this what I had researched before coming to Venice? That the locals weren’t afraid of the high water here and my shoes would eventually dry and I had spares. Smug and proud of my “no fear” approach, I took a moment to look back at my companions who were following behind me, only to find that they had found a path, 2 feet to the right of the narrow street, that allowed their shoes to stay dry. Other locals and tourists I saw kept their shoes dry too because they either took the same path as my friends, or they were wearing waterproof boots. This, the very first day in Italy, was the reason why I had to deal with stinky sandals for my whole trip and why I eventually ditched them in Rome. In my defense, I had been traveling for about almost 24 hours at that point from Los Angeles to Venice and was extremely jet lagged with little sleep.

 LESSONS TO SHARE: Avoid the high water if you can and don’t get your shoes wet. Bring water proof shoes to Venice or buy the funny plastic bag boots they sell for €8 on every other corner.

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We settled into our lovely Airbnb near the Teatro la Fenice, a 15th century artist’s building with stained glass windows that looked down into gondolier trafficked canals who, from time to time, had accordionist and opera singers singing such melodies as an aria from La Traviata or Bella Notte as entertainment for their passengers.  This lovely 2 bedroom apartment was quite the deal and I recommend booking this for yourselves for, not only the amazing atmosphere, but it’s convenient location to everything in San Marco. We walked everywhere, except to the train station, at which point we took a water bus (how do they drive those things so accurately in so much water traffic?) The only modes of transportation in Venice are boats or your feet. There are no cars.  At the end of our 2 days visit to Venice, we are sitting at the train station so that we can get to Florence, and my niece makes an observation, “I haven’t seen any fucking cabs here.” We crack up and gently remind her, there are no cars or roads.  This is going to be such a fun trip!!

Gondolier Ride

I knew the sites that were close, as I had researched the city for my companions and knew some of the history. However, for the life of me, I could not figure out these “streets” and how which way was which so I would show the map to my niece, let her know where we needed to go, and she would get us there. I still can’t figure how the hell she did it. I would redeem myself later in Florence by becoming the navigator there.

We found our way to the many sites in the San Marco district: Ponte Rialto, Piazza San Marco, Saint Mark’s Basilica, gondolier rides, the Grand Canal and so much more. We drank cappuccinos, wine, and ate pasta at outdoor cafes while people watching and listening to the Italians speaking with their extravagant hand gestures. I left a little part of my heart in Venice those 2 days and can’t wait to come back and show my husband one day.

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Cappuccino and croissant, typical Italian breakfast
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Gnocchi and 4 cheeses. Shared carafe of house red wine.








Caroline Nelson © 2017 unpublished work. All Rights Reserved.