Last day in Italy! L’ultimo giorno in Italia. It’s been a good month. I learned a lot of new words, ate pasta or pizza almost every day, drank a lot of cappuccini from tiny cups, I only watched tv a total of 4 times, I had some amazing adventures with family and friends, and I did 3 paintings (not as many as I wanted to do, but it’s better than nothing).
This morning Jamie and I climbed to the top of Mount Vesuvius. Oof! My legs are tired. It’s possible to drive almost all the way up, but then there’s still a steep 3 km hike to the rim of the volcano. Along the way, there are souvenir stands, water stands, and taxis hoping to make some cash off tired hikers. It was interesting to see the inside of the volcano, which looks so peaceful and still right now. Looking down over Naples, we saw a low blanket of clouds and off in the distance there were a few other pointy mountains in view.
After a short afternoon nap back at Pompeii Log (our b&b), we forced ourselves to get back outside and go explore Naples. It’s a cool city. Some parts of it reminded me of New York; the crowds, the high end department stores, the traffic. Other parts had the usual tiny cobblestone streets found in so much of Italy. We wandered into a nice museum called The Museo dell’arte Napoli, which had a Picasso painting, “Arlecchino” and some other really nice paintings from lesser known artists. Afterward, we tried fried pizza (Antica Pizza Fritta), which I didn’t even know existed. It was yummy.
Off to Norway and Sweden tomorrow for a few days before going back home to NYC. Bye Italy! I love you, and hope to be back soon.
Grazie di tutto, Italia. Spero di tornare presto a mangiare di più pasta e pizze. Te amo!!
En boca del lupo!
Overlooking the volcanic crater.
There’s a stretch of beach at the south end of the heel called Pescoluse, which the locals refer to as The Maldives of Puglia. Bingo, we found everyone! Thanks to the satellite feature on googlemaps, we were able to locate a dirt road about 5 minutes from the touristy area, where people were parked for free and where we could just walk onto the beach. The sand was so flat that we could walk waaaay out into the water and still be waste deep. Crystal clear water, perfect temperature….bla bla bla. Another little slice of paradise.
From there we made the drive over to Pompeii, stopping along the way to take a quick look at Gallipoli. Cute. Then we drove through Taranto. Not cute. Looks like the bad parts of Newark. Smokestacks, factories, giant cargo ships, a certain stench. But it looks like a very productive place. Someone’s gotta do the work to get all that olive oil shipped out to the rest of the world.
The town of Leuca, where The Ionian and Adriatic Seas meet.
It was so hot today. In the 90s! It was a great day to go inside some caves, which are just south of Santa Cesarea Terme. They’re called Zinzalusa, and for 10 Euros, we got a guided tour inside the caves, a boat ride to a nearby grotto, and a dip in the sea (that part was free).
Next we headed over to the nearby town of Castro, which was almost completely deserted. No people anywhere. This could be because in much of Southern Italy everything is closed between 3 and 8 pm, when people either take naps or go to the beach. So we followed suit, and went back to our hotel to take an afternoon nap. After it cooled down a little outside, we headed over to a swimming area at the south end of Santa Cesarea for an evening swim. The water around here is so clear you can see all the way to the bottom. Also the rocky coastline is protected from big waves, so the water is really calm. It’s so peaceful. Molto tranquillo.
For dinner we went to a pizza restaurant where we were the only people, and got GIANT 60 cm pizzas for about 5 Euros each. Was it the best pizza? No, not really. But it was fun trying to eat all of it! We each at half and took the rest for lunch tomorrow. Again, where was everybody? We started thinking that maybe this is not the high season around here. The whole area feels a little like an empty cruise ship. Lots of places set up for large crowds, but not much happening. It probably gets really crowded in August when Italians have their summer vacation. At our hotel, there are a few other guests, but on our floor the only people we saw were the maid and an old man shuffling down the hall.
If you ever want to have a resort town all to yourself, go to Santa Cesarea Terme in June.
Santa Cesarea Terme
Zinzulusa Cave, looking out the the sea.
Inside Zinsulusa Cave
The coastline around Santa Cesarea
Castro. Where is everyone?? Sleeping, because it’s too dang hot to be outside.
Even the cats think it’s too hot to move.
The local swimming hole, next to Bagno Marino Archi
Look at that water.
Doing a quick little painting!
Dusk of the coast of Santa Cesarea Terme
I can’t believe it’s only been day. This morning we had breakfast at the B&B in Lecce, which was really nice! It was a place called WhiteSuite, near the center of town. It only had three rooms, so it felt like we were staying in someone’s apartment. While we were sitting there sipping cafe and eating Italian pastries, we noticed a poster on the wall with a huge cove of bright blue water and steep rocky cliffs. We asked Azurra, our host where it was, because we hadn’t seen it in any of our guidebooks or on travel websites. It’s a place called Sant’Andrea, about a 30 minute drive from Lecce. After packing up to go, and stopping briefly at the local farmer’s market for some cheap fruit, we headed to the coast. There was a small hotel, and a mostly empty parking lot overlooking the ocean. Along the shore is a dirt path, with an occasional staircase carved into the rocks for access to the ocean. We ventured down one of the safer-looking staircases and set up camp a few steps away from the water. While some local Italians sunbathed on some nearby rocks, we jumped in the water for a swim. It was heaven!
With a final destination of Santa Cesarea Terme (where Jamie found an amazing deal at a 4-star hotel) we stopped first in Otranto, which has a cathedral famous for it’s old mosaic floor, which was finished in 1163. The cathedral itself was built in 1088, but through various stages of destruction and re-modeling, much of the original structure has changed quite a bit. The nearly 900-yr old floor remains intact. The cathedral is part of a small historic part of town that is over-run with gift shops, which makes the whole place feel very lively and colorful like a cruise ship terminal. Outside the historic center is a pleasant resort town with a beach and a small marina. We enjoyed some local fish dishes at lunch, which were reasonable priced. Nom nom.
The town of Santa Cesarea is built on steep cliffs overlooking the ocean. It is clearly some sort of summer-resort-party-town judging by the types of eateries and bars. Also a lot of the buildings seem to be relatively new. We seem to be here before their high season, as there don’t seem to be very many people around. However, tomorrow is Friday so maybe that’s when everyone will be around.
Lecce is a lovely town. In the historic center it has narrow cobblestone streets that are empty and quiet in the afternoon, but come alive after 9 pm. There don’t seem to be many foreign tourists here right now; only Italians. We’ve heard a few English and French people, but it seems like all the other people are locals.
The architectural style is Baroque, and most of the buildings seem to be made out of the same kind of white-ish yellow stone. It’s also very flat, like Florence and Rome, so it’s easy to walk the whole city in half a day. I’m fascinated by the streets, because the stone is smooth and shiny, as if it’s been polished. I’m also impressed with the number of theater venues they have for such a small town. We saw three outdoor venues (two of them originally Roman amphitheaters) with chairs set up for upcoming shows.
This is the longest word I’ve yet seen in Italian: “centrorealizzazionigrafiche”. It was on a sign here. Center for Graphics or something? What a mouthful!
Today we made the journey across Italy to the region of Puglia. It took about 6 hours to drive from Rome to the town of Alberobello. There were some beautiful high mountains along the way, with long tunnels underneath them for the highway. On the other side of the mountain range, there were miles and miles of olive groves in all directions.
Once in Alberobello, we checked in to our bed and breakfast, Casa di Giomi, which was really nice for only being 40 Euros. It was a room in a woman’s enormous house, which we pretty much had to ourselves. The woman’s name is Mima, and she was born and raised in this very house. She says she loves it here in Alberobello because it’s safe, peaceful, and there are good restaurants. She recommended that we go take a walk through town and get some food. So of course we did! The food here is cheap! Six Euros for a pizza and 7 for a giant plate of pasta. We even had leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
Alberobello is know for it’s “Truli” houses, which have round pointy roofs and are painted all white. As a side note, since we’ve arrived in Puglia, I haven’t seen any houses that aren’t painted white. It reminds me a little bit of Edgartown in Martha’s Vineyard. There’s definitely a different vibe and style down here than in northern Italy.
Mountains in Italy
The 16th Century Village of Alberobello
A street in Alberobello
Alberobello at night
The bed&breakfast in Alberobello, which we had to ourselves!
Dinner in Alberobello. This amazing pizza was only 6 Euros!
A lot of tourist attractions now have a “skip the line” option, which is worth it for places like The Vatican Museum. Jamie and I were on our feet for four hours, walking through the galleries. Tired as we were by the end of it, we would have been so much more tired if we had had to wait in line for 2 hours beforehand. Being inside The Vatican Museum was great! I love seeing all the old statues that popes have collected over the years, and the paintings and frescoes that cover almost every wall and ceiling. There’s also a great exhibit with carriages and cars that have been used by popes. I’d never seen this exhibit before, which is in a subterranean hall. Some of the horse-drawn carriages look like they’re straight out of a fairytale.
So that was our morning. Next we headed over to the Forum and Colosseum, where Jamie went inside and I stayed outside so I could do some watercolor paintings. Two thunderstorms passed overhead, but there was almost no rain, luckily. While I was painting, a friendly Italian family sat nearby. The two kids started talking to me, so I got to practice my Italian with them. Turns out the family is from Puglia, which is where we are going tomorrow.
After that, we wandered over to The Trastevere, an area of town just south of St. Peter’s Cathedral, stopping at a great on-the-go pizza place near the Pantheon called Alice. For 2 Euros, you get a giant square piece of pizza that is SO yummy! Crispy, light, fresh. So good. I highly recommend it to anyone traveling on a budget.
The Trastevere is adorable. It seems to attract a lot of American students, but also Italians and other nationalities of all ages. Around every corner was one more cute little Italian restaurant, gelateria, or leather goods store. We had gelato at Old Bridge, which is another good place to go if you’re on a budget. A gelato cone with two giant scoops of gelato is 2 Euros. It’s the best Gelato I’ve had since last week in Florence.
There were so many people out walking the streets tonight. It’s such a great city for that. A lot of the streets don’t allow cars, which makes it seem so peaceful. The only sounds in The Trastevere were the clanking of forks on plates of pasta, and soft chattering voices.
I’m actually making a normal human face for once.
Someone gave this lion a really bad nose job.
Nova, look! Your name is right there on a Vatican wall!
A painting I did outside the Colosseum.
St. Peter’s at night is stunning.