For 2 weeks in June and July, 2016, we traveled to Italy. It was the first time we had been back since 2003, when we were chaperoning a group of middle school students from Oregon. On that trip, we started in Rome and traveled north. This time, we started in Rome and headed south, through Sorrento and on to Sicily.
Jolie created a great Video Overview of our trip. You can also see some additional pictures in the album title ‘Italy, 2016’ to the right.
Part 1: Rome
We began the trip with a 5 day stop in Rome on our own. We rented a great room at the Hotel Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps. This was a perfect central location to explore from.
In Rome, we hit the major highlights including:
Vatican City (St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel). We were able to take the Scavi Tour underneath the basilica to see the necropolis and what is believed to be the resting place of St. Peter. This is a very holy site for Christians and several members of our tour were overcome by the significance of this place.
The Colosseum and Forum. This was the center of ancient Roman life. I am always shocked by how these stunning historical sites exist in the middle of a modern city. We popped up out of the Metro and boom, there is the Colosseum. Paris and London are like that too.
The Villa Borghese and Gallery Borghese. This huge park once belonged to the wealthy Borghese. In addition to providing a beautiful natural space in the middle of Rome, the park houses the Gallery Borghese, one of the most amazing collections of sculptures (many by Bernini) to be found in Europe
Pompeii and Naples. We took a day trip from Rome to the ruins of Pompeii via Naples. The ruins were spectacular. I was surprised both by the size of the ruins (it is really a large town), the window it provides of life at the time of the 79 AD eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, and how much more there it to excavate. I was also excited to see the Amphitheater, where Pink Floyd performed their Live at Pompeii show in 1972.
After Pompeii, we took the local train to Naples. The train ride was a trip with a band playing in the cars as well as a mentally unstable man yelling in Italian! Then we got to Naples! Naples moves at 1000 miles an hour and has the most crazy traffic outside of Beijing we have ever experienced. We played our own game of Frogger for a while and then hit the train back to Rome to get ready for our tour of Sicily.
Part 2: Southern Italy and Sicily
After a wonderful few days in Rome, we met up with our tour group for a 10 day trip through southern Italy and Sicily.
Sorrento. Our first stop was in Sorrento near Naples and the Amalfi Coast. This cliffside town is a favorite vacation area for the rich and famous of Europe. It is also the center of Lemocello production. Jolie was in heaven! The whole town smells like lemons (except for the areas that smell like amazing pasta dishes).
Taormina and Mt. Etna, Sicily.
After a long bus ride south down the ‘boot’ of Italy, we took a ferry for the short trip to Sicily. Our first stop in Sicily was the resort town of Taormina along the eastern coast. For some context, this is the area that provided the Sicily footage for the Godfather I and II movies.
The town was beautiful and capped by our first Greek ruins of the trip. The Greek Theater dates from the 3rd century BC and overlooks the town and the Mediterranean Sea. Besides being a tourist destination, the theater also hosts concerts and an annual film festival (they were setting up for this when we were there).
This location also provided us with a base for a day trip to Mt. Etna, one of the most active volcanoes in Europe. We took a combination tram and 4×4 ride to get to the top where the wind was blowing over 80mph. It was everything I could do to stand up. Jolie retreated quickly to the lodge (which served wine…smart girl).
Greek and Roman Ruins. Sicily houses some of the best preserved Greek and Roman ruins in Europe. The dry climate and limited pollution has kept these sites well preserved over the centuries. On our trip, we visited several sites, including an amazing Roman Villa that was recently excavated after being covered by a mudslide for years.
The Fortress of Erice. As we approached the main Sicilian city of Palermo, we stopped at what was for me the best site on the trip. The mountain top town of Erice has been occupied by Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, and Normans over the years, each adding their own culture and architecture to the village.
Palermo. Our final stop in Sicily was the capital city of Palermo. Palermo is generally know as the home of the Sicilian Mafia. We felt totally safe walking around this beautiful town, but as we were preparing to leave for our ferry ride to Naples, huge fires broke out in the hills surrounding the town. We later found out that the fires had been set by the mafia as a protest against a new government law. It made for a great ending to our Sicily journey!