I found myself planing a last minute trip to Dallas for a belated birthday celebration. One thing about me is that I’m a planner. I like to have an idea of what I will be doing when I’m traveling somewhere. While I’ve been to Dallas many times, I usually don’t spend a lot of time out exploring the area….usually I’m just there to see someone or do something (like the SGK 3 Day walk). This particular weekend was chilly in Dallas, which I was definitely not expecting! There are many things to do and see in Dallas but most involve being outdoors. So we found ourselves looking for something to do on a windy and dreary Saturday. I saw in my search of ideas that Dallas has quite a large art scene. So we opted to check out the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA for short). The DMA is one of the largest art museums in North America. And to our surprise, it also boasts free admission so nothing to lose other than time to go and check it out! While I will admit I’m no art buff, I thoroughly enjoyed myself at the museum. There are 9 unique collections and the building itself is large and airy so you don’t feel overwhelmed even with all of the other visitors. If you ever find yourself in Dallas on a bad weather day (or you just want to expand your culture), I definitely recommend the DMA! It’s a gem!
With our 2 week trip in Italy winding down, we made our way to Tivoli. Tivoli is a town only 30 kilometers outside of Rome. We stayed just inside the medieval section, which dates back to 338 BC. The evening of our arrival, Donna and I decided to walk around the old city. You can feel the history of the city as you walk around, many of the buildings showing their age but still retain their charm.
Tivoli is also home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Hadrian’s Villa (also known as Villa Adriana) and Villa d’Este. We decided to check out Villa d’Este since it was within walking distance of our hotel. Originally built in the 16th century for Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, it was nearly finished when the Cardinal passed in 1572. After about 100 years, the estate went into ruin until 1922 when the Italian state took it over and began it’s restoration. The Villa d’Este has an extraordinary system of fountains: fifty-one fountains and nymphaeums, 398 spouts, 364 water jets, 64 waterfalls, and 220 basins, fed by 875 meters of canals, channels and cascades, and all working entirely by the force of gravity, without pumps. While the villa itself is breathtaking, the surrounding gardens, in my opinion, are the real appeal of this magical place. Photography is not allowed inside the villa, although it seems most people don’t follow the rule.
I think I could have wandered around the gardens all day long, but we had to head out for our last destination of this trip – Rome.
What can be said about Rome? I mean, it’s Rome!!! It’s history spans 28 centuries. It’s the 4th most populated city in Europe and is a global city. We decided to stay right in the tourist-populated section, right near the Trevi Fountain. We walked around the shops, took in the Trevi Fountain and Spanish steps. We ended our evening with a delightful meal at That’s Amore restaurant.
This vacation covered a lot of ground (literally) but it was all so amazing! I want to give a special shout out to my travel companions, Ambryn and Donna! Thanks for putting up with my spastic driving and for making this such a fun trip! We made Italy our own for sure and it was an experience I will never forget!
Until the next adventure…..
After surviving our stressful drives near Positano, we headed along the coast to Sorrento. The area has views of Naples, Vesuvius and the Isle of Capri. Sorrento is also well known for the production of Limoncello, which I happen to be a big fan of!
Driving into Sorrento, you see the same beautiful views of the Tyrrhenian Sea as the rest of the Amalfi Coast. We parked in town and grabbed some quick breakfast before heading over to check out the Valley of the Mills. Located next to Piazza Tasso, it forms the natural edge of the historic center of Sorrento. On the floor of the gorge is an old flour mill, the structure that gives the valley its name. This stone building from the 900s was used for grinding wheat for nearly a thousand years before it was abandoned. The humidity in the valley is perfect for fern growth, which is covering the structure. It’s so odd to me that somewhere so magical looking is right next to a busy intersection. One of the things I love the most about Italy – the juxtaposition of the past right next to the modern world.
After checking out the Valley of the Mills, we walked to the Notturno Inlaid Wood Factory. I have a friend who recommended this place so I was delighted to spot the sign to their location while we were admiring the Valley of the Mills. Thankfully the shop was still open for about 30 minutes (they were closing early since it was a Sunday) so I was able to pick up a couple of items for myself. Their work is absolutely stunning and if you are in the area, they are definitely worth checking out! Michael was wonderful and got my order all prepared and assured me that my items should arrive to my home by Christmas. Happy Holidays to me!
We then made the short drive to our apartment in Vico Equense for the evening. Vico Equense is a great destination for people wanting to be close to the action, but not so close you feel as if you are suffocating. The apartment we rented was so nice we all commented we would like to live there and the wraparound patio offered some amazing views of Naples across the bay. We had to deal with some rain and a cold wind so we weren’t able to explore this little gem of a city as much as we would have liked to but I would definitely return here when I make another visit to Italy.
The next morning we woke to more rain but were hopeful we would be able to escape the rain as our next destination, Tivoli, showed no rain in the forecast. But before escaping the rain, I fell victim to a slippery staircase on the way from our apartment to the breakfast room. While I expect some bruising and am a little stiff, the real damage was limited to my ego. Clumsy girl for life!
Until next time…..
Have you ever felt like you were going to die from doing something you do every day? This was me on Friday as we neared Positano. We had started our day from Palermo, Sicily. Taking the ferry back to the mainland, we found that our expected 9 hour travel time would be extended in excess of 12 hours. We had heard that there had been some heavy rains on the Amalfi Coast which had caused some mudslides. So instead of slowly snaking along the Amalfi Coast as I had envisioned in my mind before the trip, our GPS took us further inland and then northwest of Positano. As we approached Naples, we hit a major traffic jam. After cautiously making our way through the city of Naples, we hit a snafu when the next turn for us was roadblocked (likely as a result of the mudslides). Guess we learned a valuable lesson that driving apps don’t always take things like that into consideration. Feeling tired and a bit stressed from the drive, we ended up having to drive about 17 miles more to our location, all along small lanes which hugged the mountains between little sleepy towns. Although it was dark out, I could tell just beyond the guardrails (some of which were in need of repair), the cliffs were sheer. If I had a dollar for each time I entered a 10 degree turn and said “we’re going to die”, I’d be a rich woman! But somehow we finally arrived at our apartment in Positano. We got our car parked inside the garage and the owner’s daughter showed us to our room. We all decided we had no energy left from the long drive so we stayed in our apartment, enjoying the twinkling of the lights of Positano from our terrace.
The next morning, we decided to visit Pompeii. Pompeii has been a tourist destination for over 250 years. Today it has UNESCO World Heritage Site status and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, with approximately 2.5 million visitors every year. Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, was mostly destroyed and buried under volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Researchers believe that the town was founded in the 7th or 6th century BC. By the time of its destruction, the population was estimated at 11,000 people.
The eruption destroyed the city, killing its inhabitants and burying it under tons of ash. The site was lost for about 1,500 years until its initial rediscovery in 1599 and broader rediscovery almost 150 years later. The objects that lay beneath the city have been preserved for more than a millennium because of the long lack of air and moisture. During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids in the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allowed archaeologists to see the exact position the person was in when he or she died.
After Pompeii, we stopped at a nearby restaurant before making our way back to Positano (the only place we opted to stay more than one night). Unfortunately, the road closure impacted us again so we found ourselves repeating the same perilous route we made the night before. We woke to another beautiful sunny day in Positano!
We packed up and left the winding streets of Positano for our next destination – Vico Equense. But that will have to wait for the next blog entry.
Just outside the bustling city of Agrigento lies the Valley of the Temples, which was our reason for seeking out this hilltop city on the southern shore of Sicily. We thankfully were blessed with a sparkling blue sky for our visit. We opted to take the taxi to the other side of the site in order to cut our walk in half since we had plans to drive to our next destination. It turned out to be a wise decision as the sun was quite warm while we were visiting. But the views were amazing! This archaeological park consists of eight temples (and various other remains) built between about 510 and 430 BC.
After our visit to this magical place, we headed to our final stop while in Sicily…Palermo. Palermo is located in the northwest of the island of Sicily, right by the Gulf of Palermo in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Just when I thought I’d seen the craziest drivers, we arrived late afternoon to this crowded and active city! Our B&B was just inside the old city so we elected to have our car parked. After getting our bearings, we headed out to explore the city. The streets were lined with shops and bars and lots of people! We explored a church and got cursed at (in English even!) by some of the local kids. Ah, the charm of Sicily! The next morning we headed to the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo. Unfortunately, photography is forbidden in the catacombs. However, it was an eerie and surreal experience that I would recommend to anyone who visits Palermo. From the catacombs, we drove back to Messina to catch our ferry back to the mainland for our next adventure. Up next, Positano!
Sometimes I feel like a kid. A prime example of this is how excited I got thinking about taking a ferry. But first we made our way from the dreamlike landscape of Matera towards our next destination in Taormina, Sicily. For those who don’t know, Sicily is the largest region in Italy and also boasts the distinction of being the largest island in the Mediterranean. Taormina was our first of three stops in Sicily. Taormina is on the east coast of Sicily and has cliffs overlooking the Ionian Sea. As someone who had never taken a ferry with a car before, I found myself being giddy as we approached the port in Messina to make the 20 minute trip from the mainland of Italy to Sicily.
We arrived at our B&B after dark and dropped our bags in our room before heading off in search of food and drinks. In our research for our trip, we found Bar Turrisi in a little town above ours called Castelmola. This bar has been handed down from generation to generation and the unique theme began when one of the owners (who had 3 sons within a 5 year span) decided to create a theme for the bar based on the penis, vulgarly referred to in Sicilian as “La Minchia”. While many people think of this as something vulgar, the Greek culture which influenced Sicily instead views this as a symbol of fertility. Although the kitchen was not open when we arrived, we found the hosts to be very warm and inviting and they quickly prepared us a mini feast of olives, spinach, bruschetta, cheeses and meat. They also gave us a sampling of the almond wine the Turrisi family prides themselves on. It was delicious! But as to the decor of the bar….it was special. Sure, it’s kitschy but you can’t fault them for having a great theme to draw travelers in to see. I was certainly amused by it.
Really, need I say more about this place??? In all seriousness, the people there were so nice and I would recommend it if you are ever in Taormina. It was a precarious drive up the mountain to Castelmola, but it was definitely worth it!
After we got our eyeful at Bar Turrisi, we made our way to check out Bar Vitelli, which owes its claim to fame to a scene in The Godfather. After the drive to Savoca, we realized that they were not open (bad internet research!) but we found a nice little restaurant on the way back to our B&B to have dinner.
We woke up to a bright sunny morning in Taormina and were rewarded with an amazing view!
We drove a couple of kilometers from our B&B to the Greek Theatre of Taormina. According to research, the construction of the amphitheater started by the Greeks around the third century, BC. To allow the construction was necessary to manually remove over 100,000 cubic meters of rock from the mountain. In Roman times, the theatre was expanded, making it the 2nd largest theatre in Sicily. We parked our car and made a short albeit it steep walk to the old section of town where the theatre is found. The walk is enjoyable as you find many stores and cafes along the way to distract you from the climb. We paid our 10 euro entrance fee and walked around, taking in all of the sights. The theatre really is spectacular. And the views of the sea and Mt Etna are truly enviable.
So far, Sicily is a wonderful and mesmerizing place. I will say the drivers in Sicily are even more daring that those on the Italian mainland, which for anyone who has had the experience of driving in Italy knows is not for the faint-hearted. Off to bed to prepare for our next town. Until next time…..
This entry chronicles the last 3 nights of adventures. We started off this portion with a stay at Castello di Monterone, a small restored 13th-century castle in Perugia, Italy. It is located in the road that connects Perugia to Assisi, very close to the Monastery of San Pietro and to the Church of San Bevignate. We were fortunate enough to have a lovely room overlooking the courtyard with it’s own private exterior staircase (which wasn’t so bad when we had help taking our luggage up that winding stone staircase). Since we knew we had a long day planned the following day, we opted to have dinner at the property’s restaurant.
The next day we started with a long drive to the Apulia region in Southern Italy. We arrived just after dark at Alberobello. This small town is known for their trulli style of structures. The oldest trulli known today are at Alberobello, dating back to the 14th Century. The trullo’s dry-wall construction, without mortar, was imposed on new settlers so that they could dismantle their shelters in a hurry: an efficient means to evade taxes on new settlements under the Kingdom of Naples, and certainly a good way to deter unruly lords. We did some window shopping followed by dinner featuring local cuisine which was recommended by the very welcoming staff at the resort. The trullo we stayed in had a loft area which demonstrated the cone roof associated with the building style.
We woke up to a light rain the next morning which quickly transitioned into a torrential downpour with lightning and thunder while we were getting some sightseeing done. We checked out and headed to see the Caves of Castellana, quickly to discover once we arrived that the tour was only available in Italian and no photography was allowed. So we opted to make our way to our next destination….Matera.
Matera is in the region of Basilicata, in Southern Italy. The town’s historical center “Sassi”, along with the Park of the Rupestrian Churches, is considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1993. The area of what is now Matera has been settled since the Paleolithic period. The Sassi are habitations dug into the calcareous rock itself. Many of them are really little more than caverns, and in some parts of the Sassi a street lies on top of another group of dwellings. The ancient town grew up on one slope of the rocky ravine created by a river that is now a small stream, and this ravine is known locally as “la Gravina”.
Matera is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. You are struck by it’s sheer beauty. It is so hard to imagine that in the 1950s, the government of Italy used force to relocate most of the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city. Until the late 1980s the Sassi was considered an area of poverty, since its dwellings were, and in most cases still are, uninhabitable. The present local administration, however, has become more tourism-oriented, and it has promoted the regeneration of the Sassi with the aid of the Italian government, UNESCO, and Hollywood. Today there are many thriving businesses, pubs, and hotels. We were fortunate enough to stay at Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita, who has been a big proponent in restoring some of the sassi into beautiful and charming accommodations which are welcoming while still preserving the simplicity of their prior history. We relaxed in our cave for a while, snacking on crackers with white truffle spread, some wild boar salami and cheese with a bottle of wine before making our way up the steep staircases into the main portion of town. This old part of town is truly charming and unspoiled. I know this area is gaining in popularity for tourists but I hope they keep the charm we experienced. It is a really special area. I mean, it’s not every day you get to sleep in a cave (or one you’d actually want to sleep in)!
We dined on pizza (and more wine!) before slowly making our way back to our cave for the night. Tomorrow, we will have another long drive as we make our way west to catch the ferry to Sicily for 3 nights. Looking forward to more adventures here in Italy!
November 1st finally arrived and I was off from Atlanta to Rome! Given the flying time, I arrived in Rome around 9:30 am local time and was greeted by one of my travel accomplices, Ambryn. Her flight had arrived almost 2 hours before so she was waiting at the baggage check area for me with a smiling face. While we had never met in person before, we hit it off instantly and headed off to collect our rental car and head into the city until our other wandering woman, Donna, was set to arrive later that evening. Although we encountered a small snafu getting our GPS working, we made it to the city and found a parking spot just over the river in Trastevere. We explored the Roman Forum and of course had to take in the wonder that is the Colosseum. It was a warmer day than we expected but we spent hours just taking in all of the sights and trying to imagine how it must have looked all of those years ago. Rome will always stand the test of time. As the prophecy goes, “When the Colosseum falls, Rome shall fall; when Rome falls, the world shall fall”.
Donna arrived early evening and we made our way to our first accommodation in Orvieto. The city of Orvieto is a city in southwestern Umbria, situated on the flat summit of a large butte of volcanic tuff. Like much of Umbria, Orvieto was part of the Etruscan civilization. Orvieto was annexed by Rome in the third century BC. Because of its site on a high, steep bluff of tufa, a volcanic rock, the city was virtually impregnable and was last conquered by Julius Caesar. Since both Ambryn and Donna trace their lineage back to the area, we decided to pay homage to their roots and took a tour of underground Orvieto’s Pozzo della Cava. This area is unique in that it contains a large number of Etruscan, Medieval and Renaissance archaeological finds, all lying together almost as though they had been packed away in the caves that make up the route for visiting the well.
Leaving Orvieto, we headed to our next destination in Nocera Umbra. We stayed at the lovely Relais Monastero Di San Biagio, which is a former convent/monastery dating back to the 12th century. The grounds at this location, much like the place the night before, were stunning and offered wonderful views of the picturesque Italian countryside. After we got settled, a relative of Ambryn and Donna came to meet us and take us to meet with his family so they could talk about the family history and connection here in Italy. Everyone we met with was a true delight! They were all so warm and welcoming, even to me who shares no connection to the family. They took us to a family owned restaurant and treated us to a four course feast! And I mean a feast! If only my stomach could have eaten everything presented to us! It all tasted as wonderful as it looked! How do Italians stay so skinny with so much delicious food available to them?! And better yet, how do I get adopted into this family????
The next morning, Ambryn headed off with their cousin Lorenzo to do more family research while Donna and I decided to take a quick day trip to Spello. What a quaint little hill town! And we had more delicious food! Good thing I’m getting a lot of walking in or I may not be able to fit in my clothes by the end of the trip. 🙂
Next, we were off to Perugia for our next adventure! But this will have to wait for my next entry as I need to get some rest as we have another busy day ahead of us!
Have I mentioned that I love to travel? Because I really do. And while I have been to Texas many times, my trips were mostly limited to the Dallas metro area. So when one of my dear friends, Nicole, asked me if I wanted to join her in Austin for a weekend, I obviously jumped at the opportunity!
I had heard many stories about Austin being a cool place to visit but I went into the trip not having any agenda or any specific “must do” items. This trip was just to catch up with Nicole and another one of our friends, Angela, who would be driving nearly 10 hours for the trip. Nicole and Angela met up early Friday afternoon and did a little exploring while I was stuck at the office.
With an impending hurricane and so many people from Florida being in the metro Atlanta area, I opted to head to the airport early.
I didn’t get to the hotel in Austin until late on Friday so we just grabbed a quick bite at the hotel’s restaurant and called it a night.
Saturday morning, we woke up early and headed down to the South Congress neighborhood of Austin. It’s a truly unique area of original restaurants and trendy boutiques.
Later that day, we met up with another 3-day walk alumni, Treasure, and grabbed some southern food at Threadgill’s. For those who don’t know, Threadgill’s is an Austin institution. Janis Joplin honed her craft at Threadgill’s before becoming a legend. So amazing to be somewhere that helped create the uniqueness of Austin (and it didn’t hurt that the food was really tasty!).
Sunday, I had a shortened day because of my flight but we were fortunate enough to make it to the Graffiti Park (at Castle Hill). This park is the educational brainchild of the non-profit HOPE events and contemporary artist Shepard Fairey which launched in 2011. It has become an inspirational outlet and creative destination for people that come to visit and is recognized as one of the Top 10 Artistic destinations in Texas. I absolutely loved the experience! They allow you to participate and spray paint with signup. I am not artistically inclined, so I opted to just take it all in with my camera. You can even climb up to the upper levels, and for that effort you are rewarded with a spectacular view of the city.
I definitely would plan another trip to Austin. The entire city just has a super chill vibe to it. As their saying goes “Keep Austin Weird”.
Less than 3 months before my return to Italy. I’ve been there twice and while I love to explore all corners of the world, Italy holds a special appeal to me. I especially love Southern Italy. I find myself daydreaming of the unspoiled beauty of Southern Italy almost daily.