we selected both a date for travel and a destination well in advance this time
(Characteristically, we spent no money in advance, so even tho' we had plans, we
weren't committed). Surprisingly, the flight remained available as we made our
plans. We would fly into Rome and then train to Sorrento, spending our time near
the Amalfi coast. We planned so far in advance this time that BJ was able to
order a travel guide from Amazon. She found last year's
Italy book on Amazon for $.25 (plus $3.50 shipping). What a bargain, and
On travel day, we said goodbye to Lucy and
Lola our beloved new pets. It would be the
first time we would both leave them, but we were confident that they would be
well cared for by our neighbors.
The mid-week, mid-day trip to the airport was traffic-free, and even the airport
seemed less crowded than usual. Our flight left from T-Concourse; a detail that
we might have overlooked had we been able to check in at the kiosk. The kiosk
technology seems to need some refinement to be able to read everyone's
passports. We had to see an agent to check in and then we were off to the
T-Concourse Sky Club.
Though the flight was slightly overbooked, all of the stand-by travelers got on
in business class. BJ was delighted to see that even the lower priority retirees
got up front since she almost of the age to start considering her options for
retirement. She's been drawing up her list of pros and cons and the lowered pass
priority is definitely on the "cons" side.
Champagne on the ground, followed by warm nuts, red wine, appetizers of shrimp,
tomato basil soup, salad, entrees of steak for Tony and salmon for BJ left us
sated and ready for sleep. We started watching "New Moon" during the meal, but
both fell asleep before it was over.
When we awoke, we were getting ready to land in Rome. Tony started a fervent
search for his reading glasses which had slipped from his pocket during the
flight. We've reached the age where reading glasses are an essential part of
life. BJ finally found them by reaching deep into the crack between the seat and
the seat back. She didn't want to think of what else might be hiding in that
During the flight, it looked like we might arrive early, but by the time our
wheels touched down and we taxied to the gate we were right on time, leaving us
very little chance of catching the early (cheaper) train to Naples. Our research
had told us that we had 3 price options for our
tickets. The 8:12AM train was 10,50 per person (duration 2 hours, 24 minutes);
the 9:00AM train was 44 per person (duration 1 hour, 10 minutes) and the 9:20AM
train was 20,50 per person (duration 2 hours, 10 minutes).
To further reduce our chances of making the early train, the crew announced that
one of the flight attendants (Milo) was celebrating his 30th anniversary with
Delta so everyone had to stop to congratulate him on the way off of the plane.
We made our way through passport control and headed for the ticket office for
the Leonardo Da Vinci express to Rome's central train station where we would
connect with the train to Naples. Our due diligence had told us that we could
save some 's by purchasing a "carnet" (booklet) of 10 tickets for 85. Tickets
are normally 11 each. We bought a carnet plus two single tickets for our round
trip travel to Rome Termini. We were able to purchase a one way ticket (123 for
all six of us) from Termini to Napoli Centrale on the 9:20AM as well, with a
The carnet was not a booklet of single tickets as we expected, rather it was a
single card, folded in half with 10 arrows indicating where to validate. The
carnet would not work for a group if everyone was not traveling together on the
same train. We weren't exactly sure how it would work with six of us using the
same ticket so we asked some very nice policemen. If we had studied the ticket
more closely, we probably could have figured out how to do it ourselves. There
were numbered arrows on the card, so we validated numbers 1-6, remembering to
push the ticket into the machine and then slide it to the left.
We had a comfortable ride to Termini and then a long walk to the platform for
our connection. We stopped for a welcome bathroom break at some nice clean
restrooms in the train station, well worth the price of ,80. The gates to the
restroom required exact change, but there was a change machine conveniently
located on the wall to the left of the entrance. Thankfully we had some leftover
euros from our previous trips since the ATM at the airport had been out of
We found our train/car/seats with no problem and settled in for the long ride.
We had a moment of confusion when a woman who spoke no English seemed to think
we were in her seat, but after she babbled for about 5 minutes and looked at our
ticket, she tottered off down the hall.
Naps were in order for most of the travelers during the 2+ hour ride, while
others studied the travel guide.
When we arrived in Naples, we
followed the sparse signs to the local
Circumvesuviana train. It looked more like a subway car, with plastic seats
and graffiti covering much of the windows. There was standing room only so it
looked like it was going to be a long, uncomfortable 70 minute ride to Sorrento.
After a few stops, the train had sufficiently cleared out enough for us to find
seats though. On the up side, the ticket was cheap at 3,60 each.
Five hours from touch down in Rome, we were finally in
Our hotel plans were somewhat
fluid. We didn't want to confirm anything with a credit card in advance since we
weren't sure we would get there flying stand-by. We were able to make
reservations at the
Hilton with a 4PM arrival and no credit card required, but we were hoping
that we could find a cheaper, more convenient option once we got there.
We left the train station enroute to our first choice from Rick Steves'
recommendations, the Ulisse Deluxe Hostel.
After dragging our roll-aboards for a few blocks, we decided to stop for lunch
at il Leone Rosso Ristorante Pizzaria.
Someone cleverly suggested while we were eating that since BJ has unlimited
international email, she should email the Hostel to see if they had rooms. This
worked spectacularly, so by the time we finished lunch, we had 3 double rooms
for 69 including breakfast!
BJ didn't notice that the GPS did not contain the exact street address for the
Hostel, so we got a little off course, taking the scenic route.
The hostel was
just as Rick Steves had described! "More of a 4 star resort than a hostel." The
lobby was very comfortably adorned with multiple sofas and tables. Wi-Fi was
free in the lobby, so BJ was able to connect her phone to
UMA and make a free phone
call to Hilton's 800 number to cancel our other reservations.
Our rooms were
very nice! Spacious rooms with comfortable beds, a desk, a refrigerator, a flat
screen TV, an armoire, a safe, marble floors and a large bathroom with full
sized tub, toilet & bidet.
One of our travelers was fighting a cold, so we left him to nap while we
explored the town. There was lots to see on the pedestrian
only shopping street.
The giant lemons
captured our attention. They looked like something from
the Gilligan's Island episode where Gilligan finds the crate of radioactive
We sampled some
olives from the grocery store (very salty) and stopped for a glass of wine at
Pizzeria Tratoria da Gigino. While the wine was not
unreasonable, the cover charge of 2 (almost $3) per person certainly increased
We took the stairs down to the dock to see what time the ferries to Capri
departed and then hiked up to the Foreigners' Club which was ideally situated
for a nice view of the water. Rick Steves book said that the Foreigner's Club
"offers jazzy elevator-type music... just right for old-timers feeling frisky."
We were, indeed, feeling frisky, but the Foreigner's Club did not appear to be
open. We walked out to the balcony and enjoyed the view though.
A text from our
ailing friend revealed that he felt well enough to meet us for dinner after his
nap. We found the Giardinello hidden away down an alley. The food was very
reasonable with offerings of homemade pasta and fresh local fish. The owner
treated us to an after dinner treat of limoncello, the sweet lemony liqueur made
from the plethora of local lemons.
Walking back to
the hotel, we passed the open air
Sedil Dominova with frescos dating back to the '700s
painted on the wall. It was really hard to tell that the depth of the
walls was actually an illusion created by the frescos.
Some of the group
wanted to go to the Irish Pub to catch the end of the soccer game between Napoli
and Juventus but we were not the only people to think of this. It was standing
room only at the pub with folks spilling out onto the street. The English Pub
across the street was not as crowded so we were able to get a table to watch the
We passed the Bar Veneruso
on the walk back to the hostel. Our travelers with a sweet tooth insisted that
we stop in for dessert. Of course we had to try the local specialty, Limoni
Delizie, a mound of lemon soaked cake filled and iced
with lemon crθme and topped with a small candied cherry. We affectionately
nicknamed it a lemon boob. We also tried the cannoli and a nutella filled
cruller. Nothing could compare to the lemon boob though.
We met in the
lobby for a glass of wine from a bottle we had purchased during the day, but the
desk clerk advised that "It is not possible" to drink our wine in the lobby. He
said we could drink it in the room, though. It was just as well, we were really
too tired to finish the wine anyway.
Friday, our breakfast meeting time of 8:30AM came early! We found the breakfast
buffet to be pretty typical of European breakfasts. There were two kinds of
thinly sliced cheese, ham and salami as well as some cereal, rolls and sweet
breads. The only unusual item on the buffet was a basket of peanuts in the
shell. Coffee and juice were served from confusing machines with multiple
We gathered our
things and walked to the dock, planning to arrive at 10AM which should give us
plenty of time to buy tickets for the 10:40AM ferry. We weren't expecting the
crowds in the ticket line and we were concerned that we were too late, but we
made it to the ticket window with time to spare and there were plenty of seats
left for us on the ferry. Due to the time of year, our ferry choices were
limited so we decided to go ahead and buy our return tickets on the 6:30PM ferry
It was a smooth 25
minute ride to Capri. When boat started nearing the dock in Capri, we made our
way down to the door so we could be the first off of the boat.
We found the
ticket kiosk for the Blue Grotto excursion at the next dock and purchased the
Our boat filled
quickly and was the first away from the dock for the short trip around the
island to the grotto.
Two of our crew
elected to stay on the big boat and skip going into the grotto, so the other
four of us transferred over the side of the big boat into the waiting row boat
with our guide. We sat on the bottom of the boat rather than on the seats.
The driver rowed
us over to the floating ticket office so that we could purchase the 11
admission to the grotto.
A couple of
strokes with the oars, and the driver grabbed the chain leading into the cave.
We were instructed to lie down as he pulled us through the opening into the
The water inside
the grotto was beautifully blue, but it was difficult to get the camera to
The guide gave a
narrative in heavily accented English but we were busy trying to adjust our
cameras to night mode and missed much of it. He rowed us in a circle while
singing and then before we knew it, we were being pulled back through the
opening into the bright sunshine. In retrospect, we wished we had known to
adjust our cameras to night mode before entering the grotto, or had not bothered
to take pictures at all. We were actually in the grotto for less than 5 minutes.
We waited in the
big boat while others made the excursion. The weather was absolutely perfect!
Though the sun was beaming down, a nice breeze kept us cool.
We noticed a line
of folks on the steps leading down from atop the island waiting for their chance
to get into a row boat, but the passengers of the big boats seemed to be taking
Back at the main
dock, we bought a few post cards and then took the funicular up to the town of
We stopped at the
first bar we saw, Tiberio, for
VERY EXPENSIVE beers and a Coke. There was no cover charge this time, but at 8
($11) for a beer and 7 ($9) for a coke, we wouldn't be spending much time here.
We were served snacks of bright green crunchy olives and potato chips with our
drinks. We really liked the crunchy olives.
We picked up a map from the tourist office on the main square
beneath the big clock.
We walked through
narrow stone lanes to the ridge where we could overlook the island.
We saw lots of
cats and a few lizards. We were surprised to find a section filled with cacti.
We followed the
path to the natural arch. The water was beautifully blue.
On the way back to
town, we followed signs to the Ristorante Pizzeria da Tonino where we shared
some delicious pizza.
By the time we got
back to the town of Capri, we realized that we would not have time to see
Anacapri so we just strolled around and did some window shopping. Most of the
shops appeared to be cleaning and setting up for the coming tourist season.
We decided to take the steps down to the port rather than ride the funicular
again. It was a fairly easy walk.
We waited with a
reasonably priced carafe of wine at the da Ernesto Buonocore until it was time
to board the ferry back to Sorrento.
The sun had made
us sleepy so we had a short nap on the ferry back. Once back in Sorrento, we
split up to give everyone a chance to do some souvenir shopping and agreed to
meet back at the web cam so we could
pick a place for dinner.
Dinner was at the
Taverna dell' 800, a place we had passed up the night before because their
seating was picnic benches without backs. This time, when the proprietor stopped
us and asked us to eat there, we told him that we would like to, but we wanted
chairs with backs (picky spoiled Americans that we are). He had one table with
chairs that would be free in 5 minutes so we waited in the bar.
lasagna was served piping HOT and BJ had to be careful, but once it cooled it
was delicious. Tony had pasta with mushrooms and sausage that was in a cream
sauce. The Italian cream sauce is not as creamy as what we are accustomed to in
our American-Italian food. Others had veal dishes that looked good.
On the way back to the hotel, a few folks had gelato at
Bougainvillea but BJ had her heart
set on another lemon boob from the Bar Veneruso. She got little spoons so she
could share. We all agreed that the lemon boob was the best, but the limone
(lemon ice) ran a close second for some.
On Saturday, we moved our breakfast time back to 9AM so we could have an extra
few minutes of sleep. We dawdled over breakfast and discussed our plans for the
day. We decided to take the Circumvesuviana to Pompeii. We packed up our
daypacks and walked to the train station. The little
ticket car out front had a special for 17 that included round trip train
tickets and admission to Pompeii.
We had downloaded
Steves' Audio Tour which was about 30 minutes of
sound that took us 2 hours to listen to. We would listen to the directions,
pause the audio while we followed the directions and then turn the audio back on
to listen to the description. It gave us a good overview. Pompeii was very
interesting. We could really picture what life must have been like there.
The view of Mt.
Vesuvius with its missing peak was very ominous. The plaster casts that had been
created by pouring plaster into the spaces formed by hardening lava and decaying
bodies showed the positions of the victims. Some of the plaster molds still had
bones and teeth.
Some of the more
interesting sites were the large house of the Faun, the bakery and the brothel.
The House of the Faun took up an entire city block.
The brothel was
equipped with some really uncomfortable looking stone beds and frescos above the
bedrooms showed the type of activity that took place there.
We finished our tour at the amphitheatre. There was
lots more to see, but we were more than a bit tired and overwhelmed by what we
We had beers
inside the venue to rest our feet from the cobblestones and then after a quick
stop at the bookstore, made our way back to the train station. We met a woman
from Kentucky on the train who had been in Positano for a writer's workshop and
was spending a few days in Sorrento before going home.
We had a late lunch (4PM) at
Old Taverna Sorrentina. Others had pizza
but we decided on antipasto this time.
We split up again after lunch for more souvenir shopping. Some of us walked up
the hill to take a look at the Hilton in case we decided to stay there on a
subsequent trip. It was quite a hike up the hill, but we were rewarded with a
great view. It was a really nice property and would be a great place to relax by
the pool in the summer.
On the way back
down the hill, we found a great little wine store where you could bring your own
container (or buy one of theirs for 1) and they would fill it from one of their
vats which held a variety of wines (all priced at under 2 per liter). We got a
liter and a half of Montepulciano for 3 and it was delicious!
BJ wanted to buy
some of the brightly colored pasta for an upcoming dinner party but at 5 ($7)
for a single serving, she just couldn't bring herself to do it. She bought sun
dried tomatoes for 2 instead.
Palm bows decorated the church near our hostel in preparation for Palm Sunday,
the next day.
We met back at the
hostel to set out for dinner. No one seemed particularly hungry, probably
because of our late lunch, so we had a hard time deciding on a restaurant.
We finally settled
Ristorante Pizzeria Lanterna Due, a Rick Steves'
The staff was fun,
though the food was not particularly memorable. We were starting to tire of
pasta. BJ ordered a side of vegetables that were great though.
We ordered a lemon boob that could not compare with the ones from the Bar
Veneruso. The cake was more spongy, like angel food cake,
and the icing lighter and more like whipped cream.
We were too full
for another lemon boob at the Bar Veneruso, but there's always room for ice
cream, so we shared a couple of lemon ices on the way back to the hostel.
Sunday morning came really early due to the time change. We planned to take a
10AM ferry to Naples which was really 9AM so we met for breakfast at 8:30AM
which was really 7:30AM. It was really hard to set our clocks since we weren't
sure whether our cell phones would automatically change the time for us. To be
safe, we all agreed to give each other a wake up call. BJ picked up a handful of
peanuts from the breakfast buffet so we would have a snack for the long train
The desk clerk at the hostel had told us that the ferry ride would be more
pleasant than the train and that the walk from the dock to the train station was
also pleasant. Neither of these bits of advice turned out to be true.
One of our
travelers, prone to motion sickness did not do well at all on the ferry, but
felt better as we approached the dock.
The walk to the
train station was through littered streets and past a good-will yard sale with
tables full of used clothing people were pawing through.
At the train station, we found a fake McDonald's where we could get a beer and
wait for the 12:30PM cheap(er) train (123 for 6). BJ brought out the peanuts
and they were a big hit!
For the first hour of the 2 hour train ride to Rome, BJ read aloud from Rick
Steves' guidebook. We made a loose plan for what we
would see during our 1 1/2 days in Rome.
We had found our Rome hotel, the Hotel
Elide, on www.venere.com, a great web
site that lets you narrow your hotel search by area, price and number of stars.
The website showed the rate as 70 per night plus breakfast, but we emailed the
hotel directly and were quoted 66 including breakfast.
We found the hotel fairly easily around the corner from the Repubblica Metro
stop and only a few minutes walk from the Termini train station. It was one of
the better 2 star places we have found. The room was small but clean with a
desk, a chair, a TV and a refrigerator. Our bathroom had a tiny shower in the
corner and no bidet (we were okay without one), but there was a hand held shower
nozzle next to the toilet. The other travelers had slightly larger bathrooms but
their showers were in the middle of the room and were even smaller with a 3
sided curtain. They had bidets. One of the rooms had a wrap around balcony.
We started out to
see the Coliseum, hoping to find a nice lunch stop on the way. It would be
another late lunch due to the long commute from Sorrento that morning. Many of
the places that we passed were closed. One restaurateur offered to open his
kitchen for us if we would order from his expensive entree selection. We finally
found the La Mela D'oro near the Santa Maria Maggiore.
Once we finished lunch, we realized we would be too late to get into the
Coliseum so we changed direction and walked to Trevi Fountain instead. It was
We wound our way
through throngs of people over to the Spanish steps, equally as crowded.
After a brief
bathroom stop at the most elaborate McDonalds in the world, five of us started
out to look for dinner on Piazza Navona, while Tony headed back to the hotel.
Just off the square, we stopped for a glass of watered down wine at
We wished we had kept going to the Piazza.
After circling the square, listening to the barkers and looking at all of the
menus, we settled on 4
Fiumi for dinner. Our due diligence should have led us to note the
20% surcharge on the menu, but no matter, the food was good. We were ready for
some MEAT! We sampled the Saltimbocca and Ossobucco, both excellent.
We wandered back to the hotel, stopping at the market across the street for some
On Monday, BJ got up at 7:30 and took the first shower. The water started out
luke-warm and soon became luke-cold. She hurried and finished up before it
became ice-cold. Tony showered next and had plenty of hot water. We met the
others for a breakfast of bread, butter, jam, coffee and juice. One of our
travelers had to get back to work so she had already left for the airport.
We took the metro to the Cipro stop where our friends joined the group line for
the Vatican Museum. We had already been to the museum so we decided to forego
what looked like a 2 hour wait and instead explore the surrounding neighborhood.
We walked around the walls of Vatican City and marveled at the long line.
We were approached by a number of tour guides offering to let us bypass the line
if we chose their service.
As we passed through the courtyard, we remembered
our trip several years ago when we saw the
pope. The courtyard was a LOT more crowded during that visit.
got some perspective on just how large those big screen TVs that project the
We strolled around
with no particular destination in mind. We stopped at a grocery store to see
what the locals spend for groceries and then shared a beer and played some cards
at the Santoro Daniela snack shop. A little old
Italian man seemed to be trying to warn Tony of losing all of his money to BJ in
the card game. He kept laughing and pointing to his wallet.
We walked back toward Vatican City and found a cute little sidewalk cafe called
All Brothers. We were just about to order a beer when we got a text message from
our friends saying that they were finished at the museum. The
group line had gotten them admission in only 15 minutes instead of the 2 hour
wait in the individual line. We created a little confusion trying
to text them directions to meet us at the cafe, but they finally made it. We had
some delicious hot sandwiches, eating lunch at lunchtime for a change!
It was off to the Coliseum for those who had never seen it.
Our friends learned that if you want to avoid the line, you can go in the
entrance to purchase the audio tour. Once you have purchased the audio
tour for one person in your group, you can skip picking up your audio device if
you want to avoid the line to turn it back in. Its a fairly inexpensive
way to avoid the line!
We had been
several times so we dropped them off and decided to
relax our feet and see some of the sites from the public bus. We picked up bus
40 from Termini, intending to ride it round trip.
We got great seats
next to the window and had a comfortable ride to the end of the line where we
were made to get off & get on a VERY CROWDED bus in the opposite direction. We
were jammed in with the standing room only crowd. At every stop, more people
crowded on and when the doors closed, we were further compressed against the
other passengers. When we got close to our hotel, we wormed our way to the door
and squeezed out.
We stopped at the grocery store and picked up a bottle of wine with no label for
1,29. At Pizzeria Punto e Virgola next to the hotel,
we picked up a couple of slices of pizza and had a nice snack of pizza and wine
back in our room.
The others made it back from the Coliseum and the Pantheon and we all struck out
for dinner. We found a couple of very crowded places, so we figured they must be
good. Trattoria Pizzeria Gioia Mia had no seating
available, but Trattoria da Olimpio (we think)
indicated in Italian that they would have seats for us soon. We waited, and
waited and finally got seats. The food was okay, but not as great as we
expected, given the crowd. Watching the staff bustle around was very
We stopped at the shop across the street from the hotel for gelato again. Back
at the hotel, we decided to go ahead and pay since we wanted to make an early
train to the airport. The hotel expected cash, but had no change so we each got
a 2 discount on our rooms!
While it was an easy walk to the train station, we decided to take the Metro
since one of our travelers had gotten a blister on his foot. We got to the train
station so early that we decided we could make an earlier train than planned,
but we would have to hurry. It is a long walk from the metro stop to Track 25
where the Leonardo da Vinci Express departs.
We arrived at the airport train station about 2 1/2 hours before our flight, but
by the time we took a bus to Terminal 5, waited in line to check in, went
through security and passport control, and took another bus to the gate area it
was almost time for our flight. We tried to make a quick stop in the Alitalia
lounge, but our Crown Room card did not give us the access we needed.
At the gate, we were told that the flight was weight restricted and they didn't
know if they would be able to board any stand-bys, but at the last minute, they
cleared all of us in business class.
It was our first time on the former NW A330 aircraft. It was very nice, with
extra large in-seat video screens and slightly more recline than other business
class seats we had experienced. After all of the pizza and pasta, we were happy
to get steak and chicken on the plane.
The line-up of movies was great, keeping us entertained during the 10 hour
flight. We saw the rest of "New Moon", "Blind Side", "Men Who Stare At Goats",
"Law Abiding Citizen", "Up in the Air" and the beginning of "Four Christmases".
It was a great trip, our first one with both of us away from our new
babies and we were surprised by how much we
missed them. A special thanks to our neighbors who took such good care of them
while we were gone.
Information For This Trip In A Nutshell