1st February – 7 February
While Dave was getting his haircut yesterday, he struck up a conversation with a young guy who was studying medicine in Rome and was home for holidays. After much talk about where we have been, he told Dave about a place called Tropea that sits on the Promontorio di Tropea which was not part of our original plan, but only a 60km detour so we decided to take a look. Along the way, we caught sight of Stromboli which juts dramatically out of the sea and is the only island whose smouldering cone is permanently active. Once parked, we had to climb 196 steps to reach the old town, however the views were more than worth it. From the top the coast alternates between dramatic cliffs and sandy beaches, all edged by translucent turquoise water, it was just beautiful. The old town was full of little laneways, lots of restaurants which in peak period would be bursting at the seams, but quiet now. We have a spot for the night by the water in a small bay near the marina and in the distance we can see what we think is Mt Vesuvius. A nice man who owned the bar on the beach came up to us and started talking with the loudest voice we have heard yet, and Italians do speak loudly! He was very friendly and showed us where we could get water from behind his bar if we need it. We are glad we took the detour.
The plan was to drive to the town of Pizzo and have a look around. The trip was pleasant enough with views across the ocean. Once parked we started our walk down to the town and decided we wouldn’t go any further as it didn’t look too inviting. We got back onto the free autostrada section for 35kms then the state road to the town of Paolo, passing lots of plantations that were being sown with new crops, we could even see snow capped mountains in the distance. The spiel in Lonely Planet wasn’t raving about the town but as it was in the direction we were heading, we decided to stop here and visit the Santuario di San Francesco di Paolo a curious, empty cave with tremendous significance to the devout. The saint lived and died in Paola in the 15th century and the sanctuary that he and his followers carved out of the bare rock has attracted pilgrims for centuries. The cloister is surrounded by wall paintings depicting the saint’s miracles. The original church contains an ornate reliquary of the saint. Also within the complex is a modern basilica, built to mark the second millennium and just outside the are the usual religious souvenir shops. We are parked nearby and have a balcony view over the town to the water.
After a morning spent doing the laundry, we continued on the SS18 towards Naples driving on what would have to be one of the many spectacular roads, scenery wise that we have travelled on in Italy. The road wound its way through a range of mountains, hugging the coast with views down to the water, a colour of the likes we have never seen before. Blue in colour, it appeared to be glowing, see the picture below and I promise you there has been absolutely no touching up of the colour. We saw high peaks with snow dusting the very tops and we have found a lovely wildcamp spot on the beach (again!) in a town called Policastro Bussentino which sits in a bay that looks back to the mountain range we drove through and what we have yet to tackle. We took a short stroll to the small marina which doesn’t look that old and has a few small boats moored. It is blissfully quiet here, so a good night sleep should be had by all!
On our walk yesterday around the marina, we found a closed restaurant that still had its unlocked wifi connected. As today was dismal with heavy rain, we decided to stay put and utilise the free fast internet by finally updating our blog posts which haven’t been done since the end of October! It took all of the morning to download about 100 pictures and upload them to our blog page. In between time we spoke to the kids via messenger, catching up on all of the family gossip. Dave did quite a lot of updating of our maps, Triposo etc and then backed everything up as well as taking a few short walks up the beach and into the little town here. It was good to get up to date with everything and tomorrow we move on.
Very overcast skies accompanied us on our travels today passed more mountains although we couldn’t see a lot. There is a warning out for some bad weather later today and tomorrow so we wanted to get settled before the forecasted storms hit. We stopped along the way at the town of Agropoli. Initially we were going to stay there overnight but after having a walk around, visiting the castle on the hill which overlooked the marina area and oceanfront, we decided to continue on. We passed more ladies on the roadside, some had lit fires in small bins to keep themselves warm. We arrived at the sports stadium which is about 7kms from Salerno and we will stay here tonight, see what the weather is like tomorrow and decide then whether to continue into Salerno or stay put.
The weather today was awful, seems the forecast was mostly correct. We had heavy rain most of the night and throughout the day, so not the day for driving into Salerno or along the Amalfi coast. We spent the day reading and watching the street ladies do their business from the carpark. It was surprising to see the number of cars that drove by, not sure if it was too look at us in our motorhome, or to check out the ladies. There was a shift change at lunchtime with the morning shift doing most of the business!
Blue skies helped us to decide that we wouldn’t bother with Salerno and make our way along the Amalfi coast. Not quite knowing what to expect we thought we may be able to stop along the way and stay for the night. Ha ha, joke is on us. Not only was there limited parking but the road was very windy and narrow for most of the way. Poor Dave had to concentrate so hard I’m sure he missed a lot of the beautiful scenery. Quaint little towns dotted the rugged coastline where villas cling precariously to unforgiving slopes and terraced cliffs planted with lemon trees sheer down into sparkling seas. We did manage to park Italian style (basically anywhere you want) to get some great photos of the towns of Amalfi and Positano. With the heavy rains of the past two days and rough seas, the water while still holding its lovely colour was quite murky in places. During our time in Italy, we have found that Italian drivers like to use the road, the whole road even on narrow stretches and don’t like to move over. We were extremely fortunate to finish that leg of our journey unscathed, although we did almost clean up one car and one bike! We stopped just outside of Sorrento and had lunch before we made a mad dash in for a quick look. We walked to one of the lookout points and we could see Naples and Vesuvius on the opposite side of the bay and down to Sorrento port. Back on the road and we ended a big day’s driving at a town called Castellammare Di Stabia where we will stay tonight before driving to Pompeii, just 8kms up the road.
8th February – 15th February
We had a huge day’s walking today, starting with a 2km walk to the entrance gate of Pompeii which was once a Roman port. The archeological site spreads over 66 hectares, 49 of which have already been excavated and I think we must have walked 30 of them! We started at the Amphitheatre, and as you would expect everything we have seen so far pales in comparison due to most of the building being intact. It is the oldest among those known in the Roman world. We saw a display of nuts, legumes and fruit that had been uncovered, all black but in perfect shape, hundreds of pots and water jugs. We saw an amazing number of houses adorned with colourful frescoes and mosaic tiles at the entrance. Some of the more wealthy homes had marble ponds in the entrance with skylights over the top and lots of water features and ponds in the gardens. Temples, gates, theatres and gladiator barracks were spread out around the compound, roads that were marked with deep ruts where carts had been driven along, amazingly intact, and we visited a brothel, where small paintings with erotic depictions on the walls of the central corridor informed customers of the activities that took place. We walked for around 4.5 hours through this amazing site passed so many buildings, many of which were almost complete in their structure, you could spend several days here to see it all. Our final site was the Garden of the Fugitives where 13 adults and children were found trying to find a way out and were stopped by the pyroclastic flow. It was a sombre sight, but one that is known world wide. 2000 people lost their lives on 24th August AD79 but the figure could have been much higher. 20000 lived in Pompeii however after an earthquake in AD63 a lot didn’t return. There is a bustling city now surrounding the old site, not sure I would want to live there!
The plan was for a nice drive, but when driving in Italy in a motorhome that is 7.6 metres long, sometimes it can be very stressful. It appears that Italians love changing the directions of their one way roads. We have been caught many times in the past few weeks where our maps.me has told us one direction but when we get to a certain point, we can’t go any further due to the street being one way in the opposite direction. Dave has driven through some very tight spaces and unfortunately today was one of those days when street directions were not as we thought. We did get the motorhome out unscathed (again) however we are both now decidedly more grey! We found a place to stay for the night with a view directly onto Mt Vesuvius and the remainder of the day was spent trying to reduce the stress levels.
Were we tempting fate by watching the movie Pompeii last night before hiking to the crater of Mt Vesuvius today? Towering over Naples and its environs, Mt Vesuvius (1281m) is the only active volcano on the European mainland. Since it exploded into history in AD 79, burying Pompeii and Herculaneum and pushing the coastline out several kilometres, it has erupted more than 30 times. The most devastating of these was in 1631, the most recent in 1944. Approximately 600,000 people live within 7km of the crater and despite incentives to relocate, few are willing to go. We had a short drive to the carpark on a clear and sunny morning where we donned our hiking boots, paid our entry and headed up a volcanic rock path to the top picking up a furry four legged friend along the way. The view from the rim down into the crater was amazing with holes and vents sprouting sulphurous steam. One side of the crater had a lot more steam activity than the other and it was this side that the lava flowed down to Pompeii over 1930 years ago. It was obvious from the top the direction some of the lava flows took, with deep gouges full of multicoloured lava. On some surfaces of the crater, rocks covered with a bright green moss embedded with a white fern type plant looked like ice crystals. The view out towards Sorrento, Pompeii and the huge city of Naples was just beautiful as was the sparkling waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was a great hike, steep as you would expect but not too difficult. From Vesuvius we detoured around Naples on the autostrada, the only route available and for €4.50 to our overnight stop 44kms away, we can sleep easy tonight. Just near where we are staying is the ruins of a Roman Amphitheatre which we had walk around the outside of, and walked to the ruins of Hadrian’s gate before returning home.
We had a small fireworks display last night. It’s amazing how many times we have seen fireworks in Italy, last nights was a private show that lasted about 5 minutes, but the kid in me gets just as excited. We walked into town this morning on another gloriously sunny day and there were lots of people out and about. We popped into the post office for some free wifi and as a treat, we booked a hotel for 3 nights in Rome. Normally we wouldn’t have splurged like that, but we haven’t paid for an aire since November, so we used that money. We spent the afternoon sitting in the sunshine, working out an itinerary for Rome and doing a spot of cleaning. Tomorrow we hit the road again.
After giving Tilly a bath, we had a nice drive around the craggy mountains and along the coast to the town of Sperlonga. We are parked with 7 other motorhomes and Dave struck up a conversation with a man from the UK who is living near Naples. When Dave mentioned that we had driven along the Amalfi coast, he advised us that motorhomes are not allowed and can get fined €500 if caught. Funny thing is we passed many police cars along the way but they didn’t seem interested in us, which is very lucky for us. After lunch we walked along the beach and up to the old town. Only very small, it afforded us views along the lovely sandy beach in both directions and the mountains behind. From town we walked to the southern end of the beach where there are ruins of Tiberius’ home and also his cave which was used as a bath house and is fed by one of the many springs in this area.
Our journey today of around 100kms took us to Castel Gandolfo, a hilltop medieval town with views over Lago Albano. The largest and most developed of the Castelli’s two volcanic lakes it is set in a steeply banked wooded crater and is over 500 metres deep. The only site of interest in Castel Gandolfo is the pope’s 17th century summer residence, the Palazzo Pontificio where he holds his regular weekly audiences in July and August but unfortunately it is closed to the public. It is another sunny day and we have found a spot for the night just back from the lakes’ edge. For the size of the town, there are a surprising number of people taking advantage of the weather and walking around the lake. Perhaps something we may look at in the morning.
14th February – Happy Valentines Day ❤❤❤🌹🌹🌹
After a cold night, we had more sun today so we decided to walk around the lake after breakfast. We had learnt that the lake was actually formed by two craters that became one lake after the sides of each crater collapsed when submerged under water about 70 metres below the surface. The path around the lake was about 12kms in length and bitumen in parts but mainly a dirt track through the forest area. It wasn’t a difficult walk by any means and the view across the lake back to Castel Gandolfo was just lovely. We had lunch before driving to our next overnight stop at the beach in a town called Passo Oscuro, 30kms west of Rome.
What started out as a lovely day with our drive to Tarquinia turned into a rather horrible one. After several days of having problems with our email account, we learnt today that Microsoft have locked our account and we cannot unlock it. Suffice to say we were really p….d off so instead of having a nice day walking around the town of Tarquinia, we spent three hours in the post office using their wifi, trying to sort it out. Not only can we not access our emails, but all of our folders within our email account and contacts have been lost! Whether it will affect our WordPress account we are still yet to learn. As the day progressed we found more and more things we couldn’t access so the next day or so will be spent trying to figure out what we have lost and whether we can retrieve it. By the time we had set up a new email account and sent a few emails, we were exhausted. Our original overnight spot ended up being quite busy so we decided to move to the beach. Along the way we saw about a dozen otters swimming in a small river near where what used to be salt lakes are. We have a really nice quiet spot overlooking the black sandy beach that is dark with iron, looks volcanic but it isn’t. Hoping for a better day tomorrow.
16th February – 21st February
We have been very fortunate since returning to mainland Italy from Sicily with the weather. While it has been cold some nights, the days have been warm and sunny with today being no different. A relaxing day was in order, however as we like to walk we decided to talk a stroll in the morning which ended up being a 10km round trip. We headed up the beach towards the small town that supports the beach huts and restaurants used in the summer. This 2km strip of beach is like all of the others, with paid beach chairs, umbrellas, showers etc. We left the beach and continued on to where the salt lakes used to be. In the 1800’s, they were the main source of income for the Papacy but bad weather saw the embankments washed away and market conditions changed. The area is now a nature reserve for birds and we saw a great number of pink flamingoes as well as ducks, black coots and egrets. We passed the river again with only a couple of the otters in the water, the remainder were sunning themselves. Back home for lunch which afterwards we spent a bit of time going over yesterday’s events, hopefully we have it all covered.
We had a short drive of 50kms to Viterbo where our future daughter in law Francesca’s mum lives and we plan to catch up with her tomorrow. We walked a kilometre to the train station and bought our tickets to Rome for Sunday. From there we wandered through town, surprised by the number of medieval buildings that are still standing, given Viterbo was heavily bombed during WWII. We visited the Chiesa Di Santa Rosa where her remains have been mummified and are housed in a glass case near the altar. After wandering around the lovely streets for an hour or so, we stopped in at a little pizzeria and had a nice lunch before coming home. More to explore tomorrow.
The first part of our day was spent walking around Viterbo again, this time walking along Via San Pellegrino, situated in the heart of the city’s well preserved medieval quarter and it was like turning the clock back hundreds of years with its low-slung arches and grey stone houses. There was also a small section of old wall that dates back to the Etruscan era. We visited the Papal palace, which served as the main papal residence from 1257 to 1281. We walked up the stairs to the graceful Gothic colonnade to peek into the Sala del Conclave, the hall where five popes were elected. From there it was off to the Saturday markets for a quick look before heading back. In the afternoon we met up with Francesca’s mum and had a lovely time. We spent a couple of hours at her house, chatting (with the help of google translate) before going out for dinner at a lovely restaurant about 12kms from Viterbo. We left the ordering to her and we sampled food that we would not have ordered ourselves, it was all delicious. She dropped us back at the motorhome and will drive us to the train station in the morning.
After saying our farewells to Titti this morning, we hopped on the train to Rome passing some lovely scenery along the way including what we think were the snow capped Appenine mountains in the distance. Two hours later we arrived at Roma Ostiense station where after coffee and a large glass of water before we left had us rushing to the bathroom. Imagine our horror when looking for some coins to pay for the toilet, we couldn’t find the wallet! We thought we had been pick pocketed. Dave lost every bit of colour in his face just thinking about notifying the banks of our stolen cards. After searching all of my pockets, we found it in Dave’s pocket, remembering that I had given it to him back in Viterbo. Crisis averted, we had our bathroom stop before getting on the metro to Termini station where we walked towards our hotel, near the Trevi fountain stopping for a bite to eat on the way. Everything about Rome is grand, from the beautiful buildings and churches, to the statues, fountains and piazzas. We passed the 3rd century Terme of Diocletian, the ruins now house the national museum and the Basilica Di Santa Maria Degli Angelica. This hulking Basilica occupies what was once the central hall of Diocletian’s baths complex and was originally designed by Michelangelo. On to the hotel, the room wasn’t ready so we left our bag, and ventured out visiting the Spanish steps and Piazza Di Spagna which gave us a great view towards the Vatican. Continuing on next stop was the Piazza del Popolo, heavily guarded by police and military where the guns were almost bigger than the soldiers. We walked to the Tiber river and down to Porto Cavour before working our way through the maze of streets back to our hotel. At dinner time, we ventured out again and had a lovely meal at a restaurant just down from the hotel. Great first day in Rome.
After a lovely breakfast we headed out on what was to be a big walking day. We visited so many of the popular sites, Roman Forum, Colosseum, Roman Circus, Pantheon and Piazza Navona (my favourite piazza) to name just a few. We were surprised by the number of tourists here given that peak season is still some months away and again saw many armed soldiers barricading the streets leading to the main attractions, a sign of the times unfortunately. We came back to the hotel mid afternoon and ventured out again for dinner to a small cafe near the hotel. Food was great, beer was cold, what more can you ask for in one of the best cities in the world.
It was Vatican day today. We got to the Vatican museum at 9.45am and were told by the touts that there was a 2 hour delay, however if we paid €33 each we could get straight in! Not on your life! We ended up waiting 75 minutes, which we thought wasn’t bad before we got to the ticket office and paid our €16 each entry. We spent over 2 hours wandering through the museum, passed many biblical paintings (as you would expect) and thoroughly enjoying the Egypt section which included an open sarcophagus with a mummy inside. The Sistine chapel of course was the highlight with the stunning paintings from Michelangelo including his ceiling frescoes and the Last Judgement. We then headed over to St Peter’s Basilica and got on the end of what we thought was the queue only to find that we had actually pushed in front of a group of young people who were too busy talking to move up. Oh well, we weren’t about to move so it probably saved us at least a wait of 30 minutes. After going through the heavy security, we made our way to the biggest and best Basilica of all time, Italy’s largest, richest and most spectacular. A monument to centuries of artistic genius, it contains some amazing works of art, including three of Italy’s most celebrated masterpieces: Michelangelo’s Pietà, his breathtaking dome, and dominating the centre of the basilica is Bernini’s 29m-high baldachin. Supported by four spiral columns and made with bronze taken from the Pantheon, it stands over the high altar, which itself sits on the site of St Peter’s grave. Excavations beneath the basilica have uncovered part of the original church and what the Vatican believes is the Tomb of St Peter. With very sore feet, we headed back to the hotel 6 hours after we started out. After 2 hours rest, we went out for dinner at another small restaurant nearby where on our last night in Rome we had a very nice dinner.