Amalfi Coast Walking Tour (and Rome)

Our first Exodus walking trip, onto which we tacked on another visit to Rome. April 20 to May 1, 2012.

The first part of our trip was an organized hiking tour by a company called Exodus. Jean had been curious to visit this area, and an organized tour seemed a good option, as it’s not the easiest place to navigate around yourself—dangerous twisty roads, but not that well-served by buses and trains. Exodus is a British company, but we booked through a Canadian reseller called The Adventure Centre. They booked us on the tour and booked our flights for us. They also arranged transportation from the Naples airport to our hotel in Bomerano (part of the tour).

And since we were heading to Italy and had felt, last time, that there was more to see in Rome, we decided to tack on a couple days visiting there as well. We booked that hotel ourselves, using points—which was nice, especially as accommodations seemed more expensive this time than last time we were there.

Having one part be organized and the other being a revisit, we didn’t feel compelled to do too much research before leaving, but we did do a little reading about the area, and brought along our 2008 Italy guidebooks for the Rome part.

Friday / Saturday: Getting there

We flew Alitalia, and had no major issues there. Our departing flight was slightly delayed (25 minutes) from the start, but even though we had to transfer in Rome, that wasn’t really an issue, because it still gave us enough time. We had left home around noon and after check-in and all, had lunch at a pub at the airport, which was actually pretty good: I had chicken masala curry and Jean had a Guinness burger.

The flight was early for a European flight, leaving around 4:45 PM. I didn’t get hung up on trying to sleep on the flight, given that time, but did manage to a little. They don’t give you your own movie screen, and the general one wasn’t a great viewing angle, so I mostly ignored that and did a lot of reading. I finished the Sisters Brothers book and a couple magazines. The dinner (chicken, fish) was adequate. The breakfast sandwich was kind of yucky—weird meat in it.

The transfer to Naples was odd because our flight was not on the departure board at all. And when we got to the gate it was supposed to be leaving from, it wasn’t listed there, either. We found someone at an Alitalia service desk who gave us a different gate. We found that one, but it still didn’t list our flight. We pretended to eBoard, and asked someone else, and both confirmed the gate, so we concluded it was right, despite the ongoing lack of posting information about it.

It was only about 20 minutes before departure that it actually did get get posted. And it was a mere 30 minute flight.

Our luggage arrived fine and we met Eduardo, our driver. The drive to our hotel was interesting. We saw bays, Vesuvius, Pompeii, and climbed up the mountain area to our hotel. There was a bit of confusion on arrival as we thought we had prepaid the drive, but we hadn’t. But they were pretty easy-going about that, and we did give the money later that day. (This was the start of realizing this was more of a cash than credit card area of Italy.)

They brought our heavy bags up to our room. The room itself wasn’t bad; a pretty good size for Europe. We unpacked everything, as we were staying a week. We had a note from our guide saying the rest of the group would arrive around 18:00.

We decided to have some lunch before napping, at the hotel restaurant. We shared mussels to start; those were very fresh and good, though a number were not opened. Then I had gnocchi in tomato sauce with mozzarella. More “baked” than I was expecting, so a bit heavier, and the top gnocchi dried out some. But still pretty good.

Jean had the seafood pasta with mussels and littleneck clams. He enjoyed them except for finding them a bit salty. We also had the house red, which was good.

Then, nap time. We planned to nap 2 hours but were foiled by the alarm not going off. Fortunately our guide called around 6:00 to wake us. We got ourselves together and joined the group. The rest were all from the UK, and had arrived on the same flight from London, which was only 2.5 hours. Jean and I sat at different tables to meet the people. Not that either of us were that talkative this day, with the jet lag.

We had a little break before dinner so we went for a walk in town, which was nice. The weather, though rain predicted, was better than that, with a fair amount of sun breaking through. Apparently all the previous week the weather had been terrible. (We were to hear more about that from our guide.)

We then had our first dinner at the hotel. (With the tour, all breakfasts and most dinners were at our hotel, Hotel Due Torri.) It started with a several plates of appetizers: pumpkin, sun dried tomatoes, onions, artichokes, bruschetta, anchovies, salmon, mozzarella, smoked cheese, luncheon meats, … They just kept coming, and it was all really good. Next was a plate of pasta in tomato sauce with some peas, that was fortunately pretty small and light (for pasta). And dessert was some fruit, which was also suitable. Jean tried a delicious cappuccino, but I stuck with tea for today. Back to coffee tomorrow.

Alcohol was not included in our tour. The wine system was 2 Euro for one glass, then 5 Euro for two or more. Interesting. They had carafes of wine on the table, and reporting on drinking was basically on the honour system. We filled in a form reporting our drinks each day.

Finally, we found that they did have room wifi, but you had to get a login, and the code worked only on one device at a time. Since we both wanted to look at our respective tablets at the same time, we resolved to get a second code the next day.

Sunday: Hike from Bomerano to Amalfi

Our first breakfast revealed a pretty nice assortment: boiled eggs, cereal, chocolatine, yogurt, etc. And, we would find, there was usually some special extra each day, like omelets or fresh mozzarella. So the only problem was the coffee. Even though they had a proper cappuccino maker, we had to get coffee from a machine in the morning. And it just wasn’t very good. Of course, I still had some each day, as I’m addicted, but it’s just wrong to be drinking bad lattes in Italy!

Orientation was at 9:00. Our guide, Albert, gave a general overview of the trip. The day was quite foggy, so he decided that we should reverse the normal first and second day activities. So instead of walking up a mountain in the fog, we’d walk down stairs toward Amalfi, and hopefully end up below the fog.

We reconvened at 9:45 to start. This is the official description of the walk:

Today certainly has a downhill bias as we follow the path down from Bomerano at 700m to the shores of the Mediterranean and the town of Amalfi. Wonderful views of the Amalfi Coast accompany us as we follow the trail. There are sections of steps today.

With the thick fog, though, for most of the walk down, we couldn’t see views. And as for the “section of stairs”: It was really a lot of stairs. Approximately 2700, he told us at the end. My knees ended up shaky, which appeared to be a common complaint. More worrisome was that Jean got a bit of a flare-up of his knee injury.

We had one pit stop at a tobacco shop, where we bought little things in exchange for using the loo. The day also started to clear up at that point. By the time of our lunch time stop in a park, the sun came out. Lunches were provided by the hotel, and consisted of good sandwiches (we selected the same kind all week—pecorino cheese), fruit, and a piece of cake.

For our final descent into Amalfi, we had views! We got there around 2:15, which our guide said was pretty good time.

Many stairs leading down to the water

We then got a bit of a tour of the small village, with option to leave at either 3:20 or 4:50, by bus. Several of us decided our first stop would be a cafe. Jean and I had lattes (good ones!). Some others had beer that came in surprisingly big glasses.

We and everyone else ended up selecting the later bus for departure. All we did in Amalfi was walk around a bit. The only items purchased were a couple toiletry things at a pharmacy.

Church in Amalfi
Church in Amalfi

On the bus ride back we were able to see where we had walked in the foggy morning, and it was pretty impressive. Seemed a long way.

Before our dinner, we met in the kitchen, where we got a demo of the day’s meal being prepared, which was fun. The chef made his own pasta in the machine (which also did the rolling and cutting), and prepared the sauce of mussels and clams that Jean had had on the first day. Startling amount of olive oil in the sauce!

Group assembled around mussels

While waiting we were offered some cheese with pear jam, and a glass of prosecco.

Next he revealed that the main course was sea bream, which was a bit of a worry for me, as when I’d had it in Portugal, I seemed to have a bit of an allergic reaction. Anyway. The fish looked nice, and was simply baked with olive oil and water, tomatoes, salt, and parsley.

Chef with prepared sea bream

Dessert was tiramisu, which we all got to participate in the tasting of.

Chefs with tiramisu

Then we sat down to eat everything, which was quite nice. For the main course, I ate the potatoes and salad first, then just pecked at the sea bream to see what would happen. In the end I didn’t eat that much of it, but probably enough to cause an allergic reaction if I was going to have one. Which I didn’t. So good to know!

Monday: Hike up Monte Tre Calli

The next day started off sunny, which was nice. We took off at 9:30 for a hike up a mountain called Monte Tre Calli. (All except one woman in our group, who had come down with food poisoning, and her partner, who stayed with her. And now I feel obliged to add that the two of them were joking about eating mussels that weren’t open very wide. Never eat mussels that aren’t open very wide!)

The description of the hike:

Following a mixture of paths and tracks we ascend to the top of Monte Tre Calli, where we are rewarded with spectacular wide-open views of the coastline and the sea.

The hike started right in the village, allowing us to see a bit more of that. Then it was stairs again, but this time going up. Jean and I both had sore quads and calves, so that was a challenge, but they did seem to loosen up as we moved. Jean had also taped his knee, and that seemed to help quite a bit.

The climb was fairly steady, but also pretty gradual (500m elevation). Some stairs were of varying quality and heights, including a long sequence of flat rocks. We had good views on the way up, and it actually got pretty warm in the sun. At the very top, we could also see Bomerano on one side, and Positano on the other, which was cool.

And right then a big fog and wind blew in, completely changing the weather in a hurry. We still climbed to the very top of the mountain, despite now muted views, but we didn’t lunch there as it was now too windy.

Mountain top view of clouds rolling in
On top of the mountain as the fog rolls in

So we continued on a little further instead, around the other side of the mountain, and we did get a view of some islands, including Capri, at one point. We found a fairly sheltered spot for lunch.

The way down started on roads, then became a section of loose rocks. That was probably the most challenging part of this hike. We saw effects of logging, which rerouted the trail at one point.

Past the rocks and logs, we reached a road again, which was easier. Then we gathered and were given the intriguing information that we were going somewhere that Edward (our guide) had never been, but that might contain a nice surprise. We went through a gate and down some stairs through a field. At the bottom was a picnic area, where a local cafe owner had left us four bottles of homemade wine. So we sat and drank that, which was nice, despite the clouds.

Drinking wine in the mountains
A pause for some wine

We then went back up to the roads and continued until we reached the same steps we had started on. At this point, it started to rain, with increasing intensity. A lot of us had umbrellas, which helped. We also picked up the pace as we could. We wound up at the cafe, Crazy Burger, who had supplied our earlier wine. We ordered various drinks while he brought out pizza and other appetizers. Everything was really good—Jean’s red wine, my latte, the hot chocolate (real chocolate, more like melted pudding), and the pizza.

Edward mentioned that despite today’s rain, we were still doing better than last week’s group, who’d had nothing but heavy rain, fog, and cold all week.

We were back at our hotel around 4:00, leading to a pretty mellow afternoon, as we didn’t gather again until 7:00 for the next day’s briefing, then dinner. Dinner was quite good again, with minestrone to start, then ricotta ravioli, then pork chops with Swiss chard and salad. And strawberries for dessert. Which Jean ate, and which didn’t set off any allergic reaction in him, either.

Tuesday: Pompeii and Vesuvius

This was an earlier start, 8:30, with bus to Pompeii. (Legs were really sore this morning, after two days of stairs. Had difficulty with the littler stairs at the hotel.) It was a sunny morning and stayed so throughout our Pompeii visit.

Walking the streets of Pompeii

We had a guide to take us through the ruined city of Pompeii. It was a large site, with mostly original buildings, but some restorations, such as fake statues replacing the originals that are now in museums. The ampitheatre was also partly restored (with materials that don’t look original), and is still used for concerts today.

Amphitheatre in Pompeii
The partly restored, partly original ampitheatre

We also saw a coliseum; a brothel with a picture menu above each bedroom; remains of shops and houses; casts made from the body impressions left in the rock, sometimes along with original teeth or skull; a temple; men’s baths; women’s baths; and a bakery.

Cast of victim of Pompeii eruption
One of the slightly freaky casts of victims of the eruption at Pompeii

We had lunch at the cafeteria there, which wasn’t bad. I also borrowed some sunscreen to slather on.

We then walked the length of Pompeii to get a sense of its size, and realized that we really hadn’t seen that much of it in our two-hour tour. This part included a view of the gladiator’s arena.

Then we boarded the bus again to head to Vesuvius. The plan there was to walk to the summit and down into the volcano to see the fumar up close. When we got there, however, we learned there was a strike by park workers whose hours were getting cut. The strikers had installed themselves in the volcano, and were preventing people from walking all the way around. So we would be walking an alternate route.

The clouds decided to move in at this point, covering up the landscape much of the time. We could still see inside the volcano, though. The first part of the path was a big climb up I wasn’t sure I’d survive, as my calves are complaining so much. But it got less steep as we went, and my calves warmed up.

We had a guide for this part as well, who pointed out the volcanic rock about (it’s shiny!) and explained that the volcano is actually underground; the mountains are the result of volcanic activity, and have changed over time. He also explained how Vesuvius is monitored for possible eruptions, but it’s tricky, as so many people live nearby. You’d need to give enough time for them all to get out, but you don’t want to be wrong and move so many people for nothing.

Guide on Vesuvius mountain

Vesuvius was pretty crowded, which made the visit a challenge, but eventually we got past where the bulk of the people were. The guide pointed out there used to be a funicular here, but when that stopped working, they decided on simply making people walk up.

We did an echo experiment into the volcano. It sounded like a bunch of people on the other side shouting back at us.

Since we weren’t allowed to walk all the way around, at one point we had to head back down. Our guide encouraged us to try “skiing” down the loose rocks beside the path instead of taking the path all the way. Once you got the hang of it, it was kind of fun.

Then we had a bus trip back to the hotel, for around 5:00. At the briefing, we tried limoncello, which was stronger than I remembered. Maybe there are different types.

Dinner was pizza night, following a huge appetizer serving of melon and prosciutto. Various pizzas (and olives) were brought out: margarita, arugula (quite good, that one), ham. Then we went into the kitchen again to see how the pizza is made in the wood burning oven. It cooks really quickly in there. One in our group was recruited to try making one. He declared pizza dough tossing difficult, but pizza dressing easy.

Then we ate more pizza, including an anchovy one. Dessert was delicious hazelnut ice cream.

Wednesday: Valle delle Ferriere National Park Walk

It was a bit easier to get up this morning, and the leg muscles weren’t quite as sore, thank goodness. On the agenda today was another walk to Amalfi, but one of a completely different character. The description was:

Not too many steps as we maintain our height today and walk through the meadows and chestnut groves in a protected park. The bustle of Amalfi is only a few miles away, but high above the throng we have a chance to savour the quieter, more rural surroundings.

We started by bus at 8:30, minus one person who had food poisoning symptoms (the other half of the mussel couple) and another who had to stay behind for a phone interview.

This trail actually started with us going up a long flight of stairs, but then we leveled off into woods. The walk was indeed very different from the other Amalfi one. Seemed a bit more Canadian, really, as it was all through parkland, with flowers, streams, and trees.

Forest in Valle delle Ferriere National Park

It was more level overall, though, so was less of an aerobic challenge than the others (though it was longer), but I did find the terrain challenging at times. Some parts were water-covered, others muddy, but those weren’t really the problem: it was the rocky bits. I’m just not the greatest at walking on rocks, always concerned I’m going to twist an ankle or something. One part was actually along a thin ledge, so the guide had me and another woman come to the front so he could help us through it. I did manage everything with no vertigo, no falls or scraps; I just wasn’t fast.

Rocky path

(I didn’t get too much help from Jean, as he was assisting an older lady. Which was fine. And very sweet of him. And, those of us with walking sticks were grateful to have them for this part.)

The wildlife preserve section of the trail led to a series of high waterfalls in a gorge that were really gorgeous. And that’s where we had our sandwich lunch. Weather wise, it was a beautiful sunny day all day long.

View of trees and sky

The last part of the trail continued much as the rest, except that it became much busier than any trail we’d been on as we got closer to Amalfi. The guide said it was busier than usual, possibly because it was a public holiday in Italy. We had a few people walking in the opposite direction asking how far the waterfalls were. Obviously that’s the big draw.

The last bit was described as an “amble” into Amalfi. It actually involved some stairs, but that was OK.

In Amalfi, we once again made the cafe our first stop, once again with others of our group.

One trio decided to walk back from Amalfi instead of taking the bus—up all those stairs we went down the first day! Jean and I were not the least bit tempted to join them. (And let’s ignore the fact that they were much older than us, but clearer in much better shape.)

Amalfi beach scene
Amalfi beach

While in Amalfi, we withdrew more money from the ATM, as Bomerano didn’t have one of those, and we were realizing this was more of a cash vacation than we were used to. And Jean took some more pictures, but we decided to head back on the earlier (3:30) bus. Some of the others joined us. We early birds benefited from hot water for showers; the hotel’s solar system (which was neat) caused some issues for the later arrivals. But that got sorted out. Though there was also a brief power outage.

In the bar before dinner, we were treated to drinks by the lady Jean had helped, and I discovered that they don’t really know what a white wine spritzer is in Italy (at least in this part of it). Jean was brighter and had prosecco.

Dinner started with pasta, cheese, and tomato. The next course was a mushroom risotto, which was very nice. Then we had roast chicken, fried potatoes, and salad. Dessert was mascarpone (I think) in a rose shape with a raspberry (or blackberry) sauce.

Thursday: Herculeum and Revello

Today was our “free day”, but we’d decided to sign up for a tour of Herculeum in the morning and Revello in the afternoon. We had originally been thinking Capri, but our tour guide had warned us that boat connections were uncertain this time of year, and that it was always really crowded. This made the other options seem more appealing.

We started the day with a bus ride to Herculeum. There we were greeted by the same guide who had led us through Pompeii. Herculeum is another city destroyed by the Vesuvius eruption, but in a different way. Where the citizens of Pompeii were suffocated, those in Herculeum were buried under mud. The mud hardened to rock, which preserved the city quite well, but it was an enormous effort to excavate. In fact, a lot of it isn’t uncovered, and remains hidden under a modern city. Must be periodically weird for the people living there, thinking what lies beneath their houses.

Herculeum site

The available area to tour is therefore much smaller than Pompeii, but features much more intact buildings and streets.

Herculeum streets

The city seems to have been more of place of business and family-raising—not as debauched as Pompeii. It was an interesting visit.

Me in Herculeum
Look at me! I’m a painting!

Our visit there finished at noon, and then we were back on the bus to get to Revello. We had spectacular scenery on the way, which Jean slept through some of. Weather was just a perfect—not a single cloud, not too warm, very clear views.

When we got to Revello, our bus driver started somewhat herding us all toward a place for sandwiches and salads, but Jean and I had been thinking maybe something fancier. (We would.) So while the rest of the group was agreeing that just a “small lunch” would be perfect, Jean piped in that we wanted “a big lunch!”, which everyone found amusing.

It turned out that the sandwich place had a sit-down restaurant below, so that’s where we went, for what would turn out to be the most expensive meal of trip (though it wasn’t crazy expensive, or anything). It was really a lovely meal of caprese salad, seafood linguine, sea bass, and a bit of wine. Later we heard that the lunch crowd got some rather slow and poor service at the sandwich place, so I think we did well.

Lunch in Revello
Lunching in Revello

The main thing to visit in Revello (a generally lovely place) is this “garden”. This gave us visions of a place like Buchard Gardens in Victoria, but it wasn’t like that at all. It really wasn’t much about plants and flowers as the landscape, the views.

Revello garden
Although I guess this section is pretty garden-y

There were also quite a few statues. It was a very enjoyable visit.

Statues in Revello garden

Then we bused back to our hotel.

Dinner was also “free”, but the whole group decided to go to a nearby restaurant. We didn’t have a reservation, but the restaurant didn’t have trouble managing our big group—even though they also had one other large group that night. The waiter was really terrific.

The menu was all in Italian, which weren’t quite used to on this British tour, but we managed it. I had a mushroom ravioli, while Jean had really nice gnochi in tomato sauce. During the meal, we somehow got on the subject of Bob Geldof, who someone on the trip had just seen in concert. She went in knowing only “I Don’t Like Mondays” and came out completely won over. “He was charming, and he doesn’t just play punk music…” I know!

Friday: Walk of the Gods

Friday was predicted to be quite warm and sunny for this walk with views, so I wore a yoga top (and later changed my pants into long shorts), which was about right. And I did put on sunscreen, though it would turn out that SPF 15 wasn’t quite enough. We managed with just one backpack this (but two bottles of water), which Jean was nice enough to carry.

We actually started with cheese, though. Specifically, a bus ride to a mozzarella cheese shop where we saw how it was made. (Saw but didn’t hear, as they didn’t speak much English.) We then sampled the ultra-fresh mozzarella, along with some ricotta. Both very good.

We then walked through the village, picked up our lunches, and headed to the trail head.

Walk of the Gods is a lovely name, and apt for such a great trail, but it started really just as a donkey road. And is still used as such.

Donkey on trail
Hey ho and away we go, donkey riding, donkey riding…

But people definitely outnumber donkeys on it now. It was the busiest trail we did, though not to the point of being annoying. We met the Explore group again (who had become quite separated) and some other Canadians. The trail is described as follows:

The route follows the contours of the land for the majority of the day with amazing views of the Amalfi Coastline. In season the hillside is carpeted with flowers and the coastal waters teem with cruisers and pleasure boats.

Walk of the Gods trail
View on the Walk of the Gods

Though it started with a climb, most of the trail had more of a downward incline, making it less rigorous than some others we did, and the beautiful views were constant. I’m not sure if it was because of the heat or what, but we also seemed to take it more easy, with a morning break, lunch stop, and afternoon stop at a pub. On one these stops (I think lunch) we saw a whole herd of goats cross the trail, which was kind of cool. A lot of kids (as in young goats) were part of the herd.

Goats on trail
Seeing the trail residents

At the afternoon stop, we were sitting in a square with a lot of cats. And I had fresh lemon juice—no sugar! Quite refreshing.

The last part of the trail brought us into Positano, “an almost vertical town of colourful buildings reached by a network of ancient paths and tracks.” There were quite a few stairs on the final leg.

View of Positano
Walking to Positano

Positano was quite a nice beach town. By this time I had more of red glow to my skin than I liked, though, so I was seeking something to cover up with as a priority. This proved harder to find than I’d expected (given the many clothing shops), but I did finally buy a camisole and matching blue cotton jacket, the jacket being key. Later we had an expensive ice tea at a seaside cafe, and I also bought some expensive SPF 30 sunscreen.

Positano beach
Positano beach view

To get back to Amalfi, we took a boat, sitting on top. It was nice, but I was glad to be covered, as that was more sun time! Then from there we were bused back to the hotel.

Our final dinner wasn’t anything super special, but we did meet all the staff, and give a group tip. And got some prosecco. The special dessert was a rum cake that was very rummy. We sat with our guide, who was quite an interesting guy. Then it was packing for the next day’s departure.

Saturday: Getting to Rome

We had figured out that transportation to Naples airport was included in our tour package, so we joined everyone on the bus to the airport at 9:00, even though we weren’t flying out yet. Our guide had told us we could take an “Ali-bus” from the airport to the Naples train station. That all went pretty smoothly. The train station was the first stop, and though it wasn’t immediately evident due to construction, we quickly figured out how to walk there.

At the train station, we encountered a challenge. Despite repeated attempts, we simply could not purchase tickets from the machine. Others seemed to be having similar difficulties. Finally we figured we had to get in the ticket lineup. There were two lines, but an English-speaking tourist noticed my confusion and explained that one was for high-speed trains, which we wanted, and the other for regular trains.

For high-speed trains, we needed to take a number. There were six options for numbers, all in Italian, so I took a guess that “buy a ticket” was the first one. Then we waited. All the transactions ahead of us seemed deadly slow, and it was 25 minutes before we got to the counter. But our ticket purchase was really quick. And we headed immediately to the train, due to leave soon.

There we realized we weren’t sitting beside or across from each other, but diagonally. But a nice American across for me traded seats with Jean. We talked to him for a while. He was from Washington DC and had come to Italy to get married, and was now touring around. For some reason his fiancee didn’t get seated with him (though they must have bought tickets before Jean and I?). He gave us his impression of Capri (expensive, and quiet once the boats leave) and Naples (graffiti city!). And some tips on visiting Washington DC, where he was from.

The train took just over an hour, and our hotel wasn’t far from the station. We found it without too much trouble. Not bad—nice lobby, decent size room. Small shower again, though, and no functioning air conditioning, with 28 C as the day’s high. But the windows did open (no screen). And it had free wireless, though the guy at the desk didn’t seem to know that. (He gave us a day’s password, which we didn’t need.)

It was by now lunch time, and we dined at a place nearby called Transit. We shared a nice cheese platter to start, then I had delicious ricotta and pear ravioli with truffles. Jean had good gnocchi.

Following our Rick Steeve’s guide, we then did the Dolce Vita stroll, though in reverse order. We started at the Trevi Fountain, which we hadn’t seen last time we were in Rome. And we discovered that there were an awful lot of people in Rome this weekend.

Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain

We then visited a Piazza where you could climb up and see views of the Forum and Coliseum, though we decided not to pay to go up the tower. The Piazza was somewhat busy; the Coliseum area was just a huge swarm of people.

Piazza view
Viewing the Forum from above

We continued on through the shopping district, much of it quite crowded, though we’d occasionally take quieter side streets. At one point we found a street full of artists and galleries that was lovely. We eventually made it to the Pantheon (we didn’t go in this time) and the Spanish steps, which we’d also missed last time. Near here we stopped off for a drink and a gelato / tartuffo that was quite good.

Spanish steps full of people
The Spanish steps were a little crowded

We then went back to the hotel, though we kept getting lost on the way, for some reason. I didn’t really have sore muscles by this point, but my feet were kind of a mess. Both big toes really sore, with some athlete’s foot developing. Yuck. And it was quite warm. I think Rome was making us both a little grumpy at this point.

But we did leave again, for a late dinner (around 8:45). We went back to Transit, which was much more crowded than at lunch, and Jean ordered my lunch item, as he’d liked it so much. I had well-prepared tuna with vegetables.

Sunday: First full day in Rome

It was nice not having to start at a particular time in the morning, and the very dark room made it easy to sleep. Breakfast was included with our room, and it was pretty good. Although it too had a coffee machine, it produced better results than the Bomerano one.

So it wasn’t until about 10:45 (!) that we got going, aiming for the nearby National Museum, which we hadn’t visited previously. We started at the top floor and worked our way down. The top floor was mosaics and frescoes that had been found at various architectural sites, then reassembled in this location. I found it pretty interesting, but Jean was a bit bored by it.

The first and ground floors featured statues, some of which were pretty spectacular. They were ancient, though, so were often missing noses, arms, and penises. Jean liked these floors more than the top one.

Ancient statues
Even with missing parts, the sculptures were impressive

In the basement were some coins, jewels, and maps. We didn’t spend too much time there, but had a look.

Next we went into a nearby church that, I think, had been built over ancient baths. Not the most ornate we had ever seen (much competition for that title), but it was pretty impressive anyway. It also had a nice courtyard and such.

Church organ
A “routinely” amazing church in Rome

We then decided to have lunch, and to find a new restaurant. That took slightly longer than expected, but we finally selected a cafe. We shared a pizza with olives, prosciutto, and eggs. And mozzarella, of course. It was pretty good. We just drank bubbly water. Jean had a sweetened iced coffee afterward that was quite good, and I had a latte.

Then we were went to check out a crypt with arranged monk’s bones (more on this later), but there was something of a lineup. We realized that was because it had just reopened after a lunch break, but still didn’t feel inclined to join the crowd.

So, instead we walked over to the Villa Borghese. It was fairly crowded here, especially at the start, with a lot of people renting bikes, golf carts, even Segways. But we just walked. Nice to see this park not in the rain. (It was rainy here last time we were in Rome.) The day was cooler than the previous day, which was appreciated, and it was precipitation-free.

Whereas last time we had visited the amazing Borghese, this time we headed toward the Museum of Modern Art. You weren’t supposed to take pictures in there, but we snuck in a few. (And we weren’t the only ones.) Most impressive, probably, were the not especially modern paintings and sculpture. Within the more modern material, they had a whole section of optical illusion art that was really neat. “Paintings” featuring moving parts, and entire installations with lights that created optical effects. There were warnings about seizure risk all the way through that section.

Gorgeous statue
What you can’t quite tell from this photo is how large this sculpture was. Very impressive.

Overall, a really nice museum to visit, not too huge.

We then went back for to the hotel for a break before dinner. We contemplated taking the metro, but ended up just walking—it wasn’t that far. Apart from the more comfortable weather, there also seemed to be fewer crowds to deal with, which all made Rome more enjoyable today than it had been the previous day.

On the way out to dinner, I finally spotted a 24-hour pharmacy. (Most are closed Sundays.) I looked for athlete’s foot cream, but you have to ask for it. Fortunately, one of the clerks spoke English, as I hadn’t been smart enough to look up the Italian for “foot fungus”!

It was about 7:45 at this point, and a lot of the restaurants were filling up. We weren’t able to sit on the patio at the place we chose, but we did find a spot inside. They offered three types of house red, and we picked a Sangiovese. It was nice. I had the porcini mushroom risotto, which wasn’t quite as good as it should have been, due to slightly undercooked rice. Jean had a rigatoni that was more successful. I also had grilled veg and salad; Jean had a bacon spinach salad. We had a heck of an time ordering dessert as the place was full by then, and the waiter was run off his feet. But we managed, with creme caramel (though I wanted mille feuille, but they were out), which was less creamy than the French one usually is, but good. Jean had strawberries.

Monday: Second full day in Rome

We were up and out a little earlier this day. We first went to the train station where we got tickets for the airport train the next day, and a metro pass each. Then we took the metro to the crypt we’d skipped the day before.

We weren’t allowed to take photos in there, but it was really interesting—and just 1 euro each! Not like anything I’d ever seen before. The bones of 4000 monks were arranged all over ceilings, as light fixtures, in piles, in tableaux… How do you even think of something like that?

Monk's bones
A picture cribbed from the Internet

We then metro’d to the Vatican area. The metro was crazy busy. On the first train we tried to get in, Jean made it and I didn’t, so he jumped back off, but not without a bruise! We later noticed there is a button you can push in such instances.

Anyway, we did both get on the next train. We headed to a lunch spot first, one recommended by Rick Steeve’s. We sat on the patio where we had a good view of the many people walking by, and the long line of people waiting for the Vatican Museum. The idea was to assess the crowd and decide if we wanted to visit the Vatican again, after lunch, when it was apparently least busy.

But Mondays are popular there (because that’s a day many other museums are closed), and it didn’t really seem the line was diminishing much. We pretty much concluded that we weren’t going to go in. But as we left to walk over to St Peter’s Square, then we saw how long the line really was. It was crazy! The line for St Peter’s Basilica was only slightly less ridiculous. Hard to believe we had just walked right in the last time we were here (in November).

So we went to see a notable bridge in the area, then decided to walk to the Jewish Quarter to visit the Synagogue. (Another museum open on Monday.) The Synagogue was pretty heavily guarded (for a tourist site, though it’s also a working synagogue). On the tour we found out that was because they’d had a bomb scare here a few years ago, in which a child had died. Cheery, huh.

Inside we were given a tour of the two synagogues on this site, a small one and a bigger, more impressive one. No photos allowed in either case. Our guide (who had sort of a Yiddish/Italian accent that Jean struggled with) also gave us a bit of the history of the Jews of the area, which was pretty grim. I had no idea they’d been persecuted for so long, largely under former Popes’ directions. The ghetto area they were restricted to was fairly small and frequently flooded. They were only allowed one synagogue building, so they put five areas of worship inside. But that building burnt down. The later one was built after liberation. Then came the Nazi era, which killed most of the captured Jews here (in Auschwitz; only 16 survived), but the new synagogue was not destroyed. They just stole treasures.

We looked around the museum area after that, and then headed into nearby Trastavere. On the way we came across these interesting ruins that we took some photos of.

Excavated ruins
Note the more modern building right above the excavated one

In Trastavere, we mostly just walked around. It’s an interesting area, and it was a nice day again. We had a drink break, then a somewhat enforced supper break—I had to pee. But with the earlier dinner, but we got a seat outside. I had a Tuscany wine (Jean was abstaining today) and really great gnocchi served with smoked cheese (so-so) and truffles. Jean had a cheese platter to start, then ravioli with truffles. We looked at the dessert menu, but we were too full.

A piazza in Trastevere

Then we walked to a metro, which was pretty far—the coliseum. But at least we saw that area again, and Jean got some nice photos.

Forum at night
An impressive night photo of the Forum

It was pretty busy again, with what looked like student tours. The metro was much less busy at this time, but it was debatable whether we really saved time taking that over walking all the way. Rome is surprisingly compact.

Tuesday: The return trip

Tuesday was really just a travel day. We had to be out early, but not crazy early. We had no trouble locating our train to the airport, figuring out how to get to our terminal, and checking in. We were almost surprised how well all that went.

Then we had time for airport breakfast, and then it was just waiting for our flight, which was on time.

The only remaining unpleasantness was that at one point we were all kicked out of our waiting area and had to go through a second security check. It was very strange; never had that before.

For some passengers, it was more than strange. As part of this second check, everyone’s carry-on was weighed. Jean’s and mine were nowhere near the weight limit for carry-on, so no issues, but a number of people were over. And they were told they had to remove some stuff to leave behind! Boy, were they angry. Not that I blame them, really. I don’t know if they had an opportunity to get their discarded stuff mailed to them, or what.

But apart from that, the flight itself was fine. I did sleep a bit, and read a lot. On arrival, it was one of the fastest passport control checks we’d ever had in Toronto, then no issues in getting the luggage or transport back to our car parking. And the drive home was pretty smooth, too. So really no complaints about journey’s end.

Also see:

And Planning a trip to Italy in two weeks.