Tag: Italy

A December city break: Rome at Christmas

Close up of the Colosseum with text saying Rome at Christmas

I can’t believe it’s a year since we were in Rome for my birthday! Weirdly, Rome at Christmas isn’t that Christmassy. More to the point, that’s why I chose it!

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still quite clearly Christmas in the city, There are fairy lights in the streets, big trees in large piazzas and decorations in shop windows and restaurants. It’s more that the sole focus isn’t Christmas, if that makes sense? Some cities are renowned for being Christmas destinations, with markets and winter wonderlands and the like. While that’s absolutely wonderful, and I do love a Christmas destination, I wanted my birthday to be more about my birthday than celebrating Christmas.

Clear as mud, right?

I suppose what I’m saying is, if you were looking for a Christmas getaway to give you all the Christmas feels, then Rome probably isn’t it. If you’re looking for a winter break with a healthy smattering of Christmas and loads to do, see and eat, Rome is perfect.

Now I’ve got that straight (!!) here are some Christmas pictures we took around the city during our 4 days. There are trees, street decorations, fairy lights and garlands. And seeing these make me want to go back!

Did you see my other posts about Rome?

Rome part 1

Vatican Museums and St Peter’s Basilica

Colosseum and Roman Forum

Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and Spanish Steps

Where we stayed and ate in Rome

I cannot wait to go back to this beautiful city! Next time I’d go when it was slightly warmer but not high season to be able to take advantage of lighter nights and outdoor cafes. Perhaps May or late September. That said, I would definitely recommend a visit in December, because the city isn’t too busy and hotel rates are reasonable.

Have you ever been to Rome?

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Rome – where we stayed and where we ate

It’s my final post about Rome, promise (until I go back again – which I most definitely will). I thought I’d do a quick round up of the more practical things – sleeping and eating!

Hotel Antica Dimora delle Cinque Lune
This hotel was marvellous; situated on the top 3 floors of a 6 story building, I can’t honestly remember how or why we chose it (which is unusual for me) but it ticked the boxes in terms of location (5 minutes one way to Piazza Navona, and 5 minutes the other way to the bridges crossing the River Tiber for the Vatican City) and quirkiness (the room was very gothic).

The lobby area on our floor had an opulent lounge area.

And the wooden shutters in our bedroom opened up on to candy coloured buildings and pavement cafes.

Breakfast was served on the roof with views across the city.

Hotel Antica Dimora del Cinque Lune Rome breakfast terrace view

Breakfast was standard continental fare – pastries, yoghurts, fruit, boiled eggs, cooked meats and pizza slices (when in Rome!). The staff were super helpful; storing our bags before check in and after check out so we could make the most of our time in the city, supplying maps and recommendations and generally just being really friendly and approachable. I’d recommend it to anyone visiting Rome.

Caffe Bianco

Caffe Bianco RomeOur first meal in Rome was at a little bistro near Piazza Navona, where we ate bruschetta and pasta with a glass of wine for just 12 euros each (our expenditure on food increased massively after this point!) We sat outside under patio heaters and watched the world go by and it was lovely. It is possible to eat cheaply in Rome, contrary to my expectations, but with it being my birthday trip we splashed out on some nicer places which made the break more expensive than it could have been.

433 restaurant

433 restaurant RomeWe spotted this place whilst wondering back to our hotel on our first evening, and said immediately we’d go back there to eat. It was all lit up with fairy lights, had warm welcoming patio heaters outside and just looked so quaint and pretty, plus the menu ad us drooling before we’d even got through the door! This is up there as one of my most memorable restaurant experiences ever; we sat tucked in a corner by the window, drinking chianti, and had the most incredible steak wrapped in bacon and truffle. It was PHENOMENAL.

Caffe Sant Anna

This was the lowest point of our dining in Rome, and kind of our own fault for not researching in advance. We had time for lunch in the Vatican City between our Vatican Museums and St Peters Basilica visits so stopped off at this place as it “looked nice”. Big mistake. We ordered a glass of wine each and the guy bought us a bottle. No matter; I’m not averse to daytime drinking and we thought perhaps they didn’t serve wine by the glass. The husband ordered a salad, and I ordered gnocchi, and while we were waiting for our food I checked TripAdvisor where there was review after review about the poor quality of the food (microwaved), and the discrepancies in final bills, people being overcharged, people being charged for things they hadn’t ordered – the general consensus was AVOID THIS RESTAURANT! Too late for us, we hoped for the best, but their poor reputation was proven when I watched my gnocchi be spooned into a bowl from a deli counter and then microwaved until it was so hot I couldn’t eat it, the husband’s salad was pretty much devoid of anything other than leaves, and the final bill showed 35 euros for the bottle of wine, when I knew it was only 25 euros on the menu. I challenged the wine price while the husband used the bathroom; the waiter gave me some bullshit excuse about having given us someone else’s bill by mistake (how convenient other people were eating what we were but drinking a more expensive wine?!) and the husband came back with reports of blood smeared all over the toilet. 55 euros down, no tip and a very sharp exit, as well as a lesson learned!

Osteria Dell Anima

We’d spotted this on our wanderings as well, and put it on the list to visit purely for the veal in truffle sauce (I do love how restaurants in Europe display their menus outside so you can make sure there’s something you want before you’re seated at a table). We arrived fairly late, and the restaurant was empty, but we were assured they were very much open and very much still serving. The lack of atmosphere and surly attitude of the staff, along with the fact I was trying to order a replacement oven online because our builder at home, in the final phases of work pre-Christmas, had told me by text that I wouldn’t have an oven for Christmas Day (we were hosting both Christmas and Boxing Day dinners!) made for quite a strange dining experience, but the meal itself was incredible. Truffle sauce – yowsers!

Clemente Alla Maddalena

Situated in one of Rome’s many piazzas, we stopped here for lunch on my birthday. Undeterred by winter, the restaurant had placed the outdoor terrace undercover and supplied blankets and patio heaters which added to the lovely atmosphere (I’m a big advocate of sitting outside whenever possible). We drank rose wine under the fairy lights and ate spaghetti bolognese (small portion, but very very tasty) and I decided that being 40 wasn’t so bad after all.

Cantina e Cucina

The husband had researched my birthday meal and found a lovely restaurant but, when we arrived, they had a private party on and weren’t catering for anyone else. He was understandably gutted, but I suggested we head back down the road to Cantina e Cucina which I’d read very good reviews of on TripAdvisor. The restaurant was lovely; very rustic Italian with checked table cloths, candles in wine bottles and herbs hanging from the ceiling. So welcoming and cosy with very friendly staff.

To start I had deep fried artichoke, which is a Roman speciality,  and the husband had the biggest bucket of calamari – we couldn’t actually finish it all. We both had  veal saltimboca for main. It was all ok, just not what I expected (my fault for ordering off piste) but the wonderful atmosphere, and the candlelight, and the chianti made everything amazing anyway, even if the food wasn’t the star of the show. Oh and I got a tiramisu with a sparkling candle and the waiter sang Happy Birthday; what’s not to like?!

Napoletano’s

Taken as I was with the Pantheon, along with it’s proximity to our hotel, it made sense that our last lunch of the holiday would be eaten at one of the restaurants facing the magnificent building before our car for the airport arrived. We settled on Napoletano’s for it’s perfect positioning, outdoor tables and a very welcoming waiter. Even though it was barely lunchtime (about 11.50am!) I was determined to finish the holiday with a lasagne and…you guessed it…more chianti!

And it was magnificent. Really rich sauce and perfectly al dente pasta. The sun was shining, the skies were blue, a busker was playing songs that filled the piazza, and we both swore that we would be back again to this most fabulous city.

I feel kind of sad that I won’t be blogging about Rome any more in the near future, but I had a wonderful 4 days there and I’ve been reliving it for almost 5 months through these posts so…until next time…

If you missed any of my previous posts about Rome, click the links below:

A trip to Rome (aka the holiday that almost never was)

Day 2 in Rome – Vatican Museums and St Peters Basilica

Day 3 in Rome – The Colosseum and Roman Forum

Rome’s hidden treasures – Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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Rome’s hidden treasures – Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps

When I say hidden treasures, I obviously don’t mean in the true sense of the word; the Pantheon, Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain are all very well known Roman attractions. But I was super surprised by their location within the city, and how unobvious they were!

Let me explain. On our first day in Rome we went on a city bus tour. We like to do this on most city breaks because it gives a good feel for the city, the highlights, etc and then we generally go back in our own time to visit the places we want to see. During our bus tour around Rome, the commentary pointed out that both the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps weren’t visible from the bus, and we’d need to get off at the nearest stop and walk to them, which we resolved to do at a later point.

That same afternoon, after lunch, we were wandering around the area near to our hotel and I said we should go the the Pantheon. Do you think we could find it? Even the power of Google maps on my phone wasn’t enough to locate this world famous landmark (admittedly my map reading isn’t the best, I have to get in the map like Joey in Friends). We were tantalisingly close and we knew it but just couldn’t quite pinpoint it. Later on we would find the reason why – it’s tucked away in a piazza with no fanfare or big signs or feel of a huge tourist attraction – it’s just there. We rounded the corner and there it stood in front of us.

The first time we went in was dark, so when we looked up the dome we couldn’t tell whether the black dot in the middle was a window, or something else.

Insisting on returning the next morning, we found that it’s an oculus – an opening into the sky with no glass or covering. Rain falls through the hole and is then carried away by the drains inside the building. I found that pretty amazing; that it’s existed for all those years with such a design. The Pantheon has existed, in it’s current incarnation, since 126 AD.

Inside the Pantheon Dome

Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. Wow!

I loved the Pantheon. It was possibly one of my favourite buildings in Rome, which is quite a bold boast. Maybe it’s because we tried so hard to find it! Or because we saw it most of all (once we’d come across it the first time it felt like we passed it 3 times a day!) but I never tired of taking photos of it!

It was certainly special enough to be the host to our final lunch, where I ate unctuous lasagne and drank chianti and bathed in winter sunshine and the glory of an amazing trip.

The Trevi fountain is similarly tucked away, more so than the Pantheon (although better signposted). Walking down narrow streets we could hear a hum of people, and then turned a corner and there it was, in all it’s carved, watery glory.

It’s very beautiful, and very crowded – both due to it’s popularity and the limited space (as I said, it’s in a small piazza surrounded on 3 sides by buildings). As such it’s difficult to get many good photos, but just looking at these brings back the amazing memories.

We also went back during the daytime, because I like to squeeze every last drop out of every trip, but I preferred it in the evening because of how beautifully it was lit, and also because the bright sunshine cast shadows over the incredible detail (not that I’m complaining about the sunshine you understand; we were incredibly lucky with the weather and it made everything even better).

And finally, the Spanish Steps, tucked away at the end of a long shopping street (where I spent some of my birthday money on Pandora charms). Again we’d struggled to pinpoint the area, and it was our last stop before our final lunch at the Pantheon, and the poor old husband’s legs and back had given way after days and days of me walking him all over the city.

I didn’t know what to expect and that’s probably to my detriment because I guess I thought it was a tourist attraction in it’s own right, but really it wasn’t. I climbed the steps to the top, because I was there, and the architecture surrounding them is beautiful, but there’s no wow factor as there is in all of the other tourist attractions in the City (and there are a lot). The steps are just steps, and very crowded too.

Trinità dei Monti Cathedral is the imposing building at the top; I didn’t go in but it’s twin spires were very imposing against the beautiful blue sky (there’s me banging on about the weather again).

Catch up on my previous Rome posts below:

Day 1 in Rome

Day 2 – Vatican Museums and St Peters Basilica

Day 3 – Colosseum and Roman Forum

Have you ever been to Rome? Did you have a favourite attraction? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

 

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Day 3 in Rome – The Colosseum and Roman Forum

If you’re going to have to turn 40, there are worst ways to start your day than waking up in Rome with a visit to the Colosseum on the cards. Once again my pre-planning had come into it’s own, because I found through research that the Colosseum has bookable private tours of areas not open to the public. I wanted to get tickets for the undergound tour, which are are only released a few weeks in advance; I knew they were in high demand and unfortunately missed out. Fortuitously though, a new tour has just been launched – the Belvedere tour – which takes visitors up to the third and fourth tiers of the structure giving incredible views and a real feel of the size of the arena, so we still got to do something “extra” than most people have access to.

As we approached the Colosseum it was so strange to see the contrast of modern construction against such an old and important point of interest (a new underground rail line is being built to service this area of the city).

I underestimated the walking distance from our hotel (much to the chagrin of the husband and his aching bones) so we arrived just about in time to go through security and meet up with our tour guide. Everyone was given a headset to listen to the very interesting commentary as we walked around. The tour starts in the same entrance used by all visitors and then proceeds to the higher levels which are behind locked doors and only accessed by venue officials.

We learned that, despite depictions in films, gladiators fought other gladiators (highly trained fighter who went to “Gladiator School” in an attempt to gain fame and fortune) and not animals (that was reserved for criminals). We learned that it was not only lions that were shipped in for these fights, but also larger African animals like elephants and giraffes! We learned that, to celebrate the opening of the Colosseum in 80AD (known the as the Flavian Amphitheatre), a 100 day ceremony took place which saw events and fighting every day for the length of the opening ceremony. Tickets to attend events at the Colosseum were free, on a first come first served basis, and carved into a stone tablet, apart from upper class seats, right at the side of the arena, which were reserved for the ruling emperor, politicians and wealthy upper class members of society. We looked down from the highest possible point of the structure, looking at the tiered seating and the underground portion of the arena where you can still see evidence of the labyrinth of corridors which would have been hidden by the stage; where fighters and animals were kept until such time that they were due to perform, when they would be propelled up onto the stage by an elaborate (for the time) lift contraption and through a trapdoor.

Read some interesting facts about animal fights in the Colosseum.

After the tour we were free to wander around at will, looking at some of the permanent exhibitions and just feeling the sheer size of the space, marveling at the construction (it’s so symmetrical! And so well preserved!) And obviously taking all of the photos!

Me at the colosseum

After leaving the Colosseum, we headed across the cobbled courtyard to the entrance to the Forum and Palatine Hill, which is included in the costs of the standard Colosseum entry ticket. The ticket is valid for 2 days, so you could do one attraction on one day and the other the next, which is very useful if you’re pushed for time. It also represents really good value with everything you get to see for one price.

The Forum was the centre of ancient Rome, originally a marketplace and now surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government ruins. Shrines and temples, columns, both intact and in pieces, carved stone – it’s amazing to see the layout of the area still as it once was, even after all these years.

These doors are 2000 years old, and the lock still works! (that blew my mind)

2000 year old doors Roman Forum

The Arch of Titus was commissioned by Emperor Titian, in memory of his brother.

I wonder what this says?

Carvings on roman ruins

Upon leaving I took even more photos of the Colosseum because, honestly, it was just breathtaking and just incredible to see.

What a way to spend a birthday!

Did you see my previous posts, about my first day and second day?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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A trip to Rome (aka the holiday that almost never was)

If you follow me on Instagram you may have noticed that I went to Rome for a few days before Christmas, to celebrate my 40th birthday.

You may also have noticed that we almost never made it out of Luton airport.

In case you don’t follow me on insta (you should, by the way, shameless plug of link to my account here) or if their silly algorithm means you don’t see my posts, here’s what happened.

Our flight from Luton was at 6.40am on the Monday morning, so we travelled down the day before and stayed in a hotel near the airport. Early start (3am alarm, eek) was fairly uneventful and we checked in and went to buy some currency (because dimwit here had forgotten to collect the euros I’d pre-ordered from the Post Office, d’oh!) I bought some bits from Boots (2 more travel plugs to ad to our growing – but missing – collection) and had a tasty breakfast with a cocktail to start an exciting and momentous trip. All was well, so with 20 minutes until the departure gate opened we had a browse in WH Smith to buy some magazines for the flight.

When we came to pay, we of course needed one of our boarding passes, which of course wasn’t a problem because they were safely in an envelope in my handbag alongside the passports. Except they weren’t. No boarding cards, no envelope and no passports. Cue frantic retracing of steps to the restaurant and boots (to no avail), heart in mouth and panic sweats. The husband, it must be pointed out, was taking things remarkably well (for him) and stayed fairly level headed and non-angry, despite the fact that the look in his eyes said otherwise. We raced back to security in the hope that someone had handed them in (as I reasonably pointed out, if you found some travel documents in an airport you’d have to be a total shit to throw them away) and THANK GOD a smiling security lady located them under a desk and gave them back to a calm-on-the-outside-frantic-on-the-inside me! I hadn’t even left them in the security tray after scanning though, no, they hadn’t even got that far. When I was putting my liquids in a bag, before the security check, I’d left the envelope on a shelf. An envelope which, with being shoved in and out of my bag on the journey so far, could easily have been mistaken for some tatty old rubbish,

Total muppet – it was almost a birthday to remember for all the wrong reasons…

Needless to say I wasn’t allowed to keep the passports for the rest of the trip, even though I’m usually Chief Security Officer; they remained securely in the husband’s inside pocket of his coat, and I was the butt of multiple jokes as a result!

I’m glad to report that the rest of the trip went by without incident. We arrived at Rome Fiumicino airport at around 10.30am, collected our luggage and headed out into the arrivals lounge where we were met by our pre-booked driver (I always try and do this, where possible, it saves lots of hassle and is usually cheaper than getting a cab at the airport, plus you get to feel a little bit like a famous person for a nanosecond!). The transfer to the city centre and our hotel took around 30 minutes, and the closer we got to the centre, the more evidence of Roman architecture started to appear; like random columns in the middle of modern buildings. That’s one of the things that surprised me about Rome, many of the tourist attractions are just in the middle of the working city, not on a dedicated site with a big wide open space around them. We stumbled on both the Pantheon and the Trevi fountain in this way; we turned a corner and there they were, in the middle of a piazza. It’s quite strange!

We arrived at our hotel – Antica Dimora dell Cinque Lune (I’ll review that in another post) – at around 11.30, which was too early to check in, but the receptionist was incredibly helpful and stored our luggage so we were free to set off and explore. We spent a few minutes getting our bearings, but knowing we were just steps from the River Tiber and the Palace of Justice meant we already knew where to head to if we were to get lost!

Spotting a number of hop on hop off bus tours on the main road alongside the river, we set off to find a bus stop, and by midday we were upstairs on a double decker, earphones firmly in place to listen to the commentary, and heading off on a 90 minute round trip of the city. We find that this kind of bus tour is a great way to see the highlights, get a feel for a city and an overview of what’s where, and then delve into the deeper sightseeing after that. On this occasion we used the Big Bus company, and paid 35 euros each for a 48 hour ticket, but other companies run within the city too (although your ticket is only valid for the bus company you buy it from).

As suspected, the bus tour was a great place to start. We went across the river, marvelling at the architecture of the city, winding through Via del Corso, the main shopping street, saw centuries old churches and buildings, detailed sculptures, statues and fountains, felt blown away by the magnificent sight of the colosseum at the bottom of a busy thoroughfare and imagined the site of the chariot racing on Circus Maximus.

Then we got off the bus where we’d started and stopped for lunch in a little bistro on the side of the road who did a lunch menu of bruschetta, choice of pizza or pasta and a glass of wine or beer for just 12 euros – not at all what we’d expected from reports of Rome being expensive. We sat outside on the terrace under a patio heater and it was just fabulous!

After checking into the hotel we headed out once more; this time over the river on foot and past Castel Sant’Angelo, with St Peters Basilica in our eye line. As our Vatican and St Peters visit was planned for the next day, we crossed across the River Tiber, meandered through tiny cobbled side streets, just soaking up how fabulous Rome is, declaring that we already loved the place and beaming with happiness.

 

Our hotel was just round the corner from Piazza Navona, which we’d read would have a Christmas market. It was all running remarkably late, setting up but not at all Christmassy, but the Fountain of Neptune and Fountain of the Four Rivers in front of the Santa Agnese in Agona church were beautiful to look at.

We found a beautiful bistro, covered in fairy lights with a rather gorgeous menu and decided we would head back there later that evening to eat, which we did – the most delicious medium rare steak wrapped in bacon with shaved truffles, accompanied by a bottle of chianti. Heading back to our hotel through Piazza Navona and past the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi it’s fair to say we were giddy with happiness and giddy with Rome.

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi and Santa Agnese in Agone church at night

Coming soon – day 2 at the Vatican Museums and St Peters Basilica.

Have you ever been to Rome? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading, x

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Hotel review – Conca Azzurra, Massa Lubrense

We don’t generally go on all inclusive holidays (or package holidays full stop), as we’re big fans of eating out at different restaurants and having no set times in our day, but when we spotted the Conca Azzurra hotel on the Thomas Cook website it seemed ideal for our needs for this year.

Conca Azzurra hotel

We were holidaying late, wanted a mix of city break and relaxing and the reviews were really good.

First impressions of the hotel were great; after a very long and rainy drive from the airport, we finally arrived gone 11pm to a lovely meal of cold meats, cheese, bread, rice and pasta, and the all important wine! We’d booked a junior suite with seaview (not because we’re that kind of people, just because it was the last room available!) and it really had the wow factor; huge in size, large bathroom with two sinks, jacuzzi bath and separate shower cubicle; huge comfy sofa, soft lighting and lots of storage space, with a large balcony and sliding patio doors.

Conca Azzurra junior suite

Conca Azzurra hotel room 2

Conca Azzurra junior suite 2

Conca Azzurra junior suite 3

Conca Azzurra junior suite 4

Thanks god for that suite. Because for the first two days we spent a lot of time in it. It rained from arrival and for the next 24 hours. Not “oh it’s only light rain, let’s chance it”. Thunder, lightening, wind, inches of rain. This isn’t as bad as it sounds; we pulled the big sofa in front of the balcony doors and looked out to sea.

Conca Azzurra junior suite 5

And we drank wine. Lots of wine. It was impossible to order a glass – they just gave you the bottle – so with nothing better to do we whiled away the day reading, relaxing, napping (a 2 hour booze snooze counts as a nap, right?) and having a little tipple.

It was actually pretty nice. We’ve had a hectic few weeks so being able to just chill out was lovely.

The following day started dry but very windy. The hotel is at the bottom of a cliff, it’s impossible to reach it without taking a minibus from the top to the bottom around hairpin bends and hair-raising slopes

Hotel and cliff face

Hotel minibus

But the isolation and views are fantastic when you’re at the bottom. The sea was bashing at the cliff face and it was far from warm. We had a wander round the grounds and down to the sea.

And then it started raining again. So we did more of the first day; relaxing, sleeping. And wine.

Post storm we saw this amazing sunset. The island you can see on the horizon is Ischia.

Storm sunset 2

Storm sunset

Sunset over Ischia

Sunset over Ischia 3

Sunset over Ischia 2

Storm sunset 3

On day three the sun came out. Hurrah! We finally got to take advantage of the fabulous sun terrace which had two hot tubs, sun loungers and comfortable outdoor sofas, all looking right out to sea.

Conca Azzurra terrace

Conca Azzura view from terrace 3

Naturally I had to indulge in some more wine (celebration!)

Conca Azzura hot tub

And a cocktail!

Conca Azzura hot tub and drink

Conca Azzura me in hot tub

Chilling on the terrace

Reading in the hot tub

The hotel itself is small, with only around 35 rooms. It had a nice outdoor terrace which we were able to make use of both daytime and evening for eating and drinking.

Conca Azzurra hotel terrace

Conca Azzurra outside

Conca Azzurra by night

We booked the hotel knowing that it was fairly isolated, and that it wasn’t possible to just pop out for a walk or into Sorrento. You had to get the minibus to the top of the cliff before you could get anywhere, and it’s not an area for walking. To get to Sorrento you needed to book the free shuttle bus there and back (or book an expensive taxi), so obviously there were timetables to be mindful of. But if you’ve done your research before you book then you know this. It really annoys me when people complain about something that’s made clear in advance.

The food was slightly underwhelming at first – from the reviews we’d expected gourmet meals but the reality was more rustic Italian food. Don’t get me wrong, it was tasty and well cooked and plentiful, with loads of choice at each meal. But this wasn’t the foodie holiday I had hoped feared expected. I didn’t go mental and stuff my face til I felt sick, and I didn’t break the scales when I got home! (this is both good and bad in my book).

But check out these views!

Conca Azzura view 1

Conca Azzurra view 6

Conca Azzurra view 5

Conca Azzura view from terrace 2

Conca Azzura view 2

Conca Azzurra view 4

Conca view 2

Conca view 4

Conca view

Conca view 3

Would I stay there again? No, because there’s loads more of the world to see and I’ve done that part of Italy now. That’s no reflection on the hotel. I just don’t understand people who go back to the same place year in year out. It smacks of lack of imagination.

Have you seen my previous posts about our visits to Herculaneum and Amalfi & Positano?

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Amalfi and Positano (aka the day we wore kagouls)

I mentioned during my packing post that the forecast for Italy wasn’t great and that I had invested in waterproofs. In the first few days I’d only used mine to walk from the bedroom to the bar (and therefore it was already a worthy investment!) By Thursday, it was worth it’s weight in gold.

The Amalfi Coast drive is renowned as being absolutely beautiful, with sheer cliff drops, sea views, and towns precariously built into the rockface. There are the usual organised trip options, which we always avoid where possible, plus the local SITA buses and the red sightseeing bus. The SITA bus, although cheaper, makes quite a lot of stops between Sorrento and Amalfi and is renowned for being very busy and hot. The red sightseeing bus stops just once at Positano and then again at Amalfi – a 90 minute journey overall. It also has the benefit of audio description in 5 different languages, which is useful for finding out what you’re seeing and a bit of history.

By the time we got on the 10.45 departure there were only 4 seats left – all of which were on the left side of the bus, The right side is the place to sit on the outward journey for the best views. Luckily, at Positano (which is where the best views of the coastline start) some people got off, so I pushed the husband into grave jumping action and we got to see more of what was going on.

It had looked overcast when we had breakfast that morning but seemed to be brightening up (in my little optimistic head) by the time we left the hotel. I’d checked the forecast and Positano looked to be getting better weather during the day than Amalfi, but I was confident (in my own naive manner) that we’d get away with it.

My little optimistic head was wrong; alas it wasn’t to be. I’d be lying if I said the weather made no difference, as visibility was reduced and everything looks better in the sunshine, but the coastline was beautiful nonetheless.

Amalfi Coast

Amalfi Coast 2

Amalfi Coast 3

Amalfi Coast 4

Amalfi Coast 5

Amalfi Coast 6

Then came the rain. Full credit to the driver, who’s dexterity around the sharp bends and twisty turns made for a comfortable drive as we meandered our way along the coast.. I couldn’t have navigated it in a car, let alone a great big bus! Just look at them!

Amalfi Coast winding road

As we headed down towards Amalfi the weather took a distinct turn for the worse and the wind started to howl; leaving the harbour looking grey and uninviting rather than the pretty blue sea we’d imagined. The harbour itself was a myriad of buses and coaches, and people huddled under canopies to escape the weather – not the picturesque scene we expected and made for a rather gloomy destination.

We hadn’t planned to spend too long in Amalfi anyway, wanting to get back to Positano, but the weather made our decision easier and we stayed just long enough to snap a few pictures and christen our kagouls before jumping back on a dry bus.

The cathedral is a fabulous building.

I don’t want to do Amalfi a disservice, as I’m sure on a dry day it’s absolutely beautiful, but it’s not much fun squelching around and getting rain in your eyes while trying to sightsee (believe me, I tried). I would definitely give it another try next time I’m in Italy.

Frantically looking for the light at the end of the tunnel (literally!) I used the wifi on board the bus to check the weather forecast in Positano, which suggested the rain would definitely be stopping! Clinging to that hope we took the 45 minute drive back along the coastline, laughing and freaking out at some of the terrible driving on this crazy road!

I’d read that Positano was a must see for it’s prettiness and higgledy piggledy cliffside development. And so we got off the bus once again, into the rain, with the dogged determination to see what all the fuss was about.

Wearing my kagoul (again!) with an umbrella up (it was that wet) we set off down the hill. The rainwater was running down the gutter and the views across the bay were somewhat obscured by a myriad of tourist umbrellas but it was impossible not to fall in love with the tumble of pastel buildings, ceramic shops and restaurant terraces with gorgeous seaviews.

 

Positano 5

Positano 4

Positano 3

Positano 2

We followed the natural slope of the town down towards the harbour, pleased to note that the rain was easing.

We took refuge in a beachfront restaurant where we ate bruschetta, aubergine parmiagiana (me – boy was this good; one of the best meals of the holiday for me), spinach and ricotta ravioli with butter sauce (husband said this was delicious) and drank wine and beer.

Bruschetta La Cambusa restaurant

Aubergine Parmiagiana La Cambusa restaurant

Spinach and ricotta ravioli La Cambusa restaurant

After lunch the rain had stopped and we had a mooch on the beachfront. There are some great boat trips available including a trip to Grotto Smerelda which I’d love to see.I’d happily base myself in Positano next time in Italy. You can visit Capri by boat, as well as being a short drive back to Amalfi where there are bus trips to other villages along the coast like Raffaello and Maiori.

It’s just so pretty!

Positano painted tables

Positano painted tables 2

Positano walkway

Positano building

Positano flowers

Positano plants

Positano shrub

Positana Santa Maria Assunta

We jumped on the SITA bus back to Sorrento as it arrived just as we reached the bus stop, and it’s fair to say the driver was a lunatic! I was glad we hadn’t taken that bus all the way along!

It’s unfortunate that we did the drive on a rainy day, but it was either that or miss out (as it was our last full day) and I’d rather have seen it not it’s very best than not seen it at all.

Have you ever been to this part of Italy?

 

 

 

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Herculaneum – ancient roman city

A week ago today we visited Herculaneum; which is the smaller, less well known cousin to the famous Pompeii, which was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

Originally the husband wanted to go to Pompeii, as he said “no-one ever says Herculaneum is on their bucket list” but after advice from my Dad and further investigation, it became clear that Herculaneum was the one for us – further vindicated by some people at our hotel who visited both and said Herculaneum was better (I do love knowing we’ve done the right thing!)

Unlike Pompeii which was covered by ash, Herculaneum was covered by volcanic gas and mud, which meant it was better preserved. It was also under 20 metres of volcano eruption coverage, unlike the 4 metres covering Pompeii, which again added to the quality of preservation. While Herculaneum is a smaller site, it does make it easier to get around and see everything, and there are actual buildings and decorations still in tact.

We hopped on the train in Sorrento and got off about an hour later at Ercolano. I expected the site to be in the middle of nowhere, but it’s just at the bottom of a hill in the middle of the town. In fact, much of Herculaneum remains underground – an estimated 75% – because the town of Ercolano with it’s businesses and residents is thriving above it.

On entering the site you get an overview of the full excavation site, and it’s mindblowing. It’s like looking back into history, a very unusual and eerie feeling.Herculaneum overview

Herculaneum overview 2

Herculaneum overview 3

At just 12 euros each to enter, it’s an unmissable visit if you’re in the area and have any interest at all in history and ancient roman culture and way of life. You can employ the services of a guide, or pay for an audio guide, but we preferred to just wander around and immerse ourselves at our own pace.

What I’m about to say next sounds very silly, but it’s how I felt. It’s almost too good. It’s really hard to imagine that the roads and columns and mosaic floors are that old. It could almost be a film set, if that makes sense? It’s really hard to comprehend that you’re looking at thousands of years of history. After all, the eruption happened in 79 A.D but many of the buildings would already have been in existence prior to that – back into B.C territory. That’s almost incomprehensible! When you look at the detail in the brickwork, and the decorative nature of the arches it’s difficult to get your head around (or, at least, it was for me!) The roads and kerb stones are of a quality you just wouldn’t expect for such a long time ago – nothing has changed from how the Romans did it to how it’s done today.

Herculaneum roman roads

Herculaneum road

Columns – interesting that that they’re brick built and then rendered and engraved with the decorative line detail.

Herculaneum columns

Herculaneum columns 3

Herculaneum columns 2

Many of the buildings still have wall décor in reds and blues.

Herculaneum wall decor 2

Herculaneum wall decor 3

Herculaneum wall decor

The mosaic floors are made from hundreds of thousands of tiny tiles – imagine laying them by hand! This one has a mermaid pattern – it was the floor of the public baths (slightly sunken in places, but you can kind of forgive that, considering it’s age!)

Herculaneum mosaic floor

Look at the detail in this room.

Herculaneum room

I assumed these round holes were toilets, but having googled it I found the answer on Sarah Ryan’s blog – they were holes for cooking pots – this may well have been an early form of restaurant or takeaway!

Herculaneum cooking area

Herculaneum food area

Unfortunately these baths aren’t open to the public due to safety reasons – only scholars and researchers can get access (never been more tempted to lie about my job!) but I took this photograph through the glass. You can imagine they would be absolutely spectacular.

Herculaneum roman baths

There are artefacts and engravings and statues also scattered around the site.

Herculaneum bench

Herculaneum bust

Herculaneum carving

Herculaneum tiles

Herculaneum statue

Herculaneum crypt

These skeletons are residents that huddled together in boat houses, presumably awaiting evacuation from the town. The hot gases from the volcanic eruption would have killed them instantly.

Herculaneum skeletons 2

Herculaneum skeletons

Herculaneum bones

Herculaneum was fantastically interesting and worthwhile – truly a memorable experience and a great part of our trip to Italy.

 

 

 

 

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Living in the moment and fear of missing out – the Italian edition

I’m back from Italy – boo!

But I had a great time – woo!

Want to hear something stupid though?

I spent a good chunk of the time wondering if I was enjoying it as much as I should.

Crazy, right?

Seriously. It was a stressful time for some of the time. Because I seem incapable of just loving what I’m doing instead of thinking about what I could/should be doing.

Like, on the third day, when the weather finally improved after two days of being stuck indoors, and the husband suggested it would be nice to chill out and soak up some sun. “What about Sorrento?” I wanted to scream! Instead I grimaced and threatened to stomp off to the room in a huff. Then I grudgingly agreed suggested a compromise of sunbathing in the morning and Sorrento after lunch. It worked out perfectly.

Like, when we were planning our Amalfi coast trip and the weather looked favourable on the Thursday instead of the Wednesday, but turned out crap and I wanted to eat my own head for not going the day before.

Like, when we got to Amalfi and, in spite of the fact we only intended a brief visit – instead arranging to head back to Positano – I sulked when we left because Amalfi looked prettier than I expected (even though it was raining torrentially). It turned out to be a very good decision as Positano was much prettier and more enjoyable, so the husband was right to stick to our guns (mutter, grumble, grudgingly agree to him being right).

Like, when we were in Sorrento, and I said it wasn’t as nice as Nice. Why do I even have to compare it? Why does it have to be better or worse? Why can’t it just be Sorrento?

Like when I was internally freaking out for not seeing every single inch and church and backstreet and statue and drop of sea at Sorrento, but it’s actually all ok because we enjoyed what we did.

Seriously!

It’s bloody exhausting.

On the way back from Amalfi (last but one day), after my unadmitted but totally busted by the husband strop, I had an epiphany. Well, perhaps not that dramatic. But I realised a few things. In no particular order.

a) I’m a knob

b) I expect too much

c) I’m hard work

Even husband said that I put unrealistic expectations on myself.

I don’t know if it’s because it was a mix of chilling and sightseeing, and I was worried we wouldn’t get the balance right. Generally, on short stay city breaks, I don’t have this problem.

Or maybe it was the fact that we took so long and deliberated so much before booking this break that I wanted it to be perfect, and it could never live up to my impossibly high standards.

Or maybe I just need a lobotomy, and to be god damn grateful that I’m lucky enough to travel.

You’d think, from all that, it wasn’t a great trip.

It was. It’s just a shame I didn’t truly appreciate it until towards the end.

I really need to chill the fuck out.

Or start holidaying on my own!

On the plus side, I’m only admitting this terrible terrible flaw about myself to a handful of people. It’s not like it’s out in public, right?

I’ll be posting more about the trip in the following week; if you can manage to stick around now I’ve revealed myself to be a temperamental headcase!

In the meantime, have some pics so you can see what a twonk I am!

Sorrento clock tower

St Francis of Assissi   Sorrento 6

Sorrento 5

Sorrento 2

Gelato and wine

Sorrento 3

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Packing for Italy

In case I haven’t mentioned it enough this week, I’m going on holiday to Italy. Woo-hoo!

The weather forecast for next week isn’t great. Not woo-hoo.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you may recall that even booking a week away this year was not without it’s stresses, purely because of timing and where to go. When the deal for Italy popped up it seemed perfect. We’d be able to combine sightseeing and relaxing. Cooler temperatures would lead to smaller crowds and more pleasant experiences at places like Pompeii, while it would still be warm enough to sit outside in the sun at the hotel and read a book.

Now it’s looking like it’s going to rain. Quite a lot. To the point where we’ve even bought kagools (this could be my lowest fashion moment, but needs must). We might be lucky to hit temperatures of 20 degrees. I probably won’t be needing a bikini.

The eternal optimist in me says that the forecast could be wrong and we could get an unexpected heatwave.

The panicker in me is freaking out at having the wrong clothes (appearance is directly related to enjoyment, I don’t care what anyone says!)

The realist in me, while wanting to listen to the optimist, has had to come up with a slightly revised packing list. This is no longer the “summer holiday” I had planned for.

On the plus side, I pride myself on having clothes in my wardrobe for every occasion (aka – according to the husband – too much stuff). So I haven’t needed to do any last minute shopping. Just last minute planning.

Things to take into consideration are:
– We’re staying in an all inclusive hotel, so if the weather is abysmal I will sit indoors eating and drinking. All of the food and drink. All day long.
– We won’t need to go outside at night time, unless we spend an evening in Sorrento, so I don’t need to wrap up warm at night
– It might be cool in the mornings for breakfast, so my usual strappy playsuits will not be suitable
– I have a 20kg packing allowance

So here’s what I’m going with.

Denim shorts for daytime – cos my legs are hardy and can stand a bit of a breeze!
An assortment of t-shirts
An assortment of 3/4 sleeve tops
2 sundresses to be worn in the daytime with a denim jacket
Palazzo pants
2 jumpsuits – one patterned, one plain (the patterned one has a Moroccan multi print)

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Printed maxi skirt
1 maxi dress – grey marl and black striped, from Matalan

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3/4 length heavy jersey trousers
Half sleeve leopard playsuit
3/4 sleeve belted jersey dresses – one plain black, one spotted

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Fringed maxi skirt (because I love it and I’ve only worn it once this year)
Cream long sleeve lace top to wear over a bandeau/with fringed maxi skirt
A couple of camis
Daytime pegleg trousers – a bit of red leopard print!

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Teadress
2 vintage style angel sleeve dresses
2 bikinis (I’m going in the pool, even if it’s raining!)

I may very well be able to mix daywear and nightwear, perhaps even wearing some stuff twice if needed (I’m aghast at this thought, but the trousers/jumpsuit can be worn in the daytime if it gets particularly cold)

Footwear is more of a problem. I only ever take sandals on holiday!

2 x hi tops (one to wear, one to dry out in case of rain)
Black glads
Roman sandals (evening)
Nude wooden wedges (evening)
White jewelled ankle strap sandals (evening)
White thick strap sandals and cream thick strap sandals for daytime, on the off chance the weather forecasters are all on drugs and it turns out grand

It’s been less stressful than I first anticipated and I haven’t struggled with my luggage allowance for a change. The main issue has been the husband. He’s Mr Stress when it comes to packing, and we invariably end up arguing! I’m much more laid back. After all, things have a way of coming together, and I’ve never gone on a holiday yet where I’ve screwed up badly and forgotten anything major.

So that’s that!

See you in a week!

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