I always wanted to go to Italy, mostly for the food. “Is there anything else besides eating you’d like to do in Italy?” my husband asked as I worried about where to visit to get the best meals. Yes, of course, I knew I should say, although thanks to childhood trauma feeling trapped on long boring trips with no place to go to the bathroom, I haven’t been the biggest fan of tours. Neither am I great planner — I had Rick Steven’s Italy guidebook (highly recommended) but I don’t relate well to information without personal experience, so fortunately I found what turned out to be the perfect semi-private tour with Italian agency Avventure Bellissime, recommended by the PA in my orthopedist’s office.
Our trip included three nights in Rome, two in Sorrento and two in Florence. The agency picked the hotels and arranged for our travel from place to place. Our guided tours were led by incredibly knowledgeable English-speaking guides who told a great story rather than spew out facts, names and dates. Our Vatican tour was the largest group, maybe 10 people; two of our other tours were just the guide and us. In addition to the Vatican, we had a guide for Ancient Rome, Pompeii and l’Accademia in Florence, home of Michelangelo’s David.
Hotel Ponte Sisto, Rome – view up to our third floor room, the breakfast courtyard and delicious breakfast. WHY is the bread so amazing here??? The hotel was situated right by the Ponte Sisto walking bridge to the Trastevere neighborhood — wonderful for strolling every evening and choosing where to eat.
We stopped for a quick lunch before our afternoon Vatican tour — which we almost missed because we didn’t realize the entrance to the Vatican Museum, where we were to meet our guide, was OUTSIDE the Vatican City walls — I must learn WHY and HOW simple spaghetti and pizza taste so amazing here!
My limited fore-knowledge resulted in so many unexpected delights. I thought the Vatican tour would be a boring history of the Catholic church and had no idea the popes were hoarding art collectors. I came home feeling much better about my doll collection and wanting to have all the ceilings in my house painted. I loved the stories about Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, although the actual experience inside was ruined by guards hollering “Silencio!” at the whispering crowd. Nothing could have prepared me for St. Peter’s Basilica. It is splendor beyond description. Don’t look at too many pictures, just go see for yourself and be transfixed. I could do without the mummified popes, however.
We took a high-speed train to Naples and were transported to Pompeii, a place I have always wanted to see. It’s much larger than I imagined and only 75% uncovered. With chariot ruts on streets and painted walls still intact you can practically see people living their lives. Totally eerie and I have such an urge to dig up the last 20-plus percent.
Next was Sorrento and what I most looked forward to – the Amalfi Coast. The Grand Hotel President offered spectacular views day and night and our best meal of the trip, spaghetti with eggplant and mozzarella, designed just for us by the restaurant manager. I made such a fuss about the dinner that he took me into the kitchen to meet the chef. I was disappointed that we were leaving before the following day’s cooking lesson! The day trip to Positano did not deliver the expected magic, but the bus ride provided the promised (feared) white knuckle experience. I would return instead to Sorrento, the same hotel, and stay put for a few days.
Lastly, to Florence and another fabulous hotel. L’Orologie, within walking distance of everything. I fell completely in love with Michelangelo’s David, such perfection so lovingly displayed, the impact of which cannot be sufficiently described. We saved our shopping for Florence and happily left with leather goods straight from the designer at La Signoria Moda Italiana Leather on the Via Condotta. With unsuspected great timing, we enjoyed our last night’s dinner looking out on the outdoor room of Uffizi Gallery before a freak hail storm hit the following day a few hours after we left the City.
I looked forward most to eating bread and drinking wine as I soaked up the magic of Italy and my expectations of culinary bliss were exceeded at every turn. You CAN go to Italy just to eat but I found the beauty I witnessed fed my soul just as well. Molte grazie! (Still, I MUST figure out how to make this bread!)