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Category: Italy

Day 10

Last real vacation day!

The previous night we had come to the realization that we would have to head to Naples Tuesday evening instead of arranging incredibly late night travel to make our 6:20am departure.

Fortunately we were able to still make it to Pompeii, adjusting plans slightly to leave a bit earlier and bring all our luggage with us. An early morning, hour long bus ride along the winding Amalfi coast is a hell of a way to wake up. A short train ride later, and we made it to our destination.

While not quite opening time, we had still managed an early enough arrival that the ticket line was short, and once inside the massive crowds had not yet shown up. We started at the less popular eastern entrance, winding among the arena and old vineyards first.

It’s hard comprehending buildings nearly 2000 years old being this accessible and this well preserved. As we meandered among ruins, the impeccable frescoes and tile work still there, scattered amongst blocks and blocks of partial walls, was awe inspiring.

We ended up running into Ryan and Carrie and John and Allison mid way through the day, and then also Jon and Leslie as we prepared to leave. It was nice to see everyone amongst the ruins, and say one last farewell before packing up to head home.

We made it back to the train station and retrieved our luggage. Naples was a short 30 ride away, after which we caught a bus out to the airport. A boring walk through parking lots brought us to our boring hotel, an anticlimactic end to a great trip.

Yet again we ran into sabato difficulties with trying to get an early dinner, everyone closed except for super minuscule take away menus. We eventually found a place a short walk away, which turned into quite a chaotic, but delicious, dinner. It definitely signaled that we had finished our trip, and were becoming home sick for things we knew well.

Day 9

Jon and Leslie were kind enough to invite us to join them for the day on a private boat. We certainly weren’t going to pass up such a great opportunity!

We got up early to explore the possibility of getting to Positano early, but that ferry wasn’t yet running this early in the summer. So after arriving closer to 10, we promptly hopped on ‘our’ boat. With room for 6-8, it easily fit our 4 along with the provided skipper.

Almost immediately we went at full speed towards Capri, and island off the coast of the peninsula Amalfi and the like are situated on. We made brief stops at the white grotto and the emerald grotto before clearing the open water to the island.

We slowly circled in a clockwise direction, having various sights pointed out, all the while admiring the staggering coastline. At the far western edge of the island, where the huge private yachts of the very wealthy are docked, we made for a small beach and hopped off the boat to swim briefly.

Back on the boat, we continued our circling of the island, noting other famous sights along the way. We eventually took a lunch break back on the western side of the island. We got to choose our fish from a platter of that days catches. Cooked in the chefs preferred method of capers and olives, and served with potatoes, some of the best fish all of us had eaten.

We returned the boat (via another boat shuttle, no less) and decided to head back to the peninsula to find a spot to relax and swim for a bit before ending our day. We found a nice spot with calm water and a small pebble beach and got in, but not before breaking out cheese olives and wine for a brief snack as well.

After a leisurely afternoon, it was time to head back to Positano, parting ways with our boat and Jon and Leslie. We hopped our ferry back to Amalfi, where we grabbed a couple last items in town before completing the hole through Atrani and up to our apartment once again.

Day 8

Another multi stage travel day. We get up at 7 in the morning to begin our drive back to Siena. After an hours beautiful, but groggy, drive, and a very tricky alley parking job, we grab our train to Florence. An hour long ride that goes a few minutes late has us rushing to our platform worried about missing a train, only to find we have plenty of time and the train hasn’t come yet. Europe.

Our high speed train has us passing by the winery we visited near Il Rigo a mere 36 minutes later, and two hours more has us through Naples and approaching Salerno. We walk a few blocks to the ferry terminal, and buy tickets for the soon to depart ferry to Amalfi.

We have a stunning 30 minute ride, ending in the gorgeous town of Amalfi, another movie set it’s hard to believe is real. We grab a quick bite of lunch while we wait for the Airbnb to free up, and to figure out our best way up what is a steep we climb than even our Pittsburgh-steps minded selves had imagined.

We settled on a bus and caught one after a brief wait and research about the correct one. A terrifying ride up narrow streets, passing cyclists, pedestrians, cars and houses all with no more than a few inches wiggle room. We didn’t think we’d ever go somewhere with crazier switchbacks and drops than Tobago, but here we are.

We meet our host at the bus stop and he helps get us checked in. Afterwards we go for a calibration walk and to buy a few items to prepare for the next day. A thorough walk through Amalfi has us righted, and we return our groceries to our apartment.

We head to Atrani for dinner, to a restaurant recommended by our house. Empty when we arrive, we panic that they are closed or a tourist trap that everyone is warned to avoid. After our first delicious course more people arrive and slowly fill in, and we settle in for a long evening of chatting, drinking and eating.

We make the slow climb back home and immediately head to bed, knowing a long day on a boat awaits us tomorrow.

Day 7 – The wedding!

The big day is finally here, landscape and weather both providing a perfect surrounding for such a great celebration.

Delicious coffee and a wonderful assortments of breakfast foods start the day off, followed by a relaxed pace for the rest of the day. Ryan and Ben went for a walk into San Quirico along back roads and paths to help kill time.

The 2 mile walk, each way, was scenic every step of the way. A brief stop in town to hydrate with both water and beer, and then an equally beautiful walk home.

Showers and prep work soon followed, balancing providing genuine assistance versus being in the way and causing undue stress. With no major issues, the ceremony began promptly at 3. Jay did a wonderful job announcing, and friends and family gave great readings and support. Decorations had been provided by the farm, and were a gorgeous blend of cut flowers and foraged greenery from the grounds.

An aperitif followed out of the sun, loosening up the crowd and providing another instance to mingle. Abby did a great job wrangling photos during all of this, and the food and drink were just as great as every other meal at Il Rigo has been.

We proceeded through a fantastic evening of eating and drinking, some fantastic toasts interspersed throughout. We transitioned back to the courtyard as the music picked up, eventually leading to the necessary dance party. We eventually slipped back into more conversation, a wonderful evening centered around the great location and great people Jon and Leslie have brought together.

Day 6

The fawning over Tuscany makes total sense. Waking up to look out over majestic rolling hills, fog clinging from the chilly night, is a breathtaking sight.

After soaking in the landscape for a while, we had a delightful breakfast buffet prepared for us by Il Rigo. Needless to say, it broke the definition of “breakfast buffet”, a collection of meats and veggies, handmade bread (from their own wheat) that can be slathered with their own home made jam. Some serious lifestyle envy.

We needed to find an ATM and some bug spray (even Italy has mosquitos) so we rolled into the nearby town of San Quirico. A brief wander through side streets and a wonderful set of gardens around the ancient city walls, and we found a great town center with shops carrying our requested items and services.

Regrouping at the farm, we divided up into cars and set out for salcheto, a local winery known for amazing wines and a sustainably mondes business model. Marco provided an amazing tour of the entirely off grid facilities and their inventive processes to keep the wine as organic, and using as little energy in production, as possible.

This was followed by a wine tasting and light lunch (chickpea soup, farro salad, insalata, cured meats…”light”). The four wines we sampled were all fantastic, leading to the whole group buying at least a bottle, or for quite a few (including us) a full or partial case to be shipped directly back to the states.

We stopped briefly in Pienza to buy some of their famous pecorino cheese and generally admire another lovely small Italian town. They also had pecorino gelato, which was amazing, and amazing views since the town was built on a hilltop several hundred years ago.

Returning to Il Rigo, we all freshened il before getting together for amazing wood fired pizzas and drinks for the evening. And endless supply of pizza flowed, ranging from traditional margherita to additives like olives, capers, potatoes and more. Another evening of landscape admiring, sunset watching, star gazing, and great wine drinking was in the books.

Day 5

Ciao Venice!

A long day of travel started with lugging our bags to a nearby water bus stop, where we caught a boat back to the train station. Early morning showed a more authentic side of Venice, including the dispute when a man tried to bring a chainsaw onto the bus.

Our first train took us from Venice to Florence and was uneventful, as was expected for the wonder that is high speed rail. We transferred to a local train in Florence and slowly lumbered along to Siena, admiring the landscape which became ever more scenic.

Once in Siena, we had a 2km walk to the car rental location, price to pay for renting in a smaller town. After navigating the twisting and steep streets, and descending a set of steps reminiscent of home, we arrived at the rental location. Only to find it closed for the afternoon sabato. So we waited the required hour and then got on our way.

Abby was once again a champ at driving in another country, at home with a manual transmission. We zipped along te Tuscany country side, winding towards our destination. A beautiful farmhouse hundreds of years old, set on a hilltop with views in every direction.

We checked in and and freshened up before circling back to the ever growing group. Family and old friends along with plenty of new ones slowly grew in size as we caught up over wide varieties of subjects. Apéritif followed by a dinner and wine led to flowing conversation until late into the night. Not bad Tuscany.

Day 4

Our day started with an early rise to avoid the tourist wave that peaks in the afternoon. We went to San Marco square first thing, and quickly got in line to enter the Doges Palace. While crowds were building, we were able to tour fairly leisurely.

The palace reflects the power the Venetians held for many centuries, filled with fantastic craftsmanship and artwork. We left in awe, and realizing how many more questions we now had about Venice’s history.

We travelled along the water for a bit, grabbing some panini and arancini for a light brunch along the way. With a casual goal of seeing the Arsenale building, we cut back along a canal until we found its impressive entrance.

The nearby ships pavilion was a great find, housing many historical boats from the past few centuries. Ranging from military to racing ships, and including significant pieces like part of one of Marconi’s floating laboratory ships, it was an unexpectedly fascinating stop.

We wandered on, heading further east and south, getting better and better glimpses of real Venice as we drifted further from tourist ridden areas. Ending at the Venice Giardini, a large public park created by Napoleon, we took a breather before heading back to our apartment.

The park contains and is adjoined by several pavilions that are used for various Biennial Celebrations, exhibitions that range various fine arts. Currently exploring architecture, several interesting pieces of work were present in the couple pavilions we passed on our way back.

We took a short break for beers and people watching, and then pushed through the crowds that were now swarming around the palace and square. Arriving back at the apartment rather tired, showers and naps quickly had us righted.

The Rialto Bridge and Fish Market were both hopeful items on the todo list, so we headed north. Crowds were past their peak, so we were able to get good views of both. Unfortunately that mean this fish market was packed up, a lone worker hosing off the stone.

This did mean it was perfect timing for cicchetti. Similar to tapas, these small foods would be served to fishermen as they finished their day, coupled with small glasses of wine, and often at multiple stops along the way home or elsewhere. We went to Cantina do Mori, which is supposed to be Venice’s oldest bacaro (wine bar) dating back to 1462. We sipped some very tasty wine recommended to us by the kind barista, and sampled a variety of snacks from traditional Venetian (cod on a small polenta square, anchovy sandwiched between pickled onions) to more typical fare. (deviled eggs, meatballs)

Being designed for momentary eating, there are no seats and many people will stop through at the counters briefly. So we followed suit and headed down the street to Cantina do Spade where we had prosecco and more snacks. Delightfully full, and with wine upping our motivation, we headed back south to be closer to our apartment for one last drink and an attempt to see the sunset.

Along the way, we passed a massive crowd outside Osteria al Squero and decided to see what it was all about. There was no larger event, simply a bunch of young locals also enjoying the sunset along a canal with cheap aperol spritzes which we quickly partook in as well.

Eventually the sun set and the crowd slowly dwindled. This included us grabbing a last spritz to go and wandering back to our apartment for one last sleep in Venice.

Day 3

Ciao Milan!

After walking more than 13 miles the day before, we were a bit slow to stir Tuesday morning. Knowing you have to pack up and leave a place isn’t a strong motivator either.

We grabbed an awkward bite down the street at a bar that was clearly the go to for many locals, filled with fast paced orders and great people watching. Also great espresso.

After packing up our things, we lugged ourselves and bags back over to Milano Centrale to get our train to Venice. We arrived way too early (30 minutes…) and so grabbed some snacks and shopped around until our Frecciarossa showed up. A quick boarding process later, and we were smoothly rolling at nearly 200mph towards our next stop.

The arrival into Venice was packed, as our train arrived at 2pm, right in the middle of peak tourist time. We bought our tickets for the ferry, and waited, and waited, for one with enough room to take us down the grand canal to our stop. A short walk, and we found our great apartment.

At 500 years old, it is on the newer side of buildings in Venice. Recently renovated and well appointed, it will be a great home base for our 48 hours here. We drop off our things, freshen up, and head out to explore.

With no aim or purpose, we wander around, discovering dead ends or looping back on ourselves countless times. It’s hard to not stop and take a photo at every corner of this iconic city. After quite a tour of the south eastern quadrant, we loop back to our place for a brief rest before grabbing dinner.

All the destination dining recommended by various people and hosts was further than we wanted to walk, so we decided to walk towards campo santo stefano and pick a place that met our fancy. This involves turning down places that are over eager for our business, or have menus that obviously cater to tourists, or listening to how much Italian is being spoken amongst patrons. Very scientific.

Another good meal, and some good people watching on the square, in the books, we wander back home. Along the way we poke our head into a local wine shop, and grab a large bottle of house wine. A simple, fresh dry white wine, we sip it while planning out the next day. With our agenda set, we head to bed.

Day 2 – Lake Como

We had decided long ago lake como was going to be our day two goal. We had finally bought train tickets the night before and were now committed to an early rise for the hour ride north.

The weather was terrible. Overcast and grey, it poured on us walking to the station. Damp on the train, we weren’t very optimistic when we got our first glimpse of lake, mountaintops dancing in and out of clouds. Stepping off the train into a rain rapidly turning to downpour, and ten degrees cooler than the Milan we had left, did not bode well.

The town of Varrena was picturesque even in these conditions. We steeled ourselves with a snack from a local market amongst the small list open at such an early time. A small loop around town saw the rain ease up, a million photos taken of the lake and narrow streets. We felt optimistic enough to try and find the Castello di Vezio, an old fortification dating back centuries, possibly to Roman times.

Having only read that a path takes you up out of town, we kept walking until we saw our first sign for the castle. Leading up smaller and smaller roads, twisting up the hillside, it eventually pointed into the brush at the top of a set of stairs. Having come as far as we did, we ascended into the greenery. A steep, narrow path awaited, wet shrubbery dampening our clothes the whole way up. Tremendous views persisted as we wound through olive tree groves dotting the steep terrain.

The sudden widening, and cobble paving, of the path let us know we were close. A few signs and a gravel path led us to the castles grounds, well maintained and showing off interesting sculptures, including eerie white ghostly figures made by draping plaster sheets over volunteers in a festival every year.

The tower had an amazing 360 degree view that was met with slowly clearing skies. We inspected a neat WWI bunker carved into the stone beneath the grounds, and then started our descent. We saw a sign with a much shorter time estimate pointing in the opposite direction we had come up. Turns out we had gone too far, missing one small sign in town, and had come up the hard way. Oops.

Back in Varenna, we bought tickets and boarded the ferry to Bellagio. It was just as beautiful as we had read and been told, and was full of tourists, both from local and afar, frequently of the upper end of society, dressed in wonderful designer outfits. A quick lunch with great people watching, and a bottle of rosé, rounded out our afternoon there.

Another ferry took us to the opposite, eastern shore of the lake. It was now mostly sunny and warming up, really a beautiful day. We admired a collection of gorgeous villas that had been built in the town of Cadenabbia. We decided to attempt walking to the next town along the lake since it had direct ferries back to Varrena, instead of going back to Bellagio and having to wait for a transfer.

A long and harrowing walk, often along the narrow road, saw us to Menaggio, where we made our rounds through town before a brief rest waiting for the ferry. Another photogenic crossing of the lake and we were back where we started. We hiked back up to the train station and grabbed refreshments for a brief wait for our train.

We had worked up quite an appetite, and had already decided to return to the same quaint restaurant as the night before, a large menu of items we had yet to try. We were not disappointed, trying both staff recommendations that were unique, and fantastic traditional dishes done simply and well. Full of great food and a few liters of wine, we retired for the evening.

Day 0 + 1

Travel Day!

Finally time to jet off to Italy for a whirlwind tour centered around what is sure to be a wonderful wedding in Tuscany.

This one snuck up on us. With busy schedules across work, community and socializing, we found ourselves at the airport almost by surprise Saturday morning. A quick jaunt had us at JFK where we waited for 5 hours before our 8 hour trip across the Atlantic. Fortunately we know how to pass the time.

Our red eye to Malpensa was relatively uneventful. Less sleep than we would have liked, but a great steward kept us plied with wine and then coffee to ease the cycle. We arrived at 7:15 in the morning local time, more than a bit bleary eyed, and somewhat shocked and unprepared to be in a new country.

We grabbed our baggage and hopped the train into the city proper. Unable to get into our apartment until later that day, we planned on leaving luggage at the station and seeing the city. A bit unprepared linguistically, and out of practice (ha!) with the train station routine, we struggled a bit before getting out into the city.

We went on a quick sightseeing tour, stopping at the famous Duomo briefly before grabbing a small pizza each to help reset our clocks and hopefully stay awake through the day. At this point we realized there was a strange wiener dog parade going on, heading straight to the park we wanted to check out. I guess we became honorary members.

We checked out the Castello Sforzesco (medieval castle) and surrounded Paek before wandering around towards church where the last supper is. Unfortunately tours were booked out several months, so we enjoyed the architecture and moved along. It was time to meet up with Lisa and check into our Airbnb.

Once we had our bags dropped, showers taken, and some brief naps, we were human again. We went for a lovely walk down Corso Garibaldi before circling back to a local cafe recommended to us by our host. A simple and delicious meal, accompanied by a great house wine, had us well prepared for a solid nights rest. A glass of rose on the terrace sealed the deal.

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