“The Creator made Italy by designs from Michelangelo.” – Mark Twain
And Mark Twain was right! He still remains.
In the second leg of this travelogue, I would talk about the places we visited beside Florence, Tuscany and Venice in the first leg of our travel. By the time we left Florence we were quiet attuned to the pace of our travels. Parents were used to the food, I was getting into the groove of art-hunting and we had picked up quite a few souvenirs already along the way. That is when we landed in Naples and discovered a busy port town very similar to the ones back in India with all the people, hustle and bright blue skies.
Pompeii – A city frozen in time
As your train chugs into Naples the first thing you notice is the huge backdrop of a mountain. My father was the most excited about this leg of the travel since Mt. Vesuvius was his calling. A celebrated active Volcano which had once gulped down the entire valley of Pompeii and still breathes on, is what Geological dreams are made of I guess. We stayed a night in Naples. In case Naples come sin between your journey and you are missing home food this is a place with abundant options of Indian food at local joints and the food is quiet inexpensive and good. We set out a day later and started early to visit the ruins of Pompeii. It is a sight to behold. The level of preservation is astonishing as is the history heartbreaking. The place is like a peck in the sand of time which remains stuck in limbo while the world moved on. To imagine, how a sprawling Roman city turned to dust and ashes in a matter of hours post the eruption breaks your heart. Even today , a huge population lives dangerously close to the summit and as our driver Tony put it, these residents refused government aid to move to safer places and continue staying in the lap of this active volcano.
My father picked up stones and minerals that are thrown out by the volcano and collected and sold around these parts as souvenirs.
Sun-kissed Amalfi Coast
Our next stop was Positano on the Amalfi coast. This is a classic drive through a beautiful place to a beautiful place where you are constantly mesmerized by the beauty of nature and the way man and nature have conspired to build a piece of heaven on earth. Flanked by the Milky Mountains (Named so because of being primarily while Limestone Mountains) and the azure Tyrrhenian Sea this drive with many terraces to stop and admire the breathtaking sights quickly made itself to the top of my driving list. Positano is brimming with tourists, has an almost vertical approach to the sea with colorful and pretty homes and stores along the lanes that lead to the beach. While beautiful, it is the playground of the rich; so things might seem expensive. We spent a lovely time strolling around the town and taking in the beauty of the “Pearl on the Amalfi coast” as it is called.
Next up on our way back was Sorrento. Now this town from where you can sail to the Capri Island (must visit for next time), remains a favorite of mine. Not as busy as Positano or the towns on Amalfi, this seaside town took my heart away. Beautiful beaches and a very interesting street to shop Limoncello , ceramic art and Lemon based soaps that are specialty of this region and long walkways along the coast make this small town an absolute must-see. The backdrop of the Vesuvius and the slightly slower pace of life here add to the charm. Highly recommended is to have a relaxed lunch by the bay while taking in the beauty of the place. Our guide for the day Tony kept us entertained with the history, myths and local gossip throughout the drive and the stops. On our way back, he surprised us with a visit close the Vesuvius summit and also a beautiful terrace overlooking the Bay of Naples. Though these were short halts, both were places of stunning beauty.
Post Naples we spent the longest part of our trip in Rome and Vatican city. The day we reached my dad, partner and brother went out o see a Roma and Juventus football match. What I hear from them is that it was an experience worth all the plan changes we had to do to accommodate the date. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric and so was the feeling of seeing some of the greats of the game at play. The next few days were spent in Rome. Rome is huge and Rome is steeped in history. The streets are lined with sculptures and galleries with great art. The churches with their frescoes, the work of the masters of the Renaissance are all spread across the city for you to see. Whether it is the Roma history, Baroque architecture or Renaissance art you have it all here in abundance. I am not specifying places because that will reflect my personal art biases and favorites. Again, the city is best explored if you can walk and have an eye to discover. Rome also has Uber (Expensive) and radio taxi in case you want to use them. We used both and services are prompt and reliable.
Architecture of Vatican
Keep a whole day for Vatican. The Vatican museum, the Sistine chapel, St. Peter Square, the crypts of the Popes under the main church, the gallery of tapestries , the Egyptian collection at the museum each deserve time, attention and should not be rushed through. Do note that the Vatican walk is a long one and should you want to do it in bits and pieces, you might be up for a surprise. My mom surprisingly walked most of the tour in spite of having an aching knee.
Food and shopping in Rome is easy and you can hit the main street, the Via Del Corso and pick up anything from old books, great wine or handmade perfumes. Rome was the last leg of our trip and flew home from there.
Sensory Joyride of Italy
Italy has been a sensory joyride for us. We took in as much as we could with joy and grace and yet it seemed that much of it was left. We will come back for sure. This is a place which you will enjoy alone, as a couple or with your family. Italians are warm and friendly and love a good chat. A lot of them have traveled to India or wish to do it someday. I guess, that is the best part about traveling. As much as it is about discovering a new place and seeing for yourself a celebrated piece of art it is also about taking a piece of where you belong, and the beauty of your own country and region out in the world. It is about spreading wings and flying away. It also about asking the other birds in distant land to pay you a visit someday!