Sean and I got back from vacation two days ago. We took ten days and drove north through Italy, staying in Agerola, Rome, Florence, Bellagio, and finally Zermatt, Switzerland, after which we drove back down to Genoa and took the ferry home. The trip was amazing – by driving, we got to see so much of Italy and had the freedom to leave when we wanted and stop along the way if we saw something interesting. Italy changes so much as you go north. I love Sicily, but it’s definitely a different world down here. It’s a little loud, a little chaotic, a little dirty at times. The further north you go, the cleaner and more organized things get. Roads widen, cars stay in their lanes, traffic signs make sense. Everything appears to be a bit more planned out and orderly. And the second you cross the border into Switzerland you see the difference. It’s spotless and beautiful. The real shock was coming home when we left Switzerland and got off a boat into Sicily. It’s like night and day. However, the drive through the center of the island from Palermo to Catania was so beautiful I instantly forgave Sicily for (almost) all its shortcomings.
I’m going to split this post into two because I’m sure it will be a bit long 🙂 First, a little story about cars. We decided to rent a car for this trip. Our car is great but since we just bought it a couple weeks ago and don’t completely trust it yet, we figured it’s better to be safe and rent something we know is mechanically reliable. This turned out to be the correct choice. First, a couple days before we left, we hit a rather large piece of pavement that had come out of a pothole and tore an impressive chunk out of both our rim and tire. This was especially aggravating because the guy we bought the car from had very expensive custom rims and tires on the car. Plus, the rims are extra custom and painted to match the color of the car. This was annoying because 1) it was going to cost even more to fix and 2) we hate the color of the rims and having to pay extra for something we don’t even like sucks even more. I took the car into the mechanic we know the prior owner had always gone to. As I pulled in, the mechanic goes, “What did you do to Kevin’s car??” Fortunately, he could help us. Since the rim was so custom, ordering a new one wasn’t realistic, so we had to send the bent one in to get the hole welded and then have the whole thing straightened. And a new tire had to get ordered from the USA. A few hundred bucks and ten days later we have a new, uglier rim with a band of paint missing from it. The only upside from that is that the mechanic told us what great care the prior owner had taken of the car and said that he would have bought it if he could have. So, that was nice to hear.
Next, the day before we left, we were picking up the rental car at the airport, the battery in the BMW died. Not a big deal, but we didn’t have jumper cables or the necessary Italian vocabulary to ask anybody for help. Sean went back into the rental car place and the guy lent him his cables. So we were able to get the car started and went back to the mechanic to have the battery tested. Sure enough, it was bad and we needed a new one.
There was one nice thing that happened though – we just bought a second car for me, a 2005 Hyundai Accent. Not as sexy as the BMW, but practical and inexpensive and we’re hoping it will run well for a year and a half so we can sell it to someone else. It seemed like a good price and the car drove well, so we agreed to buy it. A couple days later I was sitting on a bus and two women in front of me were talking. One of them started talking about the Hyundai Accent she and her husband were selling and my ears instantly perked up. I didn’t know if I should say anything at that point, but my curiosity got the better of me and I kept my mouth shut waiting to hear what she would say about the car. She told her friend that she thought they could have got a lot more for the car but her husband had sold it for a lot less. That made me happy. I never told her who I was.
Ok, this post is turning out to be mostly about cars, I’ll get on to our trip.
Day 1, we drove up to Messina and took the ferry across the strait to Calabria, the tip of the Italian boot. It’s less than a half hour to cross and the ride was beautiful, blue skies and blue water all around. We had booked rooms through Airbnb for our trip. Our first night was at an Agriturismo (a farm or other sort of establishment that typically grows its own food and hosts guests overnight or for meals) in Agerola on the Sorrento peninsula. Aside from a panicked moment when I discovered our GPS had betrayed us and sent us up a steep, narrow mountain road one lane wide but with two way traffic (not easy having to back up a one lane mountain in a stick shift), we made it to Agerola easily. The owner of the Agriturismo was wonderfully friendly. We had dinner there that night with four of the other guests who were staying. One was pretty fluent in English, but the others all spoke Italian. We were able to communicate with them enough to have a great dinner and conversation.
The next morning we left after breakfast and drove along the Amalfi coast and up to Rome. We had planned on going to Pompeii, but since we had tickets for The Rolling Stones concert in Rome that night we decided to just drive straight there and save Pompeii for another trip. This became a common theme – “We’ll come back and go here next time” – so, hopefully we do make it back to all these places. We were blessed with a perfectly sunny day on the Amalfi coast. It’s breathtakingly beautiful the whole way, and especially breathtaking when a tour bus is coming at you around the turns. We got stuck for a bit on the way down from Agerola behind a bus that had overestimated its ability to make a turn. It got wedged in so tight that even the scooters couldn’t get past. It took about ten minutes for it to do a 50 point turn and make it the rest of the way down the road.
We stopped for lunch in Positano, which had been highly spoken of by our friends Joanna and Jeremy. It lived up to its reputation – it’s a gem of a town, and not for those who are adverse to stairs. We parked pretty high up and walked down to the water where we had lunch, and then hiked back up to our car and headed on our way. We promised ourselves we’d come back here too.
We made it to Rome and pretty much went straight to The Rolling Stones concert. It was at Circus Maximus and there was no assigned seating (just standing/sitting in the grass) so we wanted to get there as early as possible so we could get a good spot. We got there a few hours early, but were still pretty far back. Circus Maximus is long and narrow, so the crowd quickly gets deep. I read that there were over 70,000 people there. Luckily Sean and I are pretty tall so we could still see the stage on our tip toes, but everybody was tiny:) The show was awesome. I’d seen them before about eight years ago in San Francisco and was impressed at how energetic they were then, and nothing’s changed. Mick addressed the crowd in both Italian and English, which was neat. Most of the crowd was younger, probably in their 20s/30s/40s. It was really interesting seeing which songs the Italians liked and which parts they sang along to. There was a part where the audience could go online and vote for a song to be played, “Respectable” won. In America I don’t think that’s a particularly popular song, so I was a little surprised. “Start Me Up” and “Satisfaction” were big hits.
The next morning we left Rome and drove to Florence, our next stop. We didn’t have a whole lot planned here as we were only staying one night, and we know we will be back, so we mostly just walked around, shopped, and ate. We had a wonderful dinner here though at the Riflessi Hotel. Sean wanted a Florentine steak, and after a bit of research, this place seemed to have some of the best reviews. It was a bit of a trek out of the center of town, but the staff was kind and the food was well worth it. We got there about ten minutes before they opened, so they told us to have a seat on the patio and brought us two complimentary glasses of prosecco for our wait (bonus points!). They had great wine recommendations, talked to us throughout the night, and made it a great evening. They were out of the Florentine steak (big disappointment for Sean), but my filet mignon was perfect. I would go back there in a heartbeat.
Next, on to Bellagio at Lake Como, but I will continue that in my next post…