Saturday, January 13, 2007

Suzanne and the girls take Italy 12.29.06-1.11.07

My sister Suzanne and her daughters Samantha (15) and Madison (10) finally arrived in the evening on Friday, December 29, 2006. Amazingly, they left Denver just ahead of the second snowstorm to hit that city in a week. The previous storm struck the very day they were to take off, grounding their plane and closing the airport, leaving the Denver area with more than two feet of snow. They had to reschedule their flight, which delayed their coming and meant they would not be here to celebrate Christmas with us but at least I knew they were still coming. You can imagine our joy at seeing each other again after almost two years! There were tears of joy and huge hugs all around. The girls have grown so much in the time we’ve been gone and the three of them have gone through so much together. It’s been tough for them since my brother-in-law passed away almost 3 years ago. My sister has looked forward to this vacation for a long time and we wanted to make sure they all had a good one.

Expecting jetlag, we planned nothing for their first day, letting them sleep in and then just a leisurely breakfast, walks around Vietri and down to the sea. Madison, it turns out, is quite the water-baby and couldn’t resist every opportunity to get her feet wet. The bottoms of Sam’s jeans were completely soaked and both of them seemed to enjoy the time we spent walking on the beach, toes in the sand and in the surf, picking up rocks and little treasures. We had a lovely lunch at the Trattoria Pizzeria on the road that leads up to centro and Maddie, our little chef, got to watch the pizza being made in the ceramic tile-covered, wood burning oven and was adventurous enough to order the pizza with prosciutto crudo and provolone! (I might also add that another favorite were the bocconcini, the little balls of buffalo mozzarella this area is famous for!)

Their first drive along the Amalfi Coast

The following day was New Year’s Eve. We had planned a day that would not require a lot of walking, just driving the Amalfi Coast, enjoying the views and stopping in a few places. Cetara, being the first stop, won everyone’s heart with its charming streets, little shops, lovely seaside and harbor area. Next stop, the lovely city of Ravello, on a crest above the sea and a visit to the garden with its wonderful views of the Amalfi Coast. We visited the cathedral and showed them the vial of the saint’s blood behind the altar that is said to liquefy twice a year, and I’m not sure if they were grossed out or fascinated! We picked up a picnic lunch and sat on a sunny bench in the main piazza.

By this time it was pranzo, that time of day in Italy when everything closes and all the Italians go home for lunch and a rest. This is something Bob and I have had to work around and living here as we do it’s not as big a deal as it is for tourists on brief vacations. You must plan your day to either go back to your hotel and do the same, stop and eat a leisurely lunch yourself and use this time to travel from one place to another or resign yourself to walking around cities that are shuttered and closed for a few hours while the locals disappear. This break can last anywhere from 1pm to 3 or 4pm and in the winter, in the smaller cities like Vietri, stores don’t open again until at least 5. The city of Amalfi is a bit different as it is such a tourist destination and when we arrived there we found most of the shops open and doing business. Since it was New Year’s Eve there were bands of young boys playing music in the streets around the cathedral and Suzanne, Madison and I went into the cloister and museum while Bob and Sam opted to sit it out on the steps outside and people watch. Of course eating gelato was a necessity.

A Security Breach

Back home and a quick trip to the supermercato, insane really, on New Year’s Eve and just as crazy as any trip to the grocery store in the states on the day before a holiday! The funniest thing happened! This particular supermercato has pretty tight security and as you go through the check out, you pass under a security device, much like the metal detectors at airports. I guess they have a shoplifting problem there and when Suzanne passed through it, the beepers starting going off! Not having a history of shoplifting, my sister was shocked when two security officers approached her and we tried to find out what this might be all about! Something on her person was setting off the detectors and it turned out that the jacket she bought before leaving Denver still had one of those little theft detection labels in it. Not like the big white plastic thingies but an innocent little label sewed into the seam! They should have disarmed it when she bought it but neglected to do it. What was really hysterical was that she had come through airport security in Denver, Washington D.C., London Heathrow, Munich and Naples without setting off any alarms and here she was in the supermarket, about to be arrested for shoplifting! (I exaggerate!) The police told her to cut it off as soon as she got home and we took a photo of her with them, as a memento of this strange event. We told them they had better security than all those airports and everything, which made them very proud and we all had a good laugh over it.

New Year’s Eve in Vietri sul Mare

New Year’s Eve was magical! We started to hear the sound of fireworks outside as it approached midnight so we all went down the street to the point where the views of Salerno and along the coast towards Amalfi are the best. Everywhere fireworks were going off, all along the shoreline of Salerno! Above our heads our neighbors put on an incredible show and there were explosions from the center of Vietri visible as well. Marina di Vietri put on a show and along the coast from Raito above and tiny Erchie below, volley after volley exploded in the night sky. We were as ecstatic as the kids and could not believe the display before our eyes, spinning around at one point, not sure which direction to look since we seemed to be literally surrounded by fireworks! It was truly spectacular and I’m sure something we will all remember for a very long time to come.

New Year’s Day we planned to just stay close to home, enjoy sleeping in, walking on the beach, strolling around Vietri and just relaxing. I do believe this was the favorite part of this vacation for them and we just enjoyed being together. Madison helped me prepare dinner, ravioli with my “Sunday” sauce and we had a lovely day.

Paestum and the Greek Temples

We spent the next day exploring Paestum. The skies were threatening, we carried our umbrellas but the rain didn’t come, thankfully and I hope they found it interesting. Bob, ever the teacher, explained the history of this former Greek colony and the ancient temples that still stand on this beautiful site, some of the best preserved outside of Sicily and Greece.

The Ruins of Pompeii

The following day, still carrying our umbrellas with rain on and off, we took them to see the ruins of the city of Pompeii, destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in the year 79 AD. My planning could have been better and we walked too much, too far, out to the Villa of the Mysteries, with its incredible fresco cycles. My sister enjoyed seeing this very much but the walk back to the center of the city proved too much for the girls and I was sorry I had not read them better and kept within the center of Pompeii. The ruins are so vast, it’s quite incredible and there would have been enough to see without this long detour that took us out beyond the city walls, to the outskirts. I think they found it pretty cool but certainly their attention span was not the same as ours and they were ready to go after a few hours of wandering around!

Mt. Vesuvius

It was very cool to drive past the volcano and explain to them how it had erupted and why it now looks the way it does. We told them that the week before Bob and I had climbed to the very top, about a twenty minute hike, a bit steep, and peered down into the crater. They weren’t up for that much of a climb but we drove up into the Parco de Vesuvius onto the slopes of the volcano where the views above Naples are breathtaking and where they might be able to collect a few volcanic rocks to take home as souvenirs. It was so cute the way they scrambled out of the car when Bob pointed out a volcanic cave and my sister snapped some photos of them on their rock-hunting quest!

Driving through this area around Naples is always frustrating for the amount of trash piled up and around the garbage bins and I was sorry my sister had to see that and sorry that this situation is what it is as it really does detract from the beauty of this place. Fortunately we drove out of that and once again were looking out at the beautiful Amalfi Coast and the bays of the Mediterranean Sea.

A few days in Rome

We planned to spend two nights in Rome and headed out early for the nearly 4-hour drive north. Our GPS device had suddenly decided to quit and we were forced to find our way with only our maps and my poor navigational skills. We have not made this trip from Vietri to Rome and were very pleased to arrive in the vicinity of the apartment we had rented near the train station without getting too lost. Our host Mario, the owner of the Chicca Bed and Breakfast ( was waiting for us on the corner and escorted us to the palazzo, a few steps from Piazza della Republica, which proved to be an excellent base from which to explore the city. The girls loved the antique elevator with its beautiful wrought iron gates and up to the fifth floor it slowly rose to our two-bedroom, roof-top apartment with its all-in-one kitchen and sitting room. It was quite comfortable, each bedroom had its own bathroom, which really helped getting up and getting out early each day for touring Rome.

We hit all the big sights, the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, Trajan’s Arch, the giant monument to Victor Emmanuel. We positively wore them out! We stopped for dinner at a Chinese Restaurant, the only one open at around 6pm, and that seemed to please everyone although it might seem a bit strange!

The next day we planned to visit the Vatican. My sister was an art major in college and the thought of seeing the Sistine Chapel in person made her positively giddy. Bob and I have this down pat now, we think, having been there several times and taken our other visitors on tours there. We find it works best for us to take a cab to the museum around 7am and plant Bob on line. The cab then proceeds to St. Peter’s where we arrive around 7:30 just when the doors open. There are no crowds yet and you can pretty much walk right in. We found out that Christmas time is almost as crowded in Rome as summer and believe it or not there was already a line forming in front of the Basilica and we waited a few minutes to work our way through their security. I cannot describe the look on my sister’s face as she stood in front of Michelangelo’s Pieta and tried to explain to the kids why this is such an important piece of work and why they should feel very honored at their young ages to be looking at it. I’m sure they didn’t really get it but I talked about it anyway! The only down side to touring this way is that you really only have about 45 minutes in the church, with no time to climb up into the dome or study all the paintings, sculptures and mosaics but hopefully enough time to appreciate the beauty of the place. By 8:30 we were back in line and ready to go in when the doors opened at 8:45.

Knowing we could not hold the attention of our nieces through all the rooms of the Vatican Museum, we made our way through stopping in places that held an interest for my sister and kept moving towards the Sistine Chapel where Suzanne sat in awe gazing up and even the girls found it wonderful to see. Bob and I pointed out the small dark places that show how the ceiling looked before they cleaned it and even they could see and appreciate what a masterpiece this is.

When the gift shop had been perused and souvenirs purchased we stepped outside for a breath of air, a photo op and headed out towards Castel Sant’angelo and a walk across the river. We visited the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, where they tossed coins over their shoulders. The big mistake we made was not using the tour buses that go all around the city to visit the sights. Bob and I never do this, as we like to just walk everywhere. But for our visitors it proved to be too much walking and would have been better to have purchased an all day ticket that allows you to get on and off at all the major sights without having to walk from one place to another in between. We did, at the end of the day take one of the tour buses all around the city and the girls, I believe, slept through most of it! After a gorgeous day, it started to get kind of chilly on the top of the double decker bus and we found a restaurant near our hotel where we all just collapsed into our chairs and ate comfort food: pasta, pizza and bread, and we three adults drank wine and relaxed after our busy day of touristing!

The next day, January 6th, we had reservations at the Borghese Gallery for the five of us but Suzanne and I rethought this plan. Bob gallantly offered to take the girls to the zoo while my sister and I visited the museum. He deserves a medal for this since, as it turned out, this being a holiday in Italy, the zoo was free and was packed with people and not a particularly relaxing morning for my dear husband! The Borghese is a delight! Not a very large museum, it is nevertheless filled with the most wonderful art works. The sculptures by Bernini alone are worth the visit and we walked around and around these incredible pieces of art in complete awe of his mastery. We are both Caravaggio fans and there is an entire room dedicated to this Renaissance genius. The museum allows only a two-hour visit and at first we thought it would not be sufficient to see everything but it really is. I made reservations online for the time period I wanted (11am to 1pm) and then paid for the tickets when we arrived. You are told to be there at least 30 minutes before your scheduled time and they absolutely will not let you in a moment before. Sharply at 1pm they see you out. It ended up being just enough time and we even circled back to our favorites a few times to stand and stare. It was great also just to be alone with my sister and I treasure the time we spent together.

We then planned to pick up our luggage and our car and drive back to Vietri in the light of day. Best-laid plans sometimes don’t work out. It turned out, since it was a holiday, that the parking garage closed from 1 to 6pm and we would not be able to get our car until then! I phoned Mario and he kindly offered to let us stay in the apartment for a few more hours, as it was not rented for that night, fortunately for us. Bob opted for nap while Suzanne and the girls and I took a walk along Via Nazionale. Unfortunately, it being a holiday all the tempting shops were closed and this was a disappointment. Fortunately, we happened to find a lovely little neighborhood park where Madison had fun climbing on the play equipment and even Sam enjoyed herself.

Around 6pm Bob left to pick up the car and we brought our bags downstairs to wait for him, keeping our fingers crossed that the attendant actually showed up on time to open the garage so that we could leave. By this time of course it was dark and our concerns about finding our way out of the city proved unwarranted as the signs were good and we got on the right road to the autostrada and home to Vietri in a few hours time. We dropped Suzanne and the girls off at our apartment, picked up some roasted chickens and French fries at the take out place in Vietri, ate together and went to bed.

The next day, a Sunday, was a day of rest. We planned nothing and simply spent time here in Vietri, walking on the beach, strolling through town, looking in the ceramic shops, relaxing. We enjoyed a coffee and gelato in Marina di Vietri and fixed dinner at home. We all needed the down time, and it was nice just being together.

We had planned a day in Naples but decided this might be asking too much of our nieces and instead drove north to the medieval city of Casertavecchia. We thought Sam might enjoy walking around this ancient city and we were right. Unfortunately it was a cold and rainy day and most of the shops were closed, except for Ursula’s and this lovely German lady we had written about earlier on a trip Bob and I made to this city a few weeks ago charmed the girls and Suzanne and she showed them her workshop and took them on a tour of her house and explained how she had restored this old building and made almost everything in it with her own hands.

Tuesday we took another drive along the Amalfi Coast with a stop in Positano and a drive through Sorrento. The views are simply breathtaking and I’m glad we did this twice as the first time I believe my family was still experiencing jetlag and didn’t remember much from that day! Positano is so delightful I was glad we saved it for this day, as I’m sure it will be remembered as the beautiful place it is.

Shopping in Salerno

Wednesday, the day before they were to leave, we had kept open. I knew they would need time to pack and get ready to go home and wanted to leave it up to them what they wanted to do. Sam had her heart set on finding a coat and doing some more shopping so we suggested a morning in Salerno. I wanted to show my sister the old part of town and knew there would be plenty of opportunity to find things for Sam to buy and I was right. Bob, who hates to shop, dropped us off in centro and we spent the next few hours exploring the city and looking in all the little shops. The girls loved the old hat shop and each found one they loved. I have this theory about what I call “shopping endorphins” that kick in once you find something you like on a shopping day that sets the mood and makes the rest of the shopping experience successful. It worked! After the hats, they found other little things they liked and finally in one of the clothing shops Sam found “the coat” – exactly the style and color she was looking for all along and in just the right size! They all found things they liked and the girls were delighted and had a great time.

We ate lunch in one of the pizzerias nearby and walked along the harbor admiring the views back towards Vietri and all the little boats there. We finished up walking a short way to the bus station and riding the bus back to Vietri, which waited for us as we ran to catch it. A very successful morning and a great way to end their first trip to Italy I thought!

We took one last walk along the beach and Madison waded in the water. The weather was gorgeous and we took our time, sitting on the steps and gazing out to sea. They spent the rest of the afternoon packing and organizing their stuff. Their flight the next day was an early one so we didn’t stay up late but I don’t think either my sister or I slept much, anticipating having to say goodbye the next day, knowing it will be months before we see each other again. We hope they will come to Delaware this summer for a visit and we will try to see each other more often once we are back in the states.

Their flight left on time. Bob and I waited at the airport until we knew it had taken off, then came home and slept a few hours more. We curled up in bed the rest of the day, watching movies on our laptop, getting up only to make a light supper and then falling asleep for the night. Bob is getting a cold and today slept in. We got a call from the girls that they had made it home without too much excitement except that Madison’s suitcase had not made it from D.C. to Denver and they were still waiting for its arrival. Let’s hope it makes it home, as it would be sad to think some of her souvenirs are lost. I know this will upset her very much so keep your fingers crossed that they find it and deliver it in the next day or so.

That’s about it. It was a wonderful time with them and I can’t believe it’s over already. The days flew by. I know they must be pooped out but we hope they have taken home some good memories that they will treasure as I do each of them.

Rosemary & Bob

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