I have one week left tomorrow before I embark on the longest trip I have ever been on… I am feeling excited and overwhelmed at the same time! My father, his friends, and I will be travelling from Los Angeles to Copenhagen (7 hour layover) then to Rome and finally to our Air BnB in Bologna. After our stay there, we will travel to Salerno on the Amalfi Coast for about a week. Finally, my father and I will journey to Mazara Del Vallo in Sicily, our family’s town, and stay there for about 9 or 10 days. After our Italian adventure concludes, we will make our way to Barcelona and then I will continue to Valencia, where I will meet up with friends for a week or so. Here’s the game changer – the next stop is Leon, where I will meet up with my friends from San Diego to walk El Camino De Santiago De Compostela. I believe we will be walking about 120-130 miles in the north of Spain for 10 days, so hopefully my shoes will last me. Returning August 14, I will need to pack for about two months, and I am trying to pack lightly. I bought myself a red Camelback hiking bag with the water bag included in addition to a small luggage that I have taken wth my on my travels before. I have never owned one of these Vikings bags before, but I HIGHLY recommend! Well… as of now I do. I will keep you posted about my equipment later on! Thank you all for following this, I am excited to share my trip! 🙂
The team was unsure of what to do today, so we got a map and decided on a beach day at Luna Beach, south of Agropoli and north of Paestum. Well… Siri had a mind of her own and decided to take us to Agropoli instead via her own route. We drove and drove through the countryside of Salerno and wow, was it beautiful! The ash and minerals from Vesuvius has turned the land of Campania into one of the most fertile areas in the world! As far as the eye can see, all green. Tomatoes are definitely the most abundant crop but watermelon farms are also popular. I really love this part of Italy because the landscape is decorated with colorful Oleander and eucalyptus looking trees.
We arrived just north on Agropoli and found an incredible parking spot; just meters from the beach. After a slight mix up with our beach chair reservations, we finally found our section and made camp next to a drink stand run by a 17 year old local named Pasquale. We befriended him and talked for a good while about his work and American/Italian differences. I put my Maui Babe Tanning Lotion to work and let’s just say by the end of the day, I was a little beyond golden… more like toasted the darkest shade of scarlet. The water was very clear and the perfect temperature but the only downside was how shallow it was. One could basically walk to the buoy.
After our beach day, we drove around Agropoli in search of a pizza restaurant to hold us over until dinner (nothing opens in Italy until 20:00). We found a little shop on the side of the road on our way back to Salerno and got eggplant parmigiana and Caprese sandwiches.
Once we got back to Salerno, we showered and went to a popular local spot called Due Fratelli, which was overrated in my opinion. We each ordered our own pizzas, and the waiter cut them all up and gave us each a dish containing a slice of each person’s pizza, which is something I have never seen done. It was good for the price but definitely not the best pizza that I have had. (Below are som of the massive watermelons/angurie here)
Speaking of the best, I got some hazelnut gelato which in my opinion, was the best I have had on this trip!
We met Guy and Terry at 9 to go get our rental car from our friend and started our road trip to Guy’s family’s town, Serino. We got lost a few times. We arrived in Serino about an hour later, parked, and walked around to find not much except for a large number of senior citizens and a fountain of immigrants lacking water. Guy told us that when his great grandfather left Serino, he was one of the first of hundreds to immigrate to the United States. Since Serino is such a small town, it was greatly impacted by the amount of residents that left.
We got a pastry for the road and decided to explore another part of Campania. My Aunt Fina had told us before the trip about a town called Caserta, so when we recognized its name on the map, we did some research and decided to head over. We really had no idea what to expect and the temperature was 36 degrees Celsius, so we just decided to go along with it since we were already so far on the autostrada. We arrived in the small town of Caserta and found a parking spot behind a bus. With some difficult maneuvers, my Dad parked our blue Ford Fiesta and we noticed a giant Palace behind us. I somehow persuaded the group to go investigate, so we walked about half a mile over a dusty path, without shade, leading to the entrance of this place. The front of the building had incredible shrubbery that was filled with dry weeds and the surroundings just looked runned-down.
We reluctantly paid the €48 to get in and everyone thanked me at the end! So after experiencing this palace – more elaborate than Versailles – we did our research since we didn’t take a tour. The palace is the largest in the world and was home to Napoletano royalty dating back to who knows when. The palace itself was built in the 1800s and King Ferdinand II and his wife Maria Sophia lived there most recently. The palace was the location that the Germans surrender during World War II and many renown movies were filmed there, including Star Wars and Mission Impossible. In my personal opinion, the art in that palace was some of the most ornate I have ever seen in my life. As we finished seeing maybe 1/10 of the interior (that’s all that we were allowed) we went outside and found an incredible garden that was trimmed and taken care of, unlike its front counterpart. There was a path even longer than the one in the front that appeared to go on infinitely… you guessed it, I chose to walk all the way down it in the blazing sun to go and see the fountain at the end. I got a very nice tan from that… good thing I had a water bottle with me or I wouldn’t have been able to do it.
After our unexpected sight in Caserta, we drove back to Salerno and decided to let Guy and Terry have dinner on their own. At 8 pm, my dad and I walked to Mama Rosa’s and found Guy and Terry on the street heading towards the same place! We ate together and then sat on their rooftop balcony that night and relaxed until my dad and I went back to our dungeon to sleep.
A lesson learned from the day: let life take you where it wants.
We packed our bags and lugged them to Bologna Centrale to catch out almost 5 hour train ride to the second leg of the trip – Salerno. The Italian scenery entertained me for the duration of the trip, until Terry got out the lunchmeat, cheese, and bread for our train picnic. All of the Trenitalia workers were laughing at us; shocked that Americans knew the proper ride to travel in this country.
We arrive in humid Salerno at around 3 pm and found our rental car shop to be closed (as expected). We walked about a mile to our air bnb in the heat and established ourselves in a dungeon, I’m not kidding when I say that. This place we are staying in has a modern interior, but you step out of the door and you might thing that you stepped back into the 1800s and are staying in a serf residency, even though this place is only one block west of the center of Salerno. There is no wifi since we are basically sealed inside of a cement dome. I mean, at least we have shelter!
That night, the man from Sicily By Car recommended that we try a place run by his friend called Pizza Club. We couldn’t figure out how to open the door and the people inside thought we were complete idiots. I thought the pizza was good even though the crust was gluten free. You could either order the classic (the size of a typical American pizza) or the 1/2 meter. Insane, right? After we polished off our arancini di melanzane, pizza diavola, and pizza con salsiccia e funghi, we ordered a Napoletano special – baba. The waiter came out with these HUGE slices of the rum cake topped with fresh wild strawberries. It was phenomenal.
We finished the night with a little passeggiata along the deep turquoise water. The sidewalk is aligned with white and fuchsia oleander and Vesuvius looms in the background behind the evening clouds. I guess 10 pm is when all of the teens of Salerno take their passeggiata as well because we really got to see a lot of Salerno’s youth.
So far so good, Salerno! I am excited for the next few days and to share them here, so stay tuned!
Considering that this day was used mostly for packing and cleaning the apartment, I woke up at 10:30, which is strange for me. I ate some cherries for breakfast and drank some chamomile tea while I got ready. We went for lunch at the place we went to a few days back. Lunchmeated out, I ordered a mixed salad instead with a piece of fontina-wrapped prosciutto, sundried tomatoes, and walnuts. Oh! They served the salad with tortillas that actually tasted like Mexican tortillas and I was in my happy place!
After lunch, I split from the group and went shopping. My favorite store is Zara… and Bologna has two of them! I almost forgot to mention that the entire store was 30-50% off, so I had some fun. I walked back to the apartment in the scorching heat and took a well-needed nap, since the heat wears me down very easily.
That evening, at around 8 pm, we went to dinner at Banco 32 once again. I think that this restaurant might be my favorite in our duration here. Every night, they change their menu according to the products they receive. We ordered our fried fish cones again, octopus salad, polpette di dentice (not sure how to say that in English), mussels, and a few other tapas. We took our passeggiata back to Piazza Maggiore, walked beneath the medieval buildings one last time, and stopped back at Galliera 49 on our way back to our apartments. This time, I had pistacchio and cuba, which is dark chocolate with cherries… so good!
I really liked Bologna. It definitely has its own character and is filled with life… I mean, it is a college town after all. I thought that Piazza Maggiore was something spectacular as well. I can’t even begin to describe how insane the architecture is in Bologna, it is just crazy to think that people lived there back in the 1000s just as they do today, except maybe they weren’t watching movies infront of the church every summer night.
These 9 days have been fantastic so far and arrivederci Bologna ❤
We decided to break up the 3 hour trip back to Bologna by stopping in Parma, also known as the birthplace of prosciutto di Parma and Parmesan cheese. Our binario was called “1 T” which apparently is short for 1 tronco. We had a difficult time decifering what this meant, until my dad and I set out to explore the train station. We discovered this little train, maybe three cars long; it looked like a museum piece. As we approached it, we realized that its lights were on and above it read, “1 tronco.” We boarded our rickety museum train with a mint green interior and started our heavily air conditioned ride to Parma… who would have thought that our little train could be so efficient!
Parma is a nice town and the main form of transportation appears to be by bicycle. We had a two hour “layover” and stopped at Salumeria Garibaldi. My God, I have never tasted better lunchmeat in my life. Those deli workers must have been impressed at the amount of meat I ate, but when in Parma, right? I was in a food coma for the next five hours and the thought of lunchmeat filled my dreams that night… I’m not kidding. I can never look at American/imported lunchmeat the same again after that meal!
We got back on our regionale train to Bologna and had many laughs. That evening in Bologna, we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant and it was pretty good. In my opinion, everything needed a little more salt, but for Italian Chinese food, it was good. We took a cab back to Piazza Maggiore and watched a little bit of the movie playing under the stars, the featured film of the night was Nuovo Mondo. There were so many people there that they even put their bags down on the ground and used them as cushions because all of the seats were filled.
On the way back, we stopped at Galliera 49, Bologna’s most popular gelateria. Every night we would see all of the local adults standing outside of the stand licking their gelato cones, so we decided that a trip here was necessary. I got a small copa with lampone (raspberry) and limone (lemon). I have never tasted better gelato! It was the perfect consistency and I could feel the raspberry seeds on my tongue… that’s how you know it’s good!
My goal while in Italy is to learn more Italian and to try and become fluent and I think that I am doing a good job with that. It has been about 10 days here and I have already learned so much! 22 days left in the Old Country until the adventures in España embark!
Today was a long day of sitting in hot trains with screaming babies. We boarded our train to La Spezia and it took about 3 hours to get there. The cool thing though is that we passed through the marble cutting region of Italy, so we got to see all of the mountains used for marble (they looked like the Dolomites).
As soon as we arrived in La Spezia, I knew already that I loved it. I could hear the seagulls calling to each other the second I stepped out of the train station and the weather was so gorgeous. We went to the hotel, which was built in the 1800s, put our baggage down, drank some water, and started our trek around Cinque Terre. On our way to Vernazza, the 4th Terre, my eye started itching and it got extremely red and swollen… and five minutes in, the same thing happened to my lip. We went to the farmacia in Vernazza and apparently I had an allergic reaction to the water… no more tap for me. I’m fine now though thank God!
Vernazza was absolutely amazing, but there were so many people. We stopped for a bite to eat at the bottom of the hill next to the ocean and I had my favorite, pasta alle vongole. The ocean was turquoise, clear, and warm. After lunch we squeezed through the crowds and got back on the train to Monterosso. Monterosso is more of a beach town with hundred of beach chairs and umbrellas laid out. We did not have our swim suits, so we just got back on the train since it was so hot. We decided to hit one more before going back to La Spezia, and that was Corniglia. There was a nice hiking trail, but we were by no means in any condition to march to the top of the cliff and then walk for an hour and a half in the sun. Instead, we decided to get something to drink and hop on the train back to La Spezia.
I thought that Cinque Terre was really nice, but there were just so many people. If you ever want travel here, avoid the Summer because it is extremely packed with tourists. The towns are so small and they aren’t built for so many people. Nevertheless, the food was still incredible and the sights were still magnificent, or sensational as our Australian friend said about some 10€ gelato in Firenze.
I definitely liked La Spezia more than Cinque Terre, I think mostly because it is most similar to San Diego. There is a sea breeze, it is next to the mountains, the buildings are relatively new yet European, and there is a huge sense of community. Our dinner was absolutely spectacular. We ate a restaurant called La Nuova Spezia and it was probably some of the best seafood that I have ever had in my life. We ordered stuffed anchovies, fried mixed seafood, verdura, mussels, caprese salads, and pesce del forno. I was nearly in tears from the beauty of it all. A group of old Italian men at a table in the other room pulled out guitars and accordions and started playing old Italian songs, one of them even sang opera. The entire restaurant joined them in song, even the dog! Sara tip: this is the reason you always need to eat at local spots.
We took our evening passeggiata back to our archaic hotel and called it a night. Once I get back home, some life style changes are being made:
- I will be making my own bread, no more store bought.
- I am going to learn the art of pasta making.
- More seafood.
- Afternoon naps are a must.
- Walk walk walk.
- Morning coffee.
- Have equal parts of work and fun.
I started my morning off with a croissant (yes, again) and a ciocco Bologna… which is basically just a hot chocolate with a shot of espresso. Sugar sick, I walked with the gang to the Bologna Centrale station and we took the short thirty minute ride via Frecciarossa to Firenze (Florence). I went to Firenze for the first time back when I was 13 in 2012, so I did not remember much except for the exterior of the Duomo and David. I have to say though that Firenze really impressed me this time. It wasn’t just an ordinary Tuscan valley town, but a place spewing with history and incredible architectural feats.
My Dad and I walked around and found an old monastery cemetery while Guy and Terry waited in line for the Accademia to see David. Turns outs every first Sunday is free museum day there! We then got in the line to enter the Duomo at 12:30 and waited for an hour to get in, since it is the one thing that we have never seen in Firenze. In the line, we met an Australian family and an Irish couple and we talked for the duration of the wait. They were all super fun to talk to and time passed extremely quickly. Something I found super interesting about the Duomo is that they forced you shoulder and knees to be covered. I mean, I know that churches are strict about shoulders, but with my experience with Catholic churches, the knee rule typically isn’t enforced. The Duomo is definitely more exciting on the outside. The interior is pretty blan to be honest, but the floor is very instricately made with the same marble as the exterior of the church. I think my favorite (and most exciting part) of the church is the painted dome. How anyone painted that confuses me since it is so high, but just the angles of the paintings are something extraordinary.
After, we walked around the city, and grabbed some hors d’oeuvres at a restaurant near a church built in the 890s. We had a plate of assorted cheeses with walnuts and honey and another plate of prosciutto and burrada cheese. These kept our appetites satisfied until our steak Florentine dinner at I Tuscani 2. The steak was PHENOMENAL. It was so rare and the taste was out of this world. Some yukon gold potatoes and a variety of veggies were served with it and everything was just cooked to perfection. The place was small, so we made friends with everyone there; a man from Staten Island and a couple from Toronto.
I really enjoyed my time here, now that I am older. It is touristy but definitely not anywhere as bad as Venice was yesterday. The city is so scenic and so historical, I love it. I also forgot to mention that the gelato is some of the best that I have had!
Tomorrow is an early morning, so I better get some sleep. Buona notte a tutti and stay tuned to Sara explores part unknown tomorrow in Cinque Terre!
I decided to pull a late one last night, so waking up at 7 am to catch the train to Venezia was a bit of a struggle. I walked down Via Cairole to grab a croissant and cappuchino for breakfast (typical) and then we met Guy and Terry and walked to the Bologna Centrale train station. I went inside of a little shop within the train station and the shop keeper spoke to me in Italian, goal met! We hopped on our train and in two hours, we were in the masquerade city. I have to admit, I am thoroughly impressed.
Common Venetian misconceptions:
1. The town is mostly canals. False. The town is literally harder to navigate through than a corn maze.
2. Piazza San Marco is close to the train station. It took us an hour and a half to get there.
3. Venice is a calm and serene city. Well… maybe in the middle of Winter when there are no tourists.
I really enjoyed the architecture of the city, but the amount of people that were there today was sheer insanity. Imagine Disneyland on a Summer day. Okay, now times that by about 10 and now you have Venice. After searching for the main Piazza and Grand Canal, we worked ourselves up an appetite and stopped for a bite to eat. Along the way, I popped into churches here and there and bought some gorgeous Murano blown glass. The weather was nice though and like I said before, the architecture is astounding. I really need to look more into Venetian history! Before we left, I stopped into the church across from the train station and explored a bit until I came upon this set of stairs going downwards with sign pointing, “Cripto.” I skeptically made my way down the stairs and discovered this eerie and chilly cavern with a crypt right smack dab in the center. Honestly I chickened out and grabbed the gang to come along with me because it was so spooky. Turns out, it was actually the body of the apostle Simon I believe… I will keep researching and update the blog if I learn anything else about it.
We found a train that left Venice right when we finished looking through the black-widow-filled tomb and went back to Bologna (a train ride filled with camping stories) to have an incredible dinner at a restaurant called Banco 32, a place the locals go to. I definitely think that besides the salumi plate I had yesterday, tonight’s dinner of seafood tapas really rocked. We ordered shrimp, anchovies, calamari, polpo, salmon caponata, bacala salad, polpo salad, mussels and clams. I was in my glory. Afterwards, we took our nightly passagiatta and I got a little gelato with Terry. Another day for the books!
As I predicted, yes, I did fall asleep on the table in the restaurant last night after I ate my grilled veggies. I woke up this morning at 2 am to my Dad tinkering with the AC… apparently the water/condensation tank had to be emptied. Luckily i fell back asleep and woke up at 9 am and by 10:30 we were out the door on search for food. We found a place, kind of like the food center, near the Piazza Maggiore (that is the piazza with all of the renaissance buildings). I got this magnificent plate of salumi with mortadella, prosciutto di parma, sopresata, lardo, parmegianno regianno, and another cheese spread that is unknown. It was phenomal, no other word to describe it. The lunch meats here in Northern Italy are made so carefully and no preservatives are added… they know what they are doing here!
Afterwards explored the historic part of Bologna in Piazza Maggiore. I went inside of the cathedral and found the bones of Saint Girolamo and I think the heart of Saint Benedict. There was a roped-off line going down the floor of the cathedral, kind of like a timeline, but it just had numbers on it and giant symbols. As I followed it, I saw that it was a line of the zodiacs, strange for a Catholic Cathedral (I researched it here https://www.google.it/amp/s/aleteia.org/2016/11/26/the-basilica-of-saint-petronio-in-bologna-a-church-built-on-astronomical-science/amp/). We then walked to the two towers of Bologna and hung around that old part of the city. It is bizarre to try and imagine people dressed in 11th century garb walking down the streets just as I did today.
We then strolled down the main strada called Via dell’Indipendenza and window shopped among the myriad of shoe stores and pasticcerie. For dinner we grabbed a bite of pasta at a trattoria and then walked another 2 miles to get tiramisu (best I’ve ever had). I love how it doesn’t get dark in Bologna until 10:00, college kids are still walking around and shops are still open. There’s even a movie playing every night under the stars in Piazza Maggiore in front of the cathedral I mentioned earlier!
Unfortunately, last night was filled with tossing and turning and I maybe got 2 hours of sleep… thanks jet-lag. I ate my croissant for breakfast, we checked out of the hotel, and lugged our luggage to Termini Roma to catch our late train to Bologna. I ended up sleeping most of the train ride, figuring I would see the scenery on our way to Salerno in a week. I do love Italian countryside though; just rolling hills and green foliage, speckled with beige and terra-cotta homes.
Good thing we decided to taxi our way to our apartment because I am 100% guaranteed that we would have gotten lost. Our apartment is incredible, I love it! It is super clean and simple and Sara friendly… I forgot to mention that it is right next to a park! My Dad and I went walking to go find Guy and Terry. We got lost. We Went in circles twice. Some friendly Bolognese people helped us, praise Jesus, and eventually we found Via Montebello. We ate lunch at 15:00 at this little market deal – I got homemade spinach and ricotta tortelloni smothered in Parmesan and Bolognese sauce… yeah I might skip dinner tonight, I can only handle one food coma per day.
My Dad let me explore Bologna sola because I like going into churches and talking pictures while everyone else in our group enjoys sitting and grabbing a glass of wine (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Well, I got myself very, very lost in the city center and somehow I donated €2 to a drug rehab center and found Depeche Mode… I’m not sure how I get myself into these situations.
The gang is currently napping and I am listening to Neil Young while forcing my eyes to stay open so I have a chance to sleep tonight. I most likely will sleep at the table. Oh! I poured some of my 1.5 liter peach tea into a glass and popped it into the freezer, so I will update you all on its progress tomorrow.
Until then, buona notte!