Day Tripping – Rome to Gubbio

Gubbio, Italy, 2012
Gubbio, Italy, 2012

Known for its Maiolica, Italian tin glazed pottery, and the Corsa di Ceri, St. Ubaldo’s Day every May 15th, Gubbio is a hill town and comune located on the slopes of Mt. Ingino, a small mountain of the Apenninines, in the far northeastern part of the Italian province of Umbria.

Well worth the effort to reach by train or bus from Rome and definitely worth renting a car and driving northeast from Rome.  The trip really becomes beautiful once you exit the Autostrada and wind your way through the hills toward Gubbio.  We happened to go in late October and while chilly it was nice to have the town mostly to ourselves.

Roman Amphitheter - 1st Century BC, Gubbio, Italy, 2012
Roman Amphitheter – 1st Century BC, Gubbio, Italy, 2012

The historical center of the town definitely has a medieval feel and at times seemed desolate because of the enormous amount of stone, narrow streets, and Gothic architecture that surrounds you.  Many of the houses in the town, built by a wealthy merchant class, date to the 14th and 15th centuries.  Walking around the town you will find most every kind of shop to walk into and I strongly encourage you to stop in the local wine shops.  We stopped at Enoteca Calzuola and met Corrado Angel who helped us pick out some fantastic wines, Sangrito di Montefalco, to ship home for friends and family.

Palazzo dei Consoli, Gubbio, Italy, 2012
Palazzo dei Consoli, Gubbio, Italy, 2012

When visiting a hill town expect to climb a lot of stairs.  Gubbio has the distinction of a rather unique way to get to the top of Mt. Ingino.  Residents and visitors can use the Funivia Colle Eletto, an open air birdcage attached to a cable, to go from town to the sanctuary of Sant’Ubaldo.   Opened in 1960 and carrying passengers ever since.

Joe riding the Funivia to Vasilica di Sant'Ubaldo, Gubbio, 2012
Joe riding the Funivia to Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo, Gubbio, 2012

One of the best day trips we have had and definitely a place I hope to return to in the future!  Buon Viaggio!

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The Year in Pictures – Italy

Thinking back on the past year having spent quite a bit of it in Italy I am grateful for the many opportunities and experiences that I have had and especially for the friendships I continue.   Some of my favorite photos are those that capture colors – sounds – smells I remember, special moments, and places I enjoyed the most.  They are not always the best photographs but they bring back the best memories.

Via dei Fori Imperali - Early Morning
Via dei Fori Imperali – Early Morning
"I love you from here to the end of the world again indefinitely", Graffiti, Tiber Embankment, Rome
Graffiti, “I love you from here to the end of the world again indefinitely”, Tiber Embankment, Rome
Joe, Steps of Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
Joe, Steps of Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
My favorite view - Blue Sky from our Apartment Window
My favorite view – Blue Sky and Clouds from our Apartment Window, Piazza Capo di Ferro, Rome
Detail, City Ordinance, Rome
Detail, City Ordinance “Forbidden to Post”, Rome
Detail, Fountain, Piazza Farnese, Rome
Detail, Fountain, Piazza Farnese, Rome
Preparing for Wreath Laying, Campidoglio, Rome
Carabinieri Preparing for Wreath Laying, Campidoglio, Rome
Appian Way, Rome
Appian Way, Rome

Day Tripping – Amalfi Coast to Paestum

Temple of Neptune, Paestum, Italy, 2013
Temple of Ceres, Paestum, Italy, 2013

Spending time on the Amalfi Coast is as close to what I imagine heaven being like.  While it may be hard to pull yourself away from the beautiful seaside towns of Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello there are many wonderful places in the surrounding area that I would recommend visiting if you have time – Pompeii and Paestum being two of these.

Paestum located in the Campania region of southern Italy is about 120 km to the southeast of Naples near the Amalfi Coast.   Several ways to get to Pasteum from the Amalfi Coast (Solarno, Positano, Amalfi) – By car (recommended), by bus, or by train.  All require some planning but I assure you the reward is worth it.

Buses run on the SITA line and trains via Trentitalia.  More information can be found by visiting Rick Steve’s website, Rick Steves Europe.

Pasteum, 2013
Temple of Neptune (foreground) and Basilica, Pasteum, 2013

Paestum originally the ancient city of Poseidonia was founded by the greeks in 600 B.C. and later became a colony of the Roman Empire in 210 B.C.  I have discovered that there are more intact and well preserved temples in Italy than there are in Greece and Paestum will not disappoint on that score.  In addition to the temples and ancient ruins which include remains of residential homes, forum, amphitheater, swimming pools, etc. there is a wonderful Museum founded in 1952, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, which displays some of the artifacts found in the nearby burial grounds including sculptures, bronzes, ceramics, terracotta, and actual tombs with beautifully painted details. The most famous of these tombs from the 4th century B.C. is the tomb of the diver which has recently been restored.

Pasteum, 2013Roman Road, Via Sacra, Pasteum, 2013

On this particular trip we drove from Positano down the coast through Amalfi, they should hand out awards, to Salerno and then inland across beautiful plains to Paestum.  Parking is easy and inexpensive (2 euros) and there are plenty of quaint places for lunch and many souvenir shops some selling quite beautiful reproductions of Paestan Ceramics.  Truly a bargain when compared to the same items in Rome or Naples.   While I recommend visiting Pompeii, Paestum is much less crowded and we often had no one in sight when walking through the ruins – you truly feel like you have been transported in time.  Make sure you bring your camera.   Buon Viaggio!

Italy by Train – Centovalli Railway, Lombardy

I can’t speak for everyone but I surely enjoy traveling by train especially in Italy.  The highspeed, “Alta Velocità”, trains move you from one major city to another quickly and comfortably.  I often wonder why we can’t develop the same hightech railway system in the States? More about the Alta Velocità, Freccia – Argento, Rossa, and Bianco in another post.

In addition to the high speed trains there are many regional railways that offer service to some spectacular locations.  One such regional railway is the Ferrovie Autolinee Regionali Ticinesi (founded 1898) in the Lombardy region of Italy near Milan and the Lake District.

Centovalli Railway, Italy, 2012
Joe Checking The Train Schedule, Centovalli Railway, Italy, 2012

I can say unequivocally that the scenic train ride between Domodossola, Italy and Locarno, Switzerland traveling through the breathtaking “Hundred Valleys” was one of the most visually thrilling train rides in my life – so far!  We took this train in the late fall, November 2012, and the views were unimpeded by leaves allowing us to see things most likely hidden in the late Spring and Summer.

Trontano, Italy, 2012
Trontano, Italy, 2012

Not only is this region of Italy one of my favorites it is also one of the most naturally beautiful in the world.  Along the route the train climbs into the mountains along steep gorges, through tunnels (34), across stone bridges (83), and past picture postcard towns with centuries old churches.   Wildlife, chestnut groves, waterfalls, vineyards, and snowy peaks are some of the beautiful views you have along the 2 hour journey from Italy into Switzerland.

View of the Alps, Centovalli Railway, Domodosolla to Locarno
View of the Alps, Centovalli Railway, Domodossola to Locarno, 2012

Once you arrive in Locarno, Switzerland you have many options and you are able to see quite a bit in several hours before heading back.   A walk along the lake, or a visit to one of numerous churches, or a ride on the Funicular (highly recommended) for a spectacular view are some of your choices.   NOTE:  Remember you are in Switzerland which is not part of the European Union.  You should plan to visit an ATM for some Swiss Francs as not all places will accept the Euro and those that do charge a premium.  The upside – Swiss Francs are beautiful.

Camedo Station, Centovalli Railway, Italy, 2012
Camedo Station, Switzerland, Centovalli Railway, 2012

Before getting on the train to return to Domodossola be sure to stop for a sweet if not lunch at one of the many wonderful restaurants in downtown Locarno.  Swiss food while rich is certainly delicious and if you are a chocolate or cheese aficionado you can indulge to your heart’s content.

Chiesa Madonna del Sasso, Locarno, Switzerland, 2012
Chiesa Madonna del Sasso, Locarno, Switzerland, 2012

Sicily – Agrigento, Palermo, Syracuse

The best way to describe Sicily is to start throwing out adjectives – beautiful, turbulent, mysterious, fascinating, rugged, lush, diverse to name but a very few.  The Sicilian natives carry the blood of 13 occupying powers in their veins which sets the stage for the variety of food, architecture, culture, and history you will experience.

The reality of visiting Sicily far and away surpassed my imagination and many preconceived stereotypes.  I have been back several times and I hope I will have the good fortune to go back again – this time for a much longer visit.

Valley of the Temples, Agrigento, Sicily, 2010
Valley of the Temples, Agrigento, Sicily, 2010

Sicily is fairly easy to traverse via car and you can see a lot in a few days depending on where you are located.   Both the Palermo and the Catania Airports are easily reached (1.5 hour flight time) by daily flights from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport.  I highly recommend visiting Palermo for a few days and visiting nearby towns – Cefalu, Misilmere, Monreale OR spending a week along the southeastern coast – Noto, Ragusa, Syracuse.  Agrigento and Taormina are also high on the list but are more out of the way and require some logistical planning if you do not have access to a car – well worth the effort!

Palermo Cathedral, Sicily, 2010
Palermo Cathedral, Sicily, 2010

For fans of bestselling Inspector Montalbano novels and short stories now a long running cult Italian TV Series a trip to Sicily will allow you to visit many of recognizable locations which have been used as a backdrop over the years.

View of Syracuse from Aranella, Sicily, 2012
View of Syracuse from Aranella, Sicily, 2012

One of Sicily’s best natural features is the beautiful Mediterranean Sea which offers great swimming, seafood, and scenery.  Definitely try to spend some time walking along the water or relaxing in the water at one of the many beaches.

I have included several links which will give you further insight into this magical diverse universe situated on the largest island in the Mediterranean and hope you are inspired.  Buon Viaggio!

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Day Tripping – Rome to Frascati

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAView of Frascati from belevedere at Villa Aldobrandini, Frascati, Italy, 2012

Just south of Rome, in the Alban Hills, lies a string of hilltowns, villages, and vineyards called the Castelli Romani.  One of my favorites is Frascati the largest and best known for it’s wines and beautiful villas.   Amazingly many of these towns survived the heavy bombing of World War ll.  More than 50% of Frascati was destroyed in the war.

Located a short 12 miles (20km) southeast of Rome, Frascati is easily reached by train, car, or taxi.  I recommend taking the train from Roma Termini station.  Depending on the specific train It takes between 30 and 40 minutes. The regional trains cost about 2 euros one way and it is best to buy a round trip ticket at Termini as sometimes the ticket counter in Frascati is closed for lunch or coffee breaks and you don’t want to miss a train or get on a train without a ticket.

Home to many well preserved villas including Villa Aldobrandini, Villa Falconieri, Villa Parisi, Villa Grazioli, Villa Lancellotti, Villa Muti built by Popes, cardinals, and roman nobles, Frascati is easy on the eyes.  Not all the villas are open to the public but many allow access to the gardens.

We were fortunate to visit in the Fall and the weather was beautiful.  The day was as crisp as a bottle of the well known wine.   I will tell you that you do a lot of walking and stair climbing in this town.  I am not telling you this to discourage you but to ensure that you are mentally prepared.  The effort is worth the amazing views of Rome and surrounding area which you will have many opportunities to photograph.  The city center is easily walked and there are many good restaurants to choose from.

If you have unlimited energy I would recommend a walk up past Villa Aldobrandini along Via Cardinale Guglielmo Massaia to the church of San Francesco d’Assisi part of the Monastery of the Cappuccini.  It is a beautiful walk and the monastery and church at the summit are charming.

Convent of Saint Francesco, Frascati, Italy, 2012Entrance to the small church of San Francesco d’Assisi (1575), Frascati, Italy, 2012

After exerting yourself enjoy lunch and of course some Frascati wine at one of the many cantinas, osterias, and trattorias in the town.  Make sure you bring your camera and your appetite.  Buon Viaggio!!

Tree Covered Trail, Frascati, Italy, 2012Tree lined walk, Frascati, Italy, 2012  

Other Recommended Day Trips

Fall in Rome – Chestnuts “Castagne”

Piazza Navona, Chestnuts, Rome, 2012Piazza Navona, Roasted Chestnuts, Rome, Fall 2012

Fall is one of my favorite times in Rome.  Cooler weather, less crowded, amazing colors, and seasonal specialties including Ricotta Romana, newly pressed olive oil, and chestnuts!!

Strolling through the city on a cold day with a thick scarf around my neck and a warm paper cup full of roasted chestnuts certainly made me feel Roman.

One note fall is the time to eat chestnuts not spring or summer.  They seem to roast chestnuts 12 months of the year at the more popular tourist destinations in Rome.  Do yourself a favor and save the 2 to 5 euros in spring and summer as the chestnuts will not be enjoyable.

Dome of St. Peter's, Rome, 2012Dome of St. Peter’s from Ponte Sisto, Rome, 2012

Chestnuts in season are used to make some incredible seasonal foods including gelato, castagnaccio – a dense flat cake, and candied chestnuts.   Additionally throughout the region there are many chestnut festivals which offer a great excuse to take the train to the surrounding countryside.

Off The Beaten Path – Rome, Cinecittá – “The City of Cinema”

Cinecitta', Set of HBO Series Rome, 2013Set of HBO Series Rome, Cinecittá, Rome, 2013

A short Metro ride (Linea A) from the center of Rome brings you to the legendary Cinecittá Studios, literally “The City of Cinema”.   Founded in 1927 and inaugurated by Benito Mussolini the studios are the birthplace of thousands of films including more than 50 Academy Award winners such as Roman Holiday (1953), Ben-Hur (1959),  La Dolce Vita (1960) ,Cleopatra (1963), Gladiator (2000), Gangs of New York (2002), and well known series such as HBO’s Rome (2005-2007).   The entire complex comprises an area south of Rome larger than Vatican City.

Since its founding Cinecittá has been home to well known directors such as Federico Fellini, Marcello Mastroianni, Francis Ford Copolla, Martin Scorsese, and Roberto Benigni.

Stage 5, Cinecitta', Rome, 2013Famous Stage 5, Cinecittá Studios, Rome, 2013

The tour of the studio is both self guided and then in small groups with an english speaking staff member who will take you to the back lot.   I recommend scheduling 3 hours to enjoy the exhibitions, the back lot tour, and the book shop.  You are encouraged to take pictures and the guides are happy to answer your questions.   A very special “off the beaten path” glimpse of the Italian movie and television industry!!

Statue from Movie Gladiator, Cinecitta', Rome 2013Prop from Academy Award winning film Gladiator (2002), Cinecittá Studios, Rome, 2013

Under The Tuscan Sun – Enjoying a Vineyard Tour

Castello di Tignano, Tuscany, 2009Harvested grapes prior to pressing hanging in a beautiful stone building at “Il Poggione” near Castello di Tignano, Tuscany, 2009

Several years ago a dear friend Phyllis and her husband Stu met me, Joe, and Joe’s parents for an espresso in the town of Tavarnelle val di Pesa in the beautiful countryside of Tuscany. After relaxing and catching up we accepted their generous invitation to visit a friend Riccardo Casamonti and his vineyard.   The drive through the countryside was a photographer’s dream with spectacular vistas in every direction.   I am sure I asked Stu to stop the car on no less than 10 occasions so I could take a photo.

The small vineyard, “Il Poggione”, is located very near the Castello di Tignano in the town of Barberino Val d’Elsa in the Chianti Region south of Florence.  Riccardo produces 1,200 botles of wine annually and only on the best vintages such as 2006.  Among the wines produced is a wonderful Vin Santo, “holy wine”, a style of Italian dessert wine.  Traditional in Tuscany, these wines are often made from wite grape varieties such as Trebbiano and Malvasia.  Riccardo couldn’t have been more welcoming as he showed us around the farm allowing us to experience wine making from harvest to press to tasting!!

After spending the better part of the day at the vineyard we enjoyed a spectacular lunch of amazing seafood at La Trattoria del Pesce in the nearby town of Bargino.    Truly one of the most memorable days in Italy over the years and a reminder to take advantage of wonderful opportunities when they land at your doorstep.   Phyllis and Stu we will be forever grateful for this amazing experience – Mille Grazie!!  David, Joe, Barbara and Richard

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARiccardo Casamonti, “Il Poggione” Vineyard, Tuscany, 2009

Il Poggione Vineyard, Tuscany, 2009Pressing and fermenting the grapes, “Il Poggione” Vineyard, Tuscany 2009

Day Tripping – Rome to Arezzo

Ancient Forest, Camaldoli, Apennienes, TuscanyAncient Forest in the Tuscan Apennines, home of the Sacro Ermo , Camaldoli, Italy, 2012

Arezzo located in Tuscany in central Italy is about 190 km to the northeast of Rome near both Siena and Florence.

Several ways to get to Arezzo.  Take the train from Roma Termini station or rent a car and drive (recommended). Depending on the specific train It takes between 1 hr 15 min and 2 hr 33 min. The Eurostar is fastest and most expensive (29.50 euro); the regional trains are slower, but cheaper (11.70 euro).  By car take the A1 Autostrada and expect to spend 2 to 3 hours depending on traffic.

Described by Livy as one of the Capitae Etruriae (Etruscan capitals), Arezzo (Aritim in Etruscan) is believed to have been one of the twelve most important Etruscan cities.  The historical center is easily walked and many will recognize the Piazza Grande from the movie, A Beautiful Life.

We were fortunate to stay with friends who are living in Arezzo and spent an entire day outside of the city driving the back roads to two places that I highly recommend visiting if you can, The ancient hill town of Poppi and the Hermitage and Monastery of Camaldoli (Sacro Ermo).  Both places are incredibly beautiful!!

Poppi offers amazing vistas from the Castello dei Conti Guidi.  You can climb the bell tower if you don’t mind heights and if you time your climb to the hour you get an extra surprise.  Additionally the the ancient library contains incredible printed volumes.

The hermitage and monastery founded about 1012 by Saint Romuald, a Benedictine monk,  is situated in the National Park of the Forests of the Casentino in Tuscany and is accessible by walking (recommended – 4 km total) or car.  Make sure you visit the old pharmacy – originally a laboratory where monks studied and worked with medicinal herbs.  You can still buy a variety of herbal remedies.

Driving through the hills of Tuscany is an amazing experience for the senses!  Make sure you bring your camera and your appetite.   Buon Viaggio!