Thursday, May 12, 2016

Ciao Italia!

This morning started early with a 2:30am wake up call. Thomas and I got up and dressed, finished packing and got our bags out in the hall at 3:00am. We then went down to the lobby at 3:30am and had some breakfast that they had for us in a bag. At 4:00am the shuttle showed up and they got our bags loaded. Then after telling Linda goodbye we headed for the airport (Aeroporto Internazionale di Napoli). We got checked in and went through security and found our gate. At 6:55am we took off headed for Rome.
We landed at Rome's Flumicino airport (or Leonardo da Vinci airport) at around 8:00am. Here we had a four hour layover. We made our way to the area for our gate for the next leg of our flight to Atlanta. Once there we found a restaurant and got a little something to eat. Then we found a place to sit and read. About an hour before the flight Thomas and I got called to the counter to get a security check. It was a quick check - all they did was ask where we had come from and if we packed our own bags. By this time they were starting to board so we got in line. It took 50 minutes for them to get the plane loaded. We got settled in our seats and started reading. Finally we took off at 12:45pm (30 minutes later than the scheduled departure).
Throughout the flight we ate, read, played games and talked. The flight was 10 hours but seemed like it lasted a couple of days - it just didn't want to end. About 5:20pm we landed at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport. After getting off the plane we checked in with passports at a kiosk and got a printout which we took to a desk and went through customs. Then we had to pick up our bags and went through another checkpoint. Once pass this point we rechecked our bags and then went through security. It was totally ridiculous - it took one hour and fifteen minutes from the time we got off the plane to the time we got to the gate for our flight to Albuquerque. And we went through four checkpoints - totally unnecessary and time consuming. But we were glad it was done. Once we had found our gate we went and got a bite to eat then returned to our gate and read until it was time to leave for Albuquerque. We boarded at 8:55pm and took off at 8:30pm. The flight was just under three hours and we just read the entire time. Finally we landed in Albuquerque at 9:40pm. By this time we had been awake for 27 hours. We got off the plane and went to baggage claim where we had to wait about 20 minutes for our bags. Then we caught the shuttle to Airport Parking and to our car. We got the bags in the car and took off for home. Fifty minutes later we arrived in our driveway. The dogs greeted us and we spent a little time loving them. Then we got the bags into the house and took showers. It was midnight by the time we went to bed. We were up for 30 hours but we are glad to be home.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

In the Shadow of Mount Vesuvius

Today is our last day in Italy - Thomas and I head back home early tomorrow morning. But we still have things to do today. We were up at 6:00am and went to breakfast at 7:00am. The view from the breakfast room on the 11th floor was nice - it could of been better if the sky had been clear, but it was cloudy and rainy. We could see the dome of the Galleria Umberto I that we visited yesterday. After breakfast we returned to our room where I worked on editing some photos.
After about an hour we got our things then headed to the lobby. We met the group at 9:00am and then boarded the bus for Herculaneum. It was about a 35 minute drive to the visitor center for the ruins.
We went in and waited while Linda met our guide and got the tickets and while some people went to the restroom. The place was really crowded today and that made it not as great of a visit. Our guide - Massimo - got us started and we headed down the path and stopped in front of Scavi di Ercolano while our guide gave us some history.
We then walked through the maze of ruins and got more information as we went along. Unfortunately the crowds made it hard to hear our guide and he went way too fast for all of us to keep up. With that being said it was still a great visit. Seeing a place that was devastated by Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 and was preserved all these years really puts things in perspective. We spent about an hour and a half going through the ruins but I wish they had given us more time to explore on our own. At 12:30pm we were back on the bus headed back to Naples.

Il “Disinganno” di Francesco Queirolo
We had a half hour at the hotel to get ready and then we all met in the lobby to go to get something to eat and also go the museum to see The Veiled Christ. First we walked to Opere teatro del gusto where we had sandwiches and bruschetta. The we walked to Museo Cappella Sansevero. Linda went and got the tickets and then we went in to the museum. The Veiled Christ is in the center of the room and there are many other statues all around the room. Unfortunately the place is all about money and you can't take pictures - they want you to buy books and postcards in the gift shop. I can't say enough about the statue - it is amazing. The detail is exquisite and lifelike - it looks as if you could just pull the veil right off. There are other equally great pieces in the room.
The Veiled Christ (Giuseppe Sanmartino, 1753)
 We spent about a half hour in the museum and then we headed out again - this time to get some dessert. We stopped at Leopolde Infante and had some gelato. We returned back to the hotel and Thomas and I took some time to get things packed. Everything was packed except for the stuff we needed for tonight and tomorrow morning and the clothes we were wearing home. Then at 6:00pm we met the group in the lobby to go to one last dinner together. We only walked a short distance to the restaurant from the hotel - for some reason I don't really remember the name of the restaurant but I think it is Osteria da Antonio. We had a nice maeal and visit and got to say our goodbyes. Seven of us had to get up early in the morning to catch flights between 6:30am and 7:00am. Back in the room Thomas and I got some last minute things done and now we are going to bed - the alarm is set for 2:30am.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Onward to Napoli

For some reason I woke up this morning around 4:30am. I didn't want to get up but I wasn't able to fall back asleep so I ended up reading until about 5:20am. Since I wasn't able to sleep I decided to get up and get ready for the day. After I was dressed I packed all my things to get ready to put our bags in the hall to be picked up by the porters. Thomas got up at 6:00am and got dressed and then we put both of our bags out in the hall at 6:30am. I then checked emails and did some photo editing while Thomas read until it was time for breakfast. At 7:15am we headed to the restaurant for coffee and food and relaxed for a while. At 8:30am we went to the lobby and met the group to board the bus for Naples. Two of the group had been taken to the airport at 3:30am to catch their flights and we still needed to drop off three others when we got to Naples. It was about an hour to the airport and once we saw Mel, Teresa and Toni off we made the short drive to our last hotel for this trip. When we arrived at Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterraneo we found that our rooms were not quite ready. So we ended up just hanging in the lobby for about 15 minutes and then we were able to get to our rooms and get settled. We only had a short time before we had to meet back in the lobby for a walking tour of Naples. At 10:30am we met Antonio (our local tour guide) and headed out to see Naples. We spent our time in the more historic area of Naples. Here is a summary of our walk . . .
We walked out of the hotel and turned right and walked along Via Ponte di Tappia to Via Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra. We made a right turn here and walked to the corner with Via S. Giacomo. We stopped here for a short time while Antonio gave us some history of the city and a little about the lay out of the city. From this corner we could see Castel Nuovo and the Fontana del Nettuno. After his talk we retraced our steps along Via Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra and continued on this road to where it changed names to Via Guantai Nuovi and crossed over Via Armando Diaz to Piazza Giacomo Matteotti. We then walked along the Post Office and then down some steps (where there was a small flea market) to Via Monteoliveto and turned left.
The Fountain of Monteoliveto
We stopped in front of The Fountain of Monteoliveto, also called the Fountain of Charles II or of the Small King where Antonio gave us some more history. From the fountain we continued our walk along Calata Trinità Maggiore and stopped for espresso at Opera teatro del gusto. After the espresso we walked into Piazza del Gesù Nuovo where we saw Obelisco dell'Immacolata and then went into Chiesa di Gesù Nuovo. This is a baroque church built in 1317 by Franciscan friars. Then we continued to Via Benedetto Croce and went into the Basilica di Santa Chiara which is a gothic style church built from 1310 to 1328.
Cloisters - Majolica Columns
We had a short visit here and thenwent around the side of the church to the Chiostro maiolicato di Santa Chiara. This is an incredible place - beautiful courtyard with majolica tiles used on benches and columns with frescos along the arched covered walkways. We walked through the courtyard and Antonio gave us the history of the place. On the other side of the courtyard we went into the Complesso Museale di Santa Chiara. We had a little time here to see some of the exhibits and get some more history.
After a short bathroom break and a look at the gift shop we headed out again. We strolled along Via Benedetto Croce (aka Spaccanapoli or "Naples Splitter") to Piazza San Domenico Maggiore. Here we cut across and walked down Vico San Domenico Maggiore to The Fountain of Monteoliveto. Here we went through Piazza Monteoliveto and along Via Mario Morgantini then through Piazza Carita to Via Toledo. Here we cut across a piazza to Via Roberto Bracco and followed this street to our hotel on

Galleria Umberto I

Pizza Making Team

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mozzarella, Paestum and a Farewell

Today we were up by 6:00am – woke up before the alarm and got ready for the day. We then went down to breakfast and it was a big spread. There were scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, cheese, different breads, assorted pastries, fruit, yogurt and cereal. To drink there was milk, blood orange juice, pineapple juice, coffee and water. So we sat down to a nice breakfast and enjoyed the view of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Once we were done eating we went back to our room so we could wash our hands and brush our teeth.
Fresh Water Buffalo Mozzarella
We got our day bags and went to the lobby to meet the group. At 9:00am we boarded the bus with a new driver – Giuseppe. Our first destination for today was a mozzarella farm (Tenuta Vannulo - Mozzarella di Bufala) in where they make water buffalo cheese. We arrived around 10:00am and we got a tour of the facility by Stephanie. We saw where they actually make the mozzarella and we got to see the water buffalo. It was interesting and fun to learn about the buffalo.
Water Buffalo
There are quite a few females and only eight bulls and the females start having babies around three years old and that is when they start giving milk. There is a spot where the buffalo can rub up against a bar and get a back massage – they do this on their own. They also get in line to get to the milking machine – it was funny to watch them wait their turn and then walk in and get milked – all on their own. They actually like getting milked since they produce more milk than they need for the calves. Once the tour was done we made our way to a small dining room for some cheese tasting. They served us fresh handmade mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. We also had a lettuce and tomato salad with some bread and wine. The cheese was so good – I liked the ricotta a little bit better than the mozzarella. After we ate we went to the café that they have on the property and we got to choose either a cappuccino, espresso or gelato. Thomas got the cappuccino and I got gelato (caffe and pistaschio). At 12:30pm we boarded the bus for our next destination.

We drove about ten minutes to Paestum – aka Poseidonia - (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).

Temple of Neptune

This is an area of Greek and Roman ruins with a large museum on the grounds. We had a guide (Sylvia) who took us through all the outdoor ruins and gave us plenty of information and history. There are three really nice temples (Hera, Neptune and Ceres) and the ruins of ancient houses.

Close-up of ruins.

There are also ruins of a Roman forum and an amphitheater. This place was founded by the Greeks and colonized by the Romans. After a great tour of the ruins we made our way to the museum (Il Museo Archeologico - Paestum). We saw a lot of artifacts that were found among the ruins. And we learned a lot about the way they lived here. We also got to see some of the painted tombs that were found – a famous one as well – The Tomb of the Diver. After the museum tour we had about 45 minutes to wander the area and souvenir shop before we returned to the bus and headed back to our hotel. Here are a few more links to information about Paestum . . .

Paestum Archaeological Site

Paestum Tourist and Travel Information

Paestum - Ancient History Encyclopedia

When we got back to the hotel we went to the room and put our things away and then decided to head down to the beach. Thomas, Dave and I went up to Floor 0 and then found an elevator outside of the bar area that took us down to the beach.

My walk on the beach.

The elevator is glass and you have a great view as you ride down. Dave went swimming but Thomas and I didn’t have swim suits so we took off our shoes, rolled up our pants and walked at the edge of the water. That didn’t last long because the beach wasn’t sand, it was small rocks and pebbles. We barely lasted five minutes before we put our shoes back on – the rocks really hurt our feet. We walked up and down the beach and picked up some sea glass. Thomas and Dave went back to the room before I did and when I made my way back up the elevator and got to the bar I found Thomas, Dave and Deanne having a drink so I joined them. About 6:00pm we all returned to our rooms to get ready for dinner.


At 7:00pm we met the group in the lobby and boarded the bus to go out to dinner. It was sort of a farewell dinner because five of the group hadn’t signed up for the extension to Naples. So it was a time for us to say goodbye to Teresa, Toni, Mel, Sheila and Lynn. We drove from Vietri sul Mare to Cetara to have dinner at Ristorante San Pietro. For dinner we had a few choices either from a meat menu or a fish menu (you could mix and match). It was a great dinner and we all had a nice time. We left the restaurant somewhere around 9:30pm to head back to the hotel. Once we were back at the hotel Thomas and I got some things packed because we leave the Amalfi coast for Naples in the morning. I am now finishing up pictures and headed for bed. Our trip will soon be coming to an end – but we have a couple more days.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

On Our Way to Salerno and the Southern Amalfi Coast

This morning we woke with the alarm at 7:00am. We got all of our things packed (both our suitcases and our backpacks) – we put the suitcases in the hall for the porters to pick up and put on the bus.
The Vineyard
We left the backpacks in the room and went down to breakfast. We had a nice relaxing meal and then returned to the room to brush our teeth, use the restroom and wash our hands. We still had an hour before we had to be in the lobby. So Thomas read and I worked on editing photos. At 9:00am we made our way to the lobby and at 9:15 am we boarded the bus for our drive to Salerno. We drove for about an hour and arrived at Feudi di San Gregorio winery. We met Lydia (our guide for this visit) and then she took us on a tour of the facility. We first visited the aromatic garden, then we saw where they took the picked grapes to, next we went into the cellar where she explained their process of fermentation.
Barrels in a dramatic setting.
We also got to see a nativity scene of the Goleto Abbey, the work of a craft master from Ariano Irpino, while Carlo Gesualdo's music plays. The tour ended here and then we made our way to a tasting room. We tried three wines - Greco di Tufo, Fiano Avellino and Taurasi. They were all good but I liked the Greco di Tufo the best. We also had cheese, salami and breadsticks with the wine. It was just after noon when we boarded the bus and continued on with our day.

From the winery we drove to the Amalfi Coast.
The Amalfi Coast looking to Salerno.
We are staying in a little village called Vietri sul Mare just outside of Salerno. It was in the neighborhood of 2:00pm when we arrived at our hotel - Lloyd's Baia Hotel. The traffic was moving slow as we made our way to the hotel. And from the bus we could see our hotel up a ways. It was sitting on the top of a cliff overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. We got checked in and got our keys but getting to the room was a bit of an ordeal. Since the hotel is perched on a cliff we had to go from Floor 0 where the reception desk in located down to Floor -2 (yes, that's right, the reception is actually at street level and everything else is below it.
Our hotel perched on the cliff.
Once you made it to -2 then you had to take a different elevator. Once we got there we were considered to be on Floor 0 of this new wing and we had to go down to Floor -4. We got to our room and found that we had a balcony overlooking a beach and the sea. It was a beautiful site. The water is blue and turquoise and there were gentle waves washing up on beach. We spent about 15 minutes sitting at the table on our balcony enjoying the sound of the moving water.

Then at 2:30pm we went up to Floor 0 and went to the bar for a welcome reception.
Vietri sul Mare Ceramics
 They had drinks for us with a few snacks. We hung out with the group for about a half hour and then decided to take a walk into town for something to eat. Dave, Deanne, Mark, Sue, Thomas and I took the short walk into the center of town. We found a little restaurant that had some sandwiches - Bar-Paninoteca Gustami. So we all ate there and visited. When we were done eating Mark & Sue went off on their own while the rest of us just wandered around the town. It amazed us at how many ceramic shops are in town, they were everywhere. We wondered how they could all stay in business. Around 5:30pm we all returned to the hotel for a little rest. I ended up sitting on the balcony to edit some photos and that way I could enjoy the views. I am finally all caught up on my blog but I still have some photo editing to complete. But it is time to call it a night and get some sleep for tomorrow's activities.
A view of the coast from our hotel room balcony.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

A Full Day of Tasting and Walking

We are still in the area of Benevento and today started at 6:30am with the alarm going off. Around 7:30am we went down to breakfast and then back to the room to get our things and meet in the lobby. At 9:00am we got on the bus and headed out to start our day.
Ingredients and final product.
We drove for a bit and ended up in San Marcos del Cavoti. Linda took us to Autore – a chocolate making place. We met Antonio and his staff (including his mother) and he told us about the ingredients they use and the process of making the chocolate. After his talk we got to taste all of the different flavors of chocolate they make. We ended up buying a few boxes to take home for gifts. We were here for about an hour and then we barded the bus and headed out to our next destination – an hour drive away.

We arrived in Guardia Sanframondi and made our way to LaGuardiense Winery.
Quid Spumante
Our guide was Marco and he gave us a tour of the winery and explained the processes they use to produce their wines. After the tour we had a “light” lunch” or so our tour guide (Linda) said – it turned out to be some starters (3 different things); then a first course of pasta made with chicory in a sauce from beans (like chickpeas that are called "the bean of the queen"); then the second course was a slice of veal with mashed potatoes mixed with spinach & cheese. Finally we had an almond cake. It was a great tasting and a nice lunch – but I definitely wouldn’t call it light.

Finished piece.
After lunch – sometime around 2:45pm we left the winery and headed to the village of Cerreto Sannita where we saw a pottery demonstration. We went to Ceramica Artistica Marina. Very interesting work and some beautiful pieces. Back on the bus we continued with our day. We stopped in Guardia Sanframondi and made a visit to a cemetery – unfortunately it was closed so we continued on to the next place the Palazzo Municipale Sale Museali. Here we viewed oil paintings on wood by Paolo de Matteis. Beautiful paintings.
Fresco - Chiesa di San Sebastiano
Then we walked a couple of blocks to Chiesa di San Sebastiano Matire and saw fresco done by the same artist. This church was really elaborate with paintings, frescos and carvings on almost every surface. Then we walked another couple of blocks to a castle. We took an elevator to the top to get a wonderful view of the valley below. We spent about 20 minutes here before returning to the bus. Before we left the town we stopped in to Mary & Rosy Café for some gelato. Then it was back on the bus and on to the hotel.

We got our things into the room and then decided to go and walk the town. We also needed to get some more Euros since we were running low and still have five days left of the trip. Deanne & Dave joined us and we walked up and down streets doing some window shopping. At around 7:30pm Thomas and I decided to call it a day. We weren’t hungry because we ate so much at lunch so we returned to the hotel and took showers. I am now playing catch up – getting some blogs posted and editing some pictures. Tomorrow we are on the road again – this time to Salerno and the southern Amalfi Coast.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Leaving Matera and Arriving Benevento

We followed our usual routine this morning (up at 6:30am, breakfast 7:00am and then on the bus at 9:00am) as we prepared to leave the beautiful and historic town of Matera and head out to Benevento. We had a three and a half hour drive through beautiful scenery from Matera to Benevento. This city is known at "The City of Witches" but they didn't have witch hunts like in Salem. It was okay if you were a witch. The drive went by quickly and was enjoyable. We arrived around noon at VillaTraiano (a beautiful converted villa), our hotel for the next two nights. Once we got checked in and settled in our room we met some of the group in the lobby and we walked to Con Gusto for some lunch. They had specials of the day which were two course meals with a dessert at the end. Thomas had pasta salad with tuna and toast (potato squares – kind of like hash browns in a block with ham and cheese in the middle); I had pasta with crab sauce and baked cod and a salad. The dessert we got was a small cup of gelato. It was all really good. After we ate we returned to the hotel to get the rest of the group and go on a walking tour of Benevento.

Arch of Trajan
Linda took us from the hotel and we walked to the Arch ofTrajan. Here she talked about the arch and what it meant and also the history of the town of Benevento. From the arch we walked to a square where Linda talked about the history of the bell tower. Next we went into the Chiesa di Santa Sofia. This church is built a little different than most churches. It is in the shape of a star and is beautiful. From the church we went around the corner to the Cloisters of Santa Sofia. This was an incredible place – full of history and beauty.
Cloisters of Santa Sofia
Linda explained some of the meanings and symbols of some of the columns surrounding the courtyard. Each of the columns had a different topper. There was one column that had a knot on it – it represents the divine spirit and the human spirit. And there is also a column with a topper that had a carving of the birth of Christ. The concept of the nativity was credited to Saint Francis, but the carving on the top of this column here at the cloister was carved hundreds of years before Saint Francis - so it may be that Saint Francis traveled through this area and saw the column and just relayed the story. Here is where the walking tour ended. So we walked to where our bus was parked so that we could head out for an evening of cooking and dining.

We drove about 55 minutes to Telese Terme to have a cooking lesson with Giuseppe Iannotti (a Michelin star chef) at his restaurant (Krèsois). We first got a tour of the place and saw an incredible wine cellar that has about 2000 bottles of wine. They have one bottle that is worth over €6000. Then we were introduced to Guiseppe and he took us into the kitchen for a cooking demonstration and then we made some pasta.
Handmade cavatelli pasta
He showed us how to make pork braciole (pork with seasoning in the middle and rolled and cooked in a tomato sauce). And then he taught us how to make pasta – just with flour (00) and water. So we all mixed our flour and water (some of the group did good and some of us made a big mess) and then he showed us how to roll the dough into cavatelli pasta. Once we had made all the pasta needed for dinner we next learned how to make Choux (kind of like a cream puff) – ours were filled with a dark chocolate cream. After that we all took seats at the table so that we could enjoy the food we made (well really helped make – the staff did most of the work). They started us off with red wine and bruschetta. All evening the wine flowed freely while they served us the pasta first and then the braciole. After the meal we enjoyed the Choux for dessert. What a great evening, so much fun and very interesting.

We left Kresois a little after 9:00pm.
Benevento Calcio Fans
The drive back to Benevento went by fast but we encountered a slight problem when we got near the hotel. There was a large (and rowdy) group of youth out celebrating by the Arch of Trajan. They were celebrating their soccer team's recent victory. The team is the Benevento Calcio. They had the road blocked and wouldn’t let us pass. Finally they moved out of the road so that we could get to the hotel. We learned that they thought we were the losing team's fans and they didn’t want to let us through – they wanted to taunt us. But we made it to the hotel without any major problems. Now that we are settled I took a shower and worked on the computer. But now it is time to get some sleep – tomorrow is a busy day with lots of things going on – a chocolate tasting, a wine tasting and a walking tour of two medieval villages.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Matera, the Sassi and a Wine Tasting with Dinner

Today we woke up in Matera. We got a great night’s sleep once we got the room cooled off. We ended up sleeping with the window open just to keep the temperature down. We were up at 6:30am (as usual) and dressed and ready for the day by 7:15am. We went down for breakfast and then returned to the room for a little while until we had to meet the group in the lobby for our tour of Matera. Our local tour guide for the day was Emilia and she walked us through the Piazza Giovanni Pascoli. We stopped for a minute at the MuseoNazionale d’Arte Medievale e Moderna della Basilicata and then went to a scenic overlook to see the Sassi. Here she gave us some history and information.
The Sassi
Then we headed down into the Sassi and as we walked she continued giving us history and stories of the area. The Sassi is a series of walkways, stairs and alleyways of buildings (most of which are carved into the rock or that used caves as the base of the building). We were able to go into a home that isn’t lived in but is set up like the way they lived. One of the interesting things we learned was that most of the families had a donkey for a variety of uses – this donkey was more important to the family than the children were.
The Sassi
It was interesting learning about the area but also confusing since there is so much history here. They believe that this area was inhabited thousands of years before Christ. The architecture was pretty amazing and the way the buildings are arranged reminded me of the Anasazi pueblos. After about an hour or so there we ended our tour and went for a food tasting.

We arrived at a place called Peperoncini where we tasted an olive tapenade spread, chili peppers fried in olive oil (they were like chips), bread with olive oil, a tomato based spread (like marinara but thicker) and a focaccia. I ended up buying some of the peppers (Peperone "scrokkia" dolce) as a snack for later. Once everyone was done we were all ready to head back into town and to the hotel. But then Thomas asked about hiking to the caves.
Dave, Thomas and Mel head for the suspension bridge.
Linda said we could go if we wanted and gave us directions – so Thomas, myself, Toni, Dave, Mel and Ginger headed out. We followed the road for a short distance and then took some stairs that headed down into a canyon. The stairs turned to stone and then to dirt as we got lower into the canyon. Eventually we reached a suspension bridge that crossed a river (or stream) where the trail continued from there. Not too far from the bridge Toni and Thomas decided to stop and wait while the rest of us continued on.
One of the caves we visited.
It took a little while and some climbing to finally reach one of the caves. We were glad we did the hike – it was interesting to see them. And it truly reminded me of the Anasazi and places like Bandelier or Mesa Verde. After seeing the caves we retraced our steps back to the Sassi and then made our way back into town. We were a little hungry but it was past lunch (around 1:30) and we didn’t want too much so that we would be good for dinner and wine tasting later. Thomas and I stopped in for a gelato and found a nice spot to sit and eat. Then we went back to the hotel and rested. I did some blogging and editing of photos while Thomas read.

Around 4:30pm we went down to the lobby and met the group to head out for our wine tasting and dinner.
In the wine cellar.
We went to Polvanera Winery in Gioia del Colle. This is a family owned place and we got a tour of the winery by Alessia. After a tour of all the facilities we were taken into a beautiful dining room for dinner. For starters we had focaccia with olive oil and frittata. The first course was pasta with broccoli rabe and the second course was pork on skewers. During dinner we tasted four wines - a Rosé (sparkling wine), two reds and one white. Everyone there was extremely nice and the food and wine were delicious - we all felt like we were eating with family. It was a nice relaxing night with lots of laughter and fun. I think we all may have had too much wine. Oh well, we are on a food and wine tour.
Our group at dinner.
We said our goodbyes to the staff at the winery and boarded the bus and headed back to the hotel. I think some of us may have napped during the ride because the bus was awfully quiet. Now back in our room and showered and in my pj's I am getting this written while it is still fresh in my mind. Tomorrow we leave Matera and head to Benevento.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Driving from Calabria to Basilicata

We are leaving Calabria today and driving to Basilicata and the town of Matera. We are staying two nights in Matera and we have a lot planned. As we left Popilia Country Resort at 10:00am it was raining a little but that didn’t last long. The sun came out and we had beautiful weather during the drive. Around noon we stopped at an Autogrill and had time to use the restroom and get something to eat for lunch. We were there for about an hour and then we continued our drive. The route we took had us driving along the coast of the Ionian Sea. It was absolutely beautiful.
Castello Federiciano
The water was turquoise and the landscape was green. The area was dotted with olive trees and wildflowers. We also passed a castle (Castello Federiciano) in the Cosenza region. I spent some of the drive time editing photos (I have taken so many photos it was good to sort through all of them). It took us somewhere around four hours to reach Matera and it was somewhere near 3:00pm.

The bus couldn’t get into town so we were dropped off about four blocks from the hotel and we had to walk the short distance to the center of town. We are staying at the Albergo Italia hotel and this is an historic building that used to be a palace and the great thing is that it is within walking distance of the historic part of town. It is now a beautiful and comfortable hotel. We got our key and checked into the room and got settled. The key is a real key not a card and it is on a large and heavy keychain. The keychain is made of brass, it is flat on the bottom and has the room number engraved there. The bottom part is round and has a rubber gasket around it and then the upper part is flat. One side has the hotel name and the other side has the room number. It was kind of cool to have a key that fit the old building instead of a modern technology card. And since the keychain was so heavy we turned it back into the desk when we left the hotel and picked it up when we returned. One thing I have to say about this trip is that all the locals think it is winter. Everyone is walking around with coats (not jackets) and the hotel rooms still have only heat on.
View of the Sassi from our hotel room.
We had to turn the heater completely off (since all that we could get was hot air) and open the windows (thankfully they did open) to allow the hot air out and the cool air in. Opening the windows was a good thing since it not only cooled the room off but gave us an unobstructed view of the Sassi. That was another great thing about this hotel – it overlooked the historic center on one side and the Sassi on the other.

Thomas and I decided to go for a walk around town so we headed down to the lobby where we met Dave and Deanne. The four of us wandered along the streets shopping and seeing the sites. We went into some old churches and a museum and we got to see the Sassi from an incredible viewpoint.
il cuccú
We stopped in a little shop that sold these pottery chickens that are whistles. They are called il cuccú and are kind of folk arty. We left Dave and Deanne at this point and went in search of something to eat. Unfortunately nothing was open (the restaurants don’t open until 7:30pm) so we ended up getting some gelato to tide us over until the restaurants opened up. We returned to our room and rested until 7:30 when we went out again and found a place to eat. We picked a place called Il Boccone del Musicusta and we shared a pizza (margharita with raw ham) and spaghetti (filega pasta and tomato sauce). It was a nice relaxing and delicious dinner. Afterwards we wandered around town and ended up getting another gelato before calling it a night and returning to our room.

Today was nice – even the four hours in the bus since the scenery was spectacular, especially the Ionian coast. Tomorrow is a much busier day – we have a walking tour of Matera and of the Sassi in the morning, then a food tasting at noon and then we plan to go out on our own and hike to the caves. Should be interesting learning about the Sassi.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Walking Tour of Tropea and Tartufo in Pizzo

We seem to have a routine going on here - every morning we get up at 6:30am, get dressed and ready for the day and then go down for breakfast at 7:00am. After eating we return to the room to brush our teeth and wash our hands then grab our things we need for the day and then meet the group at 9:00am in the lobby to start our tours for the day. Today was the same.

At 9:00am we met in the lobby with Linda (our trip tour guide) and Nicolette (our local tour guide) and of course Mimmo (our bus driver). As the bus left the resort it started raining and lasted until just before we arrived in Tropea. We had to get off the bus about half a mile from town because the streets aren't able to accommodate a large bus.
Chiesa di Maria SS di Romania
So we walked into town and stopped at Piazza Vittorio Veneto to use the bathroom and get oriented to the town. Then we continued along Corso Vittorio Emanuele to Piazza Ercole and a statue of Pasquale Galluppi. Here the guide talked about Galluppi and about the historic center of town. We then continued our walk over to Chiesa di Maria SS di Romania.
Tyrrhenian Sea & Tropea Coast
This is a Norman church with a lot of history. After a tour of the inside of the church we continued down the street to the end where we had an incredible view of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the coast of Tropea. It was absolutely beautiful! From this vantage point we could see Santa Maria dell'Isola Monastery which is perched atop an island right near the coast - a site worth the trip. From here we went to a food tasting at a local store. We had a variety of things to taste including a sweet onion jam made from Tropea's famous red onions - "cipolla di Tropea".
Santa Maria dell'Isola Monastery
After the food tasting we returned to the Galluppi statue and then we had some free time for lunch and to explore Tropea on our own. Thomas and I ended up having lunch with Dave and Deanne at a pizza place right near the statue - we all had a slice of pizza and we enjoyed the food and the relaxing time to visit after a very busy morning. After we ate Thomas and I decided to go out on our own and explore the town. We walked around and visited a church, did some shopping and found a place to sit and enjoy the views of the sea. At 1:30pm we returned to the statue to meet the rest of the group and make the walk back to the bus.

We left Tropea and headed for Pizzo - another small town on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Again we had to leave the bus and walk a ways to get into town.
Tartufo di Pizzo
The streets just aren't built to accommodate large buses. In Pizzo we made our way to Piazza della Repubblica and to Bar Ercole Gelateria for some Tartufo di Pizzo. This was so good! It is a hazelnut gelato with a dark chocolate melted center (like a lava cake) and dusted with cocoa powder. We really enjoyed this and when we were done we had a little free time to explore Pizzo. We walked over to Castle Murat - we walked around the outside of the building but we didn't have time to go inside. We then took a quick stroll down the main road from the piazza and then returned to the bus for the ride back to the resort. But before returning to the resort we stopped at a grocery store to get things for dinner. We were on our own tonight and the only choice for food was the restaurant at the resort. So many of us just got snacks and some things to make sandwiches.
View from Popilia Country Resort
After everyone was done shopping we returned to the resort.

Thomas and I got things back into our room and then I went for a walk around the property. I enjoyed the walk and some great views. Then I returned to the room, took a shower and then we made sandwiches and ate while talking about the day. I then did a little blogging and editing photos. Now it is time to get some rest - tomorrow we board the bus and leave Campania and head to Basilicata and more specifically for Matera.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Leaving Sicilia for Mainland Italia

Wake up call at 6:30am, up and dressed by 7:00am and down to breakfast at 7:05am. When we  were done with breakfast we headed back up to the room and finished last minute packing. Once we completed the packing we put our bags outside the room to be picked up by the porters and put on the bus.
Messina Clock Lion
After the bags were put out we had until 9:45am and then we needed to check out of the hotel and be on the bus by 10:00am. Thomas and I read and then I worked on the computer for a bit. Then we headed to the lobby and just visited until it was time to board the bus. We left Catania right at 10:00am and drove to Messina. In Messina the bus dropped us off near the Cathedral. Thomas and I went into the church and walked around and took pictures. Then at noon we went outside and waited to watch the clock in the bell tower. It has movement and music (played Ave Maria) that went on for about 12 minutes.
Fontana di Orione
Then Thomas and I went with Deanne and Dave to have lunch. We went to La Casa Della Pizza and had a great lunch (tasty and inexpensive). After lunch Thomas and I went on a walk around the town and saw some incredible architecture and lots of vandalism (broken windows and graffiti).
Beautiful Stain Glass Dome
We returned to the bus around 1:45pm to make our way to to the ferry to cross the Strait of Messina to Calabria on mainland Italy. The ferry ride was only 20 minutes long and it rained the entire time.

Once on the mainland we continued our drive to our next hotel. The rest of the drive was to take about an hour and a half. The drive to our hotel was uneventful and quick - I did some editing of photos and wrote a draft for the blog.
Crossing the Strait of Messina
It was around 4:00pm when we arrived at our hotel - Popilia Country Resorts. Instead of rooms like in a hotel, this place has a series of cottages on the property. We were in cottage 658 and when we opened the door the heat hit us like a wave. I couldn't believe how hot they had the thermostat set. Most of this trip the locals have been complaining that it is cold but our group is no where near being cold. We have had to ask the bus driver to put the air on because it gets so hot during our drives.
Arriving at Popilia Country Resort
Thomas immediately tried to lower the temperature but he was having problems. We ended up making two calls to reception for help but neither time helped. Finally I walked back to the front desk and asked them to try and fix it. Until they got it taken care of we just left our door open to let the cool breeze in. It was a little more than an hour before the room cooled off. We relaxed for a couple of hours and then made our way to the restaurant for dinner at 7:30pm. We had a choice of a meat version or a fish version for our three course meal. Thomas and I had the meat version which consisted of salami and cheeses for the starter, then we had fileja pasta with nduja sauce (really good, very spicy) for the second course and then for the third course we had pork wrapped with bacon & potaotes. Dessert was served to everyone and it was a selection of pastries. The meal turned out to be delicious and it was way too much food - neither Thomas nor I finished each of the three courses.

Popilia Country Resort
Now it is time to call it a day. All the traveling and the rain has really drained us. It will be good to get to sleep but first a few things to do to get ready for tomorrow. We are in Tropea and Pizzo with a local guide tomorrow. It should be an interesting day.