We've talked about taking a trip together to Italy for as long as I can remember. My husband's family hails from this particularly beautiful part of the world and it was always on our collective bucket list to have this one carefree, wondrous adventure for ourselves before we ever started a family of our own. I daydreamed my way through more than a decade, planning and plotting what we'd do, what we'd see, what I'd wear (yes!) and how much this experience would mean to us and our marriage. But you know how it is... things come up, years pass, other events like buying a house take priority, money is saved and eventually spent and travel luxuries, well, they tend to fall by the wayside.
Thankfully, fate eventually stepped in and gave us a little nudge. A portion of the trip was unexpectedly gifted and it finally became non-negotiable that this trip was going to happen. We buckled down and saved, got creative with our resources (hello eBay!) and squirreled enough away to finally have the trip of our dreams. So it was that in late October, we boarded a plane and made our way to the Eternal City to begin our adventure.
I had been to Rome before. When we were just dating, I got on a plane all by myself and hit London and Paris solo before eventually meeting up with my Uncles for a whirlwind tour of Italy's great cities. It was good background for us going in this time around, as we were able to weed through what we wanted to do with the short time we had there. A flight delay on the front end allotted us only two full days to taste Rome, but running on pure adrenaline, we were able to drink it all in.
Traveling during the 'shoulder season' is less expensive, but certainly delivers a mix of weather. We got both rain and sun and planned activities accordingly. Late one afternoon, we stopped for a drink at a cafe in front of The Pantheon and watched all the umbrellas come out. The colorful parasols only added more atmosphere to our little happy hour and the sight of them all popping open in near unison was one of those hallmark moments that I know I'll always remember.
I fell in love with the towering stone pine canopies that seemed to cover every sidewalk and pathway around Rome. It sometimes felt like they were watching over us as we took long walks through antiquities and along the Tiber, eventually fading out as we wound and weaved our way into pretty piazzas for more food and drink.
Against our better judgement, we bought a guided tour that very first day from one of the street vendors out in front of The Vatican- solely on the promise that we would get into Saint Peter's Basilica, which was scheduled to close early that day. Our rationale was that we had a short amount of time to spend at The Vatican and this would fast track us through the museum hordes and eventually past the never-ending line at the Basilica entrance to see the show-stopper. As luck would have it , our guide eventually ditched us in The Sistine Chapel and the fast track we were promised failed to happen. In the end, we chalked it up to divine intervention because we would never have risen at the crack of dawn the very next day to see St. Peter's Square at daybreak and with nary a line in sight. The way the hazy morning light blanketed the square was magical and we agreed it was one of the best gifts of the trip.
If you only see one thing at The Vatican, this is it folks. You can not conceive of the majesty of it until you stand beneath it and see it with your very own eyes.
We took the train south for a 3-day stint out of Sorrento. From there, we saw Capri, Amalfi, Positano and Pompeii. The weather was not on our side the day we went to Capri, so we skipped the boat and spent most of our time in cafes people watching and indulging in sweet treats. It was a nice break from the high pace of Rome. But by evening, we were ready for some more action so we headed into town from our hotel.
Downtown Sorrento will forever be one of my favorite places to visit. The energy was well suited to The Mister and I - plenty to see and do if you wanted to partake, GREAT food found inexpensively and atmosphere, lots and lots of atmosphere for sitting in a cafe and watching the evening passeggiata.
That Sunday night, we sat at what became our favorite spot and suddenly the whiz of the motorbikes stopped, the buzz of the crowd was silenced and we looked up to see a procession of nuns and priests filing out of the nearby church, holding up a statue of the baby Jesus. It was incredibly moving to hear an entire bustling town silenced at its busiest hour, suddenly falling into cadence in prayer. I'll never forget it.
Our final day had us truly on The Amalfi Coast, white knuckling through the SITA bus ride to Amalfi before taking a ferry back to Positano for lunch. It was everything it promised to be - colorful enclaves built right into rocks that preside high above the bluest water I've ever seen. Some parts of Italy are meant to be seen on foot or by train. But this... there is no other way to see it than from the water, studying every towering detail, wide eyed, wondering what strength and fortitude the people who live high above must have to hike those hillsides day in and day out.
As we returned back to our hotel to pack up for the next destination, we recognized that we had half of our trip now behind us. It was evident that we were both fighting off that nagging realization that eventually we'd board another plane bound for home. La Dolce Vita had certainly taken over and if we couldn't make it last forever, it was definitely starting to become clear that we'd want to take home a little more than a trinket souvenir from this journey.
Be sure to check back for Part 2 of our adventures in Pompeii, Tuscany and finally, Paris.
*all photos by Holtwood Hipster / R. Neally
*all photos by Holtwood Hipster / R. Neally