Thursday, October 30, 2014

Back to Campania - Naples and Positano October 2014


Twelve months feels like a long time when your heart is in Italy but home is Australia. I've had an amazing year in between visits with my work in education being satisfying and rewarding, my sons are getting older and my 18 year old is in his final year of high school. He's also looking past Australia's ocean-fringed borders and toward Europe - wanting to take on that journey that so many have done before him (including me) with the backpack and the tight budget.

My 2014 trip was covering my favourite places. Rome. Venice. Paris. Naples. Positano and even a flash trip to London. Sam was my companion again only this time he was a year older and about 10cm taller than me. Funnily enough...with all the tourists they see and twelve months intervening...we were remembered by the hotel staff in Rome, by our pensione owner in Positano and even by two waitresses at a café outside the Pantheon. It was astonishing.

Naples always holds onto my heart. This trip, again, was no exception however this time, instead of ticking off a list of must sees, my son Sam and I just walked slowly, chose carefully and absorbed 3000 years of history on our own terms.

Me, bay of Naples, Vesuvius - I feel home

Day 1 - hopped out of our car service from Positano, into our hotel and then around the corner to Piazza Plebescito. I've walked through the piazza many times but never stopped to admore the Basilica di San Franceso di Paola. This photo is Sam (right) standing in front. Inside it resembles the Pantheon in Rome as it is circular and filled with light. No photos allowed inside but it is as beautiful as the Pantheon - but zero crowds. Sam, myself and a security guard and that was it.

Vesuvius from the Lungomare (Santa Lucia) district of Naples taken from the intersection of Via Palepoli and Via Nazario Sauro
Same position as above photo...but I turned around and this is what I saw. Taxis only allowed. Very quiet, upscale part of Naples with gorgeous Regency architecture (a glimpse of Castel dell Ovo far left)

Further along the Lungomare (about one minute walk from above photo). The fountain is called Immocalatella Fontana and was built by Michelangel Naccherino and Pietro Bernini  - (father of the famous Bernini of the Vatican sculptures) in 1601. Yes it is THAT old.
Behind it is Castel dell Ovo - the oldest part of this castle dates from the 9th century. Yes - 9th century - try and get your head around that...

The fountain and Vesuvius - a late afternoon glow across the beauty of the bay.

Gateway to Naples' historic centre - Porta Alba and its famous vintage bookstores

The elegant Piazza Bellini. Great place to stop for a drink, people watch and also ponder on the fact that you're sitting right on top of ancient Partenope - the ancient Greek city - and the excavations are about five steps from that table above where the fence is (on the left side)

The historic centre of Naples - narrow streets, locals, good food, atmosphere

From the street...what do you see? A church with some nice plants, a fence, a few people?
Now HERE is something incredible.
It's a church called Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco (what a mouthful) but you MUST visit here. Founded in 1604 it is attached to the Neapolitan worship of the dead. Steps to the underground lead to a crypt full of bones, including those of the virgin bride Lucia who died of consumption before her wedding day in the 1700s.  See the pole on the far left...there is a grate beside it - peer into that grate and you will glimpse this underworld. For better views pay for the tour - it's 7 euro and all in Italian but you'll see Lucia and the rest of the crypt dwellers. Intensely and solely a Neapolitan experience.
What IS Naples? Is it the chaos and madness depicted in media? Is it the crime, rubbish and pickpockets splashed all over travel forums? For me, Naples is none of this. It is simply a 3000 year old city that has grown, evolved and adapted to the 21st century. It maintains its dignity but with a rebellious streak. Like your punk teenage nephew at a family Christmas.
See my photos below...this is my Naples - and yours too. Please come and see.


More of Naples 2014 soon

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bay of Naples - Best of Procida and Capri


It may be the smallest of the three off the Bay of Naples and it's certainly not the superstar of the pack but what Procida lacks in star power it makes up for in authenticity, uniqueness and pastel crayon-box perfection. Come visit - stay a few days - you'll never forget this island.

Sunrise over Marina Corricella


Spiaggia di Chiaia (Chiaia Beach)

La Conchiglia Restaurant on Spiaggia di Chiaia



Where we stayed: La Casa sul Mare - 120 euro for a double room with a sea view and terrace
Where we ate: La Conchiglia on Spiaggai di Chiaia - the hotel organised for a boat to pick us up at Marian Corricella and take us over there. About 80 euro for two including wine.
Highlight: Sunrise on Sunday morning. Exploring the old prison. Just revelling in the stunning beauty and no tourists - it was end of season - late October 2013.
The uber-posh sparkling jewel in the Bay, Capri is designer stores, expensive cocktails and views Emperor Tiberius abandoned Rome for. Stray off the beaten tourist path and you'll find a wild, rugged limestone island perfect for hiking and incredible photographs. 


Where we stayed: The Hotel La Floridiana

 The chic designer boutiques in Capri Town

 We rented a private boat for a tour around the island - It was 120 euro for half a day - sadly the hot guy in the blue t-shirt wasn't included
 Entrance to the Blue Grotto

Faraglioni Rocks
Where we stayed: Hotel La Floridiana, about five minutes from the Piazza Umberto in Capri Town. It had a beautiful pool and some rooms have amazing views.
Where we ate: We had dinner at La Cisterna tucked away off the Piazetta. Wonderful night and the owner (Salvatore) has his photo on the house wine.
Highlights: Day one we just relaxed in the pool and went to dinner. Day two was Blue Grotto and an unforgettable boat ride around the island. We were not on Capri for long enough. Stay longer and savour this gorgeous, glamorous place.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Rome - the Eternal City and it's eternal beauty

Sam and I 'renting the view' Piazza della Rotonda and the Pantheon - still standing after 2000 years.

Whenever I dream about returning to Italy, I think of Rome. I know Naples is my favourite city and Positano is utterly bewitching but there is just something about Rome that holds onto my heart and won't let go.

October 2013 was no exception. I had originally planned four nights but extended it to six nights. It cost me! The airfare was already locked in so I had to pay $700 for both of us for the change - but worth it? YES, a thousand times over. To see my son, Sam, fall in love with the Eternal City was priceless.

We arrived from Naples on a Friday afternoon, headed straight to Hotel Portoghesi and then went out again and off to the Quirinale to see the exhibition on Augustus. No photos allowed so I can't publish any but the Prima Porta Statue of Augustus was there - this is something I've wanted to see on my last three visits to Rome but missed out - and there it was at this exhibit. It's a spectacular statue - almost over 2 metres high and was only discovered in 1863. This is it below - recognise it?

After the Quirinale, we went to dinner and then wound our way back to the Portoghesi. This hotel has a special place in my heart - why? Because I am a huge fan of the Julia Roberts movie 'Eat Pray Love', which was shot on location in the same street as this hotel. If you've seen the movie you may remember this:

This is the exterior location of her character's apartment in the movie. It is just gorgeous and I kept looking longingly inside that door and wanting to go inside and explore - anyway, the hotel was alongside to the right.
Sam and I had lots to do in Rome. We were on the Caravaggio trail. We had a list of Caravaggio's best works to track down and we were on a mission. We also had a four hour tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel - that was day one on the Saturday morning. We had to get to the meeting point for the 'Pristine Sistine' tour and be there by 7.30am. All I can say is, thank goodness for Google Maps and it's little satellite tracking device. We made it after running through the streets of the Vatican in the semi-darkness.
The courtyard inside the Vatican Museums

The tour was outstanding. I've been to the Vatican Museums several times but seeing it with an experienced archaeologist for a guide and hearing his explanations - especially in the Raphael Rooms - definitely enhanced our visit. The Sistine Chapel was virtually empty with even enough room to sit on the side benches and ponder the ceiling without being crushed and hurried out. No photos allowed inside the Chapel but they wouldn't do it justice anyway. Try and tune out the crowds and just immerse yourself in the splendour of the artwork.

Above and below - the Raphael Rooms - no crowds! 

Bernini's incredible altar and cupola inside St. Peter's Basilica

The tour exits the Sistine Chapel through a doorway that leads to St. Peter's Basilica. You can only use this doorway if you're on a tour. It's handy because you're able to bypass the security line for the Basilica and just go straight in. We were there on a day when many pilgrims were visiting for the Papal Family Mass, so parts of St. Peter's were blocked off, including Bernini's altar (above). However later in our visit - on the very last day before we flew out - we unexpectedly found ourselves back inside the Basilica and were able to see it properly.
We had pre-booked tickets for this before we left home and had the first timeslot entry of the morning. You're allowed two hours inside the gallery and have to check bags - all bags, including handbags/purses. I would strongly recommend getting an audio guide - which we didn't do unfortunately but were still able to appreciate the gallery nonetheless. It's only two floors so when you're allowed admittance, run up the stairs to the top floor and work your way down. We saw Caravaggio's works 'Sick Bacchus', 'Boy with a Basket of Fruit, 'Madonna and Child with St. Anne', 'David with Head of Goliath' and 'St. Jerome'. The Borghese is top heavy with Caravaggio's work so we left pretty happy.
So after our two hours were up - this is what we did - we rented bikes for two hours and went nuts. I kept losing Sam - the gardens are enormous and he just took off, as a 13 year old will, and had the time of his life. So did I! The bikes cost about 7 euro for two hours and you have to leave security ID (I left our passports). Well worth it especially if you have kids - they will love it.


As I said before, Sam and I were on the Caravaggio trail. We saw his works in the Borghese Gallery, had seen some in the Uffizi in Florence as well as two of his works on permanent display in Naples (Flagellation of Christ and Seven Acts of Mercy) but Rome has the big guns. In no particular order, this is where we went, and the works we saw:

Madonna of the Pilgrims located in Sant' Agostino. This church is at the Via Dei Coronari end of Piazza Navona.
 Gypsy Fortune Teller - located in the Capitoline Museums

Calling of St. Matthew (above) and Inspiration of St. Matthew (below) - located in San Luigi de Francesi which is about five minutes walk from Piazza Navona

The Conversion of St. Paul (above) and Martyrdom of St. Peter (below)
Both are located in Santa Maria del Popolo in Piazza del Popolo

Caravaggio's other works we saw were Rest on the Flight to Egypt (my all time favourite of his works) and Penitent Magdaelene in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj. This gallery is definitely worth your time. It's off the tourist radar and hardly any visitors were there when Sam and I went. It's a former palace owned by the Pamphilj family whose lineage includes Pope Innocent X. Your admission includes an audio guide which is narrated by one of the family - and his anecdotes and personal insight into what was his family home are truly special.

I'm an early riser - and what a city to explore when the sun has just risen. It's still and peaceful - and the perfect opportunity to take photos without hundreds of people around. Take a look.

One of Rome's many charming streets

Trevi Fountain
Ponte St. Angelo and one of Bernini's angels
 Ponte St. Angelo with Castel St. Angelo
 St Peter's Basilica - at sunrise it's empty

 Some young priests in training on their way to school
Piazza Navona with not a single tourist in sight - rare!
There is so much more to tell - see  next blog post!