La Dolce Vita!    
June 30 ~ July 11, 2003

Ciao, Italia!
Back to CastleBlake

We had the most amazing come along for the ride!
*ALL pics now up!*

Rome: June 30 – July 4     Hotel Orazia

Day One ~ 
We got to Rome at 9 AM on Monday, June 30th after a direct flight over from ATL and checked in to our hotel. That first day we went to all the ruins of the Roman Forums and the Colosseum area. That afternoon, jet lag kicked in, so that was the only evening we did absolutely nothing.


First glimpse of the Colosseum down a long, narrow street. It's crazy to walk around the corner from a trendy designer store to see the monuments you've studied about in school since 2nd grade!
Sues in the ruins of the Forum


Inside the Colosseum

King Gladiator
Day Two ~ 

The second day, we spent roaming around the city center: the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, etc. We ate and ate and ate, (JB's fettuccine alfredo at Cafe Dolce Vita was stellar!) We sat around at every cafe we felt like and did lots of window shopping. On the way up to the Spanish Steps, we went into Dolce & Gabbana and they asked Susie if she'd like to try on an amazing $2000 dress with $900 shoes - ahhh...


Trevi Fountain

The Column of Marcus Aurelius (and tiny JB at the bottom)

Fountain in the Piazza della Rotonda in front of the Pantheon

Cafe Dolce Vita on the Piazza Navona

The Fountain of Neptune in the Piazza Navona

More fresh drinking water flowing freely throughout the city

Coming up Via Condotti to the Spanish Steps

On the Spanish Steps

Longing for a gorgeous coture number from Valentino


That night, we actually went to an opera concert in a beautiful cathedral! It was a concert of famous arias, (including Susie's favorite, Nessun Dorma, and her audition piece for the Atlanta Opera, O Mio Babbino!) She cried.

The cathedral where the performance was held...
and the line to get in

Beautiful art inside

The amazing ceiling

"The Wedding Cake" as the Romans call it,
lit up on our walk after the opera

Again, the fountain in the Piazza della Rotonda
in front of the Pantheon, but at night

Looking into the fountain, with the Pantheon
looming large in the background
Day Three ~ 

Day three we took a day trip to Pisa! I guess we can see why no one would spend more than half a day there; the tower and cathedral are about it, but we had a blast. It was a 3-hour train ride from Roma, but it was really pretty. We followed the coast up, so when we weren't passing gorgeous seaviews, we were riding through the famous sunflower fields of Tuscany in full bloom!!!


We had the BEST antipasti before lunch - fresh bruschetta and pecorino romano cheese with fresh pears. After lunch, we shopped around a bit and then got to go up to the very top of the Leaning Tower! JB helped Sues with her slight fear of climbing up tons of tiny circular steps, and it was AMAZING!

JB leaning with the tower, (and yes - that tree is actually leaning for real, too!)

The degree of lean changes as you move around it.

Lunch in the shadow of the tower


The cathedral through a thin Romanesque window up in the tower

Out of breath, but pressing on...
All at the top

You feel the lean dramatically at the bottom entrance!

The baptistery and cathedral

Sues along the Arno
Day Four ~ 

Thursday, July 3rd we spent all back in Roma. We spent five hours walking through the Vatican, looking at all of the amazing, famous artwork and being generally awed. While we were there, we saw Rachel Griffiths with her new husband and her mother! (Great actress: Brenda on Six Feet Under on HBO - won a Golden Globe this year for it; and she was Hilary in one of Susie's all-time favorite movies, Hilary and Jackie - nominated for an Oscar for that, too.) Susie talked to her, but didn't get a pic or autograph; didn't want to be annoying.


Also while at the Vatican, we went to the very top of St. Peter's Cathedral - yet another teensy stair-climbing-very-high-up triumph. The view was totally worth it!

St. Peter's piazza...

And the inside of St. Peter's gorgeous dome...

...done completely in mosaic!

Outside at the tippy top

And the amazing view back down on the piazza

Great breeze up there!

Rome at our feet

Streaming sunbeams inside back on the ground floor

We worked up quite an appetite!

After the Vatican, we had a delicious lunch, (tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms in a light cream sauce followed by that awesome gelato sundae in the last pic above.) And what better way to follow a meal than to go see a bunch of skeletons? The Capuchin Crypt was incredible - all of the walls are seriously decorated with the bones of dead monks! We had dinner in front of the Pantheon, followed by the usual second cone of gelato (Italian ice cream - NOTHING like it in the world!!!) of the day.

Real bones and skeletons...but it wasn't gross or scary - just fascinating!

Ahhh...candlelight, Italian vino, and the best al dente rigatoni
Day Five  ~ 

Our last full day in Roma, we went back to the ruins of the Palatine Hill beside the Forum and Colosseum, because we'd skipped them on Monday. We also did a little shopping; Susie got some bath soap made from Tuscan herbs right in front of us at a wonderful botanical bath and soaps store behind the Pantheon. JB got the most stunning humidor ever crafted at a leather store on the Via Veneto. We spent the whole evening on the Piazza Navona, reveling and celebrating the 4th of July!

The Mouth of Truth*

Sues singing Volare on the Piazza Navona with street musicians!  

Getting a portrait done
*Everyone comes to stick their hand inside the Mouth of Truth. Legend says that if you have a penchant for telling lies, the Mouth will chomp down on your hand and bite it off! JB is healing quite well...

Baia & The Phlegraean Fields: July 5 – July 6     Hotel Il Gabbiano

Day Six  ~ 

On Saturday, July 5th, we left Roma and went down to the Naples area. We went away from Naples to the west, over to Baia and the Phlegraean Fields. It's an area where so many myths - Odysseus, Icarus, etc. - have roots. Very heavily Greek-influenced.

During that day, we went over to Cuma. It's where the famous Cave of the Sybil, the second most famous oracle after Delphi, is located. You can go all the way inside to the very back. So eerily cool! And for those of you who watch The Sopranos - remember in Season 2 when Tony went to Italy to meet with the Don and dealt with his daughter the whole time? She showed him around the area and they went out to the Cave of the Sybil? That's this! It was all filmed exactly right there on location! It's so beautiful! This whole area is kind of out of the way and certainly not the simplest to get to, but it's amazing and more than worth it to get off the beaten tourist path. The history is astounding, and it's something that not every one who's been to Italy (or even the Naples area) has done.


After we left the Cave of the Sybil, we hiked up the acropolis there to the very top. At each stage, we thought, "This is the most beautiful view," (because it's right on the Mediterranean Ocean,) but it just kept getting prettier and prettier. There are the ruins of a Temple of Apollo and a Temple of Juno there, and you can climb all over.


Our hotel was home to a very famous restaurant; apparently it's the #1 spot in the area to get married, and we were there over a Saturday night, so there were two weddings while were were there. (And the food at the restaurant surely did not disappoint! Their pasta special was incredible.) The view from our room was also breath-taking!

Day Seven  ~ The next morning, while still in Baia, we got to take a glass-bottom boat out on the bay. Almost 2000 years ago, Baia was built out more, and due to the volcanic and seismic activity in the earth, all of the old Roman roads and villas built by the emperors who'd vacation there have sunken into the sea.
On the glass-bottom boat, we could actually SEE the ruins of roads and villas under the water!


Pompei & The Vesuvius Area: July 6 – July 7     Hotel Grillo Verde

Day Eight  ~ 

After we left the Baia and Cuma area, we went back east past Naples over to Pompei and Herculaneum for July 6th and 7th. Those two places were mind-boggling. Sues just could not get over the fact that ALL of what we were walking through had been completely covered by ash and mud from the volcano and that it had all been dug out to be able to see what we saw today. She grew up watching National Geographic specials on Pompei with her dad, so this was such a huge historical thing for her to see. All the guide books we read said you need at least 4 hours to give Pompei even a cursory look. Totally right! We were there for 5 hours and STILL didn't see everything!

Mt. Vesuvius rising behind the Forum

In the Temple of Apollo

The Vesuvius from the western-most side of Pompei

The streets of Pompei were so cool! Apparently they used to flood often, so their "crosswalks" were big stepping stones, so you wouldn't have to wade through the water.

There were many ancient storefronts with huge jars set inside of marble counters. (See also first pic, next row.) These jars were for mixing drinks for customers. Yummy!

There are two theatres in Pompei. The minor one (above) is better preserved. The Major Theatre (middle, next row) is slowly being restored.
We were astounded by how much color is throughout the place still. Tons of bright red. I can't believe so many paintings survived.
There were also a few preserved bodies and several casts of some of the victims of the volcano that were found as the place was excavated. They were in glass cases to protect them. It wasn't freaky or scary at all. Just amazing...


We did Pompei and Herculaneum both in the same day. Our advice? Please don't try to do that. It's not impossible, because we successfully did it, but it's exhausting. The ancient, uneven stone streets are so hard on your feet, and the sun beats down extremely hard. We both got fried, (but I admit - it was SO nice to be tan, again!) After five hours in Pompei, we knew we had to leave, if we were going to make it to Herculaneum in time (~20 minutes by local train) to see everything there, too, before they locked the gates. Herculaneum was even better than Pompei! It's much smaller and better preserved, because it was covered in mud by the volcano, instead of burning ash, like Pompei. The mosaics there are fantastic! It originally was a very wealthy town, so it has some more showy sights. Everyone should see both, though; Pompei is so epic!

No offense intended, but there were racy statues and frescos all over both sites

The colors in the art were even
more brilliant in Herculaneum

Looking down on Herculaneum
at the end of our day


Capri: July 8 – July 10     Hotel La Minerva

Days Nine and Ten  ~ 
Tuesday, July 8th, we went down to Sorrento to take the hydrofoil over to Capri . Next time we go to Pompei, we'll stay in Sorrento, because it's only ~30 minutes by local train, and it's gorgeous! The Isle of Capri is perhaps our most favorite place on the planet. No kidding. It is amazing! The most gorgeous azure water, lush plant life, a few beaches, mountainous rocky cliffs, killer upscale shopping, (every designer you can think of has a boutique there; best window shopping and dream trying-on in the world!) amazing food from people who make an effort to get to know you, because they know if you come once, you'll come back, again...I could go on and on. It's also the only place I've even been where I can't find postcards that are as pretty as the real thing.

Waiting for the hydrofoil

Cliffs of Sorrento

Our room in Capri

Last time Sues was in Capri, she didn't go to the famous Blue Grotto, so we had to do it this time. You take a motor boat out around the island to where a bunch of little row boats are, because the motor boats can't get in there. You get in a row boat, (it was just the two of us together with the boat rower - very romantic!) and you literally have to lay down flat in the boat to get into the little hole of the cave. The boatman said, "You go in now in the love and you come out, you gonna have a baby with the blue eyes like the water!" Once you're through the tiny cave opening and your eyes adjust, it is the most gorgeous thing you've ever seen. The most breath-taking blue sparkling up from the sea! We rowed around inside and our boatman sang a few opera songs for us! (The acoustics are GREAT in there!) He even sang the Andrea Bocelli song we love so much, Con Te Partiró/Time to Say Goodbye.

The food on Capri is FANTASTIC! It's the home of two of our most favorite restaurants in the WORLD...and they just happen to be right across the tiny street from each other! Da Gemma and
La Cisterna . Da Gemma has the best gnocchi (and Sues is a gourmet gnocchi lover) on the planet! It's the perfect texture - not gummy or pasty nor falling apart. Perfect size and the sauce? That makes it! It's not drowning in tomato sauce. They know that the sauce is a condiment to the pasta, not a whole nother dish, and they do it best: equal parts tomato and real Mozzarella di Bufala (the ONLY acceptable kind!) make it able for you to literally clean your plate... And the owner of La Cisterna is the happiest man you've ever met in your life. He's lively, fun, and he's there at all times when his restaurant is open. He's a big jolly man, and he is fantastic! His house wine bottle label is what drew us in there in the first place. You can't tell me this charismatic guy wouldn't suck you right in, too!

Sal's wine label - the BEST!

Rome: July 10 – July 11     Hotel Orazia

Day Eleven  ~ 
We left Capri and went back to Rome Thursday afternoon, July 10th. (We took the hydrofoil to Naples and then the Eurostar high speed train from Naples back to Rome. So fast!) When we got back, we had this feeling of, "Ah, we're home!" Heehee! We had our last night's dinner in front of the Pantheon, again. (Different restaurant, though; there are tons right on the piazza there.) That night we had the best wine - a very bright Pinot Grigio and then our favorite: Spumante!
Day Twelve  ~
We woke up to a gorgeous Roman sunrise, caught a quick last European breakfast, and flew out at 9 AM. This trip was everything we dreamed it would be and more!