A Travellerspoint blog

Italy

Castel San Elmo

Naples and France

sunny 7 °C
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Another glorious sunny day in Naples for our last full day. Heading out at the end of our street there is a funicular which takes you up 828 metres. At the top is a residential area, shops, along with terraced stairs and suburbs back down towards the water. Near the station and a short walk is the Castel San Elmo.

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The castel is an imposing defence structure with unrivalled views over the whole of Napoli. Crossing the connecting bridge over the moat you breach the outer walls and like most castles you find yourself in the inner walled area. Looking up two canons would have aided the battle, as well as the usual bolt holes for other means to dispose of enemies.

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Crossing the outer drawbridge you enter the castle into the main hall which would have been to greet important visitors and then you come to the inner gate when you are truly within the castle walls and wind your way up the stone corridors to the main courtyard. The vantage points on the ascent just keep getting better until you reach the top and walk along the parapets. Views in all directions from the mountains, the city of Naples, Mount Vesuvius, the Bay of Naples and Capri.

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The Castel has had an evolutionary history as a fortified home, military post, a prison and currently used for art exhibitions and administrative offices along with being a well patronised museum building and is a great place to soak in some sun along with the glorious views.

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We left Naples the following day and have found the metro in Italy is quick and convenient and in no time we were back at the Naples central station for the train to Milan. The next train trip was just under five hours, after a scenic detour due to police work on the line where derailment occurred a couple of weeks back, with regular announcements about hygiene and viruses. Understandably, and a little sad, a very different vibe when we arrived in Milan as it was very quiet, not a lot of people or traffic. We stayed in a hotel next to the station, which was a bed for the night for our early start the next morning.

The next morning we farewelled Italy as the train travelled from Milan to Basel, Switzerland and then through part of Germany to Colmar, France. We have travelled by train to most of our destinations and it has been an easy way to see the diversity of the country and cities. As we headed closer to the borders, the snow on the mountains and then on the ground and in villages was very picturesque and a reminder that the warmer weather was drawing to an end. Lots of people who had been or were going skiing hoped on the train at Thun and off again at Bern.

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Changing trains at Basel for Colmar, we arrived at Colmar station which is a beautiful building. On the short walk from the train station to our apartment, we kept stopping to take in the beauty of the medieval and Renaissance buildings and statutes near where we are staying. Love Colmar, love France!

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Posted by bonne vie 11:18 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Historic Napoli and the National Archeological Museum

Italy

sunny 14 °C
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Leaving Sorrento we caught the train to Napoli which is just over an hour away and then swapped to the metro line to arrive at Montesanto. Our apartment is a five minute walk from the train station and at the corner of our street the road meets another metro interchange station point and Funicular.

Naples is a big and bustling city and we are living in the heart of noisy suburbia - bells tolling, people, sirens, motorbikes and some cars. The location and sunny weather provide the perfect launch pad to visit the historic centre of town with its main streets filled with food, souvenirs, gelato, bars, cafes and narrow streets with washing hanging down the colourful buildings and pedestrians and motorbikes sharing the tight space. These streets are interspersed with piazzas, churches, shrines, the universities and even a bust of Punchinella.

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While there is a lot to see in Naples, our priority was the Naples National Archeological museum which houses artefacts from Pompeii, Herculaneum along with the Farnese collection of statues and gems. Many of the statutes were formerly located in Rome and the piece de resistance, the Farnese bull were at the Caracalla thermal baths. We were also quite impressed with Hercules who also stood at the baths, as was Napoleon who apparently tried on three occasions unsuccessfully to move the statue to France. Many of the statutes are Greek copies mostly in the first AD, including a copy of Doryphoros who is said to be the most perfect male proportioned with classical features and realism.

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On the first floor, you walk into rooms of the glorious Pompeii mosiacs in their full colour and glimpses of life and thoughts 2000 years ago. This floor also includes a secret room, which is filled with erotica mosiacs, anatomy shaped lamps, charms, wind chimes, pottery and sign posts from Pompeii. In particular the erect male anatomy was seen as a symbol of good luck, and fertility while also some were used to point the way to brothels.

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On the upper floor there is a model of Pompeii built in the 1800’s, paintings from the walls of Pompeii houses and artefacts from everyday life. These artefacts were numerous and amazing, surgical tools, musical instruments, blown glassware, silver dining sets, baking items and urns. The faded colour on some of these items were still beautiful and you can only imagine how they looked in their heyday. While the wealthy used silver and bronze items in daily life, ceramic mass production enabled common folk to also demonstrate their upcoming status in society.

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This floor also contains an exhibition of oceanic findings from shipwrecks, dive excursions and fisherman. There is also the magnificent marble Farnese Atlas kneeling with a celestial sphere which is the oldest surviving pictorial record of western constellations and is exquisitely detailed.

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In the final room there are water features, statutes including those with painted eyes including the dancing daughters who once stood on Palatine Hill in Rome.

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A bonus on the way out was the exhibition showcasing a reproduction of the environment and cave paintings from the Lascaux caves in France dating back to Palaeolithic times. It was amazing to stand in the dark and see the outline of the animals reflect in the dark.

Definitely a recommended way to spend a few hours if you are interested.

Posted by bonne vie 12:55 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Day Tripping

Amalfi Coast and Capri

sunny 16 °C
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A glorious sunny day greeted us as we headed out on a day tour to Positano, Amalfi and Ravello with the coastline a UNESCO heritage site. The view at the crest at the top of the mountain where you can see both the Bay of Naples and the Mediterranean Sea heading towards the Bay of Salerno is magnificent.

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The ocean was a glorious glimmering emerald colour along the coast and one of the initial sights is the archipelago of the Liguria islands that jut up from the sea. You can appreciate the the legend of the sirens and imagine a life of a pirate on the seas all the way along the Amalfi coastline.

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Our first stop was Positano with its steep and narrow streets and equally steep stairs, really like a vertical village on the mountainside. The locals park alongside the main road and then walk to their terraced homes. At the very bottom of the town the beach of fine volcanic sand and small pebbles meets the ocean. Lemons are grown along the terraces and the colour of the buildings and homes matched with the ocean and the looming mountains are picturesque.

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Back on the touring bus next stop was Amalfi. The roads narrowed significantly as we followed the coastline and from our vantage point we could see Capri in the far distance on the right and on the left other smaller villages as you head towards Amalfi. We passed a natural fjord and the place of an annual diving competition at Furore.

Arriving at Amalfi we headed out on boat to see the coastline and villages from the water and gained a true appreciation of the scale and height of the villages, towns, villas and terraces along with the private beaches and the towers that use to be a warning system for invaders coming from the sea. Back at Amalfi we walked through the main streets of town, having lunch and gelato before heading to Ravello our final village for the day right at the top of the mountain.

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Ravello was very quiet and most places closed for the afternoon on a Saturday. It is listed as a UNESCO heritage site and is nestled between a valley, the Valley of the Dragon and the sea with magnificent views, We enjoyed a walk through the narrow streets, the colourful buildings and spotting the multitude of wild cats, including kittens in the main piazza.

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Leaving Ravello for Sorrento, the trip home followed the coastline with the glow of the afternoon and setting sun. Our driver was fantastic along the winding roads and took in his stride navigating traffic including full size buses, motorbikes, cars, bicycles and pedestrians. We can only imagine how the road and villages are impacted during the high summer season and appreciate the opportunity to take our time without being jostled to see the beautiful Amalfi coast.

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After an easy down day, we took a tour to Capri on our last full day in Sorrento. Another private tour as we were the only people that had booked for the day. With our guide we left Sorrento on the hydrofoil to Capri and found out the blue grotto was closed for the day. The blue grotto is only open 120 days of the year and each day people, workers and tourists head to the island to see if it is one of the days that the blue grotto is open. Our guide had organised a boat tour of the island and told us to sit in the back of the boat for the best views. This was the best tip and we loved the views of the bianca and emerald grottos, the arch of love, the lighthouse and got to see the entry of the blue grotto covered by the waves. The villas around the island are eye watering expensive with one on top of a rock shelf currently for sale at 27 million euro. Lots of the villas were unoccupied and Capri was extremely quiet.

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After the boat ride we headed by private bus to Capri and walked around the town, taking in the sites of the main piazza and clubs of the rich and famous and then heading to the south side to visit gardens and a look out. On the way back we took the locals street route which is quite steep and narrow however provided lovely views of the villas, buildings and their gardens.

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Next stop was Anacapri on the top of the mountain via the steep windy roads, again this was even more quiet than Capri and we had a lovely three course lunch followed by a walk in the town. Most of the buildings in Anacapri are white, the streets flat and windy with beautiful views of gardens, churches and the ocean.

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Back on the hydrofoil we headed home and reflected on the colours of the water around Sorrento, Capri and the Amalfi coast which are truly amazing places to visit and their beauty on the days will stay with us.

Posted by bonne vie 13:18 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Train journey and coasts

Sorrento

sunny 15 °C
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The sun was shining and birds tweeting as walked from our apartment through the park with our last glimpses of the Colosseum as we made our way to the Rome Termini. Arriving with plenty of time we waited in the terminal and when moving to check the departures board, found our train had been delayed by an hour. All trains coming from Milan were delayed due to police review of the derailment a couple of weeks earlier. It was fortuitous that we didn’t buy connecting tickets to Sorrento until we arrived at Napoli. We navigated the station and tickets and then with the hordes of others joined the throng to get on a regional train similar to metro carriages for the next leg. Due to the number of people on and getting on to the train and the size of our bags we stood the hour and a bit to get to Sorrento.

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Coming into Napoli it was magnificent to see Mount Vesuvius and the views just kept getting better on the way to Sorrento, the Bay of Naples, Pompeii excavations, the ocean, lemons and oranges and end of the line Sorrento. A five minute walk and we made it to our apartment in a secure gated complex with a concierge.

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Sorrento is magical, we are a five minute walk from the old town and can also walk to magnificent look outs over the Bay of Naples including down to the Grande Marina. All throughout the town there is orange and mandarin trees and the lemons in the upper terraces around Sorrento. It is a very clean town and everyone told us we have come at the perfect time as they gear up for the hordes of visitors that descend for the summertime. Sorrento has provided us with the opportunity to have some local down time balanced with day trips to the beautiful Amalfi coast, Pompeii and Capri.

Bellissimo!

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Posted by bonne vie 08:17 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Sunday Fundays

Rome

sunny 17 °C
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Sunday means family time and in particular shared meals and outdoors in Italy. Because of the volume of people out and about the police and army close and man many roads for pedestrians only.

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We took the opportunity to visit the Piazza Di Spagna and the famous Spanish Stairs. It is banned to sit on the stairs and police are on the steepest part of the stairs watching the hundreds of people around. So many stairs to walk up however the view of Rome is quite spectacular when you get to the top.

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Following the road along you pass the Roman Villa Medici, now a French academy for artists and scholars, and into the Borghese gardens which is the third largest park in Rome. The gardens are well patronised by people, their dogs, bicycles, clubs to roller blade, buskers along with fete or exhibition type rides, balloons and toys. There is a great look out over the Piazza del Popolo, the people’s square, which is at the Northern gate of the old Roman town and used to be a site for public executions. The symmetry and framing of the marble statues is truly amazing and you don’t really appreciate the size of the piazza until you stand there with others.

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it was a glorious day, so we walked and shopped our way back to lunch at the Trevi fountain and for the afternoon. A relaxing way for our last Sunday in Rome.

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On the Monday, we had a light day and navigated what is PostItaliane in Rome. While in Florence the post office was very straightforward and the staff very helpful, Rome was another adventure itself. Our local post office redirected us to the central multi-lingual post office and we found the lack of consistency in the post frustrating, having to source our own box without any advertising showing, address it, pack it and return before we moved on the next day. The great thing is that Italians are very big on recycling and sort rubbish very clearly into four types. This made finding a box easy and Richard’s skills came in handy as he manoeuvred the box trimming and turning it inside and the packing tape bought in France worth it’s weight in gold again. Our bags several kilos lighter we were ready to move on to Sorrento.

Posted by bonne vie 10:30 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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