Since we stayed in Europe this year for Christmas, we decided to put our newly purchased car to the test and take a driving trip through Italy (the picture to the left is of Vatican Square taken from the top of St. Peter's cupola). So, on Christmas day we (Schlopy included!) loaded the car and headed to Venice. Relying on a borrowed GPS (thanks Hans), we quickly found ourselves passing through France with mountains in the distance. Within an hour of leaving home, we came upon the Mont Blanc Tunnel. After paying the €35 toll and receiving a pair of work gloves (yes, we are still trying to figure out what those are for), we proceeded through the 7.25 mile long tunnel and were rewarded on the other end with some amazing views of the Italian Alps. After winding through the mountains and then the countryside we arrived at our hotel in time to enjoy a delicious Christmas dinner.
Venice- What a truly unique and magical city! Built on a series of low mud banks, Venice is a maze of small alleys and canals. The old buildings ooze with character. The only mode of transportation within the city is by vaporetto (water bus) or water taxis. Or, of course, you can also hire a gondola if your pockets are deep enough (€80 for 50 minutes). We started our Venice experience by taking the water bus down the Grand Canal for an overview of all the great sights. We disembarked at the famous Piazza San Marco where we explored the basilica and some of the luxurious shops filled with Murano glass. For the remainder of our visit, we simply got lost among the alleys and canals, ate lots of pizza and pasta, watched the boats drift by, and admired the architecture of this northern Italian city.
Sorrento/Amalfi Coast- From Venice, we headed south to the resort town of Sorrento. The drive proved to be a bit difficult as we encountered some wrong turns and quite a few crazy Italian drivers. Upon arriving in Sorrento, we quickly rewarded ourselves with some local pizza and great wine. With only two full days in this area we decided to split the time between sights and relaxation. The first day we headed to the ancient ruins of Pompeii. In AD 79 nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted burying Pompeii in 20 feet of pumice and ash, ultimately killing between 2,000 and 3,000 people. Today, Pompei is filled with artifacts and buildings virtually untouched since the day Mt. Vesuvius erupted. On our second day in Sorrento, we slept in and then braved the famous Amalfi coast drive. Jignesh was convinced that there could not be anything much better than the California’s Highway One. Well, within five minutes of driving this winding, coastal road, he admitted that the drive was best he has ever seen. The views of the sea and the small towns along way were breathtaking. We drove for a few hours and then stopped in the town of Amalfi for a classic Italian lunch and some window shopping. We ended our trip to the Amalfi coast with dinner in the beautiful town of Sorrento and a walk through the main streets that were adorned with holiday lights.
Rome- We arrived in Rome on New Year’s Eve and headed to the Coliseum for a New Year’s concert and fireworks. Well, our New Year’s was cut a bit short when the skies opened up with some of the most torrential rain that I have ever experienced. We were completely soaked all the way up to our knees and my shoes took three days to dry! Despite the rain, we had a wonderful New Year’s and arrived back at the hotel in time to celebrate with a glass of wine. We spent the first day of New Year just walking Rome as all the main sights were closed for the holiday. We walked up and down the Spanish Steps and threw coins into the Trevi Fountain. And of course, we ate some pizza! On our second day in Rome, we stood in one long line to enter Vatican City. Did you know that Vatican City is the world’s smallest state with about 500 residents. It has its own post office, banks, currency, and judicial system. There, we climbed the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica for an amazing view of the entire city and toured the basilica itself. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to see the Sistine Chapel (I guess that is a good reason to return someday!) but did have time to enjoy an amazing dinner at a recommended restaurant! You cannot visit Rome and not see the all the ancient ruins. So, our final day in Rome was spent in Ancient Rome. Our first stop was the Coliseum where we took a guided tour and spent time taking a ton of photos. As it was the end of our trip and overloaded with on tourist attractractions, we decided to skip the Forum. Instead, we just strolled through streets and stopped in a cafe for a cappacino and dessert. Our final night in Rome was spent at wherelese…a pizzeria (ok, it was at mall that looked like it belonged in any American suburb but it was still pizza made with fresh ingrediants and cooked to perfection in a wood burning pizza oven)! Rome is such a vast city filled with endless numbers of sights and museums. It would take weeks to see it all! I guess that just means that we will have to return...