With feet firmly planted back on American soil I have time to sit and reflect on what we’ve just left behind. 45 different beds in 45 nights reminds me of my player days back in college. Okay not so much, but there were 45 different experiences. Each place we stayed had it’s own unique charm, and was a completely enjoyable experience. We set out to show that there were places to stay that offered a more fulfilling experience than a hotel. I think we accomplished that, as we got to know different people all over Italy that I would gladly drop in on again. You can’t generally say that about the guy working the front desk at the hotel.
In 7 weeks we saw something close to 150 different towns, I haven’t stopped to count them all as I still can’t believe we did it. But those 150 towns are just a fraction of what is out there, so we have barely scratched the surface. Our travel philosophy is that you should just go out and wander around, the things that you find are going to be great, and they don’t have to be in a guide book. We unfortunately tried to hold up a pace that prevented us from doing that. But what we wanted to show you were ideas and suggestions. Don’t go out and copy our path, but take some inspiration and get off the “Fodder’s track” and see places that nobody else has. And don’t get us wrong, we aren’t saying that you shouldn’t go to Rome, Florence, and Venice because you totally should. But when you are in Rome, take a day or two and visit the small towns that are within an hours train ride away. It will be an experience that you can share with friends, that they can’t necessarily share with you, if that makes any sense at all.
I’m going to take a couple days to rest and regroup for the American lifestyle, but then begins the post-production magic. I don’t know how long it will take, as with this whole project, this will be a first time thing. But stop back by www.TheVespaDiaries.com every once in a while and see if we’ve made any progress. When we’re done you will be able to see the places we’ve been and stayed with your own 2 eyes. Hopefully this will further inspire you, and give you a real sense of what these lodgings are like.
Until then, thanks to everyone who helped, and everyone of you that followed along with us. We hope that you enjoyed it, and we hope that one day we can invite you along for The Vespa Diaries II.

So much to do today, and not nearly enough time with which to get it done. We left the ferry behind at 7am and headed Lucca, and then Tiglio Barga. The agriturismo I Cerretelli www.agriturismoicerettelli.com lies at the bottom of a tiny street, which itself is at the end of a small twisting road that is surrounded on both sides by thick forest. It was very different from the Sardinian landscape we had just left behind. The first thing you see when you go through the gate is the nice swimming pool with a view over the valley below. Then you walk into the breakfast room, and since it just happened to be breakfast time we admired their spread before we continued on to the rest of the building. The rooms are all very large, most with separate rooms for lounging and sleeping. There are a couple upstairs that have lofts with extra beds for the kids, and they were pretty darn cool. The house was in very nice shape and each of the beds featured a hand painted head and baseboard with a different I Cerretelli design. I regret that we didn’t get to stay here, but the next time we are in the area I will certainly call them again.
Castelnuovo di Garfagnana isn’t too far away, and it is home to our last stop before heading to Milan. We were also supposed to stay at the agriturismo La Palazzina www.agriturismolapalazzina.com but our last week’s schedule has become a little discombobulated. We new from pictures, and email with them that it was a great place and we still wanted to share it with you. Stefano is an absolutely wonderful host. He knows a lot about the area, and is all about promoting tourism while keeping Garfagnana the way it is, instead of completely commercializing it. He also knows a lot about the history of the grounds that he has turned into La Palazzina. For instance the private forest that is planted with trees from all over the world that the original silk merchant owners brought back from their travels. Or the picture of the chimney stack that was blown off by allied bombing when Germans took the property over. The agriturismo features very very large apartments where the whole family, or a few friends can spread out and relax. The bathrooms are huge! They all have their own kitchen and dining area. There is also a communal area with a big stereo, TV, and a WASHING MACHINE with a ton of drying racks. Oh how we would have loved that a few weeks ago. Stefano knew we were short on time, but insisted that we had to go with him into town to see a couple of the sights and taste some of the local products. Castelnuovo seems like a really great little town, and I’m sorry that we didn’t have time to explore it more. But I am very glad that Stefano took us into to eat! We stopped off at “Timbocco” and met up with GabrieleBertucci. Everything they make is typical/traditional to this area and it is only made with local ingredients. I would say we got a sampler platter, but it was more like a sampler table. We started with a couple of different Pecorino cheeses, then a few sausages types (one of which was wild boar). Trout from this area is supposed to be the healthiest anywhere because their river is the only one in Europe that doesn’t contain some sort of fish disease that isn’t really good for you. I don’t really know much about all of that, but the taste was damn fine. We sampled, and by that I mean a nibble, of “trippa” which is cow stomach, and man was it good! NOT! Don’t think I’ll do that one again. The most important part of the meal was Faro, which is the oldest type of grain in recorded history, but rather unknown in modern society. The Faro from this region is the best in the world, they make flour out of it, and eat it whole almost as a pasta substitute. We had it mixed with tomatoes, basil, S&P, and olive oil, it was delicious. Gabriele’s lasagna is different than anything I’ve ever tasted, I couldn’t begin to tell you what all he did differently, but the faro flour had something to do with it. There were a few other things in there that my brain won’t recall at the moment, and it was all very good. Then for desert we had a pie that was made from “chestnut flour” (another typical local thing, that wins awards all over the place) ricotta cheese, and chocolate chips. Rich doesn’t even begin to describe it, and man was it good. I was going to buy some chestnut flour and steal the recipe, but they didn’t have any on hand as the new batch of chestnuts were still in the drying stage. It was an incredible meal, and I highly suggest you stop in if you are ever in town. The address is 5A Via Farini, Castelnuovo di Garfagana. Or if you stay with Stefano and he can tell you exactly how to get there.
The road we took to get to Milan lead us right through the Carrara marble country, and it was wonderful. The leaves have all turned, and every once in a while you would zoom past a truck loaded down with humongous blocks of white marble. You can just imagine what sorts of wonderful things will be carved out of them. I hope not a bunch of cheap tourist trinkets! It was a ride I would liked to take a little slower and enjoy it a little more, but it wasn’t to be. We had a deadline, and we barely made it.
It was a sad sad day for The Vespa Diaries, because as soon as we handed the keys over to Piaggio we were no longer actually with Vespa, and it was back to being a normal trip. But for the 7 weeks that we had the bike it was truly enjoyable, and I am already thinking about the next time that I can hop back on a Vespa and see the country again. I know we’ve thanked them before, but we really can’t thank them enough. The Public Bus diaries just doesn’t have the same ring to it, and without Piaggio’s participation that is exactly what it would have been. So “Mille Grazie” to all those people at Piaggio that helped us along the way!
And while we are doling out our thanks, let me send another huge Thank You to Michele at Napapijri. Their clothing is great, and we felt like real Italians walking around in it. This was something that he didn’t have to do, and we really appreciate that he did it. So do me a favor and support them, you’ll look good doing it, and you can go out knowing you are wearing something that you aren’t going to see on the guy next to you.
And a final Thanks to every Agriturismo/B&B/Restaurant/Cooking School/Hot Air Balloon owner that helped us out along the way. We really and truly couldn’t have done it without you. We discovered a ton of new places along the way, and we hope that you have kept track of them. I give me personal seal of approval to every one of them , and guarantee that you won’t be disappointed when you stay there.

Nothing to do today, so I was hoping to sleep in but that stupid internal clock was working against me. Most important decision of the day... which of the beautiful beaches we’ve seen do we want to go back to? We decided on Baia Sardinia. What a spot! So the update for today is basically a lazy day of lying on the beach. Not too exciting but considering it is November it should make you all plenty jealous.
This time we weren’t the only people at the port, and if we had been I would have beat myself up. But we boarded and everything should be smooth sailing from here. We’ll be back on the mainland in the morning with a sack of things to get done.
There was supposed to be a great agriturismo to tell you about tonight, but since we are on the boat, that isn’t going to happen. But in the morning we are going to stop by and meet up with Pietro. Then I will tell you all about his place.

Breakfast was the fanciest spread we’ve had so far. Nice china, covered serving dishes, single butter and jam set ups. Silvana sat with us and we talked about her family. Her uncle was some sort of an archeologist, or maybe it was just a hobby, but there are a couple of amazing roman artifacts just sitting in the yard at the house she was born in. She is also very proud of Cagliari and she brought out a map and showed us where to go and how to get there.
Cagliari is a big city, but as with most, you just have to know where to go. First up was the main street that runs along by the port Via Roma, which is lined with palm trees and very large old buildings. There are a lot of shops and restaurants here, so it’s great for broke window shoppers like us. Up on the hill that looks out over the city is the walled old city. They’ve got a roman amphitheater where they still hold performances. I personally don’t like seeing the metal seats and walkways, but it would be pretty cool to see a concert in such an ancient spot. The Duomo is also here, and from the outside it is very nice. Inside there was a mass going on, so we didn’t go in out of respect. The coolest thing in my opinion was the Bastione San Remy. It’s a giant terrace at the far end of the walled city and it affords views that are really spectacular. There is a really cool bar tucked underneath the staircase, with a ton of outdoor seating. There are benches, couches, and even hammocks, so it would be a very chic place to hang out one night. Silvana told us about a place where we can see flamingos, but due to a number of one way streets that weren’t marked on the map we weren’t able to find them.
By this point the afternoon was well upon us and we needed to get a move on if we were going to make it back to Golfo Aranci to catch our ferry. We rolled into town in time to have a nice “typical” Sardinian meal. After which we went to the port. There weren’t any cars or people, and upon closer inspection there wasn’t even a boat! What the crap? Well I screwed the pooch on that one. We needed to leave tonight, but I booked our trip for tomorrow. That really hurts, but it means that we can take a much needed “vacation” tomorrow and enjoy the beautiful weather and water.

We started the morning in northern Sardinia and were to end it all the way down south. It was a very long ride but luckily we broke it up a little along the way with a couple of stops. Bosa wasn’t on our list originally, but Giuseppe told us it was beautiful, and it wasn’t too far out of the way, so we took the detour. As you pull into town you see a castle topped hill with dozens of tiny faded pastel colored houses climbing up to reach it. They are pretty much all rectangular, no ornamentation, and I really do mean tiny. It’s an interesting site. Bosa sits on the banks of the closest thing to a river there is in Sardinia. The little boats and big palm trees make for a nice picture. We stood on the bridge and watched a man fish in a very strange way. He had a huge three pronged hook and would watch the water until he saw a fish. Then he’d throw the hook as close to the fish as he could, and then yank the pole and try to literally “hook” the fish. He had no success while we were there, but I imagine it must work or he wouldn’t be doing it.
There were people living on Sardinia long before there were people around to record them. They left behind buildings that are called “nuraghe” which are made of stacked stone. Apparently they were building domed roofs thousands of years before the Romans figured it out. There are 1000's of them all over the island in different states of ruin, but the better ones are all well marked and being kept up by the state. One of those is “nuraghi su nuraxi” just outside of Barumini. It’s very large, and almost completely intact. I’d love to know how these “prehistoric” people lifted these massive rocks and placed them perfectly where they needed to be. As I said there are Nuraghi all over, so if you are interested, look a few up and try to find the ones that are larger, or more complete. You couldn’t possibly see them all, but it would be nice to stop off and see a couple.
We tolled into Cagliari at around 6:30 which was a little late for sightseeing so we called the Villa Cao B&B www.villacao.it Silvana speaks great English and was very proud of her establishment. She showed us around the house, and the garden. There is a Villa next door with a very large garden where they often hold weddings and other events. It belongs to her sister, so if you ever thought about getting married in Cagliari here’s your connection. The room we stayed in is the family room with 1 double, and 2 single beds. There is a couch, TV, desk, and nice bathroom. She showed us a couple of the other rooms as well, and all were very well equipped. Actually the new rooms have some of the biggest showers we’ve seen. There are 2 units with kitchens for extended stays as well. The garden area is the nicest part of the house. There are a bunch of different places to sit outside and it’s covered with bouganvillea and other potted flowers. For us there were strings of chili peppers hanging out to dry. We didn’t know it yet, but there was a chili pepper jam waiting for us at breakfast. It was actually quite tasty.

Breakfast featured jams made in house, yogurt made in house, and a couple of traditional Sardinian things. One of which was a honey made with pollen, and orange shavings, and that was drizzled over ricotta cheese, surprisingly good.
We left the Costa Smeralda behind and headed west. It’s funny how quickly the landscape changes, the rocks turned into trees, fields full of cows, and barely a house in sight. After a truly wonderful ride we arrived at Castelsardo. The church of Santa Maria di Tergu is supposed to be very nice, but there was a wedding going on so we couldn’t go inside. The historic center sits on top of the hill and is fairly small with tiny pedestrian streets. It might be the most aromatic spot we’ve been to, or that could be because it was lunch time and everyone was cooking with open windows. For us it was a stop off between the Costa Smeralda and Alghero, and that’s just about what it should be for everyone. Worth a walk around, but not really a destination in and of itself.
We continued up the coast to the very northern tip of the island. You go through an industrial area but don’t let that put you off. Stintino is another beach and sailing community with beautiful water and rock beaches. There isn’t really much to say about it beyond that, but for a swim and a suntan it’s definitely a good spot.
Southward bound again, and about 60 Km to Alghero, which is the tourist hub of Sardegna or so I read. There are definitely more restaurants here than anywhere else we’ve been. Alghero was invaded and subsequently repopulated by the Aragonese (Catalan region of northern Spain) so the architecture, language, and cuisine are heavily Spanish influenced. The old center sits inside high defensive walls and the streets are lined with shops. The nightlife seems to be lively, though more towards hanging out with friends than to the disco scene. The Duomo is small compared to most we’ve seen, but very nice inside. The other churches that were listed on the map were not really worth searching out in my opinion. The lungomare that skirts the town is a lovely walk, the marina is huge and a little further down is a very nice sand beach. The water here is not quite as blue as before, but it’s still very clear.
Just steps from the beach, and I mean that literally, is the B&B Via Del Mare www.viadelmare45.it You leave the beach walk across the main road, through the gate and into your room. There is a kitchenette which is shared between the 3 bedrooms, and is used for breakfast in the morning. The bedroom was nice, as was the bathroom, but the terrace is where it’s at. You can sit out here all night and enjoy the breeze off of the water, and look out over Alghero. And in the morning walk out and soak in the Mediterranean. You could easily walk to the center from your room in 15 minutes. The price is good, the accommodation is nice, and Tiziano and his wife were very friendly. A definite recommendation if you are going to be in Alghero.

Here is Barique in Sardinia.

Wake up call is way too early on the boat. Quarter to 6am they start with the intercom and the knocking, and since we didn’t get to bed until after 1 it was a bit unwanted. We headed up to the deck to see what Sardinia looks like as you approach, but it was still dark and all you could really see was the harbor. But from the pictures I’ve seen I’m expecting great things. They sounded the “alarm” for all people with vehicles to head below to one of 4 parking decks (you can’t believe the # of cars that were on this boat) and get ready to disembark. As we rolled off the ship you still couldn’t see too much other than the brake lights stretching out for a mile in front of you. But as we left the port city and the sun started to rise that all changed. The first place we stopped was called Porto Rotondo. For some reason it reminded me of Florida. Sardinia is famous for it’s water and it’s beaches, but I wouldn’t call this a beach town, I’d call it a Marina town. The harbor was full of personal boats, and small yachts. Where in a normal Italian town there are a number of real estate offices, here there were numerous yacht brokers. The town was more or less dead, partially because it was early as crap, but mostly I believe because it is a summer town.
Just down the road is Porto Cervo which seems to be above all a vacation community. The architecture style here is really strange, I would say the strongest influence is South American melted with a Boca Raton condo. Seth said it didn’t look Italian, and in fact it didn’t even feel Italian, but I still really liked it. I could picture walking out of your apartment and onto your little sail boat. The water here is unbelievable, so it would be a nice way to spend a day. But it certainly wouldn’t be the same experience as a day by the beach in Sicily for example.
Baia Sardinia has a great semi-circular bay filled with the blue green water that just calls out to you. I’ve never seen water so enticing, not even in the Bahamas. There is an interesting little center to the town, but you have to use your imagination as to what it looks like in the summer when there are actually people around.
We continued up the coast to Palau, and more specifically to Capo d’Orso which is a huge rock that wind and water over the years have eroded to look like a bear (orso). The Vespa Diaries almost ended right here. I was hoping from boulder to boulder to take pictures and I heard something hit the ground. I turned just in time to see the keys to the Vespa sliding out of sight. My heart sank and I knew I was never going to see them again. Luckily the crevice they fell into was only about 15 feet deep, and just wide enough to fit into to. If it had been something of no real value I would have just left it, but this was sort of important. So I worked my way down to get them, and then struggled to get back out again, but I succeeded so we can continue.
This whole area is called the Costa Smeralda, and just about anywhere you stop you can find a nice little beach, and beautiful water. If you’re looking for seclusion you can find it, it you want a little action on the beach you can certainly find that as well.
Santa Teresa Gallura and Capo Testa are pretty much the end of the Costa Smeralda, and they were the end of our first day in Sardinia. Same beautiful water, but with much bigger rocks, and a lot more wind. I heard later that studies have shown that because of this wind, and the sea, the air here is supposed to be the freshest in all of Italy.
Our lodging for the evening was in B&B Capo Testa www.bbcapotesta.it and what a position they hold. Go just about all the way to the end of the road in Capo Testa, then turn down a dirt driveway and once you make it through the bush, you’ll find an unassuming house surrounded by huge rocks and blue water. They even have their own tiny little bay a few steps from the door. If you are coming to Sardinia for a relaxing beach retreat, this place would be perfect. They have a nice patio where you can sit and read, walk down to the bay, or drive a little down the road to a beautiful beach. The room was large and the beds comfortable, some of the most comfortable we’ve had. The bathroom is shared, but there are only 3 bedrooms so you should never have to wait for it. The real key to this place is Giuseppe. He is a fountain of knowledge, and he really likes to share it with you. We shared a bit of Mirto, which is the Sardinian traditional digestif, and talked history, politics, and philosophy, it was really great.
When you sit outside and look up at the sky here, you see 10 times as many stars as you do back home. In fact you can actually see the milky way. It’s the same old sky, but the lack of ambient light makes it brilliant.

La locanda was wonderful, and Montisi is a charming little place, but to be honest the only reason I even learned of it is because it is the launching point for Ballooning in Tuscany www.ballooningintuscany.com Flights leave very early in the morning to take advantage of the best wind conditions, so they suggest you stay locally the night before. I would second that. La locanda is less than a mile away from the launch site, you could walk there in 10 minutes if you wanted. I was afraid that the fog from the day before would repeat itself and ruin our views. My fears were justified, but Robert had anticipated this and set up a later flight for us.
In the meantime we decided to explore the surrounding area. Just about 7 miles from Montisi is the Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore. Deep in the woods and much larger than you would expect is a Monastery where the monks still live and carry on their traditional ways. The cloister is beautifully frescoed. They are restoring some of them, and I sat and watched the painter delicately touch up a purple robe. He was quite good, but with the precision he was using you can only imagine how long it’s going to take him to finish the whole thing. His restoration is going to need restoration when he’s finally done.
We started heading to Massa Marittima, but it was obvious that if we even made it there, we’d have to turn around immediately to get back in time for the flight. Instead we looped back around and found ourselves in the middle of the Banfi wine estate. It’s easy to see how they can produce 12 million bottles a year. The road was lined with Cypress trees, and through the breaks you could see row upon row of grape vines. It was a very nice ride, and very much the Tuscany that most people think of when they think of Italy.
Montalcino is also famous for it’s wines. I believe the Brunello is the biggest one. If you are into wine, this is a great place to be. I’d say that at least 3/4 of all the shops were wine shops. Most were direct from the farm type, so I imagine there were some decent deals to be found. Outside of the wine, the streets were very nice, everyone seemed to be proudly flying the flag of their neighborhood. There is a fortress and a couple of nice churches, but I’d say that the best thing to do here is to stroll around, sit have a glass of wine, stroll some more, drink another glass, and repeat this pattern until you are no longer capable of strolling. Oh, there is an interesting well with numerous small openings. You look inside expecting to see water, but inside there are 1000's of pairs of eyeglasses. Pretty strange!
It was time to head back to Montisi, and I was getting very excited. I’ve never been in a hot air balloon, and I can’t think of a much better place for my inaugural flight. The Tuscan landscape is great from the ground, I could only imagine what it was going to be like from the air. We met Robert and Liz in the field beside their house. They are an English couple who have been living in Italy for 15 years, and I doubt there is anyone who knows the area as well as Robert, at least from the air. You don’t realize just how big the balloon is until you see it deflated on the ground and start fanning air into it. You could literally fit hundreds of people inside. After there is a suitable amount of cold air pumped in to more or less inflate the “envelope” the burners are cranked up and it starts to rise vertically. We climbed in, Robert gave us the important instructions, and we gently lifted off the ground. It’s so smooth that you don’t even feel like you are going anywhere. Then you look down and realize that birds are flying underneath you. It was a beautiful day, but not completely free of haze. Robert pointed out that on a truly clear day you can see both coasts! Can you imagine? We floated around, and he pointed out villages, and told us about some of the farmers that owned the different plots of land below us. Ballooning is great, and the landscape was beautiful, but having someone fun and knowledgeable along like Robert was possibly the best part.
We started our descent into an open field while Robert was on the walkie-talkie with Liz. She follows behind in the 4x4 with the trailer. Shortly after landing she came rolling down a path, and before you know it there is champagne, wine, cheese, bread, fruit and more set up on the basket. We sat in some farmer’s field as the sun was setting, enjoying the treats and talking about our trip and our ideas. Then we loaded the equipment and rode back to the launch site. It wasn’t until we were driving in the car that I realized how far we’d actually traveled. I literally thought we had gone a couple of miles.
When you’ve finished you Ballooning in Tuscany experience you are presented with your certificate. The interesting part of the certificate is that it is decorated with a reproduction of an original watercolor commemorating the very first ever balloon flight. In Italian a hot air balloon is called a “Mongolfiera” and it was the Mongolfier brothers who piloted the first flight. This painting has sat on the wall in the family estate ever since it was completed. Basically nobody has ever seen it. But it just so happens that Robert and Liz are friends with the descendants of the Monglofier family and they gave them permission to borrow the painting and copy it. So you will have a little curious piece of history/art history in your possession.
We had to high tail it out of there at that point in order to make it to Livorno before our ferry left without us. The ferry takes about 7 hours to get from the mainland to Sardinia, so we decided to take the overnight boat and book a small cabin. It’s the longest I’ve ever been on a boat, and the first time I’ve ever slept on one. This boat was so big that you didn’t even notice that you were out at sea. It isn’t cheap, but it’s the only way to get a vehicle across, and if you subtract the cost of 2 night’s hotel from the ticket it isn’t really too bad.

Thursday October 27th
Well I lied to you yesterday, we didn’t go back and explore Orvieto further. We did go back, but the fog was so thick you literally couldn’t see 10 feet in front of you. Not too many good pictures your going to get in that stuff. We waited around for a while for it to burn off, but it became obvious that it was going to be around for a while. So we had to head out.
As we got closer to Spoleto the fog hadn’t gone anywhere, and I thought we were going to be 0 for 2. But the sun broke through, and we were good to go. The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is quite striking with it’s Rose window and byzantine mosaic. But it’s the fact that it is sitting more or less all alone in a fairly large square that caught my attention. Anywhere else and it would have been lined with Cafes. The frescoes inside are considered to be the possible inspiration for the Sistine Chapel. We couldn’t get inside, and I’ve never been to the Sistine Chapel, so I’ll have to let you decide for yourself. The Rocca Albornoz castle sits solemnly watching over the town, and the Roman theater is in exceptional condition.
Montefalco is called the “Balcony of Umbria” and it’s Piazza della Repubblica is supposed to have a tremendous view over the Umbrian countryside. However, as we approached we saw that the views today were going to be of the white clouds in front of your face. Our schedule is always fairly tight, so we couldn’t afford to sit around and wait for it to clear up. So we had to leave Montefalco behind.
Assisi isn’t really off the beaten path, as many people already know about it. Even more people know of St. Francis of Assisi. He is more or less the reason that this town is so popular. Then there is Santa Chiara (Clare) who is his female counterpart. Assisi has obviously benefitted from their popularity, and is one of the cleanest and most well kept towns we’ve been in. There are a number of lovely little squares to people watch in, and lanes to stroll down. Even if you aren’t especially religious it’s still pretty cool to see the tomb of St. Francis, and Santa Chiara, as well as the very baptismal font where they were both baptized. The fog we had tried to avoid started to roll in as the sun was setting and it was truly beautiful. The lower parts of most of the buildings were covered, and then the sun gave a special hue to the tops. It was really nice. It was also the signal for us to get on down the road.
Leaving Umbria and heading to the ultra famous Tuscany, we pointed in the direction of a tiny little town called Montisi. It’s about an hours drive Southeast of Siena. It’s certainly not a regular stop on the tourist map, but it’s becoming a big stop for the vacation home searchers. They have opened themselves up to this, and even have English movie night every Friday at the cinema. There are only 2 restaurants, one of which belongs to the man that owns the only hotel in town, the same man that we were staying with for the evening. La locanda di Montisi www.lalocandadimontisi.it is a lovely little place that sits right in the middle of the town. The room was large, the bathroom larger still, and a very pleasant overall decorating style. Exit La locanda and turn right, walk down the street for 100 meters, and you’ll find the restaurant “Da Roberto.” Roberto does it up right, and that’s all there is to it. I especially liked watching him open wine bottles for the various tables. He always poured himself a little glass to make sure it was up to snuff. Not something I would think to do when I was a waiter. I had the traditional local dish called “Tagliata” which was perfectly cooked. The prices were more than reasonable, in fact in Tuscany where everything is rising way out of control, La locanda is down right cheap. Considering the fact that an hour’s drive or train ride can get you to Siena, Florence, and the like, I’d say Montisi would make an excellent headquarters. Save a ton on your lodging and treat yourself to a $45 piece of “Fiorentina” steak.

Wednesday October 26th
Today we were hot on the trail of the Etruscans again with trips to Tusacania and Vulci. We were also destined to follow in yesterday’s footsteps. The good news is that Tuscania has other things to see besides the Etruscan museum. There are a pair of 11th century churches on the outskirts, San Pietro, and Santa Maria Maggiore. The town was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1971, but Roman weekenders are steadily bringing new life to the area.
Then we went to Saturnia, where we got the absolute crap beat out of us... and we liked it! Saturnia is home to a thermal spring, and as you drive on the road to Saturnia the town you will see a sign for Saturnia Terme. If you turn right down this road and park in the parking lot you can buy a ticket for the pools. Here’s a Vespa Diaries inside scoop for you though. If you come to the Saturnia Terme sign and pull a U-turn, then take your first right, you will find the exact same thermal water free of charge. This place was awesome (with the exception of that lovely sulfur smell) and though completely nature made it looked so very unnatural. The waterfall literally pounds you so hard that you have to fight to stay under it and not be pushed down to the next pool. Below that are a series of different size different depth pools that cascade one into the next all the way to the stream waiting below. The white walls and smooth rounded edges are just plain amazing to look at. The water was like a warm bath, I can imagine coming down here when the temperature drops, sitting in the pools and watching the steam rise up. We could have soaked here all day, but Orvieto was waiting. Oh, Saturnia the town almost borders on “swanky.” I didn’t see too many shops, but the square was clean the buildings were all in great condition, and there were numerous cafes waiting to feed you in between spa treatments.
Orvieto isn’t really unknown, but I don’t know that it has quite bridged the gap into being a popular place either. But it should be. As you come down over the hills and get you first glimpse of this hill town your eye is immediately drawn to the massive Duomo that stands out against everything else. It is so big that when you get close to it you can barely fit it all in the picture.
The sun was setting as we walked out of the Duomo, so we’ve decided to return in the morning to further explore Orvieto. For now we headed just outside of town to Corbara and the Agriturismo Tenuta di Corbara www.tenutadicorbara.it These guys do it up right, they have several different houses spread out along a little stretch of road, and the houses vary in price. So you decide what you want to spend and then get a room in the corresponding house. We obviously don’t want to spend too much, and to keep it in line with all of our other accommodations, we’re staying in “Il Ponticello.” It’s getting hard to describe the rooms in different terms than the ones before. Not because each isn’t especially nice, but because they have all been. Each room has had a comfortable bed, plenty of room to put your stuff, and a nice little bathroom. Il Ponticello falls right into that line. There is no TV in the room, but there is a nice “living room” with couches and a TV, just across the hall. The house is surrounded by fields on all sides, and is set back off the road a comfortable distance. When the weather is nice, I’m sure this is a great place to sit outside at night and enjoy a glass of wine with your friends. Down the road they have a typical country restaurant, it was closed for construction for us, but we looked inside and it seems very nice.

Tuesday October 25th
I’m going to start off today’s diary with a little note about the fact that we are not seasoned veterans. In fact this is our first adventure of this type. Knowing what I’ve learned on this trip a year ago would have really come in handy. For instance, if a place has a sign that says you can’t take pictures or video, you can’t always walk in and ask for permission. You have to write to the proper authorities well in advance, and those authorities are generally in a location far from the site that you are visiting. I mention this because today was a day that it would have been nice to know this stuff. We visited 4 places and were not allowed to film in any of them.
First up was our return trip to Villa d’Este. Not allowed to film there. Then a couple of hours later we arrived at Tarquinia in hopes of seeing it’s Etruscan museum and Necropolis’, nothing doing. On down the road to Bagnaia and the Villa Levante, they told us we could ask for permission, IN ROME. Caprarola is home to the Palazzo Farnese, as well as home to a no photo policy. Just for good measure we went to Sutri to visit it’s Etruscan sites, finally a place where we could film, except for the fact that it closed an hour before we arrived. What a day! Life is about learning. In fact if I didn’t go with Inspector 11 Productions, I was going to call it “learn as you go Productions.” Which may have been more fitting.
It’s never a wasted day, because we are Italy, and riding between towns is probably better than being in them. The scenery alone is enough to keep me content. But as far as the project goes, today was a bit of a bummer. On top of all that, we weren’t able to line up an agriturismo for the night, so the update basically ends here.
Since we don’t really have any good pics to show you, I’ll take the opportunity to show you a couple pieces of the wonderfully stylish NAPAPIJRI clothing we’ve been sporting on this trip.

Monday October 24th
From Rome you only have to take 3 streets to get to Tivoli. Tivoli is where you’ll find Villa Adriana, Villa d’Este, and Villa Gregoriana. All very much worth the visit. Unfortunately 2 of the 3 are closed on Mondays, so if you go, plan it for another day of the week. Villa Adriana was open, and the sun was shining, so we took to our feet. The size of this place is incredible, and the fact that it was once the home of one man is even more so. Emperor Hadrian was widely traveled, and whenever he saw something that he really liked he had a replica made on his property. How cool would that be? The property features multi-leveled housing for servants, baths, lakes, a library, and much more. One of the coolest things you’ll see was Hadrian’s home away from home, though not away from home. He had a small house on the property that was surrounded by water. He would lift the drawbridge and remove himself from the world. If only we all owned enough land to build a little moated sanctuary. If you really take the time to see everything, or to listen to the audio guide, Hadrian’s Villa could take the better part of an afternoon. So plan accordingly.
Because the other two were closed, we decided to get the first thing from tomorrow’s list done today, so that we could do Villa d’Este in the morning. Cerveteri is famous for it’s Etruscan Necropolis’. Unfortunately it is less well known for being closed on Mondays. So that was a long ride for nothing. We turned around and headed back to Tivoli for the night’s lodging. B&B La Verandina www.tivolibedandbreakfast.it is one that I’m going to have to put a disclaimer on. If you are in need of total privacy, or dislike sharing space with people you don’t know, I would suggest another place. But if you are okay with staying in someone’s house, and having the chance to get to know people, then thumbs up. Marco was kind enough to come and meet us in the main square and lead us to La Verandina. I’m not sure that we would have found it without his help, so I appreciate the extra effort. The room is within an apartment, and is very tidy and comfortable. The bathroom is also clean and neat, but it is shared with the owner’s so keep that in mind. Marco set about the kitchen and came out with a wonderful, slightly spicy, pasta and tuna dish. We all sat around the table discussing different things. Marco has his hands in a number of different pots, one of which is politics, so it makes for very informative conversation. For me it was a truly enjoyable experience, and I wouldn’t have the slightest problem recommending that a friend call them for a room. But I do feel like it isn’t the right fit for everyone, so give it some thought if you are in the area.

Sunday October 23rd
Agriturismo Agropolis houses some of it’s guests in the main house, and some in another house behind it. We were in the back room of the guest house. It has a front porch and a big side balcony with plenty of room to sit and enjoy the almost Roman air. The living room has a full fridge, a table to dine at, and a baby’s crib should you need it. The bedroom has a double bed and 2 singles. The grounds are the real treat for a vacationer. The swimming pool is nice though we’ve seen a few of those, it’s the little soccer field with goals and a ball, and the first private paved basketball court I’ve seen in Italy. We played a quick game of “21" before we got on the road. They grow olives and grapes for oil and wine, and they do it organically. The breakfast was nice, with the typical breads and jams, but they also offered a nice assortment of biscottis and toasts. The location is nice to explore the area south or Rome, and the grounds are peaceful enough to not explore anything if you don’t want to.
Lanuvio is literally just around the corner, so we made it our first destination. It was famous for the Temple of Juno Sospita, but I didn’t realize how past tense the “was famous” meant. As far as we could find there wasn’t anything left of it but a couple of walls. The Fontana degli Scogli was nice, but set in a square that lacked any real pop. The remains of the Temple of Hercules let you see how massive it once was. Lanuvio isn’t really a destination town, but it’s proximity to a number of other places makes it a nice stop off.
Frascati is one of those places. Famous for it’s wine, Romans come here on the weekends to enjoy it and stroll around. This must have been the place for wealthy Romans to build their weekend homes, as there are a ton of Villas around. From the main square your eyes automatically fix on the Villa Aldobrandini. It is huge and holds a truly commanding spot on the hill. I wish we could have walked around inside. The Villa Torliona sits next to the main square and was apparently bombed out. So I didn’t even see any remains of a Villa but the grounds are used as a public park, and there were plenty of young families taking advantage. Besides the jungle gym, the Theater of Fountains is the best thing to search out. 5 Km away is Tuscolo, which was reported to have one of the nicest panoramas in Italy. For us it was mostly just haze, but you could tell that on a clear day it would be very nice.
Fiuggi is the place to be if you are suffering from kidney stones. The mineral waters relieved Michelangelo of what he called "the only kind of stone I couldn't love." Outside of the waters, Fiuggi is a nice hill town. The former Grand Hotel that is now the Municipal theater is architecturally bold, and the Piazza in front of it was full of young families. I’ve heard that the population in Italy is declining, but I don’t know how that is possible with all of the babies we see everywhere. There weren’t really too many things to search out, but the tiny lanes offered nice strolling. We met a boisterous 9 year old that thought it very odd that Americans eat eggs for breakfast. She also told us that Americans and English people were all pretty much the same. I told her that Italians and Greeks were pretty much the same, then I realized that I was talking crap to a 9 year old, so we let it be. Our agriturismo was very very close to Rome, so much so that without traffic a 15 minute drive took you door to door with the Vatican. There is a “park and ride” equivalent where you can leave your car and train into the city. Parking in Rome isn’t the easiest, so this is a great option. They told me that they didn’t need the publicity, so I’m going to respect their wishes and not give them any. So no name or web address, just know that there are places close to the big cities where you can get the country house experience and price, and still be able to run in and see the big city sites.
Because we were so close we decided to go in for a little while and eat at one of our favorite Italian restaurants “L’Isola della Pizza” on Via degli Scipioni, just off of Via Ottaviana, which is just down from the Vatican. There is a fun atmosphere, and it’s always full of people.
The Vatican looks even bigger when it’s lit up and completely devoid of people. The Spanish steps were hopping as always, and the Trevi fountain was as full of flower peddlers as it was water. But we’re not dealing with Rome, so let’s leave it there.

Saturday October 22nd
It was really nice to be in Sorrento for a couple of nights, to know where I was going and the best way to get there. But it’s time to strike out and see some new things. Ercolano as I mentioned was destroyed by Vesuveus, and then built right on top of in more modern days. But now it gives a bit of a glimpse into how the better half lived in those days. Two story houses, courtyards, pieces of furniture, and you can even see a little piece of fabric that has survived all this time. It is much smaller than Pompeii, but you should still schedule a couple of hours to wander around.
From Ercolano we headed to Caserta, and La Reggia Palace. It’s often compared to Versailles in France. I’ve never seen Versailles, so I don’t know, but the sheer size is incredible. From the back door of the palace to the end of the gardens is more than 2 Km. They offer carriage rides which we didn’t take them up on, but if they had been waiting on the other end for the return trip I think I would have gladly paid. Pools, waterfalls, sculptures, shrubbery, etc. La Reggia has a lot of ground to cover, on the inside and out. Give yourself a few hours to take it all in
We were hoping to take a big detour and head to Campobasso which is where our great grandfather is from. But by the time we got out of the gardens it was already approaching sundown. Because the plan is to be just south of Rome tomorrow, we decided against it. As such we found a great agriturismo right in the area that we are set to start in tomorrow. Agriturismo Agropolis www.agropolisagriturismo.net was hard to see at night, so I’ll save the description for the morning.
On a side note, I’ve heard through “La vigna dell’uva” (grapevine) that the blog is boring. I’d like to respond to that by saying this; This is not supposed to be full of anecdotes, it is supposed to let you the reader know where we are and what we’ve seen, the places we’ve stayed, and sometimes a little about the people we’ve met. We want to give you ideas to further explore, not tell you every single thing about the towns. Beyond that, we’re covering as much ground in 2 days as a normal traveler does in a week. We arrive at our lodging late, and go to sleep even later. I wish that I had the time to sit on a lovely park bench and spend the day thinking of poetic things to say. Instead I’m trying my best to keep you all informed while my eyelids droop, and I try to get the next day planned out. When we’ve returned to the States I will try to liven it up a bit, until then please keep the afore mentioned reasoning in mind.

Friday October 21st
Antonino was a very pleasant host, and he prepared a nice breakfast for us. We arrived a little late the night before, so we didn’t get to chat much, and this morning we had to leave fairly early to get to the trains station and then catch the boat for Capri. All in all we didn’t get to know him as well as some of our other hosts, but I can only guess that he is equally nice, and you will enjoy your stay just as much.
Today was a sad day for The Vespa Diaries. We parted company with our camera man Garrett. We want to thank him for his hard work up to this point and for his dedication to the project. And we wish him a safe trip back to California.
From the station we dropped by Sorrento Lingue, the very language school where I learned my Italian. It’s also where you can go to learn yours, and if you are interested in learning Italian and exploring this area, a great way to do that is with The Sorrento Connection www.TheSorrentoConnection.com It was nice to catch up with some of my old teachers and the owner of the school. They are great people and they made learning a language as enjoyable as possible.
The school is just down from the port where you catch the ferry for Capri. The price has gone up since the last time I was here, ouch. The ferry takes about 20 minutes, and you arrive in an area that is there solely to get the tourist dollar. But if you take the funicolare up to the next level you can quickly leave that behind. Up here you’ll find every designer label store you could think of. One time I saw P. Diddy and his entourage carrying all of his bags, and there are pictures all over the place of various stars that have visited Capri. From here you can take a walk/hike that could take a couple of hours, it affords great views of the faraglioni, the natural arch, and the back side of the island. If you aren’t up for that you can take a bus up to Anacapri, and then take the 12 minute chair lift up to the highest point on the island. The views from here are as good as they get, and the ride is interesting as you look down at your feet suspended over houses, vineyards, and some of the strange creations the citizens have made for your enjoyment.
One of the more famous attractions of Capri is the Blue Grotto. It really is quite spectacular, but let me give you this warning... The fee that you pay from the port only gets you a ride to the grotto. From there you have to board another boat which will row you up to the floating cash register, where you will pay the entrance fee to the grotto. Beyond that though, the person who rows you in and out will expect a tip, and if it isn’t as big as he’d like, he won’t let you out of the boat. So be sure to bring plenty of money, preferably smaller denominations.
You could spend a weekend, a day, or an afternoon on Capri depending on how much you wanted to do and see. We chose an afternoon, as we still had to get back to Sorrento and catch the train to Pompeii. Just about everyone has heard of Pompeii, but if you’ve never seen it you don’t realize how big it is. If you went down every single street you could certainly be here all day. You can rent a headset that tells you about the different things you are seeing. But take turns listening and explaining, because the guys voice is so monotone that you won’t want to listen to it the whole time.
I don’t want to mention specific things to see, because I think you should wander around. But I will let you know that in the back right corner there are more of the “bodies” that I don’t think most people get to see.
Down the road a little closer to Naples is Ercolano or Herculaneum. This was the seaside resort town where Pompeii’s rich had their vacation home. It suffered the same fate as Pompeii, but was uncovered in a way as to leave a littel more interior definition. Ercolano is much smaller, and generally overlooked. But a combined ticket for the 2 saves you money, and you can easily see them both in the same day. Having combined Pompeii with Capri we couldn’t see both today, so we’ll save it for tomorrow.
Sorrento is an absolutely perfect headquarters from which to visit all of the attractions in the area. And the public transport is easy and cheap, which is why we parked the Vespa in Sorrento and took the train to Pompeii. The train literally drops you off on the doorstep of the archeological park. So we hopped the train back to Sorrento and made our way to tonight’s agriturismo. When we arrived we were greeted by a guy that I had played in a basketball tournament with 3 years ago. I had no idea that this was his father’s agriturismo, it really is a small world. Of course Sorrento is a fairly small place, so that helps.
The agriturismo Antico Casale www.ilcasaleantico.com sits just below the castle in Piano di Sorrento, and was in fact the house of the prince’s servants originally. It took the Persico family 3 years to restore it to it’s current condition. I hope they are happy with it, because I would say it was well worth every day of work they put into it. From the outside it’s an absolutely beautiful house, the typical southern Italian yellow, with gray quoins. Inside terra cotta tiles are everywhere, the stairs leading to each of the 4 levels are visually pleasant, and the hallways feel very quaint. The rooms are spacious, the beds soft, and the bathroom is one of the coolest we’ve had. It had a long skinny corridor linking the shower with the sink and toilet, which was the first time we’ve seen such a thing. We had our own balcony, but the terrace on the roof is where there views were best. You look up and see the castle, turn around and you can see over all of Sorrento, Piano di Sorrento, Meta di Sorrento, and Sant’Agnello, and out across the water. It is located about as close to the start of the Amalfi Coast as any lodging in Sorrento could be, so it is convenient if you are exploring this area with your own car or Vespa.

Thursday October 20th
Today had 2 objectives. Ride the Amalfi Coast again, and learn how to cook some great southern Italian food. Mission accomplished. Not the sunniest day you could have hoped for, in fact it rained for a while, but great nonetheless. This time out we stopped in Positano, which some of you might recognize from “Under the Tuscan Sun.” It is my opinion that it is better to look at Positano from a distance for a while before you actually go into it. The way that the houses are built one on top of the other, from the seaside all the way up the side of the mountain is what Positano is known for. But once you are in the center you can’t see it anymore. So soak it in first so that your mind’s eye can picture where you are even if you can’t see it. Amalfi and Positano are both for strolling and window shopping. They both have a nice church, and a beach, but neither offers any major monuments. But they are fairly close together, and close to another few towns worth a stop off, that you could do them all in one day. If you decide to take the public buses, make sure you bring your nerves of steel.
Objective #2, brings us to “The Sorrento Cooking School” courtesy of www.LaCucinaSorrentina.com (However their website is still under construction, so check back later to see what they offer, in my own opinion it is one of the best ways to experience this area) The menu of the day was a “ricotta fritter” appetizer, followed by a primo piatto of “gnocchi alla Sorrentina” a secondo piatto of “pesce di aqua pazza” all topped off with a “tiramisu”. Our instructor was named Rosaria, and the English interpreter was also named Rosaria, which had us a little confused at first. It’s a whole lot harder than it looks, but once you get the hang of it it all comes together. It would take all day to recount the whole lesson, so let’s skip ahead to the part where we eat what we prepared. My compliments to the Chefs! Everything was excellent. As we were preparing the “fish in crazy water” I was pretty sure that it was going to be disgusting, but it was actually very tasty. Gnocchi is one of my favorite Italian dishes, and alla Sorrentina is the best way to do it. So I’m going to practice up and make it my signature dish. Tiramisu being heavily coffee based isn’t my favorite, but this one had the perfect coffee to cream ratio. And the ricotta fritters, which required us to roll out and fold the puff pastry a minimum of 7 times was the hardest thing to do, but it turned out flaky and melty, and oh so good. It was a fun class, a great 4 course meal, and an excellent way to spend a few hours during your vacation.
Oh, objective #3 LAUNDRY! This was the first time this trip that we are in an area for more than one day, so we wanted to take advantage of that and do laundry. And let me also say another Thank You to Napapijri. If they hadn’t hooked us up with so much great stuff we would have run out of clean clothes about 2 weeks ago. I asked an old man at a “lavanderia” if we could drop off a couple bags of clothes, and get them back the next day. He said we could drop them off, but it would take a week and a half to get them back. Not likely, so after the class we went to the only laundromat in town, and sat it out.
With fresh clothes in bag, we checked into the B&B Il Roseto www.ilrosetobedanbreakfast.it Conveniently located about a 10 minute walk along the main road from the center of Sorrento. Our room had a loft area with 2 single beds and a desk to sit at. Down stairs was the double bed, bathroom, TV, and sitting area. Plenty of storage space, and one of the only mini-bars we’ve seen. The room was very large, as was the bathroom, and at a fraction of the cost of the hotel on the same corner.

Wednesday October 19th
We stayed in Maratea last night, and this was our first stop of the morning. We decided to get an early jump on the day as we had a lot of ground to cover. We set the alarm for 6am, and amazingly everyone got up and was ready to go. Unfortunately there was nobody at the front desk. We finally found an employee but they let us know that we couldn’t pay until 8, so that plan totally backfired. So at 8 we set out for the Gigantic statue of Christ that sits on the mountain above Maratea. I haven’t been able to find an exact # for how tall he is, but I’m going to guess that it’s somewhere in the realm of 75 to 100 feet. There is a charming medieval historic center, but the hidden treasure here is the beach. Not of course in October, but it is purported to have some of the cleanest water in Europe. Thanks to a state of the art purification system, which I didn’t even know existed. The beach appeared to be equally clean, and there was much more space to swim and sunbath than in most of the places we’ve seen.
The greek ruins at Paestum are in such good condition that you almost can’t call them ruins. Malaria infested mosquitos are to thank for this. The area was uninhabitable, so there wasn’t anyone around to dismantle this temple for other uses. As far as completeness of the structure, Paestum blows the Sicilian temples out of the water. It’s a brief stopover, but definitely worth the time. It’s a fairly short drive to the world famous Amalfi Coast from here.
It is this very stretch of road that I’ve been looking forward to from day one. It is considered my many to be the most beautiful road in the world. It is considered by everyone else to be the most dangerous. I’ve been on it in a car, in a minivan, and in a full sized van, and each one was obviously progressively worse. The road sits perilously perched a couple hundred feet above the sea, with jutting rock faces lining the other side. Add to that the tour buses and public transport that zooms around the hairpin turns, and you can see why most people would rather take the long way around. Even at the cost of a couple of hours. On the other hand, the Amalfi Coast on a Vespa is a completely different story. You have room to breath, curves to lean into, and beauty all around you. You go through stretches of just rock, then trees, then a tiny town, then a bigger town. You really couldn’t ask for a better place to ride.
The first place we were going to stop was called Atrani, which is the smallest town in all of Italy. But before I even realized we were there, we had already passed it. So we contiued on to the Coast’s namesake. If you have never seen Amalfi, picture a crevice in the mountain with a couple of buildings making a false facade. You walk through the portal and you see that it just keeps going deeper. However, as far as a traveler is concerned it doesn’t go too much further than the main piazza. At one time the paper made here was very important, and it was what the upper class used for their wedding invitations. If I ever find the right girl, maybe we’ll get ours here. The stairs leading down from the very elevated Cathedral are an absolutely perfect place to sit and people watch. Amalfi is also home to what I rate as some of the best gelato in all of Italy. I’ve had it all over the country, and none has ever come close to being this good. I know exactly where it is, but bonehead that I am I forgot to note the name of the place, so you’ll have to search your way, cone by cone, through the many gelaterias here.
It was a long ride to get to this point, and the day was drawing in on us much quicker than we wanted. We bypassed the next couple of towns in favor of getting to our B&B. Villa Pane www.villapane.it is in the hills just above Sorrento. I didn’t realize when I made my reservation that they would be closed for renovations when we arrived. They haven’t had guests since the 3rd of October, but Anna Maria couldn’t have done more to take care of us. She met us in town and lead us to the Villa Pane, then went immediately to get us Coffee and Wine. She explained everything that they were in the middle of doing. In it’s current state it is already a very nice place, but when they finish their work it will be much much more so. The view from our window is the nicest that we’ve had so far. Down over the town of Sorrento and out across the Bay of Naples. The rooms were exactly as we’ve come to expect, and based on what an average hotel in Sorrento runs, extremely nice for the price. The extra mile is what puts this place on a different level. They run shuttles all day long for their guests, they have a giant table that seats 32 people where they include guests in family and friend celebrations, and in a city somewhat short on parking they provide a private lot just outside of the main square. They’ve recently added a pool in the middle of various types of fruit trees, and the new paint job and garden will only enhance the place. Top notch recommendation!

Tuesday October 18th
The nice part about lodging on a fruit farm is obviously the fresh fruit for breakfast. The fruit of the day today was Ka-ki. Fresh bread and jam from the bakery up the road, and hot milk (which may just be a Sicilian thing, I haven’t figured that out yet) rounded out the breakfast. In a not so fitting send off from Sicily it poured rain all the way to the Ferry.
Tropea is said to be one of Italy’s best beach areas. The sand was nice, the water looked very clean, and there appeared to be plenty of places to rent umbrellas and beach chairs. One of the problems with being here in October is that you can’t see the beaches in full bloom. But I would guess that if you were looking for a popular place in the summer time, this would certainly be one. There is also a church that sits on top of an island that isn’t really an island. It’s a big rock that looks like an island, but it’s actually quite connected. But since the church is called Santa Maria dell’Isola I guess they figured it was close enough. This area is also supposed to be a scuba diver’s paradise.
Continuing up the coast is a little place called Pizzo, and an even smaller place called the Chiesetta di Piedigrotta. It was created by Neapolitan sailors rescued from a shipwreck. It is basically a masonry facade in front of a cave. But the interesting part is that a local father and son took to carving figures into the stone walls. So that the knaves all have praying figures and different scenes from the bible. A few generations down the line another member of the same family was inspired to restore some of the earlier work, and to create a large face of John F. Kennedy and Pope John XXIII, with what was described as a kneeling Fidel Castro in front, but I would say a sleeping Castro. Certainly very odd choices on that one. The church is right on the beach, so even if it doesn’t interest you, there is a great place to sit while you wait on the rest of your group. On an aside, don’t try to return to your vehicle by taking a short cut above the church. 8 foot high wild wheat plants, and extremely dense briar patches will prevent you from succeeding.
It took longer to get to the ferry, and it was much further between towns today than I had expected, so we didn’t make it to Cirella. On top of that we weren’t able to find an agriturismo for the night, so this will be a short update for the day.

Monday October 17th
Catania lies just to the south of Mt. Etna, Europe’s most active volcano. Of course we wanted to check it out. The ride up it was pretty darn nice. Lava rock, which is more of a dark brown than a black, is chunked up on both sides of the road. We even saw one house that was buried up to it’s roof in lava rock. I have no idea from which eruption that occured, but it sort of amazes me that people would take the time to build a house on the side of a still active volcano. We arrived at Rifugio Sapienza, which is as high as you can go without a guide, and it resembled a ski village. Definitely some tourists dollars at work up here. The trip into the ticket office was an eye popper. $42.50 each to get up to the top. When you consider the Funivia, the bus, and the guide that that pays for maybe it’s not too much, but it was more than I wanted to spend. Now if it was currently spewing lava, it might have changed my mind. If you have more means at your disposal maybe it’s worth the trip, but I couldn’t say first hand. In the end we just headed back down the mountain, and towards Taormina.
To say that we found a hidden gem would be a lie, because this place is a tourist haven. But it’s definitely new to us, I had never heard anything other than it’s name before. As you first walk into the pedestrian area it looks like most every other tourist town. Gelaterias, cafes, souvenirs shops, and signs pointing toward the sites. We took an immediate left for the Greek Theater, and none of that really changed, except for the addition of ceramics shops. The Theater is large and in pretty good shape, but it is covered with modern seating which in my opinion detracts from what you are there to see. But it is probably pretty neat to sit there and watch a performance nonetheless.
Head back toward the first Piazza and hang a left and that’s when you start to love Taormina. It’s ultra touristy, which is actually suppose to be a turn off, but here it isn’t at all. There are a ton of overpriced clothing shops, and just as many ceramics and antiques shops, though I can’t say if they were overpriced. The next Piazza that you come to is checkerboard tiled, and opens up on one side to a great view over the water and down the coast to Catania. The buildings all blend together well, and the lanes are probably the nicest we’ve seen so far. Back in the other direction, if you go down toward the sea it’s like a whole different place. A maze of tiny streets that all twist back and connect to each other, more restaurants than you can count, and then it opens to the public gardens. These are the nicest we’ve seen by far. There are strange structures, which look like “Swiss family Robinson” but with bricks, the paths are plant lined, there is a little park for kids, and there are free bathrooms.
Chiara was right when she said we would change our minds about our favorite place. I just wish I would have known ahead of time and planned more time in Taormina. It is hands down the first place I would recommend in Sicily. Not for the history, not for the off the beaten path experience, but for the pure touristic pleasure that this sort of town provides.
For our lodging tonight we headed back to the foot of Mt. Etna to the Agriturismo Biologico dell’Etna www.agriturismobiologicoetna.it It was the first time in a while that we’ve had 2 rooms, so that was appreciated. The bed was one of the more comfortable, the bathroom was very big (and handicap equipped), and there is a full kitchen for the guests’ usage. There are 2 hectares of fruit trees on the property, and a playground for kids is on the way.

Sunday October 16th
The morning started off with a very nice breakfast, and our first ever taste of “latte di mandorla” or almond milk. It tastes like water, sugar, and something a little different than almonds, and I liked it. Piero asked us about this site, so we went online and looked through it. They don’t read English, but they liked the pictures. They were very sweet, and Bouganvillea is very much worth the visit.
Noto during the day replaces the young kids with old men, and the electric lighting for a blaring sun. One of the 2 prettiest buildings is behind scaffolding, but this time it’s because a few years ago the roof of the Cathedral fell in. There is a building down a side street with numerous balconies, every one using a different person or animal to support it. And each one is a different size, to give the effect that they are all the exact same size from a distance. It is cool to me that people thought in those terms when they were designing buildings. All of the buildings that you would want to see are on the same street, and it is a pedestrian street at that. So you just park and then meander down the way. It couldn’t be easier. Schedule Noto in as a stop over rather than a full day though. Architecture fans will be very pleased, and non architecture fans will enjoy the fact that it is just a stone’s throw from the beach.
Siracusa was our follow up town, and more specifically Ortigia which is an island connected by a 100 foot (approx.) bridge. The oldest Greek temple in Sicily is here, but it’s ruins are not like those of Segesta or Agrigento. The Piazza Duomo is very nice, as is the Duomo itself. The Piazza is also the site of a little incident we had today. There were 4 boys playing soccer in the square and one was obviously a few years older than the others. He was dribbling around them and lost control of the ball. I took it and when he ran to get it I did a little move and went around him. I thought the other kids would enjoy this since he was taking advantage of them. I was wrong about that, one of them ran at me and tried to hit me, more in a over hand girly punch way than an actual punch, but just the same he was mad. So I kicked the ball to him and we walked on, then the older kid yelled “Bastardo” at the top of his lungs. I guess I didn’t impress them with my American soccer skills.
This was another place where it seemed like every monument we went to see was behind scaffolding. I’m wondering if it is because we are here when it’s not tourist season, and they are taking advantage of this time clean everything up? I do think I’ll invest in Italian scaffolding companies when I get home. There are still a number of things worth seeing, and most are down side streets, so you don’t have to worry about traffic. Back across the bridge there is an archeological park where you can find a Greek amphitheater and a Roman one. We were told we couldn’t film, so we didn’t go in, but it might be worth your time if your are in Siracusa.
Our agriturismo tonight was in Catania, so we hopped on the Vespa and headed off. Fondo 23 www.fondo23.it is immersed in fruit trees and olive groves, but they don’t necessarily grow any of these things. Chiara the young lady who runs the agri, is a party planner, and often times she uses Fondo 23 to host the parties. There a very large room that used to be used for making wine that is one of the single coolest rooms I’ve ever seen. It’s all open but there are 3 levels, and alcoves and arches, and knee walls, and more. I can imagine a party in it, so if you come here with a few friends ask Chiara to arrange something for you!
We got take away Pizza and brought it back here to dine al fresco on the picnic table. Chiara and her boyfriend joined us for a bit of conversation. We talked about Sicily, and Italy as a whole, they asked us what our favorite place in Sicily so far was, and then told us that it would change tomorrow. Taormina in their opinion is the best place in Sicily. We’ll have to wait and see.

Saturday October 15th
I appreciate the fact that buildings in Italy are very old, and from time to time they need to be fixed up a bit. I also appreciate the fact that the Italian government and it’s people want to preserve them for generations to come. But I wish that there was a better way to do it than to erect scaffolding that always seems to hide the most beautiful buildings in town. The Cathedral is splendid, and I say that based on pictures I’ve seen, because you can’t see a darn thing in person. But there are a number of churches here, as well as a very nice public park. There are a couple of nice piazzas full of the requisite old men. Seth was saying that he liked the prospect of growing old in Italy better than in America. Here everything is so close that you can walk to your favorite bench and sit with your lifelong friends all day. Which I have to admit sounds better than spending your days in a retirement home. Ragusa Ibla is the old part, we never ventured in to see the more modern side. Everything to see in Ibla is within walking distance, and traffic didn’t appear to be a problem. It’s a nice place to stroll around, and Giardino di Pietra is a great place to call homebase.
We headed south to visit some more ruins, but were a bit disappointed with what we saw. We did like the fact that we were a few hundred feet from the ocean. The sun was shining, the water was blue, and we hadn’t really taken a break since we started. So we had lunch on the beach and then went for a swim. Swimming in the ocean in mid-October, not bad. We messed about until the sun started it’s descent, then we headed for Noto.
We arrived at B&B Bouganvillea www.bebbouganvillea.com and were greeted by Claudia and Piero. We sat and talked with them for a while about our project and different thngs to see in the area. Claudia suggested that we see Noto at night. The type of stone that they used to build the Baroque buildings is pale yellow in color and it glows when lit from below. But after our swim I just wanted to shower. The room was nice, with a very comfortable bed, and satellite TV. The bathroom had the biggest shower that we’ve seen, and it had a separate room with the sink in it, which was very convenient. There is a pool, an outdoor kitchen, a nice garden, and various seating areas.
We rode into Noto to find it full of high school kids. The steps in front of the Duomo looked just like the Spanish steps in Rome. So we made the pass, and then headed back to the start. There was a panineria (sandwich stand) that looked to be pretty popular. Their best sandwich... Carne di Cavallo, also known as horse meat. Apparently it’s quite popular in this area. PETA fans should go ahead and skip to the next paragraph. We figured “when in Rome” and all, so we tried it. The best word to use is going to have to be “interesting.” A bit sweeter than beef, but also a certain saltiness at the same time. I’m glad I tried it, but would I order it again? Uhhh.....no!

Friday October 14th
Last night at dinner we walked to a nearby Pizzeria, and from there fate took over. The man that was waiting on us was very nice, and he spoke perfect English, so he started running down the things to see in Agrigento. Then he went on to tell us about how he had lived in America for 26 years. Turns out that he had 2 restaurants in New York, one of which was called Village Pizza, which for some reason sounds very familiar to me. Anyhow, now that he has returned to the place of his birth he has taken to being a tour guide, because he is passionate about the history of this spot. At the dinner table he told us more about the Temples than we would have read in 3 different books. He also agreed to accompany us in the morning and show us around.
Enzo Cacciatore showed up in the morning with a 10 pound bag of peaches he had picked from his tree for us. They are huge! He lead us to Agrigento’s #1 attraction The Valley of the Temples. He really knows what he is talking about, and he really and truly loves to share it, you can see it in his eyes, and hear how his voice goes up when he suddenly remembers something new to point out to you. He was hilariously funny, and we had a blast with him while we were there. If you should come this way, make sure to give him a call or visit him at the Pizzeria Nobel a few hundred yards from the front of the train station. He had to work today, so we didn’t have as much time as we would have liked, but it was a great experience nonetheless.
From Agrigento we back tracked a bit to get to Eraclea Minoa. I am trying to avoid negative descriptions, especially if overall the places are enjoyable, but there was no saving grace here. In my own humble opinion you shouldn’t waste your time or your money here. The scenery is nice, but to me it was like being on a hike through the countryside. Drive on past this place! It was an absolutely beautiful, and very sunny day today (until the cats and dogs came down from the sky at around 4:30) and our time would have been much better spent by swimming in the brilliant blue waters just down the way from the so called ruins.
Piazza Armerina, which is the name of a town, and has nothing at all to do with a Piazza was a hike, so we struck out for it. It is home to the largest, and most complex collection of Late Roman mosaics in the world. This place was covered by a landslide in the 12th century, and remained underground until the 1960s. This protected the mosaics for sunlight, wind, water, etc. They are not in perfect condition, but you can easily imagine what the complex looked like in it’s prime. See if you can find the picture of the man hiding inside of a box while a Griffin tries to get him, pretty funny. The mosaics really are quite extensive, and it takes a little while to see them all. I’d love to know how many people they had working on these floors, and how long it took them to do it all. Impressive!
B&B Giardino di Pietra www.giardinodipietra.com was yet another lovely place. We have really been fortunate to stay in so many great places. Located in an old palazzo in Ragusa Ibla, just off a tiny street, in an even tinier side street. It is obviously very old, but it is nicely updated, and well furnished. The room is humongous, the ceilings are frescoed, and my favorite part is the balcony from which I’m writing right now. It looks out over a couple of roof tops, and then out onto the hillside where countless houses are climbing over each other. The way it is lit up at night makes it look like one of the prettier towns we’ve been in. We’ll see tomorrow what it has to offer.

Thursday October 13th
Franco had promised us a taste of 3 fruits that I’d never heard of before, but he told us to wait for breakfast. So as someone who loves fruit I was especially excited. The first was called “fico d’India” which is actually the fruit of a breed of cactus. It is at least 1/3 seeds, and that took a second to get used to. I literally couldn’t get myself to swallow the first big bite I took. I couldn’t chew the seeds, they were too hard, but it would have been rude to spit the whole thing out, so I eventually just swallowed. That is the key to eating them. Put the piece in your mouth, squeeze the juice out between your tongue and the roof of your mouth, and then just swallow. It’s actually quite good, and I ate a goodly few of them. The second was “melone giallo” which is literally yellow melon. Very similar to a cantaloupe but with a different sweetness, I’ve never seen them at home, but I’d recommend keeping an eye out for them. The third, and the one that I was most looking forward to was (I’m going to spell it phonetically as I have no idea how you actually spell it) “Kah-kee”. Picture a tomato, then slice it open to find a stringy, jelly-like, seedless, sugar ball. It was such an odd flavor, almost like pure sugar, but with a touch of something that I couldn’t even put a name to. Anyway, an interesting breakfast, and an experience that we had only because of Franco and his sense of hospitality.
Today, and actually the next couple of days are pretty much devoted to Greek ruins. We started the day with Segesta which we missed on account of the traffic in Palermo the day before. Segesta is pretty much just one temple on a lonely hillside. It was never finished, and it was never taken apart, so it sits exactly as it was the day the last worker/slave walked away from it. There was a period when Christianity took over where they destroyed all pagan temples, but since there was never a roof on this one, and thus it was never consecrated, so there was no need to destroy it.
Not too far down the road is Erice, a hill town with impressive views from the castle. They say that on a clear day you can see Mt. Etna to the East, and Tunisia to the South. I’m not sure we saw either one. Franco being from this area told us that we’d need 5 days at least to see the sites. We had more like 5 hours, so a breeze through will have to suffice. But if you find yourself in this part of Sicily, staying at the Tenuta Manzo B&B, explore Erice a little further before moving on.
A hefty ride brought us to Selinunte, the site of another huge Greek temple. There is also another ruin, but it is so far away that most people seem to walk to the first, then return to their cars and drive to the second. You can also take a guided tour that drives you to both in a stretched golf cart.
It was at the second set of pillars that we invented a new Olympic sport. I think the ancient Greeks would be proud that something they built was the inspiration for a game, though they might not be so happy that it was in Italy. It’s called “Ruin Racing” and we’ve laid out the rules, the tie-breaking system, the different classes, etc. But I don’t think I want to share it with you as it isn’t the safest sport ever, plus I don’t want anyone else laying claim to it, just kidding.
Our lodging for the night was in Agrigento in the B&B Locanda di Terra www.locandaditerra.it What a place! It’s the hands down winner on having the best accouterments. Satellite TV, and WiFi internet meant that I could get the blog up to date, and Seth had something to watch while I did it. The bathroom was equipped with Dove cream soap dispenser, and the shower had Dove shampoo. The room was very large, and the sitting/breakfast room was just right. There was a great little garden with very comfortably lounge chairs around back. The evening was absolutely beautiful so we took advantage of the spot. Pirandello was a very famous writer from Agrigrento in the 1800's and this B&B is in what used to be his house. Just steps from the train station, and a short ride to the Valley of Temples makes this a great spot to call home while you are in Agrigento.

You got to see Barique in the mountains, so here he is on the beach in Sicily.

Wednesday October 12th
Sicilia day 2, and the sun is out again! A nice change from what we’ve had. Our first stop of the day was Monreale, and more specifically it’s Cathedral. I have to admit that after a while you start to have your fill of churches, but every once in a while you come across one that perks you up again. If you stop to think about how small the pieces are that go into making a mosaic, and how many it takes to do a 2 foot square mosaic, it just blows your mind to see them on this scale. It is a big cathedral, and at least 90% of it’s walls are covered in mosaics. I can’t even fathom how many tiny colored tiles that would be. My only real complaint is that it is always too dark inside to get good pictures to share with you all. It doesn’t take too long to wander through, and as far as I could tell there isn’t really that much else to see. So Monreale is a perfect addition to your Sicilian holiday. It is only 7 Km from Palermo, so take an hour and stop in to see one of the world’s largest displays of Mosaic art. Of interest also, though perhaps only to me, is the Piazza Guglielmo il Secondo. Named for the last Norman King of Sicily, King William II, who was also known as William the good.
As mentioned, Palermo is just 7 Km away, but I have one piece of advice for you. DON’T GO...at least don’t go by car. I had read that this was the worst traffic in Italy, but having driven in Rome and Naples both, I figured we’d be okay. If you’ve never seen 3 lanes of traffic coming from the left merging with 3 lanes of traffic coming from the right, and doing it onto a 2 lane one-way street, you should. Actually you should never, but by the end of the day we would have wished to repeat that 10 times rather than go through what we did. But more on that later.
Just based on the list of things to do and see, Palermo was one of the bigger places we’ve gone. It’s a pretty darn big place, but luckily most of the major monuments are a fairly short walking distance from one another. You have to block out the big buildings and the snarling traffic, but if you succeed you’ll find a number of nice things. The Fontana Pretorio is one of the biggest and most beautiful fountains that I’ve seen anywhere in Italy. It’s a shame that the world is full of hooligans, so they’ve had to put a fence up around it, but climb some nearby steps and you can get past this. The Duomo is probably the most architecturally interesting building we’ve see so far. With heavy Byzantine and Arabic influences it certainly stands out in the crowd. The Garibaldi gardens featured a species of tree that I wish I knew the name of. They are humongous, and it looks like the branches sprout roots which eventually reach the ground and grow into another tree. The process repeats itself hundreds of times until the jumbled mass is truly awe inspiring. I know it’s a tree, and trees are everywhere, but these really were worthy of standing and staring. Here’s one thing that I will share with you, and it’s just my own personal opinion, so choose for yourselves obviously. The info that I had said that the Capella Palatina was one of the most beautiful churches in the world. It is undeniably very nice, but it struck me as a copy of the Cathedral at Monreale, only on a smaller scale. The entrance fee, for me, was not worth it. So if you should find yourself here, and you have to make a choice between the Capella or a big ass gelato, go with the gelato every time! I felt like a few of the things that were listed as must sees were unspectacular, while we saw a ton of things that weren’t on any list that were. So again I stress the beauty of wandering around, and just bumping into things.
From here we were supposed to continue on to Segesta before stopping for the night. That didn’t really happen. If you will, think back to the “big rig” block that I was afraid would keep us from Sicily. Remember? Good! It came back to get us. I guess today was the day they decided to park their trucks in the middle of the road. In 3 hours we traveled a maximum distance of 2 Km. People were hopping curves, and driving in reverse down the highway to get to exits they had already passed. I saw one guy put his car in park, get out, walk behind a dumpster to relieve himself, and get back in the car and we still hadn’t gone anywhere. So we’ll save Segesta for the morning.
Tonight’s lodging is in a B&B just outside of Trapani. It is called Tenuta Manzo. www.tenutamanzo.it there are currently 2 bedrooms available, but construction on 3 new bungalows is about to commence. As with most all of the places we’ve been the room was large and comfortable. The bathroom was very nice, with a new flushing mechanism that I have never seen before. There’s a kitchen and a dining area. It is surrounded by olive and fruit trees, with a lovely shaded gazebo. Of course what made it truly enjoyable was Franco and Enza. They were so gracious and so friendly. Enza told us that hospitality is in the Sicilian’s nature, and they did their best to prove it. Franco took us out for Pizza, and when the one we went to was closed he took us to another that was only “take away” and we took it back to his house and ate with his family. They didn’t stop offering us things until we were out the door. Wine, juice, fruit, coffee, etc. They were just plain too nice. In the morning we’re going to get a little tour of the grounds, so for now it’s off to bed.

Tuesday October 11th
The young lady at the hotel told us that we might have trouble getting across today. The explanation for the 50 “big rig” trucks we saw as we pulled in last night is that they are on sort of a strike, and were blocking the passage. So that had me a little worried, but in the end it was nothing at all. We bought our ticket and rode right on. The ferry takes about 20 minutes te get across
Messina wasn’t on our list of places to see because it is the port city and I figured it would just be a crowded mess with little to offer. But as the boat pulled in I saw a number of things that probably deserve a second look. I’m hoping that we’ll have a little time on the way out to cruise through.
The weather in Sicilia is so far quite nice, warm even. Which is a nice break from the 8 straight days of rain that we had had so far. There was even a good number of people sunbathing, as well as a handful out swimming around.
The first stop was Santo Stefano di Camastra, the ceramics capital of Sicilia. Word on the street is that bargaining is expected, and you will pay a fraction of what you’d expect to pay in Florence or the like. However, if you are not here to shop, you might as well drive through and window shop from your car. There isn’t anything to see here outside of the colorful storefronts.
Cefalu on the other hand has a lot to do. The beach is sandy, and the water is blue, and the food is cheap. The view of the town from a distance as you drive in is striking. It sits there fronted by the sea, and backs right up to a giant rock. The oversized Cathedral sticks out like a sore thumb, but one with very nice fingernail polish. It’s a hefty walk up to La Rocca, the castle, but well worth it. The views from this height are splendid, and it is only from here that you see that the back half of the cathedral is completely different, and even more interesting architecturally.
If we weren’t able to find an agriturismo to stay in before we left it can be very difficult to find one while we are here. The book we brought along usually only offers one or two in an area. If they are out of your price range, then you have to drive around looking for signs. You have no idea of how much they cost, what they offer, if they speak English, etc. The one’s in this area were about double what we’ve been paying so far, so we didn’t end up staying in one.