Photos from our 2-hour, sweaty hike from the harbor of Vernazza to the small town of Monterosso al Mare in Cique Terre, a string of five fishing villages high on the Italian Riviera that are a National Park and Protected Marine Area. (More about Cique Terre coming soon!)
Beautiful, panoramic views of a wild coastline in Italy, with terraces growing grapes and olives bordering the open water of the Mediterranean Sea.
When we were first planning our trip to Italy, we thought we’d go to Herculaneum instead of Pompeii. We didn’t think we’d have time for both, and reviews online leaned towards Herculaneum having much smaller crowds. But while looking at tours we found City Wonders’ Full Day VIP Pompeii and Sorrento Small Group Tour from Rome.
On this tour, guests meet at the train station in Rome (where we were renting an apartment), take a hide speed train to Naples and then bus to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pompeii for a tour and then have lunch in the beautiful seaside town of Sorrento. The small group numbers and high-speed train sold us on this tour vs. the many others available.
When we got to the train station there were a lot more than the promised 15 person limit. This was because some people were touring Pompeii and then climbing Vesuvius, and some were touring Pompeii and heading right back to Rome in time for lunch. There were multiple groups meeting up, and the tour company had everything super organized and down to a science. (I am not being paid to say this, it was just my experience.)
We boarded our train and kind of kept to ourselves on this first leg of the trip. Once we arrived in Naples, each group walked to the right bus for them. They were high, air conditioned tour buses, and a place where we could leave our belongings throughout the day. The driver also had bottled water for 1 Euro which came in handy quite a few times. Everyone in Pompeii was selling for 3 Euro.
On the way to Pompeii our tour guide pointed out sites and gave us some historical background about Naples and Mount Vesuvius, the only active volcano in mainland Europe, which has produced some of the continent’s largest eruptions. “Vesuvius is most famous for the 79 AD eruption which destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Though the volcano’s last eruption was in 1944, it still represents a great danger to the cities that surround it, especially the busy metropolis of Naples.” [geology.com]
Our guide seemed to think that living at the base of an active volcano affected the mindset and personalities of the people who lived there. They were known for short-term plans and living in the moment.
When we reached Pompeii, we were handed off to a Pompeii tour guide who helped us jump the line. After a quick water buying and bathroom break, she toured us through ancient ruins for over 2 hours.
I don’t think the paint I get at Home Depot will withstand a volcano…
I’m not one who is big into history. For some reason memorizing facts and learning from ancient cultures has eluded me. But Pompeii suddenly brought history to life for me! It was such an amazing experience that brought us right into the heart of a primitive culture. We walked ancient streets and used their crosswalks, we went into homes and saw where they collected water in the entry-way and could still view paintings on the walls!
We could see on the edge of fountains where the rock was rubbed smoothed and almost polished from the spot where people had to put their hands to lean in and take a drink – in the year 57!
See the spot on the right of the fountain head that’s very white? That’s where they put their hands to lean in for a sip 1980 years ago!
There were penises engraved on building cornerstones pointing to the nearest red light district. There were bath houses and amphitheaters. We could see their ancient plumbing system in some areas – water was abundant here – but the pipes were lead!
Bath house carvings
Our tour guide gave us headsets so we could hear her even if we were 20 feet away and looking too long at one thing while she moved on to the next. She explained things in great detail and pointed out lots of meaning in the artwork I never would have noticed or understood without her. In fact, with all the time we spent in Pompeii, we probably saw 1/10th of the ruins, and I still could have easily gotten lost and had no idea what I was looking at without a tour. I strongly recommend a guide, not just a map!
We also witnessed ongoing excavation teams hard at work. And the most moving part is seeing plaster casts of the volcanic eruptions victims. It was not lava who killed the people here, but a pyroclastic surge of ash that killed people instantly and encased their bodies, forming a hardened shell. In 1864 Giuseppe Fiorelli, the director of the excavations, discovered a technique that allowed the body shapes to be preserved. It’s not a body, or a skeleton, but a plaster cast of the last shaped left behind by the bodies – some crouched, some curled up in a ball, and others of their family pets!
“Fiorelli’s excavators discovered hollow pockets in the ash in a lane named the Alley of the Skeletons. Inside, it was possible to make out human bones. But instead of digging through the ash to remove them, Fiorelli instructed the diggers to pour plaster into the hollow. They left the plaster to harden for a few days, then chipped off the outer layers of hardened ash. What was revealed was a detailed plaster cast of the body of a citizen of Pompeii at the moment of death.” [decodedpast.com]
Yes, it’s creepy, and it’s also history brought to life!
Our tour concluded with some time to wander the ruins on our own, take photos, and a few minutes to shop the souvenirs being sold outside the site.
Then our group boarded the bus again and we drove to scenic Sorrento. On the way we were able to stop and enjoy the view – looking out towards Capri – and seeing some of the local lemon, fig and olive trees.
This is what the drive looks like, only some parts the street is narrower and scarier on the side of the cliff
Mt Vesuvius in the background again
Sorrento is a safe and touristy resort town on the seaside. The views are gorgeous, and you can buy lemon ANYTHING there. Pottery, towels, shirts, soaps, lotions, booze, cookies – you name it, they make it with lemons. Luckily our tour included a limoncello tasting.
Once the tour bus was parked, our guide pointed out a meeting place and time for the end of our trip to Sorrento. Then we had the option of lunch with him or going off on our own. He showed us where local shopping, upscale shopping, the beach and the town center were. He also pointed out where the limoncello would be if someone just wanted to meet later for that. We primarily stayed with our guide.
The restaurant he led us to for lunch called themselves “American style,” but luckily they actually were not American at all. They just offered a page of American cocktails in the menu and spoke really good English. Tables were reserved for us overlooking the water, and Brian and I got a table for 2.
Lunch view looking back towards town
Lunch view looking toward Capri with the edge of the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria on right
After we ate our fill of pasta and tried the local cocktails, we had no space left in our tummies for the desserts that looked delectable. It didn’t matter though, because we were off to our Limoncello tasting – which included not only a few sips of different adult drinks, but also tastes of cookies, nuts, and candies made with local lemons. I bought my boss some organic lemon honey while there.
We had about 90 minutes to ourselves to look around Sorrento, and I was determined to find a gift for my mom. Brian patiently shopped with me and offered his advice, and graciously helped me finish off some dark chocolate gelato at the end of the afternoon.
Our final view in Sorrento
After spending 2-3 hours in the heat looking at ancient ruins in Pompeii, the lavish and casual Sorrento tourist feel was a perfect contrast. I’d love to spend a trip in Sorrento, Capri, Naples and the Amalfi Coast in the future someday! (Although our beaches in the Tampa Bay area are much prettier!)
Set a few blocks away from the hustle and bustle of the Lepanto Metro stop and the River Tiber, kind of near The Vatican, sits Trattoria della Barchetta. The restaurant seems unassuming from the outside with about 4 visible windows flanking the front door with white awnings discreetly stating the restaurant’s name and a few small outside tables.
Great architecture along the way
The first time we ate at Trattoria della Barchetta, it was me and my husband, and we were looking for a leisurely, romantic, authentic lunch. We had no plans for the afternoon and wanted food that would WOW us. We entered about 20 minutes after they started serving lunch. My first reaction was to the amazing smells. My second was that the dining space was so much larger on the inside than it seemed from the outside. I guess many locations in Rome have small entries but lead back into deep spaces. Then I saw a round table just left of the entrance full of a variety of fresh baked desserts.
Two men were busy behind a counter and looked up to greet us with a friendly “Ciao!” To one we asked, “Two for lunch?”, an immediate way of letting them know they were dealing with English speakers. The other brought us each a glass of cool, sweet, bubbling prosecco and a blob of hot, fried dough covered in fragrant olive oil to whet our appetites. They were so puffy and heavenly scented I asked if they were fried zucchini, but he insisted it was pizza. This was while we were still standing in the doorway! Then they showed us to our table.
Trattoria della Barchetta has a folded, laminated menu with English translations showing a wide variety of pastas, meats and desserts. Tucked inside is a brown piece of paper with a handwritten Italian menu. During my trip planning for Italy, someone told me to be on the lookout for this! Usually items that are handwritten are made with ingredients that are fresh that day. So we tossed the extended menu aside and just ordered off the Italian menu. And we were happy to find we could understand most of the Italian ourselves – from just a little time spent on Duolingo before our trip, plus Brian’s high school Spanish and my high school French. (You’ll find the link to their menu on their website is broken.)
Brian ordered gnocchi with mushrooms. There was not much of a sauce, maybe a drizzle of white wine. I had four-cheese tagliatelle pasta with black truffle. Both were great, but the truffles were a bit rich for me and I couldn’t finish my meal. Brian’s was amazing down to the last bite! I asked if we could each have one more of the little pizza dough balls we had when we came in, and they brought us a bowl full to enjoy. After we ate they came around with a tray of pastries to try (which I declined) and chocolate covered candied orange (which Brian insisted I had to try.) That put our tummies over the top and we took the Metro back to our apartment to shower and nap.
Tagliolini with cheese and truffles
Pizza dough balls
I so enjoyed the meal, service and atmosphere, and was disappointed that we hadn’t room to try more – like beef or veal – that I told Brian I would be happy to return again for dinner one night. As it happened, we had a day trip to Pompeii and one of our fellow tourists mentioned on the train ride home that he wanted an authentic delicious dinner for his last night in Rome. I suggested Trattoria della Barchetta, showed him our food photos from lunch, and said, “I can’t guarantee we won’t be there too.” So he asked if we’d meet up with him, and we did at 8pm that night.
one of the wines we tried
The three of us ate dinner like Italians that night. When you reserve a table in an American restaurant, they assume you’ll eat, pay, leave – and they can turn the table over to another paid customer. But in Italy when you reserve a table, you are expected to linger and it’s yours for the night. With all of our food, two bottles of wine and interesting conversation (he was also the parent of teenagers and had some cool travel stories to tell) we were there for a few hours. We shared two appetizers (one was mussels and clams but I forget the other one), veal, the same gnocchi Brian ordered, and more I can’t remember. (I let our new friend take the photos and he was going to email them to me but he hasn’t and I’ll probably never see him again.)
For dessert we ordered tiramisu to share – which the server came and made tableside. That added a special touch! They also brought over 4 bowls of cookies and sat them on the table for us to taste as we liked while we finished off our wine and conversations.
When supper was over and we were a little tipsy, I told Brian that we should visit the Trevi Fountain. I figured the big crowds would be gone at night. The one time we saw it during the day the crowd was so big we never pushed our way through to get close. It was also our last night in Rome, so I thought it was our last chance to toss a coin in. You are supposed to toss a coin from your right hand over your left shoulder to ensure a return trip to Rome. Rumor has it the money is collected to finance a supermarket for the poor people of Rome with the help of Italy’s Red Cross.
Selfie at the Trevi Fountain
We walked to the Trevi Fountain with our buddy and found approximately 25 people hanging out. Nothing like the 6-rows deep crowd of 10am-5pm! We tossed our coin. Then we all set out for a nightcap.
By the time our drinks were finished, the Metro was no longer running, so Brian and I walked the 2.5 miles back to our apartment past The Vatican. This provided a lot of beautiful photo opportunities – with historical sites well lit at night. Brian was gushy and romantic about both our relationship and our pretty last stroll through Rome. I will have lovely memories for a long time from that night.