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“You may have the universe if I may have Italy”
If you ever consider buying a horseshoe-shaped neck cushion to use as a seat cushion––don’t. Just don’t. Take it from a backside that knows.
Since the in-flight wifi to Rome is a no-go (what would be a recurring trend throughout this trip from Rome to the Amalfi Coast), I pull out my Kindle with its olive green, tooled-leather cover and drift along the lines of some poetry before sliding into a contorted state of jerking in-flight sleep.
My final thought before my eyes close––please let our luggage be waiting for us at baggage claim….please don’t let it be like the last time we were in Rome….no luggage for 3 days…washing out our clothes and underwear in the hotel sink…hanging it out the window to dry over the hotel breakfast terrace…
At Fiumicino Airport, I breathe a sigh of relief when I see our suitcases tumble down the conveyor belt.
The weather in Rome is cool, crisp with just a slight shimmer of sun to warm your back.
As we hurtle towards the ancient city center, the streets begin to take on familiarity, and I recognize the crumbling ruins decaying alongside modernity, layer upon layer. It suddenly makes sense where Italians got the inspiration for lasagna.
There was the Altare della Patria, or the Vittorio Emanuele II monument building, or the “Wedding Cake” (depending on whom you talk to) signifying the unification of Rome, all white and bright against the cool blue sky with the snarling circle of traffic coiling in front of it and vivid Vespas zipping by ridden by men wearing tailored suits and Gucci shoes.
The cab bolts into the Via del Corso, past Hadrian’s, once colorful, swirling column, and then we are on the Via Veneto where our hotel––the Hotel Majestic Roma––is situated.
A member of The Leading Hotels of the World, the Hotel Majestic is a beautiful structure perched on a picturesque street with revolving doors that gently nudge you into the marble foyer and up the few steps to the check-in desk.
Borghese Gardens & Trevi Fountain
Our room wasn’t ready, but no matter. We left our bags with the concierge and stepped out, unencumbered, into the March morning sunshine for a short stroll up the Via Veneto to the Borghese Gardens.
Through the black iron gates, we cross the narrow paths until we come upon our first statue––a graceful lady (in spite of the fact she had lost her head).
We leave the still, whispering green garden paths for the city, with Trevi Fountain as our next stop. Cafes and white umbrellas anchor every corner and narrow cobblestone side streets offer hidden allure as we seek out the path to the famed fountain.
Our last time in the Eternal City, the fountains seemed eternally closed for renovations, so we had yet to see the waterworks in all of their Bernini-esque glory.
You hear the surging spray first, then you see the people, and for brief glimpses in between those hordes of people, you see sculpted Carrara marble and travertine.
It’s no matter that Trevi Fountain is a tourist nightmare with people elbowing into the crowded piazza, each trying to get a better view, fighting off (or paying off) the relentless selfie-stick sellers and other cheap trinket hawkers trying to catch any corner of an eye as a means to bombard you with their wares. These fountains are stunning, especially at night.
The Baths of Caracalla
It’s our first full day in Rome, and we are off to the Baths of Caracalla. We were initially going to go to Palatine Hill, but it was closed along with the Coliseum.
While Rome is well-known for its elaborate, historic baths, the Baths of Caracalla are the most famous.
Built between 211 and 224, these ruins are extensive; so much so that when you look about at the towering walls and remains of the columns, it’s difficult to even know what you’re seeing.
It’s the colorful fragments on the ground that catch your eye first.
These still-colorful fragments of tile, miraculously intact in many areas, spark visions of what once was.
Of course, there are the guideposts to help the mind reconstruct the glory that these baths must have been––large still pools, rushing fountains, strength-inspiring sculptures of Hercules––now faded and crumbling yet still vivid with a little imagination.
I don’t see myself ever visiting the Baths again, but it is a strikingly memorable experience. The place imparts a strangely quiet peace, a sense of relaxation, a spa to end all spas….no matter the screeching and scuffling of school children on a field trip forcing their way into my memory.
Maybe it’s better that way. According to Seneca, it wasn’t exactly a quiet place during its heyday.
Thirsty, a snack truck is conveniently parked at the base of the baths, and I inadvertently order a lemon beer thinking it’s a lemon soda. If only all surprises were that pleasant.
Having had no breakfast, lunch was a looming necessity, so we requested an Uber to drive us to the Trastevere across the Tiber. We had never been to that area of Rome before, and, in a moment of odd realization, we realized we hadn’t even seen the Tiber on our first trip to Rome.
Not quite sure how we managed not to do that.
“Go, go, good countrymen, and, for this fault, Assemble all the poor men of your sort; Draw them to Tiber banks, and weep your tears Into the channel, till the lowest stream Do kiss the most exalted shores of all.”William Shakespeare | Julius Caesar
The waters of the Tiber are not exactly beautiful in their muddled green, but the river does have its points of interest in the architectural variety of bridges and rapid drop-offs.
Although the driver dropped us off at our requested cafe, we didn’t love the posted menu, so we set out walking along the banks of the Tiber toward what we hoped would be something better. (Aren’t we always?)
We arrive at our second restaurant choice, and it—unfortunately—is closed. Ready to sit down just about anywhere at this point, we decide to eat at the cafe next to it. We sit outside under the welcome shade of a yellow umbrella while a French couple proceeds to smoke through what actually was, half a pack of cigarettes.
Still, the food is good and the cold prosecco helps to lessen our cares about the cigarette smoke wafting our way.
As luck would have it, a mere few streets over, there it was: the charming, bustling hive of the Trastevere I had read about, brimming with picturesque trattorias, bars, osterias, and ristorantes just waiting for us to try. Next time.
The Pantheon is and continues to be one of my favorite places in Rome.
Drawn by its ancient allure, we trace our steps that evening to the archaic structure, but it had just closed. No matter; we still manage a glance inside and stand for some time just staring at it.
It’s all you really want to do anyway. Just stop. Close out the modern world in order to let in some unknown, older one.
While reading Anthony Doerr’s Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World, I came across a section where he describes his experience of seeing the Pantheon for the first time, and I had to stop and read it again — it so perfectly describes my own experience, and (chances are) it may describe yours.
“When you see the Pantheon for the first time, your mind caves in.
Its doors are twenty-one feet high and weigh eight tons each. The sixteen columns on its porch are thirty-nine feet high and weigh about sixty tons each, roughly the weight of two fully loaded eighteen-wheelers, crushed and compacted into a cylinder five feet across.
The columns were not hauled here from a mile away. They were quarried in eastern Egypt, dragged on sledges to the Nile, rowed across the Mediterranean, barged up the Tiber, and carted through the streets of Rome. They are ocean gray, flecked with mica, glassy and cold; it is impossible to be close to one and not want to touch it.
The vault of the Pantheon is made of concrete and has a diameter of 143 feet. The hole in the top, the oculus, is twenty-seven feet across. For thirteen centuries, it was the largest dome in the world. For nineteen centuries, it has resisted lightning strikes and earthquakes and barbarians. But numbers, dimensions, facts— they come later…The space is both intimate and explosive: your humanity is not diminished in the least, and yet simultaneously the Pantheon forces you to pay attention to the fact that the world includes things far greater than yourself.”
Piazza Navona & The Spanish Steps
A short walk from the Pantheon is Piazza Navona with the Fountain of the Four Rivers.
A wide-open expanse of space with, of course, more street sellers trying to get you to buy their flashing trinkets that they toss in the air or splat on the ground; just tune them out, and they eventually fade away.
The Spanish Steps are our next destination, a familiar place given our previous hotel was on the street at the top of the steps.
As usual, the steps are littered with people sitting about, just taking in the night view. We sit at the Barcaccia Fountain at the base of the steps which depicts a sinking ship.
“The fountain recalls the historic flood of the River Tiber in 1598 and refers to a folk legend whereby a fishing boat carried away by the flood of the river was found at this exact spot. In reality, the sinking boat was ably invented by Bernini to overcome a technical problem due to low water pressure.” | Italy Guides
Still, what’s life without a little myth and story-telling?
dinner in Rome
It is 9:30 pm, and we are hungry.
Our dinner reservation is for the Colline Emiliane, a tiny white building with tables closely fitted together, and thankfully, one ready for us.
An absolutely delicious meal from start to finish. Highly recommend it and craving a return visit already.
Musei Dei Capitolini
What do mornings in Rome sound like?
On this particular morning, Rome sounds like exotic birds calling, the rise and fall of rapid-fire Italian conversations somewhere below, and the seemingly non-stop clankings and scrapings of silverware and china from the pizzeria up the street.
It’s another clear, bright day with just enough coolness to keep us from overheating while we walk the curving, uneven streets to the Capitoline Museums.
We had seen the buildings on our last trip and climbed Michelangelo’s wide cascading stairs to the top piazza where some of the best views of the Forum can be had for free at the back of the square.
The last time, we had been caught off guard by the glimpse of a fountain to the left where a massive man made of stone reclined around the basin of a fountain.
We were determined to see him up close this time, whoever he was.
At the base of Michelangelo’s sloping stairs, we start up them only to both come to the odd realization that we didn’t remember them being so hard to climb 2 years ago.
Had we just forgotten? Were we really in that worse shape?
Whatever the case, we pause to take some pictures of the wisteria and draping flowers adorning the way until we finally put our legs in high gear and force our way to the top.
Welcoming the fragrant breezes of the piazza, we walk to the right and into the tiny ticket office where we proceed to purchase what must have been the “Steve Jobs Special” because 2 iPads and headsets later, we were fumbling around trying to get all of our digital mass through security.
Once our stuff tumbled through the conveyor, we pause for a moment inside the inner courtyard where a massive, disembodied stone head with deep-set eyes stood in a corner along with other random giant-sized body parts.
We had read a review on Trip Advisor that morning that highly recommended having an espresso and snack at the museum cafe because of its rooftop views.
Knowing we would come back through, we set out to find this Terrace Cafe of Trip Advisor fame. Little did we know how difficult that would prove.
Up some stairs, around a few corners, down the stairs, around a few more corners, signs contradicting the way. It was like following directions from the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland.
Finally, we just asked someone and wordlessly she began walking while wordlessly we followed, and once she had delivered us to the cafe, she wordlessly walked away.
There was already a line to get your food, except, you had to get in a different line to pay for your food first, and then get in the line to actually pick it out. Two Caprese sandwiches and a bottle of water later, we prepared to go out to the terrace but a sign stopped us that read: “No Food Allowed Because of Birds.”
So, we sit inside as close to the outdoor view as possible while a clearly unfazed-by-the-sign pigeon forages for crumbs under our feet. The wind grew stronger, blowing our napkins through the cafe like kites. Finished, we walk outside and make the realization—there is another restaurant outside. With waiters, menus, no lines, and no pigeons.
We had stumbled into the cafe and had failed to look beyond for anything else. There’s a moral in there somewhere, but at the time I preferred not to dwell on it. The consolation? We were in Rome, so what did it matter? We had the museum to get through and time was not, at the moment, any more on our side.
Out came the iPads and headphones. Mine rattles out something in Italian about the fresco in front of me. Kenny has been locked out of his completely. A helpful museum worker fixes the problems, and we try again, only to realize we are going through the museum backward.
But, art and statues each tell their stories, no matter how they’ve been numbered and organized.
We walk through room upon room, each one brimming with colorful frescoes, statues, and tapestries until, finally, we find ourselves back where we started—the courtyard of the severed gigantic body parts.
Thinking that since the other half of the museum was across the piazza the entrance must naturally be located there, we mistakenly set out for it only to be turned away by a guard who tells us there is an underground entrance on the other side.
Back we went, back through the security line, and so began the search for the underground tunnel.
Finding it faster than we did the cafe at least, we walk through and, midway, took a right turn up some stairs, ultimately leading us to some spectacular views of the Forum.
We ramble on through the tunnel, and (this time) we finally make it. There was the giant man reclining by his personal fountain with a gaggle of French teenage tourists taking about 20 selfies apiece in front of him.
I couldn’t help but imagine people creeping around in the night trying to post their messages anonymously….like some ancient precursor to social media or the most elaborate comment box ever.
There were more corridors and rooms to shuffle through in this flank of the museum, but at least there were more benches. The “Hall of Philosophers” was particularly memorable, maybe because I was sitting when I listened to the audio guide discussing it.
But sitting does have its advantages––better angles to see the intricately painted and coffered ceilings with glowing chandeliers floating like gossamer webs above.
It was in this section of the museum that I stumbled upon a familiar sculpture: The Dying Gaul. I remember studying it in one of the two art classes I took in college, and I was struck by it––the emotions chiseled into and out of stone.
Here he was. Still in pain, still dying, even after all these years. To think, one day when I’m dead, he will still be dying.
We had done it. Toured the entire museum, and we were ready for refreshments.
There are a multitude of cafes and restaurants just across the street from the Coliseum, and we were ready to sit at any one of them no matter if there were pictures of food on the menu.
So many other people, however, had taken those prime tourist seats leaving us to ask one cafe hostess for a recommendation nearby that might not be so crowded.
Her response: “I know just the place. Hold on. I’ll get someone to take you there.” A moment later we were following a man in black with white shirt sleeves, smoothly weaving his way to a side street on the right.
Suddenly, it all came rushing back. There was the extraordinarily below-average restaurant we had collapsed at 2 years ago before our Forum / Coliseum tour, and for one tense moment, I thought we were going there again, like some cruel trick.
But, we strode on and upward to the corner of the next alleyway where we saw the soft red terra-cotta tint of a picturesque restaurant, La Taverna Dei Fori Imperiali, with cream umbrellas and swirling flame heaters warding off the chill of the shady street.
Plus, no pictures on the menu.
“I think: Maybe what glitters in the air above this city are souls, so many of them rising from this same earth that they become visible, get shuffled around in the wind, get blown thirty miles west, and settle across the shining plains of the Tyrrhenian Sea.”Anthony Doerr | Four Seasons in Rome
I can’t believe we didn’t climb to the top of Palatine Hill the last time we were in Rome. All of these massive ruins, each offering its own vast yet fragmented view into the past.
You can’t help but feel the immense enormity of it––its magnificence still, even in its state of crumbling decay. To tiptoe out to the edges of your mind to try and imagine what it once was is slightly overwhelming.
You can see all of Rome below you, the Baths of Caracalla looming to your left; you could have sat on your terrace and watched the thundering chariot races at the Circus Maximus, a spectator to one of history’s earliest reality shows.
Rome feels so far away and yet so relevant––its desire for grandeur, for place, for respect, for “likes.”
Walking down the soft grasses and over the crumbling stones, I’m lost in a world so far and yet oddly close to my own. I know one thing at least: I would never have wanted to be the ruler of Rome. Too much poison and too little time.
The walk down the hill took us through the archways and ruined columns of The Forum.
How much can a city rise by literally building on top of its history so that the streets of yesteryear are now subterranean? The path took us up to the street once more where the grand white marble of the Vittorio Emmanuelle building glowed like a new era in the sun.
An Evening in Roma
It’s our last night in Rome before we catch the train to the Amalfi Coast, and we have no dinner reservations.
We have apparently become more Italian during these past three days because neither of us is too concerned about it as we slowly drink an aperitif complemented with nuts and mini burgers on the terrace of the Hotel Majestic Rome, listening to music drifting from somewhere….always….in the distance.
Around 8:30 pm, we decide to chance it and just walk until we find a place that’s free for dinner.
About 15 minutes into our walk, I glance to my left and see flickering candles, one after another, lighting the way up through an alley to what looks like a cafe straight out of Van Gogh’s Cafe Terrace at Night ––The Piccolo Arancia.
As the restaurant name suggests, it is tiny and there are orange-themed entrees, and everything we ordered was decadently delicious…
The Amalfi Coast
In the early morning hours, we board the first-class train car of the FrecciaRossa and tumble into the large, leather reclining chairs.
We sip glasses of complimentary prosecco while watching the slightly hazy green fields flash past on our way to Salerno and then on to the Amalfi Coast.
I think the Italians purposefully turn off the free wifi on these trains so you don’t even get close to doing any work. I know I didn’t.
Salerno Station is our ultimate stop…..lovely, tranquil, beachside Salerno. We ride the elevator up from the train platform and roll our luggage across the street towards the glowing yellow and black Hertz car rental sign.
It’s windy here and slightly chilly, but the sky grew clearer, the air a little warmer, and the streets a bit narrower as we set out towards the Amalfi Coast and the Hotel Santa Caterina.
Soon we were seeing the sheer rock cliffs rising to our right with the rippling blue-green Tyrrhenian sea to our left.
We even remembered to fold in the side-view mirrors to avoid having them bashed off by oncoming cars and buses. Then came the towns, their names growing more familiar with every mile—Vietri Sul Mare…Cetara…Maiori…Minori…Atrani…Amalfi…
We both feel it at the same time—the familiarity—the feeling that we had only been away from this place maybe a month instead of two years.
The Hotel Santa Caterina
Anxious to re-acquaint ourselves with the Hotel Santa Caterina, we walk back through the lobby and down to the cliffside, glass-front elevator.
Closing the tiny doors behind us, we begin the descent, watching the saltwater pool and undulating sea get closer and closer.
Concrete steps lead you down into the Tyrrhenian if you’re brave enough to swim its chilly waters.
The Hotel Santa Caterina had not changed either. Its cool white exterior was pristine, the smiling valets were still dressed in their crisp grey suits trimmed in red, and entering the cool fragrant lobby was like stepping back into somewhere between a dream and a memory.
To top it all off, they had even upgraded our room.
Our suite was located one floor higher than the one we had previously enjoyed, and it was decorated in a pink mahogany motif accentuated by a rose and ivory tile with deep cranberry curtains blowing in the sea breeze from the balcony.
We stood on the balcony and wordlessly drank in the moment, breathing in the fragrant purple wisteria in full bloom that draped itself over every terrace.
We had wanted to have dinner at Taverna degli Apostoli (the favorite from 2 years ago), but they wouldn’t be opening until April due to renovations, so we called the concierge and got a recommendation and a 9:00 reservation for another restaurant: Taverna Buonvicino.
As we dress for dinner, we quiz each other on Italian menu items, particularly the ones we would prefer not to accidentally order. No coniglio, fegato, or polpo per mia, per favore.
That evening we made the (sometimes) treacherous descent to the town of Amalfi on foot, keeping as close to the low railing of the road as we could, thankful for the sporadic patches of sidewalk.
Once through the second tunnel, it wasn’t long before we cut to the left into the first available street that leads to the piazza and the Duomo di Amalfi, its golden mosaics alight in the glow of the low lights of evening.
We walk up the street to the left of the Cathedral, through the curving cobblestone pathway of the Via dei Prefetturi until we see the welcoming lights of the Tavern.
It was quiet inside with only one other couple in the cozy white dining room with vaulted ceilings and dark brown beams. They were expecting us, and we were swiftly seated near a window by a friendly waiter who spoke much better English than we spoke Italian.
Although we were on the lookout for “polpo,” we needn’t have worried. They provided a menu with the English translations below each item. Translations can be funny, though. We both looked at each other when we came to one item in particular:
“What the heck is a ‘Flying Squid’”?
How quickly imaginations can run away with you.
Maybe it was a certain kind of squid? The kind that jumps into your boat when you least expect it. A.K.A. the famed “Flying Squid” of the Amalfi Coast. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a…..flying squid??
“Maybe it’s a reference to the cooking technique. Maybe the cook flings the squid from the kitchen while you try to catch it on your plate rather than your face…?”
The “flying squid” continues to remain a mystery since we didn’t order it to find out.
The pasta dishes we did order were quite good as was the local wine recommended by the waiter. Then came the desserts, one tiramisu and a Torta di Amalfi (Amalfi lemon cake), followed by espresso and limoncello.
Amalfi is known for its enormous lemons and all of the delicious ways the Italians use the tart fruit in their cooking. The first time we had driven to Amalfi, we had seen the massive yellow globes terraced throughout the cliffs, but we had assumed they were melons of some kind. Jaw-dropping to find out they’re just gigantic lemons.
We were full and it was nearing midnight as we began the trek back up the mountainside to the hotel. A cold wind off the sea refreshed us as we climbed higher and higher in the darkness until we saw the white lights of the Santa Caterina blazing against the ink-black sky.
A Day in the Amalfi Sun
The sun rose and burned away every cloud from the sky leaving nothing but a picture-perfect day.
We had chosen to rediscover the town of Amalfi on our first full day, and we walked to the edges of the piers to see the fisherman and tourists piling into the boats most likely bound for other towns along the coast or the islands of Capri or Ischia.
We crossed over into the town square where more visitors were climbing the wide steps up to the Cathedral while some chose to skip the exercise and sit and savor heaping scoops of gelato under the umbrellas.
Wanting to escape the main thoroughfares, we took the first left up a side street and continued winding further and further back until we came to a much smaller but quieter square where a couple of cafes were serving lunch.
This is when we quite accidentally discovered our new favorite restaurant — L’Abside.
We sat outside at a small table shaded by a canopy, next to a larger table where 3 women and a man were having a conversation that weaved seamlessly back and forth between Italian and English.
It sounded so effortless, and here I was stumbling over the words to order a bottle of still water.
Maybe one day.
Sailing to Positano
The next morning also dawned bright as the sun shone its spotlight directly on our balcony while we got ready for our day of sailing on the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Our boat was small but perfect for just us and our sun-tanned sailor from Ravello.
There was Amalfi, made the more beautiful from this watery distance, its terraced green hillsides decorated with great yellow lemons and medieval tower outcroppings.
Before we knew it, we had drifted inside the cool, dark blue oasis of a cave —the water turning turquoise in our wake with vivid glimpses of coral just beneath each rise and fall of the waves.
The water is the color that makes me want to jump in — for no particular reason whatsoever — its siren call is just so alluring.
The wind grew stronger as we floated towards Positano, past the Shark’s Mouth, the white cliff house of Sophia Loren, and an arching bridge where people with some urge for a thrill stronger than my own dive off the brink into the rippling blue water below.
We float on, into the wind and the blue, until there was Positano around the rocky bends, like a colorful pile of Lego blocks, stacking their way up the mountainside.
We step off our boat, bid adieu to our helpful captain, and walk past the lounging men and cats of the dock and into the town. Our lunch reservation was for Chez Black, a beachside establishment that is most definitely a tourist spot but not without some good flavor and a great view.
Post-lunch, we stroll our way up the escalating streets towards the various shops, flower arboretums, and the smell of lemons. We walk the narrow streets quickly up and onward then down and back where we caught our slow-going boat back to the Amalfi harbor and the waiting hotel cab.
“Go to Ravello….you must go to Ravello….”
All week long we had heard from our drivers, our waiters, and everyone else local to this coast …. go to Ravello. You won’t regret it. Beautiful ….. They certainly weren’t wrong.
We wind our way up hills and more hills to the cliffhanging town. I distract myself with the map while Kenny focuses on the distracting hairpin turns.
Once there, officially, we stroll through the piazza with its porcelain merchants, ultimately finding ourselves at the beautiful Villa Rufolo.
The views speak more volumes than I ever could.
When lunchtime rolled around, we discover that we had apparently made reservations at a place that wasn’t currently taking reservations because it was completely closed.
Not to be defeated because there is always good food to be found in Italy, we found lunch at Palazzo Della Marra— the building is over 1000 years old and was the medieval residence of the Della Marra family.
We immediately are in love: such friendly people and such delicious food…lemon ravioli, eggplant parmigiana, and local red wine…delicious.
We slowly wind our way back down to Amalfi and back up to the Santa Caterina where they happened to be filming a movie in the lobby.
Our favorite waiter beckoned us towards the terrace, away from the extension cords and mayhem, where he brought us complimentary pistachios and prosecco.
I fall into a deep sleep on our terrace that afternoon. I’m normally the queen of insomniacs, but something about Italy eases my mind, and I don’t feel guilty about sleeping here because the rest just enhances the whole experience.
Late in the evening, we walk back to town where we eat pizza under a ceiling of lemon trees at Donna Stella.
It’s our last full day at the Hotel Santa Caterina, and we decided it was high time for a day spent completely poolside.
Around 11:00, we sauntered through the hotel to the elevator and down to the pool deck. There are comfy lounges everywhere with unbarred views of the sea basically at our toe tips.
It’s slightly cloudy which adds a refreshing coolness in between the burning sun––a sun that wouldn’t hesitate to give you a strange tan line depending on where the white umbrella covered your skin.
We scorn lunch for snacks brought to our lounge table.
In between olives and pistachios, I read poetry, pausing for random talks then naps, soaking up the sun and salt of the day.
Boats came, boats went, but we remained, and the only action of the afternoon was the purchase of espresso cups and glazed coffee mugs from the sometimes open gift shop upstairs.
After a final dinner that evening at L’Abside, we found our same friendly late-night cab driver waiting in the harbor square to drive us up the dark, winding cliffside.
He was smiling, we were smiling, and we continued to smile as we sank into the soft white furniture of the lobby lounge for our final evening cocktail at the Hotel Santa Caterina. The rich-voiced waiter who waited for us every evening was there, waiting for us yet again. I’d like to think he still looks for us to stroll in around 11:00 pm, but, I’m sure some other couples have taken our place by now.
The night ended as all our others, maybe a little more wistful. It was our final night in that magical place, and, not wanting to go back to the real world, sometimes the less said the better.
It’s our last morning on the Amalfi Coast….I’m sitting on our fragrant balcony staring into an immensity of blue.
The town of Amalfi rises to my left, an outcropping of humanity with cream and ivory buildings, sun-baked red roofs, and the terraced green of covered lemon trees waiting for their moment, already large and heavy with their yellow fruit.
It’s so peaceful in this place….this medieval village where sprawling villas hang from every crag. The Santa Caterina….our home away from home. So familiar, in its painted tile floors and encasing vines. Music is never far––as if it wafts to you from the hanging purple wisteria.
Someone below us clearly likes Italian opera. We have decided that we don’t mind. This place is all prosecco, pistachios, and olives as big as plums.
Boats criss-cross, leaving rippling turquoise paths, with someone on board each one pointing out the sites….pointing out me. It sometimes seems so difficult to get here yet so easy when you think about it in retrospect.
According to the Italians, just have a glass of prosecco and you’ll do just fine….you’ll start to drive like the Italians, relax like the Italians, and even the language will come naturally just as the lady in Ravello said.
So much for thoughts of serenity. We paid the final astronomical bill as reality came rushing back at us like a charging bull.
Still, in the grand scheme, the experience was worth more than any price. We waved goodbye and off we drove back through the coastal towns, silently bidding a farewell to any signpost worthy of memory.
Getting back to the train station wasn’t exactly smooth sailing given that the Hertz car rental agency was closed.
*Note to self: always find out where you go to return the key and park the car if the agency is closed.
We asked, and asked, and asked…..and then we called and asked, and even they weren’t all that sure. Time was running out as Kenny finally located some form of a dropbox / just-slide-it-under-the-door scenario. Where was Marforio when you needed him?
Leaving the car parked out front, we balanced the fear of a massive parking ticket with the massive fear of missing our train. Safely on the train, we chose to enjoy the moment and pay for the reality of it later.
First, there was Naples, and then there were hills of green and cliffs of cream, broken up by the sound being sucked from your ears as you flew through Italy’s countryside tunnels.
How were we already leaving Amalfi? Weren’t we just on this train? I’m pretty sure I sat in that seat across the aisle from the one I’m in now. I try to grade some student essays, but how can I? For one, the wifi is basically nonexistent, but that’s my public excuse.
The real excuse is: I don’t want to. I’m in Italy. And even the worst of this country is something that I want to remember and take with me, graffiti and all. The train speeds on, and faster than we can even quite grasp, we’re back in Rome.
We’re in the station, we’re unloading the luggage, we’re standing in a taxi line behind some nuns, we’re piling into the taxi, only to realize our hotel is literally just around the corner —THE PALAZZO NAIADI.
Hotel Recommendation: The Pallazo Naiadi
“Going home, I think, will be like waking up from a long and complicated dream, when you realize you are in your bedroom and everything around you is as it was but now slightly unfamiliar, and maybe slightly disappointing, too.” Anthony Doerr | Four Seasons in Rome
Three minutes later, we were unloading the suitcases at this beautiful hotel. I’m fairly certain the check-in process took longer than our cab ride.
Our room is on a higher floor, and about a mile from the elevator—but the Palazzo Naiadi Hotel is gorgeous. Not to mention they feature a rooftop terrace with a pool overlooking Rome’s skyline.
It was our last night in Italy, and after dinner, we didn’t want to just go back up to the room. Since we hadn’t ordered dessert at dinner, we decided to have one final bite of dolce on the covered portico of the hotel.
We people-watched, took photos, talked about “polpo” and “flying squid,” and laughed until at last, we agreed it was time to go upstairs and get some sleep
The next morning, as I settle onto the plane, I begin to realize how tired I am as we fly over the white ridges of the Swiss Alps. So exhausted now, so ready to be back home, yet all so worth it.
As I drift into a dozing sleep, I start to think about how I wish I spoke better Italian, how I wish I could live at The Santa Caterina, and how I wish we always knew where to go and never made wrong turns.
But where is the adventure in that?
Looking for more Italy travel? Check out these additional Travel Guides for Tuscany, the Cinque Terre, & Venice!
The Ultimate Amalfi Coast Travel Guide: 6 Top Tips for Exploring Italy’s Most Iconic Coast
The Complete Cinque Terre, Italy Travel Guide + Why You’ll Love Staying in Portovenere
Ultimate Travel Guide To Tuscany Italy’s Most Enchanting Towns
Ultimate Venice Italy Travel Guide | Helpful Tips for Where to Stay & What to Do