For our first family visit since moving to Lux, we joined up with Cindy, Shawn and Avery for a nine-day tour from northern Italy to its southern shores.
We met the family in London and spent an action-packed day hitting the highlights: Kappacasein grilled cheese at Borough Market, Sir Francis Drake's sailing ship, the Thames promenade and Westminster Abbey. Upon entering the Abbey the entire family was amazed at the size and history of the church. During our urban hike towards Trafalgar Square, hundreds of nude cyclists rode past us celebrating the Queen's birthday in their birthday suits. Luckily, we caught a glimpse of the Queen exiting her special service at St. Paul's Cathedral the previous day. We spent the evening checking out Covent Garden and Soho, scoping out the pub scene and sampling greasy fish and chips.
We flew a couple hours from London to Venice and took a water taxi to our apartment on a pedestrian-only street about a 15 minute walk from the heart of Venice. Erin's family was stunned at how the canal waters lapped up against the entryways of the old, sinking mansions. After dropping our bags we headed immediately to Antico Forno for a canal-side focaccia pizza. Then we spent the afternoon touring the Doge Palace, drifting through room after room of frescoes, statues and cavernous palatial spaces. For the rest of the evening we let ourselves get lost wandering among the canals.
The following morning we woke up early and headed to Burano, a traditional fishing village reachable from Venice by ferry. In the old days, the weary fisherman had a hard time telling the identical island Venetian homes apart after months at sea, so each house was painted a unique neon color to help differentiate. We enjoyed a strolling breakfast of seasonal fruit and Italian pastries. Dave got yelled at by an elderly Italian woman for climbing on a bridge, which was amusing and is becoming a trend.
We headed back to Venice on the ferry and toured the Basilica San Marco. With craned necks, we stared awestruck at the epic gold mosaics. We climbed the stairs to the roof of the Basilica and marveled at views of the square. We did some shopping, ate gelato and picked up drinks for sundowners back at the apartment before dinner. We headed to dinner in Canareggio, Erin's favorite neighborhood. We sat outside and enjoyed homemade pasta with local wine and then devoured gelato on our walk back home.
The following morning was rainy, but we spent the morning exploring St. Mary of the Friars and the Scuolo Grande di San Rocco before heading to the train station, just in time to avoid a city-wide waterbus strike. We took a three and a half hour train to Rome, stopping in Florence along the way. We all enjoyed just staring out the window at the rolling Tuscan hills and mountaintop towns.
For Erin and Dave, walking around at night in Rome is one of the top experiences in Europe. We took a long walk from our hotel in Centro Storico to Piazza Navona and then on to a famous, tiny Roman pizzeria. Then we navigated to Trevi fountain for its vibrant evening atmosphere.
The following morning we headed to Vatican City to tour the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. We explored the gilded halls of the Vatican, took in art and cultural artifacts from all over the world and gawked speechlessly at the Sistine Chapel for several minutes. It was just our luck that the Pope was making a speech or "having an audience" on this morning, so we huddled together with thousands of people in the square to watch the Pope deliver a sermon. In just one week we saw both the Pope and the Queen.
In the afternoon, we explored the Colosseum and Roman Forum, and waved off the hordes of scamming tour guides and slow moving tour groups to get a feel for the remnants of ancient Rome. It was unbelievable to all of us that these buildings are still standing after thousands of years.
After a much-needed siesta, we headed to our favorite Roman neighborhood, Trastevere, to hang out in the main square, drink wine and watch the streets come to life. There were dancers, circus performers and lots of interesting people to watch. We walked around the winding, ivy-strewn streets of the neighborhood and savored an outdoor dinner of artichokes, arancici, pizza, pasta and salads and then walked it off along the Tiber River street market.
We woke up early the following morning and returned to St. Peter's to examine the giant, cavernous structure. We were mesmerized by Pieta, Michelangelo's sculptural masterpiece. We climbed the dome of the Basilica for expanding views of the city.
Excited to continue the adventure, we lugged our bags to the train station and hopped a train down to the Amalfi Coast town of Salerno. We boarded a ferry to Amalfi town through choppy Mediterranean waters that gave Erin's mom a minor panic attack. After the short boat ride, we walked through the cobblestone streets of town uphill toward our hotel, which was surrounded by towering mountains and the sea. We memorized the view from the terrace during afternoon happy hour and headed back into town for dinner.
The following day, we embarked on a 5 mile, 1500 step hike from Amalfi up through the coastal towns of Pontone, Scala, Ravello and Atrani. We hiked up the never-ending stairs through lemon groves and tiny town squares and we picked out local strawberries and apricots to snack on. We splashed in ice-cold fountains and hop-scotched around donkey tracks up to the town of Ravello, where we walked around a Renaissance villa and enjoyed a cliffside lunch with ocean views. We continued the hike down to sea level and headed back to Amalfi for an afternoon swim. We had a seaside dinner perched over the crashing waves and then strolled around town until nearly midnight.
For our last day, we chartered a boat to Capri. We hopped off the boat and into a funicular that led us up to Anacapri. Then we swung in our individual chairlifts up to Mount Salerno for birds-eye views of the shimmering water. On our way back we stopped to jump off the boat, navigate through Capri's famous Faraglioni rock formations, view the famous green grotto and slowly float past the various towns of the Italian Riviera including Positano and Praiano.
We chose Amalfi's famous Da Gemma restaurant for our final dinner. Erin and Dave ordered a massive raw fish platter, with ten preparations of local seafood. We were surprised that Erin's 11 year-old sister Avery tried everything, even downing a full-skinned anchovy in one bite. We also enjoyed black truffle pasta that set the bar for all future pastas. We took in the view of the town and packed up. We rode along the famous winding coastal road to Naples the following morning and boarded flights home.
We packed a lot into 9 days, and our family definitely went home more tired than they arrived, but we had a great adventure filled with history, culture, food, architecture and nature that we couldn't find anywhere else.
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