For several years now, Becky and I have been going to Italy for a journalism conference in Perugia in April, and each time we tack on some vacation time either before or after. The first year it was a quick Rome trip, then it was Florence for the day, and then more elaborate trips to Venice, and then to Sorrento, and Cinque Terre and finally last year we rented a villa with some friends on the Amalfi Coast. So since I had so much fun putting together my 2018 travelog, I thought I would try doing one bringing all of our Italian travels together in one place. You can drag the map around if you want, and double-clicking makes it zoom in. Take a look around and let me know what you think!
Our main destination in Italy every year is Perugia, where the amazing International Journalism Festival is put on every year by our friends Chris Potter and Arianna Ciccone. Perugia is a university town high up on a hill in the Umbria region, not far from Assisi (Trivia: Francis of Assisi was injured in a war between his town and Perugia, which is how he became a monk). The old city of Perugia, where the conference is held, was built in the 1200s and sits on the ruins of an even older city built sometime before 300 BC, a capital of the Etruscan empire. The venues for the festival are all incredible, but especially the Sala dei Notari, a hall with massive curved beams and walls covered in frescoes. When I gave a presentation there the first year I was invited, all I could think about was that it was already old when Gutenberg invented the printing press. Most years we stay in the Brufani Palace, a massive old hotel on the edge of the old city, which has a pool in the basement with a plexiglas window through which you can see down into the ruins the hotel is built on.
We've been to Rome several times now, and it keeps getting better every time. The first time we ran around the city seeing various sights from the outside -- the Vatican, the Forum etc. -- but didn't really go into anything except the Pantheon. On our second trip, we did a self-guided audio tour of the Vatican and the Palatine Hill/Forum as well as the Colosseum, all of which were amazing, and on the third trip we re-did some of the same things because we were with friends who hadn't done them before. We've also stayed multiple times at the same little hotel off the beaten track near the train station, a lovely little French-style hotel on the third floor of this beautiful old apartment building, with a tiny little metal elevator barely big enough for Becky and I and two suitcases. And we've had some fantastic meals, thanks to advice from the late Anthony Bourdain -- who said to find a neighborhood trattoria and order cacio e pepe, which we did -- and from a friend who is half-Italian who lives in Rome and has steered us towards some great restaurants. There's still lots of things we would like to see though, like the Vatican catacombs and gardens, so we will just have to go back.
In 2015, we spent some time in Venice before the conference in Perugia, taking the train from Rome, which gave us a fascinating look at the Italian countryside. We found a lovely little hotel in an ancient villa right on the Grand Canal, with the usual tiny little elevator to the third floor, and six or seven huge rooms with beautiful wooden beam ceilings. We made what in retrospect was a very smart move and bought an all-you-can-ride pass for the "vaporetto" or water bus, which allowed us to get on and off whenever we wanted. We took the vaporetto out to the Lido, a vacation spot with beaches -- which was a little weird in early April -- and then to the islands of Murano (famous for its glass-blowing) and Burano (famous for its colored houses). And we took the requisite gondola ride and tour through canals, which was fascinating. I think nighttime was my favorite, because of the way the lights of the city reflected in the Grand Canal.
In 2016, Becky and I decided to spend some time in Sorrento, a seaside town just south of Naples, so we took the high-speed train from Rome to Naples and then -- at the suggestion of our friends Christopher and Arianne from Perugia -- took the ferry from Naples to Sorrento so that we could enjoy the view of the classic hotels and villas perched on the cliff as we entered the harbor. And I'm really glad we did, because when I booked the hotel room, I just thought it was one of the hotels in downtown Sorrento -- I didn't realize until we were arriving on the ferry that our hotel was one of the ones on the cliffside, with elevators that go down to private beach areas (which weren't open because it was so early in the season). The hotel had an amazing deck covered in wisteria vines, and we somehow wound up with an amazing corner suite with a massive balcony from which we could see Vesuvius and the bay of Naples. Sorrento is a great little town, especially if you like seafood, and we did a boat tour of Capri and the various grottos -- including a trip into the famous Blue Grotto, which was spectacular -- as well as a tour of Pompeii and a tour of Herculaneum, another town that was destroyed by Vesuvius, but in a different way (hot mud instead of lava and ash).
In 2017, my friend Anna Masera, who runs the graduate journalism program at the University of Turin, invited me to speak to her class, so we headed from the conference in Perugia to Turin by train and spent a few days wandering around the city with Anna acting as our unofficial tour guide. Located in the northwestern part of Italy, Turin was at one time the capital of Italy and has a number of beautiful palaces and museums, as well as the legendary Shroud of Turin. It has a very Parisian feel to it, since it is very close to France and used to be aligned with that country before modern Italy was created in 1861. Thanks to Anna, I found the cafe that invented one of my favorite coffee drinks, the Bicerin (espresso, chocolate syrup and heavy cream) as well as the cafe near the river where Nietschze wrote most of his seminal work Ecce Homo. We also toured the Museum of Film, which is located in the amazing Mole, an unusual tower that used to be a synagogue. Turin is a beautiful city, partly because it is located right beside a lovely river, called the Po.
After our visit to Turin in 2017, Becky and I took the train south to Cinque Terre, which is the name given to a series of five ancient fishing villages on a stretch of coast known as the Italian Riviera. In addition to their picturesque architecture, which features incredibly tight alleyways and staircases and brightly colored houses, Cinque Terre is known for the walking trails between the villages. Unfortunately for us, the seaside trails between several of the towns were closed due to landslides (a common problem in the area) so we hiked from the town we stayed in, Vernazza, to the largest of the five villages, known as Monterosso. Then we took the tiny local train to the last of the five, Riomaggiore, and hiked around it for awhile, then took the train to Manarola and walked around there a bit, then the train to Corniglia -- the only town that is up on a hill rather than close to the sea -- and then hiked back to Vernazza, where we arrived just as the sun was setting. We also had dinner on the top of an ancient fort, with the sea spray crashing into the rocks right beside us. It was fantastic.
In 2018, after spending some time in Rome, we met some friends, rented a couple of cars and headed south to a villa we rented in the little town of Massa Lubrense, just south of Sorrento and Naples. The villa had a huge rooftop deck that looked out over the Bay of Naples, with Mount Vesuvius in the distance, and a great outdoor barbcue and patio. We hired a boat captain named Guglielmo who took us to Capri for the day, where we saw all the various grottos and the Faraglioni rocks, and we explored Pompeii and hiked up Vesuvius, but the highlight of the trip was our tour down the Amalfi Coast to the seaside towns of Amalfi and Positano. It was a beautiful sunny day and it was fantastic to have a boat all to ourselves. We also had some great meals in Massa Lubrense, including a lovely dinner at a tiny, family-owned place on the edge of a hill, as the sun was setting over Capri in the background. This was my first time driving in Italy, and I have to say I enjoyed the incredibly narrow and twisty streets of the Amalfi area (although I'm not sure my passengers enjoyed it quite as much).