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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

4 Weeks of Summer: Road Tripping Italy, Cruising the Mediterranean


Ciao from Rome! We have arrived 🇮🇹 pic taken by our driver after he deposited us in front of the Pantheon at our hotel. Yes, we are standing RIGHT IN FRONT of our hotel here facing the Pantheon! Pinch me 😍

We hadn't planned to go on any trips this summer after our epic 6 Weeks in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia last year. But, my parents who are avid cruisers were keen that we all (3 adult children, spouses, and 4 grandkids) take a family cruise. I really don't care for cruises in general, but when I found out they were looking at a Mediterranean Cruise (their first time in Europe), it suddenly became something I could get onboard (hahaha, see what I did there).

We quickly made the decision to include a couple weeks traveling Italy pre-cruise. Let me tell you - we ended up with some lifetime memories of special experiences! I'm so excited to share a few hidden gems we found and hopefully you will see something you may want to add to your itinerary plans.  If anything, you will surely be convinced that Italy in the summer is a great idea!



If you have been following us, then you know that we strive to be carry-on only. This trip was no exception and was quite easy to manage with summer travel.

"Before anything else, preparation is the key to success." ~Alexander Graham Bell



Pre-Trip Planning

I spent endless hours pondering our itinerary.  Reflecting back, I wouldn't have changed a thing.  Putting the Amalfi Coast at the top of our wishlist resulted in us stumbling over the treasure that is Matera.  Matera is really what led us to get a rental car.  It's not easily accessible by public transport, but it is well worth the extra effort to visit this incredible place.


Caitlin at some point realized that she would be spending her 12th 

birthday on a plane returning home post-cruise. For some reason, this didn't appeal to her. Lo and behold, we added a 2nd mini-road trip of Italy onto the tail end of our trip for a very special birthday celebration. She has the best parents ever, right?! I know, totes.  We added Orvieto as the perfect wrap-up destination with a planned stay in the semi-abandoned hilltop village of Civita Di Bagnoregio for her special birthday treat.

Flights

I booked our tickets as soon as the flights were released, roughly 10 months in advance.  I played around with Google Flights and found that I could save $4000 by flying out of Newark.  I would also be able to get a direct flight.  It's about a 3hr drive and we would have parking fees for a month, but FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!! It was a no-brainer.  Flights were booked with United Airlines.  I don't know where you sit on the plane, but you'll find us squished in towards the back. 

Tours

I pre-booked all of our transfers and tours (found on the Internet) in advance.  Some I paid in full, others I paid a deposit to secure the reservation.  Every single one of them I would do again.  A couple of them were phenomenal. 

Rome Shuttle Limousine
  • Private Transfer (FCO Airport to Hotel) 55 euros
Walks of Italy:
  • Bones, Crypts, & Catacombs
  • VIP Colosseum Underground
  • Sistine Early Entrance Small Group Vatican
Amalfi Coast Destinations
  • Pompeii, Mt Vesuvius, Herculaneum
  • Amalfi Coast Tour
  • Private Transfers (Naples-Positano, Positano-Salerno)
Bella Italia
  • Florence Pisa Private Tour (Leaning Tower Climb)
Brightside Tours
  • Sidecar Tour (4 1/2 hours)
Forever Barcelona
  • Private Gaudi Chauffeured Tour (4 hours)
Gibraltar Inside Out Rock Tours
  •  Ultimate 10 Sights Tour (7 hours Private)
Sunshine Tours
  • Antequera/El Torcal

Accommodations

Every hotel was booked well ahead of time.  I booked two directly - Marincanto (secured with one night deposit) and Sextantio le Grotte della Civita.  These two are absolutely amazing places that do get fully booked, so I would recommend securely them well in advance.  I used Booking.com for the rest and paid for those at each stay.

Rental Car

This one is another PLUS for carry-on only luggage.  Streets are tiny and narrow, so you will want a small vehicle.  I reserved and paid in full (0 deductible) our rental car (compact automatic) booked online through AutoEurope with Hertz as the selected provider.  I actually did two separate bookings since we would need two rental periods. Printed off my confirmations vouchers and that was it.  Everything went so smoothly that I'm using AutoEurope again for our upcoming Finland trip.

Final Itinerary

Departure East Coast, USA to Rome, Italy (morning arrival)
Day 1: Rome, Italy (Albergo Abruzzi)
Day 2: Rome, Italy (Albergo Abruzzi)
Day 3: Rome, Italy (Albergo Abruzzi)
Day 4: Positano, Italy (Marincanto)
Day 5: Positano, Italy (Marincanto)
Day 6: Positano, Italy (Marincanto)
Day 7: Positano, Italy (Marincanto)
Day 8: Positano, Italy (Marincanto)
Day 9: Sassi di Matera, Italy (
Sextantio le Grotte della Civita)
Day 10: Sassi di Matera, Italy (
Sextantio le Grotte della Civita) 
Day 11: Civitavecchia, Italy (Alibrandi Palace)
Day 12: Civitavecchia, Italy (Alibrandi Palace) 
Day 13: Bon Voyage, Anchors Away! (Celebrity Reflections)
Day 14: Livorno, Italy (Cruise)
Day 15: Ville Franche de Sur Mer, French Riviera, France (Cruise)
Day 16: Barcelona, Spain (Cruise)
Day 17: Barcelona, Spain (Cruise)
Day 18: Sea Day! (Cruise)
Day 19: The Rock, Gibraltar (Cruise)
Day 20: Malaga, Spain (Cruise)
Day 21: Cartagena, Spain (Cruise)
Day 22: Sea Day! (Cruise)

Day 23: Palma de Mallorca, Spain (Cruise)
Day 24: Orvieto, Italy (Locanda Rosati)
Day 25: Orvieto, Italy (Locanda Rosati)
Day 26: Civita di Bagnoregio, Italy (Libera Mente)
Day 27: Fiumicino, Italy (Golden Tulip Rome Airport)
Day 28: Home, Sweet Home! USA

To say we were excited is an understatement.  After a year of planning, the day of departure had finally arrived.  We were well prepared, but still felt the usual butterflies that always accompany the hope of smooth and uneventful flight travel.

Day 1 - Rome, Sweet Rome


It was an easy 3 hour drive to Newark International Airport.  We had an early evening flight, so avoided rush hour and took our time.  I had prepaid for our long term parking at Newark Long Term Parking.  I chose this outfit based on Google reviews.  It was easy to find and easy in/out.  They give you a card with your parking spot # and instructions for contacting them upon return. 


I will mention that I was able to get a significant discount by booking with Park Ride Fly USA.  They appear to offer parking discounts at airports around the country.


Newark Airport was delightful. We checked in and managed our way through security.  Per our travel tradition (since we always arrive HOURS early), we settled in comfortably for a nice bite to eat.


Before long, it was time to board.  No delays, and we were off! 


Goodbye, USA!

 

Hello, Italy!


It was morning when we exited the plane and swiftly cleared through Customs. Easily found an ATM machine and withdrew several hundred euro without issue.

We didn't see our driver when we entered the Arrivals Hall, but there's wi-fi available, so a quick text was all that was needed to get us to the same meet point.  Into the car and headed into Rome proper, we nearly lost our minds at our first sighting of the city.  Nothing prepares you for the overwhelming beauty and the richness of Rome.  Be still my heart.  I'll never forget.


Then, our driver drove into the piazza of the Pantheon. Jaws dropped stunned. We exited the vehicle before it came to a full stop. Backpacks thrown aside onto the ground and luggage forgotten, we ran in circles giggling uncontrollably. Much to the amusement of our driver.


We are staying in this prime location at the cutest boutique hotel Albergo Abruzzi.  We were warmly greeted by the front desk and though it was early morning, they had 1 of our 2 rooms ready.  I had booked 2 Pantheon view rooms so the kids could have their own room AWAY from us.  The hotel kindly put both our rooms on the same floor.

Kids Hogging the View from Our Room

The view was to-die-for and we really enjoyed our stay here for simply hanging out our windows.  The hotel has a complimentary breakfast at a restaurant just across the piazza in front of the Pantheon.  It's lovely alfresco seating and the staff was just as kind there as they are at the hotel.



View from Kids Room

After we sorted ourselves from the journey, we were ready to head out and explore. And by explore, I mean EAT.

Piazza della Rotonda

Piazza della Rotonda



We just sort of wandered about dazzled by all the architecture before our eyes. Not sure how we came to a decision, but we found ourselves drawn into a lovely little shop. It was a perfect first meal after the long travel.  




After lunch, we meandered our way (after asking for directions from the restaurant) to Piazza Navona. Turns out, it was just around the corner.  Now, I was already feeling pretty good about Italy, but this pretty much sealed the deal.  The vibe was just AMAZING.

Piazza Navona


Piazza Navona


It was getting hot, so Caitlin and Molly were over the moon to finally try Italian gelato. #Winner!
 


Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel for some rest. By rest, I mean ditch the kids. Hahahaha.

So, with the kids deposited back at the hotel, Rob and I headed out to further explore.  And, by explore...yes again, I mean, EAT!  Goodness, we are so well matched for Italy.


With body clocks out of sync from travel, I had the pleasure of seeing the interior of the Pantheon 3 times with 3 different people 😂 (and we have plans to go inside again tomorrow morning when it opens 😂).   

Pantheon Visit #1:  We just couldn't resist.  So, we hopped in the quickly moving line.  It was interesting watching the security stop people for various reasons.  One couple tried to bring their rolling luggage in with them - nope.
   



We then went down this alley and found the Mother Ship that is Caffe Tazza D'Oro and got our first in-country espressos. Mmm, mmm.  Properly fueled, we were (SHOCKER) ready for that snack.



My bestie back home had highly recommended Antica Salumeria to me. She said I would thank her later. Hands down, I'm still thanking her.  It's actually located right next to the complimentary breakfast for the hotel.  Right in front of the Pantheon.  Can't miss it.  Make sure you go here.  You will thank me later.


The highlight of my day was leaving the kids in the hotel and #hotdate #kidfree having a "platter" of Rome delights🍷 in this heaven in a shop! Don't worry, I managed perfectly fine to stuff my face at dinner.  Hahahaha.


  

  


We brought leftovers (along with some extra purchases) back to the hotel.  Time to chill.  I showed Molly the Pantheon pics and she insisted on going down right away.  Rob opted to stayed behind with Caitlin while I took her.

Pantheon Visit #2: Just the two of us, it was special. A bit more crowded, I let her lead the way and watched her around as she took it all in.






So, I get back to the room with Molly and Caitlin pops up from her iPad asking where we went. Seriously? She then pouts that she got left behind (so untrue), so out we go.  Again, Rob opts to stay behind with Molly as I head back down with Caitlin.

Pantheon Visit #3: Anybody else? Hahahaha.




We summed up an incredible evening in Rome having dinner all'aperto taking it slow until almost midnight (2nd benefit 👍 of jet lag is being able hang where dinner at 9pm is the norm).



As the Pantheon closed its doors, we wandered out for our first evening in Rome with plans to head back to Piazza Navona for dinner.


It's still busy, but the musicians have come out and are getting the crowd joyful around the Piazza della Rotonda.




So many choices in Piazza Navona.  We found ourselves warmly invited into a busy (a good sign!) spot around the main square.


Oh my gosh, delicious grilled seafood for us and pasta no-leftovers for the kids. We made the start of this summer adventure official with our traditional family toast - SALUTI!


Do you think we left room for dessert? Seriously, are we just meeting... of course we did!


  

We were tired from the day's travel, but felt so relaxed and in no rush to turn in for the night.  Plus, we could barely lift ourselves after that incredible meal!  Musicians came to play in front of us and we were amused watching the police chase them and others off.  As soon as the police moved on, the vendors and entertainers would return.  It was a fascinating dance to watch. 


The vibe here is so incredible and uplifting - we are absolutely loving it!  It is such great fun just walking around the main square and observing all the various on-goings. 




Back in our room, we joined in the merriment and sang ourselves into slumber.


Buona Notte, Dormi Bene da Roma! 




Next Up: The Early Bird Gets...Rome - Without Crowds!

   

2 comments:

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