May 3rd, 2018 – Italy – Amalfi Coast

Our last day of the trip was a drive up the Amalfi Coast.  The weather was not wonderful, but considering the forecast called for rain, we were pleased that it was just cloudy for our drive.  The 4th picture is Positano.  We did not get to stop there, but the views of it were very nice.  We stopped in Amalfi for a bit.  The boys went to the Amalfi Cathedral (8th – 16th pictures) while the girls went shopping.  The ceramics here are beautiful.  We just got a taste of the area, but enough that we have decided we want to come back and rent a villa here.

One thing about the Amalfi Coast is there is a lot of traffic on the one main road and the busses make it even more interesting around the curves.  As a matter of fact, one of the busses got caught in a tunnel.  Lucky for us, our bus driver heard about it before we started back and we went back another way.  It was longer, but better than the 4 -6 hour wait that was forecasted.  We did run into a road block the other way though, a dog was herding some goats who felt that walking on the road was a good thing to do.










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May 2nd, 2018 – Italy – Capri

Capri, an island in Italy’s Bay of Naples, is famed for its rugged landscape, upscale hotels and shopping, from designer fashions to limoncello and handmade leather sandals.  It is a beautiful island and full of stores that we could not afford.  We spent a leisurely afternoon walking around the main city and had the best gelato of the trip.  Leslie would have gone back for more, but it meant walking down and then back up a pretty steep hill.  Also we stumbled upon a Murano glass shop and Bill and Linda decided to buy a vase.  This was far more interesting than more gelato.  The 5th picture shows Don giving photography advice to the person that was taking the picture.  He needs to remember to smile when he is on the other side of the camera.







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May 1st, 2018 – Italy – Pompei

Pompeii was an ancient Roman town-city near modern Naples.  Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, was mostly destroyed and buried under 13 to 20 ft of volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

Archaeologists believe that the town was founded in the 7th or 6th century BC by the Oscans.  It came under the domination of Rome in the 4th century BC, and was conquered and became a Roman colony in 80 BC after it joined an unsuccessful rebellion against the Roman Republic. By the time of its destruction, 160 years later, its population was estimated at 11,000 people, and the city had a complex water system, an amphitheater, a gymnasium, and a port.

The eruption destroyed the city, killing its inhabitants and burying it under tons of ash. Evidence for the destruction originally came from a surviving letter by Pliny the Younger, who saw the eruption from a distance. The site was lost for about 1,500 years until its initial rediscovery in 1599 and broader rediscovery almost 150 years later.  The objects that lay beneath the city have been preserved for more than a millennium because of the long lack of air and moisture. These artefacts provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city during the Pax Romana. During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids in the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allowed archaeologists to see the exact position the person was in when he or she died.

The site is huge.  It was very cool to walk around and see how a Roman city actually was.  The tile in some of the homes was still in tact and some of the frescos still had amazing color.  We ended the tour in the amphitheater and took a group picture.  After the picture, we talked Bill into a performance of a little Shakespeare.  It was very short, but long enough that we lost sight of the tour group.  We got in a teeny bit of trouble because the tour guide had to come back and get us.  It was worth it though because we caught the performance on video.










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April 30th, 2018 – Italy – Otranto and Sorrento

We went to Otranto today which is a historic seaside town and port on the Adriatic Sea.  The town is in the province of Lecce, and is close to the easternmost point of Italy.  It is within the area known as the Salento, the tip of the peninsula which is the heel of Italy’s boot.  On a clear day it is possible to see over the Strait of Otranto to Albania.  Like much of Puglia, Otranto has a colourful and mixed past. It was important as a Greek and then Roman port, called Hydruntum. Later it was ruled by the Byzantines, the Normans and the Aragonese. In 1480 the town was invaded by Turks.

We returned to Sorrento for lunch.  Don had his best meal of the trip, a mixed seafood grill.  The octopus and squid are so good here.  He also had prawns, swordfish and a whitefish.  There is something about seafood from the Mediterranean Sea.

We had to work for our dinner tonight.  We had a cooking class.  We made a lemon tart and potato gnocchi for dinner.  The hardest part was rolling each individual gnocchi on the fork to give it grooves to pick up the sauce.  It took a while, but we got it.  Linda and Leslie were having so much fun, they had to be dragged from the counter to stop the rolling on the fork.  It was delicious.  They did not teach us how to make the wonderful tomato sauce, so we cannot totally repeat the meal when we get home, but Don will probably get close.







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April 29th, 2018 – Italy – Polignano a Mare

Today we went to Polignano a Mare which is located on the Adriatic Sea.  It is built on the edge of a craggy ravine, pockmarked with caves. The town is thought to be one of the most important ancient settlements in Puglia and was later inhabited by successive invaders ranging from the Huns to the Normans.

When we arrived we loaded onto a train and rode through the town.  The people that saw us thought we were crazy Americans because we were waving and saying “Bonjourno”.   Famous singer Domenico Modugno is from the city and the train had some videos of him singing songs.  When he sang “Volare”, we sang the chorus, which is the only part we knew (it is 2 Italian words and a bunch of oh-oh-ohs), at the top our our lungs.  Twenty Americans being led by our Italian guide Andrea (12th picture).  They probably will not invite us back.

We did a little shopping and Linda bought a new hat.  It looked MAH-velous.  It is made of paper, so it was a good thing it was sunny.  We had one of the best meals on the trip here.  The seafood was so fresh – smoked tuna, smoked swordfish and a white fish that was wonderful.











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April 28th, 2018 – Italy – Lecce

It has been a while, but I am sure you can tell that we published the last post before we were finished with it.  That is what happens when you try to hurry.  

Lecce is a historic city (over 2,000 years old) located on the Salentine Peninsula, a sub-peninsula at the heel of the Italian Peninsula.  Because of the rich Baroque architectural monuments found in the city, Lecce is commonly nicknamed “The Florence of the South”.  The city also has a long traditional affinity with Greek culture going back to its foundation.

We had a walking tour this morning.  We got a history lesson, saw some Baroque churches, and the remains of a Roman amphitheater.  We also got a paper mache demonstration (11th picture).  Lecce is famous for its paper mache.  Many of the large statues in the churches are made of paper mache.  They look like they are carved wood that has been painted.  It is truly amazing.  The symbol of the city (15th picture) came from the Romans who named the city “Lupiae” because of the she-wolf found under an oak tree at the site chosen for their city.  Obviously the name has been changed, but the symbol remains.

We split up after the walking tour.  Bill and Don went to a market and Leslie and Linda went in search of the gelato place the guide recommended.  Leslie gave her phone to Don so the boys had a way to communicate.  After walking about a 1/2 mile one way, the girls realized they had gone the wrong way.  Returning to the starting point (McDonald’s) they found the right street.  After walking a mile on that street, they received a text from the boys that they were by the gelato place.  So back up the street and they found the gelato place which was a 1/2 block from the McDonalds.  The good news is they had walked 3 miles, so they deserved the gelato.  Moral of the story – do not give up the phone with Google maps when in a foreign country.

Bill was spot on with his restaurant choice for lunch (again).  The food was delicious.  The pictures in order – a smoked salmon croissant with ricotta cheese, a chicken sandwich with goat cheese and tuna bruschetta.  Yummy.














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April 27th, 2018 – Italy – Alberobello

Alberobello is a small town that is famous for its unique trullo buildings.  The history of these very particular buildings is linked to the Prammatica De Baronibus, an edict of the 15th-century Kingdom of Naples that subjected every new urban settlement to a tribute. The Counts of Conversano D’Acquaviva D’Aragona, then imposed on the peasants sent in these lands they built their dwellings dry, without using mortar, so that they could be configured as precarious buildings, easily demolished.  When the king’s men came by looking for houses, the would knock down the roofs and the trees hid the walls.  The Italian tour guide said that Italians have been looking for ways to avoid taxes for a very long time.

Therefore, having to use only stones, the peasants found in the round form with self-supporting domed roof, composed of overlapping stone circles, the simplest and most solid configuration.

We had lunch in one of the top 10 restaurants in Italy.  Artichoke flan, pasta with local pork and










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April 25th & 26th – Italy – Mattera

Matera, known as “la Città Sotterranea” (the Subterranean City), is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, having been inhabited since the 10th millennium BC.  It has gained international fame for its ancient town, the “Sassi di Matera”.  The Sassi originated in a prehistoric settlement, and these dwellings are thought to be among the first ever human settlements in what is now Italy.  The Sassi are habitations dug into the calcareous rock itself.  Many of them are really little more than caverns, and in some parts of the Sassi a street lies on top of another group of dwellings. The ancient town grew up on one slope of the rocky ravine created by a river that is now a small stream, and this ravine is known locally as “la Gravina”.

Our tour guide told us how people here lived and it was very sad.  The 14th picture shows a typical house where a couple and their probably 10 – 12 children lived.  Their animals stayed inside their home also.  There was very little food and very little room.  There was one meal a day and the food was given based on how much work the person did.  The first bite went to the mother, then the father, then the ones that worked in the fields.  Smaller children might spend the whole day in the bed (because there was no where else for them to go) and when it came time for them to eat, if there was no food, the attitude was you have done nothing all day but lay in the bed, so no food.  If you are strong, you will survive.  They did not have enough clothes for all the children, and in the winter, the youngest had no clothes but underwear and again, if you are strong you will survive.  The mother, father and all children above 7 would go out into the fields to work and stay for 4 days.  They would use pink poppies to drug the children 6 and under.  It would normally keep them drugged for the 4 days.  No food, no water, no protection and again, if you are strong, you will survive.  This was not some ancient civilization, people lived like this in the 1900s.  The Italian government tried to get them to change their way of life, but they refused.  In the 1940s, the government burned all the pink poppies in the area so they would not drug the children.  In the 1950s, the government used force to relocate most of the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city.

Until the late 1980s the Sassi was considered an area of poverty, since its dwellings were, and in most cases still are, uninhabitable. The present local administration, however, has become more tourism-oriented, and it has promoted the regeneration of the Sassi with the aid of the Italian government, UNESCO, and Hollywood.  Sassi is frequently used in movies to represent Jerusalem as parts of it look like Jerusalem and it is a safe place to shoot a movie.  Some of the more well-known ones are “Ben-Hur” (2016 remake), the recent “Wonder Woman” (the beginning of the movie), and Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ”.

The bus was not allowed to drive into Matera so we had to walk.  We were walking through this bustling city and wondering where the caves were.  We went down some stairs and walked through a tunnel and found ourselves in a whole other world.  It is quite beautiful.  We stayed in a hotel that has converted some of the Sassi houses into rooms.  The next to the last picture shows our room.  We also had some amazing local appetizers – cauliflower soufflé, zucchini stuffed with mushrooms, marinated mushrooms, faro and corn salad and some wonderful onions.  Matera is a truly magical place, but it has a very sad history.









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April 24th, 2018 – Italy – Sicily – Mount Etna

We have been able to see Mount Etna and its steam from the balcony of our room for days. Today we got to visit it.  Mount Etna  is an active stratovolcano on the east coast of Sicily.  It is currently 10,922 ft high, though this varies with summit eruptions. It is the highest peak in Italy south of the Alps. Etna covers an area of 459 sq mi with a basal circumference of 87 miles.   This makes it by far the largest of the three active volcanoes in Italy.   Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is in an almost constant state of activity.

Volcanic activity first took place at Etna about 500,000 years ago, with eruptions occurring beneath the sea off the ancient coastline of Sicily.  About 300,000 years ago, volcanism began occurring to the southwest of the summit then. Eruptions at this time built up the first major volcanic edifice, forming a stratovolcano in alternating explosive and effusive eruptions. From about 35,000 to 15,000 years ago, Etna experienced some highly explosive eruptions.  Ash from these eruptions has been found as far away as south of Rome’s border, 497 miles to the north.

Thousands of years ago, the eastern flank of the mountain experienced a catastrophic collapse, generating an enormous landslide in an event similar to that seen in the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.  The landslide left a large depression in the side of the volcano, known as ‘Valle del Bove’ (Valley of the Ox). Research published in 2006 suggested this occurred around 8000 years ago, and caused a huge tsunami, which left its mark in several places in the eastern Mediterranean. It may have been the reason the settlement of Atlit Yam in Israel, now below sea level, was suddenly abandoned around that time.  Mount Etna is moving towards the Mediterranean Sea at an average rate of 14 mm per year.

That is Don in the 5th picture.  He did an impressive run down that hill and back up to the top where we were waiting.  Unfortunately he was too fast for Leslie to get a video.  We went back into Taormina for dinner.  Bill is responsible for picking restaurants when the tour does not provide the meal.  We went to Gourmet 32 and had a fabulous meal.  We did not post all of the pictures, but the last two show the grilled octopus that Bill and Don had which was “cooked to perfection”.  The last picture is of a brownie with vanilla gelato which was delicious.









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April 23rd, 2018 – Italy – Sicily – Agrigento

Agrigento  is a city on the southern coast of Sicily.  It is renowned as the site of the ancient Greek city of Akragas, one of the leading cities during the golden age of Ancient Greece with population estimates in the range of 200,000 to 800,000 before 406 BC.  Agrigento was founded on a plateau overlooking the sea, with two nearby rivers, the Hypsas and the Akragas, and a ridge to the north offering a degree of natural fortification. Its establishment took place around 582–580 BC and is attributed to Greek colonists from Gela, who named it Akragas.

Akragas grew rapidly, becoming one of the richest and most famous of the Greek colonies.  It came to prominence under the 6th-century Theron, and became a democracy after the overthrow of Theron’s son Thrasydaeus.  The Romans laid siege to the city in 262 BC and captured it after defeating a Carthaginian relief force in 261 BC and sold the population into slavery.  Although the Carthaginians recaptured the city in 255 BC, the final peace settlement gave Punic Sicily, and with it, Akragas to Rome. It became prosperous again under Roman rule and its inhabitants received full Roman citizenship following the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BC.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the city successively passed into the hands of the  Vandalic Kingdom, the Ostorgothic Kingdom of Italy and then the Byzantine Empire. In 1927 Benito Mussolini introduced the current Italicized version of the Latin name – agrigento.   The city suffered a number of destructive bombing raids during World War II.  It is well known for its Valley of the Temples, a large sacred area on the south side of the ancient city where seven monumental Greek temples in the Doric style were constructed during the 6th and 5th centuries BC.  Now excavated and partially restored, they constitute some of the largest and best-preserved ancient Greek buildings outside of Greece itself.










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