A trip to the greater Naples and Amalfi area of Italy isn’t truly complete without a visit to Pompeii to see the ruins that were left after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. I took the local commuter train out to Pompeii and spent a quick few hours exploring the site, which is just massive. I also visited nearby Herculaneum, which is much smaller than Pompeii, but better preserved, and between the two, as well as all the other Roman ruins around Italy, you get this incredible look into what life was like for people at the time. It’s fascinating how the one thing that is a constant through the ages is community. It sounds obvious to point that out, but whether in ancient Roman times, or medieval times, or present day, the importance of common places for coming together is in every culture and society.
It’s November 10th, and I’m sitting on a rooftop deck in Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, in pleasant 70 degree weather. It seems that the locals are as surprised and pleased with the weather as the tourists, since it would normally be the start of their rainy season; I think Mother Nature realized after 25 years in Seattle, and even longer of wanting to come here, I was way overdue for a break, and deserved to have some nice weather in this beautiful setting. I knew chosing this time of year to visit this area was taking a chance, and I’m so grateful that it has turned out to be such lovely weather for my stay.
I had originally intended to spend a little more time in northern Italy, both Milan and Lake Como and the surrounding area, but given the time of year, I opted to add Barcelona and Avignon to my trip, and sacrifice a little time from northern Italy. It was a tough choice, particularly to just have one day in Milan, as I really enjoyed the little bit of Milan that I did see. This was my fourth Airbnb stop, and it was a pleasure to meet the host and stay in her lovely apartment, which was stylish and comfortable. After getting settled, I took her advice to walk to the Duomo, rather than take the metro, which took me through a beautiful park, and then after walking for a while, I found myself in Piazza della Scala, mostly by accident. It is the Piazza with the La Scala opera house, and a very large statue of Leonardo da Vinci looking down at you with his artful eyes, toward La Scala. This piazza leads right into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is a very large and beautiful gallery of luxury shops and elegant restaurants and cafés, and is full of all sorts of eye candy. I exited through the south end, right onto Piazza del Duomo, the square with Milan’s incredible cathedral. It’s really quite stunning, both from the outside, and the inside, and of course I had to go to the rooftop, with its maze of spires, statues, and gargoyles. There are hundreds of statues around the exterior, at all levels of the cathedral, and it was challenging to try to capture the magnificence of it in photos. Another must-see in person.
Before I left on this big journey, and since I’ve been on it, people have asked me how I thought I would do or how I am doing being away from home for this long. Well, since I gave up my home, it’s more complicated than perhaps it would be otherwise, but I have found that I’ve done better than I thought I would thus far. I have moments when I find myself thinking of being back home, and I picture myself in my house (it’s going to take a while longer before thinking of it that way is gone), and then I catch myself and realize that that part of my life has passed, and a new unknown chapter awaits.
The French Riviera, or La Cote d’Azur, is simply glorious. I chose Nice as my home base from which to explore, and saved some money by going the Airbnb route and staying about a 10 minute walk to the beach, and about that same distance to the train station. Even though it’s starting to be “off season” here, it was still fairly crowded, with locals, of course, and tourists from all over the world, and a stroll just about anywhere comes with the sounds of mostly French, then Italian, some German, some English, and various other languages. The architecture is just stunning, adding to the beauty of the natural setting. And the blue of the sea along this coastline, particularly along Nice, is a gorgeous turquoise into a deep blue.
You know how you weren’t planning on doing something, and then you decide to, and you’re so glad that you did? Well, that’s how it’s been with the addition to my travels of both Barcelona and Provence — just fantastic.
Spain wasn’t originally on my list for my trip to Europe; I added it thanks to my friend Chrissie, and I’m so glad that I did. I chose Barcelona, as I had heard great things about this city, and it would be an easy train trip to the south of France from here. It was certainly a bit of a culture shock to go from Ireland to Spain, but my prior time in places like Venice and Rome prepared me well. Barcelona is so alive, with an addictive rhythm to the constant motion of the city. I opted to use Airbnb for most of my last three weeks in Europe so that I could get right into the neighborhoods of the places that I’m visiting, and immerse myself into the local culture in a way that hotels can sometimes preclude. I chose the El Born neighborhood in the Old City area of Barcelona, and I’ve really enjoyed it. It is full of countless lanes and alleys, all lined with gorgeous shops and restaurants, infusing high fashion and style into a previously gritty part of the city. I was here for three nights, so two full days, and I fit in quite a bit in that time. First up…