McKinney Gypsy Caravan

One part travel blog. One part nerdy history lesson.

Category: Italy (page 2 of 4)

Day 11-Palermo and Sagesta

We woke up around 6:30 to a deep-voiced Italian man telling us the restaurant was now open for breakfast as we neared Sicily.  Some of us had a better night than others. Haha     

 We left the room and headed to the common area to await permission to return to our car and drive off the boat. Norah made a friend while waiting, but he was very confused by her because he only spoke Italian. Ha 

Driving in Palermo was par for the course-terrible. 

We drove downtown to a sketchy part of town and parked the car because I had wanted to go to some catacombs while in Italy. We may see some more in Rome on Saturday, but to be sure- we went to these.  

The Capuchin catacombs were started in the late 1500s by the Capuchin Catholic monks and originally was just for preserving and mummifying the bodies of other monks. Eventually the local people starting asking to be embalmed and cared for here and in the end, over 8000 bodies are cared for by the monks to this day. Most of the bodies are from before 1900 but there are couple up to the 1920s including 2 year old Rosalinda Lombardo who was embalmed in the 1920s and still looks like she’s sleeping today. Apparently they finally got the formula right at the end. Families would pay for their loved ones to be kept here and they would be placed in the cubbies along the walkway. Families could then come and hold hands for family prayer with their loved ones. If a family stopped paying, then the bodies would be placed high above on the shelves until the payment resumed. Sounds like a scheme to me.

The monks are dressed in their robes, professionals in clothing of the era. There is a hall for women, children, virgins, etc.   
       I saw this guy and said,”That looks like Napolean!” Turns out, he was a Napoleonic French soldier, Colonel Enea DiGiuriano  

Photos are forbidden, but I’m a rebel…and I couldn’t NOT share this! Ha

Stock photo below because they have this roped off. I will never understand charging admission to something and then roping off the main “attraction” so far that you can’t even see it. Another reason why I took pictures. “The catacombs are sacred resting places and the bodies shouldn’t be disturbed”-but if you’ll pay us we’ll totally let you walk through…. Yeah, real sacred. Haha (does my sarcasm come through sufficiently in text?) πŸ™‚

After the catacombs, we checked out one last cathedral because, according to what I read, this was not one to be missed. We headed south of Palermo to a little suburb town called Monreale.  We grabbed some coffee and breakfast right outside but due to my terrible Italian, we ended up the hot dog rolls instead of the prosciutto ones below it. Haha either way, it was good. 
They also had a chocolate cake and Nutelle roll… It was pretty outstanding.


I would like to say that Italy and Sicily are beautiful, but truth is- most of it just looks like this.

 After Monteale we took a drive west through some coastal towns and began to see a little more of the Sicily I had envisioned of mountains and olive trees and orange groves. 

We then headed to Segesta, a small little mountain town with some Ancient Greek ruins and temple. This temple is unique because experts don’t think it was ever even finished. There is no fluting on the Doric columns, there are tabs on the big stones that were normally removed about being placed in the temple and they’ve found no signs of paint or any alterpiece in the area.  

Again, all of the hills. This is how Italians eat nothing but bread and pasta and aren’t fat…they built everything on the side of a mountain!

  The views, however, do make it worth it.   

We were in Segesta, where our hotel was,but it was only 1pm….so we decided to head for the coast and check out some white beach cliffs…but midway there it started pouring rain with no signs of stopping, so we decided to just head back to Segesta. 
We ate at a restaurant that we knew was open because the owner stopped us as we pulled in the parking lot of ruins to tell us that we should come to his restaurant for dinner! Ha It was a good thing he was out promoting it or we would have never found it and never thought it would be open. It was 3 miles down a dirt mud road with spray painted signs along the way to guide you… We weren’t sure what to expect when we walked in. 

It was actually pretty good. 

After dinner we headed to our room on a goat and sheep farm for the evening, another 2 miles down the muddy dirt road thinking we were never going to make it and that we for sure had to be going the wrong way… But we found it and the old Volkswagon Golf didn’t even get stuck-just a little mud for character.  I was a little annoyed because there was no wifi like my reservation stayed (I always check before booking and yet half of the time they act like I’m crazy). They did have wifi but it broke last summer and they haven’t fixed itnyet. Also, no credit cards. Since this requires Internet- only cash. Somehow they received my reservation though…so I’m confused. But…This little place had the best water pressure in all of Europe and heat that warmed up fast…so overall I was very happy with our little room. πŸ™‚ We went to sleep early again because we have to drive 4 hours across the entire island to the East coast for tomorrow’s adventures. 

Day 10-Salerno, Paestrum and back to NaplesΒ 

So obviously from the title, we ended up in Naples again. My favorite! But I’m totally going to leave you in suspense for why and how we ended up there until the end.

We left Praiano and headed towards Ravello and Amalfi, planning to end in Salerno since our ferry left out of the port of Salerno headed to Sicily. 

Amalfi is beautiful… But it was cold and rainy the whole time we were there and most shops and restaurants were closed. If you go, it really has to be April-September. The straight vertical hills are not worth the hike when there is no glistening Mediterranean beaches waiting for you or no boat rides to Capri.








 We were almost to Salerno trying to figure out what to do for the entire day before our 8pm ferry, when Kegan spotted this awesome looking castle way up on the hill. It was Castel di Arechi and it was on my list of alternate things to do should the vacation not go according to plan. (Like 59 degrees and pouring rain in Amalfi.)

So we headed up the towering hill above town to check it out. They were supposed to have a museum with medieval weapons and other cool things, so I figured it might actually be worth the hike up to the top. All of the hills. We climbed all of the hills in Italy, I swear to you. Haha


 The views were amazing.  



The castle is cool. It’s been here (parts of it) since around 500AD when the Byzantines built a tower here. The Lombards took over in the mid-600s and when Duke Arechi II moved the Capitol of their southern claim to Salerno in the late 700s, he moved to the castle and spent a lot of time and effort on it.

Next came the Norman conquerors in 1077 and by now there were flying objects to be concerned about such as catapults, so they added even more fortification to the walls and the castle.  

In the 1400s a wealthy family from Naples that ruled over Salerno lived in the castle and added a huge patio with amazing views of the city.
We got inside to the museum after all of that…and it was closed. On a Monday. No real idea why. So we got coffee at the counter that was open, but we couldn’t walk through the museum that was standing open with all the lights on and the doors unlocked. Even though we could walk through there to go to the bathroom. Seemed like weird logic to me… But whatever. 

So after seeing those views and being a little shocked by driving in Naples, I proposed that we drive the hour south to Paestrum, a site with some of the best preserved Greek ruins that I thought we were going to miss because of our time in Amalfi and Salerno.

Right outside of the ruins was a huge expanse of beachline that looked like it was trapped in the 1950s. There were little lido beachfront buildings and you could pull right up on the sand…. I bet it’s an amazing time in the summer when it’s sunny and warm.

After a little research, I discovered that this is the beach that the Allieds stormed when they invaded Italy in 1943. The German gave some pretty heavy resistance here so I’m sure that the entire area was rebuilt  after the war…. Hence looking like it’s straight out of the 1950s. While I’m sure there are a lot cheaper and closer beach destinations, if you are in the area in the summer- I would totally recommend a couple days here for the atmosphere and beaches.

Paestrum was pretty awesome. The Greeks settled here around 550BC. They built these temples to gods and goddesses. 300 years later, the Romans took over and further built up the city and dwellings. 

  This big marble piece would have been in the middle of a Roman house with an open ceiling area. They would have used it to catch rainwater for use and drinking. Since this area was eventually wiped out by malaria, all I can think of is mosquito hell…    

After walking around here, we sat down for some lunch. It was just a sandwich shop with some basics but it was good. 





 Note-when you order a hamburger in Italy, you quite literally just get a patty. No bun. Lol Norah only wanted the French fries anyway so it was fine. 

Norah met “Pizza Pete”. If you’ve been to our house recently, you know about the pizza mania game she subjects everyone to. Ha

After lunch we meandered back to the car to try to find our ferry info and see where exactly we needed to go. Much to my surprise…turns out I had booked the Naples to Palermo ferry instead of the Salerno to Palermo ferry! It wouldn’t be a real vacation if I didn’t book tickets out of the wrong airport or the wrong date or apparently the wrong ferry port at least once! Haha. So it’s now 3:49om- we are at least 2 hours from Naples and we have to have our car to the port by 6pm. Oh, and we have no idea where the port or the ticket office is. Panic mode! Lol 

Luckily, we skated in around 5:40pm and it was smooth sailing : 



  The cabin was quite nice for what I had expected and they had a cafeteria where we had some meatballs and pasta fagiole soup and a gift shop where we bought a little Doc McStuffins surprise bag that kept her busy for the evening. We went to sleep early because we had to be up to get off the boat by 7am. Plus, we had no wifi…what else was there to do?? πŸ™‚ 

Day 9-Amalfi and Naples

Apparently, I didn’t learn my lesson with driving in Naples yesterday and decided that we should go back and try to go the Archeologic Museum there that has a lot of really cool paintings and artifacts from Pompeii, Herculaneum, etc…

The drive back across the peninsula was better today without fog or rain


 After an hour of routing and rerouting… And driving in this craziness- we decided that no museum was worth it. Haha

So we did a virtual tour of the things we could have seen if we would have been able to park. Worst place to date I have ever tried to take a car. If you vacation in Naples (I mean…really, don’t for more than like 2 days… It’s gross) but if you ignore me and Naples is on the list- no car. Train and bus only. You will enjoy yourself a LOT more. 


We did find a spot to park (I don’t think it was really a spot…but when in Naples…) A couple kilometers away and we are at a pizzeria that looked clean and I thought would have a bathroom since Norah was pushing max cap.

Since pizza is from Naples…I had high expectations… And my Margherita pizza was amazing.



Norah was not happy about the wait for pizza

  So I gave my camera. All better.


After that, we left Naples having done nothing and vowing to never come back again. Haha I hate to stereotype an entire city because Naples is HUGE- look closely at this picture, even though it’s through a traffic fence along the highway. The city goes on forever…. I’m sure there’s a nice part… But we didn’t find it.    
So we drove back again along the winding roads to Praiano.


   We tried to go to the market, but it was closed and so was everything else Kegan went searching that pizza dough of Norah’s came in handy! Kegan added olive oil and some herbs he found on the terrace along with a pack of provolone and prosciutto we had for a snack. It was excellent!  

  Norah played elephant with the door wind stopper thingy…  We hung out for an easy evening full of tickles and airplane rides. 
   And enjoyed this for the last night 

Tomorrow we will see Ravello, Amalfi and Salerno with an overnight ferry leaving Salerno for Sicily. Not sure if we’ll have Internet to post, but we shall see πŸ™‚


Day 8-Capua Amphitheater, Pompeii and Praiano

This morning, I woke up to my lovely husband cooking an amazing breakfast of eggs and Panchetta in the kitchen. You really do have to chew your own arm off to find some protein in Italy…. So finding real breakfast items in the fridge from our awesome host was amazing.  

 Since we were overlooking the amphitheater, we packed up the car so my new Facebook friend Pasquale could clean the room we stayed in. (You know me…I can make friends with a brick wall if I want to. Haha) 

This stadium was very surprising… First, it’s over 100 years older than the Colliseum in Rome. And that’s the “new” one. (The one that stands today). Apparently, there was an even older amphitheater- the first one ever- that stood here from 300BC through around 100AD when Hadrian decided to revamp and build a new amphitheater. At its height, it could seat 60,000 people and had 4 levels.

The big claim to fame is that Spartacus fought in this amphitheater… But I quickly did some math…and he didn’t. Haha

He did fight in the old one that no longer exists… Spartacus was a tribe leader of the Maidi, a small tribe of “barbarians” in Thrace around 75BC. The Romans were having a heck of a time conquering the Thrace (Macedonia area) due to the barbarians inhabiting the area.  Really they were having trouble with the Balken Celts (think big Scottish naked warriors…I imagine the Balken version wasn’t too far off from this) and a large group of Thracians called the Scordisci. The Scordisci were known to cut off their enemy’s heads and drink human blood from their skulls. Seriously. I can see why they worried the Romans. Ha

When the Romans finally figured out a new area of attack, they were able to take a lot of prisoners from these tribes like Spartacus’s that weren’t hardened Roman fighting machines.

Thracian slaves were very desirable in the gladiator circuits and the best were forced into gladiator schools, which the Capua area was famous for.

Spartacus eventually led a gladiator and slave revolt against Rome with 20,000 of his closest friends eventually…even defeating 2 Roman legions… (There’s a movie with Kirk Douglas about all this…) It is said that they were planning to cross the Alps to escape to their homeland again, but after defeating the Roman legions, they went south for who knows what reason…and Spartacus ended up dead. Not a happy ending. This was not good for his followers. To make an example to would be rebels, they strung up over 6000 bodies along the Appian Way to Rome between Rome and Capua. 

So while it is awesome that this little town is where all of that history started, and it is the site of the original amphitheater, Spartacus didn’t fight here. But it’s as close as you can get.   

 There was a cheesy recreated scene with life size gladiators in the museum. The soundtrack was not only in Italian, it was skippy and weird and just shut off halfway through. We laughed so hard. 

The gladiators were dressed according to their origin so that the crowds could identify them. The Thracians wore bronze helmets and shin gaurds like these.


 Skip the Colloseum in Rome and head here… We had the place to ourselves, the tickets were €2.50 and we got to go completely underneath the theater which was awesome. We could see the underground tunnels, the stairwells and even the areas where they would have had an elevator to lift the animals up to the fighting floor. Also, just like the colloseum supposedly this theater could be flooded for “naval battles” with the gladiators. 


I may or may not have yelled, “Are you not entertained??” while standing on the edge of the totally empty amphitheater.

We left Santa Maria Capua Vetere headed towards Pompeii. 

I don’t think you could get to adulthood without hearing about Pompeii but just in case: Roman city, Mt Vesuvius, 79AD, kaboom, lava, mass destruction, no more Pompeii.

(*Correction: the geologist I’m travelling with has informed me that there was no lava. The issue was the ash cloud and gas- thus lava should have said pyroclastic flow. *eyeroll* haha)

We had another McKinney-ism today. When we first started walking around Pompeii, Kegan says, “ya know, when they were building their streets and houses with volcanic rock…you think they would have questioned how that got there in the first place.” Those McKinneys..always thinking.   


Artist’s rendition of what this would have looked like. Hard to imagine this from what remains today.


The House of the Tragic Poet  
Kegan says, “well there’s the problem. They built everything with Legos…  

My favorite: The Suburban Baths  


I bet this painting of the ocean and ships was amazing at the time…because it’s still pretty bright now.  

…and I’ll just leave these erotic wall paintings right here. Yup. That is exactly what you think it is.  
After Pompeii we were going to go to Herculaneum, but Norah fell asleep on us, so we turned around and headed towards the Amalfi Coast. Herculaneum was another city ruined by Vesuvius in Naples. 

Fun fact: Naples literally turned off all of their stop lights. All of them. So it’s like a giant traffic free for all. It’s Mad Max. We Live! We Die! We Live Again! Haha

I don’t need a lot of order in my life…but I need a little more than that.

Once we got out of Naples it was gorgeous all the way over to our hotel.

  We really couldn’t even see the really high stuff because of the fog….can’t wait to get out exploring tomorrow and see what it looks like.   
Our apartment for the next 2 nights was awesome. Except there is no heat. Which I’m sure 360 days a year that isn’t a problem but they were getting tropical storm strength winds and rain…very uncommon for the area. At least there were really thick down comforters and with that we were all cozy for the night.






  The view out of the master bedroom window.

She left these really cute yellow fuzzy flowers on the towels because she says they do that here to make the towels smell good. And they did! They smelled amazing. If anyone knows what kind of flowers these are, please let me know. 


There was even a tray with organic homemade jams for sale. I bought most of them.Haha

There is no parking in this entire area so people just park their scooters on their roofs. It’s hilarious!


Our view from our terrace

  A view down the coastline from our terrace

  Looking back up towards our place

Oh, you know…just a dog hanging out on a roof on the edge of the earth gazing out over the ocean.  


At the recommendation of our host, Ida, we went to dinner at Kasai, a British-Italian fusion restaurant? That’s the best way I can describe it. Haha
  Norah had “chippies” that were listed on the menu as French Fries…but no complaints, she was excited.

We shared a white bean soup with calamari. Fantastic.

 Deep fried anchovies 

I had my first true Italian Spritz. Aperol, white wine, club soda and an orange slice…it was drinkable but I still think I prefer Campari.

Kegan’s fish came to the table whole and the waitress cut off the head and tail and fixed it up for him. I was so excited about mine I ate it before I took a picture of it. Haha I had beef medallions with flakes of Parmesan cheese. It was great. 

Of course everyone loved Norah. The owner even turned on some techno type eighties dance music and they danced together. 

Then the waitress distracted her while we ate. They loved having her in there.   

Next thing I know she’s in the kitchen with 3 big Italian chef guys smiling at her and she’s making a pizza. Our waitress said she was “incredible” as I apologized profusely for the 2nd pizza dough Norah grabbed and tried to make as well. They wouldn’t let me pay for pizza though because they were the ones who wanted her back there… Italians. They did send us with the 2 pizza doughs though for lunch tomorrow! Haha Norah is absolutely beside herself waiting to make that pizza and eat it. lol

We hauled the two bottles from Montepulciano up the 3 flights of stairs and we opened the 2008 for the evening. We may drink the old one tomorrow….but I’m more of a wine hoarder than a wine drinker and I never want to drink them once I buy them. I just want to collect them. Haha so Kegan may have to pry it out of my hands. 

Tomorrow we have an easy day for exploring the Amalfi coast so I’m not sure how many adventures I’ll have to share- but I’ll try to come up with a few. πŸ™‚

Day 7-Montepulciano, Tivoli and Santa Maria Capua Vetere

We left Florence with a lot of ground to make up today since skipping the Chianti wineries. I did want to stop by at least one winery though…so we chose one in Montepulciano since that was a local region close to the interstate we would be travelling on.  The drive to the top of the hill was amazing. It even made the walk straight up the side bearable. Ha 

The winery we went to had a real wine cellar that the old lady unlocked for us to see. We were her first customers of the day since it was only 10:30am. 

She even gave me a proper tasting with a great cheese to compliment. I bought one of the bottles I tasted and as my “souvenir” of the trip- I splurged and bought a 14 year old bottle of Nobile de Montepulciano that had a half inch of dust on it. I’m excited.  

After leaving, we stopped for espresso at a cafe in a tiny town. We picked up an admirer.  
A guy in the coffee shop asked where I was from and if I was enjoying Italy. I said, “Of course, but I really need to learn more Italian” having just fought to tell the lady in the winery that I wanted to BUY the old bottle of wine, not just taste it… He said, “It’s ok, we Italians are pretty good with our English” True. And a very good thing! 
We were back on the road. Norah took a nap for the two hour drive as we backtracked to Rome on our way to Tivoli to see Hadrian’s Villa. The Emporer Hadrian had this giant place built around 120AD because he didn’t really like his palace in Rome. When it was finished, he moved out here, a good 20 miles from Rome and ruled from here for the rest of his life. After him, other emporers came here, too: Marcus Aurelius, Septimius Severus…it was in use until the fall of Rome in the 400s, it was used by armies in the 500s during the Byzantine wars… Even though it was already in ruins, some jerk Cardinal swiped a lot of the statues and marble for his own estate in the 1500s.


Domed ceiling of the grand baths. They even had the hole in the center of the dome for steam to escape, much like the Pantheon that was also constructed by Hadrian.
You can even see in the bottom of the photo some exposed entry into the underground tunnels. The slaves and workers were to move about beneath the ground as not to obstruct the serenity and view of the emporer. They are still excavating these underground tunnels.   

Remnants of some herringbone pattern floors maybe? Or maybe from the 1950s…I’m not really sure. Haha
The Fish pond outside of the Winter Palace.


The Canopus

After the Villa we are at the restaurant nearby. Probably the best and definitely the fanciest meal I’ve had so far in Italy

Homemade Spaghetti with Pumpkin 

Panchetta with Spinach and Apples
  Fettuccine with Mushrooms

  Pear and Gorgonzola Salad

We continued on to our hotel for the night in Santa Maria Capua Vetere- a small little town that just happens to have a little trick up its sleeve- it’s where the old Roman amphitheater is that Sparticus fought in! And this was our view from the front porch.  
There was a front garden with orange trees and the guy had picked some oranges for us already on the table.    

More on the Sparticus Amphitheater tomorrow. We also will be on our way to Pompeii and ending on the Amalfi Coast. 

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