Day 137: Naples > Capri
After finally getting our first taste of authentic Italy during those few days in Rome, we boarded a southbound train to Naples.
Northern Italy has beautiful sights—from the alps to the Tuscan countryside, the Mediterranean coastline to Venice—it’s not to be missed.
But Southern Italy? That’s where the soul is. I felt it from the day we arrived in Rome. The people carry themselves differently here—they’re livelier, more animated and use their hands practically as a second language. They’re loud and expressive, and we never knew if they were fighting or showing affection. It’s exactly what you’d expect if you’ve only seen these characters portrayed in the movies—something we didn’t really find much of in the north.
The further south you go, the more apparent this is. People watching has become an intriguing pastime and if it weren’t for the language barrier I might sneak my way to a random dinner table and pretend I’m part of the family. I’m a few generations removed from purebred Italians so perhaps that’s just the ancestry itch.
Speaking of dinner—I knew I’d be in trouble in Italy. The standard diet is cold cuts, cheese, bread and gelato. This is acceptable for every meal, mind you. Restaurants close during the day for siesta and don’t open until 8pm for dinner, so we’ve had to adapt to the locals eating schedule. On the plus side, olive oil and wine are about as cheap as bottled water.
There’s a dozen pizzerias on every block and while that’s been Lucas’ go-to, I’ve fortunately been able to find salads to stay somewhat healthy. Even still, I can’t say no to wine or the free bread at every table, and the clothes are certainly fitting tighter these days. I don’t know how people who live here manage to stay so in shape.
Back to the road trip.
We locked down a great deal on an Airbnb next to the train station in Naples (PS, don’t stay in that neighborhood if you value your safety) and used our visit as a hub to get to Capri.
The island of Capri sits just off the coast in the Bay of Naples, and is a quick hour ferry from the port. You can also stay on the island but the cost was well above our backpacker’s budget.
Instead, we paid €16 each for a 2 hour boat tour around the island. The weather was gorgeous and we were able to explore some of the grottos the island is known for, however the famous blue grotto was closed due to the choppy sea and high tide.
Back on land, we hiked through the neighborhoods to the top of the ridge for a pretty spectacular viewpoint.
After our fill of fruit slushies and beach naps, our day was over too fast. This island is best seen via private boat—we’ll have to come back at a later date once we can make that happen.
Day 138: Pompeii > Salerno
The following day we checked out of Naples and stopped by Pompeii for the afternoon. It took an hour of waiting during midday heat, but oh so worth every minute.
Pompeii was a settlement originating in the 6th Century BC, thriving until nearby Mount Vesuvius violently erupted in 79 AD, burying and essentially preserving the town under 20 feet of volcanic ash.
Plaster corpses of the victims, frozen in time from the moment of impact, still remain and are on display. Hundreds of statues, tools and murals are still intact as well. But what really sparked my interest? Look at this tile work!
Apparently mosaic tile was trending back in the early first century BC, and the floors of many homes were covered in unique and intricate designs. I took photos of every one which I fully intend to copy/recreate in future houses. Those Pompeiiens were so ahead of the game.
Even the sidewalks of the main city outside of the UNESCO site caught on and stole the look.
One of my favorite parts of traveling is soaking up new ideas and styles from all corners of the world. I’m feeling so inspired and can’t wait to bring that renewed sense of creativity into my work. As much as we are enjoying this trip, we’re equally as excited (if not more) to start our big real estate plans next year.
Anyway, Pompeii was special and unlike any ruins site we’d seen before—highly recommended if you are in the Naples area.
Day 139: Amalfi Coast
Next it was time to see what the big fuss over the Amalfi Coast was about.
We decided to stay in Salerno which is just south of the famous coastline (again, to save money) and took another hour ferry to our first stop of Positano.
Positano is potentially the most photogenic town in the area and a crowd favorite. We didn’t want to spend the cash for a boat tour, so instead we walked around a bit and grabbed lunch before catching a bus a few stops down to Praiano.
The Amalfi coast doesn’t have much to choose from in the way of beaches thanks to its rocky and cliff laden coastline, but I read about one that was supposed to be the best in the area in the quieter village of Praiano.
With few signs to guide us, we descended some 450 steps down to the water to discover a cove of brightly colored umbrellas and tanned, buff bodies sunbathing and sipping cocktails to house music. It felt like we’d stumbled upon a hidden gem, but of course the umbrellas and wait staff at the exclusive club were by reservation only, so we instead claimed a rock at the end of the beach for a swim.
The water was bright teal and refreshing on a hot day, and afterwards we hiked back up until reaching a bar with a view of Positano, ordered fancy Italian cocktails and daydreamed about our future. Life is a lot more fun when you have to start at the bottom and work your way up, earning it with each step—especially after getting a taste of what’s on the other side. Next time we visit, we’ll be the ones under those umbrellas.
Day 140: Castelmezzano > Matera
After a quick dose of how the other half live, it was time to head inland and see what the ‘boot’ of Italy had to offer. We had a lot of ground to cover on this leg, so our first stop was 100km away—a village by the name of Castelmezzano.
We’d scouted out this place after it came up in a Google search and immediately added it to our itinerary. Although funny story—when we first pinned it on our map, we accidentally spelled it Castelmozzano—one letter off—which happened to be another town—a small village in the north. Imagine our confusion when we spent hours driving out to the middle of nowhere, circling an empty neighborhood with no wifi or anyone to tell us what was going on.
We had to redeem ourselves and find the real Castelmezzano, and it did not disappoint.
After a confusing parking situation that became lost in translation, we ended up on a cramped bus with a big Italian family and were accepted into their circle, communicating mostly through hand gestures. Our friendship was sweet but short lived after we walked and chatted through the charming streets of Castelmezzano.
A city named Matera was waiting for us next, and after showing up in that afternoon, we immediately knew we couldn’t leave.
Some places look better in the photos and some just take your breath away in person—Matera is the latter.
With cave dwellings dating back to the Paleolithic period, it’s said to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the world after Petra, Jordan.
It’s a fascinating place to wander and take in the scenery—especially at sunset. We grabbed snacks and a bottle of wine, climbed to the top of a lookout and spent the evening watching the white city glow.
Reluctant to leave what has now become one of my favorite stops in Italy, we took a few last morning photos and continued east towards Alberobello.
Day 141: Alberobello
Alberobello is another town that caught our eye from a Google search, with an architecture style vastly different than any other traditional Italian town.
Tiny white conical shaped buildings, known as trulli, line the streets like something out of a a children’s storybook.
While they appear all throughout the area, Alberobello has the highest concentration of them and many have been turned into tourist shops/restaurants, though several are still inhabited by locals. As someone who loves interesting home design, of course I was smitten with these adorable buildings and wanted to walk by and peek inside every one.
We still had a ton of ground to cover in our remaining few days, so just a few hours was all we could spend here. We stayed the night somewhere in the heel of Italy with plans to end up in the toe the following day.
Day 142: Tropea
By Friday, I was yearning for the beach again. Tropea looked like an interesting spot, situated at the top of a cliff over the Tyrrhenian Sea.
With just enough daylight left for a swim, we quickly explored the small city’s center, grabbing a gelato on the way down to the beach.
The water was clear, calm and so refreshing that we didn’t mind the hundreds of other vacationers around us. By the way, remember how perplexed we were about all of the abandoned cities in northern/central Italy? Well, breaking news: we’ve found all of the people—they’re all at the beaches of Southern Italy. I’ve never seen so many bodies fighting for every last inch of sand. Every day of the week, every time of day. And even with months of perfecting our golden brown skin, we’re still the whitest people on the beach.
Our beach afternoon at Tropea was just the rejuvenating pause I’d needed after weeks of fast paced travel and hours of driving, but it was about to get a whole lot worse. Welcome to Sicily…
Day 143: Taormina, Sicily
I’d been warned about Rome and their crazy drivers, but Sicily is on another level. The whole island seems to be under some sort of construction/road block disarray, and if you aren’t going double the speed limit you can expect to be run off the road. It’s complete chaos, and those moments behind the wheel were certainly my darkest in Italy.
We’d planned to circle Sicily in the three days we had left, but after our AirBnb reservation was canceled at the last minute and we couldn’t get wifi to book another, we just started driving south, and ended up in the town of Taormina.
Relieved to be free from the car and still in one piece, we stopped at the first bar in town and I chugged an Aperol Spritz or two to calm my nerves. With no luck finding any reasonably priced accommodations online, we walked to the hotel next door and (after much debating) scooped up their last €160 room for the night. It was certainly more than we’d normally spend, but in the end we decided it wasn’t worth the stress of continuing the drive—plus we had already fallen in love with Taormina and the promise of an Opera show in the Greek theater that night. Or, perhaps we can blame it on the Aperol.
Sometimes splurging pays off, and that night ended up being one of our most memorable in all of Italy. To offset the hotel costs we skipped dinner and instead enjoyed a bottle of wine and fruit from our balcony overlooking the sea.
The opera show was another small splurge, but it was our very first and what better setting than in a Sicilian summer night, under the stars an Ancient Greek theater? Once in a lifetime.
Day 144-145: Agrigento > Scala dei Turchi
With only one full day left in Italy, we had our sights set on one last beach on the southwestern shore. A few hours later, we found ourselves in Agrigento.
It was a Sunday with no one to be found in the streets (because they’re all at the beach, of course) so we grabbed lunch and wandered about the streets, collecting images for my design inspiration vault.
After snapping photos and staring longingly at every doorway trying to figure out how I could DIY them, our daylight was fading so we headed straight for the beach.
Scala Dei Turchi is one of those places that makes you do a double take and wonder why you’ve never seen or heard of it before.
Made from white limestone, the stretch of smooth cliffside along the ocean is what you’d imagine it to be like in the arctic after extreme global warming. From afar, the mass of dark figures walking along the ridge looks like a scene from March of the Penguins.
This beach is certainly no secret to the Italians, who gather in droves at all hours of the day and night (we came back at 9am for video footage and it was already packed). Not somewhere you’d go for peace and quiet, but definitely one of the most unique sights in Italy.
All of Sicily’s landscape is interesting, we found. At least during this time of year it’s a combination of all of Italy’s landscapes—dry fields, vineyards, rocky cliffs and the sea—all on the same plot of land. Ancient ruins just outside of modern cities. Gorgeous beaches and warmhearted people. The best of Italy, minus the crazy drivers and underdeveloped roadways. The perfect way to end our trip.
During our 30 days in this country, we’ve covered thousands of miles, discovered dozens of cities and captured hundreds of memories and stories that will stay with us forever. While road tripping has its challenges, it was worth every sacrifice and penny invested, and then some.
One day we’ll return to Italy, pull up an old photo from this trip and remember what it was like back then. We’ll relive these details and tell our children how much has changed. Though I hope when that day comes, it’s still as we remember it now. Full of life, history, beauty and soul. Tonight I board a plane to leave Italy, and with it a piece of my heart.
Video to come…