Jim & Tom's Trip to Italy - June 2017  

(click on pictures to enlarge them)

My younger brother Tom and I booked a 12-day escorted tour to Italy through the Gate 1 Travel company.  The trip was called "12 Day Enchanting Italy with Amalfi", which included airfare, 2 nights in Venice,  2 nights in Florence, 3 nights in Rome and 3 nights in Sorrento.
I had used Gate 1 before, and really liked their organization and planning.    Here's a summary map of our trip:

Gate 1 Travel Map

Saturday, June 3
Tom had flown in Friday, and we prepared for our trip.  After printing our boarding passes,  Tom & I drove into town to pick up some subs for dinner, and ran headlong at 55 mph into a deer that jumped out.  All the air-bags deployed, and the deer totaled my 2014 Toyota Prius.   

Night before our flight

We were fine, no injuries whatsoever.  I recommend a Prius for safety!  Brother Dave happened to be at my house, so he came and got us.  I spent most of that night uploading police reports & photos to my car insurance company.  We decided to drive Dave’s Hyundai Elantra to the airport the next day.  Not a great way to start a vacation, but a good way to keep my focus on something else.

Sunday, June 4

Dave drove us to NYC JFK airport – terrible traffic.  Backed up both ways going into and out of the airport.  We stopped for lunch at a little diner called The New Corral in Paterson, NJ.  We got to JFK with plenty of time.  There were no lines at the Aer Lingus counter, and TSA went very quickly.  But Dave took 7 hours to drive home. (Normally a 4-hour drive).

Aer Lingus

We flew Aer Lingus to Dublin, Ireland.  No lines at the airport for checked baggage or TSA. On the flight, watched “Beauty & the Beast”, and played games like Battleship (2-player), and Texas Hold-em Poker.  Slept a little. Dinner on the plane was pasta or beef. I used the ATM in Dublin to take out Euros, Tom's wouldn’t work. We flew to Venice, and Tom did get the ATM in Italy’s airport to work.

Monday, June 5

Arrived at the Venice airport, and Gate 1 people greeted us and led us to our Water Taxi to our hotel.  Wild boat ride, full speed going both ways – like a roller coaster ride.  Once in Venice, it slowed down, and we could stand up and enjoy the beautiful canals and buildings. 

Venice airport Taxi dock

Water Taxi ride

Water taxi into Venice

Our Hotel is right on the island, the Grand Hotel Principe.  The room was very small, with two single beds and a tiny bathroom with cramped shower.  But still pretty nice.

Hotel Principe

Hotel dock

We had free time, and wanted to get a quick bite to eat, and made the mistake of stopping in a little café run by an Indian man, and had a slice each of the worst pizza we’ve ever had in our lives.  It was like a dried piece of cardboard, with red stuff painted on top. 

Worst pizza ever

We made a point of either doing better research in the future, or eating at crowded places where we can see the food!  We walked and walked the streets, finding the Rialto bridge.

Rialto Bridge (see Jim?)

View from Rialto Bridge

Near the bridge on the Ca’Sagredo Hotel was an art piece  that looked like giant white hands on a building.  It’s called “Support”;  a pair of 5,000-pound white hands, finished with creases, fingernails, and other fine details.


It was a beautiful sunny day.  We met the Tour Guide (Francesca) and the tour group for dinner at our Hotel.  We sat with a grandmother (Terry) and her two granddaughters (Ellie & Maggie) - very nice people.  The tour group had about 42 people in total.  After a nice dinner, Tom and I walked the streets and found a Gelato shop. 

On the streets of Venice

Wandering through Venice

Tuesday, June 6

Itinerrary for Venice

Had a 6:30 am wakeup call, and had a buffet breakfast at the Hotel.  All our breakfasts on this trip were provided by the Hotels we stayed in.  The buffets had a huge variety of everything from eggs, bacon, croissants, fruits, granola, yogurt, pastries, and even desserts.  Tom & I discovered a bowl of granola and fruit with vanilla yogurt over top was a nice dish.  We departed the main island to travel to Murano, a small island just off of Venice that specializes in making glass.  We got a tour of the Vetreria Artistica Ferro E Lazzarin, which began with a glass-blowing demonstration in which an expert made a vase, and then a horse.  Very impressive.  Then they herded us into a showroom, where they showed us all items for sale.  Then they let us wander around the showrooms, while salesmen lurked behind each person and would jump in immediately when someone would make a comment, to try and close a sale.

Murano Glass Factory

Glass blowing demonstration

Murano glassware

 Tom & I didn’t buy anything, but on the boat ride back to Venice, our guide Francesca gave us each a small glass piece that looks like candy as a gift. We returned to the St. Mark district, where we met with our city guide Manuela, who took us around and we could listen on our wireless headphones.  First we went through the Doge’s Palace, the main political building in Venice.  Since Venice was once the capital of Italy, the decorations here were fantastic and overwhelming.  Each room had huge paintings with ornate frames, with lots of plaster and gold decorated ceilings. 

Doge's Palace

Palace Courtyard

Inside the Palace

Manuela told us of the power of the church, and how people could bribe the Doge if they had money.  She showed us where the court was held, and where prisoners would walk over the "Bridge of Sighs”, take their last peek at freedom out the windows, on their way to the prison cells, which were only about 12 by 12 feet and would hold about 6 prisoners. 

View from inside Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs

There were large crowds today, but the benefit of being on a Gate 1 Travel group was that we got to cut the lines to all the major attractions.  We then got a tour of the fabulous Saint Mark's Basilica, which was decorated with gold leaf mosaics.  It is at the eastern end of the Piazza San Marco, adjacent and connected to the Doge's Palace.  The upper levels of the interior are completely covered with bright mosaics covering a huge area. The great majority use the traditional background of gold glass tesserae, creating the shimmering overall effect.  One on the outside depicts the thieves stealing the body of St. Mark from the Egyptian city of Alexandria, where pork and cabbage leaves filled the cart hiding the body; meat that the Muslim guards refused to touch since they considered it unclean. 

St. Mark's Basilica & The Campanile

Mosaic of theives stealing St. Mark's body

The weather had predicted thunderstorms for the afternoon, so Francesca arranged for our gondola boat ride early.  Most everyone on the tour group came along, and they put about 3-6 people in each gondola.  They also had a singer and guitarist in an adjacent boat, so we could listen to traditional Italian music as we rode through the canals.  It was a very pleasant trip, that lasted about 45 minutes. 

Gondola Ride - Tom & Jim

Gondola ride

Gondola ride

Video of singer & guitarist

Then we were on our own for lunch, and Tom & I took the elevator up the tower San Marco Campanile, where we got 360 degree views of the entire island of Venice.  It was an amazing view.  You couldn't see a single street or canal from the tower, since they are so tightly packed together. 

View from Campanile

View from Campanile

View from Camanile

We had asked Francesca about what might be a traditional local dish, and she told us about spaghetti with black squid ink.  We got a recommendation, and made our way to a little restaurant near the Piazza San Marco.  Tom had gnocchi in a tomato sauce, and I tried the squid ink pasta.  It looked really black, and kind of disgusting, but it tasted like garlic butter!  It was delicious.  Eating it was a little messy, because it would make your teeth look black, and drips on your lips and chin would make you look like a zombie.
But it was a fun and delicious meal. 

Black Squid Ink Spaghetti
gnocchi in tomato sauce


Jim with black squid ink spaghetti

We were told that we could get admission to the Museo Correr, a nearby museum of where the royalty lived while in Venice, and we toured that museum.  It was very fancy, like the Palace of Versailles.  We wandered through many rooms, and then it turned into an art museum, with sculptures. paintings, tapestries, and more. 

Museo Correr

Tom in the Museo Correr

We got some Gelato for dessert.  We then wandered the streets, and found the Fenice Opera House, which Tom had read about.  Teatro La Fenice, "The Phoenix" is one of the most famous and renowned landmarks in the history of Italian theatre”, and in the history of opera as a whole. Especially in the 19th century, La Fenice became the site of many famous operatic premieres at which the works of several of the four major bel canto era composers—Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi were performed.  We got lost a bunch of times, but eventually found our way back to our Hotel, and ate dinner at a place Rick Steves recommended called Vesuvio.  We had a great grilled fish & shellfish platter for two, that was delicious.  Our waiter was from Arizona, but was born and lived most of his life in Italy.  

Vesuvio Restaurant (see Tom?)

Shellfish dinner

We found a Gelato place where Tom had cherry/banana and Jim had cherry/chocolate chip.

Wednesday, June 7
Pisa and Florence!

6:00 am wakeup call – departed the hotel at 7:45 am to drive west from the east coast through the Tuscany region towards Pisa.  On the way, we stopped at a farmhouse that had wine grapes and olive trees.  We got a short tour of the winery & olives, and then sat down for a big lunch with 6 different bottles of wine to taste.  We also got a taste of a dessert wine, and also Grappa.     Grappa is an alcoholic beverage, a fragrant, grape-based pomace brandy of Italian origin that contains 35 to 60 percent alcohol by volume (70 to 120 US proof).    We were warned that it tasted like gasoline, so I only took a tiny sip. Wow. Strong.  Some in the group took their whole shot glass-worth, and it was amusing to see the expressions on their faces!  The meal was delicious, with pasta, meats, salads, and more.  

Winery / Olives Farm

Olive Trees

Winery lunch

We arrived in Pisa, a bustling town full of street vendors trying to sell you anything and everything.  We took a small tram ride to the main attraction, the tower and the square, which is dominated by four great religious edifices: the Pisa Cathedral, the Pisa Baptistry, the Campanile, and the Camposanto Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery). Partly paved and partly grassed, the Piazza dei Miracoli is also the site of the Ospedale Nuovo di Santo Spirito (New Hospital of the Holy Spirit), which houses the Sinopias Museum and the Cathedral Museum. We only had time to walk around the grounds, which were beautifully kept.  It was a bright sunny day.  Dozens of tourists would stand near the leaning tower, and hold up their hands while their friends took photographs of them so it would look like they were holding up the tower.  It was funny to see such a major attraction that was essentially a big mistake that everyone laughs at.   The tower sure does lean, and people could even pay to go up to the top of it and walk around its balcony.  The tower's tilt began during construction, caused by an inadequate foundation on ground too soft on one side to properly support the structure's weight. The tilt increased in the decades before the structure was completed and gradually increased until the structure was stabilized (and the tilt partially corrected) by efforts in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. 

Leaning Tower of Pisa

People lining up for photos


Then it was back to the bus and drive on to Florence.  We noticed a lot of really long tunnels driving across Italy.  The roads were in excellent condition, and we would stop occasionally at Rest Stops for bathroom and refreshment breaks. 

Our Gate 1 Tour Bus

On the Bus

View from the Bus driving West

We arrived at our Hotel, the Starhotel Michelangelo.  It was right near the Arno river, and a walk of about 20 minutes to downtown Florence.  We had the rest of the late afternoon and evening free, so Tom & I walked into town.  On the way in, we noticed they were having an antiique car show/rally, with vintage Aston-Martins, Ferraris, Shelby Cobras, Alfa Romeos, and more.  Beautiful cars. 

Sports Car Show in Florence

Sports Car Show in Florence

My Scottish friend Darragh had recommended a restaurant called the 4 Lions, and we found it, but could not get in due to no reservations.  We crossed back over the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge,  first built in 996. 
Ponte Vecchio bridge

Tom on the Ponte Vecchio bridge

View from Ponte Vecchio bridge

We walked through the Piazza della Repubblica, which had a merry-go-round lit up and running.  We saw the The Baptistery of St. John, and the huge Florence Cathedral at the Piazza del Duomo.  We wandered around looking for a friend of Tom’s recommendation, “Dante’s”, but we couldn’t find it.  We found a nice restaurant called Ristorante Cantastorie right on the huge Piazza della Signoria, right near the Uffizi Museum.  We were told about a specialty in Florence, and ordered the famous classic Tuscan Ribollita soup.  It was delicious, with beans, vegetables, tomatoes, etc.  Tom had spaghetti with clams, and I had pasta Bolognese (meat sauce), both of which were fantastic.  During our dinner, we heard a roar of a crowd approaching, and were surprised to see a large group of about 50 joggers, with the leader carrying a banner that read “Drink and Run!”.  The crowds cheered them on, and they looked like they were really enjoying themselves. 

Tuscan Ribollita soup

"Drink & Run!" runners

Spaghetti Bolognese & with Clams

Wandering around the streets of Florence at night was magical.  We saw a female opera singer accompanied by an accordianist/guitarist - and really they were just entertaining people around the Ufizzi museum. The streets are all very-well lit up, and felt very safe to walk around.  

Florence streets at night

We got some Gelato and headed back to our Hotel.

Florence Gelato

Thursday, June 8

We had a nice huge buffet breakfast, and then took the bus to the Accademia Gallery, where we met our city guide Riccardo. Francesca really rolled the rrrr’s in his name, so it sounded more like Rrrriccarrrrrrrrdo!  He is an Art History Professor, and was really passionate and knowledgeable about art in Florence.  He first gave us a talk on Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.  He really highlighted the differences between the two.  Michelangelo; being small, ugly, had a broken nose, a hunchback, and worked alone, and didn’t get along with anyone.  Da Vinci, who was popular, social, the opposite of Michelangelo.  In the gallery he first introduced us to Michelangelo’s four “Prisoners”; unfinished works that really showed the process that Michelangelo used to carve stone.  Then we walked down to see the statue of “David”, the 17-foot tall remarkable masterpiece of Michelangelo.  It’s hard to describe how perfect and beautiful the statue is.  Riccardo pointed out his theory of why he thought the moment captured by Michelangelo was the moment before he slew Goliath, instead of after. He noted the tension in the muscles, the rock still in hand, and the gaze of determination on David’s face.  It was a wonderful talk by Riccardo. 

Riccardo descibing Michelangelo

One of the "Prisoners"

Michelangelo's "David"

The weather was perfect, upper 70’s and sunny.  We then walked by foot to the main religious square of Florence, with the Duomo, the third longest church in the world, at the center.  We did not go inside, but stopped at the Baptistery, to see the south “golden doors of paradise", which were originally installed on the east side, facing the Duomo, and were transferred to their present location in 1452. The bronze-casting and gilding was done by the Venetian Leonardo d'Avanzo, widely recognized as one of the best bronze smiths in Europe. This took six years, the doors being completed in 1336.  The detail in the bronze of the 28 various biblical scenes was fantastic.  Nearby was Giotto’s Bell Tower, an incredible 278-foot tall building that was 47-feet square.  We all then walked to the Signoria square, an open-air museum. 


Baptistery Doors

The Duomo

The Bell Tower

Francesca gave us some free bread samples, and we had Gelato.  That concluded our tour, and we were on our own for a while until the afternoon.  Tom & I went with Francesca and a few others for a “leather shoppe” demo, where a salesman (named Steve) gave us a sampling of some of the leather clothing and bags they make here in Florence.  He had a couple of our tour group model some jackets.  Everything here was quite expensive.  One of our tourists bought two jackets that must have cost over $300 apiece. 

Leather Shop

Leather Shop

After the demo, Tom & I walked over and went inside the Santa Croce, the principal Franciscan church in Florence, Italy, and a minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church. It is situated on the Piazza di Santa Croce, about 800 meters south-east of the Duomo. It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante, Marconi, Machiavelli, the poet Foscolo, the philosopher Gentile and the composer Rossini, thus it is known also as the Temple of the Italian Glories.  Inside was a working church, but you’d walk over the tombs of buried people, and see giant altars or memorials for famous Italians.  It was an impressive church, and even had a museum section we walked through that had lots of art pieces.  We even heard a choir singing inside one of the little chapels; it sounded beautiful. 

Santa Croce

Michelangelo's Tomb

Santa Croce altar

Santa Croce interior

It was time for our optional tour of the Uffizi Gallery, so we headed back to meet up with Riccardo again.  On the way there we saw a “human statue” who dressed all in white like marble, and would take pictures with tourists.  The Uffizi Gallery is one of the largest and best known in the world, and holds a collection of priceless works, particularly from the period of the Italian Renaissance.  Riccardo was really in his element here, and took us on a tour of over 100 years of Italian paintings.  It was very informative and enlightening.  We saw some of the most famous paintings, like “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli,, da Vinci’s “Annunciation”,   Titian’s "Venus of Urbino”, and Michelangelo’s only painting (other than the Sistine Chapel) "Doni Tondo”, as well as many others.  What a treat! 

Human "statue" outside the Uffizi Gallery

Hallway of Uffizi Gallery

"The Birth of Venus"by Botticelli

"Annunciation" by da Vinci

"Venus of Urbino" by Titian

Michelangelo's only painting
(other than the Sistine Chapel)

After the museum tour, we stopped in the Hard Rock Café for Tom to pick up a T-shirt.  For dinner we all got on the bus and drove out to a typical Tuscan Restaurant in the hills called I Tre Pini.  We started with blue champagne, and had a live guitarist.  Then we had our Tuscan Feast, starting with a huge table with lots of appetizers.  The guitarist also had a female singer that serenaded us with classics like "Que sera, sera / Whatever will be, will be” and "Arrivederci Roma" .  We even had a 2nd guitarist with a man singer, and they would all interact with the crowd, get them dancing, and embarrass as many people as possible.  It was lots of fun.  The food was fantastic, with pastas, chicken and salads.  The guitarists finished the evening off with a classic rock medley, that included some AC/DC songs!  They looked like they had a lot of fun.

View of Florence on our drive

I Tre Pini Restaurant

Appetizer table at I Tre Pini

Italian singer dancing with Terry

Female singer with Guitarist

Guitar Duo:  Rock n' Roll Medley

 We left for the bus, and as I got on, I realized I had left my hat and sunglasses under my chair, so I asked Tom to run back and get them.  As he got off the bus, Francesca was there with both in her hands, and remind Tom of the penalty for being “last on the bus” was to have to sing a song on the microphone on the bus for everyone.  Tom said, “It’s Jim’s fault”, so Francesca pulled me up to the front of the bus and made me sing two songs!  I sang “What a Wonderful World”, and “Can’t Help Falling in Love”.  People were impressed, and it was easy for me since that’s what I’ve been doing for over 35 years.  What a fantastic, artful day!

Friday, June 9
Assisi and Rome!

After breakfast we took the bus through the Umbria region, on the way to Assisi, a Medieval village and the birthplace of St. Francis, whom the latest Pope has named himself after.  The village and St. Francis Basilica were up on top of a large hill, overlooking a valley.  It was very picturesque, and the weather was sunny again today. 

St. Francis at Assisi

Giuseppe inside Sat. Francis

St. Francis Basilica

We met our city guide, Giuseppe, who took us inside the Basilica.  It was an unusual building, like a church upon a church upon a crypt.  St. Francis had an enlightenment that led him to live as a beggar.  His focus was mostly on the poor.  During WWII, over 300 Jews were hidden in between the floors of the St. Francis Basilica to hide from the Nazis.    The beautiful frescos inside the church have never been repainted, but still look colorful and gorgeous.  Silence was the rule here, as in most churches in Italy, but our guide was able to talk quietly as we listened on our headphones.  In the basement were the bones of St. Francis himself, and many people knelt to pray there.  After our tour we had time to walk around the village and have lunch. We found a tiny café that had pizza and Gelato. 

Jim w/lunch in Assisi

Assisi Gelato

We stopped inside a museum that showed Franciscan missionaries who travelled to the Amazonas to deliver Christianity,  especially Peru and Colombia.  We saw they were setting up for a big concert that evening.  We then took about a 3.5 hour bus ride to Rome, and our Hotel.  Tom couldn’t stay awake listening to Francesca’s soothing voice. 

Video of listening to Francesca's soothing voice on the Tour bus

Our Hotel, the Grand Hotel Palatino, was only about a block away from the Coliseum.  We checked into the Hotel, and Francesca took us for a little walk down the street to the Forum, an area of Roman ruins.  Then we had dinner at the Hotel, with “Gelato” that looked suspiciously like American ice cream.  Then Tom and I walked over to the Coliseum, where the moon had come out, and the night lights lit up the Coliseum.  It was a gorgeous site to behold.  The Coliseum is massive, bigger than the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.  We ran into some fellow Gate 1 people, and helped take each other’s pictures. 

Hotel dinner - fish

Streets of Rome

The Coliseum at night

Moonlight at the Coliseum

Tom & Jim at the Coliseum

Back to the Hotel for a good night’s sleep.

Saturday, June 10
The Vatican! Rome! 

After breakfast we took the bus over to the Vatican City.  There were huge lines to get in.  We met our tour guide Paulo and he told us to look at the longest line that snaked around the high Vatican walls, which looked like castle walls, and said “Those ….. are the 'condemned!’ “ 

Vatican entrance

The "condemned"

We felt blessed because we were a group that cut ahead being in our tour, and even with that it was about a 20 minute wait in the “group” line.  Our guide gave us a little talk about the Vatican before we went inside, and prepared us for what we were about to see.  Paulo said some of the art here is over 2,000 years old.   He told us that all of the Popes in the past had one hobby in common: To collect as much art as possible, and bring it to the Vatican.  He said there was approx. 5 miles of artwork to see, although we’d only get to see a fraction of it.  We first went through some really long hallways.  Each would have something special.  For example, the first hallway was hundreds of busts and statues.  Each had a small number below it, and was catalogued.  One room had all stages of animals.  One outdoor square had lots of different caskets and tombs, even some bathtubs.  All the ceilings had incredible paintings, frescos, and carved framing.  It was overwhelming.  There were beautiful mosaic tile floors.  We went on and on through room after room after room.  One room had giant fabric tapestries, that must have been 50 feet long by 25 feet high.   There was a Gallery of Maps: topographical maps of the whole of Italy, painted on the walls; the world's largest pictorial geographical study.  The ceiling in this room was so ornate that you could easily spend an hour just looking at one small portion of it.  We were finally led into the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo’s masterpiece ceiling is painted.  The colors were still vibrant and gorgeous.  The paintings also had a real 3-dimensional aspect to them that was impressive.  It’s hard to believe he did all this work alone and laying on his hunchback.  The guards in this room kept shusshing the crowd with “Silencio!”.  We then made our way out to the Vatican Square, where we could see the balcony that the Pope addresses the masses.  It was a huge square, with lots of plastic chairs out for people to sit in. 

Vatican Hall of Statues

Vatican Map Room

Vatican mosaic floor w/statues

Sistine Chapel "Final Judgement"

Sistine Chapel ceiling

We then went into St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world.  To the right, we got a good look at Michelangelo’s “The Pity”,  a marble statue of the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion.  St. Peter’s has many of the Popes buried here.  One was even in a glass case mummified.  This is the burial site of Saint Peter, one of Christ's Apostles and also the first Pope. Saint Peter's tomb is supposedly directly below the high altar of the Basilica.  The paintings throughout the church are actually tile mosaics, that are so detailed that you can only tell that they are mosaics by looking at then at an angle to see the small pieces.  Once outside, we witnessed the “changing of the Guard”, in which one uniformed guard is replaced by another, under the supervision of a third.  The uniforms were striking and colorful. 

St. Peter's Basilica

Michelagelo's "The Pity"

Altar where St. Peter is buried

Vatican Guards

Then it was back on the bus, and back to downtown Rome, where we took a guided tour of the piazzas and fountains of the city.  Here's a map of our highlights of Rome including our Hotel location.

Rome highlights map

First we stopped for lunch, and Tom and I had a great Pizza "Margherita", a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, to represent the national colors of Italy as on the Italian flag.  We sat on the Piazza Navona, that featured the Fountain of the Four Rivers;  a fountain designed in 1651 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  The base of the fountain is a basin from the centre of which travertine rocks rise to support four river gods and above them, an ancient Egyptian obelisk surmounted with the Pamphili family emblem of a dove with an olive twig. Collectively, they represent four major rivers of the four continents through which papal authority had spread: the Nile representing Africa, the Danube representing Europe, the Ganges representing Asia, and the Río de la Plata representing the Americas.    It was sunny and hot out, and the water looked refreshing! 

Tom w/
Margherita pizza

Fountain of the Four Rivers

Tom in the Piazza Navona

Then we walked over to the Pantheon, one of the best-preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings, in large part because it has been in continuous use throughout its history, and since the 7th century.  It has a big round hole in the ceiling, and when it rains they had drainage stones inside.  It has a huge concrete dome, and had paintings and sculptures inside.  Among those buried there are the painters Raphael and Annibale Carracci, the composer Arcangelo Corelli, and the architect Baldassare Peruzzi. 

The Pantheon

Ceiling of the Pantheon

Inside the Pantheon

Outside we walked past a tall Egyptian Solare Obelisk, in front of the Palazzo Montecitorio, and then to the Piazza Colonna, which had the Column of Marcus Aurelius at the center of the square; an ornate stone tower with incredible detail.  Then we made our way past some high-end shopping stores like Gucci, to The Spanish Steps, a set of steps, climbing a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church at the top.  Then we walked to the Trevi fountain, one of the popular sites of Rome.  It is a gorgeous fountain, and had huge crowds lining the streets to see it.  The fountain has appeared in several notable films, including Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" and the eponymous "Three Coins in the Fountain". Francesca had given us each a coupon for free Gelato, so Tom & I got some at a nearby shop.  We saw a lot of people throwing 3 coins into the fountain, and heard that in 2016, an estimated US $1.5 million was thrown into the fountain. 

Column of Marcus Aurelius

The Spanish Steps

Crowd to see Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

We then walked up a hill to the President’s Palace.  We finally made it back to our Hotel to chill out.  We had the rest of the day free, so Tom & I headed out past the Coliseum to a restaurant we had found in one of our Travel books.  As we passed the Coliseum, we ran right into the Gay Pride Parade, with thousands of people marching along the Coliseum.  There was lots of music and merriment.  Tom and I marched along for a bit to get to the other side and head towards our restaurant.  We got there early (many restaurants don’t open until 7pm), so we stopped in “Camden Town”, an Irish Pub right across the street for some olives and drinks.  Then we had dinner at "Il Bocconcino”.  Tom had pasta with “strong cheese”, and Jim had tortellini with beef and pear.  Both were fantastic. 

President's Palace

Gay Pride parade at the Coliseum

Camden Town Irish Pub

Tortellini with beef and pear

We wandered back towards our hotel, taking in all the sites, walked around the Forum area again, and got lost downtown. 

The Forum

The Forum w/ Umbrella Trees

Rome at night (pretty!)

We found a Gelato place on a hillside, and Tom had Mango/Strawberry, and Jim had Cherry/Chocolate Chip.  Got back to the Hotel, and had no wake-up call for the next morning!

Sunday, June 11

We walked from our Hotel over to the Coliseum as a group, and got right in past the “condemned” waiting in line.  We entered where the gladiators would enter the arena.  What an impressive sight!  Paulo told us about the history of the Coliseum, and how “entertainment” back then was watching people kill each other, and animals getting killed.  He said in a 4-month period, 9,000 animals were killed in the Coliseum.  A pretty gruesome form of “fun”.  Paulo said admission was free, and food was served to keep the people happy.    The seating capacity was about 55,000 people, and there were different seats depending on what class you were in.  The rich got marble seats, and the cheapest seats up top were wood.  Most of the floor of the arena was gone, and you could see down underground where they kept the animals and some of the victims to be slaughtered. 

Entrance into the Coliseum

The Coliseum

The Coliseum

Uh-oh.  Thumbs down from Tom!

It was a very hot day, up around 92 degrees and sunny.  I had caught a cold, and started to feel a sore throat and weakness coming on.  Feeling feverish and in 92 degree weather was pretty tiring, but I kept on.   We then met Paulo and walked over to the Forum, and got some more history.  The Forum was for centuries the center of Roman public life; the site of triumphal processions and elections; the venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches; and the nucleus of commercial affairs. Here statues and monuments commemorated the city's great men. The teeming heart of ancient Rome, it has been called the most celebrated meeting place in the world, and in all history.  All that is left now is mostly ruins, since it was buried in mud during the Middle Ages.  Behind a small wall in the Temple of Julius Caesar were his remains.  He was assassinated in 44 BC.  

The Forum

The Forum

We then made our way to the church Saint Peter in Chains, to see Michelangelo's Moses (completed in 1515), a free-standing funeral monument for Pope Julius II.  What gorgeous looking statues he created!  Another main focus of the church was the relic of the chains that bound Saint Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem.  According to legend, when compared to the chains of St. Peter's final imprisonment in the Mamertine prison in Rome, the two chains miraculously fused together. The chains are now kept in a reliquary under the main altar in the basilica.  

St. Peter in Chains Basilica

Michelangelo's "Moses"

Saint Peter's chains

Tom & I stopped for lunch and Tom had cannelloni and I had penne with meat sauce. 

Lunch in Rome

The heat “demanded” Gelato, so Tom got Egg nog / Smarties, and Jim got Caramel / Strawberry.  We then went on an optional tour to see the “hidden treasures of Rome”, the underground layers of early Rome that were built upon over the years.  We entered through The Basilica of Saint Clement, where we walked down and down 3 levels underground.  Archaeologically speaking, the structure is a three-tiered complex of buildings: (1) the present basilica built just before the year 1100 during the height of the Middle Ages; (2) beneath the present basilica is a 4th-century basilica that had been converted out of the home of a Roman nobleman, part of which had in the 1st century briefly served as an early church, and the basement of which had in the 2nd century briefly served as a mithraeum; (3) the home of the Roman nobleman had been built on the foundations of republican era villa and warehouse that had been destroyed in the Great Fire of 64 AD.   It’s amazing to see how Rome was built “like a lasagna”, one layer on top of another.  Then it was back to the Hotel, and I laid down to rest as I was exhausted.  Tom wandered around Rome and got lost, saw some ancient Roman baths, but made it back in time to go to our “Opera Dinner” that the group went to together.  It was a wonderful dinner theater setting, with 3 opera singers (2 female, 1 male) and a pianist.  They were every good, and even brought up one man to “shave him” to the Barber of Seville, and 2 other men to have them mock sing opera with them.  One of the ladies also cruised the crowd and flirted with all the men as she sang.  It was a fun time, and the meal was excellent. 

Opera dinner

Which ones are really singing?!

Singer w/Jim
(who's not feeling well)

Singer w/Tom

I was delighted to finally go to bed, and that evening my fever broke, and I woke up to a bed soaked in sweat, but I felt much better!  

Monday, June 12
Pompeii!  Southern Italy! Sorrento!

We departed by bus to drive through the Campania region to the ruins of Pompeii.  We first stopped at a Cameo shop, where we had a short introduction.  Cameo is a method of carving sea shells into jewelry. 

Cameo  (carving seashells)

Cameo jewelry & watches

We then took a 2-hour walking tour with our local guide.  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.  It’s hard to believe that a volcano that was 7 miles away could do such damage.  They have excavated approx. 46 acres of ruins out of about 60 acres total.  Objects buried beneath Pompeii were well-preserved for almost 2,000 years. The lack of air and moisture let objects remain underground with little to no deterioration.  It was really hot, over 90 degrees, so Tom & I took umbrellas to have shade with us.  We were glad we did.  We saw some gladiator training grounds, amphitheaters, forums, and a brothel.  Inside the brothel were frescos that still remain showing various love-making options for the buyers.  Our guide told us that the women would stand on the porch and howl like a wolf when she was available for hire. This was one of the most crowded attractions.  One amazing thing we noticed was that in the stones that made up the streets, we could clearly see ruts made by the wooden wheels of the chariots and wagons that drove through the city.  Also, we were shown some lead pipes that were used for the water’s plumbing.  We also saw preserved corpses of a man, a child, and a dog. 

Pompeii amphitheater

Pompeii street view

Oh, no!  Mt.
Vesuvius is erupting again!

Remains from Pompeii

After the tour, Tom & I shared a Margherita pizza, and Tom had a beer and I had a strawberry slushy.  Then it was back to the air-conditioned bus for a drive south by the Bay of Naples and to the city of Sorrento, where our hotel, Hotel Central, was.  There were some spectacular views of the Mediterranean as we drove south.  We checked in to our Hotel, which had a beautiful swimming pool, so Tom & I went right in for a long swim.  Refreshing! 

Bay of Naples

Our Hotel Central pool

View from our Hotel Central

Then as a group we took a walk to the center of town, where Francesca showed us the places to see and eat.  We stopped inside a furniture store where we were given a demo of inlaid wood carving.  We saw some incredible tables and furniture there. 

Downtown Sorrento

View from downtown Sorrento

Inlaid wood furniture store

We stopped by a lemon grove on the way back to the Hotel, and Tom got some Limoncello for a friend back home.  We had dinner back at the hotel with the group, where Tom had gurnard (fish) and I had pasta with mussels.  Tom took his bottle of wine back to the room.  I was feeling much better. We noticed our room had no patio, so we asked to be moved, and Francesca got us a higher room with a porch for the next two nights. 

Tuesday, June 13

After breakfast we departed the hotel at 7:45 and took a shuttle to the dock where we got on a huge ferry boat to Capri.  We were to visit the highest town, Anacapri, the main town of Capri, and the port Marina Grande.  The ferry boat ride was about a half an hour, and we arrived on Capri to take two mini shuttles up the steep road, which our guide Pepe called the “Oh my God” road.  We soon saw what he meant.  One reason was the narrow size of the road, and how we don’t know how the driver managed to drive on a one-lane road with two-way traffic, with Scooters zipping in between all traffic.  It was hairier than a NYC Taxi ride.  Then, as we got up really high up, and the van rocked back and forth, we cornered some turns that had us looking straight down a couple thousand feet to the port below.  Tom and I were up front where the steps out of the bus were, and we were literally looking straight down a few times.  It was breathtaking. 

Ferry boat to Capri

Dock at Capri

Shuttle to Anacapri

OMG - Don't look down!!

We arrived at the top village of Anacapri, and Pepe led us to the single chair-lift.  This was one of the best highlights of the trip.  After the frantic drive up the hill, and then the crowded town at the top, it was so refreshing to sit alone on a chair-lift in absolute silence, and be carried up the mountain to the top of the island, where the views were spectacular and otherworldly.  From the top we could see all around the entire island.  After about 30 minutes, we got back on the chair-lift and went back down, enjoying the views again. 

Chairlift up

Chairlift up

View from the top

View from the top

Chairlift down

We then met up with Pepe as he walked us through town, and we stopped for lunch and Tom had ravioli and I had spaghetti Bolognese.  It was a restaurant used to tourists, and the food came out within 5 minutes.  We then continued on to a garden area called the Gardens of Augustus with great views.  The water here is crystal clear, with a turquoise color.  Then we had time on our own and Tom and I walked through town, and then came upon a beautiful cemetery with beautiful statues, monuments and gardens. We learned from Pepe that you only get to be buried there for 5 years or so and then you get moved!

View from our walk with Pepe

View from our walk

View from Gardens of Augustus

Capri cemetery

We took the Funicular Railway tram back down the mountain to the docks.  We then met up with the group and took the minivans back to the dock, where we got on a fast boat that took us around the entire island.  It was very refreshing, being able to sit in the cool breeze and enjoy the sights.  The boat driver backed us up into the Green Grotto, and other nooks where we could see cavern-like formations.  Capri's most iconic sight is the dramatic Faraglioni, three towering rock formations which jut out from the Mediterranean just off the island's coast.  We went right through the arch in one of these rocks. We passed by the huge crowd waiting to gain entrance to the “Blue Grotto”, but were told that after waiting 3 hours, you have to pay a lot of money, and then pay another row boat driver to take you in for only 5 minutes.  So we skipped that option.  It was a perfect way to end our visit of Capri, seeing the whole island from the water.  Tom got a little sunburn on his face, but not too bad. 

Tom on boat ride around the island


The "green grotto"

Boat ride around the island

We got to the port, and looked around at some shoppes and had Gelato.  Capri is known for watches and women’s sandals.  We ended our Capri visit by taking the giant ferry back to Sorrento.  We went for a swim in the pool.  The group had a “farewell dinner” planned at a nice restaurant up one of the cliffs near town, that had a spectacular view.  We had a piano player during dinner who played classical Italian pieces, and had a wonderful dinner.  The group went out on the porch when the sun set to get a gorgeous view of the town and sunset.    When it got dark we even saw some fireworks being shot off in the downtown area.  Pretty! 

View from our restaurant

View from restaurant balcony

Piano player & appetizer table

Sunset from our restaurant

Wednesday, June 14
Amalfi Coast!

Today was a leisurely day with no guided tour.  We departed by bus at 9am and drove south along the Amalfi coast, one of the most scenic drives in the world.  The road was narrow, and edged along the cliffs of the Mediterranean.  The sun was out and we had another beautiful 80-degree day.  We stopped a few times for pictures, and I got Katie a bracelet just outside
 of scenic Positano.  We stopped at a gift shoppe that had beautiful hand-painted pottery.  At one stop we watched a helicopter make a few deliveries of construction material for a road repair.  The towns along the drive were all on steep cliffs, with beautiful gardens and views of the sea.  We saw lots of lemon trees.  Francesca pointed out Sophia Loren’s house right on the coast near the town of Amalfi. 

Amalfi coast drive

Amalfi coast - near Positano


Amalfi coast


The bus dropped us off right at the downtown port of Amalfi, a town in the province of Salerno, in the region of Campania, on the Gulf of Salerno. It lies at the mouth of a deep ravine, at the foot of Monte Cerreto (4,314 feet), surrounded by dramatic cliffs and coastal scenery. The town of Amalfi was the capital of the maritime republic known as the Duchy of Amalfi, an important trading power in the Mediterranean between 839 and around 1200.  There was a small pebble beach, and Tom & I went for swims in the sea.  The water was refreshing and clear. 

Amalfi Beach

Jim in the Mediterranean Sea

Tom in the Mediterranean Sea

We dried off and wandered through the quaint town.  We stopped for lunch at La Galea and I had spaghetti with clams, and Tom had spaghetti with garlic, and we shared a carafe of white wine.  We found a shady Gelato shop and I had Lime/Chocolate Chip and Tom had Oreo/Strawberry.  We wandered the streets and saw a miniature model village of Amalfi on a side street.  We saw fresh fish being sold, and looked at some of the local painters’ works. 

Streets of Amalfi

Spaghetti with clams

Gelato shop

Miniature town model of Amalfi

Around 2pm we headed back by bus to our Hotel in Sorrento, where we went for another swim in the pool.  We checked in for our flights online, and printed our boarding passes on the Hotel printer.   We said our goodbyes to Francesca, and she told us of our transportation arrangements to the airport the next day.  
For dinner we walked into the old downtown part of Sorrento, and found a restaurant called “The Lantern”.  We sat outside, and I had the best lasagna I’ve ever tasted.  Tom had a pasta with mixed seafood, both delicious. 

Tom in downtown Sorrento

The Lantern Restaurant

Best Lasagne ever

Mixed seafood & pasta

Tom with Francesca

Francesca with Jim

We walked back to the Hotel and went to bed early.

Thursday, June 15

We had breakfast at the Hotel, and got on our shuttle to the airport, with one from our tour group and her niece.  The airport was in nearby Naples, about an hour drive.  A Gate 1 employee met us at the airport, and showed us where to go. During the flight we found out that our flight to JFK had been cancelled.  Aer Lingus did well by us, giving us free lunch, and then a bus ride to a Hotel in Shannon, about a 2.5 hour drive across Ireland.  Aer Lingus had arranged a free Hotel for the night, with free dinner and breakfast there as well.  The drive across Ireland was lovely, with all the green hills and pastures, seeing the cows and sheep everywhere.  It was lightly raining, a stark contrast from our time in Italy.  We tried to get a hold of Dave to tell him not to drive to NYC, and finally got through to him through Carol Johnson, who caught him on his cell phone.  The hotel also had a swimming pool indoors, so Tom & I went for a swim.  We were going to use the hot tub, but found it was tiny and had 4 men in it, so we settled for a swim.  They made us wear swim caps.  The hotel had a nice Pub, so Tom had a Guinness beer.  Our room had 4 beds! We slept well.

Drive across Ireland

Hotel in Shannon

Tom w/ Guinness in Ireland

Friday, June 16

Our flight home was on time.  Tom, & I watched the movie “The Founder”, about the beginnings of the McDonald’s restaurants.  We got our bags at JFK, and had a few hours to kill before Dave arrived, so we took the tram and visited all the Terminals at JFK.  We had dinner there at a 50’s-style diner, and Dave met us at the pickup area.  Jim drove Dave’s car most of the way home, and we had little traffic coming out of NYC.  Dave drove the rest of the way home. We got home around 2am, and Dave had a Pickleball tournament the next day.  Thanks Dave!!!    

Saturday Tom hung out with Scott, as Jim had a Cornell Golf Tournament, and Tom flew back to Denver out of the Ithaca airport Sunday since his Sat. flight was cancelled. 


We really enjoyed our trip to Italy.  The Gate 1 Travel team
and Francesca really did a fantastic job at arranging everything, and taking great care of us. Here is their web site:
 The Hotels were great, the food was fantastic, and weather was great.  Our group had some interesting people that we got to know and enjoy time with.  Our cell phones did not get service overseas, but with WiFi on the bus and in the Hotels we could check email and keep in touch with those at home.  Tom & I get along great as travel partners, we enjoyed everything we did together.  We sure did a lot, but feel that it was worth it.  We did just about all the “optional” tours that Gate 1 offered, and were glad we did, since we saw & learned much more than if we had spent time on our own.  There were also plenty of opportunities during the trip to explore on our own, find our own restauarants, and wander the cities and towns.  The people in Italy were friendly and helpful.  The variety of landscapes there are endless, and each place we stopped at was unique and fascinating.     Ciao!   Arrivederci!         - Jim