Amalfi Coast Winery

Salvatore our guide took us high in the mountains to visit our first winery of the trip; Azienda Agricola Reale located in Borgo di Gete, Tramonti, Italia.

Over 1700ft above sea level, the views on the drive up to, as well as from, the winery were spectacular.  There is no mechanized growing or harvesting of grapes here due to the steep mountainside; resulting in terraced vine rows.  It is all hand picked and carried up/down the mountainside.

Reale Winery in Tramonti, Amalfi Coast

At Reale they grow grapes on vines that are over 100 years old that consist of original, native varieties like Biancella, Biancazita, Tintore and Pere’Palummo.  Never heard of those varietals? Neither had I until this visit!  What I found was that as with many things in Italy, the passion and love that the people put into making something (in this case wine) results in a wonderful end product, and these wines were no exception.

The Reale Wines

I really enjoyed the white Aliseo, while Beth enjoyed the Getis rose.

Reale “Getis” Rose

The winery is also an osteria (a place serving wine and simple food), so of course we had to take advantage of that.  We had a delicious egg plant and anchovy lasagna, seafood pasta with zucchini flowers and a yummy, dense, moist chocolate and pear cake for dessert.

Luigi, Owner, Winemaker and Chef on Right

For once, I wasn’t the shortest man in a picture…

Our first winery visit for the trip was a unanimous success!

On To The Amalfi Coast

The next area we visited on our vacation was the Amalfi coast.  We travelled form Rome to Naples (Roma to Napoli) on one of the fast trains. These trains are not inappropriately named, as ours reached a top speed of 295 kmh (that’s 183 mph) during our trip.

On The Train From Rome To Naples

In Napoli, we were met by our guide Salvatore and driven via Mercedes (no Rolls Royce this time – I had enough paparazzi in Rome) from Napoli to the coastal town of Amalfi (Amalfi is a town and comune in the province of Salerno, in the region of Campania, Italy, on the Gulf of Salerno).  The drive was fun and entertaining as we wound through serpentine roads that took us over the mountain range that separated us from our destination.

We thought the views going up the backside of the mountain were great, but even pictures we had seen in books and on the Internet did not prepare us for the beautiful views of the Amalfi coast coming down the mountains on the coastal side of the range.

Salvatore dropped us off at our hotel (the Miramalfi), and after a quick lunch, we were off exploring the town of Amalfi.

hotel_miramalfi

The Hotel Miramalfi

Dinner at La Caravella

Dinner our first night was at a Michelin rated restaurant, La Caravella, in the city centre of Amalfi.  Daniela and Tonino greeted and served us, while Antonio (owner, chef) was working away in the kitchen – preparing not only food for us, but for his family whom were dining at the table next to us.

Instead of the traditional Italian menu of starter/appetizer (antipasta), first course (pasta), and second course (meat/fish), we decided to do appetizers and pasta.

Beth had the appetizer sampler (trio of fish), which we thought would be three smaller portions of Caravella’s appetizers, but what turned out to be was three different appetizers served back-to-back.  The three starters consisted of, fried anchovies stuffed with smoked mozzerella, a fish crudo, and steamed fish wrapped in a lemon leaf.  All three were very good!  Of course, she had some assistance from me in eating these.

I had the stuffed mussel appetizer for my first course which was served on the most flavorful, deep red cherry tomatoes (due to being grown in the volcanic soil of Mt. Vesuvius) and was truly delicious.

For our entrees, Beth had the black ink ravioli stuffed with lobster and I had “scialatielli alla carbonara”.  Scialatielli is a pasta that has flat sides and is almost square in its circumference.  It originated here in Amalfi and was used in the past for special celebrations.  My second course was a twist on a traditional Italian first course dish; spaghetti carbonara.  The “scialatielli alla carbonara” uses this special pasta and is prepared with smoked tuna instead of the traditional bacon/pancetta.  Very good!

La Caravella, scialatielli alla carbonara di zucca con pancetta di tonno

While the appetizers and pasta courses were delicious, what compared equally was the dessert; a HUGE lemon soufflé.  The Amalfi area has large amounts of lemon trees, and as such, food dishes and drinks have lemon mixed in as an ingredient.  So we thought, “When in Amalfi…”

Beth and I With Our Fantastic Lemon Soufflé

Just look at the size of that soufflé!  It was the perfect end to a meal of deliciously prepared courses.  The bottle of 2004 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino wasn’t too bad either.

However, our evening was not complete as this evening the town of Amalfi was celebrating a Centennial, so they had a parade and a fireworks display at midnight.  Everyone knows I hate fireworks… 🙂

Amalfi Fireworks Viewed From Our Hotel

We sat on the rooftop terrace of the Hotel Miramalfi and watched the fireworks display in the city below us.

This was a great finale to a wonderful day…

Our 25th Wedding Anniversary

It was on June 25th, 1988 that Beth and I were married, and so on the 25th anniversary of that date, we decided to relax  during the day and celebrate at night!

Our day started off with a relaxing breakfast on the terrace of our hotel overlooking Rome and the Villa Borghese gardens.

A View of St. Peter’s From Our Hotel Terrace

After breakfast, we walked through the park at Villa Borghese, as well as visiting their zoo.  After that, we walked back to the hotel, sat on the street side lounges on Via Veneto, and drank wine while we watched the people and traffic go by for the rest of the afternoon.

Beth Sitting Outside Our Hotel “People Watching”

Randy Watching Beth

It was enjoyable to watch the smartly dressed Italians stroll by as well as observing the various modes of transportation used by the Italians.  Bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, cars and trucks of all sizes were used despite the small roman streets.  however, small cars are ‘big’ here:

Italian smart car

Celebration Time!

For dinner, I arranged for something special to take use to dinner; a chauffeur driven $450K Rolls Royce Phantom.

Beth And I With Our Rolls Royce Phantom

Being Chased By Paparazzi

Our chauffeur drove us around the city of Rome for an hour and a half before taking us to dinner.  It was hilarious to Beth and I to watch as people were stopping to take pictures and try and figure out which famous couple was riding in the back seat.  Because the windows were tinted, people couldn’t see well for the side of the car, but there was one inventive couple that was determined to find out who was riding in the Rolls. They drove past us and pulled directly in front of us, and the woman passenger leaned out her passenger window and turned to the rear so she could look through the un-tinted windshield. She was hanging half in, and half out, of the car like that for twenty seconds or so until she got a smile on her face and slid back inside her car.  I don’t know who she thought she saw, but I hope we made her day.  I guess this was our paparazzi moment…

However, our rock star moment arrived shortly thereafter when we went around a corner and the bottle of champagne and ice tipped over and spilled on the floor just prior to arriving at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel where our dinner was at.  You should have seen the look on the doorman’s face as he opened my door and ice cubes fell out.  I just nodded and proceeded as if all were normal – even as he stood there with the door opened looking at the mess inside.

La Pergola
la_pergola_1

La Pergola is the only Michelin 3-star restaurant in Rome, and one of only seven in all of Italy. Not only are the food and service here exceptional, the view is quite awesome as well (especially from the hard-to-get terrace seats).

Beth And I At La Pergola

We were seated on the terrace by Simone Pinoli with a spectacular view overlooking the Eternal City and served a choice of apertifs.  We chose an Italian Xxxxxxx, which was light and not too bubbly for our tastes.  Then came our first surprise of the evening; a water list.  No, I did not spell that incorrectly.  [W. A. T. E. R. – Water list.]  We were presented with a list of almost 30 different bottled waters from around the world.  So, being somewhat of a connoisseur of wine, but not water, we told the waiter to recommend something from Italy (we were in Rome after all).  He recommended a very low mineral (sediment measured in parts per billion) water from the Dolomites.  I guess it tasted good – we drank over 2 bottles of it during our four hour feast.

Next we would have normally been presented with the wine list that would allow us to select wine from La Pergola’s expansive 50,000+ bottle wine cellars.  I did pass on reviewing their three different wine lists however. Why three wine lists?  Because they have so many wines in their cellar, their wine lists are correspondingly lengthy.  As such, they have one wine list dedicate to white wines, while two others are dedicated to reds; one for just Italian reds, and the other for “International Reds”.  The wine list for the Italian reds comprised almost 60 pages!

However, with this being a special day, I had pre-arranged with our wine guides Tim and Paul to work with La Pergola’s sommelier to select a delicious red wine from the year we were married; 1988 (a wine and marriage both aged nicely for 25 years).  The three of them combined to recommended an absolutely delicious 1988 Scarpa Tettinieve Barbaresco (an Italian wine made from Nebbiolo grapes).

Now we were presented with the dinner menu, of which we did not look at long, as we already knew that we wanted to order the 9 course Grand Tasting menu.

The excellent food was served in the following order:

  • Amberjack marinated in white balsamic vinegar with pomegranate snow
  • Grilled “La Perle Blanche” oysters on pumpkin cream with parsley puff
  • Woodland…
  • Fagottelli “La Pergola”
  • King prawns in tempura on a purée of fried squids
  • Black cod with marinated anchovy vinaigrette and sweet chili pepper
  • Leg of lamb with artichokes cooked in ash and crisp potato crumble
  • Selection of cheese
  • Grand dessert

All of the items were exceptionally good; with the Woodland and Fagotelli (house specialties) in particular, being standouts.

Four hours later we were being rolled out of the restaurant!

It was a great way to celebrate our 25 years together!

The Eternal City – First Impressions of Rome

Architectural Mix

Even though others had described this to me prior to this trip, it was hard to comprehend until I saw it for the first time; the mix (sometimes integrated and sometimes not) of old world structure with new world amenities.  Driving to our hotel from the airport, we saw the mix immediately.  First an old Roman ruin, then a new modern building, then a building that integrated both.  This is just something that we don’t (and can’t) see in the States, because in comparison to Rome, we just haven’t been around long enough.

Take for example, Prada and Gucci stores located in 14th Century buildings, or even the worlds most lavish McDonald’s with marble and mosaics at the Micky D at the Spanish Steps and you can begin to picture what I am talking about.

Upscale McDonald’s At The Spanish Steps

No, we did not eat here!

Crazy Driving

I had read about the crazy driving in Rome, but until you experience it first hand, words just can’t prepare you for what the experience is like – but I will try.  Drivers here truly have to be attentive (there is no way one could drive and text without crashing into something) as automobile traffic is constantly coming at you from all directions, pedestrians (dumb tourists) are walking with their heads in the air looking at a sight, and a Vespa or motorcycle whips around a truck and cuts in front of you inches from your bumper.  All this at once!  No way would I drive here – that is why we had a driver with a nice luxurious BMW 5 Series to do the driving for us!

Italians

It is true, the Italians here in Rome love their fine clothing and food.  They are polite, proud, passionate, and yes, they also tend to talk with their hands.

Restaurants and Cafe’s

The density of the vast number of cafe’s and restaurants was an unexpected surprise.  Even though Trip Advisor lists almost 6,000 restaurants in Rome, it is hard to appreciate what that means until you walk a block and pass by over twenty five sidewalk cafe’s and restaurants.

The Sites of Rome

Veni, Vidi, Vici.  “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

As we move on from Rome to the next leg of our trip in Amalfi, I’ll share with you the sites we visited during our stay in Rome.  I promise I won’t bore you with historical facts!

Our first day of sightseeing was centered on “Ancient” Rome.  For those of you who don’t remember your Roman history, the rise of Rome was about 500 years from 500BC to 1 AD.  The peak of Rome lasted about 200 years, from about 1 AD to 200AD, the transition from a pagan empire to a Christian occurred around 300AD, and the long, slow decline of Rome lasting until the ultimate fall of Rome around 500AD.

We visited the below sites on our first day.

  • The Basilica di San Clemente
  • The Colosseum
  • Palentine Hill
  • The Forum
  • Piazza del Campidoglio

Pictures of the Colosseum do not do it justice as this is a huge stadium; one that serves as a model for many of our current sport stadiums.

The Triumphal Arch of Constantine 

At The Colosseum

Day 2

We saw the following sites on Day Two:

  • The Pantheon
  • Piazza de Navona
  • Via de Coronardi
  • The Bridge of Angels
  • The Vatican
  • St. Peter’s Basilica
  • The Sistine Chapel
  • Gianicolo Hill
  • The Keyhole on Aventino Hill
  • Trevi Fountain
  • The Spanish Steps

The Pantheon is the best preserved building from the time of ancient Rome.  It has a huge dome that was the inspiration a thousand years later for the Duomo in Florence, the dome of St. Peters in Vatican City, and even our own U.S. Capitol building.  It is incredible to think how they achieved such mathematically perfect dimensions without computers.  It is still the worlds largest dome – no one has yet to surpass it’s width.

Inside The Pantheon

The previous picture shows the “oculus”, a circular opening in the top of the dome, 30 ft. across.

The Two of us at the Pantheon

The outside columns of the Pantheon which make up the portico which were quarried and shaped in Egypt and shipped to Rome.  Each were monolithic (one solid piece) weighing 60 tons and 39 feet in length.  Here is a good writeup on the Pantheon and its construction.

Beth Tossing A Coin Into The Trevi Fountain 

Rome – An Example Of Recycling

Our first historical visit was at the Basilica of San Clemente and it was here that we learned something very important about the history of Rome.  While this church has some of the oldest and frescoes and mosaics in the world, that is not its only unique trait.

The Apsis Mosiac at The Basilica di San Clemente

What we learned here was something that we will see over and over throughout Rome – the reuse of temples, art, marble, stone, bronze, etc. from a prior civilization of an older century by the people living in another century.  In other words, recycling.  Let me explain by using The Basilica of San Clement as an example.

Over the course of time, both natural events (e.g. floods, storms, rain erosion, etc.) as well as man made events (fire, landfill, etc.) combined to bury or destroy many of the ancient sites in Rome.  The Basilica of San Clement is just one example, a there are actually three levels to this Basilica and each has its own history.

(1) The present basilica with the beautiful mosaics was built just before the year 1100 during the height of the Middle Ages;

(2) Beneath the present basilica is a 4th-century basilica with some well-preserved frescos 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 lowest level was the at one time the home of the Roman nobleman which had been built on the foundations of a roman republican era building that had been destroyed in the Great Fire of 64 AD.

Basilica di San Clemente Mithreum

Located in the lowest level, the Mithreum at Basilica di San Clemente was part of a sanctuary of the cult of Mithras.

All three levels share the same foundation; each level was built with walls and pillars on top of the previous.

Just one example of re-cycling over time…

We Made It!

After almost a year of planning, we finally began our dream trip; traveling for the majority of a day to get to the first stop on our journey.  The long travel day was not all that fun.  We flew from MSP to Detroit for the first leg of our flight with no issue.  However, the storms that had blown through MN, had now arrived in MI, so our flight out of DTW was delayed because of weather.  We took off an hour and a half late, but we were finally on our way!

It’s a 9+ hr direct flight from Detroit to Rome, which is a long time to be stuck on an airplane. However, one of the side benefits to all of the flying I do for my work is that I accumulate a lot of frequent flyer miles, and it was those FF miles that purchased First/Business class seats for us on this trip.

Even though I have flown almost 1.5 million air miles, I have not flown International Business class before.  It was a treat to have meals served with menus, and reclining seats that actually allow you to sleep.

The Wine List On Our Flight

Well, Beth was able to sleep for maybe half the trip.  Unfortunately for me, all I achieved was something closer to a nap.

Beth Getting Ready To Sleep

After a sleepless night (for me anyway), we arrived in Rome just over an hour later than our scheduled arrival at 10:15 am.  Our checked baggage (containing our clothes and supplies for one month) made the trip as well (a huge relief), so we couldn’t complain too much!

We were met at the airport by our guide, Eugenio, and he and a driver took us to our hotel.  We checked in, unpacked, showered, and by 1pm, started our guided tour of Rome.

All in all, aside from being a little late in arriving, our trip was off to a good start!