Day 01 – Rome

Literally outside of our room, this is Church of Saint Agnes at the Circus Agonalis within the Piazza Navona in the historic center of Rome. This is where early Christian Saint Agnes is said to have been martyred. Agnes lived at the end of the third century. When she refused to marry the son of the governor at that time, choosing instead a life of faith, he demanded that she be dragged naked through the streets and killed. Agnes has since been named the patron saint of girls, chastity, virgins, and victims of sex abuse.  The building began construction in 1652 under the orders of Pope Innocent X whose family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili, is adjacent to this church. More details at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sant%27Agnese_in_Agone.

A musician in the heart of Piazza Navona.

Day 02 – Rome 

After a leisurely start to the day with fresh baked goods and coffee while being serenaded in the square by excellent guitar music we nearly lost our jinkies trying to figure out how to get a cab. Hint to Verizon iPhone folks when you come here: do a network reset upon landing, it fixes connectivity. To that end, once we installed the local taxi app we were good to go. The Vatican / Vatican Museums / Sistine Chapel were everything I hoped. Every bit of artwork was captivating, I truly felt in the presence of history. I am glad the audio tour was frank, highlighting the most amazing as well as quite troubling aspects of the Christian faith throughout history. After burning a ridiculous number of calories walking the entirety of the property Heather pointed out a tiny, hole-in-the-wall cafe. For next to nothing we had Italian food of greater quality than some of the Italian restaurants we frequent in New Jersey.

Another musician in the heart of Piazza Navona.

Day 03 – Rome

The Antica Manifattura Cappelli is one of the laboratories to have obtained the recognition of Historical Workshop of Rome. Operated by the Cirri family, it is the oldest hat factory in the city. Each hat is made to size according to the customer’s needs, personality, and face. Starting from the great variety of original wooden shapes, the hat is created using ancient methods, always adding innovative elements to create a product in step with the latest fashion trends. I went flat cap and am never going back. 

Things you will see in the food images: “ROCHER” OF OXTAIL VACCINARA STYLE With celery gelée, RAVIOLINI PASTA STUFFED WITH MASCARPONE CHEESE with Duck Ragout and Red Wine Reduction, QUAIL Chest filled with Ciauscolo Salami, Leg Glazed with Honey and ‘nduja Salami, Eggplant and Cauliflower, and WHITE CHOCOLATE EGG and Liquid Heart of Passion Fruit and Citrus. In addition are caesar salad biscuits served in caesar’s head; fake apples filled with duck, mini tacos served in a skull, fried chicken, and a variety of savory Petit Fours. Pre-dessert also included some surprises including a mock-fortune cookie that was actually lemon crumble, served in an edible “plastic’ wrapper (rice paper) then some form of peanut butter chocolate snacks, mini macarons inexplicably served on a functional toy carousel, and chocolate marshmallow served over coffee. Then coffee. Our al fresco meals including breakfast cakes 3 ways, Muesli, insane amounts of fresh bread of every kind, all kinds of eggs, cod two ways (fried and ragu later in the day), cacio e pepe (twice), carbonara, ham/cheese/melon plate, epic meatballs, gelato every five minutes, and other things I am probably forgetting. 

We were sitting on the rooftop, listening to live opera across the courtyard, and this dude decided to join us. 

I took a bunch of selfies. Heather and the kids oft complain there are no pictures of me, so now there are some. 

Trevi Fountain was a great start to a Sunday morning. We arrived just before it started getting very busy. It was peaceful and beautiful, a great place to sit and reflect. Apart from learning about the origins of its name I also learned about and engaged in a proper Trevi coin toss, which is done using your right hand to throw the coin over your left shoulder. 

We learned about in school, but most of those lessons did not stick, and so we got to re-learn the timeline from its building and re-buildings and the various stages of history. A cooler fact that I do not think I ever learned was that, for a time, there were frequently candles burning all around the oculus which created a stream of hot air current that would evaporate rain before it hit the floor. I also learned that the practice was not needed, as there is a slight slope to the floor the draws water to hidden drainage holes. At the end, though, it was nice to just sit in the pews as the presets prepared for Sunday morning mass, listening to an organ playing softly in the background. 

The Aventine Hill is the southernmost of Rome’s seven hills, whereas whereas the Janiculan Hill is the second-tallest hill but does not figure among the proverbial Seven Hills of Rome, being west of the Tiber and outside the boundaries of the ancient city. Either way, both offered amazing views. It was wonderful to just sit off to the side on my own enjoying the natural splendor in front of me with the thriving and ancient city in the distance. I could do the same in Fairmount Park, but a change of scenery is nice from time to time. One of my favorite bits of alone time, though, was Basilica di Santa Sabina all’Aventino. Santa Sabina was a Christian martyr of the 2nd century and is venerated as a saint by the Catholic Church. The architecture and artwork within are is stunning, and having a place to sit in quiet contemplation of one life and the grand scheme of history was peaceful and humbling. 

The Aventine Keyhole.

Day 04 – Countryside to Naples

Not much from the travel log today. Said goodbye to the eternal city and drove two hours through the Italian countryside to Naples before boating over to Ischia. We’ll spend the next few days back and forth, at some point visiting my family’s ancestral home in Castlefrancci, seeing more of Naples and maybe Herculaneum, and mostly relaxing which means me fighting the urge to open Outlook and Epic. Book recommendations (fiction, lighthearted stuff) welcomed.

Day 05, 06, 07 – Naples to Ischia

Today we spent a full day on the island of Ischia. While many folks are familiar with its neighbor island, Capri, Ischia has proven to be just as much a gem and with far more reasonable prices for just about everything. I will not bother going into its history since I am just learning it myself and Wikipedia would be way more helpful (https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isola_d%27Ischia). Thus, here is a summary of our day: Heather convinced me to start the day with a massage, not something in my comfort zone since I do not like touching. It was a nice experience and I felt it has some positive impact, but apparently it is not normal for the masseuse to tell you to relax 10-15 times throughout a half hour session or so Heather told me afterward. Given that a failed relaxation 101 I decided to give it another go and spent a half hour floating in the indoor hot springs, I think I did better there as most of my neck pain decreased significantly. Afterwards I swam in the Mediterranean Sea for a while, which was nice. After Heather had her massage we went for lunch at a small dockside restaurant Ristorante Alberto. Consistent with the rest of the trip, it was amazing. Heather had Spaghetti all’ischitana, I had Penne con pomodorini gialli e Rossi both, unsurprisingly, amazing. Thereafter Heather napped while I tooled around the garden areas. After a nap we went to the town square and open air market area. Dinner started with pumpkin blossoms stuffed with ricotta and fresh local herbs. Heather had linguini a limone (the lemon game in this area lives up to the hype, BTW), I decided to pause on the pasta and went with chicken cutlet which taste amazingly like my mother’s/grandmother’s. To that end, so much of the Naples area smells and tastes like things I grew up around, I will need to research what portion of Philadelphia’s Italian population and thus traditions are from the Naples region. The night ended with an extended walk through the open air market. There is a ton of shopping to be done here, so if you like small boutiques for clothing and other shops for art, local foods, etc. this is the place to be. We also discovered many churches stay open quite late for people to sit in quiet prayer. We briefly toured Santa Maria delle Grazie e delle Anime del Purgatorio, the Church of Saint Maria of Grazie and the Souls in Purgatory. The artwork is stunning and, despite it being bustling just outside, it was a nice and quiet place to stop for a moment.

Day 08 – Castelfranci and Naples

Today we got to explore one branch of the family tree. In 1906, Anthony Colucci left Castelfranci, Italy and came to America. Today we retraced his steps and returned to his home town. It’s a quiet, small town. The people are friendly and the food plentiful.  Even the dogs were pretty laid back. More stories and pics to come but here are some initial photos of a great day trip.

Day 9, 10 – Naples

Our last full day in Italy was spent in Naples. This city has soul, and feels to me a bit like Philadelphia. As we have Eagles paraphernalia everywhere, around Naples you cannot go more than a few meters without seeing an ode to Società Sportiva Calcio Napoli. The streets are impossibly small and interesting to navigate by foot or car, but packed with lovely people and shops. After walking around the streets for a while I visited Duomo di Napoli, Naples Cathedral. It is also known as the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary and the Cathedral of Saint Januarius, all of which is apparent inside. More details on this amazing 700-year-old church at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naples_Cathedral. Another reflection of the city’s deep Catholic traditions are the “urban shrines” where Catholics in Naples stop to pray throughout the day. These “edicole votive,” literally “votive shrines,” are a series of small concave structures that house Catholic statues, from the Madonna to St. Januarius, patron of Naples. Each votive shrine has inscribed on it the date on which it was erected and the reason for its creation (gratitude, a vow etc.). They often include pictures of more recently deceased loved ones as well. More details at https://aleteia.org/…/the-urban-shrines-where…/. We then made our way to Herculaneum, an ancient Roman town which, similar to Pompeii, was buried under volcanic ash and pumice in the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. This was discovered 50 years prior to Pompeii and, because of it’s distance from the eruption, much of what was there was carbonized and preserved more so than Pompeii, including wooden objects such as roofs, beds, and doors, as well as other organic-based materials such as food and papyrus. More details at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herculaneum.