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The Journey To Matera

Day 1: Our journey began with a flight out of Miami to Lisbon Portugal. The flight was quiet and enjoyable with TAP airlines using the really quiet and spacious AB333s. Arriving in Lisbon very early in the morning, we wandered the airport before our connecting flight to Nice. We enjoyed a light snack of the delicious little ‘Pastel de Natal’, little sharp lemon tarts of fluffy light pastry, and a couple of very strong coffees. We weren’t too hungry as we had had a meal on the plane and our body clocks were screaming midnight, but we were drooling at all the fresh sandwiches, just recently filled with cold meats, cheeses and salads, laid out and piled high, large rounds of deliciousness and long baguettes of crustiness. I was tempted to take a few for the journey, but without a cool bag, and with the South of France heat, they would have been ruined before we could eat them.

Day 2: It was just a short two hour flight to Nice and we found the car hire office. The car was brought around to us, brand new and shining bright, and the guys who were attending were very helpful, polite and thorough. We loaded up the bags, and after Marcel had familiarized himself with some of the controls we headed out, circling the roundabouts a few times until we figured out the navigation system. A few u-turns later and we were heading out of Nice towards Monaco, a road we had traveled many times during our early twenties, good memories flooding back. We had decided to stop in Monaco for lunch as we knew the historic town, knew where the parking was situated and knew a few restaurants serving good fresh food. We enjoyed a lunch of seafood and salad, along with a cool refreshing glass of wine, and reminisced about our many good times in this country. It was soon time to head out and we went back to the car only to find that we couldn’t unlock it. We pressed all the buttons, tried all the doors, but the darn thing would not unlock. It didn’t help that we were in probably the most expensive car park in Europe, so every minute counted. We walked away from the car, walked towards it, double checked that it was in fact our car, then tried the trunk. Success! After some reading, we found out that the car automatically locks when you walk away from it, and in fact unlocks again if you walk towards it, but only within a certain time. After that you need to use the key fob, or hold the handle of the driver's door, with the key fob close by and it should open. At time of writing we are three weeks into our trip and we can only unlock the car by opening the trunk. There must be a fault, but as long as we can unlock it somehow we decided not to worry too much. We left the parking lot and followed the coastline north towards Italy, noticing all the superyachts and the rich and famous playing on their toys. We crossed into Italy with no customs or border, only a police checkpoint where we were waved through, seeming to be more of a hindrance than a concern. We looked at the map and gave an estimate of where we would stop for the night and ended up in a small town called Imperia. We managed to find a hotel with a double room and the lady proprietor was very helpful with regard to restaurants and parking spaces. Parking was always going to be an issue here in Italy! She was very helpful with describing to me how to open the shutters, which were closed to keep the heat out, but I needed some light and fresh air. After some hand gestures and giggles, I went back to the room and opened the windows, the view overlooking the ocean. We wandered out to the harbourfront and walked up and down looking for a place for dinner. We enjoyed more seafood, octopus and mussels and then a pizza and salad. Tummies full, we went to bed, tired after our long journey.

Day 3: The next morning we woke early and had a delicious breakfast of fruit and yogurt, meats and cheeses, bread and croissants, and strong coffee. The room and breakfast rate was less that 100 Euros, with an ocean view and free parking, and a nice friendly welcome, clean room and comfortable bed. Now we were on our way to Pisa. Only a couple of hours drive away, we decided to stop in Pisa for lunch and see the tower and the cathedral. The terrain was very hilly, with small fortress towns perched on top of each one. We steered clear of the small coastal road, which would have been pretty, but after yesterday’s journey we realized the small towns were very congested and the drive would have taken twice the amount of time that we had planned. Still, the highway was set high in the hills and we could see the coast and came close to the ocean on several occasions. Much of the road was dug
through the mountains and there were many tunnels, some quite long. We would be driving in dim light through them, only to suddenly burst out the other end into bright sunlight and a quick glimpse of the surrounding countryside. Some houses were precariously built above the tunnels and we wondered if they were there first, with the tunnels being dug out beneath them! We
arrived in Pisa in the late morning. The sun was blistering, so we slathered on the sunscreen, donned our sunglasses and hats and headed towards the cathedral. We were lucky to find a parking lot close by so the walk was quite pleasant, through narrow streets lined with beautiful oleander trees. We came to the tower, the cathedral and the baptism hall, all within beautiful grounds. It was quite busy so we did the customary tourist photos, but didn’t want to spend the time queueing for tickets to go inside the buildings. We peeked in and they looked beautiful, but we needed to eat, get back on the road and get to the hotel somewhere between Pisa and Rome for the night. We were still full from our huge breakfast, so we stopped for a simple panini and a coffee further back in the town, off the tourist track and after another walk past the tower we headed back to the car. As we drove south the terrain leveled out a little with high mountains to the east. There were more farms now that it was flatter and as we traveled south the sun became hotter. We were headed to a hotel in a small town called Tarquinia, another small fortress town on top of a hill. After following the navigation system, we had to do a few detours and turnarounds, we finally came to the hotel. It was a lovely spa hotel called Valle Del Marta. We had a cool spacious room and once we were settled I asked Bianca the receptionist to book a table for us at a local restaurant for dinner. It was Saturday night and we knew that the restaurants would be busy. We
showered and rested and because the air was so dry I needed to moisturize my skin. As we were in a spa hotel there were numerous bottles of lotion and containers of oil so I picked one and slathered it all over. Only after I was disposing of the sachet did I start to wonder what I had smothered my skin in. It smelled lovely, but seemed to have a funny texture. I tried to read the sachet but the only word I could make out was ‘Intimate’..... I think I smothered myself in lube!!!
We relaxed by the pool with aperitivos. I’m loving the Aperol Spritz, a bit like Campari and soda, but with Prosseco! We were hungry by this time so we headed into town, found the restaurant Le Due Orfanelle, and enjoyed the local atmosphere of a simple but delicious meal of seafood antipasti, more seafood pasta and local wine. The evening had cooled so we decided to walk around the town to stretch our legs after being in the car for most of the day. As we turned down narrow side streets towards the main plaza the place was buzzing, alive with everyone out in the cool evening. They were preparing for a festival the next day and we watched as families and businesses, churches and organizations knelt on the cobblestones and created beautiful pictures using coffee grinds, seeds, salt, flower heads and leaves, all depicting some saint or ideology. There would be a parade the next day and a prize for the best creation. They were magnificent and we decided to come back the next morning to see the finished products. The
whole town was alive with everyone enjoying the cool evening, now 10.30pm; grandmas, babies and teenagers, along with their parents and aunts and uncles all laughing and enjoying the weekend together. We stopped to buy gelato and sat and watched everyone enjoying their family time together. We finally made our way back to the hotel and spent the night in a deep and peaceful sleep.

Day 4: We woke to bright sunshine and church bells. After yet another wonderful breakfast and strong coffee we left the hotel and parked in the town to check out the creations from the night before. They did not disappoint and everyone admired the work on their way to or from church. We had to make it to Rome which was only a couple of hours away, so we filled up with diesel and headed out. The gas station was an automated machine where you paid first, filled and then obtained a refund if you had paid too much. We couldn’t quite figure out if the refund came automatically back on the credit card or if we had to press the refund button. Of course we pressed the button and were instructed to enter the bar code number from our receipt, which I had thrown in the trash. So after a bit of Sunday morning dumpster diving, I retrieved the receipt only to find that there were two bar codes, and several likely looking numbers that looked like pin numbers. We entered almost every number on the receipt but did not manage to get the 30
Euros back….we gave up and put the loss down to experience, only to find out after half an hour that the refund did actually come back to the credit card. We vowed to avoid those gas machines in future, but realized that they might be the only ones open on Sundays. 
All roads lead to Rome, so we couldn’t get lost could we? We didn’t, but I’m glad the navigation system was on as there are so many one way streets in Rome, I don’t think we would have found the hotel with it. We seemed to go around in circles and back on ourselves quite a bit, but we finally made it to the hotel. It was a mile and a half away from the major sights, but still close
enough that we could walk if necessary, or use public transport. A car is not helpful in this city, so we parked outside the hotel, snatching the last parking spot, and checked in. The room was small, but comfortable and clean. Another spa hotel! However, I decided that sunscreen was enough moisturizer for my skin and stayed away from the slinky, shiny sachets scattered around the bathroom.
It was just about lunch time so we decided to head out into the center and made our way towards the Trevi fountain. The streets were busy as in any major city and we dodged trams and buses, along with the crazy drivers. We walked over the river Tiber, which was rather green and the banks overgrown. I was surprised that the river wasn’t used more for tourist activities. There were a few sightseeing boats, but the river itself was not as impressive as I had imagined. Green algae, weeds and trash lined its banks and where there was a walkway, there was nothing to entice anyone to walk there. A little beautification would not have gone amiss. We
ventured through the Jewish quarter, seeking out some possible eating places, the sun beating down hard. We had hats and sunglasses and our water bottles which we filled up frequently at the public water fountains that are ubiquitous in the city. We wondered about the cleanliness of the water, but we weren’t too concerned as our flasks had a UV light inside which is supposed to zap out any bacteria. After two days we were still alive, not sick and well hydrated.
The Trevi fountain was impressive, looked very refreshing but the area was very busy. We managed to get the customary photographs and then headed down to the Pantheon. It was humbling to see these ancient structures and I often wonder how they managed to build such beautiful structures so long ago. I’m not sure we could do so today given the same conditions. 
Tummies were rumbling, so we found a restaurant in a small narrow street that was shaded from the sun and ordered drinks and antipasti. Rested and fed, we made our way back through the city winding through the narrow streets, checking out the small boutiques and stores. At the Piazza Navorona we stopped for more aperitivo and a gelato, and imagined the chariots racing around this piazza as they did 2000 years ago. It was then time to head back to the hotel for a short rest, and a refreshing shower. As it was Sunday, we decided to have a light meal at the rooftop bar which overlooked the city. We enjoyed a bowl of delicate pasta, homemade and as light as a feather. We learned that we had walked ten miles that afternoon so our bed was calling soon after we had eaten.

Day 5: After another refreshing night’s sleep, surprisingly quiet for the city, we were ready for another day of sightseeing. We planned to visit the Vatican City, and then move over to the Spanish Steps and then to the Colosseum. We decided to skip the breakfast in the hotel, opting for a more typical breakfast of coffee and ‘cornetti’. We headed in the direction of the Vatican,
wandering through the eclectic and diverse area of Trastevere. We found a very small cafe with outdoor seating and ordered a crostini with jam, and a cappuccino each. As we sat munching on the delicious flaky croissant, the crumbs flying everywhere, we were visited by small finches hoping to scrounge some morsels from us. They had a feast, our crumbs spreading far and wide. Marcel observed a young Italian woman, sitting close by, who was obviously a local and visited there every day on her way to work, as the waitress brought her the same breakfast each day…coffee, juice, strawberries and of course the lovely flaky crostini. He was amazed at how she ate that crostini, without losing a crumb, not a morsel left on her lips or cheek, and certainly nothing left for the birds on the plate, table or surrounding area. Obviously we did not have the knack and I am no doubt going to have to practice this delicate art of eating without ‘crumbing’.
After breakfast, we continued on to the Vatican, getting a little lost, coming upon a film crew and the actors’ trailers. We passed through narrow streets, climbed steep cobbled hills and came upon a lovely fountain and viewpoint of the city. After much looking at the map, turning and pointing, we saw an Asian family striding out with purpose in the direction we thought was correct for the Vatican. We decided they looked like they knew where they were going and followed, keeping a respectable distance. True to form, they guided us to exactly where we wanted to go and we walked into the piazza and saw the lovely Basilica dii San Peitro. There were chairs and film crews around preparing for the weekend festivities and we decided to take a look inside, to get out of the sun and heat and to see this beautiful structure. After queing to go through security we decided to buy a ticket to go up to the dome of the Basilica. There was an option to ascend via an elevator or via 500+ steps. The steps of course! It was nice to be in the cool stone building and the marble steps were not very steep. As we progressed they became narrower and they twisted and turned up towards the dome. We exited into the Basilica, looking down on the magnificent floors, statues and frescos. It really was beautiful. There were many tour guides with groups of tourists, and we listened to a few as we passed or waited to move forward. We heard there were 300 more steps up to the cupola of the Basilica, where you could go outside and see across the city. Of course we had to do it. This time the stairs were very narrow, spiralled and at one point I was only just able to move forward with both shoulders wedged up against the walls. However, the confined space was well worth enduring in order to see the view across the city. From our vantage point we could see all the major sights, there was a cooler breeze and it was very peaceful. Well worth the climb. After about half an hour it was time to go down, not the same way, but in a similar fashion on a different stairwell; no
two-way traffic! Once down we went back into the Basilica and viewed it from the ground. It really is a beautiful place. We saw many confession boxes but decided we didn’t have enough time to confess all our sins! Hungry again by now, we ventured back to the Piazza Navarona for salad and pizza. Unfortunately we did not choose wisely and ate a very mediocre pizza in one of the tourist restaurants. I wasn’t sure whether to send it back, it really didn’t seem like it had been in the oven long enough, but we munched through it wishing we had spent a little more time exploring other restaurants. I went online later to write a review only to find that it got a 1.9 on Google! I couldn’t even write a review as they had taken that feature off, so many bad ones no doubt.
Next we walked to the Spanish Steps and down to the Colosseum. We were inundated with offers from the north african vendors trying to sell hats, water and tickets. While I understand they are just trying to make a living, it does become irritating after the fourth or fifth person has approached you within a 5 minute period or a 50 meter walk! The Colosseum was closed to further visitors that day, all tickets being sold. We should have booked the day before, but we weren’t too concerned. We had had enough climbing steps and going through narrow spaces for one day. We walked around the structure, imagining the gladiators and roaring crowds, and
headed back to the hotel, stopping for coffee and gelato to keep us going. After a short nap, a shower and change of clothes, we walked back to the Trastevere area and found a very typical family run restaurant. After sharing a plate of antipasti Marcel had homemade sausages with spinach and I had lovely tender veal with a side of spinach. Wine and coffee completed the meal and we wandered back through the lively, narrow streets reflecting on our two days in Rome. 
Back at the hotel, we took off our shoes and rubbed our tired feet. They deserved a rest, another 14 miles walked today. Thank goodness we were in the car the next day! 

Day 6: We woke to yet another day of hot sunshine. After breakfast at the hotel, sitting in the shaded courtyard, we checked out and headed out of Rome. At least we tried…the navigation system seemed to have a little delay so we continually missed turns, ended up going on one-way streets and arriving at dead ends. We turned it off and I used Google maps on my phone and we eventually passed through the suburbs and out into open fields and countryside. We were heading to Sorrento for lunch, then staying at a hotel on the peninsula so that we could drive the Amalfi coast the next day. We passed Vesuvius and planned to visit Pompeii perhaps on the way home. The Bay of Naples and Pompei looked inviting and we climbed the steep hillside, looking down the steep cliffs to the superyachts below. Winding through narrow roads, lined by bougainvillea, we entered Sorrento and found a parking garage. We walked the cobbled streets, looking at all the lovely pottery, linen and glass. We found some beautiful gardens which
we realized belonged to the Grand hotel Excelsior Vittoria, pity we weren’t staying there! We found a cute street restaurant that was serving sardines and small shrimp as the dish of the day.
We ordered those and enjoyed a glass of wine, and later coffee. We walked a little further and made our way back to the car to head to the hotel. The hotel was high on the peninsula, overlooking the Isle of Capri, so we put the navigation system back on and headed out. Unfortunately, the system took us along roads that were just rutted tracks and when we finally found the road, it abruptly ended, having fallen away into a crevasse, the other side visible from our side of the gaping expanse. We turned around, turned it off and proceeded up the hill. We found the hotel, which was lovely. An older couple owned it, old fashioned and quaint, but the room was large, cool and very clean with a large bathroom and a lovely balcony overlooking the sea. We spent the afternoon enjoying the view, resting and decided that we would stay there for dinner. The owners prepared all the food and we had a delicious meal of very fresh seafood salad, ravioli for me and ragu for Marcel. Wine and coffee polished off the evening and we slept soundly.

Day 7: Today would be the last day of our journey as we would arrive at our house sit this evening. We enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast of meats, yogurt, fruit and breads, coffee and juice and said our goodbyes to the proprietors. We would definitely stay there again if we came back. And off we went to drive the famous Amalfi Coast. We had read that on weekends they had limited the cars driving along this spectacular stretch of coastline. Apparently even numbered registrations could drive it on Saturday and odd numbers on Sunday. I’m not sure how they would be enforcing that, but as it was Wednesday we didn’t have to worry. It definitely was an amazing drive! Marcel is an experienced driver but this took every bit of his nerve and concentration, not only because of the twists and turns, and steepness of the cliffs, but because of the other traffic, crazy cars, mopeds, tour buses and local traffic of delivery trucks and everyone going about the daily business. Everyone was impatient, horns sounding and arms waving. There was no logic to their actions; if a bus was coming around a sharp bend there is only so much room for both vehicles. We stopped at Amalfi for coffee and to stretch our legs.
The town was busy with tourists and many crowded the small beach which overlooked the harbour. It didn’t seem to be very clean or enjoyable. There were a few pull outs where we could stop to take photographs and I was surprised at the amount of trash and graffiti there, something I was also disappointed to see all our way through the country. Still, the scenery was amazing and the crazy drive was well worth the experience. We bought a couple of sandwiches to eat on our last leg of our journey, not sure if anywhere would be open when we were ready to eat. We were venturing into quite a rural area of the country, and assumed that our choices would be more limited than had been thus far on our journey. We found a stop off the highway later, and enjoyed the views overlooking barley fields and rolling hills with the ancient fortress towns perched on top, shimmering in the afternoon heat. We followed the directions we had been given, and after winding through some of the barley fields, we saw a house perched on top of a hill, with olive groves surrounding it. We commented that it looked like a nice place, only to then realize that this was in fact our house sit property. We turned the corner and arrived at a set of iron gates from which led a steep gravel driveway, flanked by beautiful oleander bushes in pink, red and white, along with tall deep green conifers. Masseria Mimosa - we had arrived!

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