We spent the last two weeks in Italy with our very dear friends (who used to be our neighbors). We went down to visit them in Austin, Texas in November 2019, where they were living at the time, and then in December 2019 up here for just a weekend. We made plans to meet up somewhere in the middle in the spring. And then COVID happened.
Almost two and a half years and a whole bunch of Zooms later, we finally got to hug them again. They’ve since moved to Italy, where she is from, and so we headed there for a visit. We waited until the kiddo was fully vaccinated, and then for the Omicron wave to subside, but then we decided we just had to go and not wait any longer.
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COVID Policy and Masks in Italy
On the COVID front, it was also especially nice to head to Italy, because they still take things much more seriously than here. Washington dropped their mask mandate (the last state in the country to do so) right before we left, but Italy still requires them inside everywhere, and it’s even normal to wear them outside in crowded areas.
I watched a family with preteen kids get kicked out of the Pantheon because the kids weren’t wearing masks, and another man get called back when he went into a grocery store maskless (and he actually walked back to the cashier to take the mask from her).
It’s definitely been a shock – and not a good one – to come back home where the vast majority of folks have dropped mask wearing. It shouldn’t be a huge ask, but apparently it is here. The Italians sure don’t make a big deal of it.
Photo Dump: Popoli, Abruzzo
While I have so much to say about this trip, for today, I think this post will mostly be just photos. (Hahaha, ETA apparently I couldn’t stop myself and said a whole lot after all) We spent the first five days in Popoli, the small Italian hill town where our friends live, and absolutely fell in love. Of all the places we explored while in Italy, Popoli is the place that has my heart, and not simply because of the dear people who live there. I can see why they moved.
One of the best parts of our days in Popoli was that we didn’t have a car at all for the first half, and the entire time was spent at a slow pace, just living and enjoying being in the town and with each other.
Since they’re so far off the beaten path, almost no one speaks English, and I don’t think we saw another person not from Italy during our days there. When we were with our friend, she was able to translate for us, but even at breakfast at our hotel only one of the staff spoke more than a few words of English.
There’s a castle overlooking the town, so one of our days in Popoli, we grabbed sandwiches from the market and hiked up for lunch. Lots and lots of stairs, but the view and the meal up at the castle was pretty dang awesome.
Once we picked up the rental car in Pescara before heading out to the Amalfi coast the next day, our friends dropped their dog off at a boarder for the rest of the trip. Our poor kiddo sobbed like we told him that they were putting her down, not just dropping her off to doggie daycare.
They got her as a tiny puppy when they lived down the street, and the kiddo adores her. He kept crying and saying that he didn’t want to see her on Zoom, but in real life. It broke my heart, because me too, buddy, me too. Zoom isn’t anywhere close to being able to hug those you love.
The Amalfi Coast
Thankfully the fog hadn’t closed in on our drive up through the winding mountain roads to Tovere San Pietro, the small village we were staying in on the Amalfi Coast. As it was, the drive was long and winding, with Italian cars zipping around narrow hairpin turns. If you’ve never driven in Italy before, it’s definitely an adventure.
The closest town to us was a half hour straight up ~2200 stairs (or a two hour drive all the way around the mountain). So we walked. The weather was terrible, alternating between sprinkles and downpours, and the stairs were more like walking up a waterfall. Lots and lots of waterfalls.
After a half hour slog straight up, we walked into the town of Agerola. Our Italian friend stayed back at the Airbnb with their kiddo, so it was up to our Texan friend to get by with the Italian he’s learned since living there (which is much, much better than he thinks).
We arrived in town sopping wet, tired, and hungry – in early afternoon, when most restaurants close between lunch and dinner. He was able to talk to the owner of one that was getting ready to close, and they let us in for a meal. Our options were ravioli or gnocchi – the kitchen just about was closed. And it was one of the best meals we had in Italy, not just because we were cold, tired, and hungry, but because the food was that darn good.
Once we got back, we decided to then drive down to Amalfi itself, through the thick fog. It was his turn to stay with the kiddo (first day, so he needed some down time at the Airbnb). She and I and the kiddo headed in the car, and were pleasantly surprised to be able to see the world around us once we got down to sea level.
The following day, we knew we had to get back out of the clouds, so we drove down the coast again, this time to the smaller town of Maiori. We spent the day in the town, and it was lovely and much more our speed than the crammed city of Amalfi.
We ended up having lunch next to a family from Alaska who we then ran into the next week when walking through Rome. Bizarre, but totally cool.
She and I went back up the stairs partway just the two of us once the skies cleared. At first, we went just to get a view now that there was one, but once we’d started, we decided to hike all the way back up to the top. It was absolutely worth it, and another evening that I will remember forever.
On our way back to Abruzzo from the Amalfi Coast, we stopped for an afternoon at Pompeii. The weather was absolutely miserable (cold, wind, rain), but I’m so glad I got to visit.
The first, second, and third reasons we went to Italy was to see our people, but of the few things I really wanted to see, Pompeii was up at the top of the list. The geology/history nerd heart in me sang as I walked the streets of the old city. I’d have loved longer (and better weather), but I am so glad we got to go regardless.
Return to Abruzzo (San Pietro)
We headed back to the Abruzzo region for a couple of days after leaving Pompeii so that we didn’t do the whole drive to Rome in one day. Our kiddo is old enough now, but theirs is young enough that too much driving in one day would have been miserable. Plus, we’ve learned we much prefer slower paced trips regardless. And Abruzzo stole our hearts, and we were more than happy to have a few more days in the region.
We booked a lovely house in the village of San Pietro in Abruzzo, but the VRBO host was awful. More on this later if VRBO doesn’t resolve the situation to my expectations, because if not, we will never book with VRBO again. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll have heard a little about this, but I don’t really feel like rehashing again. And here’s to hoping VRBO takes my complaints seriously and I can just put this past us and just remember this part of the trip with fondness.
Three Days in Rome
When we were first planning the trip, I was leaning toward more days in Rome. I’m glad our friends convinced us to spend more time elsewhere, because it really was the right number of days. We didn’t get to see nearly everything, but there were just so many people in Rome (realizing it was off season and *not* crowded by their standards). It was awesome to see all the old stuff, and we had some excellent food, but we didn’t need a full week there. Though in the future I’d definitely like to go back for another few days.
With a seven year old and an almost three year old in tow, a couple of long days (logging 30,000+ steps a day), we decided to have a more low key day to finish out the trip. Rome’s Villa Borghese (think Central Park) – in the shape of a heart – is a huge green space in the middle of the city, filled with museums, playgrounds, horse arenas, and their zoo.
On the way back from the zoo in late afternoon, we stopped to get our pre-flight Covid tests required for our return to the United States. Entirely ridiculous, considering we didn’t need them to enter Italy, where they are way more strict about Covid, but whatever. I wasn’t going to argue with any precaution left in the US.
We picked up our friend’s favorite Roman pizzas for dinner (she lived in Rome for 8 years before moving to the US), with gelato for dessert, of course. We said goodnight to their kiddo since we were leaving early the next morning, and then sat around together until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer.
The next morning, we said arrivederci with tears and lots of hugs. Even now, I’m tearing up thinking about missing them. Two and a half years was entirely too long, and we will do our damndest to make sure it won’t be that long again.
Thanks, friends, for making our first trip to Italy so magical. Then again, anywhere is a wonderful adventure with you. We will see you again very soon. Miss you and left half our hearts behind. Ciao.