Driving in Italy

First and foremost, the Italians drive on the same side of the road as we do. This makes it a whole lot easier. Rental cars are abundant. You can rent from an American company like Hertz, Avis or Budget or from European companies like Europcar and Sixt. I prefer to rent a diesel when in Italy. The fuel is cheaper there. Fuel prices are very expensive compared to ours (about $10/gallon). Any savings you can make on this will help. I rent economy or compact cars since they get better mileage. Italian cars do not have all the smog and clean air protections we have so they get a much higher MPG than we do.

The roads are great. The largest roads are called Autostrada and are numbered A1, A@, etc. A connecting Autostrada can be named E24 etc. These are high-speed roads usually have three lanes each direction. They are limited access roads. Italians drive these roads at 140 KPH (about 90 MPH). The left lane is for passing only! DO NOT DRIVE IN THE LEFT LANE WHEN CARS ARE APPROACHING BEHIND YOU! Italians are kinder  to other drivers than we are but they will get very upset if you drive in the left and hog it. The middle lane has a slower speed limit and the far right has the slowest speed limit. There are speed cameras that will ticket you over 140 KPH. There are tolls on most of these roads. Have euros ready to pay your tolls.

Next are highways with limited access. These are typically two lanes with more curves (a slower speed limit). They are good roads and can get you from the Autostrada to near where you are going. Finally there are regular roads which can range from a flat surface road to a very curving mountain road. Some mountain roads have guard rails others do not (like California).

Fuel stops are everywhere so getting fuel is not a problem. Prices range as they do here. You should have a smart phone with European GPS (we use the Western Europe Tom-Tom App) or rent a GPS unit with your car. Directions are not always obvious and a GPS can help you. We also use our iPhone Tom-Tom for walking directions in big towns like Rome. Go and get lost then plug-in your hotel address and put it in walk mode.

Don’t drive in big cities like Rome. Most will not allow you to drive in the old city center. If you are driving and have a hotel, email them as where to park. They may have to email you a pass to enter the old city center and park. Driving will get you places that tours don’t go. So get out and enjoy yourself and have fun.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Car Rentals, Driving in Italy, Euro, Europe, General Travel, GPS, Parking Garage | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tuscany

Tuscany, Italy is a beautiful and romantic place. No visit here would be complete without a stop in Firenze (Florence). Florence was the capital of the renaissance movement. It has great architecture and museums. The Statue of David by Michelangelo is magnificent. It is located in the museum at the Accademia Gallery. In this museum there are other statues that were mistakes in the creation of David. They are also very beautiful. The Statue of David was replicated many times. There is a copy in the main Piazza near the Ponte Vecchio (old Bridge). The Uffizi and the many Churches and museums are worth a stop. Buy a good guide-book and tour this wonderful city.

I enjoy other places in Tuscany as well:

  1. San Gimignano – This medieval walled mountain town is my favorite place. It was a great secret but over the last 10-15 years the tour buses have found it. You must park outside the city walls and walk in. There are two main entrances to the city (one in the north and one in the south). Don’t be afraid to wonder off the two main streets. The small side streets are romantic and provide a feel of the original life here.
  2. Siena – A beautiful old city that is easy to get to off the Autostrada. The Palio is a special event in Siena. It is the racing of the horses around Piazza del Campo. The duomo is magnificent as well. Be romantic and walk the small streets of Siena.
  3. Cortona – This small beautiful city was made famous by Frances Mayes book, “Under the Tuscan Sun” and the movie that followed. Cortona is a small city with wonderful hills and views all around. Get out and walk! You can see the house used in the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” but it is difficult to find. Ask the tourist office in Cortona.
  4. Perugia – OK Perugia is near and dear to my heart and my sweet tooth. This is Italy’s chocolate city! It is where Perugina chocolates (Bacci) are made. You can tour the plant and taste chocolates. The Perugina factory is a short drive outside of Perugia. The city is divided into two sections. One up on a hill and other down at the base of the hill. There are escalators to transport you up and down. The main square is old and worth a visit.
  5. Assisi – This city is the home and burial grounds for Saint Frances. His church is really two cathedrals one on top of the other. It is massive and worth a visit. The town is old and has many interesting sites. Park and take a walking tour (like the one in the link above). Wikitravel has walking guides and things to see.
  6. Montepulciano – This is where Italy’s best and most expensive wine (Brunello) comes from. Many consider this city to be one of Tuscany’s most attractive cities. It is built up on a mountain with views of the area around it.

This general area of Tuscany is also home to Italy’s best Chianti wines. Look for bottles and wineries displaying the black cock. It is a symbol of the best made wines.

George & Jo Anne

Categories: Chocolate, Europe, Italy, Mountain Towns, Parking Garage, Small Towns, Tuscany, Umbria, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gelato

Gelato is Italian ice cream but it’s so much more. First of all it is made differently. Gelato has three differences from ice cream:

  1. Fat – Gelato uses less of it. Fat is important to slow down crystallization.
  2. Sugar – Since recipes vary greatly for both ice cream and gelato, sugar is about the same. We have noticed in Italy in general things are made with less sugar than in America.
  3. Temperature – Gelato is served at higher temperatures than ice cream. It is similar to American custards. If you freeze gelato it will turn hard as ice.

Gelato stores exist in just about every city in Italy. In big cities like Rome, they seem to be on every street. Typically you enter the store and look at the many selections of gelato they have. They will let you taste a few. Then you go to the cashier and tell them what you are having. How many scoops and cone or cup. You pay and get a receipt. Next take it back to the gelato counter and give it to a server and tell them what flavors you want. They hand you your delicious gelato.

Italians usually eat it standing and talking or walking the streets. Some stores have small seating areas. Gelato is good on a hot summer day but it is also great in the winter. Its soft texture and strong pure flavors are so much better than ice cream. The color of gelato is from what fruit or nut is in it. The ingredients get ground up and color the gelato. If you get strawberry for example, there are no chunks of strawberry in it. The strawberry have been ground up and color the gelato red. Every bite has a wonderful strawberry flavor. Our favorite is Nocciola, a hazelnut gelato. The hazelnuts turn the gelato a light brown. Each bite has a wonderful hazelnut flavor.

If you are headed to Italy, you must try their gelato. It will calm you and bring a smile to your face.

George & Jo Anne

Categories: Europe, Gelato, General Travel, Italy | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Castelnuovo Cilento, Italy

If you read yesterday’s post, you know that Castelnuovo Cilento is our sister town. It is where people would go when the pirates raided the beach towns below. It is located in Campania and in the Cilento National Park of Italy. It is high up on a mountain top and has ancient fortified castle walls around it. Inside its walls is a church and restaurant. Just outside is a small town. The road up is steep, winding and in need of some repairs. We had read about a festival featuring Cilento foods in this castle. We went up around 7:30 pm thinking it would be going on. It was just being setup. We learned it was going to start around 10 or 11.

We met a man setting up for the festival that owned the restaurant/bar within the castle walls. His restaurant was closed for the season (it closed September 1st). He actually opened his restaurant and gave us a tour. He had a wonderful bar and decks with magnificent views of the valley below. It totally amazes us the friendliness and warmth of these people. We vowed to return next trip for dinner.

All that was left was the steep downhill road home. At the bottom we relaxed a little and continued to our home.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Campania, Castelnuovo Cilento, Cilento, Eating Italian, Europe, Festivals, General Travel, Italy, Mountain Towns, Small Towns | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Velina Castelnuovo Cilento, Italy

Our second home is in Italy. The town is a little confusing. It is called Velina but it is part of the next town called Castelnuovo Cilento. It is in The Cilento national Park and the Province of Campania. The whole area is referred to as Casal Velino which is a mountain town nearby and has a beach town called Marina Casal Velino. People in the Amalfi Coast area never  heard of our town. Only those that vacation here in the summer know of this area. There is good train service into Valo Scalo or Ascea. The Valo Scalo train station is called Vallo della Lucania which is a nearby town with a college and good hospital. The train is actually in the town of Valo Scalo.

Our town has two main streets. One is the road that runs from Valo Scalo to Ascea. In our town it is loaded with stores. Beach shops, clothing stores, shoe stores, fruit and vegetable stands, pastry shops, chocolate shops, bread stores, mozzarella stores, bars and delis. From this street another main street goes off to Casal Velino and Marina Casal Velino. This street has several bars, a used car lot, supermarket, laundry and furniture store.

Tourists don’t usually come to our town even though two great beaches are less than 2 miles away. Our town does have an Agroturismo or family run farmhouse hotel. These are great in Italy. They grow organic vegetables and fruits and raise organic animals for meat. They have a big store to sell their produce to the public. They also have a hotel. Rooms are clean and breakfast is usually included. Tourists do wonder here since the rooms are cheaper than the beach hotels.

All in all the town of Velina is a great place to live. You have everything you need in the town. The beaches are close by and there are many mountain towns a short drive away. There are good highways into this area from the south or the north (Rome, Naples and Salerno). There are the ancient Greek ruins of Paestum and Velia close by. Restaurants are very good and abundant. The drive from the Rome Airport is only 4 hours.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Amalfi Coast, Ascea, Bars, Beaches, Bread, Campania, Casal Velino, Chocolate, Cilento, Europe, General Travel, Hotels, Italy, Mountain Towns, Naples, Owning a home in Italy, Paestum, Rome, Salerno, Small Towns, Trains, Velia, Velina | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ascea, Italy

Another beach town near us and just south of Marina Casal Velino (see yesterday’s BLOG) is Ascea. Ascea has beautiful beaches as well. There are rocks by the water but they are beautiful. They have a dark grey color with white stripes running through them. When wet they look polished. Jo Anne collected a lot of them at this beach. Like Marina Casal Velino, there are free beaches and paid clubs. The clubs offer umbrellas, lounge chairs and a table for your admission. The food you can order is wonderful.

Ascea

From the water as you look back, all you see are mountains. The land here is rugged down to the coast. As can be seen in the picture above, the beaches can get crowded. There is a street that runs along the water with ample parking. If you take this street south to the end (it becomes a dirt road), it ends in a parking lot. The beach here is a club and is the last beach south in Ascea.

The city is about 14 sq. miles and has a population of almost 6,000. In the summer, especially August, there are many more people here. There is a train station in the center of town that links the north from Salerno and Naples and the south to Sicily. As in all Italian cities, there are plenty of bars and restaurants. There are also hotels and B&Bs here.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Ascea, Campania, Europe, General Travel, Hotels, Italy, Marina Casal Velino, Small Towns, Trains | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Beach Town of Marina Casal Velino, Italy

Marina Casal Velino is a beautiful beach town on the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is a small town with several restaurants, hotels, B&B’s and Pastry shops. Being Italy, it also has many bars. Remember bars are for breakfast coffee and pastry, lunch sandwiches (Panini) as well as drinks and many times gelato. We have spoken about our favorite bar for pastries is Franco’s but our favorite for sitting with a coffee, having Wi-Fi and enjoying the view is Isola Verde. There is a main street in the back of town that runs from a traffic circle south to another beach town called Ascea. Ascea is where the Greek ruins of Velia are found. There is another main street that runs along the beach. It has stores, hotels, bars and restaurants on one side of the road and a beautiful white sand beach with palm trees and on the other side of the road.

The beaches here have free sections. You must bring your own umbrella and chairs if you want to use them. There are also beach clubs that you pay to get in. They give you two beach chairs a table and an umbrella all setup. You can also order drinks and food at their bar. They can bring the drinks to you on the beach. They also have clean bathrooms and changing rooms. The beach is not very wide but nice. As you go into the water it is refreshing but not cold. The sand continues under the water smoothly. There are no rocks. You can wade far out and the water is still about 4 feet deep.

This town is very popular with Italians and other Europeans in the summer. It gets very crowded in August when everyone is off. The Italians mostly come from Naples and Salerno areas. The Europeans are mostly Germans. It is very funny to read the menus at the restaurants which are in Italian and German. The town has many vendors along the beach and closes one street each Friday for a market. It has clothes, food, household products and toys. It is fun to walk through this market and look at the merchandise which is all locally grown or made.

If you enjoy beaches and small mountain towns, this is the area of Italy for you. It is unspoiled and very beautiful.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Ascea, Bars, Beaches, Campania, Europe, Gelato, General Travel, Italy, Marina Casal Velino, Mountain Towns, Small Towns | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Velia, Italy

Velia is no longer a city. It was an ancient Greek city fonder around 538 BC known then as Elea. It was a very large city extending from the sea to the mountains. It had a tower at its highest point. From there you could see the sea in all directions and watch for pirates or the fires from other town’s towers indicating the pirates were on their way. Today this city is just a ruin but the tower still stands. You can buy tickets to tour this wonderful ruin or a combo ticket to view Velia and Paestum (see yesterday’s BLOG).

Velia is located near the current beach town of Ascea Italy. Ascea is in the southern end of Campania and has beautiful beaches. We found these wonderful rocks at the beach. They were smooth and looked polished with white strips on the grey rock. When we toured Velia, we saw these same rocks used in their construction of buildings 2,500 years ago. As you walk this ruin you will see some buildings totally standing but without a roof, others are just foundations outlining the original building. There is a forum and pathways through this ancient city.

As you walk you can almost hear the horse-drawn carriages on the cobbles town streets. You can imagine people hanging out windows or walking around this town.

Velia

This was once a major city in southern Italy long before the Roman Empire.

You can drive from the A3 Autostrada south on SP 430 to Vallo Scallo and then on streets to Ascea or take a train to Ascea. As you enter the city of Ascea from the north you can see Velia on your left. There is ample parking and a small gift shop.

George & Jo Anne

Categories: Ascea, Beaches, Campania, Cilento, Europe, General Travel, Italy, Paestum, Trains, Velia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paestum, Italy

Have you been to the beautiful Amalfi Coast? If you are planning a trip, there is a lesser known place just south of Salerno called Paestum. Paestum is an ancient Greek city located in the Campania region of Italy. It was founded 600 BC. It is also where the Allied Soldiers landed to defeat the Germans and drive them out of Italy. It is located on the sea with Salerno about 27  miles (1 hour) to the north and Agropoli 5 miles (19 minutes) to the south. There is a modern outlet mall nearby.

paestum

 The buildings to see are:

  1. Temple of Athena –  shown above
  2. Temple of Hera
  3. Roman Forum
  4. Roman Amphitheater

These still stand and are magnificent to see. They are in better shape than most monuments in Greece. There are ruins (just foundations) everywhere. This is an easy site to get to. There are two roads between Agropoli and Salerno. One runs along the sea and has beautiful views of the sea. The other is a good road with gas stations, bars and restaurants. It runs between Agropoli and battipaglia. Then you get on the A3 Autostrada to Salerno or Naples. The sea is the Tyrrhenian Sea which is separated from the Mediterranean Sea by islands and Sicily.

Salerno is a large city with an ancient old town. Agropoli, we spoke about yesterday, has great beaches, an old town and a large city. The A3 Autostrada links Naples (and the A1 Autostrada to the north) to the south and Sicily. This area ia very mountainous with mild climates all  year-long. The mountain tops can have snow in the winter.

Tomorrow we will speak about another ancient Greek site from the same period called Velia.

George & Jo Anne

 

 

Categories: Agropoli, Campania, Europe, Italy, Naples, Salerno | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Old Town Agropoli

Agropoli is a large city in the province of Salerno and region of Campania, Italy. It covers about 15 sq, miles and has a population of 20,600 people. The city has a beach, hospitals and many businesses. It also has a railway station on the Naples line. The SP 430 highway starts near here and runs south. The A3 autostrada is nearby as well. The closest larger city is Salerno.

Near the center of town is a large harbor and a small mountain that leads to the old town. You can’t drive in old town but you can park by the harbor and walk in. All the streets (pathways) head up the hill. Most soon turn into stairs. As you get to the top there is an old gate. Passing through the gate brings you into old town. You can find small restaurants, pizzerias, ancient churches and an old castle. The castle has a moat around it which is now filled in with grass and used as a parking area for deliveries. Climbing more stairs leads to the draw bridge entering this fantastic old castle. Each turret on the castle affords a magnificent view.

The views in each direction are amazing. You can see the harbor, the beaches and south towards Castellabate. You will need your GPS to get in and out of Agropoli. There are many turns and very small streets. It is easy to get lost. Once at old town, you are brought back in time. The present time seems a long way off. Life here is simpler. Stop at a bar and have a drink or coffee. Observe the locals. Say hi (buongiorno). Italians will smile an answer you back, buongiorno.

From Agropoli it is a short car drive to the ancient town of Paestum.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Agropoli, Beaches, Campania, Eating Italian, Europe, Italy, Trains | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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