During Christmas time 2020, we had planned to go to Italy as a family. Of course, this plan was cancelled along with everyone else’s plans once the pandemic struck us hard starting in March of that year. We decided to try again to see this culture-rich country in 2021. The original plan was that our sons Alex and Andy were going to fly over from San Francisco and meet us in Rome for a two-week tour of Italy with their significant others for the second half of December.
All was well in the fall of 2021 until the Omicron variant arrived in the US and Italy. Alex’s wife decided she wasn’t comfortable coming. Then Alex got worried about getting stuck in Rome with Covid and not being able to get back to work by January 3rd. We decided instead that he could just come the first week of the trip. So he was able to change his return flight without paying too much. But the day before Alex was to leave, his wife was notified that she had been exposed to two coworkers with Covid. So Alex decided not to come either. Ugh! Such is life during a pandemic. Plans change at the very last minute.
Andy, our second son, was determined to come to Italy no matter what. He had an ulterior motive. He planned to propose to his girlfriend Sabrina on the trip so nothing was going to get in the way of that!
So hubby Rick and I met up with Andy and Sabrina at the airport baggage claim area in Rome on December 18th. We had flown in from Spain where we were informed we would have to present a negative Covid test despite being fully vaccinated. We spent time and money to take care of this the day before we left but no one asked to see our negative results in Spain or Italy. Such is life during a pandemic. Published decrees may be one thing but the reality on the ground may be something else.
Our first full day in Rome the four of us did a guided tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum. Here are some photos of that.
From Rome, we traveled to Naples by private car. I discovered a handy app called MyDayTrip.com that allows you to easily arrange transport between cities in Italy. I highly recommend this service. We used it three times in Italy and always had a very good experience. All drivers were professional and spoke English. They also came in vans for us. This was important with four people, four suitcases and four backpacks, plus several shopping bags.
Our son Alex had wanted to go to Naples to try the pizza. Of course, he was not on the trip now but we forged ahead anyway. I do not recommend Naples. It was noisy, crowded and dirty. Sirens blared constantly on the main street through town and there was graffiti everywhere we looked. I likened the experience to a bad dream. Only the views of Mount Vesuvius from the Naples Bay redeemed the town slightly in my view.
However, Pompeii and Herculaneum are both near Naples so that was a bonus. We had seen Pompeii in 2010 so we opted for a private guided tour of the ancient city of Herculaneum. This town was destroyed by lava flow a day after Mount Vesuvius erupted and covered Pompeii in smoke and ash in October AD 79.
Here are a few photos from that visit.
After visiting Herculaneum, we traveled by hired car to Sorrento. There was no way I was planning to drive on the narrow and twisting roads in this part of Italy. We spent a quiet Christmas Day in an Airbnb in Sorrento. The day before that, we had arranged to see Positano on the Amalfi Coast. Although it was a beautiful city, it didn’t seem like a place with much to see or do, especially in the wintertime.
After a three day stay in Sorrento, we took a train to Florence from Naples. It was a high-speed train and it only took us 2.5 hours to get there. While in Florence, we stayed at the Hotel Pitti Palace. It’s nothing fancy but it’s right next to the famous Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) and was within walking distance of all other major sights, including the must-see Uffizi Art Gallery.
Here are some sights of beautiful Florence.
Although you can’t tell it from these photos I took, the Uffizi Museum was very crowded with mask-wearing tourists. No one was allowed in without proof of a Covid-vaccine passport. Nonetheless, social distancing was non-existent in the museum.
The next day was when we did a Tuscany vineyard tour. This day was critical for Andy to carry out his plan to propose to his girlfriend. Everyone knew of the plan except Sabrina. We were supposed to be nearby and take photos of the big moment. We happily complied.
After this exciting day in Tuscany, we took a train back to Rome for a few more days of sightseeing. Thousands of other tourists were also there to celebrate New Year’s Eve in this most special place. Look at this photo of the Spanish steps overrun by tourists on New Years Day.
On our final day in Rome, January 1st, I found less people in the beautiful Borghese Gardens. There were still thousands of people out on this public holiday but the space we occupied in this garden was vast. Here are a few final photos of the garden. It has a zoo and art museum on the property as well as a lake and paths to walk on or even ride a bike.
So that’s how we spent our Christmas vacation. We decided to go enjoy ourselves in a lovely country rich in history, art and culture. We did it despite the existence of the pandemic. After all, Covid cases are now high in Spain too, just as they are in Italy and in the US. But we are fully vaccinated and wear our masks, especially in indoor spaces. We remain cautious but determined to keep enjoying life!