THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE AMALFI COAST- let’s get started (5 part series)

Once a wealthy maritime power few regions of Italy are as gorgeous as the corner of Campania that is home to the hilly Sorrentine Peninsula and the Amalfi Coast.  This is also the home of Naples, and the Islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida. Smack dab in the middle of the Mediterranean the sea is the most alluring blue green color and if that doesn’t win your heart the warmth of the sun and the people certainly will. From the Sorrento Coast to Salerno the views don’t disappoint. They take you to Mount Vesuvius across the bay of Naples and then across the sea to the Island of Capri.  It is a world made up of stairs!  Thousand and thousands of them so bring your most comfortable walking shoes.  This is no time ladies for fancy high heels that will only get caught in the cobblestones!

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Cultural highlights are everywhere from the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum to the ancient history in Sorrento and Naples with sights and adventures that take you back to Roman times. The Amalfi coast is a UNESCO World Heritage site which hopefully will help preserve its charm and history.  The landscape is dotted with alluring, charming towns and the most beautiful churches.

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Praiano

The food is “bellissima”! Make sure if you go to have the pizza! The pasta extruded using bronze dies creates a rough texture better supporting the sauce tastes nothing like ours here in the US and the mozzarella, gelato and limoncello are divinely delicious! The vine-ripened tomatoes beckon at every meal and the lemons and olives… well you get the idea! The hills are terraced with lemons, oranges, olives and grapes with Sorrento itself being known for its lemon production.  They all thrive in this volcanic soil. Did someone say “Limoncello”! Be prepared for lots of seafood, desserts and more desserts!

 

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Pizza with carciofi (artichokes)

All that walking though will let you eat and drink your way around.  Did I mention the wine!!!!! Divine!!! Hang out and relax and enjoy the wine and the sunsets. Savor the slow pace and forget all those “To Do” lists, if even just for a little while.

What would a coastline be without the hidden coves and beaches that will try to lure you away from your intentions. These are not the beaches of the Caribbean however! First and foremost, you must plan to see the coast from the water, especially on Capri!

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Of course, for those so inclined there are plenty of hiking adventures to be had.  (coming in an upcoming post)

For those more adventurous, the cliff hugging Amalfi coast road, one of the world’s most beautiful scenic roads, with its 1,001 hairpin turns and breath taking views will test even the most accomplished driver. If you love roller-coasters then this is for you. Luckily there are taxis, private cars and buses that make travel easy and convenient because of course, you don’t want to miss the scenery because you had to concentrate on the road!

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Amalfi Coast Road
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Oh yeah that’s the coast road thru Positano!

Sorrento is known as one of the world’s most charming and a old towns with it’s many cafes, shops and historic sites. (see upcoming blogs) Ravello is most famous for its extraordinary gardens and the Ravello Music Festival. Amalfi is the main coastal town and port. Positano is the jewel of the coastline with shops and houses cascading down the ravine to the sea. Don’t miss Capri or one of the other islands to the west of Sorrento in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Tourism is the major industry on this coast.

I am debating on the best way to tackle this blog so you don’t miss a second of my trips to the Amalfi coast so I think I will cover a few towns in separate blogs as there is too much to be said. Are you ready to continue on to Part 2 in this series? “Positano Bites Deep”

If you want to travel to Italy I can highly recommend a fabulous planner Ashley Turney of L’Esperta.

See you next time! Ciao!

 

 

Pompeii- a step back in time!

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The ancient city of Pompeii is located in the southern region of Italy called Campania near the coast of Naples and was an important port town.  This once great Roman city was buried under tons of ash and pumice when in 79 A.D. Mount Vesuvius erupted. This thriving city of 20,000 people that was built up with private and public establishments under both Emperors Augustus and Tiberius was destroyed.

After the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii was rediscovered and is still undergoing extensive restoration and excavation.  There is an extraordinary collection of architecture, sculpture, paintings and mosaics.  The major artifacts were moved to Naples by the Emperor many, many years ago.

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Mount Vesuvius

We entered through the Marina Gate in Region VII (there are 9 Regions under excavation at Pompeii) where you are immediately greeted by the Suburban Baths.  These were private baths some with erotic paintings; others with extravagant decorations.

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Agostino- our fabulous guide in Capri and Pompeii

Our private guide, Agostino, regaled us with all sorts of racy stories!   Excavated in 1960; 1985-1988

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Marina Gate and Suburban Baths

The Marina Gate & Walls provide access to the west side of this city and is the most impressive of the 7 gates of Pompeii. It seems the name came from the fact that the route out led to the sea.  The gate has 2 barrel vault portals made of concrete and dates back to 80 B.C. The 2 portals provided entry for both horses and other pack animals and the smaller was for people. Excavated 1862-1863

Another highlight was the Temple of Genius Augusti (Vespasian) which was built at the request of the Priestess.  It consisted of a small courtyard, marble altar which depicts a bull being led to sacrifice and a small temple with 4 columns and exquisite marble decoration. Excavated in 1817

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The Bakery of Popidio Prisco: The mill and the bakery were adjacent to each other as they were part of the same production process. There are 5 large lava millstones that were used to grind the wheat. Bread was baked in a variety of shapes in the large central oven and sold to residents or to wholesalers. Excavation 20’s of the 19th century.

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The bakery of Popidio Prisco

 

The Sauna Room and public baths were a significant social scene where Romans would relax and be pampered after leaving the gymnasium. There was both a hot and cold bath here. Water was abundant in this city.

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The sauna room

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The Streets of Pompeii were established on a grid plan The streets have grooves for the horse carts. Since the streets often flooded there are footsteps that allow pedestrians to cross the road without getting their feet wet.

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Interior of home of a wealthy merchant with colorful frescoes and ornate decorations

 

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The Forum: this was a public space originally at the center of Pompeii’s commercial, religious and political life and is surrounded by many of the most significant buildings of the city. The Basilica was a public building where business and legal matters were conducted. It was at one end of the Forum.

 

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The Building of Eumanchia has an ornate carved marble frieze. Note the “key” which supports the gate without a central support. Eumanchia was a local priestess and a successful business woman to boot! Women rock!

 

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The ruins of Pompeii:

 

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This exploration of a time gone by is well worth the visit.  It is immense and you can easily fall into the trap of everything looking the same.  Take my advice and hire a private guide or you will miss the highlights here as following the map will have you wandering endlessly in circles! A word of warning: wear comfortable shoes!!! The streets are very uneven and you can easily lose your footing.

Now onto the Puglia Region.  Here is a link to Alberobello our next adventure.  Stay tuned for Matera, Lecce and the gorgeous Borgo Egnazia

 

Puglia, an undiscovered gem in Italy

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Puglia is quite often a point of departure for Greece with ferries taking you across the Adriatic Sea from its ports in Bari and Brindisi. I was fortunate enough to discover this increasingly popular region of Italy last fall while documenting a tour group for L’Esperta (Italian Travel & Lifestyle Expert) to this region.

 

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Awesome group of women!

The area of Puglia is located in the heel of the boot of Italy and is becoming a trendy tourist destination. While in Puglia, we were able to explore many of the ancient towns in the area like Alberobello with its white-washed Trullo houses; Lecce with its Baroque beauty and Martina Franca with its olive groves and orchards.  Of course, you might just want to visit the beach! It is on the Adriatic Sea of course! Wait did I mention the food!  Oh My gosh!!!! Fabulous!

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Prickly Pears

 

As we made our way from the Amalfi Coast eastward we stopped in the ancient cave town of Matera then onward to Puglia.  Our final destination was the impeccable Borgo Egnazia. They say “Nowhere Else” and that describes the beauty of this unique resort and spa. In upcoming blogs we will visit each of these towns as we make our way across Italy!

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Capri – Amalfi Coast- Faraglioni rock formations

 

 

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Matera

 

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Borgo Egnazia

 

 

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Borgo Egnazia entry hall

Puglia has always been basically an agricultural/farming region.  The large agricultural estates have become upscale resorts, spas, etc. I found out the Appian Way which starts in Rome ends in Puglia and is still marked by one surviving Roman column.  The second is found in Lecce.

Much of the region is covered in olive groves, orchards and other crops.  I never saw celery growing before.  My garden is limited to tomatoes, cukes, eggplant and herbs.  Some of these olives trees are over 1,000 years old. The roots of olive trees do not die of natural causes.  The trunk and branches can hollow out and die off many times over the life of the tree.  I have never tasted olive oil like we tasted in Martina Franca and promptly bought a case after we learned how to determine what is “great” olive oil vs. very commercial “not so good” olive oil.

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1000 year old Olive trees

 

So let’s start our journey across Italy.  We started on the Amalfi Coast which was my third trip and boy it never gets old!  Since I have blogged about all the cities on the Amalfi Coast previously I won’t get into that now but here is a link to those blogs.

We began in Pompeii, headed to Matera, then to Savelletri di Fasano in Puglia.  Come join me and discover “the” up and coming tourist destination in southern Italy!

My next blog documents our travels to Pompeii then on to Alberobello, Matera, Lecce and then on to Savelletri di Fasano on the coast. Here is a link to Pompeii. See you next time!

In case you missed my Amalfi Coast series here is a link to the first of that 5 part series: The Ultimate Guide to the Amalfi Coast

Sorrento and Capri (Part 5 of 5)

Sorrento is known as one of the world’s most charming and romantic old towns with it’s many cafes, shops and historic sites. It is located in southern Italy about an hour south of Naples, wedged on a ledge and separates the Gulf of Naples from the Gulf of Salerno. This is a land of high hills and valleys and mountains surrounding the entire peninsula. The area is surrounded by smaller villages like Meta, Sant’ Agnello and the area known as Massa Lubrense.  Sorrento is a good home base for your Amalfi Coast excursions.

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Bay of Naples

Piazza Tasso is the central square in Sorrento and the hub for fancy hotels, artistic and cultural events. There are many side streets, almost alleyways I would call them lined with all manner of shopping from high end boutiques, gelato shops and cafes everywhere just to stop and relax and remember why you are here! The town is laid out on an East – West orientation to take advantage of the most sun and North – South to get the prevailing winds.  This was originally a Greek town plan. The 13th century palaces that dot the back streets have no balconies and this was for security.

 

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Sorrento

The limestone rocks here create a soil that is very suitable for various types of vegetation. The most popular and well known product from the region is of course lemons and that oh so famous liqueur: Limoncello!  Of course, we won’t forget to mention the olives, vineyards, vegetables, tomatoes and orange groves also.

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Limoncello
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Peppers, peppers and more peppers!

For our final stop on this Amalfi Coast tour: Capri

You definitely can’t miss Capri!  This island is romance on steroids!!!  The views are mind boggling dramatic and the ocean is a glorious turquoise color. Capri and Ischia are the islands to the west of Sorrento in the Tyrrhenian Sea.  You are hooked immediately upon your arrival to this busy marina and you are in love immediately.

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Marina Grande Capri

Villa Jovis, one of the most magnificent of the Roman Emperor Tiberius’ island palaces is located on Capri’s second highest peak and is a great spot for hikers.  He was the first “tourist” they say who fell in love with Capri looking for a refuge from the hustle and bustle in Rome.  The island is famous for hiking and if that is not for you take the chairlift to the top of Mount Solaro and gaze down upon the towns of Capri and Anacapri and the famous Faraglioni rock formations (see top photo).  Mount Solaro is the highest and most panoramic location on the Island of Capri. From this vantage point you can see all the way down to the center of the town of Capri and to the town of Anacapri and all the way to the Sorrentine peninsula and the Gulf of Naples.

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Anacapri from Monte Solaro chairlift

Of course you will find the most fashionable shopping square anywhere in southern Italy with high end boutiques just calling your name.

Be sure to explore the island both by land and sea.  The Grotta Azzura- The Blue Grotto is a true adventure.  Both times I have been the sea was too choppy for us to enter but it is supposedly absolutely breathtaking.  If it is anything like the other grottos I did see… well- you decide!  I have never seen water this color- anywhere!

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Are you convinced yet!

 

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View back towards Sorrento and Positano

 

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Enjoying JK Place Hotel

 

I have loved every minute of my time on the Amalfi Coast and frankly can’t wait to return again and again! Thanks for traveling with me!  Ciao for now until my next adventure!  If you missed parts 1-4 you can find them here on the blog and all the photos are on my Flickr album.  Hundreds to enjoy and way too many to put in this blog.

When you are on the Amalfi Coast hire a private driver or take a taxi.  Both are experts in the sights and history of the area and will make your journey that much more memorable. Again if you are interested in going to Italy considering working with either of the ladies below and tell them Robin Lensi sent you. I suggest you contact either:

Capritime Tours– Rebecca Brooks or

L’Esperta – Ashley Turney

 

 

 

 

Come Fly with me to Ravello and Amalfi (Part 4 of 5)

Amalfi, a truly medieval city has the grandest cathedral anywhere in the Arab-Norman style. The Duomo di Sant’ Andrea with it’s striped facade in Saracen colors and the Chiostro del Paradiso is spectacular.

 

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In front of the harbor is the Piazza Flavio Gioia in honor of Gioia who is credited with inventing the maritime compass in 1302.

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Amalfi Harbor

Don’t miss the little town to the east of Amalfi called Atrani.  It is often said the town looks like an opera set.

 

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Atrani

And then you come to Ravello, high atop Monte Cereto and my personal favorite!  Unlike any place on earth!

 

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Ravello from Scala

 

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Ravello Piazza

 

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Ravello

You can’t come to Ravello without taking home some ceramics.  Or in my case twice shipping home huge containers!

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Perched 1,500 feet above the bluest bay in the world, the Bay of Salerno it provides the most breathtaking views on the Amalfi coast.

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Ravello is the home to two of the areas most famous medieval gardens, the Villa Rufulo and the Villa Cimbrone.  The crown jewel in Ravello is undoubtedly the Belvedere of Infinity in the Villa Cimbrone.

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Villa Cimbrone
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Belvedere of Infinity – Villa Cimbrone

This garden is the highest point in Ravello and the views are not to be missed.

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Here are some of the sights from the Villa Rufulo. They host an amazing Music Festival every summer.

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Truly one could go on and on about the Amalfi coast but it is safe to say it is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  For the entire Album please go to my Flickr album so you can enjoy all of the photos.  If you missed any of the previous parts in this series here is a link to Part One. Ciao and stay tuned for the final installment! I hope you will consider following my blog. Enjoy!  If you are ready to start planning your trip you can’t go wrong with Ashley Turney and L’Esperta.

 

Hiking on the Amalfi Coast (part 3 of 5)

So let’s continue our tour of the Amalfi Coast!

For those so inclined there are plenty of hiking adventures to be had.   We chose the Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods), which winds its way from Agerola for 5 miles to Nocelle and then down to Positano. This is the Amalfi Coast’s most famous walk. The views are astonishing of both the Mediterranean and the mountains. The Amalfi coast is a World Heritage Site. You will see mules and people, abandoned buildings and remote hillside farms. On any given weekend the people of the Amalfi coast get out and enjoy nature. Many can be seen walking or picnicking on the trail and just relaxing on a Sunday afternoon. So let’s begin!  Here is a sneak peek at what you might see while on your hike on the Path of the Gods.

 

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Our welcoming party!
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Which way will you travel? We went from Agerola to Positano

 

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How will you travel?

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Need a home? These hermitages cling to the hillside seemingly suspended in mid-air.

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The views are so special
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Looking in every direction the view unfolds with untold beauty with plunging views of the Mediterranean and the towns below

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Praiano

 

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Have no fear the trail is well marked

 

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People out enjoying the day
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Be prepared of course as you are hiking, bring snacks and water since there are obviously no services along the way

 

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The path is a little tricky at times but easily negotiable. The walk is moderate but the path can be narrow in spots. Do NOT step to the left!The path is a little tricky at times but easily negotiable. The walk is moderate but the path can be narrow in spots. Do NOT step to the left!

 

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Just around every corner the views are expansive of the coastline here from Positano to Capri and beyond.

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Finally our destination – Nocelle and then down to Positano.  You can walk down the 1500 steps but we took a ride.

 

There are many other paths we also did Ravello to Minori.

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Stopping for a breather.  A long way down.  We took a cab back uphill to Ravello!
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Stairs, stairs and more stairs! Look up the view towards Salerno was gorgeous!
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Figs, olives and grapes greeted us all along the paths

You might also check out Ravello to  Atrani via the Valle del  Dragone or on Capri, one of the most beautiful coastal walks in the world, the “Path of the Forts”.  Get out and enjoy the views like the locals.  You won’t be disappointed! Did you miss Part 1 and 2 of this series? Here you go: The Amalfi Coast part one.  Ready to read Part 4: Come Fly with me to Ravello and Amalfi – here you go!

 

Ciao!  See you for the next in the series: Ravello and Amalfi

“Positano bites deep” in the words of John Steinbeck (part 2 of 5)

Continuing on our tour of the Amalfi Coast we come to Positano!  The jewel of the Amalfi coast is most likely Positano, the most photographed fishing village in the world is southeast of Naples.  John Steinbeck when he visited in 1953 wrote “Positano bites deep.  It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” The houses seem to be sitting on top of each other as they cascade down the slope.  “The artist Paul Klee described it as “The only place in the world conceived on a vertical rather than a horizontal axis.”

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Positano from Path of the Gods

Are you in search of beaches?  Well look no further than the Spiaggia del Fornillo or the Spiaggia Grande in Positano.

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Spiaggia Grande

Positano’s 3 town areas are connected by an endless series of staircases.  This is not for the faint of heart!  Wander down the Via dei Mulini among the shops and bakeries or just sit by the pool.

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Covo dei Saraceni

 

Maybe get a pair of sandals made while you wait.

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Don’t miss the Palazzo Murat!  It looks like a palace with its bougainvillea covered balconies.

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Palazzo Murat- Positano

 

At the heart of every town is a church.  Here it is Santa Maria Assunta with its green and yellow majolica dome which is visible from everywhere in town.

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Santa Maria Assunta

At every turn the views are dramatic and memorable.

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Amalfi coastline – Positano to Capri

All over the Amalfi Coast you will stumble upon wedding after wedding.  Beautiful spot for a destination wedding.

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Weddings in every church all along the coast

While you are here try your hand at a cooking class.  There are many offered all over the coast.

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Making Bruschetta

 

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Eggplant Parmigiana anyone?

So plan your trip but leave time to relax, eat, drink and soak up the magic that is the Amalfi Coast!  See you on our next leg of the journey when we travel to Sentieri degli Dei or “The Path of the Gods” above Positano.  The views are breathtaking!

See all the photos from my trips to Italy on my Flickr page and be sure to Follow my Blog so you don’t miss the next installment. Part 3: Hiking on the Amalfi Coast!  Did you miss Part 1? Here is a link!   I would love to hear about your adventures on the Amalfi Coast. Post comments below.  Follow me on Facebook.

Ciao!

Create and Capture Moments of your Vacation

You’ve planned and packed and checked your list once, twice and dare I say three times so now you are on your way!  Here are my simple tips for capturing those memories.  First and foremost take tons of pictures!  Digital photography has made this so easy.  You can delete the ones that you don’t like when you get home.  Have plenty of camera batteries and SD cards or if you are only using your Smart Phone be prepared to charge it during the day if you are taking photos with it. Remember your converter if traveling somewhere that doesn’t use our 120 AC plugs.  These are from a trip to Italy my husband and I took for our 15th anniversary.

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Minori and Maiori from our room in  Ravello

Don’t forget to put people in your images and the scenery.  I see people get it wrong both ways!  Some people only take pictures of themselves and never include the scenery. Others only capture the scenery but are never in the photo. Combine them both for memorable moments you and your family will have forever.

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Enjoy the local wines, EVERYDAY!
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Sit back and relax! It’s no fun if you come home exhausted!

People in the photo can give a sense of scale and prospective.  When you include people you are telling a story and it gives context to an otherwise generic photograph. A person in the photo will draw the viewer in and provide a point of interest.

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Be goofy!

Be creative and look for a different view of the same shot everyone else is taking.

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look for a unique angle to frame your shots
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Capture the highlights! Shoot pictures of what everyone else is taking a picture of- there is probably a good reason

Beauty is everywhere you just have to keep your eyes open to see the obvious.

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Take pictures even if the sun isn’t out
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Do something new like take a cooking class!

 

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In Italy we had pizza everyday for lunch practically
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Cooking class photos
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Making Bruschetta – who doesn’t like food shots!

Look for the unique beauty that your chosen location provides. Cultures differ widely around the world.  Capture those memories!  Keep your shots simple and they will be more appealing. Try to get off the beaten path.  Don’t forget those close up shots of food, flowers, unique details, colorful doorways etc.  Don’t worry about the light available you can probably touch up your shots in Editing software on any camera or phone. Try to see each view from a unique perspective.

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Take some shots from far out – you can always crop them later

But ALWAYS, ALWAYS enjoy your time off!!!

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