Italia 2016

I hope before finding your way here you had the chance to read or even skim over my posts about my Italy trip three years before this one. If not, it’s no big deal, you can find them here.

No, you do not need to read those posts, but one of the girls that inspired me to travel is a big part of this trip. Her name is Michi and she lives in the Province of Caserta.

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»» A map of Italy (Courtesy of  worldatlas.com)

Caserta is in the Campania region of the country. This means that it lies in the southwestern part of the continent and that cities and towns in this region are known for their rugged coastlines and historic sites. This town is located less than an hour from the city of Naples. This makes it a nice place for travelers who do not want to stay in the city, but would like to be in close proximity.

Now, I decided to visit Michi because she came to my country (multiple times) and I felt as if it was time for me to visit her. I wanted to finally meet her family, to see where she came from, and to learn her culture.

Unlike my last trip to Italy, this one was spontaneous. There were no set days in a town or city, nor was there a tour guide to tell me information about the places I was going. There was no structure to this trip and yet, it was better.

Yes, I was seeing a very close friend and finally seeing her home life, but that isn’t what made it the best trip ever. What made this trip so special was that I had someone who knew the culture and lived in the country show me around. This was the first time I felt as if I was a traveler and not a tourist.

Now, before I dive into this way too much, let me tell you about my trip! I spent ten days with her, and they are ten days I’ll never forget!

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»» Michi and I in Gaeta, Italy

 

℘Caserta

Now, unlike my last trip I didn’t have a set amount of days in Caserta. This is where Michi and her family lived. On days we didn’t venture to another city or town we lived it up in her slice of the world.

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Reggia di Caserta courtesy of italyxp.com

Now that I’m writing this blog I’m really kicking myself in the head for not saving images off of my old phone. I saved some but I feel like I didn’t save enough (insert sad/crying/whining face). But, enough of my bellyaching, I will borrow this photo from an Italian tourist website and be sad that I didn’t snap it.

Okay, so what is pictured above is the Reggia di Caserta! This is the probably the one thing that tourist come to see when visiting the town. This palace is beautiful, honestly I recommend going here if you are in the southern portion of Italy.

The palace is recognized as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. Meaning that this landmark has a cultural significance to the country, and I believe, the citizens as well.

 

Anyone can pay an entrance fee to tour the rooms within the palace. Now, the palace does have a total of 1,200 rooms. No, you cannot tour all 1,200. You are directed through which rooms you may enter and the ones you cannot are blocked off. You may walk in the throne room, some of the bedrooms, and the season rooms.

The season rooms are four separate rooms decorated to represent fall, winter, spring, and summer. All the items displayed are from the 18th century and were bought by the King of Naples to furnish his royal home.

Pretty cool right? Well, it gets even cooler.

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Reflecting Pools Leading from the Palace

Most people don’t come to the palace to, well…. see the palace. No, most people come to see the garden.

If you look at the above picture you can see the hazy palace in the distance. Leading up to the palace is almost two miles of reflecting pools. If you follow these pools, which are decorated with beautiful sculptures, up a slight incline you will come to a beautiful waterfall.

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Diana and Actaeon Fountain and The Great Cascade

Now, if you don’t want to walk to this beautiful sight there is a bus that will take you to and from the palace. But, if you want to walk or even jog you can join the others working out or enjoying the sights along the pathway!

Once you get to the waterfall take your time to observe the sculptures and their detail. The one to the left is Actaeon. He is portrayed as a human body with a deer head. Here he is being attacked by a pack of dogs. If you do not know the story of Actaeon I will summarize it for you, but honestly it’s interesting, look it up!

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Actaeon being attacked by dogs

Actaeon was a hunter and ran with other huntsmen. He saw Artemis bathing and looked at her a little longer then he should of. She got pissed off and forbid him to speak, but when his buddies called for him he responded. The goddess’ curse immediately turned Actaeon into a stag. When this happened his hunting dogs attacked, not knowing who he was, and devoured him just like they would any other animal.

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Diana at the Great Cascade

On the right is the statue of Diana, which is another name Artemis goes by (see where this is going?). Now after reading my very nice summary (wink, wink) you can understand two things. 1) why this statue has both of their names and 2) why Diana is just standing by and watching this guy get attacked by a pack of dogs. If you zoom in, or when you go see it in person, you will notice that a girl is covering Diana with a robe. This is because Actaeon just caught her bathing in The Great Cascade! As to why there are so many women bathing with her, I don’t really know. If you look up other paintings of Diana bathing she’s always with a band of girls. Maybe it’s her cup of tea, and honestly whatever floats her boat, she’s a goddess and can do what she wants.

 

Okay now that we had that nice lesson about Greek mythology let’s continue with the gardens behind Reggia di Caserta. So, after you are done admiring the artistic work of Actaeon and Diana you can walk to your right and find the entrance to the English Garden!

Within this garden you will find plants that grow from all around the world, and even a botanical garden tucked away in the area named “The English Garden.”

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Lovers in the English Garden at Reggia di Caserta

If you aren’t a big historian and do not want to go inside the palace, honestly, come for the gardens. I have been to botanical gardens in the United States and they do not compare to what I saw here. The atmosphere of this park was what made it so special. No one was rushing to be somewhere; everyone was enjoying the day, even though it was so hot. My favorite photo from the whole trip is the one pictured above. I saw this older couple, I’d say in their early fifties, just sitting in the garden and enjoying the day. They were enjoying each other too. I wouldn’t have noticed them if I didn’t hear the lady laugh at something her counterpart had said.

This was such a special moment, so I squatted down and snapped this photo. I didn’t look at it until later that night but it couldn’t have come out better. I love how you can see the smoke from the cigar. The quality isn’t the best, but I love how the shadows bounce off the couple. And, to top it off, I have the story behind the photo.

Everyone was having a great time. The garden was very shady and cool on one of the hottest days, so I also think everyone was happy to be out of the sun. If you decide to visit here I’d suggest on a hot day. Since you’re in Italy they have dry heats, so you don’t have to worry about humidity. Standing in the shade of the garden made it feel like a low 70 degrees.

Throughout the gardens are small waterfalls, which will lightly mist you if you get close enough (Ahhhhh!). Also, there’s a bunch of hidden pathways. I don’t know if you like adventure, but I thought they were fun. Of course they just led you to another path, but not too many people walked on them. For example, in the English Garden I found a path that dipped down and went between two rocks. Of course there was the designated path, but I wanted to go on the road less traveled!

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Venus by Tommaso Solari in The Bath of Venus

Now let me tell you about certain areas of the garden. I will use some of my photos I could recover and I am going to borrow some photos from the unofficial website of Reggia di Caserta. I will try to give you the best virtual tour I can! I highly recommend clicking the link and heading over to the unofficial website. The photos are beautiful, and the information given is amazing!

The above picture is from “The Bath of Venus” and the sculpture you are looking at is Venus herself. My picture does not do her the justice she deserves, in person this sculpture is breathtaking and leaves you in awe. The detail of her face and body added to the pond and surrounding foliage is just the most beautiful picture.

This sculpture is by the artist Tommaso Solari and depicts Venus leaving the pond after bathing. When you stand on the ledge and observe her you can hear the trickling of a small waterfall in the distance. It is truly a serene corner of the garden.

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Venus Through Rock Formations (Photo Courtesy of reggiadicasertaunofficial.it)

When you continue down the path you will notice that the rock formation behind Venus is parted. When looking through you can see her backside. When I did this it felt as if I was actually watching someone bathe in the pond. It was a weird feeling, but peering through the rocks felt as if I was sneaking around! The way the artist placed the statue was thought provoking and with how life like she looks it makes you feel as if you are looking at something you shouldn’t

If you make your way back to the gardens make sure you stop by “The Bath of Venus” and take a glimpse at the beauty of the statue as well as the surrounding area.

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The Ruined Appearance of The Cryptoporticus

Leading up to “The Bath of Venus” is a false Roman ruin called The Cryptoporticus. This was built after Pompeii was discovered to look like the ruins of the lost city. As you can see from the photo above they did a very good job on making it a false ruin. There are holes in the ceiling that let in natural light as well as foliage. The walls appear to be falling apart and have an unfinished look.

The Inside Layout of The Cryptoporticus (Both Photos Courtesy of  reggiadicasertaunofficial.it)

It is laid out as a half circle. Within the walls stand eleven statues, some of which actually came from Pompeii. The floor is made of marble and is made to have an uneven look, supposed to be caused by the Yew tree that stands outside. This place truly is magical and transports you back in time. As I was walking through I did feel as if I was in the Roman Empire!

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The Aperia (Courtesy of reggiadicasertaunofficial.it)

The last big structure in the English Garden is The Aperia or The Bee House. When you enter the garden, veer left and you will see the semi-circular structure housing plants. It was use to keep bees and make honey by the french, which is cool to think about when you’re there! Bees had their own little home in the garden!

Now, after exploring the English Garden and touring the inside of the palace we called it a day. But, the beauty of this place doesn’t stop here. Once you step outside of the palace, before making the trek to the English Garden, to your left is the Parterre and the Old Woods.

You can take a carriage ride into the Old Woods and people say it has a Secret Garden like feel. When back in the Old Woods you will come across a little castle. This was built for one of the young Princes with the intent to please his imagination of battles,how cool! When looking at photos you can see the castle has a moat and watchtowers so the Prince could let his imagination soar.

Overall, I would not skip on Reggia di Caserta. For just a few pounds you can explore an amazing palace, and then explore an even more amazing garden. This is a great way to spend the day! You will learn so much about the history of Naples while you’re here too! Also, if you are a die hard Star Wars fan you might want to make your way here. This palace was used as  Queen Amidala’s royal palace in Episode I.

Even if you’re not coming here to be a Star Wars fan, that’s cool. I would just come to see it. Something I wouldn’t skip. The locals love this place. At night they gather on the lawn and hang out, drink, smoke, and even light lanterns! The town even lights up the front of the palace in green, white, and red!

 

℘Caserta Nightlife

Now, I will tell you that it may seem like there isn’t much to do in Caserta other than going to The Palace. But, you can go grab some homemade gelato to pass the time until the sun goes down, because the nightlife is the part I remember the most!

Since Michi was taking me around the country for day trips and to meet her family in nearby towns; we didn’t spend a lot of time time in Caserta during the day. Most of our time was spent in her hometown during the night.

Honestly I did not think this was a loss at all. I felt as if I got to experience the culture more by going out at night. Caserta has a small-town vibe. Everyone knows everyone and their brother, and they all go to the same bars. In fact, it’s hard to go to a bar and not see someone you don’t know.

Even though it’s a tight-knit community, that doesn’t mean the locals aren’t welcoming. Italians love to party and socialize. If you are respectful, nice, and willing to get to know them they will be willing to get to know you; it’s a two way street.

Caserta town square

If you look to the above picture (thanks to our nice friends at Google Street View), you will see half of what I consider to be the “town square.” Now, I don’t know if it actually is, I should check with my friend, but when I was there this seemed like the mid point of the town. From here four roads branch off and lead to the bars, wineries, restaurants, and all the other good stuff you will find for your nightlife needs.

Michi took me to a specific street that had all her favorite bars. All of her friends stood in the street casually drinking. That is one thing I always like about Europe, they are more relaxed about alcohol laws, and it gives drinking a more relaxed feel.

I cannot remember a night that we didn’t have an event to go to or something to do. One night her friend’s bar had a Sangria event. You paid five Euros for a cup and they filled it as many times as you wanted with HOMEMADE SANGRIA.

Honestly, amazing.

One night, we went to the opening of a brand new bar. It was supposed to be “London” themed and served beer as a speciality of course. We were served free beer for the grand opening. Then, when we grew tired of the busy bar, we walked a few blocks to less crowded ones.

When we didn’t have an event or party to attend we found ourselves casually hanging out at the bars Michi liked most. One of the bars was located off of a small square that had tables and chairs. This was one of the places most of Michi’s friends hung out, and it had one of the best vibes.

 

 

Another night we went to a Pizza Expo.

Yes, you heard me right. A Pizza Expo. In Italy. Where else would you want to go to a Pizza Expo? That night I had pistachio cream sauce pizza, which was to die for. Even though this pizza was to die for it wasn’t the best pizza I had in the whole country! But, I’ll tell you more about that later.

I will tell you about my favorite drink, hands down, in the whole entire country. It was not a specific brand or type of wine. It was not a homemade concoction or even something a bartender made me. It was the majestic liquid that is Meloncello.

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A shot of Meloncello on the rocks

Now you can make Meloncello homemade, just like you can make Limoncello homemade. But I fell in love with the manufactured stuff, so I can only imagine how heavenly the homemade drink is.

So what is Meloncello? It’s vodka, melon juice, water, and sugar. You mix it up, let it sit for a while, and then enjoy!

Michi and I drank so much of this, the bars we went to ran out of it. I felt so bad, but it’s something I didn’t really see or never had in the states! And also take a moment and look at the size of that shot, it only cost me two Euros!

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The walkway from the palace at night

If you are looking for a laid back night you can always go sit in front of the palace, like I said before. You can sit on the front lawn, with a bottle of wine and mingle with the locals. It is really pretty to observe the town lit up at night. The above picture of the walkway to the palace, it’s even more breathtaking in person.

 

℘Gaeta, Italy

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Gaeta is a small seaboard city that is located 75 miles from Rome and 50 Miles from Naples. It is considered to be in the central part of the country, but when looking at the city on a map it falls closer to the south than the north. It is located along the Gulf Sea of Gaeta and has a rocky coastline like most of the seaboard towns of this country.

My trip here was very short lived, only a single night, and I wish it was longer. We arrived in the afternoon and quickly took to the town. Ships were docked along the coast, the smell of salt water filled the air, and the sounds of tourist and locals filled the streets.

Michi’s father hooked us up with a bed and breakfast. The room in which we stayed was small but very clean and quaint. It had a balcony that overlooked the docks, mountains, and sea. Overall it was absolutely breathtaking.

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Our bed and breakfast (yellow building) from the restaurant

Our bed and breakfast sat atop of a hill, and the only way to get to the door was to climb up 101 steps. The beauty of this city is that most of the houses are built into the mountain side. Be cautious if you are not good at walking up stairs. Make sure the room you book is accessible for you! You do not want to arrive and realize you can’t make it up a flight of narrow stairs to your room, that wouldn’t be any fun!

Once we were settled into our room we realized it was time to eat. Since this was not a familiar place we got lucky and noticed a restaurant right below our balcony. Flying down the steps we quickly got a table. Since it was 6 P.M. Michi and I were the first people to arrive for dinner. Italians do not usually eat dinner until 8 or 9 P.M. This is due to their work schedules, their days start later and therefore end later.

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The second to best meal I had in Italy

Even though this was a small eatery, they did have a menu available in English. The only downside to this was that the specials were not listed. With Michi’s help I ordered “Red Shellfish with Paccheri in a Seafood Sauce.” I knew that I was getting shrimp, but I didn’t know what kind of pasta Paccheri was (I only knew it was pasta because I asked my translator.) Once the dish arrived I was so glad to have ordered it. It looked delicious and tasted better than it appeared. The shrimp was the freshest I’ve ever had in my life. Still to this day I crave shrimp that tastes exactly like this. It was so sweet and flavorful. The pasta was homemade and done to perfection, giving a perfect bite. Lastly, the sauce complimented the shrimp well. It was slightly salty with the fresh flavor of the shrimp infused into it.

Honestly, it’s been a year and I can remember how this dish tasted perfectly. That is how you know it was a perfect meal.

The service was great at the restaurant and we enjoyed the view of the ocean by sitting outside. The beauty of this city was breathtaking. If you go anywhere in Italy eat at a family owned eatery, cafe, or restaurant. These people put their hearts into their food and it will be the best, most authentic Italian food you will eat abroad.

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Our view from the resturant

After eating we decided to explore the town. When walking along the docks I experienced a sunset that took my breath away. The rays rose up over the San Giovanni a Mare, which is a 10th century church, and reflected off of the Gulf Sea of Gaeta. This shows what a beautiful and truly breathtaking place Gaeta is.

While exploring I decided to grab gelato at a local gelateria. It was located right outside of a community square, so I sat down and enjoyed the sights. While eating the delectable sweet I watched the locals pass with their dogs. Italy is an awesome place for dog watching too, not just people!

While venturing out we did pass the NATO base that is located off the city’s coast. Currently the United State’s Sixth Fleet is using this base as its home port. Due to this, Gaeta acts as a home for the families of those stationed here.

Eventually, we decided to sit down and have a drink at an outdoor bar that overlooked the Gulf. The bar had a laid back vibe, full table service, and even sofas to lounge out on. This bar was also the very first place where I had Absinthe for the first time. All I will say is that it buuuuurns.

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A low quality picture of your girls after having an even lower quality time with absinthe

My night in Gaeta was short lived. Although, I did have a great experience and it was the first time I witnessed someone throw up into the sea… I know, another story for another time.

This is a place I definitely will go back and visit. I want to check out the beach and take a look at the history this city harbors.

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A view of Assunta e Sant’Erasmo from the balcony of my room

If you get a chance to check Gaeta out go see the Aragonese-Angevine Castle. No one knows exactly why this castle was built, but they think it was to save the city from an attack back in the seventh century. It’s a massive structure that sits on a cliff, how cool! Also check out Grotta del Turco. It’s a grotto that leads directly to the sea. If you’re like me and have never seen one this would be a great chance!

More to come soon…

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