Living in a new place, especially for an extended period of time, fills me with a sense of duty that I have to write everything down, commit every moment to memory, take a photo every day if not every hour. But eventually, that initial motivation turns to dread and an overwhelming feeling that I should be more mindful of my surroundings rather than living behind a lens or a computer screen.
The latter reason is why I have not written as much as I should have over this past year in Italy. Plus, I’ve just done so much in these 12 months! I’ve traveled all over Rome and its region Lazio, from the beaches to the lakes to hill towns in between, and have visited six other regions (with a goal of getting to all 20 before my time here comes to and end). Over the past year, I have also taken more than 7,000 photos — so much for not living behind a lens!
Despite that photo stat, I have been paying attention with my other senses: smelling the roasting chestnuts in winter, the jasmine bushes in spring, and the cool, damp aroma of underground spaces; listening to the rumble of trams, the clinking of cups and saucers, the fleeting bits of Italian conversations overheard in the markets and shops; and tasting the foods of each season. Touch has been more elusive, as Italy is full of things you want to touch but cannot — smooth marbles and mosaics and frescoes, tufts of moss growing out of crevices high on a Roman wall.
Of course, readers visit this blog to see Italy as much as learn about it. So, I wanted to share 12 photos over this past year, one for each month, to mark my transition from year one to year two. These are simple photos — most taken with an iPhone 5 — but they are special reminders for me. Read below for details.
I arrived in Rome at the end of July, which is the worst possible time to arrive in Rome if you’re going to live here (completely different vibe if you’re visiting in August as a tourist). It gets so very hot and there are very few places in the city to cool off. This is Santa Marinella, the most accessible nearby beach that doesn’t feel like a sloppy city beach. (Forgive me Ostia Lido, but I’m not impressed.)
Kids are back to school, tourist crowds are thinning out, and skies are blue as can be. September is when locals come back refreshed from their holidays, making it a gorgeous, pleasant time to be in Rome. The Villa Borghese is especially nice as the weather cools.
We waited until mid-October to take our first big trip and Capri (above) was the perfect choice. The island is still crowded at this time because of all of the day trippers. But the mornings and nights are breezy and quiet. Capri is mountainous and only has a few slivers of beach, so you don’t miss out on waiting until autumn to visit. Though do note that it’s still plenty hot enough in Capri to take a dip in October.
I’ve really fallen in love with the Campidoglio, Rome’s Capitol Hill, over the past year. I’ve always loved this place, as its where secular Rome resides. Plus, the Capitoline Museums have become my favorite artistic escape. November is an ideal time to visit Rome’s museums. It’s also a great time to go on a trip to Umbria. But I’m saving my Umbria photo for further down in this post.
I am incredibly lucky to have had the chance to attend Christmas Eve mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. What a spectacle! I took this photo before Pope Francesco arrived (you can see his chair under the canopy). I guiltily snapped a few photos during the service, too, which sounds horrible except for the fact that I was much more respectful and discreet than most of the visiting congregation. The French family next to me took photo after photo with their giant iPad while other visitors deployed selfie sticks to get better shots. Mass at St. Peter’s was unforgettable. But it felt like a rock concert as much as it did a religious ceremony.
I’m cheating a bit here, as I visited Tuscany (specifically Siena) on the week between Christmas and New Years, not in January. It was bitter cold in those medieval streets and it got dark very early (it’s about 4:30 p.m. in the photo above). But it was oh so festive to be in Siena during this time, as everything was still lit up for the winter holidays.
A side note that will have Tuscany boosters reeling (particularly those with an affection for Florence) — I didn’t even make it to Florence over the past year. I love the city, I do. But it just wasn’t in the cards for our family during these past 12 months. That fact makes me laugh a little bit when I think of how people try to fit in Rome, Florence, and Venice in merely a week!
Mid-February, everyone set off for Settimana Bianca, aka White Week or Ski Week. We don’t ski (yet) but we wanted to see some snow. Scanno is a gorgeous Abruzzese hill town up above this lake and we also drove into the Parco Majella for an afternoon of sledding. The photo above shows only a dusting of snow but the higher elevations (not pictured) had ideal conditions for skiing, snowboarding, and sledding.
The beach, particular the coast of Amalfi, was a sight for sore eyes after a (not-s0-long) Roman winter. Of course, there’s no swimming in that water this time of year. But off-season Italy is superb and serene. I can’t imagine how people manage to drive or ride along the elevated hairpin turns of the Amalfi Coast when both heat and traffic are thick. March was the perfect time to visit nearby Pompeii, too.
It’s pretty gauche to take pictures of someone’s laundry hanging out to dry — what an invasion of privacy! But I couldn’t resist taking this photo while walking the calles of Venice. It seems like a gondolier hung this photogenic striped clothing precisely so that someone like me would take a picture of it. I fell for it — and Venice, too. Do yourself a favor and get there before summer, aka cruise ship season. If you’re considering going to Venice on a cruise, please reconsider. There are better ways to visit Venice than this.
May 1 is a national holiday in Italy (and much of the rest of the world). We in America say that Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, is our “unofficial beginning of summer.” But unofficial summer in Italy begins on May 1. We spent our May Day holiday just a few hours south of Rome on the Riviera d’Ulisse. Sperlonga, Terracina, and Gaeta (pictured here) were pretty little towns with loads of history. There also happened to be a harbor fair in Gaeta while we were there (likely an annual event) and it was lively with music, food stands, clothing and jewelry vendors, and nautical demonstrations.
Serendipitous occurrences aren’t supposed to happen to travel writers. They always know what’s going on, right? Well, here’s where I talk about Umbria. We visited in November and had a wonderful time. But we also decided to visit Orvieto on a day trip while a friend was visiting in June. Lucky for us, it happened to be Orvieto’s largest celebration, the Feast of Corpus Christi. (“Oh yeah, I’ve actually written about this before!” I said unconvincingly as I realized what was going on.)
We arrived in town about 10 minutes before everything got underway, then were treated to an hour-long procession of townspeople in various medieval dress. There were trumpets! There were swords! There were men wielding bows and arrows, holding falcons, carrying precious church relics through the streets! I’ve always raved about Orvieto, but this was such a delicious treat.
It’s July and we’re on our way to Santa Marinella again because Rome is unbearably hot. In fact, last month we had a heat wave. I could’ve finished up this post with any number of photos, but this one allowed me to circle back to the beginning of my list. I also like the behind-the-scenes feel of this photo, which I captured from the train en route to Santa Marinella as it pulled out of the San Pietro stop. I’ve been to other beaches over the past year; Santa Marinella isn’t even my favorite. I’ll write about the others one of these days. But now I’m going to get on with Year Two. A new region is right around the corner.