Hear about travel to Lazio, Italy as the Amateur Traveler talks to Nancy Parode from about.com and www.sixtyandme.com about one of her favorite regions in Italy.
Lazio is the region of Italy that includes Rome but this episode will feature all the things outside of Rome.
“It doesn’t really matter what your interest is, there is something for you in Lazio. If you love ancient Roman history and sites you can see Hadrian’s Villa. You can go see the ruins of the ancient city of Ostia near the beach. You can see Etruscan tombs but you can also see medieval places and renaissance villas, beautiful gardens, and of course some of the most beautiful beaches in Italy.”
For beaches, Nancy recommends the beaches in Gaeta in the southern part of Lazio. At one beach, called San Agostino, they have a surfing contest every year. “Serapo Beach is in this beautiful cove. It’s just stunning. The water is very blue. On one end of the beach is Monte Orlando which is a regional park and it has a famous monastery.”
If you are home-based in Rome or near Rome Nancy recommends trips to Hadrian’s Villa and to the old Roman port of Ostia Antica which is an outstanding archeological site.
“When we went to Rome the last time we stayed in Frascati which is a small hill town outside of Rome. It has hourly train connections to Rome. We found a hotel there that had free secure parking and when we wanted to explore the countryside we hopped in our car and drove away, but we were also able to take the train to Rome every day that we wanted to.”
Nancy Parode – About.com
Travel to Rome with Andy Steves – Episode 288
Travel to Rome, Italy – Episode 29
Best Places to Visit Near Rome in the Region of Lazio, Italy
Temple of Jupiter
Visiting Ostia Antica, Rome’s Ancient Seaport with Context Travel – Italy
Appia Antica Park
Parco Naturale dei Monti Aurunci
Grotto of Tiberius
Nancy Parode – Sixty and Me
Bette Midler Isn’t Happy About The Tiny Pretzels In United Airlines’ First Class
Actress Amy Adams Gave Up Her First Class Airplane Seat For A Soldier
Rob on Robert on Tasmania – Travel to Tasmania, Australia – Episode 426
Chris Christensen: “Amateur Traveler” episode 427. Today the “Amateur Traveler” talks about beach side towns, Estruscan tombs and Roman ruins as we go to Lazio in Italy.
Welcome to the “Amateur Traveler.” I’m your host, Chris Christensen. Before we get into this week’s interview, I do have just one little announcement. And that is that “Amateur Traveler” just turned nine years old. The very first episode of “Amateur Traveler” was released on July 2nd, 2005. So thank you so much for listening and making this all worthwhile.
We’re going to celebrate this anniversary as we have celebrated all the other anniversaries by just putting out more good content.
I’d like to welcome to the show Nancy Parode. She covers senior travel at about.com and also blogs at sixtyandme.com, and has come to talk about a particular region in Italy. Nancy, where are we going to talk about this week?
Nancy Parode: We’re going to talk about the Lazio region. Lazio is most famous for being the location of Rome, obviously one of the most popular destinations in Italy. But beyond Rome there’s so much to see and do in Lazio, it’s a wonderful place to visit.
Chris Christensen: Excellent. We have done an episode on Rome. Go check that out if you want to. But I was very intrigued when you were pitching me Lazio, because all I have seen of that region is Rome. What did I miss?
Nancy Parode: You missed a lot, actually. It doesn’t really matter what your interest is. There’s something for you in Lazio. If you love ancient Roman sites and history, you can see Hadrian’s Villa. You can go see the ruins of the ancient city Ostia near the beach. You can Etruscan tombs, but you can also see medieval places and renaissance villas, beautiful gardens and of course some of the most gorgeous beaches in Italy.
Chris Christensen: You say “the most gorgeous beaches in Italy.” I haven’t seen any beaches in Italy yet that have impressed me, so that standard is not real high for me.
Chris Christensen: How gorgeous are we talking?
Nancy Parode: Well, I think you should spend a day or two in Gaeta, which is in the southern part of Lazio. They have one beach there called “San Agostino” where they have a surfing competition every year.
The Serapo Beach is in this beautiful cove. It’s just stunning. The water is very blue. On one end of the cove is Monte Orlando, which is a regional park and it has a famous monastery, and a huge cleft in the rock called “Montagna Spaccata,” Split Mountain, which according to popular legend formed when Christ died on the cross on Good Friday.
Chris Christensen: Okay.
Nancy Parode: So it’s very beautiful.
Chris Christensen: Okay. What kind of itinerary would you recommend for the region? How will we tackle this?
Nancy Parode: Well, it depends on what you want to see. If you are home based in Rome or near Rome, you might want to stick to the areas around Tivoli, where Hadrian’s Villa and Villa d’Este are. And maybe take a day trip to Ostia Antica, that is the ancient city…
Chris Christensen: The ancient seaport.
Nancy Parode: …of Ostia. That’s very easy to get to from Rome, whether you have a car or you take public transportation. I’ve been to Pompeii and Herculano as well as Ostia Antica several times. It’s an outstanding site, archaeological site. I highly recommend spending as much time as you can allocate to go out there.
Chris Christensen: You say if I have a car. I have driven in Rome. I don’t know that I intend to do it ever again. There’s something about being passed on the left and the right simultaneously by families of four on Vespas this is somewhat distracting I find.
Nancy Parode: Yes, it is. One of the things that we like to do when we travel is to stay outside of the large Italian cities. When we went to Rome the last time, we stayed in Frascati, which is a small hill town outside of Rome. It has hourly train connections to Rome.
We found a hotel that had free secure parking and we parked our car there. When we wanted to go explore the countryside, we hopped in our car and drove away.
But we also were able to take the train to Rome every day that we wanted to, just walk down the two flights of steps to the train station. We would spend the day in Rome and have a nice lunch. Get on the train at the end of the day and come back to Frascati, have a relaxing dinner. It was much less expensive than having dinner in Rome, too. We just enjoyed walking around the town square, talking with people. Went into a church or two. I don’t think we’ll ever stay in a large Italian city again if we have a car, because this was a much better way to do it.
Chris Christensen: Interesting option. We have done that with some of the cities when we went to Italy the first time. We didn’t in Rome. Rome, we stayed in Rome and so we did some of the area.
But yeah, driving in Rome, I certainly would recommend against. Driving anywhere else in Italy I found was fine.
Nancy Parode: It depends on sort of your driving style. The problem with the large cities is now they have the limited traffic zones, and it’s very hard to know where they are if you aren’t a local. You can easily get a whole bunch of tickets without realizing that you’ve driven into a limited traffic zone.
Then you get home and one year later you get this big envelope from some mysterious agency in Rome that says, “Pay up in 15 days.” This is the voice of experience speaking, so my advice is to not drive in large Italian cities at all unless you can get a map of the limited traffic zones, because you do run the risk of getting a lot of fines added to your Italian driving record.
Chris Christensen: Then you also said something there about a “secured parking lot,” and I think that it’s worthwhile for us to pause there for a second and say that there are some places in Italy where if you park in a parking lot, you’ll notice broken glass on the asphalt there, as people have had cars broken into. You look for a secured parking lot for a reason.
Nancy Parode: Yes. Unfortunately, there are place in Italy where petty crime is a problem. It varies from region to region, but you do want to park your car in a place where the average stranger might not be able to walk through.
Now that’s not, for example, if you go to Ostia Antica, they have parking there and as long as you put all of your items…
Chris Christensen: In the trunk.
Nancy Parode: …into the trunk of your car, you’re okay to park there. I’ve parked there many times.
But if I were going to leave my car overnight someplace where I couldn’t see it, I would want to know that the parking lot had an attendant or a gate or big metal doors or something along those lines, because I’ve known people who’ve had their windshield broken because they left a pencil on the dashboard.
You really need to leave the interior of your car completely spotless when you’re not in the car, so that’s no temptation for someone to damage it and cause you an enormous headache and wreck at least a day of your vacation trying to deal with that problem.
Chris Christensen: Right. Then the other thing we should say is if you are going into Rome, if you’re taking that train into Rome, let’s don’t use a fanny pack. Don’t put your wallet in your back pocket, especially if you’re going to go to the Colosseum, you’re going to be around pickpockets.
Nancy Parode: Right. There are a lot of pickpockets in Rome, but if you just take the simplest of precautions.
Chris Christensen: Yeah, exactly.
Nancy Parode: Get a money belt. Get a money pouch.
Chris Christensen: They’ll target somebody else.
Nancy Parode: Don’t wear a plaid shirt. Leave your USA Olympic t-shirt at home. And if you walk with confidence, the pickpockets will leave you alone, because they know you’re not a target.
Chris Christensen: Right. Excellent.
Where else? Let’s say we’re home based then just outside of Rome. What would you recommend?
Nancy Parode: Well, if I were just outside of Rome, I would definitely go to the town of Tivoli. The most famous site there is Hadrian’s Villa. I have to say that when I went there I was stunned. I have traveled all over Italy and I was just stupefied by how amazing this place was. It’s enormous.
You really get the idea of the immense power of the Roman emperors by looking at Hadrian’s Villa, because he just build whatever he wanted, and created this immense universe for himself, so that when he didn’t want to be in Rome, he could get away very easily to this immense gorgeous villa. He could have and do whatever he wanted. You can see that in the architecture and the design of the villa that he created.
You can also visit the nearby Villa Gregoriana, which is from the 1800s. There’s a lot to do in Tivoli if you want to spend a day out there.
Chris Christensen: Excellent. Hadrian being one of the four good emperors, he had some money to use to buy a villa, because things were going fairly well by the time he was emperor.
Nancy Parode: Yes.
Chris Christensen: Excellent. Where to next?
Nancy Parode: Another thing that I would recommend that is in guidebooks, but a lot of people don’t go there because it’s out of the way, is the town of Terracina. Terracina is on the beach, sort of halfway between Rome and Gaeta.
On the hill above Terracina is the Temple of Jupiter Anxur. This is a place that we have taken lots of friends to. It’s a very large temple complex and it’s got great views of the coastline, so if you like taking pictures of coasts and ruins and cliffs, it’s a wonderful place to go.
It’s very seldom crowded, but it’s a temple to the young god Jupiter. In ancient Roman times, the road went up the hill to where the temple was, and there would be traffic jams. It’s quite a steep road. People would complain about how difficult it was to drive south from Rome to get to their villas near Naples and Pompeii, so eventually the ancient Romans built what is the first bypass in recorded history that went around the bottom of the cliff.
So you can now drive on a modern road on that very same pathway around the bottom of the cliff, but I highly recommend going up to the top and spending a couple of hours exploring the Temple of Jupiter Anxur.
Chris Christensen: While I may have dissed the beaches in Italy, there are certainly some wonderful seaside towns in Italy. It looked to me from some of the pictures that I was looking at like the Temple of Jupiter was looking down on one of those.
Nancy Parode: Well, yes. Terracina is a nice town, but if you went a little bit farther south on the Via Flacca, which is SS213 on a map, you come to the town of Sperlonga, which is one of these nice whitewashed towns on the cliff over the beach. This is a lovely stop if you are driving from Rome to points south. The Via Flacca is a very beautiful drive.
Sperlonga is the kind of town that has outdoor restaurants and cafes in the summertime. People just go there to maybe spend a Sunday afternoon having a nice lunch with their family and friends. Very relaxing place. The beach at Sperlonga is quite nice, too, but the whole town is picturesque and worth a stop.
Chris Christensen: Are we in an area that Italian tourists go to, but Americans don’t tend to go to?
Nancy Parode: I would say that Sperlonga, Gaeta, that area is known by Americans because there is an American navy ship docked in Gaeta most of the year. But Gaeta doesn’t have its own train station. The town of Formia nearby does have a train station and they’ve recently renamed the station Gaeta- Formia, but to get to Gaeta, you have to take a bus from Formia.
It doesn’t make it into a lot of guidebooks, because there isn’t an in town train connection. So most of the people I know who’ve gone to Gaeta who are not Italian know about it from their American military friend.
If you go to Gaeta in July and August, I will issue a warning on southern Italian beach towns in general. July and August are beach traffic jam months, so if you have a car or you’re taking the bus, you need to plan your drive so that if you’re going to the beach, you get there early, and if you’re not going to the beach, you wait to drive until everybody’s already at the beach. Otherwise you’re going to be in this giant mess.
The easiest way around this is to not go in July and August, of course, but sometimes you can’t do that, because of school schedules and other considerations.
Chris Christensen: Let’s back up a bit here. If we didn’t go in July and August, which I would highly recommend you not, especially August, when would you go? What’s the best time of year for this whole region?
Nancy Parode: I would go in early to mid-May if I could. My second choice would be early October. The weather is pleasant. It’s not very crowded. You can still spend a lot of time outside if that’s what you want to do. It’s just very pleasant.
Chris Christensen: Excellent. Where’s our next stop?
Nancy Parode: Another place I would recommend that, again, you can see it in guidebooks if you look carefully, but a lot of people don’t go there, is the medieval town of Sermoneta. The town of Sermoneta has a lovely little castle that you can tour. I’m not sure that they offer tours in English, but you can pretty much figure out what’s going on if you know the basic parts of a castle.
But it’s a nice little stop to see something of medieval Italy. You don’t see much of that any more, because during the renaissance in the large cities, all the medieval things were knocked down and renaissance villas and palaces were built on those sites.
But Sermoneta’s castle, it has the portcullis. It has furnished rooms inside, so you can how the Caetani family lived. The whole town has cobblestone streets and interesting little walkways. It’s a nice place to explore. It’s a fun day trip that a lot of people don’t consider.
But if you want to look at medieval Rome and you don’t have time to travel to San Gimignano, Sermoneta’s a good place to go.
Chris Christensen: Well, speaking of if you don’t have time to, I’ve had the same recommendation for if you’re in Rome and you don’t have time to get down to Naples. You don’t have time to go down and see Pompeii, that Ostia Antica is a good alternative to that.
Nancy Parode: It is an excellent alternative. It also has more shade than Pompeii. It’s a little bit less crowded than Pompeii.
Chris Christensen: Sure.
Nancy Parode: Pompeii’s near the water, but somehow Ostia Antica has a better onshore breeze, so it’s slightly cooler than Pompeii if you have to go in the summer months.
Chris Christensen: Can you describe it for me? What am I going to see if I go to Ostia Antica?
Nancy Parode: If you go to Ostia Antica, you will see the ancient port city that the Romans used. Rome is up the Tiber River, and so long ago, Ostia was their port onto the ocean. Anything that came in and out of Rome, trade goods, soldiers, that type of thing, they went through Ostia.
Later the harbor silted up, and that’s why the city was abandoned and now it’s a ruin, but you can see homes. You can see shops. You can see areas where wealthy people lived and regular people lived. You can climb all over all the ruins in a way that you cannot do at Pompeii. It’s a great archaeological site. To me, it’s a little bit more accessible, because you can get closer to some of the buildings and literally climb up into some of them.
Chris Christensen: Excellent. You had mentioned guidebooks a couple times. Answering our typical question of “what do the guidebooks leave out?” What do you think they recommend that you would leave out? That you would say, “I don’t personally think I would spend much time doing that.”
Nancy Parode: Well, I think one place would be the beach at Ostia, Ostia Lido. It is the closest decent beach to Rome, and so it’s therefore very popular and very crowded. But if you have a little bit more time and can get a little farther south, there are a lot better beaches down the Via Flacca if you have a car and you can get there.
Another place that guidebooks do say don’t spend much time in, but I would say spend zero time in Civitavecchia. This is the place where all the cruise ships dock when you’re visiting Rome. It’s a very ordinary place with not much to do. You can get to Rome and other areas by bus or you can get a taxi cab and just get out of town just a small distance and you’ll be far better off. Civitavecchia is not an interesting place to visit at all.
Chris Christensen: Okay. You describe the beaches a couple times. We haven’t really talked about what an Italian beach looks like. I’m picturing that I’m renting an umbrella or that there are large sections of private beach, which I think a lot of people are not used to.
Nancy Parode: Yes.
Chris Christensen: But it’s also wonderful for photographers, because you’ve got the multi-colored umbrellas all the same color in a particular area, because they all belong to the same vendor.
Nancy Parode: That’s right. Most beaches in Italy are divided up among as you would put it, vendors. To use the beach, you have to rent an umbrella or perhaps a beach chair or some combination of those things. That’s your chair for the day.
Some people subscribe to the same chair for a couple of weeks or the month of August if they’re on vacation.
Chris Christensen: Oh, I didn’t know that.
Nancy Parode: Yeah. It depends on where you are. That’s how it works in Gaeta, and I know that area best because I live near there. But I will also say there is a little stretch of the beach at Gaeta which is a public beach. A lot of people don’t know that.
Chris Christensen: I’m guessing it’s further south or further north?
Nancy Parode: Part of that is on the Serapo Beach. You can tell, because it’s this unmaintained strip. People just kind of walk there. They don’t tend to set up towels and that type thing.
But you can also go up the Via Flacca toward Rome. If you go to the San Agostino Beach, which I mentioned before, you can generally walk around the beach there and people will not bother you.
If you go during the off season, what you want to do is walk on the beach or take photos rather than sit down and get a sun tan, all of those beach chairs and umbrellas, they might be set up for the beginning of July, but they’re not open for business necessarily.
If you travel during not even just the off season, but at shoulder season or the end of shoulder season, you have a lot more access to the beach. It’s colder outside, so you might need a little jacket or something, but it’s very pleasant to just sit there with a book or watch the world go by. Take a jog. That type thing.
Chris Christensen: Excellent. Any other stops that you would recommend in this area?
Nancy Parode: There are a couple of religious sites that are very famous that are worth a visit. One is Monte Cassino, which is the monastery that Saint Benedict created. Then there’s his original monastery in Subiaco. It’s called Sacro Speco. If you’re interested in medieval Catholic history, those are two must see places.
And also World War II buffs tend to want to go to Monte Cassino, because it was the site of a very, very famous and very sad battle to gain control of the Liri Valley and the passage up to Rome.
Chris Christensen: That’s what I was going to ask, actually, is how much is left of the original, because it was bombed? It was a very controversial thing.
Nancy Parode: It was totally bombed. Yes, it was.
Chris Christensen: Basically, the Allies at some point were avoiding bombing it because of its significance, and then decided that it was imperative, because they thought that the Axis soldiers, the German soldiers were in the monastery. And so they bombed it and it turned out to be both tragic, in the sense that it was destroyed, but also the Germans hadn’t been in there, and now they did go in, because the Allies made cover for them with the wreckage. So it was just a terrible thing.
How much is left?
Nancy Parode: Not very much is left of the original monastery, because the structure of the building was completely destroyed. They have — or at least when I was there — they had photographs of the damage inside a passageway. You could see just how devastating the bombing was to the monastery.
Some of the areas underneath the church were not totally destroyed, but when they restored it, they made sure to restore it to its original appearance, like many of the buildings in Europe that were bombed during World War II.
So if you want to get a sense of what it looked like, you can go there and there are a couple of military cemeteries on the hillsides near there. Again, this is something that World War II aficionados tend to enjoy doing.
Chris Christensen: Okay. Excellent. Any other stops for us?
Nancy Parode: Well, I have a personal favorite. It’s the Via Appia Antica. There are a couple of places where you can actually stand on the ancient Appian Way, as they say in English. One is in Rome or just outside of Rome, so if you’re in Rome or near there, that’s the place to go. On Sunday afternoons, they tend to block it off to car traffic.
Chris Christensen: Let’s not assume that everybody knows what the Appian Way is.
Nancy Parode: Oh, okay. The Via Appia or the Appian Way is the ancient Roman road that connected Rome with points south. It originally wound south. It went into what is now the Campania region through Caserta and it ended up in Brindisi on the east coast, which was the main port — it is still the main port for people going to Greece and parts east.
So the Roman soldiers would build sections of the road as they traveled. They would quarry the stones locally. They would lay the road bed. Outside of Rome, the Via Appia is very straight.
But as you travel the whole length of it, which I’ve done, the road winds up over mountains and when you realize that the soldiers had to build the road as they were traveling, it gives you a new appreciation for the skills and capabilities of the ancient Roman army, because not only were they highly trained warriors, they were highly trained engineers. They built this fantastic road.
There are a lot of places where you can still see it. Outside of Rome, obviously, and that’s the easiest to access for many people.
Down toward the Campania region, there’s a town south of Gaeta called Minturno. There’s an archaeological park in there. There’s a big section of the ancient Appian Way, the Via Appia Antica, inside the archaeological park that you can stand on and photograph. That’s an easy place, because you can drive there or take a taxi from the train station. And it’s preserved.
There’s another place on the SS7. It’s outside of Itri, going toward the town of Fondi. If you’re heading toward Fondi, it’s on the left hand side of the SS7. There’s a little pull off. It’s just a little what we would call in California a “turnout.” There’s a metal gate there that’s never unlocked, but you can climb over it and walk down the pathway a little ways. You’ll find a sign that explains that section of the Via Appia.
Not only did the ancient Roman armies use it, but Napoleon’s armies used it as they were conquering Europe. There’s a lot to learn and you can take a little walk or hike along the Via Appia there. It goes for a good stretch.
It’s pretty safe to leave your car there. It’s too hard for people to pull off and do anything to your car, because the road is very curvy there. That’s why I tell people someone has to explain to you where this spot is. It’s not that easy to find.
Chris Christensen: You were mentioning being impressed with the ancient Roman engineering, especially of the army. It’s interesting when you read about basically when they were on the march, every night they would make a town.
Nancy Parode: Yes.
Chris Christensen: It just is stunning to hear they would build the walls. They would dig the ditches. They would put the tents in exactly the same place. One of the reasons that they really ruled this region for quite a while, hundreds of years, was their engineering efforts.
Excellent. Anything else we should know before we go to Lazio?
Nancy Parode: One of the things that I think is important to remember about Lazio is that there is a lot to see if you like nature. There are a lot of regional and national parks around there.
There’s an enormous area called the Parco Naturale de Monti Aurunci, outside of Formia. There are a lot of hiking trails. You can hike up to the tops of the mountains and get beautiful views of the sea, the Gulf of Gaeta, that area. Italians really do love nature. A lot of visitors to Italy miss that part of the Italian culture, because there’s so much to see. So many ancient Roman sites, so many gorgeous churches.
But if you want to do things the Italian way, you might want to spend an hour or two in one of these regional nature parks.
Chris Christensen: Excellent. What’s going to surprise me? I mean, I’ve been to Rome. I’ve been to Italy a few times. What’s going to surprise me about Lazio?
Nancy Parode: I think what’s going to surprise you is how genuine Lazio still is. A lot of Lazio is very untouristed compared to Rome, so people are pretty friendly. They’re willing to talk to you. If you ask about their food or you ask about a church or you ask about politics, they’ll get right into a conversation with you. You can get a real sense of what living in Italy is like.
In a big city — I love Rome. Rome is probably my favorite city in Europe and I love the Roman people, but when you’re at a tourist site, you’re at a tourist site.
When you’re outside of Rome in Lazio, you’re in the places where people live and work and they have their favorite restaurants. They have their little farm spot out of town where they have their chickens and they raise tomatoes and that type thing.
It’s just a really friendly, genuine place.
Chris Christensen: If I said, “What was the best day you ever spent in Lazio?”
Nancy Parode: Well, I would say the best evening I ever spent in Lazio was when we went to — this doesn’t translate well into English. In Italy, there’s a tradition of what we would call in English “live nativities” at Christmastime, “Presepe Vivente.”
But the Presepe Vivente in the town I lived in is not like just a little spot where there’s a man and a woman and a baby and maybe a donkey. The whole medieval town participates in this event. They have it three days a year. The day after Christmas and New Year’s Eve and I can’t remember the other one. Oh, Epiphany, of course, January 6th.
They fire a cannon around three o’clock to tell you that the Presepe Vivente is open. You hike up and all of these beautiful little homes and shops, some of which have been there since the ninth century or so, the local townspeople have created a whole village around the idea of the live nativity.
Yes, you’ll find Mary and Joseph and a baby representing the baby Jesus. There will be donkeys and straw, but there are also all the girls in the town dressed up as angels singing at the main gate into the medieval part of Maranola. It’s just overwhelming and a very, not magical exactly, but just an amazing way that the whole town is doing this. It’s not really a tourist event. It’s a local event.
Everybody goes up there and walks around. People are singing and you can peak into a home through the Dutch doors and people are dancing or they’re carving wooden spoons that you can buy. It’s just an incredible event that most people never experience. I loved that evening.
Chris Christensen: Excellent. Who’s the most memorable local that you wish everybody could meet?
Nancy Parode: I don’t know. When you live in a place, it’s a little different than when you’re just visiting. I’m not sure I want to out my most memorable locals, because they’re my friends and I don’t want people to go track them down.
I will say that a lot of times when you go to the smaller places to visit, and I would say some place like Sermoneta Castle or a smaller site that isn’t overwhelmed by tour buses and that type of thing, when you talk to the people who work there, they tend to be very friendly and helpful. They know a lot about what they’re supposed to show you as a visitor to their historic site.
But I find that if you just talk to people, and I’m not fluent in Italian. No where close. Yet I’ve had the craziest conversations with people about Italian politics, Silvio Berlusconi, all kinds of things. What is wrong with the US? What is wrong with Italy? What do I think about Michael Jackson? If you just talk to people, it’s a great experience.
I think almost anyone that you can sit down and talk with is going to be a memorable local for you.
Chris Christensen: Where’s the best place to have that conversation? In the local cafe or…?
Nancy Parode: Cafes are always good. I do find that if you ask questions at museums, you can often get people to talk to you. Not in an art museum, because they are supposed to be guarding the paintings. If you’re standing in line some place, if you can find a place where Italians will stand in line.
Chris Christensen: They are not known for their queuing, let’s just…
Nancy Parode: Yeah. The Italian concept of standing in line is a little different from ours. But anywhere.
I did leave off one place that I do want to mention. Between Sperlonga and Gaeta on the Via Flacca, the SS213, there is a ruined grotto that belonged to the Emperor Tiberius. There’s a little tiny museum there. This is another place that — it’s a beautiful setting and you can just pull off the road. There’s one tiny sign and this little roadway that goes down the hill toward the water.
This place was where Emperor Tiberius had basically a dining and fish farm area in a cave by the water. You can go there and see the ruins of the fish hatchery that he had. Whenever he wanted to go down there for dinner, and he spent a lot of time outside of Rome, too. He was one of the emperors who really wanted to get away from it all for various personal reasons of his own. This is what one of many little getaway spots he had.
But he would go down there with friends and have a banquet. The fish would be freshly caught from his fish hatchery right there. Inside this grotto, he had this enormous statue of Odysseus putting out the eye of the Cyclops. That statue, it’s partially recreated, but it’s inside the little museum, so you can go there and really get an idea of Emperor Tiberius’s idea of a relaxing getaway, sitting in this cave with the water, underneath a statue of Odysseus stabbing out the eye of the Cyclops. It’s kind of interesting, because the statue is so enormous.
But it’s a good little stop, especially if you need a place to stretch your legs. This is another area where it’s in guidebooks, but most people never bother.
Chris Christensen: Well, if I remember the History of Rome podcast, a wonderful podcast which has since concluded, because they ran out of history correctly. He spent a lot of his time governing from the island of Capri.
Nancy Parode: He did, which isn’t in Lazio, but it’s definitely an interesting place to visit.
Chris Christensen: Not that far away though.
Nancy Parode: No, it’s not. It’s easily accessed from Naples, which is if you take the train from Rome to Naples; it’s not a terribly long journey at all.
Chris Christensen: Far enough away, I guess, for him from the politics that was Rome.
Nancy Parode: I’m not sure anyone ever escaped the politics of Rome, but there were a lot of Romans who loved having seaside villas.
Cicero had his villa in Formia. That’s where he was killed, actually. His tomb is just outside of Formia. Another place where it’s supposed to be an archaeological site and the gate is always locked and you can never get close to it.
Chris Christensen: You’re standing in the most beautiful spot of all of Lazio. Where are you standing and what are you looking at?
Nancy Parode: I’m standing somewhere on a mountain. I might be on top of Monte Orlando in Gaeta or I might be across the Gulf of Gaeta standing up in the hills above Formia, but I’m looking at mountains and beaches and little towns sprinkled all over the hillside, and maybe a beach road.
If I’m standing in the total most beautiful spot, it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m up on the hill above Formia, and I’m looking at all the fireworks going off all along the Gulf of Gaeta simultaneously, because Italians love fireworks on New Year’s Eve. If you can manage to get there then and stay up until midnight, it’s really a sight to see.
Chris Christensen: Excellent. You lived there for two years.
Nancy Parode: I did.
Chris Christensen: One moment when you thought, “Well, this is just like home.” And one moment where you thought, “Where am I? This is not at all what I’m used to.”
Nancy Parode: One moment where I felt like it was not what I was used to, and I’m from southern California, which is not small town at all. We were having people over to our house to go to see Presepe Vivente in Maranola de la Formia. Our house didn’t have a house number. We had given our guest maps to get to our house.
Several people got lost. They found a police officer and they said, “Well, we’re trying to find this house.” The police officers directed them to our house, which was interesting to me because we didn’t know any police officers.
I’ve lived in Italy twice. I’ve never been friends with a police officer of any type! I’m like, “How did you know where my house was? How do you know who we are?” This is so not the typical American city experience.
That was a sort of fish out of water moment.
The last time we were in Lazio, we went back to see the places that we had visited and lived. My children were older. They were young when we lived there and we wanted to take them so they could remember it better.
We walked into the restaurant that we ate at most often. It was very near the place that we had lived. A restaurant in Formia. We walked in the door and Enzo, who was our waiter way back when said, “Senora, you are here!” And he whips out his iPhone and shows me pictures of his kids. And it was like we had never left. He recognized me instantly. He knew who I was. He’s like, “Oh, your kids are so grown up. Now I’m married. Here are my babies.”
It was just like home, because ten years had gone by since we had started eating at his restaurant, and he remembered us.
Chris Christensen: Excellent. Before I get to my last three questions, anything else we should know before we go to Lazio, which I think some people are on the computer right now booking tickets?
Nancy Parode: Well, it’s easiest to get there if you are going from Rome or Naples. If you have a car, it’s really important to know where you’re going to be parking your car every night. Not just for safety, but also for expense. That’s another reason I tell people not to drive in Rome, because if you can find a place to park your car, it’s very expensive and you don’t need your car in a city.
Chris Christensen: Right.
Nancy Parode: So if you are doing a combination of big cities and small towns, you might want to strategize when you need a car and when you don’t. You might be better off doing a lot of things by train and bus, and then grabbing the car from Fiumicino Airport or from Termini station in downtown Rome and striking out from there.
Chris Christensen: I’m going to recommend the airport, because I’ve done it from the station and you have to drive through Rome to get out.
Nancy Parode: To get out and to get back, yes.
Chris Christensen: And to get back, yeah.
Nancy Parode: Yeah. You have to be sort of a road warrior to try to brave driving in Rome or even…
Chris Christensen: And navigate. You definitely need a competent navigator who is going to help you. All roads lead to Rome. Apparently none lead out.
Nancy Parode: No. They all lead to the GRA, the ring road around Rome. And then you’re stuck in endless traffic going, “Where do I get off? Why did I do this?”
So definitely think through the transportation options that you are considering before you choose your final itinerary. That’s definitely a useful thing to do before you get to Lazio.
Also remember that even in the summertime it can rain, so you want to plan for that. You want to plan for really hot weather if you are going in July or August, it’s pretty toasty there and you would be better off splurging on a place to stay that has air conditioning.
Chris Christensen: I would have to say that really only somebody from California would recommend people to remember that it rains in the summertime.
Nancy Parode: I suppose that’s true.
Chris Christensen: I have gone places from California where is my home, and forgotten an umbrella, because I’ve forgotten that very fact.
Nancy Parode: Yes.
Chris Christensen: Last three questions for you. One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in Lazio?”
Nancy Parode: I think only in Lazio have I gone to the weekly outdoor market and seen the pet sales guys selling chipmunks in cages. I don’t think that most people from my hometown think of chipmunks as pets that you could buy from a pet shop. My children thought that was hilarious that this guy was selling chipmunks every week at the outdoor market.
But we would go at any time of year. There he was with these chipmunks. Of course, we thought maybe we should buy them and liberate them, but that’s another problem if the poor chipmunk was raised as a pet. That’s definitely something I’ve only seen in Lazio and it’s comical from an American point of view.
Chris Christensen: Excellent. Finish this sentence. You really know you’re in Lazio when what?
Nancy Parode: When you talk to people and they ask you what you like best about traveling in Italy. And the minute you mention “Rome,” they start complaining about how expensive it is. Especially the pizza.
Chris Christensen: What is the difference between a pizza in Rome and a pizza outside?
Nancy Parode: They’re the same as far as I can tell…
Chris Christensen: In taste.
Nancy Parode: In taste. You can get really good pizzas just about anywhere in Lazio. You have to remember that you can’t always get them in the middle of the day, because they don’t want to fire up the pizza often if it’s really, really warm outside.
Chris Christensen: If it’s a hot day.
Nancy Parode: Yeah. So pizza’s an evening thing in most of Lazio. It’s very difficult to find for lunch.
In terms of price, I would say pizzas in Rome are a little bit more expensive, as is most food in Rome, a little more expensive than out in the countryside. But that’s partly because it’s the capital city of Italy.
Food in Washington DC is a bit more expensive in a restaurant outside of Washington DC, because part of it is you’re in the District of Columbia. A lot of people go there for business and politics and they charge accordingly. And Rome’s the same.
Chris Christensen: And last question. If you had to summarize Lazio in just three words, what three words would you choose?
Nancy Parode: Lazio is delicious. Lazio is enticing. And Lazio is natural.
Chris Christensen: Excellent. Our guest again has been Nancy Parode. Nancy, where can people read more about your travels?
Nancy Parode: Well, the best place to find me currently is at about.com, where I cover senior travel. I also write travel articles for a website called sixtyandme.com, which is a website for women over 60. It’s a great community. You can Google my name and find other things I’ve written about Italy and wine and travel in general, so I’m pretty easy to find, actually.
Chris Christensen: Excellent. We’ll put a link to the other two websites that you mentioned on the show notes. Nancy, thanks so much for joining us on “Amateur Traveler.”
Nancy Parode: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.
Chris Christensen: In the news this week, I was struck by the fact that I saw two different articles about actresses in first class on airplanes and Twitter, so I’d like to tell you both stories.
In the first story, Bette Midler was on her Twitter account and she was complaining about the size of the pretzels and what the lunch looked like in a United Airlines first class cabin. I thought United handled it very well as she showed a picture of herself holding what did look like a very tiny pretzel. They commented how beautiful her hands were.
But the second story was interesting because the second story was the actress Amy Adams, and it wasn’t her Twitter account where we learned about the incident, but two other people’s Twitter account who were on the plane that she was on.
What she did was instead give up her first class seat — now, of course, the pretzels, they’re so small there anyway — for a soldier. So she went back into coach, and the person who noticed this in first class said, “She didn’t even think the soldier knew that Amy Adams had given up her seat.”
We do have a picture that was tweeted out of her sitting in coach by the person who she was sitting next to, who is also now one of her biggest fans.
For links to both those stories, check out the show notes at AmateurTraveler.com.
On last week’s episode on Tasmania, we did hear from Rob. Rob left a comment on the episode that said, “Good episode. Robert, my namesake, did a good job of describing the main places I visited as well. If I were to add one more place he didn’t talk about, I would recommend Mount Field National Park, which is about 100 kilometers west of Hobart. It’s easy to get there by car, but within 10 minutes of leaving the visitor center, you will feel like you’re in some magical enchanted rainforest, hours away from civilization.”
“I did the Overland Track as well, but organized it by myself. I had walking boots, but everything else I had to get myself in Tassie. In total, for passes, gear, food, fuel, et cetera, I spent around $700. I rented gear from a shop in Launceston and it cost me around $150 in total, which is really good value.”
“Pro tip. On day one after you climb Cradle Mountain, don’t take the wrong route. Have to rush to an emergency hut before complete darkness falls, and have people looking for you. Just saying.”
And then Rob answered the other question I asked in last week’s episode, which was what their favorite was of the spots on the world landmark list that came out, the TripAdvisor list. And ahead of both Angkor Wat and Banion, he would put the big temple complex in Myanmar/Burma. “There are over 4,000 temples in a roughly 40 kilometer square area. You go to one of the temples, and you’re the only person there. As you look out, all you see is hundreds of temples in the middle of a mini forest. It is absolutely stunning.”
Rob, thanks for those comments.
There are still spots in both the 10 day and 15 day trips to Morocco next April, April 2015. Please join us there. Again, you can find links to those in the “book travel” tab of AmateurTraveler.com.
With that, we’re going to end this episode of the “Amateur Traveler.” If you have any questions, feel free to send an email to host at amateurtraveler.com or leave a comment on this episode at AmateurTraveler.com. If you leave a comment to this episode, have you been to Italy and what is your favorite spot in Italy?
You can also follow me on Twitter @chris2x. And as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.