Italy Excursion 2022

Return to the "Mother's Land"

Early in 2022, it was decided that my girl and I would take a ten-day trip to Italy. I have obviously played there through the years, but with the exception of a "writer's retreat" I took to Rome in 2017 (where I did get a chance to see some of the city's spectacular staple sights), it's always been the usual European tour protocol there: flight/ground transport, to hotel, to venue, to hotel, to flight/ground transport, to the next city. Criminal, I know, given all there is to see on that majestic continent. And where Italy is concerned? Double-criminal, considering that both of my mother's parent's families came over to the US from Italy at the turn of the 20th century.

Still, I don’t recall ever taking ten days in a row of downtime like this, so I wasn’t sure how I would manage. Well… I managed just fine, let me tell you! The trip was beyond magnificent: super-dense with incredible beauty, great food, and memorable life experiences at every turn. Truly, it was a trip of a lifetime.

Our biggest challenge was trying to narrow down the specifics of where we would go and what places we would have to save for another trip. It was tough, but we figured out early on that you simply can't see it all in ten days, and if you try, you will likely end up chained to a breakneck itinerary that leaves little time to truly savor the places you do attempt to visit. So we opted for a less-is-more approach, with emphasis on the aesthetic beauty of Italy's great outdoors in a few key regions. It was a smart move.

Additionally, my girl Kari had enlisted the help of a private travel company (Audley Travel) for another trip she had taken to Japan a few years back and suggested we involve them with this trip. Another smart move! They helped us solidify our itinerary and made all logistical arrangements for each of our stops (hotels, guides, transport, etc). This really enabled us to relax into the myriad of sights, sounds, and experiences, and enjoy the warmth and professionalism of all the various folks and places in Audley's well-vetted Rolodex. Simply put, engaging their expertise and services was a game-changer for this trip.

As per usual, I wanted to document the adventure in classic blog form after the fact, but that turned out to be quite an endeavor, as it required my sorting through the
nearly 1600 photos and vids that were taken! This collection was quite the "embarrassment of riches," for sure, and a nearly impossible task to select what I felt were only the most essential images and vids that best captured the unique vibe of the trip. But I did my best, and I do hope you enjoy this modest encapsulation.

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Getting the Party Started in Tuscany

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After connecting in Paris from LA, we wound up in Tuscany and headed out to the scenic Chianti region. Accommodations were a 10th-century castle-turned-resort hotel called Castello di Spaltenna. In a word... Magical.

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The grounds were breathtaking, with postcard views virtually everywhere you looked! 

And here was a likely scene... yours truly on the breakfast patio, just trying to drink it all in:

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There was a cool little village square a short stroll down the hill from the hotel, with shops, restaurants, and flats galore:

At one of these eateries on night one, we got our first exquisite taste of food from the region. Daaaaammn! It was unbelievable:

It was a typical vegan meal in Italy (at least for me)… that wasn't so typical at all. The food was over-the-top! In fact, I made it a point to enjoy pasta with bread and different kinds of olive oil almost every night, just to experience the subtle (or not so subtle) differences from place to place. Of course, oil and white flour are not exactly part of my normal regimen. But, “when in Rome,” as they say. Note: Obviously, that bottle is olive oil, not wine!

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Embrace the Pace… of Italia!

One of the key attributes you’ll notice about Italy—and many other European cities in general—is that there is a decidedly easier pace going on than in the hustling, bustling U-S-of-A. Life unfolds more slowly, and each moment seems to be savored more carefully, just like their food. In fact, at most any Italian dining experience, prepare to not be in a hurry. No one else around the restaurant will be. This might take a second of adjustment, but it is advisable that you do, in fact, adjust to this more leisurely pace, because it would be futile to bump up against it. 

Instead, my mantra over there became “Embrace the Pace.” You can’t fight it, and why would you want to? So I just breathed deeply into the moment and decided that any looking over my shoulder for our server after five minutes was unnecessary. They would be along soon enough...

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As always, the training continued (yes, even on vacation), although, at this first hotel, I had to make the best of the "minimalist" accommodations where weight rooms were concerned. But we made it work...

On the other hand, running in Italy is about as good as it gets. Early my first morning there, I took on some rolling hills near the hotel and enjoyed the jaw-dropping, "oil painting" beauty of the area:

Part 1

Part 2

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It was so gorgeous on the run that morning, that I had to take a few more snaps of the area sights (with poppies in bloom!):

And, of course, the "legend" of the Black Rooster is everywhere in this region...

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On our last day in the area, my girl had arranged for us to tour a local winery. Obviously, I don't drink alcohol, but I do find the process of wine-making kind of fascinating...

And I was definitely interested in this winery's dual function as an olive oil producer! Enjoyed a vegan lunch on site with a wide array of oils to sample...

Had some delicious roasted veggies (along with several other courses)...

And we grooved on more beautiful landscape all the way around...


Next stop... Florence.

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Rockin' the (Not so) "Big City"

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Upon arriving in Florence proper, our driver insisted on taking us directly to a popular tourist spot: The Piazzale Michelangelo. We didn't argue. It offers a stunning, panoramic view of the city. The biggest challenge? Capturing any kind of worthy shot of it from a smartphone. Can't do it. Have to see it in person. This pic is less than half of the whole view!

Note: In my Florence running vid further down below, I managed to capture a decent video scan of this view when I happened across the plaza that morning. It's better than a photo, but still...

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After we took in the Plaza, we headed to the hotel, and I managed to grab a bit of footage of the city from our backseat perspective. The streets are pretty tight and, undoubtedly, pedestrians and cars are used to co-existing in close proximity! (Such appeared to be the case throughout our travels over there.)

The David!

Once settled in our room, our first order of biz was heading over to the Accademia Gallery to scope Michelangelo's sculpture David, because... well, it's simply what you must do when you visit Florence!
Here's a typical tourist shot I took with this breathtaking monstrosity:


When you see this fucking thing in person, you get why it's one of the most enduring pieces of art in history. What a presence!

Here's a quick vid:

Oh, and... the rest of the museum was nothing to scoff at, either, as you might imagine...



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Other highlights of our short time in Florence were a walking tour of the city with our extremely knowledgeable guide. And the light, intermittent rain made the city glisten...

We even got to go "off the beaten tourist path" and visit an authentic Italian metal-worker's shop, where the craftsman had been in biz at the same location for over 50 years. Pretty cool...

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At one point in the afternoon, while taking a few moments to unwind at the hotel, Kari and I spontaneously took "artistic" iPhone shots of each other. I certainly had the better subject...

But she clearly composed the cooler shot!

And then to see Florence at night. Wow!

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My run early the next morning was one of my most memorable ever from abroad. Here's a vid that features several different clips from the run edited together. Besides the spellbinding scenery, you'll notice a familiar Euro-run theme for me: getting lost!

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I Drank the Dirt Daily!

The high-octane superfood smoothie has been a part of my DAILY routine since 1993. This includes when I travel, when things are hectic, when I’m on vacation, and when I’m some place where the voltage is different than home.

In the states, I travel with a NutriBullet. But over in Europe, I travel with a special blender (compatible with their voltage situation) that I bought over there years ago.

Here's my Europe rig, set up in a hotel bathroom in Florence. Scope out that battered bag of Dirt!

The two main reasons I insist on a daily dose of this kind of superfood powder is: 

1. When traveling or super busy, and it’s less convenient to fuck with preparing your smoothie, that’s probably when it’s most important to have it! You are likely stressed, or at the very least, eating a lot of quick, but unhealthy food. The superfood smoothie provides an important foundation until you can get back on track with your normal regimen.

2. Many superfood ingredients—particularly adaptogens like herbs, spices, and mushrooms—have medicinal properties. But just like over-the-counter meds, you’ve gotta take them regularly to reap the full effects.

Yes, I drank the Dirt every day in Italy, including in Florence:

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The Island of Capri:

Lover's Paradise

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Travel to Capri began with a scenic train ride from Florence all the way down to Naples, which gave us a chance to experience a huge chunk of mesmerizing Italian countryside. Here's a random vid clip I happened to grab along the way, but it's just a small taste, believe me...

Once we hit Naples, we traveled to the Island of Capri by ferry, then headed over to our hotel. Sweet view from the patio:

One of the first things we did was head over to the more elevated side of the island called Anacapri, which you access via ski lift. It was insanely beautiful up there and a trip highlight.
Anacapri is so high up, you can see the seagulls flying below you. Stunning!

Here's a vid of the view from another angle... plus, a taste of my girl's Italiano! Kari (who happens to be a renowned voice actor by trade) studied diligently for a few months prior to the trip, and everyone was stunned by how well she could already speak the language—especially with her authentic accent and articulation. 

The point of access to the top of Anacapri was via a ski lift, which was quite a thing for someone like me who (apparently) is a bit queasy where heights are concerned! But I managed ok. Here's a view from the way down...

Throughout the trip, I struggled with the common quandary of "Do I remain fully in the experience of the present moment and not worry about documenting so much with pics and vids?" Or "Do I attempt to capture most any worthy moment for future relivings?" It was a tough call. But I seemed to default to capturing special moments more often than not. In the case of the following video, I'm glad I did. As we got back into the car with our driver and guide to head back down the mountain to Capri, our guy cranked up some classic Pink Floyd —"One of These Days" from the Meddle album—just as I reached for my phone to grab a little footage. The air was breezy and warm, the sights, as you'll see, were insane, and the music became something of a spontaneous soundtrack to the moment at hand. I'm glad I caught this one!

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Our island journey continued with a quick tour of the infamous Villa San Michele. It's quite "the crib:"

With lotsa beauty around the villa...

And also around the island in general!


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The “Horns" in Italian Culture

You will see the “heavy metal horns” everywhere around Italy as a cultural keepsake in souvenir shops.  In generations past, this has largely been used as a gesture to ward off the “malocchio,” which has been described as a superstitious condition characterized by misfortune, negative energy, being unlucky, or even physical illness. I found this ironic, given that the sign has a sort of “devil horns” implication in American culture, with roots extending back most notably to early Ronnie James Dio and all of that satanic imagery of his whole trip. 

However, in yet another stroke of irony, it turns out that Dio, in fact, got the idea from his Italian grandmother who used the sign in its traditional way! (Dio was looking for an alternative to Ozzy’s constant peace sign flashy, once he joined Black Sabbath in '79.)

For the record, my constant use of the sign in so many of my posts is firmly tongue-in-cheek—it means nothing beyond the playful, stereotypical overtone of, “Hell yes... let’s rock!”

Nonetheless, I did grab my own ceramic horns on this trip… as a sole momento from our adventure:

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Night one food was Ristorante Il Geranio, where the pasta, bread, and olive oil tasting continued:

And night two was at the ultra-insane Ristorante Da Paolino Capri where, in addition to their impeccable food, live lemon trees were integrated into the decor of the place!

Our morning feastings, on the other hand, were happily engaged right on site at the Excelsior Parco Capri where we were staying. Our main man, Peppe Marino, really accommodated my vegan requirements with all kinds of treats, including some kind of soy latte!

And our boy, Rollins, joined us for breakfast out on the patio each morning, as well!

Off to Sorrento....
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Sorrento &
The Amalfi Coast:
Insatiable Beauty!

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For as breathtaking as the Amalfi Coast can be (that's Positano above), we opted for the sleepy town of Sorrento as our base of operations for our final few days. The slower-paced Sorrento faces the Bay of Naples and is a scenic 40-minute drive from the Amalfi Coast, which we planned to visit a couple of times before heading back home. Just so you can get a vibe, here's a view of the "welcome port" area where we arrived after our ferry ride from Capri.

And here's a view from our hotel window:

First order of biz was to hit the weights, so I found a cool gym called Central Fitness not far from the hotel:

From there, we caught a few sights around town...

Found some vegan gelato (which was out of this world!)...

And then a bit later, enjoyed some dinner at the kick-ass hotel restaurant (with yet another variation of incredible pasta)...

As we enjoyed yet another stunning seaside view from our table. (Yes, that little red ball is the setting sun!)


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Legendary Food... Unforgettable Meals!

The food in Italy is legendary—for good reason. It is consistently of a higher quality and notably more flavorful and delicious than other versions of the same simple cuisine found in other parts of the world, particularly the states. And yet, at a glance, it “appears” to be similar… until you take that first bite. Simply put, there’s a purity about the food, with a garden-picked freshness about all the individual ingredients, that is another world away from the jars, bags, and cans that house most of the sauces, spices, and even produce that we wind up eating.

Could the chef skills or “family” recipes have anything to do with it? I will assume that’s part of it. But my biggest takeaway was… it is largely about the ingredients. And I say this because we noticed a stark difference in the taste and freshness of many common, single-ingredient items like tomatoes, lemons, strawberries, and arugula. And often, whenever we would comment to the waiter about these things, they would casually say something about how they were “just picked from our garden out back this morning.” It was remarkable… but also a bit sad that we had such a stunned reaction to food that was picked fresh from a garden. "Food for thought,” you might say.

Here are a few pics of some faves along the way...

Best vegan pizza EVER, compliments of pizza master Mr. Benito, from Hotel Mediterraneo in Sorrento:
The master has been crafting incredible pizzas at this hotel for 45 years and is well known throughout the region. This mixed-veggie masterpiece was a life-altering experience!

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A gourmet slant on pasta and a green pea and asparagus puree from La Sponda (see below), and it was otherworldy great!

Vegan pancakes with vegan Nutella at the Excelsior Parco Capri. (Thanks again for hooking me up, Peppe!)

And a few more for ya....

A final pic... simply the freshest arugula and tomato salad you could imagine!

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My run the next morning was another memorable one, for sure!

Once again, I felt compelled to grab a few shots along the way. Sorrento is gorgeous!


Later in the AM, we took trip #1 to the Amalfi Coast for a glass-bottom kayaking adventure with our boy Luca of Chasing Syrens, just off the coast of Nerano. Man, those waters gleamed with some of the most striking shades of blues and greens imaginable! Here's Luca leading us into one of several different caves along the way...

And my girl and I cruising...

But there was this crazy jellyfish invasion happening while we were there, so it wasn't exactly the best for swimming!


Scope this vid!

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Trip #2 to the Amalfi Coast was early that evening to Positano... another must-see little town in the region. As we were approaching the hillside city, we were so mesmerized by the view that we actually stopped to grab a shot, hoping to catch a nice portrait of Positano in the background. Mission accomplished!

And then I felt like the last part of the drive right up to the restaurant was "film-worthy," as our driver, Luigi, expertly navigated through the ultra-tight vehicle/pedestrian realities of Positano:

We had dinner at La Sponda., which would have to come with our highest recommendation for food, ambiance, and just... magic. 
Here's the view from the deck just outside....

...and from our table:

It was a night we will never forget. 

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Our final day in Italy was a leisurely one. And what better way to remember it than with this magnificent sunset?

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Through the years, I have chosen not to illuminate much about my private relationships publicly. However, I must make a slight exception here because, simply put, this trip would not have happened without my girl, Kari. And even if it would have, it would’ve only had a fraction of the meaning.

In fact, the deeper meaning and, shall we say, "Karmic Collision" nature of the trip continues to unfold in a most unexpected yet extraordinary way.

More soon...