Our 10 day Italian Adventure: Tips for having the trip of a lifetime in Italia| PART 1: SORRENTO, CAPRI & POMPEII | Days 1-3

As most of you know Matt and I just WON THE AMAZING RACE… (still hasn’t sunk in) and we used some of the money to  take my parents and one of our best friends on a 10 day vacation to Italy. My parents have gone through a lot in their lives. My father had diabetes and Alopecia Totalis his whole life. Six years ago his one remaining kidney started to fail and he was on dialysis for 6 months before receiving a life changing double transplant (kidney & pancreas.) My mother stood by his side and was his nightly nurse through the whole process. Shortly after he began recovering from his transplant his eyesight started to fail and he’s been going blind ever since. A year ago my mother was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. She had ovarian cancer when I was in 3rd grade and had a full hysterectomy so she has lost a lot. Through all these trials they have been the greatest parents to me. They taught me to be strong, independent and always chase my dreams. They gave me the world and made me believe in my ability to actually achieve my goals by loving and supporting me unconditionally. Once we won, I immediately wanted to repay them in some way, to give something back to them. They have always dreamt of seeing Italy, I actually remember my father leaning into my mother right before her surgery last year and promising to take her when she was well again. They always helped me live my dreams and I wanted to help them live one of theirs, so I planned a ten day trip that would satisfy anyone’s need to see the sights, explore Italy and have the trip of a lifetime in one of my favorite places on earth.

Disclaimer: The trip was tight.. It would have been easier/more relaxing with an extra day in each city but we did not have the availability in our schedule to extend it any longer…instead we ran around like crazed, wild, luggage wielding lunatics and still had a blast doing it. Below is our itinerary and links to all the things we loved and enjoyed.

 

I booked the trip through http://www.virgin-vacations.com. I used their 8 day Rome, Florence and Venice vacation air and land package and I extended it by three days so that I could add in Sorrento  and the Amalfi Coast. They helped me book the extended airfare but I had to book my own travel from Rome to Sorrento and back to Rome (just bought this at the airport) and my own hotel in Sorrento (hotels.com) . Get this.. for all 5 of us it only cost about $8,000.00. $2,000.00 each for all airfare, hotels, first class train tickets… pretty incredible.

Day 1: Arrive in Rome, Naples, Sorrento
After everyone arrived at Rome Fiumicino Airport we hired a driver through welcomepickups.com to take us to Roma termini train station. This service was flawless. I downloaded the app before I left the country and then I got the name and phone number of my specific driver and he showed up holding a sign with our name on it- Easy Peasy. The trip cost about 100 Euro for the 5 of us and all of our luggage. There is an option to take the train from Rome airport to Roma Termini train station. This train is cheaper for sure and since we didn’t take it, I don’t know how easy it is, but I am told pretty easy. Keep in mind we did this trip with my father who is legally blind, so we made some choices based on ease and comfort and not always on budget.

We traveled from Roma Termini to Napoli Centrale train station on a high speed train. The trip was 1 hour and 8 mins and cost about 100 euro per person for a round trip ticket. We could have hopped right on the Circumvesuviana and finished the trip to Sorrento but by this point we had all worked up an appetite and I am a pizza FANATIC. So there was no way I was passing through the birthplace of pizza without stopping for a slice and I can’t tell you how worth it it was. I highly recommend making this pit stop.

We left our luggage in the storage room at Napoli Centrale so that we didn’t have to drag it through Naples to the pizzeria. (To Find the luggage hold: after you get off the train and are facing the exit walk all the way down to the right6 euro per bag or 9 bags for 40 euro). There are two incredible pizza spots in Naples http://damichele.net and http://www.dalpresidentepizzeria.it. We arrived on a  Sunday when Da Michele is closed so our choice was made for us and we hopped in a Taxi toward Dal Presidente.

The pizza at Dal Presidente was out of this world. We were seated outside in the most incredible little courtyard, in front of a beautiful church. It was so old world Italy and we were in love with the whole experience. Every single pie we ordered was the best pizza any of us had ever tasted. We ordered the margherita, con prosciutto and a specialty white pie, we also got some draught beers and had a ball. I highly recommend it!

Grabbing a taxi  in Naples isn’t the easiest so ask for a card from the taxi that drops you off and hold on to it to call another taxi to return to the train station. We took the taxi back to Napoli Centrale to retrieve our bags and then headed downstairs into the circumvesuviana train station. Circumvesuviana means “Around Vesuvius” and its the special train that takes you down to the south of Italy and circles the incredible volcano.

We had absolutely no idea what we were getting ourselves into with this train… literally none. This train is insane. Its packed, its rickety, rocky, wild and at some point I am pretty sure we traveled at light speed. In retrospect it was not the best idea for us with my disabled dad and 7 pieces of massive luggage but it was definitely unforgettable and we made it. The train is by far the cheapest way, we paid under 5 Euro per person. The other option would have been a taxi which would have run us upwards of 150 Euro. The train took about an hour and was a lot of fun, it’s the method I would recommend.

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Once we arrived in Sorrento we walked out of the circumvesuviana and I didn’t have any idea what to do. I didn’t look into how to get from the train station to the hotel, which was a rookie mistake- but hey, it happens lol. We were able to take a taxi but it was ridiculously expensive; It cost us 50 Euro to go about 15 minutes up a hill. Most of the hotels have shuttles that go to the hotel from the main square so its worth it to look that up with your hotel and be aware of the best and cheapest way to get to your hotel before you arrive. (my bad)

After a beautiful ride up a very large hill we arrived at our gorgeous hotel, Le Terrazzehttp://residenceleterrazze.it/. I cant rave about this hotel enough. It was breathtaking, with panoramic vistas from every angle that you almost cant believe are real. On top of that the staff took the most exceptional care of us, especially Vincenzo.  The breakfast buffet was delicious and included!

We arrived late at night after many of the local restaurants had closed and he made a call to his friend Pasquale who owns the most unreal restaurant up the street called Le Grotelle http://www.agriturismo.it/en/farmhouse/campania/naples/LeGrottelleSorrento-7280558/index.html. He picked us up in his car and drove us over there after they had closed. They grow 90 % of their ingredients on the premises and the food was probably the best I have every eaten anywhere on earth. The restaurant had such a fun old world vibe too- a must if you visit Sorrento.

TIP: Le Terrazze has a LOT of stairs. It’s carved into the side of a cliff which is why it is so incredible and has such beautiful views- but make sure to let the desk know if you are traveling with anyone disabled or elderly. The steps are treacherous.

Day 2: Capri by private boat

This was everyone’s favorite day of the whole trip, by far. We rented a private boat through Capitano Ago boat rental http://www.capitanoago.com/ and it was flawless. It was 800 Euro for the whole day up to 8 people and it included soda, beer, wine and limoncello and caprese sandwiches (pretty cutesy since we were in Capri). They also picked us up at our hotel in the morning and dropped us off at the end of the day.

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We had Capitano Agostino and he was so much fun! He started the day by bringing us to an ancient roman aqueduct and driving the boat right underneath it. It was soooo cold! He took us to see all the grottoes, the Faraglioni rocks and then brought us to a beautiful spot to jump off the boat and swim and snorkel. He played music for us and we had the time of our lives relaxing on the boat, drinking wine and swimming in the Mediterranean.

To  visit the Blue Grotto you must wait in line, when you have a private boat the line is considerably shorter. We waited about 10 minutes while others waited upwards of an hour. We were transferred from our boat into a small rowboat (pictured below), taken to the ticket booth to pay and then brought into the grotto. It really is a spectacular sight unlike anything I have ever seen. The cave is pitch black and the water literally glows. The trip into the grotto is short, maybe 5 minutes long and your rowboat driver will pester you beyond belief about being tipped- that’s just the way it is so don’t get upset. Make sure you have cash to pay the entrance fee which I believe is 13 euro per person and some tip for your rowboat driver.

blue grottorowboat

Once we finally arrived in Capri we were let off the boat to explore for a few hours. We took a Funicular (old school cable car) up to the top of the hill and had lunch at a charming little restaurant nearby the square called Isidoro. I had the pasta with clams and that was a hit with everyone lol. We shopped, grabbed some gelato and headed  back down to our boat. We went for another swim and then finished the trip back to our hotel.

We had dinner in Sorrento in Piazza Tasso (pictured below) at Bar Faunohttp://www.faunobar.it/en/index.php. I ordered the ravioli sorrentina, which was fabulous.

piazza tasso

 

Day 3 Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius

We took our hotel shuttle down to the square and caught the Circumvesuviana to  the Pompeii Scavi stop, which takes about 30 minutes. I opted to buy tickets outside the train station in Sorrento before we departed, from tiempo travel, which is in an office to the right hand side if you are facing the train station. I purchased train tickets(2.20 per person), bus tickets to the top of Vesuvius( 22 per person) , and skip the line tickets and guided tour for Pompeii (12 euro per person- not including 13 euro pp entrance fee which we paid at the gate).

The tour we purchased for Pompeii was picked up outside the Pompeii Scavi train station. They walk you over to the entrance and help you purchase your tickets and then walk you through the whole area of Pompeii. This could be a good option because Pompeii is expansive and very confusing. However, due to my dads blindness we were a slower group. In all honesty though we were way happier to walk around on our own and really only bought tickets so we could “skip the line.” The tours are very in depth, even at our slow pace we blew passed them- long windedness is just not really our style. We did a short loop, started by turning right after the entrance square, through piccolo teatro and then  turned left up the ramp. We then made the first left, checked out the bath house, forum and hall with the pottery – I was really most interested to see the plaster casts of the bodies so we asked around and made a bee line for that. We followed that around past the basilica of justice and out the exit toward the Circumvesuviana. That exit brought us right back to the train station– which is where you pick up the bus for mount Vesuvius.

This took us about an hour and was plenty of Pompeii for us but depending on your level of history buffness, you might opt to follow a tour for a longer (2.5 hour) more in depth look at the ancient city.

pompeiipompeii bodypompeii body 2

Because of the weather (it was raining and lightening) we ended up not being able to take the tour we purchased to Mount Vesuvius. The busses were not driving up because of the rain and at first we were super bummed. Then the same company we purchased the bus tickets from sold us a private tour in a taxi for 25 euro per person (10 euro per person entrance fee not included.) It turned out this was a way superior option and we got so lucky. The taxi was going up even when the busses weren’t, we had no one else with us (we would have been with a group of 20 or so if we had gone with the bus group) and we got to be on our own time. The cab ride took about 30 minutes.

Mount Vesuvius was so bad ass, excuse my french, but theres no other way to say it. We were all stunned and beyond obsessed. It was pretty much one of the coolest things I have ever seen and definitely was worth the hike. The hike was moderate intensity on a well worn path and took us about 20 minutes. The rain made it so creepy and epic- most blogs say don’t go up to the top in bad weather because it does compromise the view outward, but it made the volcano so much cooler to us. Make sure to bring a sweater no matter what the weather because of the altitude it does get colder at the top.

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We ended up taking a taxi back from Pompeii to our hotel in Sorrento. It cost about 80 Euro. We could have returned on the train but we were all tired and it was raining and we knew my dad needed a break lol.

We had dinner that evening at a restaurant called Fattoria Terranova- Fattoria means farm in italian, but it may as well mean place that makes you fat. The ambience at this restaurant is to die for and the food is excellent. We hear the bread is a stone wheat (inside joke…) http://fattoriaterranova.it/ but seriously, definitely a spot to check out- just be careful for the per person appetizer because that can get pricey 🙂

 

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Seriously though… what are the odds?

I want to share a thought I have been having over the last couple of months since Matt and I won the Amazing Race. For those of you that don’t know what that is, it’s a CBS reality show where eleven teams of two race around the world and take part in the ultimate international scavenger hunt. At the end, one team wins it all and a one million dollar prize. I was 28 when we won season 28…

What I really can’t stop thinking is: “What are the odds?” To date there have been 28 teams who have won the American version of the show, including Matt and I, out of a little over 300 who have played…those odds are pretty impressive- but what about when you factor in the thousands and thousands who have auditioned?

To audition, get cast and then play to the end and WIN? thats pretty incredible/unlikely.

A lot of you may even be thinking, “that’s lucky.” At first, that thought crossed my mind too and then I wondered… is it? I started to think through the process that led us to that moment on the winner’s mat and I began to see a divine plan unfold. (Disclaimer: I am not religious and I am not a believer in “fate” or “destiny.” I firmly believe our thoughts create our life.) 

Many people don’t know this but Matt and I began auditioning as a team for the show about 5 years ago. I also applied for 3 years before that with a different partner. Each time it was always the same thing, someone would call us and express interest but we never made it all the way. Something was always offNow I recognize that “Something” to be timing. 

In all the years of visualization we never, ever pictured just competing on the race… we ALWAYS pictured winning. Winning would take readiness- it would take physical and mental preparation that 8 years ago and even 3 or 4 years ago- I didn’t have. I had to learn things and be ready to accept something like winning half a million dollars. I had to battle anxiety and learn to trust in the Universe’s timing. I had to learn to trust myself.

Eventually, after countless audition tapes and even a live audition (we drove through the night to San Fransisco and slept outside to be seen by producers)– we put it on the back burner. It remained part of our bucket list, so to speak, and I always found myself thinking about it, wondering about it and picturing us running to that mat as winners before I fell asleep at night. Here is a photo of my vision board that I looked at for the year before we were chosen to run the race….

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Kind of scary huh? Not only did I visualize the race and the prize… but do you see that helicopter? I had never ridden in one before and it turns out the first time I did, it was to the final destination where we would go on to win. Coincidence? Could be…But what if it isn’t. What if I created, anticipated, almost willed some of it to happen?

I think about the choices we made when we were preparing…we didn’t do much out of the ordinary, but one thing we did focus on was rock climbing… one of the key tasks in the final challenge.

I think back even further to when I was younger and my grandpa would sit with me for hours in awe of my memory. He always praised me for having a mind like a steel trap and would play the memory game with me for days on end, even though he could never beat me- he always wanted to play. He wanted to cultivate that skill in me, the skill that would go on to win me a half a million dollars a couple of decades later.

After Matt and I were not taken through the casting for the race after our numerous audition attempts we didn’t do much else, aside from putting it on our vision board and watching old episodes religiously, not that there was much we could do lol. We just went on with our regular lives and followed our paths in dance. It turns out our path led us down the road of social media. We began to do what dancers had never done before and acquire a social media following and a youtube channel that would go on to become the largest dance channel in the world. We weren’t seeking that necessarily, it just kind of found us. It was very organic the way we fell into social media- it was something we were doing because we enjoyed it… and then it caught fire.

And then… we got the call.

A casting director told us that they were organizing a new season of the Amazing Race, a never been done before “Social Media Themed” season. He said he was browsing Youtube and recognized one of the photos on Matt’s channel from one of our previous applications. Odds? …. 

If that doesn’t get you, how about this? In the first leg we were paired with a cameraman and sound guy (Alan and Steve) that we really loved. Since the race left from our houses, Alan, our camera guy was in our house taking some shots for B roll or what have you. He went into the bathroom and came to notice a piece of paper we had taped to the bathroom mirror. It said “ We are going to WIN the Amazing Race Season 28 #BlackTeam.” It was where we would see it every morning and repeat it to ourselves as soon as we woke up. Alan noticed it and commented on it and at first, I felt a little embarrassed and silly. Someone who didn’t get visualization might think we were crazy or cocky lol We thought we would win and we hadn’t even left the house. 

TAR visualization.jpg

This is a picture of that sign- it’s still taped behind our bathroom mirror.

We won that first leg and then alternated camera/sound crews throughout the show. We never had Alan and Steve again… until the final leg. Matt and I said after the first leg that if were lucky enough to get them back in the last leg that we could win it all, so when we saw them waiting for us in the lobby for that last leg, we were over the top excited. I never would have expected Alan to remember such a small moment in my bathroom that happened a month ago- but on the way to the final challenge he turned to me in the car and asked me about that posted sign on our bathroom mirror. The sign I scribbled on an old piece of paper on the way out the door to teach a private lesson. I explained to him that we used it to visualize our winning every day. Alan could have laughed, but he didn’t- he didn’t day anything at all. After we won, there was a farewell dinner for all the cast members and Alan came over to me and said, “I use visualization too.” He opened his phone and showed me his note in his calendar for that date- he had written it before the leg began… it said “Dana and Matt win the Amazing race.”

I guess the point of this post is that even though it was unlikely, I don’t think it was random, accidental or even lucky. This didn’t just happen- it was years in the making; A whole lifetime in creation. Years of visualizing, planning, picturing what it would like like, how it would feel. I’m not trying to say I am that powerful of a person and  I can make things happen just by imagining they will… but yea actually, I kind of am saying that— and I think you are that powerful too. A long time ago someone explained visualization to me and said, “you don’t need the how, you just need to know what.” You don’t need to think of how it will happen or come to be- you just need to know what your desire is. For example, say you want to make $100,000 – you don’t need to picture how you will make it, just imagine receiving the check and how it would feel to see that money in your bank account, how you’ll spend it, etc. Let the universe handle the how. You just need to picture it, believe in it with every ounce of your being, live each day like you are waiting on the universe to deliver that desire to you- whatever it is. In retrospect I can see all the hints, all the warnings, all the signs the universe sent me to prepare me to complete this mission and live out this life long dream. I didn’t recognize them at the time but as they say, hindsight is 20/20. I felt compelled to learn to drive stick shift before we were even called, to sign us up for rock climbing, to drag us to San Fransisco in the middle of the night, I even booked us a trip to Santa Barbara for New Years a couple years ago never realizing the race would lead us back there. We began to travel a lot and that experience sure came in handy too.

I mean, what the hell do I know really…? Maybe I’m way off and life is a series of serendipitous moments that culminate in grand victories or earth shattering defeats. Maybe there’s no preparation or rhyme or reason- sometimes I feel that way too. Every once in a while though, moments like winning the race trigger an “A-Ha!” moment for me and I begin to feel like maybe it’s not so arbitrary. I would like to believe we have some control and ability to create our lives and so I continue to put my hopes and dreams out into the world… then I wait patiently for signs from the universe. Sometimes even the heartbreaks can be preparing you, readying you for what lie ahead. To me there’s so much hope in believing that, that the darkness is only preparing us to receive the light. How will you know when you get a sign? Sometimes it’s just a little nudge, a feeling in the pit of your stomach that urges you to do something in a moment. Sometimes its thoughts and urgings so powerful they keep you up at night- just pay attention to your feelings, trust your gut and get used to accepting “coincidences” as signals sent by the universe, ushering you forward on your path toward your true hearts desire. I’m really grateful that I did.

P.S My best friend watched our “time capsule” which was a cute little message that CBS had us leave to ourselves before we left for the race that we were meant to watch after we returned home. She made a funny observation that we were the only team that spoke in our time capsule as though we had already won… we never even realized we were doing that.