Bellissimo! (Very Beautiful)

By Jim Render



In 2007, two of my favorite actors, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, corroborated on the movie The Bucket List. The two men share a hospital room, and eventually the wealthy Nicholson convinces the auto mechanic Freeman that they should compile a list of things to do and see before they kick the bucket. In short, it was a great movie and the term “bucket list” has been widely used and glorified ever since. My guess is that most adults either have written a list or have a mental compilation of things they want to do before it’s too late. Recently, I checked off an item on my bucket list. This one goes well beyond the day trips I previously wrote about for UPPER ST. CLAIR TODAY [2002]. It was certainly not my usual fall [September] football life. There were many years when I thought getting a first down was more important than water, food, and sleep. I would like to tell you about my first trip since my retirement from football.


My wife, Pam, and I joined our travel agent, Tom Diecks, and his family and friends for a trip to Italy and the Amalfi Coast. We left Pittsburgh and flew to Rome through Atlanta on a Friday night, arriving in Rome on Saturday morning. This would be the first Friday [September 13] night in 40 years that I missed an Upper St. Clair football game. Upon arrival, we checked into our hotel, The Hotel Imperiale, on a street named Via Veneto. This is a nice tree-lined area and the U.S. Consulate is a short walk away. A renowned restaurant, Harry’s Bar, is also nearby and we had dinner there that night. Prior to dinner, our group took a walk to the nearby Spanish Steps, a landmark meeting place for Romans and visitors. Many shops and cafes surround the area, making it a perfect place to begin an exploration of Roma, as written in Italian.



Pam and Jim Render at Trevi Fountain in Rome

On Sunday [day 3], Pam and I took a leisurely walk and spent several hours at another famous Rome landmark, Trevi Fountain—a great place to people watch as they pose for pictures. It is customary to throw a coin over your shoulder to ensure a return to this beautiful place. My good friend, Giuliano Rossi, the former tailor on Vanadium Road and father of Joe Rossi, the football coach at South Fayette, recommended a small restaurant, al Picchio, a few yards from Trevi Fountain. Our lunch was magnificent! We were served by the proprietor, who was Giuliano’s friend. As soon as I mentioned Rossi, he asked if I was from Pittsburgh. Check out al Picchio at www.ristorantealpicchio.It. On Sunday night, our group was hosted for dinner by our tour manager, Francesca, who works for a travel coordinating business called Collette. All our hotels (three of them), buses, and tours were planned and nicely coordinated without glitches.


Jim at the Colosseum; he can't seem to get away from stadiums!

On Monday [day 4], we left the hotel early for a tour of the marvelous treasures of the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Sistine Chapel, home to some of the world’s greatest collections of art. The chapel’s famous ceiling frescoes took the genius Michaelangelo four years to complete. My written words do not adequately describe what you must see for yourself. Following a quick self-serve lunch at a St. Peter’s Square cafeteria, we journeyed across town to another landmark, the Roman Colosseum. I’m glad I didn’t have to compete in that stadium! It is an outstanding structure, especially when you look at it from top to bottom. Like so many other early Roman-era buildings, you gaze and wonder, “How did they build that without electricity, cranes, and trucks?” Can you also imagine hauling mean, hungry lions into the cellar of the Colosseum before the competition? In summary, it’s a one-of-a-kind structure that should be included on your bucket list.



That same Monday was concluded with a trip into Piazza Navona, one of Rome’s most elegant squares. Lined with boutiques, restaurants, and churches, the middle of the square boasts beautiful sculptures, fountains, and statues. Nearby on a side street is a unique tavern. Are you aware that there is a Steelers bar in Rome? You can watch the games via satellite TV. A native Italian man, Giovanni Poggi, is the proprietor and has adopted Pittsburgh and, specifically, the Steelers as the theme of his bar. All of the local Pittsburgh colleges are represented with banners on the walls and a statue of Jesus is adorned with a Steelers helmet. In the spirit of the occasion, I presented Giovanni, who speaks excellent English, with a USC football T-shirt and shorts. The name of the establishment is la Botticella. Find it on Facebook at la Botticella Rome, or email at labotticellaroma@gmail.com for more information.


Left to Right: Jim Render, Giovanni Poggi (displaying his USC swag, a gift from Jim), and Tom Diecks at laBotticella

On Tuesday [day 5], we left Rome and headed south toward our next stop, the Amalfi Coast. Traveling through majestic mountains, we made a stop at the Benedictine Monastery of Montecassino. Perched high atop a mountain was a building as ornate as the Sistine Chapel. With its beautiful marble and artistic architecture, the monastery was an unexpected, awe-inspiring treat for me.


Later that afternoon, we arrived in the village of Vietri Sul Mare and the Hotel Raito. The elegant hotel was built into the cliffs overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. I sat on my balcony and watched pleasure boats and cargo ships come and go into the nearby port of Salerno. Enjoying beautiful weather, a full moon came up and over the harbor each night we were there.


On Wednesday [day 6], we began our exploration of the Amalfi Coast. First of all, imagine being in a large coach bus on a very narrow road. To the right is a cliff that extends down to the sea; to the left are other buses traveling in the opposite direction, literally three to four inches away. All the while, there are motor scooters weaving in between the buses and cars. Upper St. Clair’s Morrow Road between Baker School and McLaughlin Run Road is a boulevard by comparison. We spent most of the day shopping and eating in the very charming seaside town of Sorrento. Some of our group thought Sorrento to be the highlight of the trip. I bought a nice leather belt and Pam a purse while exploring the town. On the way home, our bus stopped at a family-owned limoncello factory. They gave us pastries and samples of the various varieties of this famous Italian after-dinner drink.


On Thursday [day 7], Pam and I elected to not make the bus trip to a buffalo milk mozzarella factory, but, instead, took a shuttle into Salerno to explore this seaport town. We found another outstanding restaurant serving authentic pasta. If I recall correctly, I enjoyed gnocchi at least three times during our trip. The bread and house red wine is always an added pleasure.


Pam, enjoying the view of the Bay of Naples from a restaurant in Capri

On Friday [day 8], our group took an early morning boat ride along the beautiful coastline and, eventually, out to the Isle of Capri. Shuttle boats from all over the southern coast of Italy come in and out of the island. Make no mistake, the views of Capri and the cliffside little town of Anacapri are breathtaking! Shopping in Capri is great, and I found a restaurant off the beaten path that offered delicious food and a porch that overlooked the Bay of Naples, a part of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Many of you have either been to or seen pictures of Capri. Much more crowded than I anticipated, it has a NYC Times Square atmosphere, complete with lots of buses and taxis that add to the congestion.


On Saturday [day 9], we traveled back to the port of Salerno and boarded a shuttle boat that took us over to the cliffside village of Positano in the heart of the Amalfi Coast. We walked the beach and gazed at the remarkable homes and churches built into the cliffs. Positano is referred to as “the Jewel of the Amalfi Coast.” Pam and I decided to not climb the steep steps and traverse the narrow streets, but instead strolled the beachside village and appreciated the shops, restaurants, and, of course, the beautiful blue water of the sea. We lunched at Chez Black [www.chezblack.it], a restaurant recommended to us by another Italian friend [Mary Steratore] who has lived in Rome and traveled extensively throughout Italy. Sitting at a covered table in this open air cafe by the sea, the meal and views were magnifico! If you travel to the southern regions of Italy, Positano is a must see!


On Sunday [day 10,] we said goodbye to the beauty of the Amalfi Coast and headed back to Rome. Stopping in Naples, we visited the National Archaeological Museum. Do not put that experience on your to-do list. Arriving back in Rome, we spent the night at A. Rome Lifestyle Hotel, a modern hotel close to the airport. Francesca and her travel company, Collette, hosted us in a farewell dinner that evening. The next day, of course, included customs, airport security, and many hours of flying.


May your bucket list include the many wonders of Italy. But, in the meantime, remember that in all the world, there is really only one true Pittsburgh! 


Contact me, Jim Render, at jtrusc@hotmail.com if I can be of help when making your future travel plans to this area. Arrivederci! Ciao!


Tour Information:

Greater Pittsburgh Travel Agency, Inc

Thomas F. Diecks, President

tdiecks@greaterpittsburghtravel.com

412-331-2244

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