Monday, May 27, 2019

Italy - Exploring The Amalfi Coast, Town Of Amalfi and Pompeii



The fifth port of our Mediterranean cruise was printed, on our itinerary, as Amalfi Coast, Italy,  but the port was actually in Salerno.  Salerno is a city with museums, galleries beaches and parks to explore but with so many interesting choices just within reach of this city, we knew we would venture out.  We could have picked Capri where we would be treated to brilliant blue illuminations in the Blue Grotto or Sorrento, the land of lemon and olive groves.  But Pompeii, the city that was buried in 79 A.D. when Mt. Vesuvius erupted was too interesting and fascinating a place to pass up.  We didn't think a visit here would take an entire day, though, so we chose an excursion that included a cruise along the Amalfi Coast and a visit to the Town of Amalfi.

Our tour guide for the day, met us at our cruise ship at 7:45 and led us to the Motor Launch that would take us on our 45 minute Almalfi Coast cruise.


There was not an inch of this coast that was not absolutely gorgeous.  



Every time I thought we just saw the most perfect part of the coast, we would turn the bend and I would see a more perfect sight.


Our Motor Launch brought us to the little town of Amalfi.  We were in the heart of the town, Piazza Duomo, the central square, when we entered the town.  To our right we saw Amalfi Cathedral.   We walked up the steep steps to have a closer look.


Then we walked the very narrow streets and explored more of the town.


I kept saying, to Soko, how I felt like I was in Disney World or some other fairy tale village.  This town was way too cute to be real.



And it was so tiny that we were suddenly back where we started, in the main plaza, without even trying to get back.  


We saw more than a couple of shops, around the plaza, selling limoncello and other lemon goods.  The Amalfi lemon, sfusato amalfitano, is double the size of other lemons.  The people use every bit of the lemon, even the leaves, in the cuisine of the region.  




I would have loved more time in Amalfi but we definitely did not want to be stranded here so we had to leave this adorable village to meet our Motor Launch.

Once we got back on land, our tour guide hopped on the tour bus with us and we were off to Pompeii.  We knew we were getting close to the ancient city when our he pointed out Mt. Vesuvius just ahead of us.



On our walk to Pompeii, we passed a sight that we had never seen in our lives before.  A pomegranate tree!  I have only seen the fruit stacked up in a bin in my grocer's produce department.  It was so awesome to see them hanging on the branches.


Porta Marina is where the original town gate was and where we entered the city of Pompeii.


I had a copy of a walking tour that Rick Steves shared in his book, Mediterranean Cruise Ports, because I thought we would be left in Pompeii to tour on our own.  It turned out that our guide led us around which was really nice because he pointed out things I didn't remember reading about in Rick Steves book.  Here he was explaining how plaster was used to make a wall look like it was made out of marble.


We saw these stepping stones all over the streets of the city.  The steps were used by pedestrians so they wouldn't get their sandals wet after the streets were washed.  When we saw two rows of stones, we knew we were on a two way street.  Three rows told us we were on a major thoroughfare.


We passed a fast food joint.  The Romans had tiny kitchens so usually didn't cook for themselves.  The large holes, cut into the marble counter top, held pots of food.


One thing I was looking forward to seeing here was The House of the Tragic Poet.  At the entryway, was a "Beware of Dog" sign made out of ceramic tile.


We were very glad we picked this excursion.  We learned so much about how the people here lived many, many years ago.  It was amazing how the volcanic ash preserved the city so well.  

After a perfect day of beautiful and incredible sights, it was time to get back on the ship and say good-bye to Salerno.  


Off to our next stop, Venice!

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Monday, May 13, 2019

What We Learned On Our First RV Road Trip



We've just completed our first road trip in our RV.  Before this road trip we took two practice runs (read about it here) to campgrounds close to our house.  We were very glad that we did because we learned how to set up our camper and got a feel for driving it.  We knew that our trip up the East Coast would be a little more challenging but the practice trips definitely made us feel more comfortable, confident and ready to do a longer trip.  Did we learn everything we needed to know on the shorter trips?  We found out the answer was "No".  We learned a lot more on this trip and one thing we learned, we learned the hard way!

The first thing we did on this road trip that we didn't have to do on our two shorter trips was pull up to a gas pump with the trailer behind the car.

Pilot is our go to gas station for the coffee perks, gas discount and now we are enjoying their new app (read about it here).  Now, that we have the trailer, we have another reason to love Pilot.


Pilot gas stations cater to truckers so there is usually more room to maneuver a truck or trailer up to a gas pump and many of them have a separate RV area that is very easy to pull in and out of.  When pulled into the first Pilot we came to there were two gas pumps that were designated for RV pull thru.  We didn't use them because there was a end pump that looked very easy to pull next to.  We were both very happy that Soko did a great job pulling the car up to the pump without bumping the car or the trailer into anything.  He did ask me to check, as we were pulling away, to see if the camper was going to hit the gas pump.  We were a good 3' away but it was impossible for Soko to see.
Lesson #1 - When possible, go to the gas station the truckers go to for ease of pulling up to a gas pump.


We were filled up with gas and it was time to get on a major road, I4, the always busy interstate that brings you to your favorite Florida theme parks.  Our plan was to stay in the right lane so that Soko wouldn't have to quickly change lanes to get off an exit. 

You can see some of the traffic with the side mirrors but it doesn't give you as big a picture of what is going on behind you as you can get when you are able to use the rear view mirror.  That might be the hardest part of towing the trailer is the fact that the only thing you can see behind you when you look out the rear view mirror is what you are towing.



What we learned almost as soon as we got on the road was that we were going to have to change lanes.  Mostly to get around very slow vehicles.  Soko felt pretty comfortable using only the side mirrors for making sure no one was around him when he was ready to change lanes.  He just had to remember to wait until there was enough room for both the car and trailer to move over.
Lesson #2 - Changing lanes is not as difficult as we thought it might be and the most comfortable lane to be in, when on a 3 lane highway, is the middle lane.

Soko only wanted a stretch of 5 -5 1/2 hours, at the most, between campgrounds.  So that's how we selected the campgrounds that we did and we also wanted them close to I95, the interstate we would be on for the majority of the trip.  We know that when we GPS our ride from our Florida home to our NC home it tells us that it will take us 9 1/2 hours.  Our record time is 10 hours but we stop a lot so the trip for us is more like 10 1/2 hours, so an extra hour.  Knowing we would have to take it slower with the trailer and make more gas stops, we were curious to know what the difference in actual travel time would be compared to the ETA of the GPS.
Lesson #3 - A 5 hour trip when we are pulling our trailer really means a 6 1/2  hour trip, without traffic.



We were very happy that we got to our first stop, Fort McAllister Historic State Park in Richmond Hill, Georgia, safe and sound.  
The outdoor gym in the park was the first one we had ever seen and it was fantastic.  

It was on our way to our second stop, in North Carolina, that we had our eggstraordinary disaster!



Lesson #4 - Always make sure to listen for the extra click of the fridge door handle, telling us the door is locked, before we hit the road!

Medoc Mountain State Park in Hollister, NC, was our second stop, and where we knew we would not have a water hook up to the camper.  We were prepared to learn how to use the trailer's water holding tank.

Lesson #5 - The water tank takes longer to fill than we thought and is full when the water starts to overflow out of the trailer or I noticed the second time we filled up, that the sound of the water going into the trailer changed right before it started leaking out.  I will be listening harder next time and try to stop filling before the leak out.

(I have to admit that we are not completely positive that we have the water tank figured out yet.  On our way back to Florida we noticed we had water leakage.  Not sure if it was us or the trailer.  We will get it checked out in September.  This might turn out to be another blog post on it's own, but hoping it won't be!)

We were successful at filling the water tank but when we tried to turn the water on in the trailer it didn't come out of the faucets.  Soko finally found the switch that says water pump right on it.  We now know how to check the level of water in the black and grey water tanks because it is right on the same panel as the switch that we never paid any attention to!  We had no clue, during our practice runs, of how much water was in the tanks and were nervous about overflowing them.
Lesson #6 - It's probably a good idea to consult the trailer's owner manual when we know we will be using a feature of the trailer that we haven't used before.




We had a choice of a three trails near our campground in Medoc Mountain and decided on the shortest trail because it was late afternoon by the time we got to NC.  We were treated to the beautiful sight of this gorgeous stream at the end of the Stream Trail and were so glad we chose this hike.

Our third stop, Susquehanna River State Park in MD, was where we discovered we lost a piece of our trailer.  Luckily, it could have been worse and we could have lost the plate that the trailer balances on but somehow it stayed on without the bolt that holds it.  We went and found this piece at Home Depot.



Lesson #7 - We will keep a few extra bolts in the camper at all times, and other parts that we discover we might need extra of.


The campsite at Susquehanna State Park was our favorite.  We always expect a grill, fire pit and picnic bench but when there's also somewhere to hang our garbage bags and a place to put our propane stove, well, it doesn't get better than that (when you're camping anyway!)

We took a 7 mile round trip hike, along the Susquehanna River, to see the bald eagles we heard would be at the Conowingo Dam.  There were lots of photographers lined up on the walkway with their cameras with 3' lenses waiting to get a shot of an eagle.  I was there with my phone.  My best shot is on the left.  I'm saying this is an eagle but it could have been a vulture.  We saw a lot more of them than eagles.  On our hike back to the campground, a woman approached us and gave us the photo on the right that her photographer husband took.  I have to admit he got a much better shot than I did!!


After 2 nights at Susquehanna River State Park, we took off for our destination, Strawberry Park in Preston, CT.  We have been here many times and planned this trip with Joe and Nicole so that we could enjoy our grandson's first camping trip with him.  On our way to CT, we thought about taking an alternate route to get there from MD but couldn't find the information we needed to see if we could safely, or legally, take the roads that we wanted to.
Lesson #8 - Research routes along the way of each road trip before getting into the car.


Joe, Nicole and Shea arrived on Thursday.  We showed Shea around our trailer, he showed us the cabin he was staying in for the weekend and then we went to find the campground playground.

On Friday, we went to nearby Mystic Aquarium in the morning before our first fellow campers, Janet and Chris arrived.  We showed up for Bingo at the outdoor rec room but no one else did so it was canceled.  We played Yahtzee instead!

Joe and Nicole invited friends and family to spend the day with us on Saturday.  We voted for our favorite car at the Strawberry Park Annual Car Show and we were entertained by a very good band.   We had a delicious BBQ and enjoyed great company.

We realized we only had a few short days, after our camping vacation with our family and friends in CT, to get back to Florida, park our trailer, clean and secure our Florida home, then return to NC in time to make our doctor's appointments.  So the same trip that we made to get to CT that took us 5 days on the way up, we would have to do in 3, meaning we only had time to stay overnight at each campground.  There is more work involved, for sure, with setting up a trailer to spend the night in versus rolling our suitcases into a hotel room.  I have to say that we were a bit tired when we got back but it wasn't as bad as we thought it might be.
Lesson #9 - Make sure we are giving ourselves plenty of time to complete a round trip vacation so that we don't have too many back to back one nighters.

We had a great time and learned a lot at the same time.  We feel like we now know everything we need to know about using our trailer and we can't wait for the next road trip!

We would love to hear from you if you have any suggestions, helpful hints or if you just want to share any of your road trip stories!!

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