Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Day in Caserta

03/31, Saturday
It's a bit cloudy today and cooler, but comfortable. After coffee and packaged croissant (very poor v. price of the room), we have only to walk down the street to the Gardini di Palazzo di Caserta. There are joggers, bicyclers, horse-drawn carriages, dogs running about, picnickers, kids playing soccer, strolling families, locals and a few tourists.

We can see the Palazzo is in the distance and it is huge. We'd better start there because there are 1200 rooms...well, only 40 are open to see. As you might guess, the rooms are opulent and huge, too...the Throne Room is 100 yards long, and the King's bedroom is as big as most peoples' homes. Lots of artwork, chandeliers, marble, period furniture, fireplaces, mirrors, silk wall-covering, gold trim, and anything else fit for a king.

This is a new palace, designed by Luigi Vanvitelli, who was working at the time at the Vatican. Construction began in the 1750s when Charles the Bourbon was king of Naples. He wanted a palace as grand and splendid as the Palace of Versailles.

Over long time periods, more rooms were added to the original design for new use and users, so styles (decoration, architecture, artwork, functionality) change. In addition to a private chapel, the royal family had a theater and a 10,000 volume library. The final addition was made in the 1870s.

The Garden, also designed by Vanvitelli, is equally grand and ingenious. An aqueduct was built to bring mountain water over to the gardens, ponds, and six fountains. The aqueduct was a real feat since it covered over 15 miles. We walked about half the length of the garden, seeing only three of the fountains, each quite different from the other. The park covers 300 acres.

Overall, Caserta is a nice old town. The Palace and Gardens are the main attraction both for tourists and for locals who make good use of the grounds. But, we did not find the locals particularly friendly or helpful, unlike all of the other places we have visited in Italy. Is it coincidental that very few speak and understand only Italian? Even the younger people. We actually felt rather isolated where we stayed and never even met the Innkeepers.

We had a nice dinner at Antico Hosteria Massa, an old family-run place that reminds Sandy of the old Como Inn in Chicago. This restaurant has been around for over a hundred years and lots of locals were there having a good time. They gave us a complimentary glass of champagne and we toasted a great Italy tour and all the nice people we met along the way. Had a salad with octopus, calamari and shrimp, a great bean and spinach soup and of course a marvelous pizza. I had read somewhere to look for the sign of places that make the pizza in wood burning open ovens, which we did. I even liked the calamari ! The salad had a great lemon dressing. Stop for gelato and pastries for tomorrow morning in case the B&B has only packaged toast and croissant. We are spoiled !

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