Always Wander (Part II)

June 19, 2018

It’s that time again! Time for another mega trip and this time we flew off to discover Italy. After landing in Venice, Italy and much confusion, we found our water taxi to our hotel. Although the trip began a little rocky with our “taxi driver” not showing, we realized that we didn’t need the  taxi driver at all. They call them taxi drivers, but it is simply someone who walks you to the port for the water taxis, so we asked around and found our way. Once we were in the boat and on our way, all frustrations were forgotten. The ride from the airport to the city was one of my most favorite times of the trip. As we came upon the beautiful city of Venice, we were in awe. The city, which sits on water, was truly an incredible sight to see. Inches from the sides of the canals and other boats, our boat driver navigated through the small water paths and made our way to our hotel, Locanda Ca Zose, in Dorsoduro. Locanda Ca Zose is in a stylish 17th century building where every room has its own individual touch. Situated just over the bridge from the incredible touristy area of San Marco, Dorsoduro was quiet and relaxed. With no cars on major streets, Venice is completely walkable and we were only a few minutes from St. Mark’s Basilica and the Rialto Bridge, but could still enjoy the calm atmosphere of where we laid our heads.

For lunch during our Venice stay, Tyler found Dal Moro’s Fresh Pasta to Go, which had a line around the block (but moved quickly). Once at the counter, you pick a fresh homemade pasta, you pick a sauce and receive a number. I ordered the Alfredo over linguine and Tyler ordered the gnocchi with a seafood sauce, which Venice is known for. With no seating inside the restaurant, we perched on a step overlooking the canal. It was the perfect way to enjoy lunch. Stuffed and tired from walking most of the day, we headed back to the hotel for a nap before dinner. A midday rest seemed to be our pattern during our trip. Before dinner, we walked along the edge of Venice that looked out onto the ocean and stopped for an Aperol Spritz (Aperol, prosecco and soda water), which was everywhere in Italy and became my favorite cocktail as well. With prosecco (and the Bellini)having been invented in Venice, I couldn’t go wrong ordering anything that included the bubbly. For dinner, we were lucky to snag a table at Ristorante La Calcina and sat right on the water. We feasted on Caprese Salad, Lobster Pasta, Sea Bass, and Octopus.

Tyler and I had heard mostly negative things about Venice, but felt after living in Venice Beach, CA, we had to visit Venice Italy and we are so happy we did. With its quaint pedestrian streets, beautiful old buildings, and boats as their mode of transportation, we loved Venice and felt it was an incredible city unlike any other we have visited. We simply enjoyed meandering through the streets and stopping for a glass of wine here and there. The city is so breathtakingly beautiful.

The next morning we departed Venice at 5:45 am on the public boat (remember, no buses here) that took us to the train station. It was a magical experience, being on the water so early in the morning, with the sun rising and the city quiet. After a three hour train ride, we arrived in Rome and walked about ten minutes to our hotel, Domus Alberti, situated in the Monti area of Rome. With no signage, it was confusing at first, but we quickly learned each floor housed a small bed & breakfast (which is why there was no signage for a specific one). When I took the elevator that only fit me and my suitcase up to Domus Alberti, I was greeted by one of the owners, Tomasso, who was incredibly friendly and helpful. Domus Alberti was the perfect place to call home during our visit. With large comfortable modern rooms, a breakfast room that was open 24/7, and situated in a less touristy area, we couldn’t have asked for more. An added plus, Tomasso was always available and emailed us back so quickly whenever we had a question.

After dropping off our luggage we hightailed it to meet up with Tyler’s aunt and her boyfriend who happened to be visiting Rome at the same time. At the Borghese Gallery, we all joined together for a group tour to see the magnificent art housed in an incredible mansion. The tour guide was informative about the history of the art and the building and moved at a pace that people like Tyler (who aren’t really into tours) didn’t get bored. After the tour, we took a death ride (I mean taxi) to Alfredo alla Scrofa for lunch. Alfredo alla Scrofa is where, you might have guessed, Fettuccine Alfredo was created. So, of course we had to order the cheesy pasta. Before we dove into their namesake dish, we had one of the other foods that Rome is known for, Roman-Jewish artichokes. These fried artichokes are crispy and savory. Now, the cheese. They prepared the Fettuccine Alfredo table side by mixing it continuously thus creating the dish to be light and not heavy like we are used to in the states. Continuing with our cheese tour, Tyler and I split the signature Roman dish, Cacio e Pepe, which is a simple (salty) dish comprised of pasta tossed with Pecorino Romano and coarsely ground black pepper. If you visit Rome, I can’t stress enough, that you have to order this meal. Not feeling overly stuffed, oddly enough, we headed out to do some sightseeing. We made our way to the incredibly crowded, but still beautiful, Trevi Fountain. After climbing the Spanish Steps, then rewarded with more wine courtesy of Tyler’s family. I felt truly blessed to have the experience of sitting in the sun on top of the Spanish Steps, sipping wine with people I love, sipping wine. It was honestly one of the most favorite moments of my life. Feeling happy (and sweaty) we headed back to our hotel to rest and clean up before meeting up for dinner.

We met at 8 pm at Mimi e Coco and the wait was about 45 minutes. With a lively atmosphere, prosecco flowing and the restaurant serving free focaccia bread, the wait was one of the most fun times of the trip. Once we sat down, the staff was friendly and the food was hearty and amazing. We ordered the meatballs as an appetizer. They were huge and came with potatoes and a delicious sauce. For dinner, we had the carbonara, the lasagna, seafood pasta and eggplant parmesan. Each bite was better than the next. The pasta was homemade, the sauces were savory with a hint of sweet, and the cheese was perfection. With only about ten tables, amazing food, and a welcoming vibe, Mimi e Coco was worth a visit!

The next morning was our Walks of Italy tour entitled “Gladiator’s Gate: Special Access Colosseum Tour with Arena Floor.” It was surreal that ten minutes from our hotel, the Colosseum pops up among the buildings. We entered the Colosseum through gladiator’s gate knowing that thousands of years ago, they entered these gates not knowing who they were fighting and if they would make it out alive. From the Colosseum, our group went to the Roman Forum and learned about Rome’s history from a guide who was fun and took pride in her city. Walks of Italy is a great way to see and learn Rome’s history. After our tour, it was time to get off our feet and fill our bellies. Ristorante Roma Sparita is a quaint restaurant away from the chaos of the city and looks out onto the Piazza di Santa Cecilia. Thank goodness, Tyler made a reservation ahead of time because they were turning people away since they were completely booked for the day. We sat on the patio and feasted on stuffed zucchini blossoms, Cacio e Pepe (the best version we had) and pasta with fava beans. Although we ate pasta for many of our meals, we found that overall the pasta in Italy didn’t leave us heavy or sluggish. The ingredients there are so fresh and the portions are much smaller than U.S. because 90% of the pasta is homemade and not out of a box. We wandered back to our hotel stopping to see the Synagogue in Rome and walking through the Jewish section where we stopped in a Kosher Italian bakery for some pastries.

Monday morning, we met up with Walks of Italy again for our tour, entitled “Pristine Sistine Early Entrance Small Group Vatican Tour.” As much as Tyler was eager to visit the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel was what I was most excited to visit. Having been an art major and studying the Sistine Chapel for most of my life, it was a special experience to see Michelangelo’s masterpiece. With a strict dress code, no talking, and no cameras, we made our way into the chapel. It was much smaller than I expected, but still beautiful. The amazing sight made me want to stand there looking up all day. We toured the rest of the building and St. Peter’s Basilica, which was breathtakingly huge. In addition to viewing the ornate magnificent artwork, we also viewed the catacombs where all the previous popes were buried. After three hours on our feet, it was time for a break again. We stumbled upon L’Osteria di Birra del Borgo, a modern, hip brewery serving up a contemporary take on Italian food. With delicious brews, focaccia style pizzas, and hearty pastas, L’Osteria di Birra del Borgo made us happy that the restaurant we had planned to visit was closed. 

One of my favorite things about traveling is stumbling upon little gems and having an unexpected experience. Our last day in Rome provided just that. With such early plans each day, we always had coffee and breakfast at our hotel. It was now time to go out for Roman cappuccino and pastries. As we headed out into the rain, we noticed Fantasia del Fornaio, which was right under our bed and breakfast (we hadn’t seen it open until now). We headed inside and were quickly overwhelmed with the pastries, pizzas, and cookie that lined the glass cabinets. We both ordered up a pizza (yes, for breakfast), biscotti (they aren’t like biscotti in the U.S.) and a few pastries for later. Plus, the owner was laughing at how excited we were and threw in a few extras for us to try. Not only was the breakfast some of the best food we had in Rome, but the shop owner and her mother were equally as thrilled to have us there, as we were to be there.

After quickly seeing the Pantheon in the rain, we headed to Capuchin Monastery that had a self-guided tour through the monastery. The real reason we visited the monastery was to see is the rooms of bones. One of the friars had an idea to create art from the bones of the friars who had passed and they dug up hundreds of friars to create these rooms. With wagons filled of bones, they decorated about five rooms with the skeletons of friars including the room of skulls. It was spooky, slightly gross, but intriguing. Needless to say, after our trip through the rooms, we were ready for some light hearted shopping (and wine).

The next morning it was time for the part of the trip that Tyler and I were really excited for…Positano, on the Amalfi Coast! We were happy to have experienced Rome, as it was unbelievable to see modern day buildings next to columns and ruins that are thousands and thousands of years old. We took the quick train ride to Naples and were greeted by a huge smile from our driver, Positano Tonytaxi. Entertaining, funny, and genuine, Tonytaxi quickly became one of the highlights of our trip. During our ride we learned that Tony was a master sommelier who traveled the world for eleven years before settling back in his home town of Positano, where he started his taxi company that now has 14 drivers. He gave us some great restaurant suggestions and in his own words said, “The food is so good, you cry for days.” Once we arrived at out hotel, we rearranged our dining plans according to Tony’s suggestions and quickly made our way to the restaurant he said had the best pizza in Positano.

Our hotel, Pensione Casa Guadagno was a quaint hotel on the top of the mountain and away from all the tourists in the center of town. Being at the top of the mountain meant we had to walk up the hill each time we went back to the hotel, which was great considering the amount of pasta we had eaten. Anyways, it was time for the “best pizza in Positano” at The Brasserie and, boy, was he right. While we were sitting by the window, we told the waiter that we were friends of Tonytaxi and to say hello to Pepe (the chef). They all got a kick out of that and Pepe gave us a little wave from the pizza oven area. We chowed down on the best margherita pizza we have ever had. (Hint, always get Buffalo Mozzarella on your pizza in Italy). We spent the rest of the day shopping, popping into cafés for a few aperitifs and taking in the most gorgeous town we have ever traveled to.

That evening we headed to Lo Guarracino for dinner. With tables sitting right on the cliff, Lo Guarracino is all about the view. I have to admit, it wasn’t the best food we had in Positano, but the view was unparalleled and, of course, my company was great. If you do visit this restaurant, make sure you book it during the sunset. After dinner, we had a few cocktails at Fly lounge because earlier in the day we met the owner at his other establishment, Chez Black, and he gave us passes to check out the lounge. The cocktails are pricey, but the atmosphere is beautiful (and the cocktails are unique and delicious too).

The next morning we perused the shops (the shopping is really good in Positano) and explored the town, which are the experiences I loved. With no time schedule, it gave us the chance to take pictures, engage with the locals, and leisurely enjoy the day. You have to have your wits about you while walking around Positano. The narrow streets barely fit the cars and the pedestrians and the drivers come inches from the pedestrians and from the sides of the buildings. We found a table at Da Vicenzo for lunch (they also had a an great home store). we started with a few Peronis at this beautiful contemporary restaurant with equally stunning dishes. We started with the octopus with potatoes and the prawns with tomatoes and mozzarella. From there, it was pasta pasta, pasta! I had rotini with fava beans and parmesan. It was fresh, light, and, of course, out-of-this-world mouth watering. 

That evening, Tyler planned one of the most (if not the most) romantic things we have ever done. Just before sunset, we hopped on a private boat for a sunset cruise with Positano Boats. Our captain, Franco, welcomed us onto the boat and we perched ourselves on the front of the boat to take in the most amazing view of the city. The hour and a half trip had us gliding the coast and we stopped in the middle of three islands where Franco opened up a bottle of prosecco and brought out some snacks. It was one of the more special moments of this trip (and probably my life). Whether you are traveling with a friend, spouse, or a whole family, this sunset cruise is a “must do” when visiting the Amalfi Coast. After our boat ride, we walked up the hill to Next2 for dinner. Although Next2 is exquisite looking, both Tyler and I felt that we enjoyed the more authentic Italian restaurants where the service was friendly and enjoyable and the dishes were more substantial.

The next morning we made our way to the ferry and departed Positano for Capri. Although many people love Capri, it wsan’t one of our most favorite places to visit. I recommend getting there as early as you can to avoid the crowds of tourists. Although we were told the bus to Anacapri (higher up on Capri) came every 15 minutes, after an hour wait we boarded the bus. I did enjoy the gorgeous ride up the mountain. We spent our day walking around Capri, having a picnic lunch and finding a place for a few cocktails. It was a beautiful Island, but sadly the amount of crowds doesn’t lend to doing everything you would like to within a few hours. After arriving back in Positano, we had dinner at Ristorante Saraceno d’Oro, where we found animated servers, fresh seafood, and hearty gnocchi with tomato mozzarella sauce (our favorite). Ristorante Saraceno d’Oro was higher up on the hill and conveniently closer to our hotel. (Hint: they do take out orders in case you want to relax on your terrace with some delicious food). 

The next morning we woke up early and found our way to the bus from Positano to Agerola (Bomerano) to do the hike called “Path of the Gods”. Although we missed the bus by only 5 minutes, it ended up being one of my most favorite times in Positano. While we waited the two hours for the next bus, we found a coffee shop where all the locals go, had the best cappuccinos of the trip and we made friends with a older Italian woman who didn’t speak English (and we spoke no Italian). Plus, we ran into Tonytaxi! Tony introduced us to his friends and hung out with us a bit. I was happy we had missed our bus because the morning was a great time to hang out with our new friends in Positano. Once we arrived to begin Sentiero degli Dei (“Path of the Gods”), we knew it was going to be one of the most magnificent hikes we have ever done. We walked next to farms on the mountains with views of the coast and the blue ocean. We weren’t having much luck with buses that day, because we missed where to find the bus to go back and ended up walking a total of seven miles (including 1100 steps down) back to our hotel.

Once we cleaned up from our seven miler, we headed to Café Positano for lunch (another Tony recommendation). Café Positano has seating right on the street that looks out on the ocean, but we decided to sit on the downstairs terrace where it was quieter and had a beautiful view of the city. We started with Octopus over warm chickpea purée and continued with Spinach and Cheese Ravioli and Gnocchi in a tomato and mozzarella sauce. Everything we ordered was as incredible as the view. We decide to come back to Café Positano before we left Positano. We spent the rest of the day enjoying Positano and strolling throughout the city. That night, we decided to go to another one of Tony’s choices, Ristorante La Terra. If there is only one restaurant to dine at while in Positano, Ristorante La Terra is it. Call ahead to schedule their free shuttle since they are very far from the center of town. From the shuttle ride to the service to the views and, of course, the food, Ristorante La Terra’s meal was the best meal we had in Positano. We sat at a table that looked out to the ocean and the city during sunset where we wined and dined on three courses including cuttlefish, burrata, gnocchi, and seabass. Everything was so spectacular, Tyler hugged our server when we left!

On Sunday, we departed Positano on the ferry to visit Amalfi for the day. We made friends with one of the guys working the back of the ship and he showed me where the best place to sit was for a good view of the coast. Even with a language barrier, we were able to communicate and have a few laughs together. (He even remembered Tyler and I on the ride back too)! Amalfi had an easy going vibe similar to Positano and we made our way through the shops to their famous cathedral. The cathedral was grand and decorated with gold accents and a huge staircase leading up to large metal door. After visiting the cathedral, we bunkered up at Enoteca & Gastronomia Il Protontino, where the owner explained local red wines to us. We each chose one to have with our cheese spread at our table that allowed us to people watch. It was a perfect relaxing way to spend the afternoon. Happily buzzed, we fell upon da Gemma for lunch. da Gemma was more upscale than what we expected for lunch, but “hey, we’re on vacation!” We sat on the upstairs patio and ordered octopus, ravioli, and truffle and cheese stuffed pasta. It was a meal where I didn’t want the food to end. (I still dream of that truffle pasta). We headed back to Positano and got ready for our last dinner in the amazing city that we called home for the past five days. At a table on a private balcony, we had a romantic dinner at Café Positano.

The next morning we hired porters to fight with our bags down the hill and the stairs, while we had a few cappuccinos waiting for the the ferry to Sorrento. Unlike Positano, that is built into the mountain, Sorrento is situated on top of a huge cliff and doesn’t have any beaches. Instead, there are docks set up where people can lay in the sun and enjoy the water. We checked into Palazzo Montefusco Relais where we were welcomed with prosecco and a quick tour of the property. We did a quick walk around town and found lunch at Il Convivio, which was more of a local spot. We were some what surprised at how inexpensive the meals were compared to Positano. We walked around town, which had two main strips: a more modern street with commercialized shops sprinkled in with restaurants, sidewalk cafés and a cobblestone street with souvenir shops similar to what we had experienced in Positano and Amalfi. That evening we stopped into one of the sidewalk cafés for a few drinks before dinner and within minutes, we made friends with a British couple at the next table. Meeting people is one of the thrills of traveling and we were laughing like we knew each other for years. Dinner was at Ristorante Bagni Delfino in the marina area. The restaurant was built on a dock over the water. I said to Tyler, “Did you ever think you would be eating dinner over the water in Sorrento while looking at Mount Vesuvius?” We both agreed, that this was an incredible dinner (and trip that Tyler planned). We ordered up seafood pasta with a tomato sauce and seafood risotto (I changed it up from the pasta). As we left the restaurant, I noticed a little bowl of Mary charms (leave it to Italy to have a bowl of Mary charms). The women who worked there told me to take one and Mary will look over you. I’m Jewish, but felt I could always use someone looking out for me, so I took one and wear it to this day. There is something special about how Sorrento (and Naples) had shrines to Mary and other Saints all over the city.

The next morning we were off to Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius, and a winery that sits under the volcano. We decided to hire a driver for this day trip because we didn’t want to be stuck on a bus schedule and we would be able to see everything. We met with Johnny from Iaccarino Sorrento Limousine Service and he drove us to Pompeii while teaching us about the history of Sorrento, Pompeii, Naples, and Mount Vesuvius. We learned that the area around the volcano including Naples and the modern day Pompeii were in the red zone meaning that an eruption could happen at any time. Being so close to the volcano, this area was one of poverty compared to the city of Sorrento. Once we made it into Pompeii (there was a bit of a wait for tickets), we realized how huge it was and took two hours to see as many highlights as we could. Mosaics hinted at what the once prosperous city used to be and the human remains showed how quickly they were hit by ash and rock. There were still excavating when we were there. Today, Mount Vesuvius looks as if it has two peaks, but when it erupted in 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius had one peak and the eruption was so strong it blew off the top of the mountain. It was time to visit this monster of a volcano, and we drove up a large portion of the volcano and walked up the remaining mile. With limoncello in hand and a view of Naples below, we toasted and took in the huge volcano opening that had smoke billowing from the center. Hungry and in need of a glass of wine, we headed to Cantina del Vesuvio for a wine pairing lunch. Just as impressive as their bubbly rosé was their balsamic vinegar. This sweet, thick vinegar had us eating more of the bread than anything else. It was a wonderful day of history and sightseeing.

Dinner that evening was at Accento Restaurant, which was a recommendation from Tyler’s aunt who was there a few a days earlier. This modern restaurant in the heart of the city had us diving into dishes including octopus (surprised?), eggplant parmesan, purple potato gnocchi, and the seafood platter. The service was great, the restaurant was chic, and the food was perfection, as usual. What can I say? Italian food was great everywhere we went.

The next day, we spent the day walking around and exploring the churches in the area. The churches are truly works of art and perfect for ducking inside with the sporadic rain we were experiencing. We stopped at da Gennaro “The Garden” for some outdoor seating to enjoy red wine and a cheese plate. That evening we had an early dinner since we had to be up early to get our ferry to Naples. We headed to Porta Marina Seafood, which would be my “must go to” for Sorrento. They don’t accept reservations (and no credit cards), so we had to get there early. This no frills, family owned spot is owned by six brothers who we could see heading out on their boat to probably get the fish they would be serving in a few hours. We perched ourselves up at a plastic bistro table and ordered up some wine and the seafood pasta. As we left, the line had begun and we were happy we got there early. Even more surprising, the whole meal (appetizer and a half bottle of wine) was only €48.

The next morning we departed Sorrento on a 35 minute ferry to Naples, where we were ready to eat our body weight in pizza. We left our bags at our hotel that was an old convent, Hotel Il Convento since our room wasn’t ready. Although Naples is the third poorest city in Europe, there was still a vibrancy about the people and city. Everyone was so welcoming and hard working. Tyler happened to mention that he had an idea for lunch, which to my surprise was the place that was referenced in Eat, Pray, Love. We turned the corner and L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele had a crowd waiting outside, so we took a number and joined in. Not knowing Italian, we showed a woman our number, and she notified when we were called. We were on our way to tasting the best pizza in the world. The service here is fast, so you better know what you want and since there is no menu, you say “margherita pizza.” We ordered two Peronis and a pie for each of us. The pizza was soft and thin in the center, and fluffy when it came to the crust. It was magical. Two of our “life changing” pizzas and three Peronis only cost €15 (cash only). As we made our way outside, the line was now around the corner. Good job on the timing, Ty.

After fully checking into our hotel and taking a few hours to rearrange our bags and our purchases, we headed out for a very early dinner since we had to be up at 2 am the next morning for our flight back to the states. We found Pizzeria ‘Ntretella in our area and it was a perfect way to end out trip. We munched on pizza in a little alley while we watched the Italian boys play soccer and trash talk one other. As we sipped our wine, we watched women catch up with each other while one woman was on the street and the other one was on the roof. We also watched as a man and his son delivered bread from a scooter into pails attached to the balconies above (so they didn’t’ have to come down to retrieve the bread).

Italy is an amazing country to visit with so many places that are extremely different from one another. From the boat taxis in Venice to the history in Rome, to the most beautiful place I have ever been, Positano, to the friendly city of Sorrento steps away from Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius, to the vibrancy of Naples, we did Italy right. It is a trip I will never forget. Time to plan the next trip!

Other notable restaurants:

Ai Tre Scalini: Local hangout in the Monti area of Rome.

Astemio: Wine bar in Monti Area of Rome, make a reservation.

Blackmarket Hall: Cocktail lounge in Monti area of Rome.

Full itinerary here.

By Whitney

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