Ciao! Sorry for the silence of food posts, but it was time for a vacation. My husband and I have been on an Italian getaway for the past couple of weeks, and I wanted to share some of the highlights of our trip because we had the best foodie-fun-filled vacation ever. It was nice to disconnect from the typical daily on-goings from home and work and everything digital, too. No blogging, no cellphones, no GPSs, no internet distractions, or Facebook updates – a total unplug from the social and work/home network. Eric and I haven’t had a vacation since our honeymoon three years ago when we went to Costa Rica. Don’t get me wrong but Costa Rica was an amazing getaway, but it in was still within our time zone and we needed something European for our travels.
We decided Italy as our ultimate destination vacation because we absolutely love all Italian food, the Roman history, and more importantly the wine. Movies like Under the Tuscan Sun, Eat Pray Love, The Tourist, The Godfather, The Italian Job and so many more - all depict Italy in that glorious limelight that we couldn’t wait to explore, too. We bought our airplane tickets in the beginning of the year and had been price-checking the flights for several weeks prior and they finally dipped in price and we bought them using Orbitz. We preferred to use them compared to the other traveling sites because at least if another Orbitz customer books the same flight as us for a less, then we would get the cash refund for the difference. (We did get a refund, a couple weeks later).
I booked our hotels/B&B/Argiturismo a month or two prior to our vacation using Venere and Trip Advisor (to compare reviews and prices) and with advice from our cousin who lived in Italy for a year. After my countless research, I decided that Naples, Florence, Orvieto and Rome would be our top hubs to visit. Within these main hubs, we would also visit nearby surrounding cities, too. It would be a nice mixture of the south, central and the heart of Italy and we had 14 days of traveling up and down the country solely by train to make it happen.
We arrived at Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport and took the Leonardo express to Roma Termini station because it is the main train station for all the major Italian cities. There are departures every 30 minutes to Rome, and there was no need to buy tickets beforehand. Eric and I were able to navigate ourselves out of the airport and find the train station and buy tickets at the front counter. (Let’s keep in mind that we spoke minimal Italian the entire trip). My husband speaks fluent Spanish – language is similar but there are some Italian words that have different meaning. Also, I had brought along an Italian phrasebook for getting by, too.
Traveling on the express from Rome to Naples took about 90 minutes and it was a peaceful journey to see the south of Italy. Plus, it was our first time on a bullet train and that sucker went super fast maybe about 200 mph. I had picked Naples as our first mainstay because for our love of pizza. Naples is the birthplace to pizza (and Sophia Lauren) and it was definitely something that we didn’t want to miss nor could you ignore the mafia-ridden streets…so they say.
It’s important to note that 1/3 of the city’s population is unemployed, gypsies/beggars patrol the sidewalks and piles of unpicked trash are left in the middle of the streets. You have to find the true beauty in the gritty ridden streets of Italy, and more importantly the inexpensive bed and breakfast that we stayed at was a diamond in the rough. Our room was spacious, had a great view of the city, our own private bathroom, internet was included and a nice kitchen area. Plus, our B&B was an ideal location from walking distance from the main train station (10 minutes) and the Circumvesuviana station (2 minutes), a very helpful commuter train that takes you to Pompeii, Herculaneum and Sorrento.
After a much needed day of rest after arriving, we woke up early to take the Circumvesuviana down south. Surprisingly, train tickets are cheaper than the bullet trains – we spent about 11 Euros for both of our arrival and departure tickets. Pompeii was simply amazing and beautiful, a city that was originally buried under 30 feet of hot volcanic ash. Pompeii was rediscovered in the 1600s and excavations began later in 1748. Ideally, when visiting Pompeii – go early in the day because it will take you a couple hours to navigate yourselves on the site. Unless you participate in a tour, which we avoided because we had the self-guide tour from Rick Steves.
The self-guided tour allowed us to explore the archeological ruins at our own pace (stay away from the massive tour groups) and we found ourselves wandering Pompeii’s streets, imagining the Forum in it’s heyday, staring at Pompeii’s basilica – the first-century palace of justice, and amazed by the wonderment of the still active volcano - Mount Vesuvius. It was an exhausting trek all around the ruins, and we took lots of water and shade breaks when we could, and finally left when our stomachs were growling for nourishment.
Since we finished the Pompeii tour earlier than we anticipated (originally I thought it would be an entire day), we decided to take the train further down south to Sorrento. We were only staying in Naples for 2 days, so this would be our only chance to check it out. Besides our lunch options looked slim in Pompeii, and we ate some snacks to keep at our stomachs at bay while we took a quick train ride south.
I’m so happy that we decided to visit Sorrento because it was absolutely breathtaking and gorgeous. As soon as we stepped off the train, and onto the main sidewalk…we quickly found peace. It was heaven compared to Naples, the streets were clean, the largest Meyer lemons we had ever seen were everywhere and the small groups of happy tourists walked all around. It was such an amazing little beach city with the smell of Meyer lemons lingering all around you. It’s that picturesque Italy that you dream about, and we found it in Sorrento.
We came to Italy with an agenda to eat some pasta and gnocchi was on top of our priority list. We found Ristorante Pizzeria da Gigino tucked away in the back alley which was a little difficult to find. We might have passed it a couple times, but we worked up an appetite to enjoy some hearty pasta. We shared a carafe of vino de casa, Sorrento-style gnocchi, and basil gnocchi with cream sauce. Simply scrumptious.
Gelato is the perfect end to every meal. I made sure to visit Gelateria Primavera, a neighborhood favorite because they whip up 70 flavors daily and even have time to make pastries for the pope. The moment you walk in the front door, it smells like freshly made waffle cones. I had the best crema de limone gelato from here, and nothing else in Italy could compare. It had small chunks of lemon swirled in and wasn’t too tart at all. It tasted like a lemon cream fluff of some sort, absolutely heavenly and now I’m itching to make own batch of gelato at home once I get my own ice-cream maker. Gelato had that weird lovey-gleeful affect and this is definitely a place where you could get lost in all that deliciousness (other pastries and cookies were sold here as well).
We walked around the streets of Sorrento, and truly enjoyed our first taste of Italy. The train ride home to Naples was fast and provided some slumdog millionaire entertainment. Beware of the accordion player with his 2 year old son begging for money. That little kid had “the poor-me guilty puppy dog eyes please give me Euros” look down cold. An older couple next to us donated to cup of funds. I think it was important and an eye-opener to visit Naples to see the ugly and the barrio of Italy, or we would have never come to appreciate the beauty of Sorrento. Italy can be both pretty and ugly…you just have to understand them both.
Staying in Naples proved to be a bargain because we enjoyed one of our most inexpensive and memorable meals, too. Our B&B hosts recommended us to Ristorante Pizzeria de Donato. It was literally around the corner from our B&B, and I neglected to take pictures here. We enjoyed the best margherita pizza, spaghetti with pomodoro sauce, a wine carafe and an apple tart for dessert for less than 18 euros…service was not included either. Our server was generous and very friendly to all his customers – we appreciated his excellent customer service. Avoid Pizzeria Trianon as recommended by Rick Steves where we dined on our first night in Naples. I found the pizzas large and bland…not what I originally thought a true Neapolitan style pizza would taste like.
The first two days of Italy were a little rough because mainly for the time change to adapt, but the beautiful sights and tasty food were a wonderful beginning to our vacation, too. Traveling by train was very exciting, finding restaurants from a book seemed like a thing of the past (without having to find a review on Yelp) and getting accidently lost at times and using real maps and orienting ourselves to the Italian lifestyle was highly adaptable, too. I’ll post more about our travels to Florence in the next post. Ciao!
Day 1: Arrive in Rome, travel to Naples – Bed & Breakfast Donna Adelina: Piazza Nolana 13, Naples
Day 2: Pompeii & Sorrento:
Self-guided tour of Pompeii (10am to 1pm)
Lunch at Ristorante Pizzeria da Gigino; just off Piazzo Sant’ Antonio – take first road to the left of Sant’ Antonio, pass the archway and take the first left to Via degli Archi 15;
Gelato at Gelateria Primavera; two-minute walk west of Piazza Tasso at Corso Italia 142;
Dinner at Ristorante Pizzeria de Donato, 26/28 via San Cosmo fuori Porta Nolana, 80142 Naples
Day 3: Travel to Florence