Thursday, July 7, 2016

Things to Do in Rome and Trastevere, Italy

Before heading to the Amalfi Coast, and after our time in the Tuscany/ Florence region, Ryan and I spent 2.5 days in Rome. As in Positano, we rented an Airbnb in the Trastevere neighborhood where apartments lined cobbled streets and where the nightlife was much less touristy than other areas.

The entrance to our Airbnb

View of the Vatican from Trastevere
We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and were planning to leave for Positano first thing on Tuesday and since we had so many sights to see in such a short period of time we handled this leg differently than the others. We knew that Saturday would be spent exploring our local neighborhood, Sunday would be used for traversing the city and Monday would be dedicated to a trip to Vatican City. Using a combination of Rick Steves' Rome, Trip Advisor and recommendations from friends I put together a list of all of the places we wanted to see each day and mapped out the route that would most efficiently allow us to see them all and came up with the following:

❌Pressede on way to apt
✔️St Maria in Trastevere Basilica
✔️Jewish ghetto
✔️Piazza Venezia
❌John the Lateran?
❌San pietro vincoli
✔️Colosseum joint ticket with
✔️Circus massimus
✔️Trevi- might not have been restored
✔️Piazza novona
✔️Piazza colonna
✔️Spanish steps
❌St Agnes
❌Open air trastevere market
✔️Vatican- need tickets for museums
✔️Sistine chapel
✔️St. Peter's basilica
✔️Basilica sta Maria sopra Minerva
✔️Piazza di monte cotorio
✔️Marco Aurelio
✔️Cappucine church
✔️Borghese gardens- rented a surrey and rode around the public gardens as we had not purchased tickets in advance to see the private gardens

Surrey in Borghese Gardens

Not surprisingly, the ❌ were items we weren't able to see, and the ✔️ were the places we were able to explore. If we passed something that wasn't on the list, or saw it on our downloaded TripAdvisor guide (see previous post for my recommendation here) we added it to the list so we could remember everything we encountered during the whirlwind visit.

Places to drink and dine:

KmZero- By far the best find of our trip. Ryan has always been skilled at finding the best hidden gem restaurants and bars to try and he did not disappoint in Rome. We found this small bar one street over from us with all locally sourced products. We ordered a meat and cheese board, let them know we didn't have any allergies or aversions and they produced the most beautiful assortment. We were so impressed that we ordered a second board, choosing to pass on a dinner we had previously planned. For wine, we picked an $8 bottle from their shelves (which was the middle- range for price options) and opened it with dinner. This was one of the highlights of our entire trip.
Gorgeous meat and cheese boards

Bar San Calisto- A friend had recommended this bar and it just so happened that it was located in Trastevere as well and I'm so glad we were able to check it out. You first pay at the register and then go to the bar and hand over your ticket for your drink then head into the street to enjoy. It was so adorable and cheap and the perfect place for a nightcap!
Bar San Calisto on the right
Gilt City does Aperol Sprtiz

Things to Do:
Since there is so much history in Rome, it's hard to pick what here is can't miss so I'll speak to some of our highlights.

Forum and Colosseum- these are located next to each other and were really fascinating with their sheer size and extensive history. It also didn't hurt that we went on a "first Sunday" of the month, when entry was free. The Forum was so large that it never felt overly crowded and we were able to stop and spend time in the areas we wanted. I didn't feel like we needed a guided tour as we had limited time dedicated to spend there but if you had all day, a tour guide could only enhance the experience.
Roman ruins in the Forum
Vatican- We didn't plan ahead like we should have and were not able to get tickets in advance (online ticket sales stop 48 hours ahead of desired date.) Day-of lines can stretch for hours so we decided to pay for a guided tour that would get us in the door relatively quickly. While the tour itself helped to move us through the large property with bits of information, the time it saved us to get to the front was the true value here. And the Sistine Chapel was really as moving as I expected, if not more. Definitely worth making the trip for that alone.
Vatican Ceiling
Pantheon- We came here three times during our visit since it's very easy to walk in, around and out of and no more than a few minutes are needed inside after you've visited once.

Pantheon Ceiling

Churches and Piazzas- We decided to stop in to as many churches as we could and would go out of our way to walk by and into them. Each had it's own unique characteristics and being able to see such a wide range helped us understand the culture and history. We also drank from/ dipped our head into as many piazza fountains as we could find which helped us beat the heat!

St Maria in Trastevere Basilica

Piazza Colonna
Piazza Novana

Our time here was short but very sweet and I would only recommend that anyone visiting stay for longer than 2.5 days!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Amalfi Coast; Things to Do in Positano and Montepertuso

Over the past year three of my friends have traveled to Italy for their honeymoons and I've found myself putting together a list of recommendations from my trip last summer. Now that we're a year out, I thought it was about time to publish my tips for traveling to Italy starting with our time in the Amalfi Coast.

Before you takeoff, the first thing you should do is download the TripAdvisor app. The app lets you download a guide for each city and save it to your phone so you can access the information when you are out and about without wifi. There are a few other apps like this which you could look into too but we had a lot of success with TripAdvisor.  Also, you may have already added international data (and should if you haven't yet) but in our experience, it goes pretty quickly.

Getting to Positano
There are a few ways to get to Positano depending on where you're coming from. We took the train down from Rome which was easy to navigate, quick and relaxing. A lot of guides recommend taking this train through Naples and on to Sorrento and then either hiring a driver or taking the bus the rest of the way to Positano. We were hoping to avoid the multiple train transfers and decided to take the train through Naples to Salerno to take a boat to Positano. In Salerno we walked around, ate lunch and enjoyed the views before boarding the boat. The boat traveled along the entire Amalfi coast providing gorgeous views and a relaxing trip directly to the Positano beach- the perfect way to kick off this leg of our trip. It was easy and affordable and I'd highly recommend it to anyone. 

Waiting for the boat in Salerno

Views of the Amalfi Coast

Arriving in Positano

There are many hotel options in Positano that are highly recommended (le Sirenuese
Covo dei Saraceni, etc) but we decided to Airbnb our entire trip for a more authentic experience and stayed in the town of Montepertuso, in the mountains above Positano. 
View from our apartment

Where to get drinks and snacks:

le Sirenuese- This is arguably the nicest hotel in the area; it's pricey but their Champagne Bar area (not the main restaurants) has a great view and very comfortable seats. If you go early enough you should be able to get one of the front seats on the balcony and you won't need to stay for more than a drink or two to really enjoy the view.

Relaxed at le Sirenuese
Franco's Bar- This bar is next door to le Sirenuese (it's also associated with the hotel) and more casual. We sat here and had the absolute best time. We got Aperol Spritz' and had a front row view of the water. It was new when we went so I'm not sure if it's picked up and is more crowded but the view alone is worth checking it out. 
Wine and Aperol Spritz with a view

Capri in the distance

Where to dine:

We ate all of our dinners up in Montpertuso, where we were staying. One night, we tried to take a bus up from Positano but got on the wrong bus and got lost (and I had a slight panic attack driving along the cliffs) so I would recommend asking your hotel if they can drive you or asking the restaurant if they can pick you up (most of them offer this service, otherwise it's a $40-50 cab ride up there even though its not far.)
View from the hike up to Montepertuso

Donna Rosa- We went here very late one night without reservations and sat on the back patio which felt like a private garden, it was so nice. The reviews of the restaurant mentioned that the food and wine were on the pricier side but we found the food to be reasonably priced and delicious and there was at least one affordable option for a half bottle of wine which was the perfect amount to end our day with.

Garden dining

La Terra- If you do one meal up in Montepertuso (which would be enough to take in the full view) you should do La Terra. I feel like a broken record at this point but La Terra has very good food and a great view of Positano and the water from above. If you make a reservation in advance, ask for one of the front tables as they have the best view of the water and town of Positano below.

Complimentary sparkling wine upon our arrival!

Other restaurant recommendations that were given to us but we didn't have time to experience ourselves:

Da Vincenzo- A family owned traditional restaurant also set higher up than most of the restaurants in town with great pastas and seafood.
Bruno- A great place to stop for lunch when walking around town with a great view and very good food.

Things to Do:

Beaches - If you go to the beach, I would recommend that you not go to the main public beach in Positano as there are so many more private options along the coast. If you walk down to the stone dock and you will see a little boat with a little wooden sign that says "di arienzo". It's a free shuttle over to a quiet, private beach- Spaggia di Arienzo. There, the beach chairs are $10 per person for the day and totally worth it because the beaches are stone and hard to walk on. You can call ahead and make a reservation for the front row of the chairs for the best view of the water. You should know that they stop taking people over at 1 PM and don't start taking people off the beach until 4:30 PM so you will have to eat lunch there. The food at their restaurant is delicious and it was so nice to be sitting in our bathing suits on the beach, enjoying a meal of fresh caught fish and homemade pastas. We loved it and would definitely go back. 

Ryan taking in the sights of the mountains behind the beach
View from the restaurant on the beach

Hikes- The Path of the Gods is a very long hike, high up in the mountains above Montepertuso, but don't worry you don't need to do the full hike to take in the best views. To get to the beginning of the trail, you can take a bus up from Positano (we walked because it was close to where we were staying.) There are some points along the hike that are along sheer edges so make sure you aren't afraid of heights. These were the most beautiful views we experienced the entire trip and our number one must do!

More incredible views
Mountain goat in the lower left corner and me running to get a picture with him!
More stunning views

Other things to do:

Cooking Class at Buca di Bacco- At this famous restaurant, they will teach you to cook classic Italian dishes and afterwards you'll enjoy the food you've cooked, overlooking the water. If you email them to set up the class, let them know what you want to learn to cook and if there is anything you don't like to eat and they will work to customize the class for your tastes.

Ravello- Another Amalfi Coast town with beautiful gardens and amazing views. Two recommended gardens are Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo where Villa Rufolo is also an outdoor concert venue overlooking the sea.

All in all this trip can be summed up by the delicious food and views that we were lucky enough to experience at every turn. There are so many options that you can't go wrong wherever you end up!

xxoo jane