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Italy: Where Hype Meets Memories

Updated: Jan 1

2023 was our first trip to Italy, and we fully expected Italy to be memorable, but not quite as memorable as it turned out to be. We have subscribed to various travel posts on social media, and have seen the amazing photos from Italy - the various hidden gems and too-good-to-be-true locales, so we tempered our expectations heading there for 8 days thinking a lot of photoshopping happens in those photos. We need not have worried - Italy absolutely meets the hype you see on social media and in movies, and in many ways exceeds it. We had heard about how good the food in Italy is, but until you are there and make a point of trying to find a bad meal it is difficult to fully appreciate how high the standards are around food and the pride taken in presentation and service.

A philosophy we think suits Italy quite well. The pasta was perfect no matter where we stopped to have a bite. We didn't eat in the hot spots near the tourist centres, which we believe did make a difference. Just head off a couple of blocks and the quality of the food improves significantly.


Rome was interesting on a number of levels. Being near - and seeing in person - ancient sites like the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps was exhilarating after so many years (nearly 60) of reading about these places in history books and seeing them in various movies and shows. I also got the full Rome experience by being pickpocketed. We luckily left our passports in the safe at the hostel. Had those gone with my driver's license, bank card and Visa card (not to mention too many hundred Euro) things would have been far more difficult. I have a pickpocket safe pack that I have everything in, but all it took was 30 seconds trying to sort myself and I put my wallet in my leg pocket - did up the buttons and then got myself organized -went back to grab my wallet and it was gone. The skillful pickpockets had slit up the side of my leg pocket and slipped out the wallet without even going through the buttons at the top. 30 seconds! Lesson learned - not even for a moment can you not keep your wallet safe. I have always resisted money belts for some reason - that will change from now on. It took a couple of hours calling back to Canada to cancel my Visa card, bank card and report my license stolen. Luckily my partner didn't lose any of her ID and money access cards, so we did alright. Just very strange not having any of that on you in a distant country.


The Spanish Steps (late 1500s - early 1600s) - location of my pickpocket experience.


We stayed in the Trastavere Neighbourhood on the West side of the Tiber River. This area is mostly undiscovered by tourists, but that is changing. By the time we get back we suspect this area will be all the rage. As it is now it is primarily inhabited by Italians and a few tourists. The hostel is beautiful - and is called the 'Ventisei Scalini A Trastevere di Lucia Varone'. It is one-block off the Tiber River near a bridge that connects to a road that will take you right in to the centre of Rome and the first piazza you come across is the 'Campo di Fiore', where you can get fresh-pressed pomegranate juice, linen shirts and pants, and a whole range of vegetables, sauces, locally made art pieces, and a host of other items that make this market well worth browsing around for a bit. We returned to this market three times and picked up nice linen shirts here, not to mention the pomegranate juice.

Ventisei Scalini A Trastevere di Lucia Varone hostel is on the left. A great restaurant (and an Instagram place for some reason) called 'Dar Poeta' is near that square frame (for Instagrammers) on the right.

Ventisei Scalini A Trastevere di Lucia Varone

The stairs at Ventisei Scalini A Trastevere di Lucia Varone are very cool, and fun - not to mention very steep.

Campo di Fiore Market


Saint Peter's Basilica (Vatican) - we did do this tour; we are happy we did it ... once. We don't need to go back - it was interesting.

One of the many opulent displays of wealth in the Vatican Museum.


We were actively trying to find a meal that was average but could only find food that was either great or fantastic.  We did find that restaurants close to the main tourist sites were the most expensive and least delicious, but a couple of blocks away from the main tourist streets and you are sure to have a decent meal.  When we do eat out, we research online to ensure we are eating at locally owned and operated establishments, with one of our favourites being “Gli Amici” – a social enterprise that is staffed by individuals with various developmental disabilities.  Great food, atmosphere and service and a place we recommend as worthwhile to seek out when in Rome. 

 

The other restaurant we went to twice while we were in Rome was Tonnarello in the Trastavere neighbourhood, which is one of the older areas, and still mostly inhabited by Italians.  Our hostel was located 2 blocks from Tonnarello (see our video on Ventisei Scalini a Trastevere), which made this a convenient area to dine in.  As it turns out, Tonnarello is famous in Rome, which we found out later when we got home and were doing more research on the various areas for these videos. 


"Gli Amici" is a social enterprise restaurant run by individuals who are neurodivergent. Check out the website here: https://www.trattoriadegliamici.it/

Nicoise Salad at a restaurant near the Vatican - a few streets off the main street.

Salmon Pinza, which is like a pizza with a twist.

Tonnarello was near our hostel in the Trastevere neighbourhood. Turns out that Tonnarello is famous in Rome and is sought out. We did have a 45 minute wait one night (went here twice), and it was worth the wait. Great people-watching in the little piazza while you wait for your table.

I highly recommend the pesto pasta. Order the focaccia with this dish. Delicious.

Not one of the pasta dishes disappoint at Tonnarello.

I am seriously spoiled to ever enjoy a cappuccino anywhere else on the planet after indulging in these delightful cups of heaven in Rome and Naples.


We spent 3 full days in Rome, then hopped the fast train (top speed 300km/hr) to Naples and spent 2 full days there. Naples is a hoot - the stereotype you have heard about Italian drivers is alive and well in Naples. Seriously, the vespa scooters and even the cars are up on the sidewalk, and whizzing by fast. We saw an inordinate number of people on crutches, and ambulance sirens were a constant - pretty sure due to people getting whacked by scooters.

Naples - Napoli

A street in Naples


Naples is what you imagine - the narrow streets where the people live in them like they (the streets) are their living room. Wash is hanging from small balconies with sheets and shirts waving in the breeze. We were here in early October and the temperature averaged 30 Celsius every day. Seeing Mount Vesuvius in person was also quite a trip. Years of reading about it, and seeing various documentaries (and Rick Steves travel videos) made seeing it in person wonderful. It is impressive and has an iconic shape. We didn't get to hike Mount Vesuvius this trip - we had to make a decision in the 2 days we had here - Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii or Sorrento to check out the Amalfi Coast. So, our Itinerary was pretty casual - day 1 we checked out the 'Catacombe San Gennaro' (unofficial patron saint of Napoli) and the 'Rione Santa District of Naples' (one of the oldest and most impoverished neighbourhoods), and on our second day we hopped the fast ferry over to Sorrento, which is one of those little villages that make you feel like you are in a James Bond movie. We had lunch here at a restaurant called 'MoMo's', and it was fantastic just like all the restaurants we have been to. Something to know - while Rome is considered expensive, and it is pricier than say, Lisbon - on average it is still cheaper than Dublin, Paris and we would suspect England (it is certainly cheaper than Vancouver where we live). A very nice dinner is going to run two people (we don't drink, so keep that in mind) around 25,00 Euro.

Mount Vesuvius from the waterfront in Naples - looking out on the Bay of Naples. You can just make out the Isle of Capri in the far distance off to the right of this photo.

Catacombe San Gennaro - well worth visiting; the tour was great and this goes down four levels with the centuries accruing the farther down you go with the first catacomb having been created in the 4th Century B.C.E.


The fast ferry from Naples to Sorrento takes about 40 minutes and cost us 40,00 Euro each. The slower ferry is cheaper, and takes over an hour. This was an expense we decided to take for the fun of the fast ferry ride over. Great views of Mount Vesuvius as you skip across the water to Sorrento.

Leaving Naples

Mount Vesuvius as we leave Naples


The town off Sorrento is cute, and has some similarities to Naples with the narrow streets and many shops tucked in corners and alleys. Prices for souvenirs vary from the inexpensive (say, 1,50 for a nice tea towel) to the outrageous (thousands for a jacket). For us, the views from the piazza at the top of the pathway up from the dock is what one comes here for. If mobility is an issue, there is an elevator you can take up - it cost 1,70 each and pops you out on a view of the Mediterranean that is magnificent, and very Bond-like. We did the elevator up and walked the path down - it is a relaxed slope and easy to do with minimal effort. The pathway winds its way inside the cliff for a short ways and makes it a lot of fun. Views on the way down are stellar. If you have to choose your side-trip between Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii or Sorrento - we think no matter what you choose you will be pleased. There really isn't a wrong choice.

Arriving in Sorrento has a 'Wow' factor.

The view when you walk out of the elevator (or come up the pathway)

The pathway back down to the ferry dock. Just FYI - the last fast ferry departs at 17:00 (5:00pm).


One last thing

When in Naples be sure to check out 'L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele' - this is the very first pizzeria anywhere on the planet and dates from 1870. When it originally opened there were two types of pizza. Marinara and Margherita. Today there are 4 types - Marinara, Margherita, Marita, which is 1/2 and 1/2, and Cosacca (aromatic cheese and tomato sauce - basically a Margherita with more aroma). We went for the Marita - 1/2 Marinara and 1/2 Margherita, and we agree that the pizza here is one of the best we've ever had. The ingredients from the dough to the sauce and cheese are so different from what we get in North America. It is different when their cattle are grass-fed versus meat and corn fed such as they are back home. What a difference when the people demand health and quality in their food. Each pizza cost 5,50 Euro and well worth the wait to get in (about 40 minutes).

The entire menu at "L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele". There are now branches in 3 cities in the states, and these have an extensive menu that caters to North American tastes - lots of cheese and toppings, which loses the simplicity of what "L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele" is all about.

For me, this is what the whole trip was about. This will be in my memory bank for the next fifty years. Yes, fifty...

Angela also enjoyed her pizza - total cost for the three of us and a soda each was 21,50 Euro.

Frances, Angela's mom, was on hand to deliver the final verdict on "L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele". That verdict? - 'Magnifico"!

"L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele" hasn't changed much since it opened in 1870. The wait time is 40 minutes, which was well-worth it. While you wait there is a lot to watch - people all over, crazy vespa riders and some interesting car drivers manoeuvring around the tiny streets and alleys.


Helpful Links:

Reporting Your Wallet Lost/Stolen in Rome

 

Trevi Fountain Information retrieved from:

 

Our Two Top Restaurants in Rome – although everywhere we went was fantastic:

Gli Amici

 

Tonnarello

 

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