Eating Our Way Through Bologna, Italy

Ah, Bologna… the food capital of Italy! Located about 50 miles north of Florence, Bologna is a wonderful alternative to the more crowded and touristy cities of Italy. It doesn’t have the art museums of Florence, the canals of Venice, or the ancient monuments of Rome, but it does have some stunning architecture and food. The city is famous for its cuisine and is known as the culinary capital of Italy. In fact, Italians refer to Bologna by three names: La Dotta, La Rossa, and La Grassa; the educated, the red, and the fat. “Educated” refers to the city’s university which is the oldest university in Europe (since 1088). “Red” refers to the red bricks that most of Bologna’s buildings are made from, and because of its leftist political views. “Fat” refers to Bologna’s culinary history, making it the food capital of Italy, which held up to its name.

We were excited to taste Bologna’s delicious food and explore a new part of the country. We were also excited to meet up with good friends, Sera and Martin. After a lunch filled with glorious truffles and ravioli, we wandered the streets of the city center of Bologna. We took in sights like the Asinelli Tower, Piazza Maggiore, and the Neptune Fountain, as well as indulging in the wine and food from the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.

Reggio Emilia Tour

During our second day in Bologna we went on a private food and wine tour of the region. After our guide arrived early in the morning, we went to a Parmesan cheese factory in the Reggio Emilia region. Here, we watched the daily process of making Parmesan cheese straight from the cows, along with a taste of the final product at the end (aged 15 months). Yum!

Next we went to the home of a traditional balsamic vinegar producer in the area. Traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena is made only from the Emilia Romagna region, is aged at least 12 years, and is different from the balsamic vinegar of Modena label that we often see. The two are distinct products in their manufacturing, composition, and price. After a tour of the facilities and an explanation of the process we tasted six different traditional balsamic vinegars. We could definitely tell the difference between the traditional and the other balsamic vinegars. They were thicker, creamier, richer, and much more expensive!

An Afternoon at a Winery

The final stop was our wine tasting at a vineyard in the region. The owner (whose real name we never found out, only that he wanted us to call him Jim because his favorite singer is Jim Morrison) showed us the vineyards. We tasted 8 (or 9?) wines and he did not skimp! He poured the wine so high in the glasses that it became more of a wine party than a tasting. It was fun and we don’t remember leaving the winery!

After a little rest and recovery back at the hotel, we ventured out to a local restaurant in Bologna. This trattoria uses only local products and cooks traditional cuisine from the region such as spaghetti bolognese, tortellini al brodo (tortellini in a broth sauce), and lasagna. Dishes in Bologna are less about olive oil and tomatoes and more about butter and cream sauces. The addition of truffles, chestnuts, mushrooms, and a variety of meats, makes for a perfect cold winter night in December. Simply delicious!

Jon and I definitely could have used another day in Bologna and we would love to go back again. We took advantage of the fantastic food opportunities in the region while being able to enjoy the city itself. The people are so friendly, they seem to enjoy life, and are respectful of things and people around them. The weather is great, and the food is fabulous. It’s one of those cities that we could see ourselves living in or around and it got us thinking yet again… can we please live here?

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Hiking Cinque Terra

The Cinque Terre (meaning Five Lands) is an area that consists of five towns that are in close proximity to each other and are dotted along the Ligurian Coast of Italy. Each town has its own charm and unique characteristics, but they all still hold onto the quaint fishing village feeling of the area. We visited Cinque Terre knowing that we wanted to hike to the different towns, something the area is known for. There are different options for hiking Cinque Terre – you can hike one section of the trail, or make a day of it and do the whole thing. I’m sure you already know what option we went with!

Monterosso Al Mare

We flew into Genoa, spent the afternoon in the city, and continued our drive to our base, Monterosso al Mare. This town is Cinque Terre’s most northern town and is divided into two parts, the old and the new. It is also home to Cinque Terre’s most extensive sandy beach. This is the town to go to if you want a traditional Italian beach experience. Monterosso al Mare is the largest of the five towns and also serves as one end of the hiking trail between them.

The Hike to Vernazza and Corniglia

There is a cliffside trail that connects the five villages, while also providing stunning views of the sea and coastline. The first part of the hike is from Monterosso al Mare to the next town of Vernazza. This is actually the most challenging section of the coastal hike. This is because there are very steep inclines and declines with pathways so narrow that at times only one person can fit at once. It took us one hour and five minutes to hike to Vernazza (the average is 1.5 hours… go us)! When we made our way down to the town we browsed the shops and refreshed ourselves with some water.

After a short break we left the pretty town of Vernazza and walked up towards the trail to Corniglia. Corniglia is the smallest of the five towns and is the only one not accessible by water. Because it is on top of a hill, no matter which way you come from you have to head up. We had a very steep uphill start from Vernazza and from there it was a mix of uphill with small breaks of flat path for us to follow (though still pretty narrow). This section took us about 1.5 hours.

By the time we made it to Corniglia we were out of water and were famished! We found a cute restaurant that served the traditional food of Liguria, trofie with pesto, and had a delicious meal. Afterward, we spent about 30 minutes walking around the town. Corniglia feels smaller and quieter, but is just as charming as the other towns, if not more. There’s a little piazza with a tower where people sit to pass the time, narrow car-free streets to wander through, and an overlook to take beautiful pictures of the sea.

The Hike to Manarola and Riomaggiore

Now we had a decision to make. Because of landslides from the previous year blocking the trail, the 1.2 mile coastal section between Corniglia and the next town, Manarola, was closed. We wanted to keep hiking so we decided to take a route that would take us UP and around the other trails in order to get to Manarola… about 2.5 miles. It winds up to the small town of Volastra and then all the way down to Manarola. So up we went. We went up so much that we really didn’t think it was possible to go up anymore. And when we thought “this has to flatten out soon, right?” we would turn a corner and see another set of treacherous rocks to climb up. There was no other option but to keep going! Hiking Cinque Terre was going to be a lot harder than we thought!

After making it to the top, the trail then consisted of small ups and downs, a nice reprieve from climbing. We made it to Volastra, followed the signs to Manarola, and finally went down. It seemed like we were descending way more than we had ascended in the beginning. After going down 1,200 narrow steps we finally made it to Manarola, two hours from when we started in Corniglia.

We really wanted to check out the most famous (and easiest) part of the hiking trail, Via dell’Amore, or the Love Trail. This is a 1km path carved out of the hard rock face overhanging the sea. It’s supposed to be one of the most romantic paths to walk. Unfortunately, because of those same landslides the year before this path was still closed. It is finally reopening in July 2024.

Our only option to get to the last town, Riomaggiore, was to take the very quick train ride. We spent some time in the town and refreshed with some water, but we didn’t stay long. We were beat!

Getting Back

After, we took the train back to Monterosso al Mare. But our hike didn’t end there. From the train station it was at least a mile uphill to our bed and breakfast. We calculated that we hiked a total of 12.15 miles that day (half of it pretty uphill), including walking in the towns a little bit – not bad for me being 14 weeks pregnant at the time! But we still had to walk down to the town for dinner later on…

Hiking in Cinque Terre is still one of our favorite hiking experiences in Italy. Not only does the hike give you stunning views of the sea during the trek, it was pretty cool being able to hike to the different towns and take in the scenery and characteristics of each one. 

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Off The Beaten Path in Rome

There’s something that happens when you visit a city for the second or third time and you’re not trying to see all of the regular touristy sites. You walk a bit slower, take in the sights and sounds of the locals going about their day, and notice just how beautiful the city can be when you’re not standing in line with the crowds. Around every corner and down every street are magnificent buildings; and in no way are they well known or famous, and people don’t go out of their way to see them, but they are striking, majestic, and stunning to admire. This is not to say that you shouldn’t see the main sights in a city. I think you’d be pretty disappointed if you didn’t visit the Colosseum or the Vatican while in Rome. But if you add on a couple more days to a trip, or make subsequent visits, you can truly get off the beaten path in Rome and have a completely different experience.

Aventine Hill

This isn’t totally off the beaten path in Rome, but it’s something different and away from the hustle and bustle. Aventine Hill is Rome’s southernmost hill and walkable from the city center. It’s a quiet residential area with a lot of historical churches and monasteries. One thing we sought out was here as well – the Knights of Malta keyhole in Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta. Here, there is a keyhole through a door that gives a rather impressive view of St. Peter’s Basilica. When we visited during the winter there was no one there, but now you can expect to wait 15-30 minutes. This off the beaten path in Rome activity isn’t so secret anymore! Nonetheless, it is still away from the crowds and it’s an opportunity to go to a different neighborhood in Rome.

The nearby piazza and gardens gave us a wonderful view of the city stretched out before us.

The Jewish Ghetto

The Jewish Ghetto in Rome was built in 1555 and was the mandatory home for the Roman Jewish population for more than 300 years. Most of the ghetto has been torn down, but you can still discover some remaining structures of the Jews’ notable past and modest present.

Portico d’Ottavia

Portico d’Ottavia, a big ancient ruin, is just next to the ghetto. These are the remains of an ancient gateway, which used to house a flourishing fish market. It was later turned into a church and was subsequently used by the Christians at that time to force the Jews to pray in, in hopes of converting them. Within the archeological site we walked behind an ancient theater, now with more modern buildings built into it. The back is the original rounded portico with arches, reminiscent of the Colosseum and other Roman theaters.


From there we crossed the Ponte Girabaldi into the Trastevere region. This is a very charming area of the city where a lot of young locals live. Small narrow streets dominate the neighborhood and restaurants and bars line the piazzas. After walking around here for a bit we had a fantastic lunch in a cute restaurant and had the best ravioli we’ve had in all of Italy!

Santa Maria in Cosmedin

We crossed back over, this time over Ponte Palatino, and stopped by the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The Roman statue called “La Bocca della Verita” (The Mouth of Truth), is here and legend has it that if a liar or a sinner puts his hand in the mouth they will lose it! The thrill of putting our hands in the statue’s mouth was strong and we couldn’t resist! We stuck our hands in and hope for the best. Alas, the harmless, but unnerving stone did not eat our hands.

Whether you’ve been to Rome ten times or only one, the Eternal City has so much to offer! No matter how many times you visit there is always more beauty and culture for you to discover and enjoy. We can’t wait to go back and discover more hidden gems when you go off the beaten path in Rome!

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Let’s Go to Venice! (Bring the Kids)

Venice is unlike any other city in Italy, or in the world for that matter. From its never-ending canals, bridges, and narrow walkways winding around them all, this city is quite unique! You will find yourself transported to a completely different world. There are no cars whizzing by or scooters beeping at you to move. You can walk along the canals admiring the main modes of transportation, which are walking and boating. The streets can be so narrow that, at times, you must walk single file in each direction, with small bridges stretching the span of the water for pedestrians to cross. And the biggest canal of them all, The Grand Canal, which is Venice’s most important waterway, runs in an S-shape throughout the city nearly splitting it in two. And you don’t have to leave the kids at home! Venice with kids is exciting and fun!

What’s great about Venice is there’s nothing you need to run and see. The goal here is to take in the environment and experience something completely different from what any other city will give you. And each time you go you will have a different outlook. You’ll still be amazed and you’ll discover something new every time.  

What To Do While Here

There are two on-the-water musts to do while in Venice. The first is riding on the vaporetto, which is Venice’s water bus service. This is a great option if you don’t want to walk across the island or if you want to go to a different island like Murano. It operates just like a bus service, with stops dropping people off and picking them up. It’s an interesting sight watching people use this to get to and from work. When we went with our kids, we used this option to get from our hotel to St. Mark’s Square. The kids loved being on the water bus and it was definitely a highlight of the trip.

Venice with kids - on the vaporetto

Another water option is taking a gondola ride. Along the canals you will see gondoliers standing by their gondolas waiting to take you on that relaxing ride. Don’t worry if you’re traveling as a family – it’s not just for a romantic couple. I’ve gone with my kids, my parents, my friends, and my husband. You will have a good time no matter who you’re traveling with! You don’t need to buy the gondola in advance as it’s done on a whim. Give the gondolier the money (80 euros daytime, 100 night) right then and there and off you go! For about 20 minutes they take you down the small canals and under stone bridges, while passing hotels and old buildings. A lot of gondoliers will talk about the historical significance of the buildings that you pass, legends about the bridges you go under, and general information about the city. It’s a charming ride that everyone will enjoy.

St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)

Piazza San Marco is Venice’s largest and most important piazza and is an absolute must when you visit Venice. In the square, built in the 12th century, you will see beautiful galleries that surround the area, with Saint Mark’s Basilica and the Bell Tower on one end. This is a place to stroll and take in the beauty of the architecture around you. Head into the basilica for some impressive mosaic craftmanship, shimmering with gold from all angles.

Afterwards, head inside and up the elevator in the iconic Bell Tower (Campanile) to get beautiful 360-degree views of the city. This is probably the only tower in Italy that you don’t have to physically climb up! The panoramic vistas are worth the short wait for the lift up.

The Different Islands of Venice

Did you know that Venice is made up of over 100 islands? While there is no need to visit anywhere close to this amount there are a few of note that are worth the visit, namely Murano, Burano, and Torcello. On one of our trips, we took the day to visit Murano since they are known for their exquisite blown Venetian glass and we wanted to learn more about it.

Stepping off the boat in Murano was a completely different experience than on the main island of Venice. It was much quieter, laid back, and had beautiful glass shops and intimate sidewalk cafes. Each shop after the next was filled with intricate, exquisite glass pieces that illuminated with the store lights. We had to learn how these pieces were made! Luckily, we were able to step inside a factory for a tour and glass blowing demonstration. It is pretty impressive what the glass blowers are able to make.

Strolling & Shopping

I’d say one of the highlights of Venice is strolling the streets and checking out the different neighborhoods, each one having its own special appeal. We stopped numerous times for gelato on the go and went in and out of small stores for some shopping, which proved hard to get out of… there are so many cool things to buy! From Venetian masks to glass jewelry, you’ll have no trouble bringing back souvenirs for your friends and family back home.

Whether you visit Venice solo or spend time visiting Venice with kids you are sure to have a great time. Get lost in the maze of narrow streets and bridges, shop in the fabulous small stores, find transportation on the numerous waterways, or make it a combination of all of the above. You can’t go wrong!

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New Year’s Eve in Naples, Italy

We had heard so much about New Year’s Eve in Naples, Italy that we had to experience it for ourselves! It is said that Naples has some of the best fireworks displays in the world. While there are organized fireworks presentations along the Lungomare (near Castel dell’Ovo), many people buy their own fireworks and head to their roofs or windows to show them off. From high on a roof or balcony you can see hundreds of fireworks from the islands, Naples, and Pozzuoli. In total, they last approximately 45 minutes, though many continue all night and into the daylight the next morning. It was very different from our time in Venice the year before.

Fireworks on New Year's Eve in Naples Italy

New Year’s Eve Traditions

Fireworks are popular with Neapolitans throughout the year. They set them off of their roofs for any occasion, whether it’s a birthday, anniversary, a holiday, or – it’s Thursday! Of course, this comes at a price. While many cities in Italy have banned personal fireworks, Naples holds their traditions and each year hundreds of Neapolitans are injured. In 2012 two people were killed and 361 people were injured (in 2011 two were killed and 561 were injured). On the roof below we witnessed fireworks gone awry as they were shooting sideways and the family was ducking behind walls to avoid them. Yikes!

Another tradition on New Year’s Eve in Naples, Italy is getting rid of old things. When the clock strikes midnight they believe they should get rid of anything they don’t want to carry into the new year. At midnight people will open their windows and throw things out onto the streets that they don’t want anymore. No matter how big it is! People have been injured or even killed because small ovens and refrigerators were flying down from above and hitting them. The streets in the downtown area become so littered with everyone’s old stuff that cars cannot move for hours. While this tradition is slowly fading away you may want to go to an open plaza, a roof, or stay inside on New Year’s in Naples, just in case!

Delicious Food

For cenone (the Italian word for New Year’s Eve dinner), Ashley and I cooked an Italian feast! It consisted of capers, prosciutto, and cheese for appetizers, and continuing on with Pizette con melanzane (fried eggplant balls), Pesto all Genovese (pesto pasta), Spaghetti Tradizionale (spaghetti with oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt), Penne Siciliana (penne with eggplant, meat, and tomato sauce), and a variety of cannoli for dessert. And of course, a plethora of wine and champagne!

We’ve never been so close to a fireworks display and have never seen anything like we saw that night. It was a remarkable scene watching the fireworks from nearby windows and roofs all the way to the islands. We are thrilled that we made the decision to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Naples, Italy. While we didn’t throw anything out of the windows or light our own fireworks, we were still able to partake in one of Naples’ many traditions simply by being present and taking in the experience.

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New Year’s Eve in Venice

Venice is quite an interesting place! Small canals run through the city, with small bridges stretching across the water for pedestrians. The Grand Canal, Venice’s most important waterway, runs in an S-shape throughout the city nearly splitting it in two. The streets can be so narrow, that, at times, you have to walk single-file in each direction. Additionally, there are no cars or scooters anywhere. The mode of transportation throughout the city is by boat or on foot. We even took a boat from the airport to Piazza San Marco, and then walked about five minutes to our hotel, which had two entrances: a water entrance and a walking entrance! Overall, we took this opportunity to relax, unwind, and explore at our leisure. We thought Venice would be the perfect place to spend New Year’s Eve.

Taking our Time

Jon and I had no agenda other than to walk around to each of the six different sections of the city and to have a blast spending New Year’s Eve in Venice. Though we have been here four times, our New Years trip was our first time here. At the time there was no Google Maps to help us out with directions! We relied solely on a paper map to help us navigate the streets (the horror)! It was fun wandering the city with no real plan and seeing where each path would take us. We quickly learned that there is always something new to find in Venice!

We walked through the different streets, alleys, and piazzas, passing gondolas, boats, and many glass and mask shops along the way. Oh, the shopping! I’m not a big shopper, but even I couldn’t resist going into some of these beautiful shops to buy gifts and souvenirs.

We also rode in a gondola through the small canals, passing hotels and old buildings, and going under the cute bridges. Our gondolier was excellent and talked about the historical significance of buildings that we were passing, legends about the bridges we were going under, and general information about the city.

Naturally, we indulged in a ton of food and wine, too…

No trip is complete for us until we see a city’s Jewish area. In Venice it is called the Jewish Quarter, located in the section of Cannaregio. We enjoyed seeing a mix of Hebrew and Italian on the buildings. While here, we saw the Holocaust Memorial, which was very moving. In addition, we went into a glass shop where they had a plethora of Jewish goods. We decided to buy a lovely glass mezuzah that they personalized with our last name.

New Year’s Eve Celebrations!

For New Year’s Eve, we had made reservations at a restaurant that offered a seven-course meal for the night. Seven courses! Four hours and two bottles of wine later, we made our way to Piazza San Marco, where a large crowd had formed, a concert was taking place, and people were dancing. It was crowded, but not scary crowded as we had plenty of room to get out if we needed to!

We soon settled ourselves among the diverse crowd and waited for the countdown. Dieci, nove, otto, sette, sei, cinque, quattro, tre, due, uno, Buon Anno! It was fun counting down in another language in another country and it was interesting to see that New Year’s traditions around the world are pretty similar.

We made our way towards the Grand Canal where a beautiful fireworks display was lighting up the sky. We couldn’t help but think how lucky we were to be spending New Year’s Eve in Venice.

More Adventures to Come…

We spent the rest of our time checking out the different walkways and getting lost in the maze of narrow streets and bridges. It was different and refreshing to have no plan and to just wing it. We also knew that at some point in life we would be back with friends or family so we didn’t feel a need to do more. Spending New Years in Venice was special and a trip that we will always remember!

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Finding the Best Food in Naples

One of the best parts of traveling is getting to experience the local food. And Italy has some of the best! Each region has its own cuisine, from the pesto in Liguria, to wild boar in Tuscany, to the fish and pizza of Naples. Traveling throughout these regions is almost like traveling throughout different countries in terms of food. And it is very hard to find specific regional cuisines within the other regions. All of Italy has delicious food, but we found some of the best food in Naples!

Neapolitan food consists of a lot of seafood, fish, fresh vegetables, and light sauces, with a lot of pasta to go with it! And of course, you can’t beat true Neapolitan pizza.

What to Expect from an Italian Dinner

There is so much to discover about Neapolitan food — including the different courses of an Italian meal, which is pretty standard throughout the country. There are five courses to a typical Italian meal:

1. Antipasto (appetizer)

2. Primi (1st course, usually consisting of pasta)

3. Secondi (2nd course, usually consisting of meat or fish)

4. Contorno (vegetable that usually accompanies dinner)

5. Dolce (dessert)

We really try to keep up with all of the courses, but we typically share the secondi course or don’t order one at all. The antipasto could be a meal on its own!!

Dinner lasts for at least two hours (no wonder, with all of the courses!) If you go out before 8:30 for dinner, you will be the only ones in the restaurant for a while. During the summer, some restaurants don’t even open for dinner until 9pm! It’s tough to get used to that custom!

Traditional Pizza Margherita in Naples

A specialty in Naples is pizza. Modern pizza originated in Italy as the Neapolitan pie with tomato. In 1889, during a visit to Naples, Queen Margherita of Italy was served a pizza resembling the colors of the Italian flag, red (tomato), white (mozzarella), and green (basil). This kind of pizza has been named after the Queen as Pizza Margherita, which is the pizza to get while you’re in Naples.

Why is this pizza so special? One, the dough! The dough is soft and chewy and almost melts in your mouth. It is never hard or crusty. Two, they use Buffalo Mozzarella. This is a creamy and wet cheese that can only be found in the Campania region of Italy. It makes the pizza very moist and gooey! Combine those two together and you are left with a delicious pie that you can’t even pick up… you have to eat it with a knife and fork.

No trip to Naples is complete without going to the world famous Pizzeria da Michele, where Julia Roberts ate in the movie Eat, Pray, Love. Equally as good is Pizzeria Pellone, which is really convenient right near the train station. Either way, eating pizza in Naples is truly one of the best experiences you can have!

Wonderful Surprise while Dining In Naples

One of our first dining experiences in Naples is still one of our favorites. If you didn’t know this restaurant was here you would never be able to find it. It’s more of a hidden local restaurant filled solely with Neapolitans.

As we were driving to the restaurant, we got the impression that we were entering someone’s backyard. Soon we realized that the owners had closed the restaurant for the month. (Fun fact: Italians typically take off most, if not all, of the month of August for vacation.) No problemo! We just happened to stumble upon a different place a very short distance away.

Nobody spoke English, but we somehow got by with our limited Italian after just moving there. The owner, Eduardo, asked us if we wanted to start out with some prosciutto and mozzarella so we said yes. That was the last time we spoke with him until the end of the meal.

The plates of food that came out were never ending… there were mussels, fried anchovies, fried doughballs (zeppelinis), eggplant, baked clams, bruschetta, octopus, and squid. We couldn’t stop laughing as more Italian food kept coming out. After about an hour, we thought the meal was finished. But, Eduardo came back and asked if we wanted to see the menu for the first course! We had to pass, as we were pretty full!

With wine and water, we were wondering how much this was going to cost us. Surprisingly, it was 35 euros! What? The wine itself was just five euros. It was simply an awesome and great experience. Finding this place was a complete surprise, and the meal was unforgettable.

More Favorites!

Our favorite restaurant in the Naples area is Angeli & Demoni located in Pozzuoli. We frequented this restaurant often and returned to it on our recent trip to Pozzuoli. Chef Silvio is a master chef, creating dishes that are not only delicious, but aesthetically pleasing. His vision for his restaurant, which is set in a real Roman Domus, is innovative, romantic, and welcoming. Here we had fresh seafood with linguini, an octopus appetizer that my 8 year old loved, a light ravioli with mushrooms, and the most amazing light and airy bread that melted in our mouths. It is Naples food with an elegant twist. It is by far an amazing experience and we’re grateful that we were able to return to it!

More Than Just the Food…

While living here and friends were visiting, we took them into Naples’ center for a downtown food tour. Here, we tried many of the local specialities including tripe, fried anchovies, and traditional zeppelini. Led by a local, it allowed us to eat the foods we had come to love, while also trying new places and foods that we might not have found on our own. It was absolutely amazing – a complete masterpiece of food and flavor!

As we quickly learned, dining in Naples (and in Italy overall!) is not just about the taste of the food, but the experience as well!


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Castle Dwelling in Perugia, Italy

Castle Dwelling in Perugia, Italy

Our travels took us to the beautiful city of Perugia, which is the capital of the Umbria region of Italy. It’s known as a university town and as home to annual chocolate and jazz festivals. In addition, it’s also where the story of Amanda Knox took place (for anyone who followed the news in 2007!).

This trip was made extra special because my parents joined us from the States!

Exploring Historical Sites in Perugia

After picking up my parents in Rome, we drove to Perugia and checked into our castle hotel, the Castello di Monterone. (When we researched where to stay in Perugia, this caught our eye immediately — and it was an excellent choice!) Then, we made our way to the city center and walked around town. This experience was a great opportunity to explore the cultural and historical sites at our leisure…

… and enjoy a few surprises, too! 

We came across Piazza IV Novembre, which forms the center of Perugia. It consists of a large 12th-Century fountain named Fontana Maggiore, and the 15th-Century Cathedral of San Lorenzo.

We were also fortunate to be in Perugia for an international arts festival. Because of this, we were able to browse through multiple vendors selling their products and crafts. Plus, several musicians were playing sweet-sounding tunes as we strolled through the crowded streets.

At the same time, we came across beautiful views of the Umbrian countryside from the city center. In just one day, we got to immerse ourselves in the city’s rich culture, and take in its beautiful landscape!

Castle Lodging

When we were deciding where to stay in Perugia, we loved the unique accommodations of the Castello di Monterone, as well as its history. In the past, the castle was a military base. But, nowadays it sees visitors from around the world looking for a different kind of hotel or B&B experience. 

The grounds are spectacular, and the views of Perugia and the rest of Umbria are breathtaking. There is a separate rose garden, with 20 different varieties of roses, overlooking the city. It’s the perfect place to relax within the castle walls. I mean, who gets to stay in a real life castle?!

Dining in Perugia

Before dinner, we enjoyed a bottle of wine on the castle terrace. This was a comfortable spot for the four of us to relax, talk, and take in the Perugian ambiance. 

Later, we ate dinner at a restaurant called Il Postale, which was within the castle walls.  Il Postale served traditional Umbrian food. I highly recommend the Ragu d’agnello and Pasta alla Norcina.

Next Stop!

We would have loved to have spent more time here, but we had many other places to show the ‘rents! Next up are the Tuscan cities of Siena, San Gimignano, Pisa, and Lucca!

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hilltop towns in italy

Charming Italian Hilltop Towns

High in the mountains of northwestern Italy lie many small and unique towns. After our trip to Nice, we spent the day checking out the unbeaten paths in Italy’s Ligurian towns.. All we knew about them was that they were quaint and beautiful. What we came away with was a deep love and appreciation for two charming hilltop towns.

First Stop: Dolceacqua

Our first Ligurian towns stop was the town of Dolceacqua, which is very close to the border of France. It is divided into two sections linked by an ancient bridge.

Impromptu Visit to Charming Hilltop Towns

At first, you probably wouldn’t know what to expect as you make your way towards the older part of “La Tera.” But, what we found were very narrow, stone streets, shadowed by three-story high stone walls. Just a peak of sunlight streamed through here and there. Stone archways connected the walls. The narrow streets led us upwards, where a medieval castle sits. It actually felt like we were already walking through the walls of the castle. Tucked into the walls of each street are small shops selling food, artwork, and wine from the area.

Moving on to Apricale

We set our sights on Apricale, which means “exposed to the sun” in Italian. Because it is located in a steep valley, you can see Apricale for miles away. Along with Dolceacqua, Apricale forms the La Strada dell’Olio (The Olive Route) because these villages see an exorbitant amount of sun where olive trees can flourish.

The small streets were similar to Dolceacqua, and surprisingly everything in this small town was open during the 1-4pm time slot! We strolled around the car-free town, losing ourselves in the small alleyways, churches, narrow tunnels, and bridges. After a number of turns, we came upon the piazza, which was preparing for a small festival.

Never in my life have I seen a frying pan as big as the one in the town center.

Ticking Clock in Sanremo

We planned to drive to Sanremo and then to Genoa with enough time to make it to the airport for our flight back to Naples, but our GPS had other plans in store for us. What should have taken 40 minutes to get from Apricale to Sanremo took over two hours!

We were led through the mountains on a curvy, one-lane road with nowhere to go if someone came from the other way. At times we were laughing at the ridiculousness of this makeshift road, but most of the time I was white knuckling the door handle. Luckily, no one came from the other side the entire time! As a result of this little detour, we got to Sanremo very late and had only ten minutes to walk around before our flight.

Naturally, we walked around Sanremo much longer than that. The city sits on the Mediterranean coast and is a popular tourist destination. We walked along the water, some streets of the city, and unsuccessfully searched for the casino. With the clock ticking we really didn’t have enough time to explore and take in the city like we wanted.

Leaving Sanremo when we did put us into Genoa airport 45 minutes before our flight. But there was a ton of traffic, which made us get to the airport 25 minutes before the flight – yikes! Thankfully, Genoa’s a pretty compact airport and we made it to the gate with a few minutes to spare and had a fast flight back.

We’re glad we took the time to visit this part of Italy that seems to be rather untouched by tourists. Not only were we pleasantly surprised by the small Ligurian towns of Italy that we saw, but we find it pretty incredible that these types of towns are spread throughout Italy, each having their own special character.

You never know what you might find if you take the time to look!

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wineries in piedmont

Wine Tasting in the Piedmont Region

I think we’re in love. We didn’t think we could find a more beautiful and serene part of Italy than we’ve already seen! We went wine tasting in the Piedmont region, which is undeniably stunning!

The Landscape of Piedmont

The Piedmont region (Piemonte, meaning “at the foot of the mountain” in Italian) is set in a gorgeous location surrounded by vineyards, rolling countryside, and framed by the Alps in the distance. Situated in northwest Italy, the region borders France and Switzerland.

Tourists don’t flock to the area as they do to popular destinations like Tuscany. That’s one of the things we thoroughly enjoyed about it. Aside from the very small towns, there is sprawling farm country, home to vineyards, truffles, and family run inns. Not surprisingly, people come here to relax and gaze out at the beautiful scenery with a glass of wine in hand.

Quick Visit to Beautiful Turin

Our first stop in this region was Turin. Turin is the capital of the Piedmont region and is Italy’s fourth largest city. In addition, it was also home to the 2006 winter Olympics.

While driving, we noticed a tremendous difference from Naples right away… people here follow the rules of the road! For one thing, they stop at traffic lights! They also stop at stop signs, and yield at circles and pedestrians. Someone actually honked us when we went into a circle without stopping, which is an everyday part of Naples life.

Turin has a cultured and educated vibe. Around every corner are theaters, beautiful French-influenced architecture, and arts festivals. It’s also a very clean city, and the streets are free of beggars. We wanted more time here, but we had a weekend in the wine country ahead of us.

Making the Most of Wine Tasting

For the next couple of days, we drove to different wineries in the Barolo and Barbaresco regions. All in all, we visited eight wineries, with four of them giving us tours and tastings completely in Italian.

Our favorites were the very small family-run wineries where the families actually live on site. They were so welcoming, didn’t charge us for tastings (though we did buy a ton), fed us snacks, and let us try as much as we wanted. It seemed like they were in it for the pure joy of making wines, rather than mass-producing bottles for the public.

All in all, we’d say that our two days wine tasting in the Piedmont region was very productive! We ended up bringing back 46 bottles and a magnum. 

Lodging near Barbaresco

Our small bed and breakfast was situated just outside of the small town of Barbaresco. High up on a hill, we had a lovely view of the town of Alba and some of the region.

Luckily, we were within walking distance to a few restaurants that served typical Piedmont food consisting of pasta with butter and sage, truffles, and meats. Soft cheeses and fig jam were a staple at breakfast, which was reminiscent of our time in Switzerland.

Sad to Leave

On our way back to the train station to return the rental car, we stopped in the town of Asti. Asti is the home of Asti Spumante, which is a sweet fizzy wine, and Barbera d’Asti, a nice red.

We didn’t have much time, but we were able to walk along the narrow streets and gaze upon the medieval towers and churches.

We would have loved to have stayed longer here, and the trip left us wondering and asking each other often, “Why can’t we live here”? The beauty, tranquility, and hospitality make the Piedmont Region a must-see destination for anyone wanting to get away.

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boating to ischia

Boating To Ischia

One of the perks of living in Pozzuoli is that we have the opportunity to rent boats and check out the local islands. We did just this with a group of friends from nearby Arco Felice, so we all could spend a day on the sea. Weather-wise, it was a perfect day to spend boating around the islands… clear skies and very hot. We were so excited to be boating to Ischia on our own timeline, armed with a lot of snacks and drinks!

Relaxing at Sea

Captain Jon drove us out of the dock in Baia, and we headed out to clearer water with less boat traffic. The further we went out, the more serene the environment became… away from the gritty streets, jumbled traffic, and Naples’ beaters.

Soon the wind was flowing through our hair, as we passed hundreds of mussel traps floating in the water. We then passed the small island of Procida, with its magnificent castle looming over the bay. We also passed the colorful small marina of Corricella. And, we passed the beautiful coastline of Monte de Procida.

Within no time, we arrived at the Ischia port to fill up the gas tanks.

Soon after, we boated to another side of the island to swim, drink, and just relax. The water was unbelievably clear and we could see everything.

At this point, our stomachs were grumbling, so we went to an area that had a few restaurants just for people pulling up to shore. We feasted on fresh seafood, linguine, and of course wine.

Ischia at the main port

Fuzzy (but definitely good) Memories

Things got a little fuzzy from this point on. Could it have been the numerous bottles of beer, wine, and limoncello that we just HAD to chug from the bottle? Perhaps.

I like to think of it being the dehydrating effects of too much sun and no water.

Boating to Ischia and traveling to the different islands on our own schedule was such a spectacular experience. And it was easy to do!

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day in naples

A Day in Naples

The side of the museum

With all of the traveling we’ve been doing, it was nice to have a weekend at home with no plans. We always seem to be on the move as we make our travels around Europe. But on this particular weekend, we decided to spend a day in Naples center. There are so many things to do and see right in our backyard, that this was very much welcomed day.

Saturday proved to be a “cooler” day with temperatures only hitting 90 degrees. It is hot and humid in Naples over the summer, and we are trying our best to keep cool. Luckily we have two A/C units in our house… we really had to fight to get one in our bedroom!

Trying to keep cool in the shade

History and Artifacts at the Archeological Museum

We started the day with a trip to the Archeological Museum in downtown Naples. This museum is among the top museums of ancient art and has an extensive collection of artifacts. The building was built in the 1500s as a headquarters for the royal cavalry and was later converted into a university.

After that, it was turned into a museum housing artifacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as art from Egyptian and Prehistoric times. As if that isn’t enough, it also has Roman mosaics, marble and bronze sculptures, Greek pottery, gems, coins, and epigraphs.

We saw many remarkable sculptures on display, ranging from the size of a finger to the height of a two story house. Although they were astounding, we found that after a while they started to blend together and look very similar to one another. However, there were a few that stood out:

In addition, we saw many mosaics, art, and tools.

As we approached the end, we explored “The Secret Room,” which houses a collection of erotic finds excavated from Pompeii. From outside the room, we could hear giggling men from around the world echoing in the quiet museum.

Evidently, there are immature people in every culture!

Rounding out the Day with Pizza

After the museum, we went to our favorite downtown pizza place, Pizzeria Pellone.

While the pizzas in the areas surrounding Naples are fantastic, there’s nothing like a good downtown Naples pizza. The liquid from the sauce and cheese tend to create a very hot and soupy center that you can then pair with the delicious crust. It only takes 90 seconds in an 800 degree wood burning oven!

There are regulations in Naples for how to make a pizza in order to protect the original Neapolitan pizza within Italy and worldwide.

Afterwards, we grabbed some gelato, walked around Piazza Dante, went into the fantastic woodshop of our tutor’s boyfriend. Then, we made our way home.

There’s nothing like going into Napoli for an afternoon to take advantage of all it has to offer!

Visited July 2012

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caserta palace and gardens

Why You Should Visit Caserta Palace and Gardens

Caserta Palace and Gardens is located about 25 miles from Naples, which made it easy for us to visit for the day. It was built in the 18th century to rival Versailles. While the palace has around 1200 rooms, it’s largely overlooked by tourists and travelers. The lack of crowds is nice as a visitor, but after visiting here, we can honestly say that this is should be on every traveler’s list!

Inside the Palace

The complex is an exceptional establishment, with an imposing palace and lush gardens. The magnificent marble staircase (which was used as a stand in for the Vatican in “Angels and Demons” and in the “Star Wars” Episodes I and II) led us up to the rooms of the palace. In the rooms, we found gorgeous pieces of art, ornate walls, original royal furniture, and frescoed ceilings.

The Gardens

Following our time inside the castle, we walked outside to the gardens. They are undeniably an impressive sight!

Stretching 2.5 miles from the palace are a series of cascades, fountains, and lifelike sculptures. Following that, you can find a wide canal that leads to the Grand Cascade. If you don’t want to walk, you can try one of the palace’s alternatives: horse-drawn carriages, bikes, and trolleys.

At just about 90 degrees with strong sun, we walked all of the gardens and back! During our walk, we passed by locals having picnics in the shade, families getting their history fix for the day, and runners taking advantage of the wide paths.

Where’s the Waterfall?

Unfortunately, the waterfalls were not too impressive, as they were lacking an essential component… water!

From afar the “waterfall” looked like a big dry hill. We were able to see tiny streams trickling down from the top, but nothing like we were expecting. Here is what we saw on our day:

And here is what they usually look like:

Oh well, can’t win them all!

After a stop for gelato and water, we went to the right of the main gardens, to see the botanical garden, or “The English Gardens.” Here, we happened upon a wonderful surprise: a small tranquil pond surrounded by an old cave like dwelling.

Exiting the English Gardens, we soon realized we had a daunting task ahead of us…

We could definitely see parallels between Caserta Palace and Gardens and Versailles and can see why the two palaces rivaled each other back in the day.

With its impressive grounds, it’s amazing that this treasure is just a short drive away from our home.

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exploring puglia

Must-See Local Spots in Puglia

Wine tasting in Must-See Local Spots in Puglia
With our new friends

The Puglia region of Italy lies in the southeast area of the country, forming the heel of the boot. Some people refer to this area as “The New Tuscany.” It’s absolutely enchanting, with rich culture and cuisine, so you can understand its reference to Tuscany; however, we honestly think it’s an untapped, unique region all on its own. The landscape, the fresh and local food, delicious wine, and beautiful architecture make this a must-see destination. It has hundreds of miles of beaches, gorgeous hilltop villages, and cities like Lecce boasting Baroque architecture. It produces a lot of Europe’s pasta, catches a majority of Italy’s fish, presses most of Italy’s olive oil, and produces more wine than any other Italian region. We were excited to visit, but the best part is that we got to see many local spots in Puglia, which most tourists miss!

Wine Tasting in Puglia

Rather than drive ourselves to try all of this regional wine, we hired a driver to show us around and help us make the most out of wine tasting in Puglia. To start, we drove to Bari, where Giovanni and Maria picked us up. Then, they took us to two wineries south of Lecce. The wineries provided us with traditional Puglia wine, cheese, crackers, and other snacks from the area.

Afterward, we had a reservation for the four of us at a restaurant in Lecce, which looked like someone’s living room. We felt right at home, as members of the family brought out their homemade specialties: ravioli, gnocchi, and eggplant. Everything that came out was undoubtedly delicious!

Visits to Lecce and Ostuni

Soon after, we walked around the city of Lecce. Lecce is commonly referred to as “The Florence of the South” because of its stunning Baroque buildings. The monuments and churches are built with a soft limestone that reflects gold and ivory in the sun.

On the drive back to Bari, Giovanni and Maria insisted that we see the town of Ostuni. We had actually never heard of it, but we were excited to see a town that the locals boast about.

Ostuni is known as the “White City” because its white houses and buildings reflect the sun so brightly that you can see the city from afar. The city is perched high on a hill, overlooking the Adriatic Sea.

We walked the narrow streets and browsed the chic stores. We passed fancy bars and restaurants, and listened to locals playing traditional folk music.

At the end of the day, Giovanni and Maria took us to their friend’s bed and breakfast for some drinks and coffee. The Italian hospitality that we experienced on this trip was amazing. Above all, I think that was the thing we’re going to take away from this day the most.

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Sassi of Matera

Sassi of Matera

Matera, Italy is one of the most unique and unusual cities we have ever seen! Here, you’ll find one of the oldest cities in the world, which is famous for a very unusual thing: Sassi. The sassi of Matera are stone houses that are carved out of caves and cliffs. They stand on either side of a deep ravine, and the people of Matera have inhabited them for centuries.

Until the 1950s, hundreds of families were living in the cave houses, crowded tightly and dealing with unbearable conditions. But then, they were forced out by law and moved to more modern buildings. The sassi remain a reminder of the past, with more cave houses being converted into restaurants, hotels, and comfortable houses. During our time in Matera, we were lucky to stay in one of the renovated cave hotels.

We spent our time wandering around the sassi districts, where narrow maze-like alleys lead every which way. Sometimes, the streets are even rooftops of people’s homes. It was amazing to see the historical, architectural, and natural heritage packed into the sassi of Matera.

While walking around we developed a feeling for this ancient city and discovered its structures, significance, and cultures.

Like many Italian cities, Matera boasts many churches and piazzas:

Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario

We also visited the Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario. This is a cave house filled with items to show how a typical cave house was set up. It was unbelievable how the people lived here…

Chickens lived under the bed. A horse stayed in the corner. There was a separate space for manure. Children slept wherever they could find a spot. And these are the conditions they lived in until the 1950s! During the audio description it was interesting to learn how they made do with these restricted living environments.

Belvedere di Murgia Timone

We then headed over to the Belvedere di Murgia Timone, which was on the opposite side of the 200 meter ravine. We walked about two kilometers to the top, and saw the most impressive views of Matera. This is definitely something not to miss while here!

Before visiting Matera, Italy we made sure to read about the history of this amazing city. We think it really helped to have a bit of historical background so we could make sense of the sites here. It is without a doubt, one of the most interesting and unique places we have ever seen!

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