Food & Wine

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!

Mangiamo!

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Skiing the Sunny Slopes in Chamonix, France

Skiing the Sunny Slopes in Chamonix, France

Skiing in Chamonix, France has been something we’ve wanted to do for a long time. Like Zermatt, it is consistently in the top 10 lists for ski resorts around the world. The town of Chamonix is a true mountain town, surrounded by the towering French Alps, and catering to winter sports enthusiasts. Lying in the shadow of Mont Blanc, the highest of the Alpine peaks, Chamonix is in the Rhone-Alpes region and is in a “corner” of Europe consisting of France, Italy, and Switzerland.

Strolling the Streets of Geneva

We flew into Geneva, which is about an hour away from Chamonix. We drove into the center and decided to explore this international city for a few hours. Almost half of Geneva is made up of people from 147 different countries linking together businesses from around the world. Walking down the streets felt like walking on Rodeo Drive or 5th Avenue; Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and the like, dominated the streets, as well as the prevalence of very high-priced watch brands such as Rolex and Cartier.

We strolled along Lake Geneva, taking in the sight of the Jet d’Eau Fountain, Geneva’s most famous landmark. It is one of the biggest fountains in the world and the largest in Europe. The spray of the fountain reaches about 460 feet and pumps out 132 gallons of water per second!

Skiing in Chamonix

After Geneva, we drove the hour to Chamonix and checked into our lodge. We spent three glorious days of skiing in great conditions; it had just snowed the night before we arrived, and the sun was shining clearly in the sky for us to see. Miles of groomed trails and un-groomed fresh powder laid before us and we were presented with a variety of descents for us to choose from.

Each day we made our way to our favorite lunch spot in the middle of the mountain. We would laze in the outdoor loungers, sip our vin chaud and beer, and chow down on some local grub. One day while we ate, a local band played music which could be heard up and down the mountain.

Delicious Food!

We ate at some fantastic restaurants while in Chamonix. If I could eat foie gras at every meal I would, and I can’t resist ordering it. Combine that with an undying love for cheese fondue and we were all set! Each dinner was better than the next and we left each meal satisfied, but wanting more – it was so good!

Skiing in Chamonix, France was such a wonderful experience. The people are very friendly, the scenery is beautiful, and the food is sensational! Next time we could see ourselves renting a cabin with friends (any takers?), skiing some fantastic runs during the day, drinking delicious French wine, and dipping bread into a never ending pot of cheese fondue. Sounds perfect!

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skis and igloos in switzerland

Staying in an Igloo in Switzerland

While visiting Venice, we met an Australian family who was traveling around Europe for two months. They told us how they had stayed overnight in an igloo in Zermatt, Switzerland. Right away we thought, “We have to do that!” Zermatt is a ski resort, where we had wanted to visit and hit the slopes. A bonus? They have an igloo village, called Iglu Dorf, 2,700 meters up the mountain. After reading all of the material and knowing what we’d be getting ourselves into, we scheduled our stay in the igloo for the first night of our time in Zermatt.

Introduction to our Igloo Accommodations

We arrived at the hotel’s meeting point (also halfway up the mountain) a little early so we could enjoy a nice lunch and soak in the bright sun.

Our guide came around 5pm and gave us instructions. We took the train one stop up, and we emerged into endless snowy possibilities! In the distance, we heard reggae music and saw smoke rising from a makeshift chimney.

We trekked our way to the igloo village, and we were amazed by the little area in front of us. A series of perfectly shaped domes laid before us with two rows of outdoor lounge chairs from. We couldn’t wait to sit there and gaze at the Matterhorn. Our excitement was hard to contain.

The staff greeted us with spiced mulled wine in mugs. We spent the next hour lounging in the warm sun (it was about 5 degrees Celsius, 41 degrees Fahrenheit), watching the sun slowly make its way behind the Matterhorn. Three other couples joined us: two were from Switzerland and one was from Italy (Naples, no less!). We all got along right away and knew that this was going to be a night to remember.

Around 7 we went inside the igloo, which maintains a temperature of around 0 degrees Celsius. After our eyes adjusted to the lowered light, we looked around the common areas. Beautiful ice sculptures and etched wall art seemed to be around every corner. Candles in small nooks illuminated the rooms. There were many areas for people to sit down, with the chairs and stools covered in sheepskins to keep warm.

The guide gave our small group a tour of the rooms, including other available rooms in case someone wanted to upgrade. We were very happy with our “romantic plus” room; the “plus” being that we had a private “toilet.” There were rooms without this, like the standard room (sleeps six and they will fill it with whoever signs up for it) and the romantic room (just like ours without a toilet), and rooms that had much more (romantic plus suite) with a private jacuzzi and sauna.

Fondue in an Igloo!

After we returned to the main area, the bar was officially open, and we drank the hot spiced wine and tea to keep us warm. Dinner was all you can eat cheese fondue… my favorite! I was obviously very happy with this!

The Swiss showed us how to properly eat the fondue. This included getting the “grandma” at the bottom of the bowl (the melted, hard piece of cheese you need to scrape out), and using your hands to take the bread from the bowl and put it on your plate, rather than using your fondue fork to poke a piece of bread from the main bowl. The Swiss also didn’t have other accompaniments to the fondue besides bread, which was totally fine!

Showshoeing Under the Stars

Snowshoeing was next on the agenda. The bright moonlight and stars illuminated the snow in front of us. The tranquility and brightness very much reminded me of my time in the desert in Israel, though about 30 degree Celsius colder!

The guide occasionally stopped and pointed out the constellations. Towards the end, she pulled out two bottles of liquor. One of them was grappa, and she even had plastic shot glasses. High on the mountain, snowshoes on our feet, we took shots of liquor. It tasted very much like slivovitz, which reminded me of many wonderful family Passovers, but with a little less burn. While we took our second shots, we looked over and saw the Swiss couple swigging it from the bottle. We did not join them, although we did think about it…

Later that night, we hopped into the outdoor jacuzzi with the Swiss couple and drank a few glasses of champagne while we talked about different travel experiences around the world.

In the jacuzzi next to us was the Neapolitan couple. They were drinking their free bottle of champagne because the husband went into the main igloo with only a bathing suit on and no shoes (a challenge presented to us at the beginning of the night).

At around 12am, we decided it was time for us to go to our igloo… a long day of traveling, high altitudes, and a bunch of alcohol made us a little light headed. Plus, we wanted to be ready for a full day of skiing the next day.

What it’s Like to Sleep in an Igloo

Back in our room, we quickly became aware of how cold the room was. But we soon felt pretty toasty in our sleeping bags, which were meant to withstand temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius. We zipped them up so just our faces were showing and went right to sleep. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the greatest night of sleep on the hard surface.

Soon, it was 7:45 and the guide came into our room with hot tea to wake us up. We had 20 minutes to meet outside, so we fumbled through our layers of clothing and shoes, some of which we had put at the bottom of the bag to keep warm. Quickly, we packed up our backpacks and got ready for the day!

Breakfast was at the hotel down the mountain, and to our surprise we were getting there via individual sleds! Sledding down the same mountain that people would soon SKI down was fantastic! It definitely woke us up a bit!

We arrived at the hotel and stepped into the warm heat that we hadn’t felt in quite some time. A large array of breakfast items lay before us, and we dove right in. We chatted with our new friends while enjoying some of Switzerland’s specialties. It all went by so fast and before we knew it, it was time to go. The train took us down the mountain to Zermatt where we were to start the next part of our vacation.

Summing up our Stay in an Igloo

Overall, we had an amazing, once in a lifetime experience, staying in an igloo village!

Would we do it again? Probably not. Not because we didn’t enjoy it, but we feel it’s something that’s only meant to be done once. The sheer novelty of Iglu-Dorf, friendly couples from around the world, the food, and different activities made this an unforgettable experience for us.

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10 Day Trip to Spain: Toledo

10 Day Trip to Spain: Toledo

The Cathedral

As part of our 10 day trip to Spain with my husband’s parents, we stopped in Toledo. We’d just finished a fabulous couple of days in Cordoba and Seville, and we were excited to see some of the best sites in Toledo. Here, we stayed in the Hotel Pintor el Greco – it was a beautiful, comfortable stay! 

Toledo is so different from all of the other Spanish cities that we visited. For instance, it is a medieval city surrounded by walls and perched high above the rest of the area. This is very characteristic of many Italian cities, too. The stone buildings, narrow streets, car-free roads, and quaint shops, made Toledo a pleasure to stroll around. Plus, the cathedral dominates the skyline, and the plaza is full of outdoor cafes that are perfect for people watching.

Toledo’s Art Scene

We started by visiting the El Greco museum, which is set in an old, restored house. It showcases pieces of art by the painter as well as by some of his followers. The house gave us an idea into what an old Spanish style property would have looked like. The descriptions of El Greco and his paintings gave us insight into him and his techniques as a painter.

We also visited the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca. It was built in the 13th century, converted to a Christian church in the 15th century, and is now owned by the Catholic church. Except for some Moorish style arches and columns, the inside is pretty empty, and there are virtually no signs that it used to be a synagogue.

Spanish Food at its Best

We had dinner at a fantastic restaurant called La Orza. This cozy setting felt as if you were sitting in someone’s living room, surrounded by the stone and wood walls. And if you enjoy foie gras, this restaurant will not disappoint you! It was undoubtedly out of this world! A lovely local Spanish wine paired with regional cuisine made this meal and evening a memorable experience for all of us.

Our 10 Day Trip to Spain is Almost Over!

Overall, I think we made wonderful memories seeing the sites in Toledo.

Madrid, Spain is next on the list! We’re sad to think of this vacation coming to an end, but we’re excited to see what Madrid has in store!

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oktoberfest in munich

Oktoberfest in Munich

One of the things on our bucket list when we moved to Italy was going to Oktoberfest in Munich. Hotels book up fast for this event, so while we were in Munich last winter, we booked our hotel and bought our lederhosen and dirndl.

The General Experience of Oktoberfest in Munich

Oktoberfest was first held in 1810, to celebrate the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Now, Oktoberfest is a 16-day beer festival, drawing people from around the world. Of course, the Germans here have probably been going since they were three years old.

Oktoberfest is known as the world’s biggest fair, and believe it or not, it has something for everyone. The grounds are huge! You’ll find roller coasters, ferris wheels, carnival games, and of course the beer “tents.” Some of these tents can hold up to 10,000 people, and each tent has its own character and feel to it.

About two-thirds of the people dressed up in the traditional lederhosen and dirndl outfits. Almost one-third were in regular clothes, and the rest were in other outfits like kilts. People of all ages were wearing the traditional Bavarian attire and we think we fit in perfectly.

Beer Tent after Beer Tent

After walking around for a while and looking at the scene around us we went into our first tent, Paulaner. We were able to find seats, though even on a Thursday at 1pm it was pretty crowded. We ordered two beers in the only size that is possible at Oktoberfest in Munich: a liter stein. Next to us were three Munich residents who were taking off of work to enjoy a day at the festival.

After a liter of beer each, we decided to move on to another tent, Augustiner. By this time it was around 3pm and it was a little harder to find seats. We squeezed in between some very drunk Germans and some friendly Italians.

We didn’t stay here long, sharing only a liter of beer, and we only have one picture from inside the tent. The drunk guy on the right didn’t speak very good English, and the guy on the left is laughing because he told him many times that they don’t speak English. Jon and I were trying our best to translate back and forth. 

We moved on to the Hofbrau tent and once we found seats, decided to stay there for the rest of the time. This tent is notoriously known as the tourist tent, though Germans still come because they like the atmosphere and meeting people from around the world.

Things got a little rowdy here! By the end of the night, everyone was standing on the benches and singing the traditional drinking songs. I also remember “Que sera, sera” was playing in the background. Between the two of us, we had five liters of beer, and after that things got a little fuzzy. But from what we remember we had a good time.

I mean, how could we not?

Enjoying the Rest of the Festivities

We’re not sure when we left or how we got back to the hotel, but we do remember stopping to play a carnival game involving bb guns. It’s always a great idea to have these shooting games right outside of the tents at night, don’t you think?

We went to the Oktoberfest grounds the next day, but didn’t drink. Instead, we strolled around, played a few games, and bought some souvenirs to take home. Overall, we were really impressed with the organization and efficiency of the entire event! We don’t think a beer festival of this magnitude could work in other countries. Oktoberfest in Munich is something we will cherish and never forget!

We will always remember… what we remember.

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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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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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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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belgium

4 Great Places to Go in Belgium

When we visited Belgium, there were five things we were very excited about: beer, waffles, mussels, chocolate, and fries. After all, what better way to experience a different culture than to dive right into the food? So that’s exactly what we did! The cool part was that we indulged in all of it from major cultural hotspots in the country. Overall, I think we visited some of the best places to go in Belgium!

1. Brussels: There’s More than One Way to Make a Waffle

Jon loved the strong Belgian beers, and I was extremely happy that every meal consisted of a pot of mussels. Waffle stands were around every corner! Although there were a number of ways to spruce up a Belgian waffle (chocolate, Nutella, whipped cream, strawberries, bananas, kiwi, or all of the above combined), we decided that we thoroughly enjoyed the plain version, which had some caramelized sugar on it, providing a welcomed light crunchiness.

We spent Friday walking around the main area of Brussels. Here, we saw the Grand Place, a beautiful central market square where you’ll find most people admiring the extraordinary buildings or relaxing on a terrace with a beer or waffle. We also saw “Manneken Pis,” a 1618 bronze sculpture of a naked little boy urinating into a fountain.

2. Old-World Charm in Bruges

On Saturday we took the train to Bruges, a very popular destination that looks and feels like it’s suspended in the medieval time period. Horse drawn carriages, whitewashed cottages, and smooth canals speckle the city, as well as small restaurants and shops to lure tourists in.

We climbed 366 steps of the belfry, a bell tower in the historical center, and had gorgeous views of Bruges. We also walked through the begijnhof, which are small cottages established in the 13th century as homes for a Catholic order of single and widowed women. Now they are homes to Benedictine nuns.

3. Views in Ghent

From Bruges, we took the train to Ghent and enjoyed the old time buildings. We also climbed the belfry in Ghent and once again were able to see beautiful views of the city and of the cathedral. On a stroll, we stopped at the Waffle Factory where the first waffles were made! Yes, we enjoyed a couple of our own.

We returned to Brussels for dinner and of course had some mussels and fries. Later on, we went to a bar where people singing along to typical American party songs.

After midnight it got a little… weird. People started to dance on the tables, including a guy wearing bunny ears and a pink inner tube. Naturally, Jon and I had to join in and dance to Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” since we were the only ones still on the ground. Good times.

At the bar… on the table…

4. History and Culture in Antwerp

Antwerp was on our agenda for Sunday. The weather was poor, but we spent the time walking around the city. We checked out the cathedral, the water, and the old buildings in the historic center. We had to catch our plane, so after a quick fry stop (where I was yelled at by the mean Dutch fry lady for spilling ketchup on the counter.. she made me cry!) and a train ride, and we were back in Brussels.

While we enjoyed our time in Belgium, it’s the first time we don’t have a strong urge to return. Despite this, the country provided us with fun experiences, delicious food, and an insight to another culture that we appreciated and will always remember!

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exploring orvieto

Exploring Culture and Craftsmanship in Orvieto

Orvieto, Italy, is a medieval city, surrounded by stone walls. It sits high above the countryside, on a big chunk of volcanic rock known as “tuff.” The city rises above the practically vertical faces of tuff cliffs, giving you breathtaking views of the Umbrian region. Sigh… it was so beautiful. As usual, we loved our experience exploring this Italian city.

Shopping in Orvieto

We began exploring Orvieto by strolling down the streets of Via del Duomo and Corso Cavour. We hopped into a shop where a local craftsman specializes in olive wood.

The pieces were beautiful! Some were made for decoration, while others were made for use around the house. We bought two fish trivets and a small cutting board. We also stopped in a wine shop and bought half a case of delicious Umbrian wine.

Dining in Orvieto

We had lunch in a spectacular restaurant. As we walked in, we said to each other, “No more wine!”

But…

As soon as we sat down, we couldn’t pass up more good Umbrian wine, so we ordered a bottle.

We had the typical mixed appetizer, where many plates continuously came out, consisting of different meats, cheeses, fig spreads, white bean salad, and different kinds of bruschetta. A general pasta dish with a boar tomato sauce came out for our meal. Yum!

After lunch, we made our way to the Duomo. We heard that the Duomo was something we needed to see, but we were so surprised at the architectural masterpiece! We had just been strolling down these medieval streets and all of a sudden we were face-to-face with the astounding facade of this building.

For such a small town, the Duomo was massive. It was a mass of mosaics, stained glass, and sculptures. The side of the Duomo is made of white and black horizontal stripes, which very much reminded us of the style of the Duomo in Florence. We found out later that Arnolfo di Cambio designed it. He was the architect of the cathedral in Florence, so there you go!

A Checklist for a Future Visit…

Exploring Orvieto could have taken days and days. There are so many other things that we wanted to do, but ran out of time. In no particular order, these include the underground city of Orvieto, the archeological museum, St. Patrick’s well (Pozzo di S. Patrizio), and whatever else we discover along the way.

During our time here, we bought several bottles of wine to take back with us, along with some cooking supplies, and wood trivets.

Orvieto is one of the most unforgettable and striking towns I’ve seen. Not only does it sit atop a mountain and boast memorable views of the Umbrian countryside, but its interior has amazing charm and an impressive Duomo! I would love to return here and really experience everything it has to offer!

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views of tuscany

Wine Tasting in Tuscany

We had to get back to Tuscany! We booked a room, wine tasting, and cooking class all at Torciano Winery in San Gimignano. In September, we visited this winery only for a wine tasting, and we loved the atmosphere, wines, and food. It is family-owned, and they genuinely care about their business, image, and wine. The grounds of the winery are picture-perfect, and the small cottage like accommodations we had were fantastic.

Sipping Wine and Cooking Italian Favorites

When we arrived on Friday, the owner welcomed us with big glasses of wine, a small tour of our accommodations, and a peak at where we’d take our class, have dinner and taste wine.

About an hour later, we met the owner and his cousin in the kitchen. Another glass of wine in hand, we learned to make dishes such as ragu, saffron risotto, lasagna, steak with green peppercorns and sauce, ribolitto (a typical Tuscan dish made with vegetables and bread), and crepes. All of these dishes were then brought out for us to eat while we tried eight more wines.

Afterward, we thought we were going to burst from all of the food! This was undoubtedly an amazing experience that we’ll remember and treasure forever.

Exploring Tuscan Towns (and Wineries) at our Leisure

The next day, we woke up with no set plans for the rest of the weekend. Since we had been to the town of San Gimignano before, we drove to a different town in Tuscany: Volterra. This is about 30 minutes away. We made frequent stops to take pictures of the beautiful landscape.

On the drive back to Torciano, we stopped at two wineries. The first winery overlooked endless valleys and San Gimignano. They were very hospitable and welcomed us without hesitation when we showed up at their door. They, too, have nice grounds and accommodations with an outdoor pool. We felt like we couldn’t wait to come back (and later, we did!).

After we came back from exploring, we bought a bottle of wine from Torciano, enjoyed the wonderful weather, and played a game of Bocci ball. That night we went to dinner in San Gimignano. We walked the empty streets and picked a random restaurant that looked good… and it was! You can’t go wrong in these beautiful towns of Tuscany.

 

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markets in Naples

What to Know about Markets in Naples

Shopping the markets of Naples is exciting and chaotic, and its an experience you can’t miss! There are about 60 permanent markets in the area, and each one is unique and special in its own way. There’s a lot to know about the markets in Naples; but, we found that once we immersed ourselves in this unique part of Neapolitan culture, we really enjoyed the experience.

You can shop at markets for fruits, vegetables, fish, seafood, cheese, and meat. Plus, you can explore markets for flowers, antiques, clothing, bags, shoes, household goods, books, and electronics. Finally, there are seasonal Christmas markets, offering nativity scene paraphernalia and all kinds of Christmas goodies. And a lot of them combine all of the above! You can find anything from worthless trinkets to priceless antiques and works of art.

Understanding the Markets

Many of the markets are named for their location. For example, the market in Pozzuoli is called — wait for it — the “Pozzuoli Fish and Produce Market.” Similarly, others are named for their products, like “Shoe Alley” or “Christmas Alley.” “Thieves Alley” got its nickname because it seems to sell many items, like electronics, that have fallen off of the back of a truck.

There are high-end markets and low-end markets, markets that are known for having the best fish, and markets known for having a high amount of gypsies asking for money.

Too fully understand them, we found it best to just go and see the markets for ourselves.

Shopping Shoe Alley in the summer

Our Favorite Markets in Naples

We’ve been to quite a few of these markets, fighting our way through the narrow roads and overflowing stalls, and elbowing our way to the front along with local Neapolitans. The markets can definitely be a hit or miss. We especially like going to a market for the fresh produce, fish, and seafood to make for dinner. But we’ll hit the other markets when we’re in the mood to browse or when a friend might be going.

We snapped some photos of some popular markets.

The markets are without a doubt an important part of life in Naples and keep this city thriving. They are a place to find great deals, fresh food, and test your bargaining skills (although we need some practice in this department).

The markets are the charm and culture of Naples and they create a captivating experience!

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visiting munich

A Quick Visit to Munich

We went from the land of beater Fiats, Alfa Romeos, and scooters, to the land of BMWs, Mercedeses, and Audis. From the land of pasta, pizza, and wine, to the land of meat, potatoes, and beer. Food-wise, I don’t think I would survive in Munich for very long, but Jon was in heaven! I think I had more meat during our quick visit to Munich than I’ve had during several months in Italy!

Munich is constantly on the top ten most livable cities lists, and we could see why. It was clean, walkable, bikable, safe, affordable, and easily commutable. The list goes on and on.

After we arrived at our hotel, we ate dinner at a fondue restaurant. We cooked the meat, consisting of turkey, chicken, veal, and beef, in a pot of oil. Then, we dipped them in the sauces that they provided. Our dessert was real German chocolate melted into gooey hot goodness, which came with fruits and biscuits that we dipped in.

Soaking in Bavarian Culture

During the day, we went to the Englischer Garten (English Garden), which is a very large public park (bigger than Central Park). The name of it refers to the landscape gardening which was very popular in the 18th century.

With limited time in the park, we saw only a few sites and managed to get in a nice stroll. The city of Munich built The Japanese Teahouse to celebrate the 1972 Olympics. In the distance, we saw the Monopteros, which is a small, round, Greek style temple built in 1832. We also stumbled upon a waterfall that was created in 1815.

We passed by the Munich Residenz, which is the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs. It is used today for visitors to see its architecture, room decorations, and displays of the royal collections.

In the center of Munich is the Marienplatz, which has been the main central square in Munich since 1158. The New Town Hall is a site to see in the square, and you really can’t miss it. The building is gothic and almost looks like it was built from wax drippings from a candle.

On the tower is the Glockenspiel. Everyday, at certain times, it chimes and re-enacts two stories from the 16th century using 32 life sized figures and 43 bells. The top half shows a joust in honor of the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V (founder of the Hofbräuhaus) to Renata of Lorraine, with the Bavarian knight winning of course. The bottom half shows the Schäfflerstanz (the coopers’ dance), a dance that symbolizes perseverance and loyalty to authority through difficult times.

Since we had planned on coming back to Munich for Oktoberfest we bought traditional German outfits for ourselves. Jon has his lederhosen and I have my dirndl.

Prost!

No trip to Munich would be complete without drinking in their famous beerhalls. The first one we went to was Augustiner Keller. Inside, it showcased a timber theme with big pine tables and benches, and animals (I hope fake, but probably not) as ornaments. The cellar glowed with warmth and the whole place had a very pleasant and relaxing feel to it.

The other beer hall we went to was the famous Hofbräuhaus. This hall is massive, with each room bigger than the next. Being that it was a midweek night in the winter we found ourselves seats pretty quickly and ordered beers from a “beer wench” passing by.

Beer in this house means you will get a liter of beer… a liter! I had to hold the mug with two hands! Traditional Bavarian music echoed through the hall while Jon and I looked around in amazement.

Future Plans in Munich

We really didn’t have that much time here. After celebrating Oktoberfest in the fall, we plan to set aside another day or two to see:

                  – Dachau Concentration Camp
                  – Olympia Park
                  – Neuschwanstein Castle
                  – BMW museum

We’re looking forward to our next trip to Munich! The following are some other pictures from our time in Munich.

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The Most Beautiful Part of Sicily: Taormina and Castelmola

For our last weekend on the island, we stayed in what everyone told us was the most beautiful part of Sicily: Taormina and Castelmola. We’re so glad we did! At one point, we could look out to the Ionian Sea, snow-capped Mt. Etna, rolling mountains, and old towns built into steep mountains. The whole scene was reminiscent of Jurassic Park!

Hotels and Hot Spots

Since we were there in the off-season we were able to stay at a very luxurious hotel! The rooms were decorated with Arabic patterns, and colors and the view from our windows looked out to the endless sea and Mt. Etna.

We went to the Teatro Greco (Greek Theater), which is the site to see while in Taormina. It was built in 7th century B.C. and is the second largest in Sicily (with Siracusa’s being first). It is the most celebrated ruins in Sicily, not only because it is so well preserved, but because of the remarkable scene it looks out to.

Etna Wine Tour

We designated Saturday as our wine tasting day. We hired Gaetano from a tour company to drive us to three different Etna wineries. While we could have done this ourselves, we wanted to enjoy ourselves completely without worrying about driving. These wineries had some amazing Sicilian wine grown with the soil from the volcanic site.

Wine tasting is just a little different here than in the States.

First, instead of standing at a bar, you sit down at a table while someone pours you tastings. Second, the tastings are not a little sip each. They fill your glass halfway! Third, many places will leave the bottles on the table and tell you to take as much as you want. All of this was true when we went wine tasting in Tuscany, too.

So needless to say, we had a very good time with the wine (maybe too much??), although the following pictures were taken before we had even one sip of wine.

Unusual Things to See in Castelmola

Warning: the following pictures are not suitable for work!

The next day, we went to a town called Castelmola. Castelmola is perched way above the area below, and consists of narrow, winding roads to get to the top. It has an old-world charm to it with panoramic views of Taormina, the sea, and Mt. Etna.

One of the biggest and most unusual places to see in this town is Bar Turrisi. Tourists have named this bar “Dicks Bar,” “Fertility Bar,” or “The Penis Bar.” The inside of the bar is decorated with… hmm, how do I say this? A lot of penises!

They are present in different shapes, lengths, and materials like wood, ceramics, terracotta, worked iron, and pasta. There were penises everywhere… even the faucet in the bathroom was a long and curved penis with the knobs representing… well you get where I’m going with it.

The reason behind this was that the penis is not a vulgar symbol, but instead represents fertility, freedom, fortune, life, and beauty. The bar has been passed down from three generations and the owners also used the penis to symbolize the happiness of their era.

Everyone reading this knows that we behaved like the mature 31 year olds that we are.

Afterwards, we took a walk and climbed up to the Norman Castle where again spectacular views awaited us.

This was a fantastic weekend in Taormina and Castelmola, Sicily!

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day trip to sorrento

The Hidden Gem that’s Worth the Visit

If you visit Sorrento, you might understand why I consider it the gateway to the Amalfi Coast. While Sorrento isn’t technically part of the Amalfi Coast, driving to it gives you your first taste of the stunning beauty in the area. Take in the scenery, enjoy the tasty food and limoncello, and you’ll easily decide that Sorrento is worth the visit.

Getting to Sorrento

Our first time going to Sorrento was with my parents. My mom was hesitant about going on the twisty winding roads of the Amalfi Coast, but quickly lost any feeling of nausea when she saw the beautiful sights below her.

We found Sorrento to be a much easier drive to get to than the other towns. Parking was easy and because we always went in the off season it wasn’t very crowded at all.

The main street was lined with high-end shops, hotels, and cute restaurants. We walked down a narrow street with touristy shops, filled with art, ceramics, and other Italian souvenirs. Of course we gobbled it up! We walked towards the water and took in the scenery. Sorrento is a charming town and we can see why so many people flock to it.

Learning about Lemons in Sorrento

Sorrento has a ton of limoncello shops that you can go into and try the merchandise. I was surprised to learn that there are other “cello” flavors besides lemon. Meloncello is a very popular one in the area and has a sweeter undertone than the lemon.

But don’t get me wrong, everything here is lemon-centered. The peel of the Sorrento lemon is very rich in essential oils which makes it very fragrant. The lemon juice is high in mineral salts which give it detoxifying and antioxidant properties. Not only are Sorrento lemons used in a ton of cooking dishes, they are used in non-food products as well. They also sell lemon perfume, soaps, lotion, and anything else that would benefit from its beautiful fragrance.

The Unique Charm of Sorrento

Sorrento is filled with beauty, charm, and of course LEMONS! There’s really no other place like it. Whether you travel directly to Sorrento, or visit the town as part of your trip to the Amalfi Coast, you will easily see why it’s worth a visit.

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