Italy, oh Italy.
First stop was Rome. It’s quite difficult to find a place to stay there when you’re on a budget! All the websites we did research on told us to stay in the historical center as that is where all the main sights are, but there were literally NONE without paying some serious $$$$! Once we realized staying in that area wasn’t an option, our next task was to research the metro system and stay near a stop. We hopped on Hotels.com through Ebates (use our link to sign up and make a purchase so we get credit!) and ended up finding one right near the Termini station. The location was great because the bus from the airport (which was only about $6/person and the taxis were between $40-$80!) dropped us off there as well as it made a good hub to get around the city. Not to mention, as soon as we got off the bus we noticed that the train station had a central market where we were able to get some warm crispy supli al telefono (which are different variations of fried rice balls with melty cheese inside)!
We bought the 48 hour metro pass thinking we could use it to get all around, but realized that the only bad thing about doing so was that the metro doesn’t really go through historical center! We figured out that it would have been smarter to buy a few one way tickets for the metro when necessary. So if you’re headed to Rome, now you know! The metro stops quite a few (very cobblestoney!) blocks from the famous sites like Trevi Fountain, The Pantheon and the Spanish Steps, but hey, at least it can drop you off right in front of Coloseum! We soaked in all the beautiful architecture, buildings and monuments made hundreds of years ago. We even popped over to the Vatican, cause hey… why not?! Each sight was packed with more and more people. We knew it would be filled with tourists, but it never ceases to amaze us how tiring it can get navigating through crowds of people and dodging them as they look up instead of where they’re going! The small cobblestone streets made us ache with lust for its beauty and also quite literally! By the end of our time there our feet and ankles were in so much pain!
The Food In Rome:
Our first meal in Italy had to be pasta. We knew it was going to be touristy but jeez! Each restaurant was more touristy than the one before. We held out and eventually found a place near the Pantheon called Osteria Spaghetti where for 13 euro/person you get a tomato bruschetta, a Roman style pasta and drink. Not too bad! I got Penne Arrabiata (Spicy! Literally translates to “Angry”) and Dean got Buccatini Amaticiana, another Roman specialty, (okay, Dean needs to point out that Amatrice is not in Rome but in Lazio, the “state” where Rome is…) Success! Both dishes were classically delicious. The red sauce in Italy… to die for! The tomatoes here are perfection. Bright red, ripe, fragrant and honestly some of the most beautiful tomatoes we have ever laid our eyes on!
We got taken advantage of a few times in way of food in Rome, however. A lot of places cater to tourists (we like to consider ourselves “travelers” not tourists…) and feature a price fix menu. It doesn’t seem like a bad deal but the food is just so subpar. We say skip it and hold out for the authentic stuff versus the “good deal”.
We wanted to try the famous Roman style pizza and found a great place serving it by the slice called Pizza Florida. A small shop with just enough room for a counter full of pizza with different toppings and a few stools to sit on. We got a margarita slice with fresh buffalo mozzarella and a slice with fresh porchini mushrooms and potato, mmm! While we highly recommend this place because it was oh, so delicious, it seems like this style of pizza is very common here. Each variety is cooked in a big square pan (almost like a cookie sheet) and it cut with special scissors to order and then weighed to determine the price. Whichever shop you pop into, you’ll be impressed!
Perhaps the best meal we had in Rome was when went to find the “Best Cacio e Pepe”. After literally hours of research to make sure we were finding the most authentic and best place, we found Roma Sparita. After we made our decision, we found out that it was also where Anthony Bordain went when he came to Rome. Clearly we made a good choice! Rome is the birthplace of Cacio e Pepe which is pasta tossed in its own starchy water with LOTS of Pecorino Romana cheese and fresh cracked black pepper stirred in. The mixture of the starchy pasta water with the Pecorino creates an extra creamy sauce and this restaurant served it in a crispy Parmesan shell which took it to a whole new level. I’m drooling just thinking about it! Dean loves to make it it at home, so trying it in its birthplace after having it so many times in our kitchen in Boulder was a great way to compare and contrast! While there were a few tourists there (probably because of Anthony Bordian) it definitely felt like a local spot. Tucked away in a corner down an alley…our favorite kind of restaurant. Our waiter was fun and playful and even helped us learn some Italian! It made for such a fun night.
After a few days in Rome exploring we had booked a short and picturesque high speed train ride to Naples. It took about an hour and was a great way to get from one city to the next. The train left from Termini station, so it was only a few minutes walk from our hotel. Train travel is just so much easier than air. No long lines, no security and no smushed seats! Just walk to the station and that’s it! We got into Naples Central station and the hotel we settled on was only 1 metro stop away (€1.10 for a 90 minute ticket). Sadly we we have to say, if you see “Hotel Schilizzi” come up, don’t book it! While we enjoyed the location, the hotel itself was not our favorite. The Europeans star standard for hotels is much different than what we’re used to. No hot water, windows that didn’t close and paper thin walls. The only good thing was it’s location. The area was great, it was close to the University, a metro stop whose line went all over the city, so many local restaurants and more.
Naples gets such a bad rep. All you hear people say is how dirty of a city, dangerous or it had nothing to do. We couldn’t have felt more different! Maybe it’s because we’re partial to less touristy places with more of the local vibe, but Naples just screamed classic Italian to us. Not to mention the AMAZING pizza. Lots of small alleys to wander around and take pictures of. It seemed every street we turned down was another photo opportunity with clothes lines stringing across from building to building with clothes of every color hanging down, kids playing in the streets and chairs and tables from pizzerias spilling out waiting to welcome you. Naples is exactly the kind of place when when we pictured what Italy would look like.
Other fun things included a funicular to take you up to the top of the city and a great “Spanish” area along Toledo street that is filled with shopping, food and sites to see! Naples even has a few castles! Two on the water and one on top of the town. It was fun to stroll by and take in their beauty. You can also see mount Vesuvius just across the water. We managed to find a perfect spot to watch the sunset and see the Gulf of Naples and Vesuvius light up in rainbow colors on our last night there!
The Food in Naples:
Being that we were in the land of pizza, we found ourselves indulging for every meal during the 2 days we were here. Our all time favorite restaurant in Boulder was Pizzeria Locale who was known for their Napoli style pizza. We loved going there for happy hours date nights, birthdays and even celebrated there when we got engaged! Clearly, the pizza in Naples had big shoes to fill. We found a place around the corner thanks to our first choice being closed due to a “pizza championship” and a friendly local showing us to a place around the corner called Pizzeria La Campanella. Pizza heaven! A tiny little place where you can see the pizzas being made and placed in the wood fired oven. So small, in fact, that the cheese was still bubbling as it arrived at the table, fresh out of the oven. We loved it so much we went twice while we were here! The first time, we got our classics, Margarita for me, the classic tomato base with fresh mozzarella and basil, and Diavola for Dean, similar to the margarita but with the addition of spicy Italian meat. We ate every last bite and even stuffed in some delicious dessert of Rhum Baba, a pannatone type sweet cake soaked in rum and a classic Italian pudding with chcoclate, caramel and peanuts. Needless to say we were stuffed after, but still had room for shots of espresso served in shot glasses lined with rock sugar! The second time there we wanted to try something totally different. When we saw that they had a section of the menu that featured their original creations, we knew we had to give them a shot. Dean chose the Mario Tortora – a ricotta cheese base topped with creamy potato, smoked provolone, pork loin sausage and basil. I got the Leopoldo – ricotta base with mozzarella and crumbled Tarollo, a typical Italian cookie/cracker with almonds. Sounds weird, but it was so good!
We realized very quickly that Naples was also known for a different style of pizza… fried! Essentially a flash fried calzone which makes the ricotta and mozzarella inside super melty while the dough is crispy and doughy. Oh, so amazing! We’re surprised this isn’t a bigger thing in the states!
Our last meal in Naples was at at SoloPizza, a restaurant that has multiple restaurants in Naples and Milan. I had to get another Margherita, (my favorite!) the freshest tomatoes, Buffalo Mozzarella and fresh basil all cooked in seconds to a crisp, chewy perfection! When Dean saw that they had one of the Boulder Pizzeria Locale favorites, The Maize, he had to get it. A pizza with fresh corn, prosciutto, basil and fresh ricotta…all amazing!
So basically pizza, pizza, pizza, pizza in Naples! But don’t worry! We did find time for some deep fried zucchini flowers, famous arancini, and gelato!
Our final days in Southern Italy were spent driving from Naples to Salerno. We made sure to pick the “scenic route” to make sure we could drive along the water. We were nervous at first, since the road out of Naples was EXTREMELY bumpy and while it looks like it’s next to the water on the map, you can’t see it at all! We were worried we’d just gotten ourselves into a less enjoyable route instead of the more enjoyable one! Luckily, it all changed and we found ourselves driving along the coast and our frowns quickly turned upside down! The drive was everything we heard it would be. Amazing, beautiful, scenic, breathtaking, scary, and overall incredible. Tiny roads on the side of cliffs, overlooking the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea. The gorgeous blue water was filled with sailboats and yachts, the beaches were packed with chairs and the towns were built into the mountain. A sight everyone must see at least once in their lifetime. We probably pulled over about 15 times to take it all in and take photos!
Can we just take a minute to say that the Italian drivers are insane? Sorry, but since we’ve been mostly around the world at this point and have either driven ourselves or been driven by others in now 32 countries, we feel like we can say that with confidence! We’re pretty sure a stop sign is just a suggestion, meaning kinda slow down a bit on your way to just cutting in front of someone. A yield sign seems to mean nothing, and the tailgating is INSANE! The roads didn’t help, being barely narrow enough for 2 small cars. The one time we could have used a smaller car the rental company gave us a large (small by US standards, but in Europe is gigantic) SUV. The tiny roads definitely cost us! We hit someone’s side view mirror and it ended up costing us €200! The entire situation could have gone much worse if it weren’t for Google Translate though!
We opted to stay at a Novotel in Salerno as we desperately needed the guaranteed comfort and style of a branded hotel after the less than adequate hotels of Rome and Naples. Unfortunately, our bad luck continued as the A/C was broken and it was 95 degrees in our room! To make a long story short, after failing to find a room that actually had cold air blowing, we decided to check out early start our journey up north a day ahead of schedule. We ended up in a small town called Arezzo. A long day of driving and frustration ended with one of the most amazing meals either of us have ever had, and the fact that it was in a tiny town that we hadn’t planned on seeing made it that much better. Pasta with fresh shaved truffles, more pasta with wild boar, mixed pork plates and delicious tiramisu and biscotti with vin santo. It’s those kind of experiences that make us love travel so much!
We loved Central/Southern Italy! It was a great intro to Italy and was everything we have ever thought it would be. Pizza, Pasta, monuments, classic coastlines, limoncello and picture perfect Italian cities to get us ready for seeing more of the countryside. Next, we head up north! Florence, Bologna and a few small towns in between before heading to Milan!
**We are using Ebates and Hotels.com to book everything we do! We get cash back from Ebates and earn free nights on Hotels.com so you get rewarded for doing what you would normally do anyway! On Hotels.com, they provide excellent service and will match hotel prices if you find something cheaper elsewhere. If you stay 10 nights, you get 1 free and if you become a gold member (30 stays in 1 year) you get early access to deals and special rates. Also 24/7 service. On Ebates, while the percentage cash back varies depending on the store, you legitimately get cash back on almost every store you would shop online for anyway and get a check every quarter with your savings. They also have special coupon codes to get discounts on the site that you can’t get otherwise. We’ve gotten over $600 cash back! That’s nothing to sneeze at! We get credit if you use our links (hyperlinked in the names) and would love if you could help us out! But really, you’re helping yourself too!!**