Italy Day 6

Our last day in Italy – how bittersweet! We decided to take advantage of the sunshine and… hike! (no, no beach). There are a few trails that connect Minori to Amalfi, if you are willing to climb a mountain. We started the morning by taking a ferry from Minori to Amalfi, and made our way through the main street. I bought a hiking guide that provides landmarks to look for instead of actual maps (actually helpful!) and so once we made it to the traffic light on the main drag, we were off.

View of Amalfi after hiking up about halfway

We climbed (according to my phone), more than 120 flights of stairs, weaving our way to Minuta, a small town nestled in the Italian mountains. From Minuta, we walked to Ravello, this time taking the main road as it was a bit more direct and would take about half the amount of time as continuing through the mountain.

I had one goal in Ravello (okay two goals!): buy myself a pair of custom made Italian sandals and eat at Villa Maria because their garden looked spectacular after passing it on our first day here. We went to the sandal shop and I picked out the sandal style and the colors. And then the woman made them, customizing them to my feet and ensuring that they were comfortable. I’ve never had a pair of sandals, or any shoes for that matter, that have not gone through a break in period. They fit like gloves. Perfect. Even better? They were only 60 euros.

Lunchtime view

Gleeful with my new purchase, we headed off to Villa Maria for lunch. The views were amazing. I wasn’t even expecting that! The food was also spectacular. James had pizza and I had smoked mozzarella with garden vegetables. It was positively delightful. We rested our aching feet and took in the views.  Shortly before we left, a couple we met at the previous nights dinner sat down next to us. Funny how the world really is “so small.”

We finished our hike by descending the rest of the way to Minori. If you ever want a challenge, walk down 80 flights of stairs. Our legs were shaking by the bottom, but it didn’t stop us from grabbing our final cups of gelato at Sal Del Riso. (For 2 euros, you can get two flavors of delectable gelato). I had pistachio and crema and James had stracciatella and strawberry. The pistachio tasted as though I had just deshelled some and popped them into my mouth. Amazing.

With the sun still out, we changed into our bathing suits and spent a final afternoon at the pool before packing (always more difficult than I anticipate). We had dinner reservations at Ristorante Eolo in Amalfi that evening – somewhere I was very excited to try. The restaurant is situated in the cliffs, overlooking the town and ocean. The views were stunning – especially as the sun set.

This might be the most beautiful place on earth.

Our next door tablemates were slightly ridiculous (a mom and daughter celebrating a birthday and arguing for a good portion of the evening) but once we started eating it was easy to forget that they were there. For my first course I had octopus and veal tongue served with lemon mashed potatoes and a red sauce. For my pasta course, the most amazing risotto with a sundried tomato powder and for my meat course, fresh grilled fish, served with grilled vegetables and a lemon. James had lobster for his first course, a beautiful seaweed pasta with rabbit and oysters for his pasta course and for his meat, the sucking pig. Everything was wonderfully delicious.


For our last adventures, we had to figure out how to use the SITA bus system to get back to Minori (because calling Ambrosio just wasn’t going to happen again). We luckily did, and I’m happy to share this ride back cost us less than 3 euros together.

Italy Day 5

I must have been in fourth or fifth grade when I learned about Pompeii. I was entranced by the story and history. All those lives lost – a city buried and rediscovered. I yearned to visit the archeological site, and even sat through a painfully boring “slide show” my mom’s boss shared with us about his trip there (it was only boring because he shared nothing about Pompeii and everything about the tour group he went with…). When we booked our trip to the Amalfi coast, I hadn’t realized how close Pompeii was to Naples and Amalfi.

We hadn’t driven since arriving on Saturday – but we had planned to go on a day trip to Pompeii today, and that was going to require use of the car. We woke up early to call the front desk and ask them to bring it around the front by 8:15. We ate a quick breakfast (I found a stand that sells avocados so I am the weirdo pealing them at the continental breakfast to mash on my gluten free pitas – and top with the delicious sun ripened tomatoes they serve here!) and then hit the road. We opted to take the mountain route over the seaside route – mostly to see if it was as terrifying and just to do something different.

The mountain route was amazing. The curves are crazy, and the drivers are still maniacs, but there are less of them on the road and no one just parking on the side. No pedestrians, no tourists, just locals. Potentially a sleeping dog (we hoped!). When we reached the top, we were absolutely amazed by the view of Vesuvius and the city below. It was truly breathtaking and welcomed after a very green drive up.

After figuring out the parking situation, we skipped the lines to pick up our tickets (will call people!) and entered the park. Pompeii is massive. We wandered for more than three hours and still missed entire sections. Because September is the tail end of high season, we enjoyed significantly less people and tour groups (though there was a fair share of them). The ruins are really something special.

Fun facts we learned along the way –

  • There are holes in the sidewalk curb – these were to tie your horse or donkey to (the original parking spot)
  • Most people in Pompeii didn’t have kitchens, so there were fast food restaurants EVERYWHERE.
  • The city boasted three amphitheaters. The largest one could hold 20,000 people and cheering from the stadium upset a neighboring city so much, there was an all out brawl that caused the Roman “government” to shut it down for ten years (but that only lasted for three due to an earthquake that hit).
  • We saw the laundromat where clothing was washed in urine to remove stains.
  • The lower class worshipped Egyptian gods in hopes of life after death. Mozart visited the site in the late 1760s and was inspired to write The Magic Flute.
  • One of the conspirators that murdered Julius Caesar owned a home in Pompeii. It was impressive.
  • A few homes took up entire city blocks – one of them had a swimming pool inside.

We left the park around lunchtime (splitting a granola bar and banana to make it back to Minori because we had leftover fish waiting!). The drive back was mostly uneventful. We did get on the wrong highway but Google faithfully turned us around. This time we opted to take the sea route back. It was not nearly has horrible as the first time around. I was relieved. James was relieved. I think arriving on a Saturday afternoon on one of the last summer weekends did not work in our favor. I could see driving here in October being rather pleasant and almost fun!

It had started raining on our drive home. We had originally planned to do a walking tour of Naples but it was cancelled due to low interest. So we returned the car to the garage, and wandered around Minori for a bit (using our umbrellas, and not getting flooded out this time). We stopped by the Antiquarium – Villa Maritima – an ancient Roman villa that was two thousand years old. The structure was well preserved due to floods and debris that covered it until the 1930s when it was excavated. Very cool, and free of charge!

Afterwards, we stopped by a different bakery so James could pick up some cookies, and I could get an espresso. I had it Italian style, standing at the counter, quickly drinking it, and relishing how much better it was than the hotel coffee. I wish I knew that a few days ago!

Given the change in our afternoon plans, we decided to try another restaurant in Minori. There is a little farm in the hillside of Minori that had rave reviews and also a gluten free menu called Agriturismo Villa Maria. We made the trek upwards (this was once again, many stairs) to be greeted by beautiful views of Minori and Ravello. Once we made it to the top, we had to climb a steep driveway and even more stairs to get to the villa!

There is no menu. The family cooks what is caught fresh or harvested from their garden. After multiple tries they finally understood “senza glutine” and we were off to a marathon of food. We started with an antipasto plate – all homemade cured meats, cheeses and vegetables from the garden. Our pasta course had eggplant, tomato sauce and mozzarella (mine was gluten free). Our main course was swordfish – it was amazingly fresh and once again, they served it with the most potent lemon. For dessert, they brought James a homemade cake and me fruit. The wine was made onsite, and refreshing and delicious. Our total bill for a bottle of wine and all the plates of food was 70 euros.

We made our descent back down the mountain and feel fast asleep.

Italy Day 4

The forecast predicted rain ALL day. We were pretty sure that we’d be washed out – or at least that our kayak tour would be cancelled. I am pleased to say that neither was the case (and yet, the forecast continued to remain rain all day… hmm… Italian weather is like Italian time?)

View from the ferry to Amalfi.

This morning James and I hopped on the 8:45 am ferry to Amalfi. Once we arrived, we desperately tried to figure out how to get to Duoglio beach – about a mile from the city center. Eventually we realized we had to walk on the highway – something I was not pleased with at all. Italians here drive like maniacs, but I am slowly getting used to it, and starting to understand. After about 40 minutes, we made it to the steepest set of stairs I’ve ever laid eyes on, and made our decent down to the beach.

We booked our kayak tour through Amalfi Coast Sea Kayak. After a brief lesson on sea kayaking, we were on our way to Furore Fjord. Our guides were comical, and gave us an overview of the history of the different cities, pointed out spots where the road was exceptionally perilous with not much sandstone beneath the pavement  and even gave an explanation of the cave that was above the five-star hotel our yacht captain told us about. In case you’re wondering, it’s just a cave, but rocks keep eroding away. Time will tell how long that property sits there…

GoPros are awesome.

We kayaked through arches, into a sea cave and eventually made it to the fjord. The water was pleasantly warm, which helped make up for the amount of it that ended up on my clothes and in the boat!

At the fjord, we had a quick snack, tried to swim (the water here was less warm) and watched dare devils jump from the rock formations. After about a half an hour, we loaded back into the kayaks and experienced super tired arm syndrome. At this point, we’d been kayaking for about two hours! We eventually returned to the hidden beach, and opted to enjoy a late lunch at the restaurant on shore. I had the freshest fish – grilled and served with a potent lemon. James had pasta with mussels.

View from lunch.

The restaurant then drove us back on their inflatable dingy boat to the center of Amalfi, where we proceeded to walk around the town for 45 minutes before the ferry took us back to Minori. Amalfi is cute – and has numerous shops and a lot of tourists. We enjoyed gelato (ricotta and pear, niccotella and stratatella) and made a few purchases (my favorite wine is 9 euros here – a bottle at home runs me around $40!). We hopped back on the 4:30 ferry and relaxed at the hotel before dinner.

James on a dingy.

Dinner was again in Ravello. We could have walked but we were beyond tired after kayaking all morning. So… we called… Ambrosio. He raised his price too. Same drive, 55 euros each way. I know, I know. But if you were here, you would understand.

We had dinner at Ristoro del Moro – a Michelin star rated restaurant on a cliff overlooking Minori and Maiori. The views are AMAZING. I couldn’t get enough of them. And even though the temperature had dropped significantly, we opted to sit outside because when else will we get a chance to enjoy this?

HOW does this exist?!

The restaurant earned extra bonus points because they also had a completely gluten free menu which included pasta (and not just pasta from a box, we’re talking raviolis and gnocchi). James and I both had the octopus salad for our antipasto course – which was served with a green bean sauce and tiny diced potatoes. For the pasta course, I had the gluten free agnolotti stuffed with ricotta and spinach with basil pesto and pistachios. Oh my god. James had pasta with prawns and tomatoes. We both had red tuna for our meat course. It was served with this delicious balsamic vinegar and honey sauce. Neither of us could make it through even half our fish. Our waiter took pity and wrapped it up in lots of tinfoil for us to take home (luckily our hotel has a mini fridge!).

Following dinner, we had booked tickets for a piano recital in the Annunziata Historic Building (luckily the concert was indoors because we were both frozen!). The music was beautiful (mostly Chopin I believe). We left the recital to see that Ambrosio had called us seven times (you know, Italians can get away with this stuff – that’s borderline crazy girlfriend in America!). He just wanted to make sure we still needed a ride. And we did…

PS: They serve limoncello during the intermission.

Italy Day 1 (+ Night 1)

We arrived in Naples on time and made our way to the car rental agency. 45 minutes later, we climbed into a rather large automatic vehicle (for Italy that is) and took off. Everyone warned us about driving in Italy. It’s awful. People are horrible. We felt it wasn’t really that much different than congested cities in the US… that is until we reached the Amalfi coast. 15 kilometers took more than an hour. The curves were insane to begin with. The drivers? On another planet. We crawled (sorry to those behind us!) and even that didn’t help. Honestly, if scooters were banned, this would have been a breeze. Or if the cars on the road weren’t just parked there (in not a spot, just parked on the side of a very narrow road). It was stressful and horrendous and I would highly recommend hiring a car to drive you here.

We arrive at the hotel, quickly changed and headed out to explore a little Minori and find something for dinner. We ended up at Pasticceria Sal De Riso (which sells more than just pastries – though we’ll get to those too!). We sat outside, facing the ocean, I ordered a “SparkLady” which was a cocktail made from limoncello and prosecco and some other array of citrus. For dinner I ordered gluten free crepes filled with ricotta and herbs. James had a trio of mini pizzas. The food was surprisingly good (we had low expectations, especially because this place had everything you’re warned about avoiding – pictures of food, over the top decorations, outdoor patio seating…). But the real gem was inside the bakery. For dessert James got some strawberry cake and I had a gelato sundae with coffee and dark chocolate flavors. Divine.

We crawled back to the hotel and promptly got ready for bed – only having to deal with the sounds of those horrific scooters buzzing past every few minutes.

The following day we had literally nothing on our agenda, and purposely. The sun was out and we decided to hike to Ravello, which is the city next to Minori. Some things we didn’t take into account: mountains, stairs and more stairs! Google Maps said it would be a 45 minute walk (more like 90!!), but the views were breathtaking and it was fun to meander through a quaint neighborhood that did not have any roads or cars. We paused outside a church (it was Sunday) and listened to locals sining hymns in Italian. Stray cats were everywhere. It was truly remarkable and very, very sweaty. When embarking, we had little concept of the amount of water we needed. I am here to say that the random water spigots on this trail are indeed water and I have lived to tell the tale. Also, we purchased a trusty guide book that helped us navigate our way through the countryside and they called these out.

Very sweaty.

My friend, the hissing gato.

Ravello itself is absolutely charming. There are very few roads, almost everything is entirely walkable, and it was quiet. I was determined to find the Terrace of Infinity, and so after recognizing a few names from my research, we set off towards Villa Cimbrone. We were surprised by the 7 euro cover fee, but it was hands down, totally worth it. Also there were public restrooms and this is always important. We weaved our way through a beautiful garden that was restored by an Englishman after his wife passed away. The views are spectacular, and the though a bit late in the season, there were still some flowers in bloom. Infinity Terrace is stunning – and even better than every picture taken of it and posted online.

After the gardens, we strolled back through the streets towards the center of town. We stopped at a limoncello factory and a ceramics shop. James was hungry but we quickly realized that the cafes here are definitely tourist traps and definitely don’t have anything I can eat. So we headed back into Minori. James was hangry – I’ll spare you of the details – but we eventually were able to pick up some olive oil, prosciutto, fontina and bread (I had my trusty gluten free pitas at the hotel!). We enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the hotel, and then went to the pool for a few hours.

For dinner, we went to Ristorante Giardiniello in Minori, and only a few minutes from our hotel. We were seated outside, under a roof of trees. For dinner, I had the seafood salad and seafood risotto (so much seafood!). James also had the risotto and tuna for his appetizer. I stuck with the house white wine (so good) and at the end of the meal, they brought complementary limoncello. It’s a good thing I like this stuff!

We opted to do dessert at Sal Del Riso. James had a pear and ricotta cake while I had a dome of chocolate and almond mousse, filled with a cherry jam and covered in chocolate. It was delightful.

PS Italian mosquitoes are a real thing. They do not seem to be deterred by American bug spray. I’ll keep trying though.