travelogue // the amalfi coast

so it dawned on me the other day that i haven't shared my photos and recommendations from the amalfi coast.  our trip was nearly a year ago, but now that our days are once more drenched in sunshine, i was thinking back to our sunny days in italy, dreaming of our photographs.

stopping in italy was the last leg of our trip last summer.  we first flew into split, then drove down the coast to dubrovnik, and then headed over to italy.  we knew when we booked the tickets [in to split, out from rome] we were going to go to italy somewhere, but even when we flew to croatia we weren't yet sure where we wanted to go in italy.  we've both been multiple times before and knew we wanted to try and explore a new area of the country for us.  our first thought was the rent a car and drive [our original plan for a trip back in 2013 before we decided on thailand] and were going to stay on the eastern shore.  but while we were in croatia and i saw on instagram a favorite internet friend of mine was spending her spring holiday along the amalfi coast.  when i floated the idea to philp, he was totally on board.  so before long, he was looking into hotels and i was jotting down every restaurant recommendation liz had to offer.

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it was beautiful and warm when we woke up on our little prison-cell-like room on the ferry.  we took the jadrolinija ferry line from dubrovnik to bari.  it was an overnight ferry that took around 10 hours, leaving at about 10pm and arriving around 8am.  if this is something you do, prepare for the ferry.  we booked the nicest room they have, which was a room with two single beds and a private bathroom.  you still would not want to use the shower.  it was a bathroom on a ferry... it's about as nice as you'd think it would be.

we were able to rent a car from hertz at the bari airport.  this was about as organized and took as long as you would think it would to rent a car in italy [read: multiple hours].  it was a bit of a hassle to get a car that wasn't a manual, but we got it all to work out.  it also took us quite a few tries to leave the airport -- we kind of did a few laps thanks to confusing signs, no GPS, and the many, many roundabouts.  we finally stopped at the airport terminal out of frustration, hunger, and my pregnant need for a bathroom twice an hour.  while philip talked to someone about how the hell we could leave the apparent gravitational pull of the bari airport roads, i grabbed us some coffee and focaccia from a cafe.  i can still remember the taste of that focaccia and i swear it was one of the best things i've ever tasted in that moment.

finally, coffee in hand and focaccia in belly, we drove across the entire country of italy.

which took about three and a half hours.

italy is long and narrow, obviously.  so it wasn't exactly a problem to make our way from the east coast to the west.  not to mention the gorgeous scenery we encountered along the way, and the fantastic italian radio we got to jam to.  i monitored my liquid intake to ensure we didn't have to stop at all, and before we knew it we were in salerno.

we did encounter miserable traffic once we reached salerno and before we made it up the mountain to ravello.  the roads were winding, with views you can't even imagine.  in places the road was so narrow they would let cars travel in one direction only at a time.  we pulled over on the side of the road with other travelers making their way up to ravello and waited our turn.  but oh my gosh was the pain-in-the-ass drive worth it.  

on elizabeth's recommendation, we went to cumpa cosima for lunch.  we split the caprese appetizer and each got fettuccine bolognese.  it's my hands-down favorite italian dish and if it's on the menu i can very rarely skip over it for something else.  cumpa cosima was well worth the drive... even if the windy road and my pregnant hormones did finally catch up to me while we were there.  after lunch we wandered around ravello for a little bit in the drizzling rain.  i found it to be a lovely little village and was happy it was our first stop in italy.

after stretching our legs, we made our way back to the water after once again waiting for the road to open in our direction.  philip had found a hotel for us sort of last minute [since we hadn't even decided where we were going until we were already in croatia].  luckily we weren't really particular about where we stayed along the amalfi coast.  we only had to book for one night, and we knew we wanted to go to amalfi but since we had the car, it didn't matter where we stayed.  we were going to drive it all either way.  so we picked the loveliest little hotel -- the hotel belvedere in conca dei marini.  our room included breakfast [take on the terrace overlooking the water, of course], a parking.  if you are going to drive along the coast -- i can not stress this enough -- get a hotel that has parking!

conca dei marini is tiny, and there wasn't much by our hotel that was walking distance, and we were not getting back into the car.  after wandering down the road a ways, we found a little path with some stairs with signs for restaurants.  we ventured down.  

and oh my gosh were we happy we did.  not only did we see some of the most gorgeous scenery of our trip -- hidden little doorways, overgrowing flowers and the most amazing views of the tyrrhenian sea.  we ended up dining at a small, family owned restaurant called l'ippocampo.  and when i say 'family owned,' i mean literally the woman that was cooking and waiting on us was also sitting a ta large table in the back that was overflowing with laughing family and children.  our table was less than a hundred feet from the water, and a small garden with fresh basil and tomatoes was within reach.  i ordered the gnocchi alla sorrentina and watched the basil get plucked from the garden and placed atop my bowl.

with full bellies and happy to be out of the car, we fell asleep to the sound of crashing waves outside our balcony door.

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we woke up just in time to take advantage of the breakfast included with our room.  hot coffee, chocolate croissants, fruit salad, and fresh meats and cheeses were served outside on the terrace overlooking the water.  it didn't suck.

once we checked out, we loaded up our little car and drove along the coast ahead to positano.  there were lots of little towns where we could have stopped, but we chose positano for a few reasons.  it was on our way north to naples and rome, and it was where some of the dreamiest beach scenes in the talented mr. ripley were filmed.

if you're driving to positano... good luck finding parking.  it's nearly impossible.  we found a little parking lot where we felt trusting enough to toss our keys to a stranger and hand him an ungodly amount of euros to make sure our rental wasn't stolen.  it was quite a walk down to the beach but it was our only option... and the scenery wasn't all that bad.

after slowly making our way down to the water [and stopping nearly every cute little shop we passed], we checked out the beach scene.  we decided to pay €10 per person for a beach chair and umbrella.  it seemed a little annoying at first, but once i saw that it included a place to change, and that the black sand was so hot it was burning my feet, i decided it was well worth it.

the water was warm and clean and clear, picture perfect and everything i'd hoped it would be.  i am not the kind of person who can just go to the beach and get some sun.  no way.  i gotta get IN that water.  and once i got in and could see the view from the water, splashing around in the soft waves, the weight of pregnancy lifted off me, there was no way i was getting out until it was time to eat.

there was a wealth of restaurants near the water, and even more back in the main village of positano.  we saw some lovely shaded outdoor seating at la pergola ristorante, right near our beach chairs.  i had more bolognese -- which did not disappoint -- and we had the local specialty of grilled lemon leaves with caprese salad.  it was amazing, and this little beachy pasta shop ended up being one of my favorite meals of the trip.

after we ate, i dragged philp back to our beach chairs for a little while longer.  i wasn't going to leave that water one moment before i absolutely had to.  we didn't have too long of a drive ahead of us to sorrento, but we knew we didn't want to get in too late.  along with the afternoon sun, we packed up, used the changing stalls to peel off our wet and sandy suits and hiked back up to our car.

before too long we were in sorrento.  but once we got there, it took us just as long to find our hotel and park as it did to actually drive from positano to sorrento.  it was a mess.  and we got into a huge mishap with our rental car.  no bueno.  let's just say we returned it short a side mirror and with a couple love-dings in the door.  not so bad.  our hotel, the palazzo guardati, turned out to only be accessible by foot and had no parking, despite what the website we booked on said.  and it's not as if italy is ripe with parking lots and garages.  but other than that, the hotel wasn't bad.  it had a lovely bathroom and a decent enough breakfast [so philip said, my morning sickness didn't really care for any of it]. 

for dinner that night we stumbled on pizzeria aurora, mostly for their lack of a wait time and outdoor seating.  a friend of mine had recommended a restaurant next door to it [can't remember the name] but the menu didn't appeal much to us, so we stopped in aurora instead.  it was ok.  i had ravioli, which was a change of pace.  it wasn't the best meal i had in italy, but still better than nearly all the italian restaurants back home :)  afterwards we wandered to gelateria primavera for gelato.  the inside is plastered with pictures of the pope with the chef, which i kind of got a kick out of.  then it was back to our hotel for some rest before our long drive north the next morning.  i have to say, i wasn't a huge fan of sorrento.  we were there less than 24 hours, so it's not a fair judgment to make.  but it was bigger and more industrial than the small towns we'd been through before, and i missed them.  the quaintness, the water.  the crashing of the waves.  but that was the last we'd see of the water for a while before we went north to rome.

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we had over a three hour drive north to rome, a bit shorter than our drive across the width of italy just a few days prior.  we passed mount vesuvius and pompeii, which would have been awesome stops if we had more time.  i'd been to both before and didn't have a strong desire to stop again.  instead, we opted to stop off quickly in naples for some pizza [it was lunch time, after all], which was right on our way.

naples isn't too far from sorrento, so it was an easy stop to make.  except for the nightmare-ish traffic in the city itself, it was a great stop.  we stopped off at piazza dante, and walked down via port'alba for a bit.  there were lots of book shops, and i had to stop every couple feet for photo opportunities. 

 there were so many places to eat down via lombardi, including gino sorbillo -- supposedly the best pizza in italy, and where it was first created, so the story goes.  we took one look at the line and rolled our eyes as my pregnant belly did a backflip.  i mean, we were in naples.  how good could that one pizza place possibly be over anywhere else?  we stopped instead at pizzeria attanasio where i ate an entire pizze siciliana [with eggplant] and could have licked the plate clean.  it was fantastic.

then we hopped back into our little rental for the drive to rome.  though we didn't fly out until the next morning, we opted to return our rental car at the airport.  the reason for this was twofold: [1] we were staying at the airport hilton, and [2] you can't drive in the city of rome unless you are a taxi or a local as designated on your license plate.  the hilton, which we were able to walk to after ditching what was left of our rental car, also had a hotel shuttle leaves every 2 hours and goes right into the center of rome.  but being the impatient people we are, we decided to take a direct train from the airport for €11 per person.  easy and cheap.

eager to stretch our legs from the long car ride, we decided to take our time wandering from the termini to osteria romana di simmi.  this, again, was liz's recommendation and i could not agree more.  it was a phenomenal meal and the service was perfect.  i, of course, had more bolognese [i'm not sorry] and we split a few appetizers, a well as dessert.  our server was quite the charmer, and between courses gave us a tour of the private museum underground.  just ask jean pierro about it when you visit.  tell him i sent you! [kidding.]

rome is my favorite place in italy.  i don't know what it is, but it is the place i'd live if i could.  it's a big city, and what a history.  the people have a fire in them i feel like you don't find anywhere else. i've been three times now and i can't wait for my fourth visit.   i think i could just slip into a crowd there and be lost forever, in a good romantic sense, not in the weird, sad way that sounded.  
since it was after midnight when we finally were ready to head back to call it a night, we had to take a taxi.  the train to the airport stops running at midnight.  for the record, i do not recommend doing this.  it was obscenely expensive and it was sheer luck we got a cab that would take a credit card, but, what can i say?  it was our last night in europe and we weren't done with rome when the trains were.

the italy portion of our trip was my favorite.  it's one of those places we will keep returning to, again and again, no matter how many times we've been.  it holds a certain special magic for us, and i know it always will.  if you haven't been, please, make this your next trip.  

home, far away.

there's nothing like spending the afternoon in your favorite part of your city to remind you where your roots are.

i spent the other afternoon wandering around the north end.  i found myself sipping a latte on hanover street, outside of cafe dello sport, listening to italian music.  it was pretty much magic.

boston's north end is like turning a corner, and all of a sudden you aren't in boston anymore.  you are walking down an alley somewhere in rome.  there are cars honking, but people are speaking in italian.  old men are sitting outside of cafes, arguing and smoking and drinking cappuccino.

but it's here that i feel the most at home than anywhere else in the city. 

when i was an anthropology major in college [for like five minutes], i took a course on race + ethnicity.  what i learned is that anthropologically speaking, race is genetically determined, but ethnicity is not.  your ethnicity is how you were raised.  and while i also have irish and english and polish blood in me [though not as much], italian is how i was raised and how i have come to know myself. 

it's what i identify with more than any other part of my heritage.  meatless fridays, homemade gravy that had no real recipe, where macaroni was always the starter dish, having to say capisce back to my dad after being yelled at, sneaking pieces of mozarell off my nanny's counter, aunts + grandmothers singing in the kitchen, fish on christmas eve, mismatched dishes [i only recently learned this was an italian thing], hearing the adults yell curses in italian only, the stool where my pop sat in the pork store all day to hang out. 

i have a sicilan temper, olive skin and can make that sauce that has no recipe.  so for me, heading to the north end... well, it's just my favorite.

this really motivated me to get on my italian lessons.

add that on to my to do list.

now excuse me while i go make some sauce.

dreams of italy.

today marks a very special anniversary for me.  five years ago today, i boarded a plane from prague to milan with two of my best friends.  we were meeting three of our friends in venice and were backpacking through italy for ten days during our fall break from school.  we met the boys right in the middle of one of venice's iconic bridges, with bottles of wine in hand (their hands, not ours).
i'll never forget those ten days.  when the girls (nicknamed 'us three' because the three of us were totally inseparable) and i got back to milan on the 10th day, i remember finally calling my mom (i had spent the whole trip not calling, texting, emailing, facebooking or anything).  the girls were at a gelato shop relaxing before our bus ride to the airport.  and when my mom picked up and asked me, "how was the trip?"  i remember my voice breaking just a little as i said, "it was the best 10 days of my life."  and i could hear her choke up on the other end, too.

i don't know what or why or how, but something changed in me during that trip.  i started my journey becoming the person i am now, accepting my worldview and my independence.  and most of all, those 10 days in italy was when i fell in love with philip.  at the time he was just a friend i was traveling with, but it was on that trip that we started becoming 'us.'  it's just one of those times in my life that is very hard to explain but i think of those 10 days all the time, and especially from the 20-30 of october.  there will always be stress in my life, work, school, mortgages, family problems.. but there will always be italy :) 

a few pics of my favorite people from that amazing time in my life... and many more pics here.

on the train from milan to venice - our first stop
'us three' in venice, our first day, 21 oct 2006
birds + st mark's square + rain = an awesome experience
my five travel buddies
2nd leg of the trip - florence - 24 oct 2006

laying outside a bridge at 3am, ponte vecchio in the distance. why not?

my five friends and the coliseum - 26 oct 2006

i wished for him in the trevi fountain. my wish came true :)

drinking on the spanish steps, our last night in rome - 26 oct 2006

train from rome to la spezia, the best train ride ever. 27 oct 2006
quick dip in the ocean when we got to riomaggiore
hiking the trail of love - 28 oct 2006.
headed back to prague a changed group. 30 oct 2006.

til next time friends...