Rome-B&B Bologna (Piazza Bologna 6; +39 06 44240244; http://www.beb-bologna.it/): A nice, no-frills B&B in a quiet residential neighborhood in the NE part of Rome. Super convenient to public transport (2 stops from Termini), inexpensive, and roomy. Free wi-fi and breakfast, around 75 euros a night. A really nice family runs it (they live right across the hall from the B&B) and they are so helpful in finding restaurants, navigating the bus system, and anything else you might need. In short, definitely stay here!
Sorrento-I can’t really recommend the place we stayed, because it was so far out of town. If you go to Sorrento, stay in town. The bus system is insanely complicated, and it took us nearly 3 days to even be able to get off at the right stop to get to our hotel. Forget about a taxi…a short ride will set you back over 20 euros! Walking is, of course, an option, but after a bit too much wine and limoncello, walking the twisty, narrow roads at night can be scary, if not dangerous.
- Trattoria Giggi (via Belsiana 94a): Amazing food; amazing service. A very local kind of place, but certainly a place where out-of-towners will be welcomed. We ate here twice and gorged ourselves like ticks for less than 50 euros a pop (including a bottle of wine, coffee, and dessert).
- Gelateria San Crispino (piazza della Maddalena 3, near the Pantheon): This is a serious gelato place. If they have it, try the whiskey gelato.
- Da Enrico: If you stay at the B&B Bologna, you’re a 3 minute walk to this place. The olive pate bruschetta blew me away!
- Da Michele (Via Cesare Sersale, 1): THE place for pizza in Naples. They do it old school, no frills, and you can get a pizza and a beer for about 7 euros. I go all Pavlov’s dog whenever I think about their marinara pizza. It’s pure perfection: amazing thin crust, a smearing of tomato sauce, a drizzle of olive oil, and a kiss of oregano. I am convinced that they serve this with cold Nastro Azzurro in Heaven.
- Caffè Gambrinus: A fancy old cafe near the Piazza Plebiscito. Their stuff is expensive, but the setting is exquisite. Try their sfogliatelle, sip a caffè, and enjoy the chaotic elegance of Naples.
- Il Buco: One Michelin star, and well-deserved. The service was like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and the food was just stellar. We asked for a good local wine (from the Campania region) and ended up with an amazing red wine that set us back a whole 15 euros. Every single course was incredibly delicious and innovative. Here, it really is about the food. Be sure to watch the action in the kitchen on the flat screen TV as you enter.
What to Do
- Galleria Borghese: You HAVE to do this. I would be doing you an incredible disservice if I did not insist in the strongest way possible that you visit the Borghese. Additionally, I’d recommend a guided tour. Yes, I hate tour groups, but in this one instance, having an art expert walk around with you and about 5 other people to highlight the finer points of some of the pieces is worth it! Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne is absolutely the most amazing work of art I’ve ever seen. Even thinking about it now nearly brings me to tears. If you do one thing in Rome, see this. I’ve gained such an appreciation for marble sculpture in general, and Bernini in particular. Any time between May and September, you should definitely get a reservation.
- Vatican Museums: Amazing museums. However there are huge crowds and lots of tour groups. Visiting this place marked the beginning of my unabashed dislike of people in tour groups. (I think it’s a lazy form of travel, and is only for people who don’t really care to engage with their surroundings.) That said, these museums are incredible and well worth your time. Definitely be sure to get a reservation here, because the non-reservation line is ridiculously long. The amount of artwork is just staggering, and if you like ancient stuff, the Egyptian Museum is (surprisingly) pretty darn good. This is definitely worth at least 3 or 4 hours.
- Ancient Rome (Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine Hill): It’s a lot cooler than I’d anticipated. The Colosseum really isn’t much to see, but a nice walk on Palatine Hill and then down through the Forum is a great way to spend 3 hours.
- Spanish Steps: Really pretty steps, nice fountain by Bernini, and amazing high-end shopping in the vicinity. A nice place for your evening passeggiata.
- Pantheon: Gigantic church that was once a Roman temple. If you’re religious, catch Mass here on Sundays around 10. If not, show up around 11:30 and wait until Mass is done, and then go in and check out the huge dome, complete with oculus that’s open to the elements. Definitely worth seeing! You can check out Piazza Navona while you’re over here.
- Palazzo Massimo (Museo Nazionale): Look, I find sculptures as boring as the next person, but these were different. You know that famous ancient sculpture of the Greek discus thrower? Yeah, that’s here. The admission price is low, the crowds are non-existent, and the art is amazing. AMAZING. I gained a new appreciation for Roman art. We went here on a whim, but it was a good call. Very close to the Termini station.
- Naples- The city itself is an attraction in my book. I like to describe it as the New Orleans of Italy…sort of gritty, with a grand past and amazing food, architecture, and people.
- Herculaneum (Ercolano)-The other city that felt Vesuvius’ wrath in 79 A.D. Well-preserved and much fewer people. I recommend seeing this before going to Pompeii, just so the experience of Pompeii doesn’t scare you off from visiting Herculaneum.
- Sentiero degli Dei (“Walk of the Gods”): This is a nice hike between Positano and Bomerano. To do this, take a bus into Amalfi, and then catch the bus to Bomerano. Do the hike (around 3.5 miles), and then arrive in Positano. If you’re staying in Sorrento, you can then take a bus from Positano back to Sorrento. The hike is somewhat challenging, but if you’re in decent shape and have on good shoes (running or hiking) you will be just fine. I loved this hike so much, and would do it again in a heartbeat! As an aside, we stopped at a place called Crazy Burger Bar in Bomerano and ended up having a fantastic lunch for about $20. The guy who runs the place has a brother in the U.S. and is super-friendly. He made us feel welcome and whipped up all kinds of yummy things to accommodate us as vegetarians. He even gave us some roasted chestnuts that he grew himself. As a general rule, the most random of places will generally yield the best results. That cute little cafe right next to the Colosseum? Likely shit. A place you wander into miles from anything? Definitely good!
- Pompeii: Worth a visit, but there are tons of tour groups and it can really wear on you. Try not to roll your eyes at the giggling tourists near the Lupenarum (Pompeii’s house of ill repute). The baths are particularly cool, as are some of the houses. Allow at least 3-4 hours for a trip to Pompeii, more if you plan to have a picnic on-site. Any less will prevent you from really experiencing the sheer massiveness of this city.
Next post will cover Puglia, Umbria, and Tuscany.