2 days on the Amalfi Coast

From Florence, we headed south to continue our Italian adventure. Being brave, we rented a car a drove from Florence, through Naples all the way to Sorrento.

A word of caution: for those used to driving in the US or in most of the other parts of Europe, the streets of southern Italy may not be for you. Traffic rules don’t always apply, people will cut in front of you, there is minimal lane discipline- though as long as you keep your cool and remain brave, you should be fine!

We broke journey in Pompeii to explore the city, read more about it in our post about one of Europe’s most compelling archaeological sites.

Pompeii to Sorrento was a very scenic drive, offering gorgeous views of the Italian coast. Be prepared for windy, single-lane roads, which provide the perfect excuse to drive slowly and soak up the views! Definitely recommend it- as long as you dont have a deadline to get anywhere.

With 2 days to spend along the Amalfi Coast here’s what we would recommend: (for what to eat while here, check out our post here)

Day 1: Day trip to Capri

Ferries ply to and from Capri fairly frequently from Sorrento harbor, as well as from Positano and Amalfi. Sorrento to Capri took 30 mins and offered gorgeous views of the majestic Mount Vesuvius.

Street art in Sorrento city center
Sorrento harbour
Capri!

 

On Capri, boat trips to the blue grotto are plentiful, and as touristy and unappealing as they might appear, they are worth the time, especially if the blue grotto is open to visitors. We werent as lucky, the tides werent in our favor, though the trip around the island was very scenic and fun in itself.

The green grotto
Beautiful corals
Impressive stalactites
The dramatic Faraglioni (the three towering rocks)

 

If the waters look tempting- go for a swim! How often do you get a private (almost) beach with a view like that ūüôā

Besides the port of Capri, which is bustling and busy, the peak of Monte Solaro offers great views of the island. You can get to it by walking up, there are fairly clearly marked steps  that take you all the way up. It is a tiring climb in the sun, but the views make it worth the effort! You can also get to it by chairlift from Marina Grande. Piazza Umberto offers plenty of opportunities to slake the thirst developed on the climb up!

With the long summer days, there is enough time and daylight to walk around Sorrento city center even after the boat back from Capri. The city has two main streets, lined with restaurants, bars and lemon shops!


Day 2: Drive along the coast, Positano & Amalfi

If you have a car, the drive from Sorrento all along the coast, through the small coastal towns, including Positano and Amalfi should definitely be done. With no car, buses run between the towns and also use the coastal road, so offer the same views, without the anxiety!

Positano: The town has more stairs than streets, so be prepared! It is a quaint little town, so do spend the 1-2 hours wandering around. If its warm, perhaps even go for a short swim!

The Grotto delo Smeraldo (Emerald grotto) can be another pit stop. Between Positano and Amalfi, you could get to it either by road or by boat from Positano or Amalfi. Worth a quick stop, especially if you havent been inside the blue grotto, it is also cheaper than the blue grotto and access to it doesnt depend on the tides.

Amalfi: While only 20km away from Positano, driving to Amalfi takes about 45 mins. Amalfi was bigger than Positano, but no less quaint. Also since the sun had finally come up, it was the much awaited beach stop! The restaurants that line the beach look touristy and expensive, but are not! For 20EUR, we had a bottle of wine and a meal for two, and access to a private beach, and beach chairs! Worth it, we would say!

If you can manage it, take the boat back to Sorrento. Driving back will take you along the same roads with their ocean views, but the boat provides a whole new vantage point and the towns perched precariously on the hills, make for great sights.


While, as with most places, there is enough to do for a week along the Amalfi coast, two days were just about enough to give us a taste of what the place had to offer and leave us wanting more!

Street art in Florence

Florence is a great city to walk around. Besides all the conventional art and architecture, which in itself is extremely abundant and awe-inspiring, there are hidden treasures which make exploration by foot even more interesting. One such under-appreciated, and largely unknown treasure is the creative street art by the local artists Clet and Blub.

Clet

Observe the stop and no entry signs and you will notice each one has some graffiti / modifications. Only after a few did we realise that it is a pattern and indeed art, by the local artist Clet Abraham. While some see his work as defacing public property, others view it as contemporary art, which reflects a modern Florence. Either way, it was fun tracking the signs through the city! We even came across Clet’s studio where you can buy some of the stickers and signs. You can follow Clet on Facebook or Instagram

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Blub

Blub’s art is called L’Arte sa Nuotare which means ‘Art knows how to swim’. His aim is to make art more accessible and he achieves this by taking famous pieces of art, literally, for a swim. That’s why famous statues from Boticelli or Michaelangelo can be seen in water tanks and scuba gear.  His pieces are all over the city as well, in some of the most unexpected places. You can follow Blub on Facebook and  Instagram

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Clet with his famous road signs

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Girl with pearl earring, out for a swim!
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Sandro Botticelli holding Cosimo the Elder
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Other, less known, street artists also can be found all over the city. Truly, Florence itself is an open air art museum!

2 days in Florence

Florence city is an open air art museum, every corner has an interesting piazza with spectacular art, and every street has work from a budding artist. While there are enough museums to fill up more than a week, 2 days gave us a great feel for the city. With 48 hours to explore, here is¬†an itinerary we’d recommend:

Day 1:

Take a free walking tour (or 2): Walking tours are a great way to get to know the lay of the land, and the stories help remember landmarks that would otherwise be overlooked. We went on the Renaissance (11am-1pm) and Medici (2-4pm) tours offered by Florence free tours. While together they took up a large part of the day, by the end, we could walk around the city confidently without getting completely lost, and knew where the major landmarks were. A great self-guided tour can be found here, though we found that it was more fun to have a guide to tell us stories.

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Cathedral Santa Maria Novella
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Basilica Santa Croce

Piazzale Michelangelo: Now that you know the city, get a spectacular aerial view of it. The walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo is not too tough, and though it does involve a few steps, the panoramic view from the top is worth it! With a chilled beer in hand, gaze upon the city you have just gotten to know. The rose garden on the way down is worth wandering into too, remember to stop and smell the roses!IMG_2100.JPG

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Rose Garden at Piazzale Michaelangelo

End the day with one or a few glasses of Tuscan wine at Senorvino and dinner at one of the exciting restaurants along Via di Santo Spirito.

Day 2: Museum day

While visiting museums isn’t always on everyone’s list, you can’t go to Florence and not visit at least one museum. Most museums are closed on Monday, so plan accordingly. With a wide variety to choose from, we picked,

Uffizi – The Louvre of Florence it houses masterpieces by maestros like Botticelli, Caravaggio, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and others. Since we did not have the foresight to buy advance tickets, we joined the line as early at 8.30am and still had to wait for about 2 hours. Advance tickets can be purchased online, or from the ticket counters at the Uffizi or the Pitti Palace, for 4 EUR more, and are definitely worth it, especially on a weekend or during peak tourist season. Get the audio tour, or a guided tour, it makes the whole experience much more enjoyable. With its vast collection, allot at least 3 hours to the museum and prepare to be amazed!

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The endless line at the Uffizi
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The 7 virtues- Botticelli
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Madonna and child- Raphael
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Medusa- Caravaggio

AccademiaРBesides the famous David, which itself makes the visit worth the time, the museum also houses great art pieces and displays the history of music. The line was shorter, it took only half an hour to get in, and an hour and a half was about enough to look around.

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Florence cathedral aka Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore or simply the Duomo was on our list too, but the lines were impossibly long. Again, advance tickets can be bought. IMG_2312.JPG

With more than half the day spent inside museums, spend the evening sipping a Spritz or with a delicious gelato, people-watching at Piazza dela Signoria or on Ponte Vecchio, watching the sun set on the Arno.

Ponte Vecchio

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If you have had your fill of the ubiquitous pizzerias, find a local trattoria and try one of the local dishes- read more here.

Florence by night is less impressive than one would imagine, but it does get cooler and there are fewer people, so admiring the spectacular architecture is easier by night.

Finally remember to meet il Porcellino, the Florentine boar, and rub its snout to ensure your return to the birthplace of Italian Renaissance, the capital region of Tuscany, the city that itself is a cultural, artistic and architectural gem! IMG_2665.JPG

Eat-aly part 3: Food Guide for Rome 

We ended our Italian holiday in Rome, a fitting end to a fantastic trip! While the sights took our breaths away, the food of the Eternal City was almost as good and as interesting as its architecture. Read about food in Florence and along the Amalfi coast.

Pizzas from wood-fired ovens and fresh pastas are ubiquitous in Rome, but typical Roman food does comprise some unusual, tasty dishes, some of which we tried and would recommend.

Flore de zucca (fried courgette florets- right) and Carciofo (globe artichoke- left), either is eaten as a delightful first course. 

Coda alla vaccinara: Oxtail stew with celery, which we were surprised to find, is a Roman speciality. So delicious that every last piece of the meat was picked off the bone (with fingers!).

Saltimbocca alla romana: Veal escalopes in wine sauce, eaten with potatoes or artichokes.4.png

Of the different pastas available, the Roman specialities included,

Pasta Amatriciana: the sauce is made with tomatoes, pecorino cheese and cured pork cheek. Served with any pasta, it is definitely worth trying!IMG_5424.JPG

Orecchiette in trastevere sauce: pasta shaped like tiny ear-lobes, with anchovies, olives and cherry tomatoes. Tasted as pretty as it looked!IMG_4489.JPG

Home made pasta on the way to Vatican City: apparently begun by enterprising locals to combat the financial depression, these small shops allow you to pick the freshly made pasta and the sauce, and they put it together as a hot meal, all for a mere 5 EUR. It is a quick and tasty sit down or take away meal.

No post would be complete without pizza,

Pizza romana: not traditional pizza- but pizza romana looks like a sandwich, and is light and delicious! Especially on a warm day with beer or a spritz- it makes a great snack. 

While not conventionally Roman, we found baked brie with ham in a few restaurants and oh was it delicious!! 4.png

Walking around Rome can also be hot and tiring work. Gelato offers a cold and delicious break, and is available at almost every corner. We tried 5 of the 150 flavors offered here and wished we could’ve tried some more!¬†IMG_3963.JPG

And finally to end each meal, home made tiramisu: as alluded to in part 2 of this series, Roman tiramisu was different from the tiramisu along the Amalfi coast. It was always yellow and with a layer of coffee soaked biscuits at the base. Sooooo good!! 

Eat-aly part 2: Food Guide for Amalfi coast

From Florence (read about food recommendations here), we drove to Sorrento and along the Amalfi coast, continuing our culinary adventures.

With a long coastline and a number of quaint towns perched on the hillsides overlooking the water, the Amalfi coast provided a picturesque setting for delicious sea food!

Food we sampled, and would recommend includes:

Orata and fresh pasta: Orata was the fish of the day in Capri so of course, we ate it. Cooked in a tomato garlic sauce, the plate was wiped c-l-e-a-n! 2.png

Sauted mussels: plump juicy mussels need no more explanation! 1.png

Mixed sea food pasta in squid ink: finger-licking good! IMG_2951.JPG

Walking around in the sun can be hot business, but with the abundant fresh fruits, iced fruit drinks (with no added sugar) are a great way to bring down the temperature!

 

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Fresh strawberry crush

Moving away from the sea food, the locals also make delicious smoked hams and salami, served with fresh cheeses from sheep or¬†cow’s milk, sundried tomatoes and pickled artichokes. While normally served as the first course , one can easily¬†make an entire meal of the meats and cheeses. Yummm!¬†IMG_6019.JPGIMG_6010.JPGHere, it was served with the house wine, made with no suphites. While quite different from the bottled wine we are used to, it was delicious and made for a really fun¬†evening!

With the strong Neapolitan influence,Napolitano lasagne and Napolitano patata (potatoes baked with meat and cheese) are also worth trying, and quite nice. IMG_6016.JPGSuppli or Arancini: Fried rice balls, with a variety of stuffings, including ham, cheese, spinach are cheap, easy to find and make a great snack. img_2886.jpg

Also cheap and easily available are ‘family’ pizzas, which are 6″ x 15″ rectangular pizzas, with proscuitto, mushrooms, or veggies (eggplant and bell peppers- a different but delicious combination!) and which can satisfy 4 hungry adults!¬†3.png

What better way to end the meal than with freshly prepared tiramisu! Very different from the tiramisu in Rome (featured in part 3 of this series), with white mascarpone and no ladyfingers at the bottom, this one was so delicious that one serving was not enough at all! IMG_6087.JPG

And finally, no trip to the Amalfi coast is complete without copious amounts of limoncello! Best served ice cold (keep the bottle in the freezer and chill the glasses before serving), it makes an amazing digestif. IMG_3436.JPGIMG_3300.JPG

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Making limoncello like his grandmamma used to!

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For the real food aficionados, a large number of cooking classes are offered all over the Amalfi coast, and those who attended the course (we ate the food they learnt to make!) said it was extremely informative and lots of fun too. IMG_6076.JPG

Eat-aly part 1: Food Guide for Florence 

Italy is a foodie’s paradise! We spent 10 days traveling through Southern Italy- from Florence, though Tuscany, along the Amalfi coast and ended in Rome, sampling the sights and sounds, and of course the food and drink! This post is part 1 of a 3-part series of the food we ate and loved, in Eat-aly!

Here are some must try foods in Florence.

Bistecca alla Florentina:¬†Florentine beef steak, which was first¬†prepared for the wedding of Isabella de’ Medici, is seared on the outside and medium rare or rare inside. Eaten with artichokes or potatoes, its delicious!¬†img_1916.jpg

Gnocchi with truffles: it is just impossible to go wrong with this, it was half gone before it even occurred to us to take a photograph!IMG_2152.JPG

Tripe: not for the squeamish or faint-hearted, but cooked with the right kind of sauce, it can be quite tasty. The texture takes some getting used to though.

Ribollita: a tasty potage, made with white beans and a number of vegetables, it makes a nice break from the meat and carbs that constitute most meals. It is also amazingly warming on a cold evening. While not available in most of the ubiquitous pizzerias, it is worth the effort of finding a local trattoria to try it. 

Arancini: these are fried rice balls, stuffed with anything ranging from ham, cheese, salami, mushrooms, spinach, to the ones we tried with squid ink! They’re sinful and delicious!

Meat and cheese (and everything in between) at the Mercato Centrale. The central food market in Florence is a great place to sample small portions of a number of local dishes, including the famous lampredotto sandwich.

When it comes to desserts, the Italians have some of the best sweets we’ve eaten.

Panna cotta: Forget about the panna cotta you’ve eaten before. This has the perfect sweetness, a melt-in-your-mouth consistency- it cannot be resisted! Served with nuts or fruit compote, it is a must-have.img_1917.jpg1.png

Creme brule with orange zest. Again, sweetened to perfection!

Cannoli: Piccolo or grande, filled with cream or chocolate, it is the perfect infusion of sugar to keep you going as you explore Florence. So versatile is the cannolo, that we had it at all times of the day, including breakfast, with an espresso to perfectly balance the sweetness! 3.png

And of course, wash it all down with a lip-smacking glass of Chianti from the Tuscan wineries! Salute!

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