Italy

Positano Sunrise #2
Foro Romano Sunrise

Well, it was bound to happen, we were focused on visiting Spain for a while and then decided to check out Italy, this was our first visit and it surely won't be the last! We packed a lot of things into one single visit by doing a loop in the mid-south coast, so we got exposed to a number of layers that made the trip very interesting; from busy Rome to pristine Positano waters, greek ruins of Paestum in rural Campania to the 'rough' deliciousness of Naples and the grandeur of Pompeii.


We visited in late April/early May which is a sweet spot between great weather and low crowds, so we experienced mostly sunny weather on the chilly side, with a few days of mild rain, but enjoyed low crowds and short wait lines everywhere we went, while all businesses were open and ready for the beginning of the busy spring-summer season.


Itinerary: Rome > Salerno > Amalfi Coast > Pompeii > Naples


Rome

We knew we didn't have much time in Rome so we decided to be mindful of time, while still not feel rushed, so we omitted big ticket items like the Vatican and focused on the Colosseo, Roman Forum, Trevi fountain, some walking by the river, the Pantheon, Villa Borghese and gardens, along with some great eats!


Rome is unlike any other city, truly an open air museum, there is history, art, ruins everywhere you turn. The city is pretty clean given the over-tourism, constant construction and regular city life wear and tear. Transportation is very easy and reliable. Beware of taxis, specially from/to airport. City-Airport taxi fares are posted on the windows of any legitimate taxi ($50), so anyone approaching you asking for more is a ripoff! There is an express train from the city to the airport for easy transport. 


As with everything, in part being a photographer, we planned a few things at certain times during the day, you can rip a few benefits: great shots without people, very low crowds, and the opportunity to start the day right and early...You won't enjoy that 'romantic sunset' with 1000 people pushing you around holding their phones up going 'live on facebook'...


Main Spots:

- Colosseum / Roman Forum: buy the tickets in advance, for both! There are many online sites, some unofficial, so make sure you get your tickets from coopculture.it , But even in the official site, the choices can be confusing, make sure you read properly. There is a ticket package called 'Panoramic views' which puts you at the high level of the Colosseo, there is another package to see the 'Underground', but it seemed that required a guided tour, we skipped that. I particularly woke up at 6am to see the sun rise over the Roman Forum, then walked over the Colosseo with no one around me, walked around a bit, had coffee and breakfast at 'La VIga' with a great view of the monument, and then headed to claim our reserved tickets at 8:30. Once we were done we headed to the Forum to see some of the ruins, by then (a few hours later), the place was packed, so we walked around for an hour or so and then grabbed lunch.

- Pantheon: free entrance, but check the times, we walked in 5 minutes before closing. This is a site to behold, massive concrete construction (even the ceiling cupula). 

- Trevi Fountain: this is one of those items we did at sunrise to avoid crowds, and it worked out perfectly, we arrived by 6:45am and there was perhaps a dozen people around instead of 2000.

- Galleria Borghese: it hosts a wonderful collection of precious art and sculptures, access is limited to reserve tickets in advance, people were being turned away after spending long times in line.

- Villa Borghese Park / Terraza del Pincio: Once you visit the Galleria, you can enjoy a stroll down these gardens and park on your way to Terrazza del Pincio, a prime spot for sunset!

- Piazza del Poppolo: great plaza with 2 chapels wroth seeing and several restaurants and shops around, great for walking. You can get here after sunset at the Terrazza.

- Spanish Steps: another open air attraction, where lots of people meet to enjoy the day/night. It's down a few blocks from Piazza del Poppolo.


Eating: 

- Bistrot64: hailed as the most affordable Michelin starred restaurant in Rome, we had an absolutely fantastic dinner here. 

- La Gallina Bianca: we had lunch here twice, mainly because it was actually good and 2 blocks from the hotel area (Termini)

- La Biga - for a view of Colosseo. 

- Al Vantaggio: in the Piazza del Poppolo area, food was actually good and nicely priced.


Salerno

Salerno is a small coastal town west of the Amalfi coast and serves as a great alternative to Sorrento in order to see the coast. Closer to the Amalfi side than Sorrento, boat rides to Amalfi are $8 and $15 to Positano and are only 25 min each way, with the upside of seeing the beautiful coast without having to deal with traffic along the Amalfitano road ,which I bet is pretty in its own right, but we did enjoy the boat rides very much. Salerno is known for 'mozzarella di bufala campana', a fresh, mildly sweet and soft cheese, some of the best you'll ever have! Salerno is mostly walkable, and the main stroll Corso Vittorio Emanuele is full of shops, restaurants and small stores. 


Salerno hosts some nice finds, the Duomo Di Salerno Cattedrale di San Matteo, the Acquedotto Medievale, and Museo dell'Occhiale Salerno. If you are into architecture, Zaha Hadid built the Stazione Marittima di Salerno, and the surrounding neighborhood is also a nice area for a stroll. Also, for a quick day trip worth your while, head south to Paestum, only a ~35min train ride from Salerno Station, this compact archeological site features some spectacular and incredibly well preserved greek ruins in the midst of rural Campania.   


Eating:

- Osteria Angolo Masuccio: small Osteria with a few tables outside, good and simple seafood.

- Osteria dedicato a mio padre

- Salumeria Del Corso Di Villari Giovanna: we had their mozzarella di buffalo and it was amazing! They have some seating outside.

- Mercato Banco e cucina: this was a great find for great lunch, lots of local ingredients and very good prices.



Dessert, Bistrot64

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Bacala, Viva Lo Re

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Black Cannelloni, Viva Lo Re

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Amalfi Coast 

The Amalfi coast is perhaps one of the most beautiful places in the world, lush green mountains topped by clouds and cliffs that meet some of the bluest water you can find. You also have all these colorful little towns along the way, but mainly Amalfi, Positano, Ravello, Atrani steal the spotlight.


Most of these towns in the Amalfi coast are day trips from Sorrento or Salerno and therefore busy during the day, but quieter at night time. Lodging can be limited but Positano has more options, we decided on Hotel Savoia for its location and price, and come to find out had some spectacular views right out of our large balcony. Inner town transportation is very easy and reliable, and it can actually take you to some more remote places like Nochele and Montepertuso where there are also some eating options and accommodations you may find not only more affordable, authentic, relaxed and private.


Sightseeing-wise, there are a few things to enjoy in the Amalfi coast, including:


On the Positano side...

- Main beach: make sure you take some time to enjoy this beach and stroll through the streets up towards the main road. The beach has a number of restaurants and businesses that rent lounge chairs.

- Fiordo Di Furore: remote beach cove you can access by boat, and probably by bus if the access is open, check local blogs.

- Grotta dello Smeraldo: Emerald grotto, also only accessed by boat.- Take a bus up to Nochele & Montepertuso.

- Path of the Gods: glorious and strenuous hike atop the mountains, with a few access points, Nochele being one of them. The views are spectacular but be prepared (and fit).

- Take a boat to Capri or Gallo islands (Sirenusas).


Amalfi Approach

On the Amalfi side...

- Cattedrale di Sant'Andrea Apostolo & Chiostro del Paradiso: an intricate cathedral holding the remains of Saint Andrew, with a picturesque Cloister next to it. 

- Piazza Duomo: the relative center of Amalfi right at the foot of the Cathedral, there are a number of cafes, restaurants and shops. 

- Ravello: this beautiful town with breathtaking vistas of the coast is just ~25min up the road from the heart of Amalfi. 


Believe it or not, there's a number of vineyards in the Amalfi coast area as their grapes have a unique volcanic rock content. Agro-tourism can also be found if you have the time. 


Eating:

-Latteria-Positano: small store with a kitchen and counter in the back with freshly made food you can order by the pound. The octopus salad was great!

- Collina Positano Bakery-Positano

- La Zagara: combination cafe shop with both a counter with baked goods, sandwiches and a sit down terrace with full lunch and dinner menu.

- Il Ritrovo in Montepertuso-20 min from Positano


Naples

Napoli was a bit a of a shocker when we arrived after being in the beautiful Amalfi coast, Naples is, well let's say 'rough', it is dirty in comparison to Rome, there is graffiti is almost every inch of every wall in the Centro area, so there was this high contrast to the other spots during our trip. However, you'll find there are infinite treasures hidden behind the rough facades, you could be appalled by the piles of trash in front of a building, but once you enter you can be blown away by the art or delicious food that makes Campania notorious for.


That said, all cultures have these layers and depths to them, cities have them too, and there is beauty in exploring them and being able to appreciate them separately or as a whole. I actually enjoyed photographing the many graffitied and decayed doors around town. The city may also have a bad rep for crime and pickpocketing, and I did not experienced that or saw anything any worse than say, Barcelona, just be aware of your surroundings.


Main sights in Naples:

- Naples National Archaeological Museum: a must-see, it holds a large and impressive collection of all things Pompeii and Ercolano, along with other incredible pieces of art like the Farnese Atlas, Hercules and the Farnese Bull ......You can reserve tickets (coop culture.it). If you take the train there from Centro, stop at the Toledo Station to see its psychedelic design.

- Cristo Velato (Veiled Christ) at the Museo Cappella Sansevero: impressive chapel with a collection of art with the Veiled Christ as the main attraction. Do reserve tickets.

- Castel Nuovo: Medieval fortress with museum, chapel and some art.. 

- Gesù Nuovo: intricate church with interesting exterior architecture. It is in front of a lively plaza with cafes, restaurants and shops.

- Piazza Vincenzo Bellini: eclectic area with cafes, live music, bars, restaurants and shops.

- Galleria Umberto I: massive plaza under roof with shops, gelaterias, cafes, shopping, bakeries.

- Royal Palace of Naples: restored 17th century palace.

- Catacombe di San Gennaro

- The Bourbon Tunnel Galleria Borbonica - Ingresso Vico Grottone: this is part of the "Naples Underground" attraction. 

- Chiaia Waterfront area.

- Castel Sant'Elmo & Certosa e Museo di San Martino: 14th century fortress, castel, prison, castle with stunning views of Naples and Vesuvius.

- Cloister of Santa Chiara


Naples also serves as a great base to commute to some greatly trips like Capri, Ischia, Procida, Pompeii, Ercolano, Vesuvius.Naples is also notorious for great food, the birthplace of pizza and their sfogliatelle pastry. Keep in mind some places are uber crowded and there may wait lines (they are worth it), here are our favorites:


Eating:

- L'antica pizzeria de Michele-Pizza: hailed as the oldest authentic pizzeria in Italy (and the world), the only has a type: Margherita.

- Gino e toto Sorbillo-Pizza: while not the oldest, this 1935 restaurant has more pizza options and has won many awards including No. 2 spot in 2017's 50 Top Pizza Guide. You will be seated almost in an assembly line fashion, but the service and experience is still great.

-Di Matteo-Pizza: considered the world's best by most locals.

- Locanda del Cerriglio

- Starita

- 50'Kalo

- Tandem Ragu

- Osteria Il Gobbetto

Rodolfo Pizza at Sorbillo

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Pompeii & Ercolano

These sites are breathtaking windows into life millennia ago, and both unique. Pompeii is massive, at about 1 square mile, with a maze of streets, and it took most of the blow from the Vesuvio blow. Herculaneum (Ercolano Scavi) is a much smaller site, that avoided most of the blast, so it is better 'preserved'. Ercolano is hailed as having been 'richer' and many jewels were recovered, some exhibited on site and some at the Naples Museum of Archeology. Our BnB host asked us how long it took us to see Ercolano (about 2 hours) to estimate how long it would take us to cover Pompeii, 5 hours by his estimation, we actually took 3.5!


Pompeii has a slew of mini sites to check out, most famously the Brothel, which needs to be first on your list since it gets crowded incredibly fast. Others include: the Foro Civile, Temple of Apollo, Great Theater, Amphitheatre of Pompeii (Where Pink Floyd played), Terme del Foro. The maps provided do a great job at creating a guided visit based on the timespan desired; 2 hours, 5 hours, etc. Use Ticketone.it to purchase your tickets to both ruin sites.


Eating:

- Zi'Caterina-Pompeii

- President-Pompeii

- Viva Lo'Re-Ercolano. This restaurant is worthy of a trip if you are staying in Naples, only ~30 min on train or 15min by car, or if you are passing through.


Pompeii Sunrise

Pompeii Sunrise

Pompeii, Italy

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