Twilight in Trastevere

During my recent trip to Rome, one of my favorite experiences was an evening spent in Trastevere. Far from the tourist epicenters of the Colosseum and Vatican, we arrived in the neighborhood, nestled on the west bank of the Tiber, just after a rainstorm.

After a winding taxi ride through cobblestone streets (every taxi ride in Rome feels like a high speed getaway chase), we were deposited in an unassuming alley way and told we’d have to make rest of the journey on foot. Our destination – Grazia e Graziella, a Trip Advisor recommended restaurant in the heart of the neighborhood. Dodging puddles, we navigated the snaking  pedestrian streets until we found our target.

Seated on the patio, we had front row seats to excellent people watching. From tourists, to locals celebrating the weekend, to eccentric shop stalls to friendly Italian puppies, we took in the sounds and sights of Trastevere reawakening after the rain.
All of this street side entertainment was just a warm up, however, for the showstopping main event – our dinner.

 

I know I’ve already covered this meal in my “Everything I Ate in Rome” post, but it is so worth revisiting. Glorious antipasti, amatriciana and tiramisu. Last meal worthy stuff and perfectly Roman – no spaghetti or fettucine alfredo in sight. The sight of it still makes my mouth water.
After we had fully stuffed ourselves, we set out to explore the neighborhood’s streets, with both dusk and Romans settling into them.

 

I love the golden hues of this city at nighttime. Every random building is so photogenic.

 

In one of the main piazzas stood the beautiful Basilica Santa Maria. It’s really incredible and overwhelming how many historical and jaw-droppingly beautiful buildings still exist in Rome. Santa Maria dates back to 1143!

 

Warm summer nights meant many tourists and Romans alike were gathering outside to take in the weekend air. I love the feel of community this brings to the city; people aren’t confined to bars or restaurants, but want to soak up the feeling of Rome and its evening energy.
I couldn’t resist a shameless selfie.

 

Street vendors litter the streets and squares, like most of Rome’s busy areas. They provide entertainment and window shopping, but you should take your time and use your discernment to sniff out the real deal from tourist traps. I was content to meander and take photos.

 

Revelers spilled out into the street and around this cute vintage car.
We found our way to the Tiber and Trastevere’s end. More stalls dotted the border of the river below. If you’ve seen the new James Bond film, Spectre, you’ll recognize this river’s edge from a certain high speed car chase. The city is so cinematic and surreal, so I definitely understand the appeal to filmmakers and artists of all mediums.
Darkness fully engulfing the city, we decided to double back once more to take in the neighborhood’s offerings one more time before leaving.

 

I’m a city girl at heart, so it truly sent my heart racing to feel in the “middle of it all” and take in the buzz of the weekend with real Romans. We just had a glimpse of Trastevere, so I look forward to tasting more of its fine food, ambling through its labyrinth of streets and soaking up its electric spirit on my hopefully very soon next trip to the Eternal City. If you visit Rome, you’d be remiss to skip it.
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Italian Beauty Buys

I’m a self-confessed product junkie, so whenever I travel, I gravitate to beauty souvenirs. Whether it’s lathering on a local lotion, spritzing myself in an artisan perfume or avoiding aging with a revered serum, I just love trying new cult products from around the world.  I picked up a few Italian beauty buys, so I thought I’d share in case you’re ever in the beautiful country.  Just look out for the green cross when you’re wandering the cobblestone streets. It’s not a weed dispensary, but instead a farmacia where with some broken Italian and euros, you can pick up a stash of mementos to keep you looking flawless long after your trip has ended.

1. Mustela. This face soap was not a pre-planned souvenir, but came out of necessity. Being me, I forgot to pack proper face soap (Cetaphil lotion looks so much like their soap!), so I was forced to figure out this whole faramcia thing on our first day. The elderly cashier did not speak English, so with some hand motions and bad Italian on my part, she was able to recommend Mustela. Bless her, because this stuff is awesome! Made for babies, so it’s super gentle, but still frothy and able to take off my makeup and any dirt.
2. Sopa Limone. Aka lemon soap from Capri. The Amalfi Coast and Capri are blanketed in lemon groves, and this soap is made with that fresh local produce. You can also pick this up in practically in any store in Positano, Praiano or Amalfi. A cute reminder of the scents of the dreamy coast.
3. Hotel Margherita Body Lotion. I’m a big proponent of snatching extra hotel toiletries. Not only can you use the travel sizes on future trips, but they also will remind you of your stay at that hotel. Hotel Margherita in Praiano had lovely toiletries made just for them in Napoli, so I had to keep the lotion for my purse. Couldn’t resist the blue and white packaging!
4. Rilastil. I read about Rilastil on Byrdie when doing some research before my trip, and I’m glad I did the legwork. An anti-aging serum that utilizes hyaluronic acid, it re-elasticizes the skin. This was expensive, so I haven’t used much yet. It came highly recommended from several beauty blogs as an Italian “beauty secret.” You should definitely do some research on sites such as Byrdie and Into the Gloss to know what products to look out for before any upcoming trip. The language barrier prevented me from discovering too many new ones while I was there, and I was more focused on enjoying the sights than researching beauty products :).
5. Candle from Capri. The scent is called “flirt,” and my mom and I stocked up on several of these candles while winding through the shops in Anacapri. I can’t find a link to buy it online, but I highly recommend a candle as a souvenir on your next trip. Every time you light it in your home, you’ll be transported to that holiday feeling.
Have any of you discovered any great Italian beauty buys? Any beauty souvenirs you gravitate to on your trips?

 

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Capri Whirlwind: Tips for Visiting the Island

On our first full day on the Amalfi Coast, we were given a whirlwind course in its beauty by a day trip to the famed island of Capri. Our lovely hotel hosts had recommended a boat excursion and we knew little of what to expect. Typically, I’m a very type A travel planner, yearning for control and a full itinerary, but on this day I decided to surrender to going with the flow. Of course, being me, I had a few things I knew I wanted to do (lunch at il Riccio was one), but we’d see where the day and our Italian boat hosts would take us. After going into the experience blind, there are definitely a few things I wish I would have known before our trip. I’ve interspersed these tips within my travelogue of our dreamy day on Capri.
Our day started early – catching our boat at Praia beach. Luckily, our hotel had a driver, Gennaro, that shuttled us down the rocky cliffs to the beach, where we patiently awaited our water transport. Gennaro told us that someone would meet us there, but I will say that it wasn’t totally clear how we were to find our exact excursion. Luckily, some friendly Aussies from our hotel were on the same day trip, so we stuck close to them. Also,luckily for us, the beach wasn’t bad eye candy.

 

Finally, we managed to get on the proper boat, the Donna Assunta chartered by I’Uomo e il Mare, and were off for Capri. The ride is quite long, but were kept occupied with coastal views of Praiano and Positano.

 

We first passed by our temporary home of Praiano, Positano’s sleepy kid brother. I’ll never get over the little white and pastel buildings dotting the cliffs.
Tip: When boarding the boat, grab your spot ASAP! Tour companies will book to full capacity, especially during summer, so you don’t want to be left without your desired seat simply because you dawdled. Sit on the uncovered bow for better photos and if you’re a sun worshiper. It gets achingly hot though in the direct sun on the sea, so sit in the covered stern if you want to forgo photos for comfort.

 

 

Next, we we made a detour to Positano to pick up a few guests staying in the town. Finally, it was on to the final destination: Capri.

 

Capri rising in the distance.

Required selfie as we approach Capri. I’ll spare you the 30 or so more I took during this excursion.

 

Once we arrived on Capri, we were informed of the day’s plan. If you wanted to stay with the group, we would first go to Anacapri for an hour or so, then on to Capri center. Then, we’d all meet back at our boat to sail around the island. Alternatively, you were free to explore the island on the own. Since we don’t speak Italian and were totally unprepared, we elected to stay with our guide, Marzia, who had a habit of starting every sentence with “Alright you guysssss” and follow her lead.  Anacapri is a fifteen minute or so bus ride away, so we loaded up and were off on our merry way.
Tip: Everything costs extra. The bus, side trips to grottoes, etc. Even though we were still on our original tour, the buses that took us all over the island were extra per each person. Luckily, we had euros on hand, but some of our tour mates weren’t as prepared. It’s a bit of a racket. 
Upon arriving in Anacapri, we ventured from the bus depot to what appeared to be the main piazza in town. After scarfing down a surprisingly good prosciutto pizza (mentioned in this post), we began to peruse the little shops, filled with souvenirs – tiles, Capri’s trademark lemon soap and other knick knacks.

 

 

 

With our time limit fast approaching, we discovered we weren’t in the main part of Anacapri at all! There were in fact many more streets to roam filled with actual shops and restaurants that were much less touristy. Unfortunately, we were only able to quickly window shop and grab some speedy photos before having to scurry back to our waiting bus.

Tip: There is more to Anacapri than the tourist square! Wander around the corner to find the real Anacapri center with shopping, restaurants, etc. We didn’t discover this whole other town until it was basically time to head back to the bus.

 

 

 

 

As life along the Amalfi Coast moves a little slower, our bus was late. Wishing we had instead spent more time in Anacapri, we were left to take in the glamorous bus depot. Finally, twenty minutes late, the bus arrived and took us winding around the island to our next stop – Capri center.
Tip: If possible, spend more time in Anacapri than Capri. It is much quieter and more quaint than the packed Capri center. On our tour, we were on strict time limits for each little town, so we didn’t have a choice. I’d love to go back one day on my own and take my time in serene Anacapri. 

 

 

Upon arriving in center you are greeted with the cutest little white and blue buildings, speckled all along the harbor. You are also greeted to throngs of tourists, wanting to snap photos of said buildings.

 

My family was tuckered, so they elected to find some respite in a snack bar, while I decided to obey my gypsy spirit and traipse about the town. Snaking my way through throngs of tour groups, I took in the Church in the main piazza, restaurants and lots and lots of designer stores.

 

 

I mean, who’s four year old doesn’t need to wear Dolce & Gabbana?
Tip: Capri center is packed and full of high end shopping. If you are not in the mood to shop at extreme ends of the spectrum: either a souvenir store or at Dolce & Gabbana, then there is not a lot for you to do in Capri center. Restaurants, yes, but it is definitely centered around catering to the jetsetting European heiress or tourist industry.
Firmly deciding that I wouldn’t be dropping thousands of dollars at Miu Miu or Prada, I decided to rejoin my family and buy something more up my alley – straciatella gelato.

 

After temporarily sating our what seemed like infinite Italian appetites, we were guided by Marzia back to the boat to spend our afternoon floating around on our aquatic tour of Capri.

 

Our first stop led us to the Pinterest-famous blue grotto. Like almost everything else on the tour, it costs extra, so we decided to skip it and instead stay in our boat to enjoy Prosecco and cakes, all while watching a highly entertaining French couple dance about the deck. Italy is so gorgeous, especially on the water, so you really can just sit back and take in the otherworldly surroundings.
Tip: Skip the blue grotto unless you are absolutely married to the idea of seeing it. The lines of boats were fairly long to get in and the sailors who commandeered the grotto boats were very aggressive. One gentleman on our tour had what seemed like a lifelong curse placed on him in Italian by an angry sailor because he didn’t tip him generously enough. There is simply so much beauty in Italy and along the Amalfi Coast. You really aren’t missing out if you don’t see this particular grotto.
My brother was not pleased with the overrated blue grotto.

 

Tourists waiting for the blue grotto – pass!

 

Departing the grotto, we took in many of the other breathtaking caves and inlets around the island. They more than made up for skipping their more notorious neighbor.

 

As daylight began to wane, it was through the Lovers’ Arches, and all of the couples on the boat kissed while I took solace in a selfie. #foreveralone
Tip: You’ll get to swim on most Capri boat trips, but it will be quick. We were given literally ten minutes to hop off the boat along a grotto. It was awesome, and I was not going to pass up my first chance to swim in the Mediterranean and cool off. If you’re looking for lots of free time to swim, however, don’t plan for it on a jampacked tour.

 

Finally, we said au revoir to my new favorite island and made a final stop back at Positano to let off our fellow sightseers. Taking in Positano at sunset is not a bad way to end the day.

 

In conclusion, the boat trip was a great way to get a crash course in Capri. We saw a lot of the highlights in little time and at a good value (about 100 euro a person). Our tour guides were very personable and special touches like cakes, Prosecco, and provided towels made the journey feel more elegant. If you’re wanting to take a leisurely tour of Capri or visit a beach club (like the famed Fontelina or il Riccio), however, this tour is not for you. You should instead take a ferry or water taxi then hire a cab when you arrive, or pay extra for a private charter to take you around the island at your own pace.
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Shopping in Positano

While my brother and dad elected to laze about the hotel pool all day, my mom and I instead chose to set off on a shopping adventure for Positano. Knowing we would need all of our energy to traverse the narrow, hilly paths, we fueled up on breakfast at our Hotel Margherita. Our hosts Suela and Gennaro were so accommodating and always did a fabulous job of whipping omelettes with fresh local produce and my favorite – a fresh cappuccino. Definitely beats your run of the mill continental breakfast of stale bagels and mystery meat sausage.

 

After properly filling up, we set off on the neon Orange Bus for Positano. Conveniently picking us up right in front of our hotel, the bus loops around the coast, providing cheap and easy-to-navigate transport to Positano and back. While inexpensive, the bus does typically lack AC and lots of space – so were always quick to grab a seat and relish any personal space we could find.
It’s a little known secret that the bus can take you all the way down to the center of Positano (the drivers prefer to drop all of the tourists off at the top of a hill), and not yet aware of this insider info, my mom and I decided to take the scenic route and trek on foot to the harbor. Setting off down the Via Cristoforo Colombo, we were welcomed by this jawdropping vignette.
Truly, you could easily double your travel time just by stopping to take in every too good to be true view. Doesn’t it look fake? I did my best Gray Malin and snapped away.

 

Pulling myself away from this photographer’s dream (our journey had only just begun after all), we started our march down the winding paths to reach the shopping and city center. The path isn’t very clearly marked, but luckily there are other exploring tourists for you to follow, easily spotted by their backpacks, sporting jerseys and selfie sticks.  Mid morning sun beating down on us, we happily stumbled into a section of the route covered in the best kind of shady roof – one of  amethyst wildflowers, properly known as bougainvillea blossoms.

 

After continuing our long downhill walk, interrupted with a few pops into stores littering the path, we finally arrived in the main harbor, connecting the beach, several restaurants dotting a piazza, and the port. Anchoring the main square is  the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta, a beautiful Catholic church that is open to visitors.
After paying quick respects to the shopaholic gods, we pulled up our sleeves and got down to the business at hand – shopping. After seeing women carrying their iconic Tiffany blue bags all day, I knew we would have to stop at Antica Sartoria. We were not disappointed by this gypsy girl’s paradise:
Can you say Free People style bohemian looks at a fraction of the price? Plus, when asked where your gorgeous embroidered dress is from you can respond, “Oh this old thing, just picked it up on my recent trip to Italy.” The best fashion finds are ones that can’t easily be copied by heading to your local Forever 21, let alone inexpensive.

 

I combed diligently through the racks, eventually settling on a cover up for the beach and a beaded top. Best of all, these items will always remind me of magical Positano when I wear them. Damage thoroughly down to my stash of Euros, we started to make the uphill trek to the bus stop. Worn out from the long hike and blazing summer heat, we just had to make a rest stop in one last shop.
Our pit stop of choice just happened to have gorgeous leather bags, so my mom and I both sprang for a chic souvenir. I highly recommend you check out Carro’s wares if ever in Positano. The men’s loafer section was also beyond fabulous.
I love this shot of my mom, her loot in tow.
Plenty of spoils tucked under our arms, we finally boarded the bus back to home in Praiano, stealing one last glance at the bewitching Positano skyline.

 

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(Almost) Everything I Ate on the Amalfi Coast

After we ate our way through Rome (you can read more about those culinary pursuits here), we made our way via high speed train to Naples then on to the Amalfi Coast. The food on the coast is very much dictated by what’s available to eat locally – fresh fish from the neighboring sea, lemons from one of the many blossoming lemon groves, and local produce. If you’re a seafood lover – you will gobble up enthusiastically every single meal. I’ve included almost everything we ate minus a jar of nutella (or two) that I may have consumed all by my lonesome. So grab a slice, down a shot of limoncello, and dig in.

DAY ONE

After a long day of cab ride, train ride, then another cab twisting over the craggy cliffs, we finally arrived in Praiano. We had made no plans on arrival day, instead deciding to leisurely sink into coastal life. Our only appointment was a dinner reservation at the Trip Advisor approved Locanda Costa Diva. Nestled underneath a lemon grove dangling above the sea, Costa Diva is a dream for any seafood fan. Like most meals in Italy, we didn’t stop at one course, enjoying appetizers of shrimp, calamari and mussels, then moved on to the main course – pasta with tomatoes and prawns for me. European shrimp, I’ll warn you, comes fully body and head on – and I was not expecting my shrimp to look quite so fresh (aka alive)! The pasta was still lovely, and we finished off the meal with chocolate cake and shots of limoncello. To aid with digestion of course 😉

So beautiful. Definitely recommend this spot for a romantic evening.
Appetizers (these were good, but not earth shattering).

 

Yummy pasta. I picked around the shrimp – the heads freaked me out!
DAY TWO

Unlike our first day, our second day on the coast was jammed-pack. We chartered a boat to Capri (full post on that experience to follow), and spend the majority of the day wandering the island then sailing around its grottos and coves, only taking a break to slip into the perfectly turquoise water. Lunch was in Anacapri at a random street cafe (sorry can’t remember the name!). I wasn’t expecting much, and maybe it was my hunger, but the pizza with prosciutto was actually quite yummy. From Anacapri, we wandered back down to Capri, and enjoyed Straciatella gelato, that’s chocolate chip for you fellow yanks, while overlooking the busy harbor below.

Gelato at Bar Funicolare. Easy and yummy cafe right in the center of Capri. Italian fast food at its finest.
When we finally arrived back in Praiano several hours later, we were properly sun kissed, sleepy, and ready for sustenance. Beat after a long day in the sun, we decided to stay close to home and try our hotel’s restaurant, Ristorante Mama.  Weirdo that I am, I was craving red meat. Even though we were in fish central, I ordered a juicy steak, enjoyed after complimentary fried risotto. Not really taking advantage of seaside flavors, but delicious nonetheless.

 

DAY THREE
While my dad and brother stayed to chill at the hotel, my mom and I spent the morning exploring Positano and gleefully bringing business to the shops. I’ll talk more about that day later, but needless to say, climbing up and down the hills and spending all that money left us famished.  As soon as we arrived back at dreamy Hotel Margherita, I inhaled spaghetti via room service, all while taking in the afternoon sun and passing yachts on our balcony.
After properly freshening up in the pool, we made the trek up the mountains to neighboring Ravello. We fiddled about the popular ceramic shops, and I may have tripped over a basket of ceramic knick knacks and broken one or two eek! On the lam from the shop owner, we found our way to one of my favorite restaurants on the trip – Cumpa Cosimo. Unassuming in a dark back street, the restaurant is spartan, but the food more than makes up for the lack of elegance.  Following recommendations from our waiter, we tried fresh antipasti, bolognese, and the best veal marsala I’ve ever had. I still dream of this damn marsala. Finished off, of course, with tiramisu. If you’re nearby, you must make the trip to Ravello and go!
I have never been a veggie lover, but these may have made me a convert.

 

Marsala of dreams.

 

DAY FOUR
You can read about my unforgettable tripe to Arienzo Beach in this post, but the fab beachside lunch is worth mentioning again. Pasta with mussels and clams paired with a watermelon mojito – all overlooking an orange umbrella dotted paradise? Yes please!
Dinner, sadly our last one of the trip, was back in Positano at Da Vincenzo. Our guide of our Eating Italy tour in Rome highly recommended the joint, and it definitely lived up to expectations. We zipped over in the orange bus from Praiano and were let off on one of the winding Positano cobblestone streets. Sadly, no breathtaking views of the pastel buildings lining the harbor, but the fare was still excellent. Appetizers were stuffed peppers, and they were good but not really my jam per se. I was quickly revived, however, with the arrival of my rigatoni ragu. Hummina hummina. All finished with the required chocolate cake and shot of espresso.

 

 

After cleaning our plates, no licking was involved I swear, we ran down the hills of Positano to catch our bus back to sleepy Praiano. I really did not want the magic of Italy to end, especially the culinary parade of delights.
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