Mangiare in Italia

I received bad, life-changing news on the 30th of May. Late on Thursday night (31st May), I made a spontaneous decision to book a last-minute flight to Italy. On Saturday, 2nd June, I flew to Rome to see a friend, whom I hadn’t seen since April 2015. I decided to book this trip because I knew the food would heal me. I needed to be elsewhere mentally and physically, and Italy is always the answer.

I stayed in Rome for two nights (my 5th time in Rome!) and then I took a train to Verona, where I stayed two nights. I chose Verona because I hadn’t yet visited. In three and a half days, I consumed seven plates of pasta, one massive calzone, two orders of carciofo (artichokes), four cones of gelato and countless espressos. Through the exquisite cuisine, I was able to “reset” myself and return to Dublin with a clearer head.

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Carciofo alla Romana at Trattoria al Tettarello, Roma

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Tonnarello cacio e pepe at Trattoria al Tettarello, Roma

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Giolitti – a must-visit every time I’m in Rome

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Beautiful views from my table at Tonnarello in Trastevere

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Carciofo alla Giudia at Tonnarello

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Tonnarello cacio e pepe at Tonnarello

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Via Sottoriva in Verona

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The beautiful Via Sottoriva during the day

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The beautiful Osteria Casa Vino

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Ricotta stuffed courgette flowers – truly one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten in my life! at Osteria Casa Vino in Verona

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Gnocchi at Osteria Casa Vino

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Bigoli with duck sauce at Trattoria al Pompiere in Verona

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By far my favourite place I went to on this trip – La Bottega della Gina

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Fresh tortellini and gnocchi

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La Bottega della Gina is a tiny place with only a few seats and it truly was my favourite dining experience of this trip (in addition to the ricotta stuffed courgette at Osteria Casa Vino – MELT IN YOUR MOUTH). Everything was so delicious, I dared to order both a mixed plate of tortellini AND gnocchi bolognese. Let me tell you, I can eat, but after this, I could hardly breathe. If you only order one plate, the mixed tortellini is a MUST. Simply exquisite. IMG_6907IMG_6910

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By far the best gelato I had in Verona – from Gelateria Ponte Pietra

Life lesson reconfirmed: booking a spontaneous, last-minute flight is always a good idea… especially when Italy is your destination.

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Siena and Florence

We ventured to Siena in our rental car on the Sunday of a bank holiday weekend (the crowds! the traffic!) and it took us a solid hour and a half to find parking. We were still based in our middle-of-nowhere home in the Chianti region not too far from Siena.

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The incredible Duomo di Siena – the striped marble is a sight to behold!

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I was so disappointed to not have the opportunity to climb the Torre del Mangia tower in Piazza del Campo, because it was sold out when we got there, even though we were there in very early afternoon. This was #1 on my to-do list in Siena, but we still enjoyed wandering around the sun-drenched piazza.

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Very relaxing lunch in Siena

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Even though Siena got increasingly (and absurdly) crowded as the day went on, we really enjoyed leisurely wandering the beautiful lanes of this unique city and enjoying some down time and gorgeous food. We ended the day by buying a box of Bar Pasticceria Nannini’s gorgeous ricciarelli… unbeatable!!

The following morning, we returned our rental car (which took forever, plus they charged us out the wazoo for not having a completely full tank (even though it was nearly full) – we used up what cash we had to purchase petrol, we couldn’t find a station that was open to accept a credit card!) and took a taxi to the bus stop and waited for the return bus to Florence. We stupidly purchased our tickets in advance. I say stupidly because, as it was a bank holiday Monday (1st May), the bus was only running a couple times that day (this information was nowhere to be found online, I did check in advance!) and we had just missed a bus by two minutes. The next one was not for another four or five hours. So, we had to buy a local bus ticket to take us to the train station and had to buy train tickets. Such a waste of money and time, but we finally arrived in Florence… of course it was lashing rain! We dropped off our luggage at our Airbnb apartment and went for some lunch.

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Il Duomo di Firenze

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The lane our apartment was on

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Part of my lunch: Pappa al pomodoro (Tuscan tomato and bread soup)

For dinner, we went to my life wife/bestie’s favourite restaurant in Florence, Il Brincello. It was exquisite and we had the most enjoyable dining experience.

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Bruschetta never gets old!

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My love for pici knows no bounds

On our last morning in Florence, I went for a nice long walk while my parents relaxed and packed up their bags.

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Early morning – no crowds!

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View from Piazzale Michelangelo

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Pear and pecorino ravioli with balsamic vinegar

We enjoyed one last Tuscan lunch together before we made our way to the train station. I took the train to Bologna to fly back to Dublin and my parents made their way to Venice. It is never enough time, but I am so thankful for this beautiful long weekend with my parents in Tuscany.

What have I been up to lately? I went to London with my life wife to see Adele in June (blog post coming soon!). We spent our summer ditching work to do numerous cliff walks while simultaneously belting out Queen and treating ourselves to lunch, treats and drinks in the sun afterwards. I celebrated my birthday at the end of August – my last year in my twenties! I went through a major life change in early September when my life wife moved 5,200 miles away to Los Angeles (though she is visiting for a few days in two weeks!). I moved in to my dream apartment, a bright, cosy studio in a beautiful, quiet but central area of Dublin. I’ve thrown myself into my career and am really enjoying my work. I returned to Napoli, Italy over my October mid-term break, so more on that later! I am counting down the days until I head home to Florida for Christmas.

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Under the Tuscan Sun

In April of this year, my parents and my sister flew to Dublin for my Master’s graduation.  From previous blog posts, you already know my sister and I travelled to Prague, Ljubljana and Bled before I graduated. My parents arrived the morning after we returned to Dublin, I graduated the following day, and then my parents went off to Italy, on a trip that I planned for them. I was lucky enough to be able to join them for 4.5 days (3 nights in Quercegrossa [in the Chianti region], Tuscany and 1 night in Florence). We spent most of our time relaxing in the countryside surrounding our beautiful Tuscan home and then one day in Siena and one day in Florence.

I had to wake up at 3:15am on the Friday in order to make my flight to Rome at 6:20am. I then jumped on a train at Fiumicino airport to Florence, where I met my parents at the train station. We took the bus to Siena and then took a taxi to the car rental place (I’m exhausted just typing this), where we hired our Audi for the long weekend. I then attempted to drive us to our Tuscan home (an Airbnb), but Google Maps did not recognise the address, since it is in the middle of nowhere, not close to any major towns.

At this stage, I hadn’t eaten in hours and was purely exhausted from being awake since 3:15. I developed a bad migraine and we were stressed about finding our place before dark, which was fast approaching. We stopped and asked numerous people for directions, but they either had no idea how to help us or did not want to help us. We finally knocked on a random person’s door and they were so kind and knew exactly where to direct us. We arrived hours after we were supposed to, and were so relieved to finally be home.

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View from our Tuscan home

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The only restaurant nearby, where we had three meals (Il Mulino di Quercegrossa)

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The local grocery shop

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Quercegrossa town

After checking in, we immediately drove to the only restaurant in town, Il Mulino di Quercegrossa, and finally sat down to eat at 10pm. I hadn’t eaten anything since that morning, and I am the type of person who needs to eat every couple of hours, so you can imagine how I was feeling. My parents were just as bad. We couldn’t even talk, we were desperate for food and water. Luckily, the meal was divine.

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Our first (and in my opinion, best) meal – pici with black pepper and pecorino cheese

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We ate our breakfast and drank our coffee on our lovely terrace under the Tuscan sun and it was our favourite activity of the trip.

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San Quirico d’Orcia

We drove around the Val d’Orcia region on our first full day in Tuscany. We unfortunately got lost trying to find a certain restaurant, and ended up arriving just after they closed between lunch and dinner. Needless to say, we spent a silly amount of time being hungry on our trip, which is something I never thought could or would happen in Italy!

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San Quirico d’Orcia

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Val d’Orcia

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My favourite trees

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Views from our Tuscan home

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Views from our Tuscan home

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The beautiful Il Mulino di Quercegrossa restaurant

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I love the gorgeous light in these photos – the Tuscan sun beginning to set

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On one of our evenings in Quercegrossa, we heard a distant sound of bells. I ran outside to see what was happening and saw that a heard of sheep was coming up towards our home. I screamed for my Mum to come out and see what was occurring. We realised the sheep had bells around their necks and it was the most magical thing to witness. The sound was absolutely beautiful, not to mention the scenery of the sunset in the background of the rolling Tuscan hills.

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I am so grateful for the beautiful time spent with my parents in Italy. Tuscany is magical, and I cannot wait to go back and explore more. In my next post, I’ll talk about our time in Siena and Florence.

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Whirlwind 3 Days in Italy

The best way to sum up my whirlwind, ever-too-short trip to Italy last week: I got a total of 6 hours of sleep in an 89 hour time period. That is precisely how busy, over-stimulated and excited I was. Also, you should know: Heaven does exist. We found it.

Insane crowds at 04:30 on Easter Sunday morning at Dublin Airport

Insane crowds at 04:30 on Easter Sunday morning at Dublin Airport

I spontaneously decided to meet my sister in Italy for Easter. I spent a lot of time helping her plan her trip and even though I’ve been to Napoli before, I simply could not imagine not being there for all that I planned. Flights were absurdly expensive, but I knew I would not regret going. I was right.

Outside of our apartment in Napoli

Outside of our apartment in Napoli

My flight left at 06:25 a.m. on Easter Sunday morning, meaning I had to be up at 03:00. I did not sleep AT ALL the night before – literally not even for one minute. I met my sister and her two friends in Rome and we went to eat lunch.

It's not hard to figure out which bottle of wine I wanted...

It’s not hard to figure out which bottle of wine I wanted…

Originally, I wanted to use our few hours in Rome to eat gelato and go to the Trevi Fountain with my sister, but that didn’t quite work out. First of all, the weather was awful – it was raining nonstop. Not the type of weather you want to be walking around in and certainly not gelato weather! Please keep in mind, the previous 6 consecutive days in Dublin were full of nonstop rain and without sun. Horrible weather and I was desperate for sun – my bones were cold! I figured I could count on Italy for sun. Instead, our first day in Italy was raining and cold and the cherry on top!: it was sunny in Dublin. I was starving because I had been up for 10 hours at this point and had yet to have a proper meal. We took the metro to the city centre. We were frustrated because many places were closed since it was Easter and we were all very hungry. Then it started raining harder and we stood there staring at each other in frustration. We ended up finding a well-priced, VERY nice restaurant that was packed. We were relieved to be out of the rain and ordering food. We ordered our food and finally started to relax when my sister & I looked at the time – panic set in instantly. We realised we did NOT have time to sit there and eat… we needed to go get our bags and head to the train station NOW. What an awkward situation in such a nice restaurant, where so many families were having their Easter lunch around us. We could not risk missing our train to Naples. I was completely panicked – my face, neck and chest instantly flushed a shocking red and I didn’t know what to do. Should we ask for our food take away? Should we wait and eat really fast and hope we make our train? After debating, I went downstairs and explained our situation and just wanted to make them aware that we were in a rush. They said no problem, it will be ready in 10 minutes. I hated this – food in Italy is an art and I hate rushing my favourite art form!!!

My sister & I on the train to Napoli

My sister & I on the train to Napoli

I went back upstairs and 10 minutes later, the food wasn’t ready, so I had no choice but to go downstairs and pay and ask for it take away. They don’t normally do take away at a place like this, they didn’t even have plastic cutlery. Great, so now we were stuck with delicious pasta that was bound to go cold and nothing to eat it with. Not to mention I was past starving and simply didn’t have time to eat. Looking back, we SHOULD have just gone to a restaurant near the apartment and had a nice relaxing lunch. Instead, I wasted money on a return metro ticket, caused ourselves panic and delayed lunch. When we finally got to the train station (completely soaked), I got an espresso served with multiple “bella!”s and that solved (almost) everything. We were finally able to eat our lunch on the nearly empty train.

Pasta & Bruschetta

Pasta & Bruschetta

I was utterly ecstatic to arrive in Napoli. The last time I was here was 4 years ago this month. I loved it the first time and had no idea I could love it even more. Naples is not a very popular destination among tourists – most people do not like it. Some areas are dirty and dangerous, the mafia is there, “there isn’t much to see” – these are all things I’ve heard from friends who have visited Naples. I was very lucky my first time visiting because I couchsurfed and my host quickly became one of my very good friends who was able to show me why Naples is the best city in Italy. I also couchsurfed with two hosts in Rome who are both from Naples, so they spread their contagious love for Napoli to me. I am forever thankful for these beautiful people and experiences.

Hilarious metro stop in Napoli

Hilarious metro stop in Napoli

Reasons to love Napoli:

1) It’s the food capital of the world.

If you want to eat the best Italian food in the world, GO TO NAPLES. Food throughout the rest of Italy does not compare. I cannot emphasise this enough. This is where the margherita pizza was invented and once you’ve had a pizza in Napoli, you will never want to eat pizza elsewhere. I exaggerate, but any other pizza will not compare! Every ingredient tastes like heaven, right down to the herbs (basil!) and the tomatoes. Please do not get me started on the mozzarella di bufala. And the limoncello.

Reunited with Neapolitan pizza / Mozzarella di bufala / Limoncello

Reunited with Neapolitan pizza / Mozzarella di bufala / Limoncello

2) It isn’t touristy.

Tourists tend to avoid staying in the city of Naples (or if they do, they don’t stay long). They tend to pass through to get to the many nearby attractions. A lot of Neapolitans do not speak English (in comparison to, say, Rome), but this is part of the fun. Neapolitans are lovely, friendly people. You will feel like you’re in “real” Italy.

Fun with my cereal - I love Napoli!

Fun with my cereal – I love Napoli!

3) There is SO much to see and do!!!

Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius, Herculaneum, need I go on? The city centre of Naples itself is beautiful to see.

Bay of Naples - with a view of Mount Vesuvius and Capri in the distance

Bay of Naples – with a view of Mount Vesuvius and Capri in the distance

4) It is beautiful.

Yes, there are dirty areas of Naples, just like any other city. There are also many extremely beautiful parts of Naples. You just need to know where to go.

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I think you now know how much I love Napoli. There is a feeling I get when I’m there – just so alive and full of happiness.

We took the metro to our apartment (my sister chose an Airbnb apartment for us) and walking up the street our apartment was on, I got extremely emotional. There were so many “wow”s and “oh my gosh”s and “this is unbelievably beautiful”s from the four of us on this walk up the hill. Located in an absolutely stunning area near the designer shopping area of Napoli, our apartment was more than we could have asked for. When we walked in, I began to cry. Beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe this place and perfect would be an understatement. You know how hotels and guesthouses always have stunning photos on their websites and when you arrive, you’re always disappointed because the place never looks like the photos? This was not the case at all. Our place looked EXACTLY like the photos. Our host welcomed us and showed us everything we needed to know. I decided right then and there that I WOULD return to this place for a proper holiday and heck, I even want to honeymoon here, even if it’s with myself. I never wanted to leave. We found Heaven.

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We quickly got ready for the highlight of my time in Italy (in addition to being reunited with my sister): meeting my two very good friends – the guys I mentioned earlier who hosted me in Rome four years ago and are originally from Napoli. They were home for Easter and I will forever be grateful that they took time from their holiday to meet us that evening. It was a truly fantastic reunion – they are two of my favourite people that I’ve ever met on my travels. We went out for dinner and enjoyed mozzarella di bufala, massive margherita pizzas, Pastiera Napoletana (a traditional Italian Easter cake) and limoncello. FOOD HEAVEN. Afterwards, we showed them our gorgeous apartment and the guys gave the girls lessons in Neapolitan language. We shared stories and laughs and many amazing hugs that night. It was a truly beautiful night that was easily the highlight of my time in Italy. I slept 3 hours that night.

Best night in Italy - with my dear friends

Best night in Italy – with my dear friends

The next day, we hired a private driver to take us to Mount Vesuvius and the Amalfi Coast. Gerry from Sorrento First Choice Car Service was our driver and I honestly can’t recommend him enough. He was fantastic. We were chauffeured around in a Mercedes all day from 8:30-5:30 and it was nice to sit back and relax and enjoy the views while learning all kinds of interesting historical facts. When we got to the car park on Vesuvius, we got out of the car and were in complete and utter shock – IT WAS SNOWING. IN APRIL. This never happens. Our driver laughed at us and jumped back in the car. He said he’s been doing this job a long time and has rarely seen it snow up there during non-winter months. GREAT. I almost forgot to bring a jacket that morning (it’s only thanks to D for the reminder that I ran back to grab it!) but it honestly wasn’t enough. There were hurricane-force winds up there. Combine that with the snow and it constantly felt like my eyeballs were being sliced. It was really, really painful. I roared like a dinosaur the whole time fighting the winds. It was hard to appreciate the crater because we couldn’t look that direction (against the wind) for more than a split second. If it weren’t for the weather, it would have been a very enjoyable climb. Having said that, it was an amazing experience to be standing on the top of an active volcano that is (over)due to erupt at any time. Seeing the smoke come out of the crater and the volcanic ash from the last eruption in 1944 was incredible. We were completely frozen by the time we got to the bottom so we asked Gerry to blast the heat (that’s how you know I’m cold, because I HATE heat in cars!!!). We really weren’t expecting this in Italy!

Mount Vesuvius crater

Mount Vesuvius crater

Freezing on top of Mount Vesuvius

Freezing on top of Mount Vesuvius

View from top of Mount Vesuvius

View from top of Mount Vesuvius


Afterwards, we went to Ravello (which was very cold!), Amalfi and Positano. Traffic was horrendous because it was one of the biggest Italian holidays of the year – Easter Monday. We were very sad that the sun wasn’t out – we never dreamed we’d be wearing winter clothes along the coast – but we were very grateful it wasn’t raining! When we were approaching Positano, the sun came out and glistened and made Positano look like sparkling gold. The Amalfi Coast is a place I will never tire of returning to. It blew me away the first time I saw it and can’t imagine it ever not impressing me. It’s easy to see why it’s known as one of the most beautiful coastal drives in the world.

Amalfi

Amalfi

Amalfi

Amalfi

Positano

Positano

Positano

Positano

Positano

Positano

Adorable model village (and Nativity) along the Amalfi Coast

Adorable model village (and Nativity) along the Amalfi Coast

Loving the Mediterranean Sea - Positano

Loving the Mediterranean Sea – Positano

I bought lemons and one cedro to bring home with me. I also had my first crema di limoncello (delicious!!) and bought a cannoli for later. Gerry dropped us off at the Sorrento train station and we took the Circumvesuviana train back to Naples. I had read horrible things about this train line – that it’s one of the worst places for pick-pocketing and good luck getting a seat: it’s more like a metro at rush-hour. I was slightly dreading it but ready for the adventure. It turned out to be one of the best train rides of our lives! We each got a seat easily, it wasn’t packed at all and everyone on the train seemed sound. We laughed for the duration of the train (one hour), partly because we were delirious from exhaustion, partly because 40 minutes into the train ride, S decided to go sit across from a cute Italian boy (who had been on the train the entire time we had). The girl has guts and it was wonderful entertainment for us.

Cedro - looks like a lemon on steroids but actually isn't!

Cedro – looks like a lemon on steroids but actually isn’t!

Inside of a cedro

Inside of a cedro

We were determined to get to a restaurant called Sorbillo, the best pizza in Naples (I’ve never been)! I checked their website earlier and it said they were open. It took us ages to navigate and get there but once we did, they were closed. I don’t really want to relive this earth-shattering moment, but it was really disappointing. Dearest Napoli, next time I am in you, I’M COMING FOR YA SORBILLO! Be prepared. At this point, we were beyond exhausted. We had 2 metros to get in order to get home. We took the first one successfully and missed the second one by a few seconds at 9:32 p.m. I wasn’t worried at all about that being the last one, because there were at least 100 locals waiting with us on the platform for the next one. We waited there for over one hour. ONE HOUR. The metro never came. We decided to leave because people had been smoking the majority of the time and since there is no air down there, we could no longer breath. I asked a guard if there were any more metros and he said no, they were finished. Nice. I wanted to avoid getting a taxi because I didn’t want to get ripped off, which I always assumed would happen in Naples. We got a taxi and it was grand – I recognised the way home from earlier that morning with Gerry. We had a lovely taxi driver and were not ripped off. I slept 3 hours that night.

Beautiful area near our apartment in Napoli

Beautiful area near our apartment in Napoli

The next day, I got up at 7:30 and went for the most incredible walk (alone). It was a beautiful, sunny day (why couldn’t it have been sunny the day before!?) I walked along the sea, ate breakfast (croissant filled with cream and an espresso) outside in the sun along the sea, made new friends (in the coffee shop) and made them happy telling them how much I love their city, walked along the designer-shop-filled streets and just soaked up the beauty of Napoli. I tried to change my train back to Rome to a later time but all trains were sold out. We all got the train together but I was separated from my sister and the girls. I was in first class because that is all that was available when I bought my ticket. It was a funny experience – everyone was dressed in designer suits and dresses and I was wearing trainers.

Breakfast in the sun

Breakfast in the sun

Walking up to our apartment

Walking up to our apartment

View from our apartment

View from our apartment

Cannoli!

Cannoli!

I bid the girls adieu and enjoyed a few hours in Rome. I got gelato at Giolitti, wandered the beautiful random streets and lanes, went to see the horrible construction work at the Trevi Fountain (it was worse than I imagined) and ate bruschetta and soup in the sun. I wasn’t home until 1 a.m. the next morning.

Gelato (pistachio & pomegranate)

Gelato (pistachio & pomegranate)

Awful construction at the Trevi Fountain

Awful construction at the Trevi Fountain

It was a truly beautiful (but all too short) three days in Italy. It meant a lot to me to be able to share the beauty of Napoli (the food, people and scenery) with my sister and her two lovely friends. I learned this four years ago: once you visit Italy, it ruins you in so many wonderful ways. I already cannot wait to return.