Exploring Christian Rome

In last week’s post, I explained how we divided Rome so that we could tackle it. Ancient Rome has so many things to see, but Christian Rome has just as many. The ornate churches and beautiful frescoes depicting scenes from the Bible are breathtaking! Here’s where we recommend for a quick tour through Christian Rome:

(I should add the disclaimer that pictures aren’t allowed in many churches in Rome. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of photos, and when I could take a picture, the lighting was usually very dim.)

The Catacombs of Rome

The catacombs are an underground burial site that began in the 2nd century. It’s the creepiest feeling walking through the dark tunnels with graves on either side of you! Some of the graves have been excavated, but some still remain untouched. We saw bits of pottery and even some bones that were still in their original burial site! The guide was so interesting, and necessary, because it’s so easy to get lost down there.

Holy Staircase (Scala Sancta)

According to Roman Catholic tradition, Constantine’s mother travelled to Jerusalem and brought this staircase back. It is believed to be the stairs that Jesus climbed on his way to his trial in front of Pontius Pilate. Now it is customary for Christians to travel from all over the world to climb the staircase on their knees. Seeing everyone so reverent and respectful was an experience we won’t forget.

Archbasilica of San Giovanni

I’m not Catholic so a lot of the hierarchy and traditions confuse me. However, I do know that this church is absolutely gorgeous! The high altar is beautiful and worth the visit alone.

Vatican City

There’s way too much information about Vatican City for me to include in a brief post. We booked the early morning tour of the Vatican, and it was the best thing we did that day. Yes, that meant we had to be at Vatican City at 7 in the morning, but we got to enter before any of the crowds were allowed in. We were able to take our time through the museum, and the halls were completely empty! If you do a quick internet search, you will see that the hallways in the museum are usually packed shoulder to shoulder. You can’t even cross the hall to see something on the other side. You basically have to just move with the crowd. But this was not our experience at all (thanks to the early morning tour!). In addition to the museum, we were able to see the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Square, and St. Peter’s Basilica. All are a must-do!

Type A Tidbits:

Unbeknownst to us, we visited Vatican City on the Day of Ascension. Since this is a Catholic holiday, no tours were allowed to be given inside the church. Our tour guide spoke with us outside and quietly waited in the back while we took our time looking at everything. We had to save all of our questions for her until we were back outside.

No talking is allowed inside the Sistine Chapel! I wanted so badly to tell Matt to “look at this!” or “let’s go over here,” but we had to keep silent. Obviously people don’t adhere strictly to this rule so anytime the noise level got above a whisper, the guard would say “Silenzio!” in a loud, booming voice!

Watch for the Swiss Guard in their colorful uniforms!

It seems like every corner in Rome has a church. And not just any church… they’re all some of the most beautiful art and architecture I’ve ever seen. You can’t go wrong! Narrowing it down is a real struggle, but hopefully this gives you a little bit of insight!

Exploring Ancient Rome

Rome is so overwhelming! There’s so much to do, way too many places to eat, and definitely not enough time. I tried to organize our travel days in Rome into two categories: Ancient Rome and Christian Rome. We devoted our first day in Rome to exploring the ancient Roman buildings and ruins. Here’s what not to miss:

Pantheon

Before our tour through Rome, I had no idea what the Pantheon was. I was surprised to find out that it’s a church and the most well preserved building of ancient Rome. It’s free to go inside, so make sure you take a moment to appreciate the architecture and admire the oculus in the center. The oculus is open to the sky so drains are built into the Pantheon floor for when it rains.

Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain is gorgeous! When you’re walking towards the fountain, you’ll actually probably hear it before you see it. Hundreds of people visit here every day to throw their coins in. It’s believed that if you throw a coin into the fountain, using your right hand over your left shoulder, then one day you’ll return to Rome again. We threw our coins in so we’ll see if the legend comes true! Approximately 3000 Euros are thrown into the fountain every day. A Catholic non-profit organization collects all of the coins each week and uses the money to care for the poor and sick in Rome.

Type A Tidbit

Be aware that the Trevi Fountain is so crowded. It’s hard to fight your way to the front, and it’s almost impossible to get a good picture.

Palatine Hill/Roman Forum

The Palatine Hill and Roman Forum were the most underwhelming part of our day. I’m not sure what I expected, but it’s just a lot of ruins. This is the most ancient part of the city, and was considered to be the center of Rome at that time. The Palatine Hill was dedicated to emperors and temples while the Roman Forum was full of government buildings. There’s no shade here so bring some water with you.

Spanish Steps

If you’re running out of time, then this is the place I recommend skipping because it’s literally just a lot of steps. An Audrey Hepburn film in the 1950s made the Spanish Steps famous, but other than taking a few pictures, there’s not much to do here. Many people gather here to eat lunch or relax in the sun, and there is a beautiful fountain in the piazza.

The Colosseum

No trip to Rome is complete without visiting the Colosseum. I remember rounding the corner and seeing it for the first time. It’s way bigger in person, and so intimidating! To think of all the history in this building is incredible. We had a guided tour through the Colosseum, and we learned so much. Our guide explained the architecture, the events that used to take place there, and the culture surrounding the gladiator games. Try to watch the film Gladiator before your trip. Our guide referenced the movie a lot, and it had been about ten years since I had seen it!

It’s possible to do all of these things in one day, but you’ll be exhausted. To fully appreciate everything, it’s probably best to spread it out over two days. Of course, that also depends on what time of year you visit. We visited in May right before the really busy season, so we didn’t experience very many crowds. Again, I have to stress the benefit of taking a guided tour or hiring a guide. Most of the time, passes to skip to the front of the line are included in guided tours. This saved us so much time at the Colosseum! But no matter how you choose to tour Rome, include as many of these stops as you can!

Eating at Da Adolfo (the most remote restaurant I’ve ever been to!)

Any time I read about Positano, a mysterious restaurant would always be mentioned – Da Adolfo. It almost became sort of a legend. The only info I could find about it was that reservations were hard to get and the food was to die for. But if you know me at all, then you know that a restaurant like that is right up my alley.

I knew Da Adolfo was in a difficult location, so I emailed our hotel concierge months before we left, and I asked them to secure reservations for us. Because of the time zone difference, it was hard for me to call the restaurant myself. The hotel replied that the restaurant wasn’t open yet (it’s open in the summer… and I was asking them this in February, my bad), but they would try calling them once they were open for tourists.

A few months went by, and I sent a follow-up email to the hotel concierge. Once again, he replied that he had tried to call them all day, but no one would answer. And of course, Da Adolfo doesn’t have an email address or any type of social media. Ok fine, we’ll try again when we’re actually in town.

Once we arrived in Positano, the first question I asked was about Da Adolfo. Could they try to get us reservations now? But yet again, after trying to reach them by phone all day, they had no luck. What is the deal? This restaurant isn’t expensive, or fancy, or in any magazines?? Why are they so difficult to get a hold of?

Finally, on our last day in Positano, I pleaded with the concierge to please try one more time. Lo and behold… they answered on the first ring! Reservation for two? For today? No problem. Meet them at the pier and make sure we get on the boat that they’re sending for us. Wait, what? A boat? Evidently, there’s no other way to access the cove that Da Adolfo is in. No roads, no cars. Only small boats.

We packed our beach bag (I was told they had beach chairs for rent), and headed for the pier. We spotted our boat right away… look for the red fish! After fighting a few other people waiting to get on the boat, our shirtless, barefoot boat captain sped away from Positano. A short ride later, we rounded a cliff and I could see it! The beach club looked beautiful… and so elite! No wonder it was so hard to get reservations here. But then, reality crashed down around me. We weren’t headed to that gorgeous beach club… we were headed to the shack on the right. Matt gave me an “are you sure about this?” look, and I did my best to appear like I had known this all along.

When we got off the boat, we headed straight for the beach chairs. The restaurant wasn’t serving food yet so we might as well relax next to the Mediterranean sea, right? Such a hard life.

Something still seemed a little off to me about how easily we got a reservation that morning after having tried for months. I sent Matt to verify that they had our names on the list. He was gone for quite a while and came back looking a little paler than usual. Our names weren’t on the list. I repeat, WE WEREN’T ON THE LIST. We rode this boat to the middle of literally nowhere and now we were stuck here with no Italian food. Apparently Matt told the manager of Da Adolfo that there was no way he was going back to tell his wife that we didn’t have a reservation. The manager laughed so hard and told Matt not to worry… they would TRY to squeeze us in once everyone else had been seated. This was a disaster.

As we watched everyone else’s name being called, I got a feeling of dread. This was going to be such a waste of a precious Italian day. And we would be hungry. This is NOT how my vacations go. I always have reservations. I always print off the confirmation of such reservation just in case the restaurant themselves have misplaced it. I’m never the person hoping for a table. I am not used to such laid back, willy nilly spontaneity. It was giving me anxiety.

After every person had a table, we were still left sitting on the beach. Matt peeped his head up over the railing and made eye contact with the manager. He had forgotten about us! Once he remembered, we were sat immediately at a crowded table right by the bathrooms. That’s ok… at least we had a table!

The menu was written in Italian on a chalkboard so we fumbled through ordering. I knew we were getting some type of fish and our waiter insisted we try their signature drink… white wine with fresh peaches.

I tasted one bite of our appetizer of grilled mozzarella on lemon leaves, and my anxiety melted away. I wasn’t mad we couldn’t get reservations. I wasn’t mad our hotel concierge lied. I wasn’t mad the manager forgot us. I just needed more of that mozzarella. It was so warm and chewy and had a perfectly charred taste from the grill. Something about it being grilled on the lemon leaves gave it such a different flavor… a little citrus and a whole lot of freshness. Oh, and don’t eat the lemon leaf.

The white wine with peaches was incredibly refreshing after lying on the beach. I don’t even like peaches, and we drank an entire pitcher.

The mussels in the tomato sauce were so flavorful… garlic-y and tomato-y. It went so well with our grilled fish and the zucchini pasta. All of the dishes had such simple ingredients, but the flavors were fantastic. I definitely did not expect all of this from a bunch of barefooted waiters serving at a shack on the beach. I love when I’m wrong and it turns out this way.

After stuffing ourselves silly, we took a nap on the beach and watched the ferry come and go.

Da Adolfo was the hardest restaurant to get to AND to get into. My only advice is to try to call them yourself to get reservations. I’ve read that they tend to answer their phone better in the morning (which is our middle of the night). If you can’t get reservations, you could always do like us and just jump on their boat anyways! Surely they’ll work you in, right?

Day Trip to Capri

Despite all of my months of preparation, our visit to the island of Capri did not go as planned! This island is so gorgeous, and there’s so much to explore, but visitors are at the mercy of the weather and sea conditions. We loved our day on the island of Capri, but we definitely had to roll with the punches on this one.

The only way to access Capri is by ferry. The ferry from Positano to Capri runs throughout the day, and our plan was to catch the earliest ferry out the next morning so we could maximize our time spent there. We woke up to find that all ferries to the island were cancelled! How can they shut down all transportation to and from the island?!? Due to the high winds and rough sea conditions, it was too dangerous for the ferry to cross. That’s ok. We decided to have a beach day in Positano, and then try again the next morning.

Type A Tidbit:

For this exact reason, don’t buy your ferry tickets ahead of time. It doesn’t save you any money, and since the ferry tickets are sold for a specific date and time, you run the risk of losing your money altogether. It’s best to wake up and assess the sea conditions that day before buying your tickets at the kiosk right next to the pier.

When we woke up the next day, our hotel concierge called the pier and found out that the ferry was operating! Hallelujah! Unfortunately, the high waves around the island still made it too dangerous for anyone to visit the ONE thing we really wanted to do there: the Blue Grotto. The Blue Grotto is a tiny cave that you can take a rowboat in. Once inside, the sun illuminates the water to the brightest, most captivating shade of blue. We did get to see incredibly clear, bluish-green water, but I’m afraid it still couldn’t compare to the Blue Grotto. We were told that any time there is a strong wind from the west, the Blue Grotto is too dangerous to enter. We checked the forecast, and it was going to be closed everyday that we were in the area. So now that the Blue Grotto was out of the picture, we had to come up with something else to fill our morning with!

I’m so glad I had come across Capri Relax Boats in some articles I’d been reading before we left. They were the best! They’re located near the ferry pier, so we walked straight there to ask them if there was any way we could still get to the Blue Grotto. Unfortunately, there wasn’t, but we asked about other boating excursions that were available. They offered a private tour around the island that sounded too good to be true. For only about $200 we got a boat just to ourselves complete with a knowledgeable skipper! Our skipper was fantastic! He pointed out landmarks of the island, navigated our boat through caves, took our picture several times, and drove us straight through the famous Faraglioni rocks (you might recognize it from perfume commercials?). Not to mention, he had snacks and complimentary prosecco. I mean, is an Italian boat ride even complete without prosecco?

Type A Tidbit:

Ask your skipper to stop so you can jump out and swim! The water was much too cold for us, but he did offer to anchor the boat for a while.

Legend says that you must kiss you sweetheart while you pass through the Faraglioni arch… you’ll be blessed with a lifetime of happiness together!

After our boat ride, we rode the Funicular from the port to the hilltop town of Anacapri. The Funicular is similar to a railway on a hill. Everyone sits in little cars, and it slowly creeps up the hill until you’re at the very top. The view from Anacapri was breathtaking, so we decided this would be the perfect opportunity for lunch!

There’s a few things you can’t miss in Capri: caprese salad made with homegrown tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, fresh seafood, and the flourless chocolate cake known as torta caprese. Our restaurant, Ristorante Al Capri, was perfect for a quick lunch! After eating, we headed to find a cab that could take us to the chairlift up the mountain. The cabs in Capri are so fun because they’re all open air convertibles!

The line at the chairlift was long, but it moved really quickly. Unfortunately, we couldn’t buy tickets for any of our activities in Capri ahead of time because we weren’t sure what day we would be able to take the ferry across. It worked out ok, but we did have to stand in line a few times. The Mount Solaro chairlift is a smooth ride to the top, but once you’re at the top, there’s really nothing to do besides take pictures and take in the view. It is a good opportunity to see the Faraglioni rocks from high up though! We rode the chairlift back down, but there is the option to hike down. We had too many other things to do so we took the quickest way to the bottom.

We visited Villa San Michelle and toured the gardens. The villa was built around the turn of the 20th century, and it overlooks Capri and the harbor. The gardens are so well-kept, and we enjoyed the peacefulness. They do charge a small fee to enter, but it’s a place you must visit. Our pictures don’t do it justice.

After the villa, we took an open air cab to the marina to do some quick souvenir shopping and grab some gelato before taking the ferry back to Positano. Our time in Capri was a little rushed, but still somehow relaxing. I know there are many things we didn’t get to do because of the time constraints of the ferry schedule, but we already know we have to go back to see the Blue Grotto!

Where to Eat in Positano, Italy

There are two things you absolutely have to eat in Positano. Well, it’s more like two categories of things you absolutely have to eat. Anything lemon and anything seafood. Being a cliffside fishing village, you can only imagine how fresh the seafood is. And if anyone knows how to prepare the local catch, it’s the chefs in Positano. Finish your dinner up with a shot of limoncello made from the locally grown lemons, and you’ll have yourself the perfect Amalfi Coast meal.

Our time in Positano was spent on the beach and eating in world class restaurants so I have several recommendations. Like I’ve said before, it’s hard to go wrong here, but it never hurts to be pointed in the right direction!

One thing that’s important to remember about Positano is that there are stairs EVERYWHERE. It’s kind of like the boardgame Chutes and Ladders except without the chutes. If you’re walking somewhere, you can bet there’s a flight of stairs involved. So when you’re planning your evening outfits, make sure you’re wearing flats (or the new pair of handmade sandals you just bought!). I say all of that to say that each restaurant featured in this post is within walking distance of your hotel if you’re staying in town. I definitely recommend walking (especially at night). It’s such a treat to window shop along the winding streets, hear the shop owners closing up for the night, and smell the wisteria blooming overhead on the trellises.

Il Capitano

Il Capitano is the total package. The food was spectacular, the wait staff was courteous, and the view was to die for. There are candles and flowers everywhere which just adds to the romantic atmosphere! We wanted our first night in Positano to be memorable, and I can’t think of a better place to relax and take in the city from above.

To start, we ordered a tempura battered shrimp that was served with an orange dipping sauce. I’d never had anything like that, and the citrus flavor really sent this dish over the top. My entree was thinly sliced shrimp that was under a mountain of fresh pasta… I couldn’t even find the shrimp at first! They definitely get points for presentation! Matt had mussels and gnocchi that was so flavorful! If you read our last post on Positano, then you’ll remember I mentioned the best non chocolate dessert I’ve ever had. Of course, it was all about lemons! It reminded me of a sophisticated twinkie. They called it a lemon tart, but it was more like a cream filled lemon cake with the most perfect lemon glaze/icing. Oh, and don’t forget to order limoncello to finish off your dinner!

Buca di Bacco

It’s crazy how hungry you can get just lying on the beach! Luckily, Buca di Bacco is just steps away from Spiaggia Grande (the main beach in Positano). We took a break from the sun, and headed upstairs for some fantastic traditional Italian food. We had fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella, eggplant parmesan with a side of spaghetti, and seafood risotto. All fantastic!

La Sponda at Le Sirenuse

I was thrilled when I scored reservations at the Michelin-starred La Sponda restaurant! I was even more thrilled when they called asking if they could move our reservation time due to a conflict in the schedule. I was hesitant at first, but because of our trouble, they offered us the best table in the house! Of course I agreed! I couldn’t wait to see this restaurant in person because it’s lit by over 400 tiny candles and ivy grows all over the walls. Our table was right in front of a huge picture window that overlooked the roof of the church and the ocean. The food was served in small portions (we expected that), but for what they lacked in size they made up for in flavor. We shared a shrimp and cauliflower soup, and for our main course I ordered a lemon risotto with zucchini and baby squid. Matt loved his braised beef with vegetables and potato/anchovy side dish. At the end of our meal, they brought out complimentary dessert candies and limoncello. I love when restaurants surprise me with little extras!

I realize I am highly unqualified to have an opinion on this, but compared to our other Michelin-starred experiences, I feel like this restaurant was gorgeous and the staff was amazing, but the menu wasn’t really anything that special. We can get lemon risotto and braised beef a hundred other places. Just my opinion, so don’t shoot the messenger. You should try it for yourself because we still had a wonderful meal here!

Champagne Bar at Le Sirenuse Hotel

Before our dinner at La Sponda, I knew I wanted to visit the hotel’s upscale outdoor terrace. We arrived early enough to enjoy a drink and watch the sunset. Unlike the restaurant, I felt that the atmosphere here was friendly and comfortable while at the same time being fancy and beautiful. There’s a seafood appetizer menu, but we stuck to the extensive cocktail menu. I was boring and went with an expensive glass of white wine, and Matt ordered the “Positano Cocktail” made with vodka and (of course) lemon syrup. I could have sat out here all evening, but our dinner reservations were calling! Even though hardly anyone can afford to stay at the hotel, everyone should stop in for a drink at the Champagne Bar!

Le Tre Sorelle

Right on the beach, Le Tre Sorelle is a fun seafood restaurant with a great view of the waves. The fried calamari was hot and crispy, and the white wine was chilled perfectly. I had a shellfish pasta while Matt tried something a little different and went with a baked red fish. It wasn’t his favorite dish, but that’s probably because it wasn’t lasagna!

Chez Black

Next door to Le Tre Sorelle, Chez Black offers the same view of the beach. We enjoyed our food more at Chez Black, but we would go back to Le Tre Sorelle again. Matt had a pizza with ham, basil, tomato, and fresh mozzarella. I stuck to an old favorite and ordered eggplant parmesan with a side of pesto linguini. The portion sizes here were huge, and we were uncomfortably full at the end of dinner. We couldn’t let that good food go to waste though!

With so many amazing choices, how do you pick a favorite? When doing my research at home, I really thought La Sponda would be the hands-down winner. Maybe I talked it up in my head, but I’d say that was probably our third place winner. We both agreed Il Capitano was the best place we ate in Positano. It could have been just the overall magic of it being our first night in Positano, but I’m convinced it was the lemon cake.

For more information about Positano, check out last week’s post! Next week, we’ll get on a ferry and go to the island of Capri for the day!