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Where We’ve Been

Rome: Where We Stayed and Where We Ate

I was on a mission in Rome: to find the best cacio e pepe and to find the best carbonara the city had to offer. I’d read a lot of articles and reviews ahead of time so I had a pretty good idea of where to start. But the only way to declare a winner was to taste as much pasta as I could.

When we got off the train at Termini Station, the scene was chaotic, but we made our way outside and waited in a taxi line that stretched around the corner. While we waited in line, we were approached by several nicely dressed men that were offering us a ride with no wait! However tempting this may be, do not leave the taxi line for any of these offers! These men represent unofficial taxis and are known to rip off tourists by quoting one price, but then demanding another when you arrive at your destination.

Where We Stayed

We stayed in some rental apartments right on the edge of Piazza Navona. The apartment was clean and decorated in a more modern style. The rooms were tiny, but they did have a great continental breakfast that you could eat on their terrace. Out of all the places that we stayed, this one was definitely our least favorite. I know Rome is expensive so we would probably stay here again for the right price, but we weren’t very fond of it. The rooms were so small, and the ceiling was extremely low. We stayed on the top floor so we must have been under an attic staircase or something because Matt had to duck even just to stand up in the bedroom. While the location near the piazza was nice, taxis had trouble finding our building. Several times they dropped us off and had us walk the few blocks to our apartment. Walking is fine with us, but wasn’t ideal when we had all of our luggage!

Where We Ate

Di Rienzo

The location of this restaurant is perfect! We sat outside under the umbrellas and had lunch while watching people come in and out of the Pantheon. Looking back, the food here was fine, but I’m sure the prices were higher just because of where this restaurant is. We wanted something extremely close to the Pantheon because we had a lot of ground to cover that afternoon. So if you’re okay with paying for the location, then this is a great spot!

Roscioli

Roscioli is a deli that doubles as a restaurant in the evenings. There are only twelve tables available each night so reservations are a must. We had a broccoli tempura here that was amazing, but the real reason we came was to try their cacio e pepe. Cacio e pepe literally translates into “cheese and pepper.” It seems like with this dish, that the simpler the ingredients are then the better it is. Homemade pasta is tossed with fresh Pecorino Romano cheese and leftover hot pasta water. The hot water melts the cheese into the pasta and creates a gooey, yummy sauce. The dish is topped with black pepper before being sprinkled with even more cheese. I knew Roscioli was known for their cacio e pepe, but I had no idea I was going to like it was much as I did. I mean, it’s just pepper and cheese, right? No, no it’s not. It’s way more. Congratulations Roscioli… y’all know how to make some pasta.

Pasta Chef

We were rushing around so much on our first full day in Rome, and I knew we wouldn’t have time for a sit down meal. Luckily in Rome, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality. Pasta Chef is an amazing counter-service take out restaurant that makes their pasta fresh every day and serves it in to go containers. I got fettuccine with mushrooms and Matt had (of course) lasagna. It was super fast and so convenient. We need something like this in America, y’all!

Flavio de Velavevodetto

We went here to try their pasta carbonara and it lived up to the hype. I had heard it was fantastic, and while it was excellent, we had some that was even better the next day. We did get to try their aracini (rice balls filled with cheese) and their fried meatballs. All of it was so good! This restaurant is built on one of Ancient Rome’s landfills. In the back of the restaurant is a window that you can look out of and see the trash that buries the back wall. It’s mostly old pieces of pottery so it sounds grosser than it actually is. I mean who doesn’t want to have one of the best meals of their life on top of an old trash dump?

Da Enzo

When you get tired of the busy streets of Rome, you must take an afternoon to explore Trastevere. This neighborhood is beautiful and charming with narrow cobblestone streets and wisteria climbing the walls. Trastevere is home to artists and Rome’s version of hipsters. A lot of young people live here so it’s a very fun place to walk and explore. I had heard about the artichokes at Da Enzo, and since it was artichoke season while we were there, we couldn’t miss it! Da Enzo prepares their artichokes “Jewish” style which is frying it whole. When it came to the table I didn’t know really how to eat it. The young couple next to us told us we could eat the whole thing and then had a good laugh at the silly Americans who’ve never eaten a Jewish style artichoke before. It was salty and crunchy and so good that we ordered a second one. After that, we moved on to the main course. I ordered pasta Amatriciana which is a tomato sauce with pieces of fried pork cooked in the sauce. I’m not even going to tell you what Matt ordered.

Perilli

This is the holy grail of Italian food in Rome. I’m so glad we saved it for our last night because everything else following it would have been a disappointment. One of my favorite Italian food bloggers said that if she only had one Italian meal to eat, then she would go to Perilli. I took her advice and attempted to make reservations. They didn’t reply to my email, nor my message on social media so I ended up having to get our concierge at the apartments to make it for us. The restaurant was a pretty long cab ride away, and once we got there we discovered that no one spoke English. This is so rare for Rome. I knew immediately we were in the right place. We were the only Americans in the restaurant (which is another sign this place is going to be fantastic). Since we had tried Jewish style artichokes for lunch, then we needed to try Roman style for dinner. While the Jewish is fried, the Roman style artichoke is marinated and then roasted in the oven. Different, but still delicious. I ordered carbonara and Matt had Amatriciana. This is where we found the best carbonara in Rome. If you order pasta carbonara in America, you get pasta with a heavy cream sauce that usually has peas and bacon in it. It could not be more different in Rome. The carbonara is prepared simply with egg yolks, Italian bacon, and parmesan cheese. The egg yolks are stirred into the hot pasta and create a fantastically rich sauce without becoming heavy. I’d go back to Rome just to have this again.

Here’s our restaurant summary for Rome:

Best cacio e pepe: Roscioli

Best carbonara: Perilli

Best overall restaurant experience: Da Enzo

I feel terrible picking winners because every one of these places is unique and prepare their food with such pride and skill. I’d be lucky to have a meal from any of these places again, but I hope this helps you if you’re trying to narrow down your choices!

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!