Tag Archives: Vacation

Naples and Sorrento, Italy


Naples isn’t quite like the other tourist spots of Italy.  Naples is gritty.  You won’t see the hundreds of security officers wandering around with nothing to do like you might in Rome (we saw only one, donning a bulletproof vest).  Unemployment in Naples is extremely high, and it shows.  They also say that the mafia controls the trash collection (or lack there of) and it shows.  What shows the most is that Neapolitan youth love spray paint.  Graffiti is visible on basically everything.  I never really felt unsafe here though.  I’d venture to guess that the odds of being pick-pocketed in Naples are about the same as any other city in Italy.  Fewer tourists and empty piazzas were actually refreshing.  The huge Piazza del Plebiscito was practically empty as we strolled through.  We also found excellent lodging in Naples at L’alloggio dei Vassalli.

While Naples wasn’t my favorite destination in Italy, it isn’t as dire as I may have made it seem.  One, including myself, could make a convincing argument that the pizza alone will make the trip a worthwhile one.  We stopped at Pizzeria da Michele twice, which is famed in its own right but also from the book “Eat, Pray, Love.”  A picture of Julia Roberts is proudly displayed within.  Da Attilio also provided a solid pie.  In general, the coffee and pastries were also top notch.  The Museo Archeologico contains some amazing works excavated from the ruins of Pompeii (though the museum itself is drab).

Naples makes a great home base for some other destinations as well.  The beautiful town of Sorrento is just a short train ride away to the south.  Pompeii and Vesuvius are also just a short train ride to the north.  Unfortunately we just didn’t have enough time to get to Pompeii and Vesuvius but we did make it to Sorrento for a day.

There is a stark contrast between Naples and Sorrento which is quite clean and quaint.  The town is famous for its softball sized lemons.  The trinkets in the shops are lemon themed, the candy is lemon flavored, and of course there is limoncello for purchase.  Most shops even let you taste before you buy.  One end of town has a lemon grove that you can stroll through, though the mosquitoes were a nuisance.  Great for a day trip but wasn’t a place I’d stay for more than that, unless I were exploring other towns down the Amalfi coast.

Naples itself may not be for everyone but it’s worth a visit.  To non-foodies it may sound odd, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the taste of the pizza in Naples.  I suppose those types of lasting memories are what travel is all about.  You might even fall in love with the more authentic feel of this city versus the long lines and tour buses of other Italian cities.  Anyway, if you can’t stand the place head to Sorrento and Pompeii.  There’s nothing to lose.

Next post: The Cinque Terre

Vesuvius in the Distance

Vesuvius in the Distance
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/4.0, 1/2000s, ISO:500

Umberto Galleria

Umberto Galleria
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/4.0, 1/80s, ISO:500

Lemons of Sorrento

Lemons of Sorrento
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@12mm, f/5.0, Multi, ISO:320

Back Alleys

Back Alleys
Olympus EPL-1, 20mm lens, f/3.5, 1/100s, ISO:200

Missing the Garbage Man

Missing the Garbage Man
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@14mm, f/4.0, 1/500s, ISO:200

Margherita Pizza at Da Michele

Margherita Pizza at Da Michele
Olympus EPL-1, 20mm lens, f/2.2, 1/80s, ISO:200

Sorrento Harbor

Sorrento Harbor
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/5.0, 1/1250s, ISO:200

Neapolitan Graffiti

Neapolitan Graffiti
Olympus EPL-1, 20mm lens@20mm, f/7.1, 1/2000, ISO:640

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Venice, Italy


Venice is surreal.  The notion of purely water based transportation in itself is an oddity.  Like the other big cities in Italy, it has tourist meccas, the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco specifically.  The areas near these two spots seemed even more packed with tourists and low quality/over priced food than Rome.  Learned the hard way that an espresso in Piazza San Marco costs about $14 USD.  Conversely, strolling the streets and canal bridges in the evening is an experience that can’t be replicated.  Just watch out for the dog poop.  No matter where you are some amount of the people will not pick up their dog’s doo doo.  This fact is amplified when streets are narrow and there’s no grass or trees.   Also of great importance, the canals did not stink.  I can’t speak for whether they ever do stink or how badly they smell if and when they do, but I don’t recall a single foul odor.  My wife and I visited in late May.  Maybe it was luck or maybe people tend to exaggerate.  In fact, the lack of exhaust from cars and scooters was quite pleasant.

I was dragging through Venice, half out of it from an illness I’d been fighting off the whole trip.  Luckily our bed & breakfast had the most comfortable bed I’ve slept in (Italy or otherwise).  Actually, B&B Sandra was perhaps the best B&B I’ve ever stayed in.  The owners, Sandra & Leonardo, make you feel at home and prepare an extensive breakfast daily.  The B&B is within reasonable walking distance of almost anywhere, but of course you can take the water buses instead.  No gondola or water taxi rides for us, not sure it would be worth the euros when a good seat on the water bus gets you all of the same sights.

The food was much better in Florence and Tuscany in my opinion, but I’d imagine we just didn’t seek out the right places.  One tip is that the food seemed to improve proportionally to the distance from the Rialto and San Marco.  Lunch at Osteria L’Orto dei Mori was memorable.  The cicchetti (similar to Spanish tapas) bar tour is also an excellent way to go for a dinner.  Hopping from bar to bar sampling the specialty of each with a glass of wine made for a great evening.  Perhaps one of the best things we ate in Venice were strawberries from the local street vendors.  Maybe Venice has the best strawberries in the world in May, maybe I normally eat crappy strawberries.  I don’t know but they were the best I’ve ever eaten.

The short trip across the lagoon to the island of Murano is worth it for a few hours to see the famed Venetian glass work.  Unfortunately I don’t have any photos to post as most of the shops prohibit taking pictures of their work.  The glass is gorgeous but also on the pricey end.  Expect at least 150 euros for a decanter or vase with real quality to it.  Some of the shops conduct live glass blowing demonstrations.  Watched a guy make a very detailed horse out of glass in about two minutes.  Impressive.

The first shot below is an HDR that is admittedly a little unrealistic looking, however I thought that it fit with the surreal feeling of Venice in general.  I tended to rely on the 14-42mm Olympus kit lens as the close quarters and tight streets are more conducive to a mid range lens.  Though it’s crowded, watching the gondolas go by below the Rialto in the evening is a do before you die type of experience.

Next post: Naples

Dreams of Venice

Dreams of Venice
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/3.5, Multi, ISO:200

Venetian Windows

Venetian Driveway
Olympus EPL-1, 20mm lens, f/4.0, 1/400s, ISO:200

Water Taxi

Water Taxi
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@42mm, f/5.6, 1/1600s, ISO:200

Gondola for Hire

Gondola for Hire
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@18mm, f/3.9, 1/10s, ISO:200

The Campanile

The Campanile
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@18mm, f/395, 1/1000s, ISO:200

Venetian Streets

Venetian Streets
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/4.5, 1/1600s, ISO:200

Parking Spots

Parking Spots
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@13mm, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO:200

Wine Tour of Tuscany’s Chianti Region


I’ve been blogging about cities and taking lots of shots of landscapes and architecture in Italy, but really my wife and I traveled here for food and wine.  We had our most enjoyable or second most enjoyable day in Italy (Hard to judge, the Cinque Terre was also amazing) after one full day centered on drinking and eating.  When you tour fantastic wineries and end up eating lunch at a world famous butcher shop, I guess that’s what you’d expect.  A perfect dinner awaited back in Florence as noted in my last post.

My wife and I booked a tour with Tuscan Wine Tours, hoping to try some full bodied dry red wines and wanting to see the famed Tuscan countryside.  We booked well in advance as this outfit is well reviewed in Tripadvisor and spots/available dates were filling up.  We were not disappointed.  If you have a day in Florence and like wine and meat, this tour is what you should do.  You can see the architecture of Florence in pictures on the internet but you can’t taste the wine.

After a 20-30 minute drive we arrived at the first winery.  The scenery was nice and your tour guide will prep you on Italian wine types and classifications.  Our guide spoke perfect English as did the hosts at the wineries.  Tuscan wines are centered around Chianti Classico but offer quite a few other varieties of primarily red full bodied wines.  The wineries also made their own olive oil which could change your whole mentality on the stuff if you’ve never had great olio.  We haven’t bought the supermarket brand ever since.  If you do some research though there are some affordable brands to be purchased just about anywhere.

Lunch was at a butcher shop in the small town of Panzano.  The shop is easy to spot due to the unconventional horizontal red and white stripes and painted blue and flowered cow out front.  Meat was on the menu and it was fantastic.  We were surprised long after we returned home to see a place that looked familiar to us on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” during an episode he shot in Tuscany.  After comparing some pictures to the video we realized the amazing lunch we had on this tour was at the shop of famed butcher Dario Cecchini.

After lunch, another winery with excellent Chianti and olive oil.  We stopped in the town of Greve for gelato on the trip back to Florence where we were dropped off at the scenic Piazzale Michelangelo.  From here you can get a view of the entire city skyline.  The stress of sightseeing in the crowded cities can be well relieved by a tour into the country side, especially with some wine involved. – Mike Valore

Road to Villa CafaggioOlympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO:200

Road to Villa Cafaggio
Olympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO:200

Chianti Classico

Chianti Classico
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/4.0, 1/100s, ISO:320

Lunch at Antica Macelleria Cecchini

Lunch at Antica Macelleria Cecchini
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/3.5, 1/140s, ISO:320

Lots of Wine

Lots of Wine
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/4.5, 1/80s, ISO:320

Home-made Olive Oil and PastaOlympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO:200

Home-made Olive Oil and Pasta
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/3.5, 1/150s, ISO:320

Greve Town SquareOlympus EPL-1, 7-14mm lens@7mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO:200

Greve Town Square
Olympus EPL-1, 14-42mm lens@14mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO:320

Next post: Venice