Italia: Amalfi Coast and Tuscany

After having returned to the concrete jungle aka New York City from a three month long backpacking trip into the South American jungles, mountains, and beaches, I started itching within a few months to leave the city and breath easily once again. The invitation from the Umbria Film Festival in Italy for a screening of Peace After Marriage, the film my boyfriend co-directed couldn’t arrive at a better time. We packed and left for our trip to the Amalfi Coast without much preparation.

Our nine day long trip included Milan, Sorrento, Capri, Ischia, Rome and Montone in Umbria (and a short pizza stop in Napoli which is a hub to take trains or ferries to the towns on the coast). We didn’t stress about our accommodation and chose the hotels we’d stay in a night or a few hours before arriving to our destination by browsing the Hotels.com app on our phones.

Our first stop was Milan, which we couldn’t avoid visiting on a sizzling HOT July day since our planes were landing there. The city was beautiful with both narrow/historic streets and large shopping avenues with chain stores. But we were trying to avoid the crowds and buildings in the boiling hot weather so we ended up having a long, wine filled lunch and managed to quickly browse Duomo di Milano.

We stayed at Hotel Paradiso near the main train station for $60/night including breakfast. The airport shuttle dropped us off at the train central and we reached the hotel after a short 10 minute walk. It was a clean room with just the basics, nothing fancy.

Aslita & Bandita embracing each other in front of one of the largest cathedrals in the world, which took over 600 years to complete.
Duomo di Milano, one of the largest cathedrals in the world, which took over 600 years to complete.
At night we found an outdoor concert, which was recommended by our receptionist at the hotel. The music was too rock-ish for my test and it was jam packed. We chose trying the special wines of the region at a nearby restaurant instead of standing in the crowd.
In the evening, we found an outdoor concert, which was recommended by our receptionist at the hotel. The music was too rock-ish for my taste and it was jam packed. We made a wise choice of trying the special wines of the region at a nearby restaurant instead of standing in the crowd.

We ended the night fast in order to be able wake up early and head to the coast as quickly as possible! In Italy, we found the train the easiest way to travel and Italiarail and some other private companies offered different fares with different trip durations depending on your budget. We took the fast train that cut the trip duration to 5.5 hours (versus the regular train that took 10 hrs) and paid close to 150 euros One Way.

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Rome2Rio is a very useful site that helped us during this trip to chose among different types of transportation alternatives.

SORRENTO

Sorrento is a town in Campania, southern Italy, with some 16,500 inhabitants. It is a popular tourist destination which can be reached easily from Naples and Pompeii. The infamous Amalfi Drive (connecting Sorrento and Amalfi) is a narrow road that threads along the high cliffs above the Tyrrhenian Sea. I fell in love with this town and its narrow cobble stone streets, lively cafes and restaurants, lemon orchards, cliffs and beaches.

View from our first dinner on the Amalfi Coast.
View from our first dinner on the Amalfi Coast.
The beach closest to the town center where you reach by going thousands of steps down. We paid a fee for the chairs, umbrella and a cabana (if you like a place to keep your stuff and change) and relaxed the whole day in the warm calm waters of the coast.
The beach closest to the town center where you reach by going thousands of steps down. We negotiated a small fee for the chairs, and umbrella and relaxed the whole day in the warm calm waters of the coast.
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Sorrento
Lemon orchard in the town. Here you can buy imoncellos and walk among the trees
Lemon orchard in the town. Here you can buy Limoncellos and walk among the trees.
Aslita & Bandita getting drunk with limoncello.
Kids getting drunk with limoncello.

Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur mainly produced in Southern Italy, especially in the region around the Gulf of Naples, the Sorrentine Peninsula and the coast of Amalfi, and islands of Procida, Ischia, and Capri. 

The highlight of Sorrento for us was a visit to Faro Beach on the other side of the town as a recommendation from a friend. It had a nice seafood restaurant overlooking the Italian youth sunbathing, swimming and socializing. Close to the sunset, the top area on the rocks turned into a cool party with banging summer beats from the DJ and the mojitos and caipiriñas started flowing from the bar. To top it off, we got to see an amazing Amalfi Coast sunset.

Il Faro
Entrance to Il Faro beach after a 30 min minibus ride from the city center.
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We made new Italian friends quickly. These two lovely people were from Milan and it was their first time in Il Faro like us.

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When the time to leave Sorrento came, we left the city sadly not only because of leaving the great memories behind, but also because my bald boyfriend insisted on not wearing a hat and ended up with a sunstroke :/

In Sorrento, we stayed at the Atlantic Palace for 2 nights and still not sure how we got a $500 discount and ended up paying $60/night for a $560/night room. Life offers us unexpected gifts sometimes 🙂 We then switched to Sorrento Palais one night. It was a real run down place which I would not recommend.

CAPRI

Capri is a beautiful little island in the Bay of Naples and so to get here, you’ll need to take a boat! Ferries to Capri depart from Naples and Sorrento. We took a ferry from the dock of Sorrento to our new destination, the most picturesque and visited location on the Amalfi Coast. The name of this island echoed in my head because of reading in the tabloids that George Clooney had a house here and that was also frequented by his best buddies Leo di Caprio (Capri, Caprio? is he from this island??), Brad Pitt, etc. As predicted, this is a popular day-trip destination among tourists from all around the world and a summer favorite for the holidaying VIPs. On the island there were two main centers, Capri Town and its uphill rival Anacapri, lots of cool cafes and piazzas, designer boutiques and awesomely colored bougainvillea spilling over the buildings.

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The view from the top of Capri where you reach with the Funicular railway, Vomero.
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The view of the roofs and tents from the cafe we found open on a slow sizzling summer afternoon.

I found Capri to be too touristic and I couldn’t gather enough energy to venture its narrow streets. Since we have been to several Italian cities with the same concept, we decided to skip that and go near the water instead. The best thing we did during our stay on the island was the boat trip to Blue Grotto.

We had read that the crags and grottoes of Capri had been mesmerizing visitors since ancient times and many artists and writers had been immortalizing Capri’s beauty and history for centuries. Following the flyers that were given to us on the dock, we found a tour aboard a wooden boat to the Grotto Azzurra, a cave filled with spectacularly blue water.

Leaving Capri behind for our grotto tour
Leaving Capri behind for our grotto tour.
I had a magazine shot opp for 10 mins :)
My magazine shoot opp 🙂
Amazingly blue waters
Amazing blue waters
Blue Grotto (Grotto Azzurro) is a sea cave on the coast of the island of Capri. Sunlight, passing through an underwater cavity and shining through the seawater, creates a blue reflection that illuminates the cavern. The cave extends some 50 meters into the cliff at the surface, and is about 150 meters deep, with a sandy bottom.
Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra) is a sea cave on the coast of the island of Capri. Sunlight, passing through an underwater cavity and shining through the seawater, creates a blue reflection that illuminates the cavern. The cave extends some 50 meters into the cliff at the surface, and is about 150 meters deep, with a sandy bottom.

In Capri, we stayed at Stella Maris. The Location was convenient, right outside the tramway and the buses leaving for other towns. The hotel is small and there is nothing special but the room was decorated beautifully in the Mediterranean style. The owners of the hotel, which were a traditional Italian family, were super cute and hosted us warmly. Think an older Italian lady talking at the top of her lungs and berating her son and husband constantly. She was nice enough to iron our shirts as well.

ISCHIA

Ischia is a volcanic island at the northern end of the Gulf of Naples, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the city of Naples. I decided to pay a visit to my friend Peppe who had told me about his magical island when we’d met in New York several years ago. It was great to get the opportunity to finally make this visit happen! The beaches on this island was better than Capri but for some reason not so many people visit this island except for its spas. We had no complaints about the lack of people especially after the touristyness of Capri and Sorrento.

Ischia
Ischia
Port of Ischia, on the way to the bus terminal to take us to our hotel
Port of Ischia, on the way to the bus terminal to take us to our hotel.
Casamicciola
Aslita & Bandito discussing which route to take to get to Casamicciola by their Vespa.
One of the many beaches on the island of Ischia
One of the many beaches on the island of Ischia.

In Ischia, we stayed at Hotel Gemma for $40/night for a double room including breakfast and pool. It was a 10 minute bus ride or 5 minute taxi ride away from the Port of Ischia.

Rome 

Our next step after Ischia, after a short pizza break in Napoli, was Rome where we’d meet the star of the film to head to the Umbria Film Festival together. Rome is the capital and largest city of Italy. While the modern life is lived to the full, Rome is also the country’s political and religious heartbeat with the presence of the Pope in Vatican. We had one afternoon and night to spend in Rome and we chose to spend it with eating good food, drinking wine and visiting the glamorous Colosseum. We figured the modern subway system quickly and traveled between the sites easily and economically.

Colosseum in Rome
Colosseum in Rome
Spanish Steps.. not sure why this pace was highly recommended in the guidebooks. Looked like just  some regular street steps and people sitting on them.
Spanish Steps.. not sure why this place was highly recommended in the guidebooks. Looked like just some over-crowded street steps. Note to self: read their history!
Aperetivo time!  Aperetivo is a pre-meal drink whose scope is to stimulate appetite, but it has come to signify the ritual of going out for a drink and nibbling on finger food served free at the bars
Aperetivo time!
Aperetivo is a pre-meal drink whose scope is to stimulate appetite, but it has come to signify the ritual of going out for a drink and nibbling on finger food served free at the bars. We were usually too full to eat dinner after these happy hours.

Umbria Film Festival, Montone 

As I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, the Umbria Film Festival was the main reason we chose to go to Italy as my boyfriend was invited to attend the screening of the film he co-directed with his brother Ghazi Albuliwi. After meeting Ghazi at the Rome airport, we headed to the historic town called Montone in the Tuscany region of Italy with our private car with a driver in style 😉

We stayed in a castle!
We stayed in a castle!
The magical view of the Tuscany from the bed when you open your eyes
The magical view of the Tuscany from the bed upon opening our eyes!
Streets of Montone
The empty streets of Montone
Montone
Montone
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