Thursday, October 18, 2012

Put Some Wallpaper on It

Our last hotel is trying to impersonate some of the rooms in the Vatican. They've omitted only two details: the ceiling lacks a creation/judgement/armageddon motif, and the toilet paper isn't embroidered. Otherwise, I give them eight out of ten.

How do they do it?

Tonight we ate at an Italian beer hall and I ended up leaving half of my food on the plate--to the incredible disappointment of our waiter. I have been known to eat a healthy amount, but the food volume here is killing me! How does one consume an antipasti, a primi of pasta, a secondi of protein, then dessert or coffee in one sitting? Granted, I realize the whole meal is intended to take hours, but I still don't get how the Italians can put so much food away, regardless of the time frame. The plate of gnocchi I was served tonight could have fed a large family, but it was intended to only provide the start of the meal for one person. How is it all possible? We spent our meal in awe of the massive appetites of our fellow diners. We are just not worthy..

Crowds in front of Trevi fountain

Trevi fountain view

Back in Rome

We're back in Rome for just one night before heading home. Michael is looking just like one of the locals in his fancy red pants.

Sorrento view

More white billowy clouds of cheesy goodness please!

Can there be such a thing as too much cheese? I never thought I'd be saying this, but yes! We ate at the Inn of Buffalo and shared a mixed antipasti platter that contained a whole fist-size ball of buffalo milk mozzarella. And that was just the warm up act to buffalo milk ricotta stuffed inside my ravioli and served with Michael's buffalo meat ragu. And of course, we ended the evening with gelato--marscapone flavor for me. I fear this trip might actually make me lactose intolerant.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

More from Positano

More positivity

Black goes with everything, and so does sea urchin

We took one of Mario Batali's recommendations and headed to Chez Black on the waterfront for a leisurely lunch. Michael ordered the spaghetti with sea urchin, which was served in an elaborate metal spiky thing. And he got to wear a styling bib.

Getting positive in Positano

With great views, fine beaches, and a mellow vibe, Positano is our favorite destination on the Amalfi coast. You'll find fewer tourists here, great food, and shopping (if you are female and looking for clothing). It's the perfect place to chill out for a long afternoon.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Embrace the Void

It is lovely.

Fucking Gargoyles

In her first driving post Karen referenced the gargoyle incident. It's what happens when you put iron statues on the ground inside narrow gates around blind corners in skinny alleys, and I ran over it. Minimal damage. The local take: bystander shrugs and remarks, "Eh, Naples."

Found That Picture

Remember the Rape of Pippin entry from back at the Vatican Museum? Yeah, I located it. I defy you to interpret it any other way.

Where we're at

We're staying in the small town of Praiano, between Amalfi and Positano. This is the view from the hotel entrance, we've got a similar perspective from our patio.

More Amalfi views

Amafli views

Tales from the crypt

The crypt in the cathedral in Amalfi.


Amalfi is stunning, but jam-packed with tourists and massive tour buses. The cathedral in the center of town features beautiful colored marble patterning and offered a relaxing respite from the crowds.

Driving in Italy, pt. 2

It's late October, and the first of the holidays is upon us: Halloween. Most people will dress up, consume candy, maybe go to a haunted house party. My approach is a bit different: I like to put on a small car and pretend I'm Italian.

The best part is all the fear and terror are still there. You know you're doing it right when Karen starts hyperventilating. But more important is the Italian driving ethos. You see, the Italians can smell fear. Driving with them is like those animal training shows: you are the alpha dog or someone's going to eat your slippers and soil your rug, in an automotive sense. Whatever that means.

So establishing control is important. But so is folding in your mirrors. Along the coast, some stretches are literally so narrow that cars can't get past each other any other way. Of course, those are also the stretches where three peds, two scooters and a tour bus magically appear, the rules of physics bend to the same fluctuations that give rise to Italian time, and multiple bodies simultaneously occupy a single point in the space-time continuum.

Is it fun? Absolutely! Though maybe not so much for Karen...


After a harrowing car journey from Naples (more on that later), we arrived on the Amalfi coast. Everywhere you look here, you see something unbelievably stunning. Buildings, towns, and even farms perch precariously on hillsides, deep valleys plummet from the road, and the brilliant blue sea borders it all. Our first stop--lunch in Ravello, a small hillside town above the city of Amalfi. Over prosecco, panini, and salads we got to consume this stunning view.

Goodbye Naples!

Naples, we so enjoyed your pizza, coffee, pastries and gelato! We'll miss dodging cars, mopeds, and other pedestrians on your narrow cobblestone streets! Ciao!

My Other Habit

It's hard to avoid the gelato, so pacing is important. In the morning, I recommend going with something fruity--a lemon or melon or strawberry. After lunch, the nutty ones are where it's at, though coconut and biscotti are also good choices. Save the evil flavors for after dinner. They make chocolate like they make coffee, so we're not talking some kind of Swiss Miss-flavored, non-fat, guilt-free chemical concoction from Exit 12. But if that's not enough, I can personally vouch for the ciocco-rhum.

Just remember: pacing! Tomorrow's another day.

The One True Religion

Nope, it ain't Catholicism. It's pizza. And with few exceptions, Neapolitan pizza is only to be found here. Of course, as with any good religion, there's schisms and factions and occasional skirmishes, but for the most part everyone just worships at their temple of choice.

And so, like anyone new to a community, we sampled the local sermons to seek out the right high priest, gorging ourselves on scripture written in dough and anointed with sauce. It should be noted that the local manna is one-pie-per-paisan, and at 3-6 Euro per, it's considered unorthodox to split (though sharing is okay). It should also be noted that toppings are limited and predetermined; no such thing as build-your-own. And it's probably better that way. Three pizzerias in three days; here's what we found:

Veri: strong local following, good range, thicker crust than others. Karen, cheese addict that she is, devoured the Quattro Formaggio. I, heretic that I am, order smoked mozz, mushrooms and speck (similar to prosciutto, but instead of salt cured leg, it's smoke cured jowl). It didn't work out so well. The shrooms were canned and the cheese coagulated too quickly, resulting in a rubbery mess. I resolved that cheese had no place in my pantheon.

Il Presidente (pictured): packed, attentive and delicious. There's a school thought among some that pizza comes in two varieties: Marinara (sauce, garlic, oregano, basil) and Margharita (sauce, mozz, basil). There is no third. I can see their point. Sauce this good really is the main event.

Sobrillo: lines out the door, faster than a rocket-powered popemobile. This is the sanctum sanctorum. Pillowy crusts so ethereal the cherubim would find themselves at home. A marinara so luminous you would not be judged harshly for confusing it with the works of the old masters. Simply unearthly.

Kneel before the magnificent oven. Offer alms to the benighted monks of bread and marinara. This is the one true religion.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Driving in Italy, part 1

So, at this point in the journey you might suspect that we'd be driving, and that suspicion is right on! We picked up our diminutive Renault at Europcar yesterday.

As the primary passenger,my experience of driving has been less active, but perhaps more stressful. I would say that driving in Italy has been very much akin to a grief process. First: denial. So what if everyone (including the sage Rick Steeves) says that it is unrecommended (on the more neutral side) or insane (on the more extreme end) to drive in this country, we can do it! Then, anger. How could they rent us this car without showing us the very non-intuitive way to get into reverse? Don't these people know how to merge? Who walks into the middle of a busy street like that? Why on earth did they put a metal gargoyle there (more on that later). Now, finally, acceptance. Yes, driving here is crazy, but it will give us the most outstanding access to the Amalfi Coast. The key is trying to reduce our exposure (let's drop the car off in Naples on our way back from Amalfi so we can avoid driving in Rome, for example). Let the adventure continue!

Is it a moat?

No, that would be the 60 feet of ash dumped by Mount Vesuvius, covering the city, all of which had to be removed to uncover the city's ancient glory.

Fresco from Herculaneum


The smaller and slightly less touristy sibling to Pompeii, the site of Herculaneum lies beneath the modern city.

My Internet Musings...

...are offered with great consideration but without apology. Nonetheless, Karen has expressed concern that my NSFL approach may be too much for some of our gentle readers. Thus, if you wish to engage in blog prophilactation, use this simple rule: Karen's posts are titled in sentence caps, while mine use title case. That should clear up any issues, except when I use the phrase "Goat Fucking" in the title (in title case).

Meanwhile, for your viewing pleasure I submit this picture of a woman with 16 boobies. That should clear up any misunderstandings.

And yet more

Glimpse of mosaic floors and wall fresco

And more

More Pompeii views

Where the streets have no name

We, Pompei

Once home to more than 20,000 people, Pompeii provides an incredible glimpse into the daily lives of ancient Romans. More than any other ancient site that we've visited, Pompeii gives the visitor a sense of a real city--complete with main drags, shops, restaurants, ancient spas, and even a brothel or two. While most of the sculptures and the best mosaics and wall frescoes have been moved to the Archeological Museum in Naples, the site still reveals deep beauty. It's also like a big advertisement for the Roman lifestyle--those people knew how to live! Rich and poor coexisting together in one city, enjoying food, wine, and spas, and brothels (not recommended for the contemporary citizen).

Coffee, Naples style

In a country that takes its coffee very seriously, Naples is reputed to have the very best. The coffee here is incredibly strong, and usually served with sugar to make it more palatable. Legend has it that one Naples man died after consuming 10 of them (note to self--less is more).

Mexico is widely regarded to be one of the best cafes in Naples, and it didn't disappoint. My morning cappuccino was the strongest I've ever had, and fueled me through both Pompei and Herculaneum.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Memento Mori

The Italians love a good memento mori. This one is by Rebecca Horn (full disclosure, not Italian) at the Madre, the modern art museum in Naples. It recalls the Capucin Crypt in Rome, a crazy installation of hundreds of human bones, monk burials, arranged in the most obsessive decorative patterns. The entrance panel introduced visitors with: "you are what we were, we are what you will be."

Lunch with a view

We dined leisurely on Castel dell'Ovo (castle of the egg), a small island off the harbor accessible by a promenade filled with seafood restaurants offering al fresco seating.

Reading machine

This ingenious desk from the Royal Palace was used when trying to consult numerous volumes concurrently. I could have totally used this when working on my master's thesis. But I would have looked totally ridiculous in the process.

Put some gold on it

More from the Royal Palace.

Put some marble on it

The grand staircase at the Royal Palace.


It's flaky, sweet, and cream-filled and one of the wonderful Napoli pastries available here. Inside a delicately fanned flake pastry is a custard/ricotta filling heavily flavored with thick orange shavings.

Shopping in style

The Galleria Umberto is Naples' stunning shopping mall.

I Like This Town

It's Sunday afternoon, about four. Everyone's just finished a leisurely three course lunch, and except for a few bars, the sidewalks have rolled up until dinner time, a few hours from now. The pizzerias will open, the crowds will pack Via Dei Tribunali to play Italian Roulette with the traffic on streets too narrow to accommodate both, and the smell of wood fired ovens will mingle with petrol fumes and off-brand cigarette smoke. In short, it is perfect.

The weather doesn't hurt, either. It poured last night and today was forecast to be thunderstorms throughout. Instead, it's sunny and breezy with big puffy clouds building then ebbing around Vesuvius.

We were warned about Naples, but I question that wisdom. Rick Steves advises not to stay here, but we've got one of the best rooms I've ever seen in Europe. Someone else described it as the Detroit of Italy; it's anything but. Strolling down Via Toledo this morning (walking would be too violent a word), past all the shops and patisseries, banks and basilicas, syncopated with the strollers and the seniors, one has to ask could anything be better?

Yes. My Italian could be better. Put that on the resolution list.


Holding the sun. What else?


I swear, the headlines here write themselves. Third place: So Many Penises, So Little Time. Runner up: Is That Pompeii's Art Collection, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Nothing Like a Good Sunday Morning Goat Fucking

We're at the National Museum of Archeology. The Gabinetti Segredo (translation: Playboy Room) contains an outstanding collection of vice and verboten. But this object stood out in particular.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


It's Italy's third-largest city. A third of it's population is unemployed. It's grittier than anything we've seen thus far in Italy. The residents apparently treat traffic lights like decorations. And, we arrived on Saturday, when it seems the entire population is out on the narrow cobblestone streets, on foot, in cars, and on mopeds.

This is Naples, and it is going to be interesting.

Are we awesome? Yes?

Our brilliant strategy for the day was to maximize our last day in Rome by seeing museums in the morning, having a leisurely lunch, then heading to the car rental place in the Roman burbs just in time for them to reopen at 2:30 post-Siesta. We arrive by cab at 2:20, then wait about 20 minutes in the rain before realizing it is Saturday. Europecar closes at noon on Saturday. Awesome.

Thanks to the Kienzle/Moon superpowers, we rapidly figured out an alternative. A quick call to the US hone base of Europecar and we switched our car pick up location to Naples. And within the hour, we were on a high-speed train to Naples in business class enjoying complimentary wine and views of the stunning countryside.

Crisis averted. Go team.


Michael getting up close and personal with an outdoor installation at the MAXXI.