Lake Como. A place that even my friends that have a fierce “been there, done that” attitude have proclaimed that they would gladly revisit someday. It’s a destination that couldn’t be more photogenic and succeeded at taking my breath away at every angle. I see why George Clooney likes it.
Even the train ride into the tiny town of Lierna, our Airbnb location, offered up incredible views, serving as both a means to get us excited for the upcoming weekend while also distracting us from the sweltering hot train cabin we were all crammed into.
The weekend wasn’t perfect because we saw all the sites the guide books insisted we must visit; the weekend was perfect because besides a short hike and eating a ton of great lake food, we didn’t really do much.
My favorite day was Easter Sunday where we spent much of the morning and afternoon soaking up the sun on Lierna’s pebble beach, taking a dip in the icy cold lake water whenever the heat became too much. We then had a great Easter dinner at a local restaurant, followed by a game night with friends.
Unlike a lot of places we’ve visited over the past eight months where we try to cram in as many sites as possible, we really just forgot about planning and enjoyed our surroundings in Lake Como. Perhaps it’s because we knew that we would return someday.
A three-hour walking tour of the communist history of Bucharest was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. Admittedly, I was pretty ignorant of Romanian history before visiting it’s capital city but I was completely enthralled throughout our tour.
We visited some spectacular sights but our guide also wasn’t afraid to show us some of the rougher parts of Bucharest, underscoring how much communism affects the country almost 30 years after its fall. I can’t recommend our tour guide, Marius, enough and you can check out his blog here.
Bucharest (not to be confused with Budapest!) took me by surprise. With it’s various coffee shops filled with the scent of single origin coffee beans, restaurants serving up dishes using organic and locally-sourced ingredients, and a young population of the most fashionably scruffy individuals, Bucharest screams hipster. I loved it.
Despite it’s capital city’s up-and-coming vibe, Romania still has deep scars from years of repressive and brutal leadership under Nicolae Ceaușescu, which was evident by the countless crumbling and abandoned buildings we saw scattered throughout the city. Yet that didn’t stop us from enjoying plenty of Romanian beer, a fantastic conversion rate, and a delightful abundance of blooming springtime flowers.
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been two whole months since Evan and I last traveled outside of Italy (when we took a train to Vienna), and I’m excited to announce that we will be headed to yet another new country tomorrow. This country has kind of gone under my radar but after reading up on it a bit, I’m really looking forward to exploring this hipster paradise (I mean, check out that bookstore).
Unfortunately, this will be our last big trip together before I move back to the U.S. in May, which makes it even more special. We’re headed to one of the most affordable capitals in Europe, also known as the “Paris of the East”. Any guesses?
The first word that came to my mind as our ferry inched towards the Capri dock? Wow. Aqua water, majestic cliffs, and cheerfully bright buildings make this place truly stunning. Don’t get me wrong, I really did love our time in Napoli but compared to the hustle and bustle of Italy’s third largest city, the island paradise that greeted us in Capri was a breath of fresh air (literally and figuratively).
No trip to Capri is complete without a boat tour and while we were hoping to check out the famous Blue Grotto, our guide was adamant that he wouldn’t take us there at that time in the afternoon. Turns out that our hour tour of the White Grotto, Green Grotto, Coral Grotto, and the Faraglioni (three huge rock formations along the coast) was spectacular, causing our desires to see the Blue Grotto to quickly fade away.
Capri is not a cheap destination but it’s still possible to find affordable restaurants and accommodations if you really look for them. We shared an Airbnb with our friend, Aleks, and I don’t think we could have asked for a better view from our patio. Also, thanks to recommendations from friends and my own research, we enjoyed some fantastically affordable meals.
My only regret regarding our trip to Capri is that we didn’t have enough time. Plenty of people treat the island as a day trip destination from Napoli or Sorrento but I could easily see myself enjoying an entire weekend relaxing under the Capri sun.
P.S. Sign up for Airbnb and get $37 in travel credit by clicking here.
Almost 40 meters below Napoli lies the historic underground, which was first excavated by the Greeks for water storage in the fourth century BC. These cisterns have provided water first for the Greeks, then for the Romans for an estimated 23 centuries.
For a mere €10, we were guided through these winding tunnels, an area that I admittedly had no idea existed before our trip. Most of the tour was relatively well-lit (except for the section where Evan accidentally stepped into an ankle-deep puddle), but my favorite part was when we were led by candlelight through a pitch-dark passageway, so narrow in places that I had to turn to the side just to squeeze through.
These ancient tunnels were used as bomb shelters during World War II and now serve as a greenhouse for a nearby restaurant, providing an environment that is much purer than the city above. Clearly, the value of this space didn’t end with the Roman times and it should be interesting to see how its use evolves in the future.
Most people know Napoli as the gateway to Capri and the Amalfi Coast, a trash-filled and overcrowded city, a place where you should closely guard your wallet. While these stereotypes are true to some degree, Italy’s third largest city also has so much more to offer.
When I first learned that we’d be moving to Italy, I knew that a trip to Napoli had to happen at some point during our nine months here. My grandpa’s family on my mom’s side is originally from Napoli (the details are a little fuzzy but we know they were leather glove makers) so I was determined to explore this city of my ancestors.
I’ve heard from several people that Napoli is dangerous, dirty, loud, and simply not worth the visit. Napoli is known by most people as “that place where they stole my friend’s wallet”. Although I would still encourage you to keep a close watch on your belongings while in Napoli (as you should in large cities throughout the world), there’s really no reason to avoid this culturally-rich and historical place. Here are my top three reasons to visit the city:
The food: Seafood, pasta, sweets (sfogliatella is incredible), cheese, and… oh yeah, Napoli is the birthplace of pizza – that’s reason alone to visit in my book.
The people-watching: We witnessed aggressive car honking, multiple children on a single Vespa speeding down the sidewalk, and a massive crowd taking part in a taxi strike. And that was just within the first hour of being in Napoli. One of my favorite moments was sitting at an outdoor cafe table and watching the city’s colorful people pass by.
The history: It is believed that the Greeks founded Napoli somewhere around the 7th century BC. I was overwhelmed by the amount of history thrown at me during our tour of underground Napoli, in which we saw the Greek-Roman aqueduct that is 40 meters below ground and the remains of an ancient Roman theater, plus so much more.
A week ago today, Malta’s world-famous Azure Window collapsed into the sea. This sad event has left the Maltese (and everyone that was lucky enough to see the landmark in person) truly heartbroken. The Window was formed by erosion over 500 years ago and has been growing steadily larger with passing time.
It seems that its collapse was inevitable and one heavy storm was enough to complete destroy it. We were able to catch the sunset at the Azure Window when we visited Malta back in January.
It’s hard to believe that something so massive has been completely swallowed up by the sea and that there’s now barely any indication the iconic landmark was ever even there. Although the Azure Window no longer exists, I would still encourage anyone who visits Malta to make a trip to the now “Azure Pinnacle” or “Azure Stack”. It’s a magical spot by the sea, which I think is greatly captured by Evan’s time-lapse below.
This past weekend we escaped the dreary, rainy weather of Bologna for the sun-baked streets of Cagliari, Sardinia’s capital city. Although it was my first time visiting, there were several aspects of the city that felt familiar to me.
Its picturesque beaches remind me of Greece, its winding alleys and colorful, ancient buildings make me think of Valletta, and its funny (and oftentimes frustratingly slow) way of doing things is consistent with mainland Italy.
Besides Cagliari’s top-notch seafood, one of my favorite parts of the city was its Castello neighborhood. It’s located at the top of the city center’s tallest hill (so. many. stairs.) and offers impressive views of the distant mountains, nearby port, and sea.
Although strong winds kept us from spending the entire weekend on the beach as planned, I wasn’t too upset since Cagliari felt like an old friend: comfortable, inviting, and charming.
Before moving to Bologna I lived in Denver, Colorado and I got spoiled. Colorado consistently tops the charts for the number of breweries and microbreweries per capita so checking out a new brewery was a pretty common activity.
In contrast, Italy is better known for its wine than its beer and most non-Italians aren’t able to name an Italian beer that isn’t Moretti or Peroni. Despite its reputation, there is actually a wide selection of different bars offering up craft beer from within the country and abroad. Here are some of my favorites:
Birra Cerqua: This tiny place is the only brewpub in Bologna. I’m partial to it since it reminds me of Denver with all the brewing vats behind the counter. Some of their beers even use local hops!
Il Cucchiaio D’Oro: Located in the heart of the university area, you’ll be sure to find at least a couple Johns Hopkins grad students here every Thursday, Friday, Saturday (really every) night. Plus, they offer a great deal of three beers for only €10.
Il Punto: Offering up eight beers on tap and almost 100 different bottles that are mostly Italian, Il Punto has a charmingly hipster vibe. I love its cafe-bar atmosphere that makes it equally acceptable to either settle down for a while with your laptop and espresso or enjoy a couple beers with friends.
Zapap: The local brewery opened a taproom on Via del Pratello a little over a year ago (and recently opened a second location near the university area). Along with its own brews, it serves up other craft beers and tasty, decently-priced pizza.
~~~Bonus! ~~~ Bar Senza Nome:Although this bar doesn’t boast a particularly impressive selection of beer, it is still one of my favorite places to grab a drink. It’s entirely owned and operated by people that are deaf but don’t worry, they’re really good at reading lips. If you want to test out your sign language, be warned that ASL is completely different from LIS (Italian Sign Language).