The Amalfi Coast, Italy

The Amalfi Coast was my last real blast of summer. After my time there, I made my way North (I’m now in beautiful Wales), my tan faded and I started wearing long pants. But even after a summer as long and as beautiful as the one I’ve had, I was still so appreciative of the (mostly) great weather on the coast.

I spent three nights each in Sorrento and Positano, and I made daytrips to Pompeii (totally amazing!), Mount Vesuvius (slightly less exciting) and the town of Amalfi. I also hiked the totally gorgeous Path of the Gods which winds through the mountains looking down on the coast.

For Sorrento I was staying in a big hostel in a small town that was one stop away from Sorrento on the little old train they have running all the way between Naples and Sorrento. Sant Agnello, where I stayed, was the second to last stop on the line, and there wasn’t really much in the town besides a restaurant, a bar, a supermarket, a couple hotels, and the nicest hostel (in terms of facilities) I stayed in on my trip. It was huge, spacious, had fierce air conditioning and ample storage, and very modern facilities…it was like staying in a shared hotel room. After a really bad experience in hostels in Rome, I was very relieved to have a clean room.

Not that I was there much. I spent most of my time in the town of Sorrento (which is very picturesque), exploring the small streets packed with stores and restaurants and enjoying the view from the lookout points. I’d met a nice German couple in Rome and we ended up hanging out in Sorrento as well! They were also vegetarians and we had a delicious meal at a vegetarian restaurant and enjoyed one of the several great ice cream places in Sorrento.

Then I was off to Positano, which I liked a bit better. Sorrento is beautiful, but it’s very touristy. Positano is touristy too, but the way it’s built into the cliff face means you have stunning views from wherever you are (Sorrento is built up on top of the cliff so you kind of have to seek the views out a bit) and it’s such a magical place with its twisty windy roads and adorable little in-town shuttle bus and all the hundreds of steps up and down to get from one road to another or to get to the beach. My hostel didn’t have as great facilities, but it had a huge balcony with stunning views and a great big wooden table where all the guests would gather so it was so easy to make friends.

By sheer coincidence, some friends from home were in Positano on my first day! It was lovely to see friendly faces and we spent a nice day at the beach and having food and wine on the balcony at their great bed and breakfast room. One of the other days, I took the bus (which whips around corners beeping its horn – such a fun experience) up to the start of the Path of the Gods and had such a nice morning hiking through the mountains enjoying the gorgeous views. We saw a herd of mountain goats with an adorable sheepdog herding them around, as well as a big beautiful horse whose owner was a hilarious shirtless old man who spoke very little English. After tackling the 1700 (yes, 1700) steps down (walking downstairs is harder than it seems!!!) we were exhausted and sweaty, but it was such a good walk.

All in all, I had a great few days relaxing on the coast. It was a great break in between my time in Rome and Venice.

Favourites: not many to name for the Amalfi coast! It’s mostly just small restaurants and to be honest I didn’t pay much attention to their names. And there was only one hostel in each city: Seven Hostel in Sant Agnello and Hostel Brikette in Positano. And I loved the vegetarian restaurant Mondo Bio in Sorrento.


Rome, Italy

I thought Rome was absolutely incredible. I was constantly in awe of how well-preserved and how ever-present the history is in the city. You can be waiting to cross a busy street with an office building on your left and some not even remotely famous but still super fascinating ruins on your right. When I told my mom I was going to the Colosseum, she asked if I had to make a long journey to get there. Nope, it's two stops on the metro from where I was staying. It's totally incredible.
 
My time in Rome was a bit of a whirlwind. I walked for hours on end every day just trying to soak it all up and was understandably tired every night. It's just such a big, impressive, interesting city. It was one of those places I loved instantly and I didn't feel like it was overrated. At one point I remember thinking “how can anyone not like Rome?!”. I was lucky to be there as tourist season was winding down (though it was still packed with tourists) and when the weather wasn't quite so hot (though it was still very hot some days). I can't imagine what it's like in the middle of summer, and I'm glad I was there when I was.
 
I loved how history and modernity were just smushed up against each other everywhere you looked – it makes for such a surreal, fascinating city. It's touristy, but there's a reason it's touristy: the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum, St. Peter's cathedral and the Sistine Chapel are all larger-than-life and beautiful, and it is completely understandable why so many people come so far to see them. It was a really special experience.
 
Favourites:
  • Enoteca Provincia Romana: this place is on the fancy side, but they sell a selection of fresly-made sandwiches to go for $5. I went two afternoons and got a yummy, cheap sandwich which I ate while sitting next to some beautiful ruins.
  • Il gelato di San Crispino: this shop (now a small chain of shops) was apparently mentioned in Eat, Pray, Love, but I had it recommended to me by a fellow traveller. Really delicious and authentic gelato in amazing flavours.
  • Il Vittoriano: this beautiful building totally took my breath away when I first saw it. It's huge! It's free to climb up all the gorgeous steps and go inside, and the views are really great. You could also choose to take an expensive elevator ride to the top of the building (my budget elected not to) where I've heard the views are even better.
  • The Roman Forum!! I was more excited to see the Colosseum when I got to Rome, but I actually found it a bit underwhelming. The Roman Forum on the other hand I hadn't really heard much about before I came to Rome, but is now one of my favourite things I've seen on this trip. It's beautiful, and you can really get a feel for how things might have looked back in the (Roman) day. I wish I'd had more time there. Another tip: visit the Colosseum and Roman Forum on different days, there's too much to see. Also, a great time to go is around 5PM, when the crowds have thinned out and the sun is less glaring.

 

Bologna, Italy

I love Bologna. As soon as I arrived, I was instantly soothed by its atmosphere: it's old, but it's full of young people; it's international, but it's full of locals; it's scholarly and intelligent, but it doesn't feel pretentious. It's full of amazing food and amazing gelato, and it's full of bookstores (some of which are open past midnight, some of which serve food and wine, some of which share a storefront with a bar – yes, a bar). It's a student town, so food and drinks are relatively cheap (though I'm told, apartments are not), and people are friendly.

The university is officially the oldest in the world, and it's a great school that students come to from all over to do exchanges. I was staying at an awesome hostel that felt more like an apartment, and I was the only tourist there (everyone else was there to work or study and trying to find an apartment). Every person staying in the hostel was from a different place: one night we had Canada, Israel, France, Lithuania, Estonia, Germany, and the UK sitting around a table. That was really cool.

Something else really cool is the nearby Gelato University. It's precisely what it sounds like! People go there to learn how to make gelato. They offer quite an intense program which lasts about a month and has lessons all day every day. I went on a tour of the museum, but was disappointed I didn't get to see how gelato was made. So a couple weeks later, on my way to Venice from the Amalfi coast, I made a quick stop in Bologna again to hang out with some of the friends I made the first time, and take a gelato lesson!! It ended up being a private lesson with the sweet, funny Master Gelato Maker at the school, Makoto (that's her in the last two photos). We spent the day learning the theory of sorbet (the theory of gelato takes about a week to explain in their university course) and then making strawberry sorbet and marscarpone and pine nut gelato. I got to figure out quantities, measure, mix, pour, and try (and fail) to artfully put the gelato in a tray after it froze in the machine. My sorbet and gelato went in their shop's display case to be sold! It was such a cool day.

All in all, I loved this city. There are beautiful main squares where people gather, they close the streets to cars every weekend so the whole old city is open to pedestrians, there are those beautiful porticos (arches over the sidewalks) everywhere, there are some of the most beautiful churches, and there is the best gelato (that delicious marscarpone and pine nut flavour is called 'Leonardo' in Bologna, and I didn't see it anywhere else in Italy). The city feels very special.

Favourites:

  • Pizza Casa: from the outside, this looks like any old hole in the wall pizza place, and back in Canada I wouldn't expect much from anywhere that looked like this. But this is Italy, and this hole in the wall place has a huge stone wood burning oven in the back, and produces quality pizza. The pizza is cheap and absolutely delicious: I got the marguerita pizza with extra onions and it was divine. They sell cheap drinks as well, and it's located right in the university area.
  • San Luca: this is a beautiful church up on a hill, but trust me, it is really up on a hill. I underestimated the ascent. You pass under 660 porticos by the time you get there, all uphill on either stairs or slanted sidewalks. It's HARD. But the views from the top are beautiful, and the church is gorgeous.
  • Osteria della Orsa: just around the corner from Pizza Casa, this is a really nice little place that serves great fresh pasta dishes and cheap wine. Everything I tried there was delicious.
  • Hostel il Nosadillo: great location, great people, and lovely staff. It's small and cosy so it feels like an apartment, it's bright, it was always clean and it was an awesome place to meet people because everyone hung out in the kitchen.
  • Cremeria Funivia: such good gelato. Really unique flavours and amazing texture. Not far from the main square!
  • Librarie Coop: this bookstore is open late and is special for having a sprawling cafe/restaurant inside. My two favourite things in one place!

 

Nice, France

It has to be said: Nice was nice. I spent three nights there en route to Italy, and really enjoyed it. It’s beautiful, and it feels small and welcoming. The hostel I was staying at helped to create those feelings, it was a very small apartment-style place and everyone was friendly and hung out together. What a relief after the not-so-great hostel in Montpellier!

I couldn’t get over the coastline in Nice. Standing in the centre, both ways you looked you’d have a beautiful view of the coast petering off, and it looked beautiful at any time of day or night. It was an especially great view from the hill that once housed the old fortress (now just ruins) – you can take the elevator to the top and then walk down (so good in the scorching heat!). The sunsets in Nice were absolutely amazing, just very subtle layers of colour, hardly ever any clouds in the sky. I took a million photos, and watching it one night I remember saying “is this real?”. Just blue, blue water and pale pink sky.

The Nice old town was pretty touristy, but there were still some really lovely restaurants, churches, stores, squares, and of course ice cream shops. The central market was awesome, just full of lots of different fruit and veggie vendors. One of the days, we got a picnic of bread and cheese and tomatoes and fruit (what else?!) and ate it the hot sun. The only thing I didn’t like about Nice was that I found the beaches a bit dirty: lots of garbage on the shore and in the water. After being lucky enough to see some truly gorgeous beaches on my trip, these ones weren’t up to snuff. The water was still beautiful though, and the view from the water even better.

I was lucky to see some friends (old coworkers from my job in Montreal): one was vacationing there for the summer, another came for a visit (I’d seen him in Paris when I was there!) and a third still was living there for a while with her boyfriend. It was such a random occurrence to have four people who all worked together in Montreal at the same time to meet up in Nice. But so great too! Jean and I drove out to Monaco/Montecarlo one afternoon, and explored the old city of Monaco with its beautiful windy streets and pretty garden, and toured around Montecarlo inside the casino (where I had to stop myself from gasping at how much money totally normal -looking [ie. didn’t *look* rich] people were gambling with at the blackjack table) and wandering past the luxury stores. It was fun but I’m glad I only went for a visit: there doesn’t seem to be much to do there besides spend money!

All in all, I really enjoyed my time in Nice. I was thrilled to be able to meet up with friends, and happy to find that I made lots of friends at the hostel too. The atmosphere in Nice was pretty relaxed and I had a lovely time wandering around there.

Favourites:

  • Lou Pilha Leva: this little restaurant is delicious, cheap and authentic. It’s on one of the twisty little streets in the old town, with lots of outdoor tables. You order at the counter, get your delicious dishes and cheap wine, and sit at the big communal tables. It’s lovely. I recommend the zucchini tart and the eggplant beignets. Yummo.
  • Victoria Meuble Hostel: such a great place! It’s small, so everyone is friendly with one another, and its very close to the old town and the beach. I really liked my stay there.