My Navona-Roma

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Rome is such a big city with so many choices for lodging and meals. It can be a little overwhelming and even if you’re not much of a planner, unless you’ve spent a lot of time in this city it pays to give some forethought to your trip. Months ago when I started dreaming about a fall trip to Italy I knew that we would begin and end our trip in Rome. I wrote about our arrival in the city where we stayed close to the train station simply for ease of catching the train after a two night stay.

I actually love the research that goes into planning any trip and I think it’s good to have a variety options before making a reservation. Coming back to Rome at the end of our vacation I knew that I wanted a different type of hotel from how we began. Thinking I was done with my room search I reserved a room at a small hotel not far from Piazza Farnese. Don’t ask me how, but some time later I discovered a great travel website called Alastar Sawday’s Special Places To Stay and before I knew it I was scrolling through pages of Italian hotels. Once I saw My Navona I knew I would be canceling our other hotel and making a reservation here.

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My Navona is not a “hotel” but rather a B & B, although not the type of B & B where you’re sitting next to some strangers at breakfast. Here there are five rooms located on the third floor (fourth floor to all of us from the US) of an old building located a few blocks off of Piazza Navona. There’s a small reception room and two hallways where the rooms are housed. Breakfast is served in your room at a pre-arranged time.

colazione

breakfast

The rooms are simply and very tastefully designed. I believe the owners are architects. The bathrooms are very modern, spacious and are stocked with bath products made in Italy from olive oil.

Don’t confuse this lovely inn with another hotel located at the same address. If you look up My Navona on Trip Advisor you will be reading reviews from the other establishment in the building. The area around Piazza Navona is somewhat of a madhouse-sort of like an ongoing giant party in the street. If you decide to stay in this part of the city do not even consider it unless you are assured that your room has windows that entirely block out the noise. I was amazed when the innkeeper closed our window and there was complete silence.

This inn has been the perfect place to rest at the end of a busy day of walking the streets of Rome. There are endless restaurants nearby and some of them are more than your usual tourist fare. More on that later.

Leaving Lucca

statue

As sad as I am to ever leave Lucca, I know that we got out of town just in time. The Italian version of Comic Con starts this coming week and what I know as a charming and somewhat quiet town will be overrun by thousands of fans. Evidence of the changes coming to town were already apparent as huge tents were set up in every major piazza (and smaller ones too) and even up on the wall. Shops were announcing extended hours and around every corner there were trucks with equipment rentals.

We were told that this is the biggest convention of its kind in Europe. San Diego hosts what is probably the largest in the world every summer and I must say that we do our best to avoid downtown when it’s happening.

torre

san michele

I heard from more than one local that they dread this time of year and many try to leave town if they can. I’m sure the merchants, hoteliers and apartment owners are thrilled to have the town filled to capacity, but unknowing visitors may be somewhat disappointed. If you happen to have plans for Lucca this week I would be sure to make dinner reservations now or you may be out of luck.

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And so I’m leaving you with some scenes from Lucca where there’s not one tent or pallet with temporary flooring or harried employees feverishly working on assembling things.

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Until next spring, arrivederci Lucca…

Day Trip-Pisa

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After many visits to Italy we finally decided it was time to take a day trip to Pisa. I think we have intentionally avoided it because of the crowds and it just seemed so touristy. Well, yesterday was our day to bite the bullet and see what millions before us (including my dad during WWII) have seen.

One of the reasons we decided to go is because Pisa is a simple 30 minute trip by either train or bus from Lucca, which means you can go for just a few hours if you want. After seeing the tower and the craziness around the Piazza dei Miracoli (area where the tower, baptistry and cathedral are located) we took off for the other side of the Arno River to check out the rest of the centro.

arno

We were pleasantly surprised by Pisa’s downtown area. I have to say that walking up and down the main street we didn’t hear anyone speaking anything but Italian. I have a feeling that most of the day trippers never leave the area around the tower.

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One of our objectives in visiting Pisa was to seek out the restaurant owned by the brother of friends of ours from San Diego. The Bucci brothers who own Pappalecco, a gelateria and cafe in Little Italy San Diego, hail from Pisa. Their brother Giovanni stayed behind and opened Il Bistrot, a small restaurant located on a quiet square a quick walk from Pisa’s main street. The restaurant was charming and our simple and flavorful lunch was the perfect ending to our morning in Pisa.

Thank you Giovanni for feeding us and taking the time to come out of the kitchen to chat with two strangers from California.

giovanni

In The Neighborhood-Lucca

statue

street

I’m attached to the eastern side of the town. Maybe it’s because it’s where I stayed on my first trip to Lucca or maybe because it feels quieter and more residential. You won’t see store after store with the latest fashions and you also won’t see crowds. This lovely canal is right around the corner from our piazza.

via del fosso

We’re situated at the very top of a building-65 steps up-the perfect work out for all the food we’ve been consuming. You might say I’ve been carbo loading. I can’t help myself. I can barely pass a forno (shop with breads) without stopping in to get a little something. It doesn’t seem to matter that moments earlier I purchased a piece of focaccia.

another view

And here’s the view form one of our rooms-morning and evening.

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A Panini Girl tour is in the works for the end of May so be sure to check back for the details. You too could fall for Lucca.

Porchetta

porchetta

Right off the bat let me say to my good friend MKM, sorry about the picture of the pig. That being said, porchetta is one of my favorite food finds in Italy. It’s a pile of seasoned (fennel, thyme, rosemary) pork that’s salty and crispy tucked into a roll. You’ll find porchetta panini in some food shops, but more often you’ll see it being sold from a food truck at open air markets. I’ll take two please.

Maybe I should start a porchetta truck in San Diego? Might not be “healthy” enough for the fitness crowd there…

Bologna-How Did I Get Here?

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We were trying to catch a train to Lecce and somehow ended up in Bologna! Actually, I’m kidding. When we started planning this trip we had intended to go south, but for a variety of reasons we ended up going north instead and what’s not to love about being in Bologna?

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Two years ago I stayed at Hotel Porta San Mamolo based on a recommendation from my friend Palma, a Bologna expert. This charming small hotel is tucked away in a quiet residential area near the southern entrance to the city, yet a quick walk up to Piazza Maggiore where the action is.

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There’s something to delight the eye at every turn in the common areas of the hotel. The patio is lush with plants and trees and it is a calm oasis after a day of sightseeing. There’s great attention to detail even in small things such as door stops and light fixtures. And don’t forget the resident cat who is just waiting for you to take notice.

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The shining star of this hotel is actually the staff. They are there to answer every question, facilitate reservations and make your stay an enjoyable one. Be sure to reserve in advance as this is most definitely a popular spot and Bologna hotels can fill up fast when there’s a convention in town.

patio

I would write more but we are off to do some serious eating-after all this is Bologna-known as La Grassa-the fat one-famous for its food!

Tazza D’Oro-Cappuccino Perfection

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Whenever we’re in Rome a visit to Tazza d’Oro is always a must. Years back before I ever set foot in Italy I wasn’t even a coffee drinker. Tea was my morning beverage of choice. That all changed when I experienced a cappuccino in Italy. Gone was the bitter taste that I had always associated with coffee. In its place was something creamy and flavorful and suddenly I was a convert.

Yet I was soon to find out that a cappuccino at home in the states is a far cry from what I’d been drinking in Italy. Even the most humble Italian bar makes a cappuccino that far exceeds Starbucks, Peets or whatever your local chain is. In Italy the coffee and steamed milk are a single element, not a layer of coffee with foam over top. How do they do that? Why can’t I do that? Is it the milk that they use? I’m open to suggestions.

There are two schools of thought here in Rome on coffee perfection-Tazza d’Oro and Sant’Eustachio. Both are located in the vicinity of the Pantheon. Both have their ardent followers and we just happen to fall into the Tazza d’Oro club. Maybe because we went there first but whatever the cause we’re happy when we order due cappuccini and hand over 2.20 euros (for two drinks!) and muscle our way up to the counter. Thank you Tazza d’Oro for never changing.

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Tazza d’Oro
VIA DEGLI ORFANI 84 – 00186 – ROMA (RM)

Pizza Fritta

pizza fritta

Yes, we’re in Rome but I’m showing a specialty of Naples and the surrounding area. For me pizza fritta is one of my fondest memories from my grandmother’s kitchen. One bite and I was instantly transported to my grandmother frying up dough in oil and simply topping it with tomato sauce and grated cheese.

We’re staying briefly in the vicinity of the train station since we’re heading out tomorrow. It’s not an area I would rush to, but if you find the need to be located near the station, definitely consider staying at The Beehive, a small eco-friendly hotel with both dorm-like and private rooms. Run by an American couple, it’s clean, comfortable and very affordable. Last night while searching for a restaurant I saw a pizzeria-Meid in Nepols-serving food from Naples.

Located just a few blocks from the hotel, Meid in Nepols was a definitely a good choice. We were pleased with our meal, but for me the pizza fritta was by far the star of the evening. It was hot and crispy, not the least bit oily and with the exception of the basil leaf it was exactly the pizza fritta of my childhood. Normally I would pick this up and eat it in hand but I was trying to blend in with the locals and use a fork. Shortly after this photo was taken I abandoned the fork and just went for it!

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