Friday, August 23, 2013

Procida & Positano - A Great Place To Be In Love

If you are anything like us, when planning where to go next it is always a little challenging because there are too many places and things to see and do. And depending on how much time you have off, you have to make tough decisions (we call those first world problems).

So when planning our honeymoon in Italy - a country which has a million things to see and do - we did some research to find cool places that we thought would make our time memorable. We ended up flying into Naples (see post about Naples, we loved it) and then from there - Procida and Positano.

View from hotel in Positano
We start in Procida -

Welcome to Procida

Sun stained walls

A lucky girl to have a guy who will carry all the luggage
Procida is a small island off to coast of Naples and just a short ferry ride from the port in Naples. It is often overlooked by the larger more touristy island Capri. There is the high speed ferry and a traditional ferry which doesn't take too much longer than the high speed. You can buy your tickets right at the port and be on your way to one of the most beautiful islands in Italy.

When we went, it was off season and mostly locals left. And by locals, we call it the best place for old men to come because it seemed to be older Italian men (think your grandfather), having a drink with their best buds - enjoying a conversation and the slow pace of their island life.

The ferry drops you off right in the center of town (think small) - water lapping over the oceans edge - lined with restaurants - all the building faded out by the sun. We ask a local to point us in the direction of our hotel, La Casa sul Mare. Their reply - turn right at the first church, turn left at the second church and walk till you see it. Got love the simplicity of that.

Water lapping over the sea wall

La Casa sul Mare was just as advertised, it over looked the other side of the island which is also a little harbor with boats and restaurants. The views are unreal from our extra large private balcony. While visiting - best to just walk and enjoy the views, buildings, food and wine. Being an island, they have access to some of the best seafood. Just be sure to have the hotel call and make sure the restaurants are still open if you travel during the off season.

While we were there, they have every type of weather you could image which made the place very mysterious: rain, thunderstorm, hail, sunshine, high force winds - all in a matter of hours during the early, early morning.

Topher <3 

Inside the restaurant we ate at - they were one of the few places still open off season
 All in all, we highly recommend Procida, any time of year to anyone who finds themselves in Italy.

On the ferry
From Procida, we take the ferry back to Naples and then headed to the train station to hop on the local train to Sorrento and begin our journey on the Amalfi Coast, specifically Positano. A little hiccup on this one because the train drivers were on strike. So when in Rome (or Naples), I posted up and had a glass of wine while Chris figured out plan b. Ends up, they opened up business for a few hours that day - so we just had to wait it out.
Presecco while waiting for the ferry in Naples - not just the thing to do at the train station :)
Once we finally were on the train, it was an easy ride to Sorrento and we'd recommend this for travelers on a budget. It will cost over 100 euros if you hire a taxi just to Sorrento and even more if you are going further down the Amalfi Coast. The train drops you off right in Sorrento and charter buses are lined up outside to take individuals to their specific towns. We paid 3 euros each to hop on the bus which will took us directly to Positano. It was all very easy to get from point A to point B.

The train
One of my favorite stories from our journey is when we hopped off the bus. We got off at the first stop in Positano - which for all we knew, was the only stop in Positano. We were wrong and for anyone who has been to the Amalfi Coast, you know, while it looks like little towns built into cliffs, they are more like mountains - and we just got dropped off at the top of the mountain and our hotel was all the way down at the bottom. For the way we normally travel (with backpacks) this would not be a problem, however, being our honeymoon and the fact we are traveling for a few weeks in both Italy and Cuba - my sweet husband agreed a real suitcase was okay for me to pack. Poor guy was stuck carrying the bag down the mountain stairs - ending with one semi-busted wheel. He won husband of the year award and it reminded me why best to travel light. Best part is, the second bus stop in Positano is a few steps from where we needed to be. We will always have a good laugh over that one so hey - not so bad. And our suggestion to anyone traveling via bus to their specific destination, ask the bus driver which is the best stop to get off at for where you are going.

Those are more like mountains in my book
Stairs that run down the mountain to easily get around
Flowers and Champagne from the hubs :)
We both decided, Positano is the most beautiful place we've ever been. The cobble stone paths, abundance of flowers, ocean views, mountain views, shops and restaurants are out of a picture book.


An Asian wedding, given by an American priest, in Positano, Italy - globalization
A day at the beach

During the days, we filled our time walking around, eating, drinking - we tried to take a cooking class but they stopped for the season. One of the best walks we did was climb to the town above Positanto. They had amazing views and a really neat cemetery overlooking the ocean. Would be a nice resting place - it also happened to be All Saints Day so families were paying their respects to their lost loved ones.

View from our walk up the mountain
While we ate very well on the entire trip - the best dining experience we had was at La Tagliata. It was up above Positano and they had a van which picked us up at the bottom and drove us up to the top (need to make reservations for this). We heard great things about this place and they did not disappoint. We are just two people and ate like kings. Everything is homemade, local and delicious. The menu is a tasting menu so you just sit and wait for them to bring you one of the best meals of your life. We ordered a bottle of the house red and that too was local and delish. Since it was the off season and the weather not so great, we were one of the few people there that nice which was kind of nice. In the other room was the family and friends of the owners all enjoying their food as well. Truly a place that cooks with love. I think they were impressed with how much food we were able to put down too. (sorry for the photos with half eaten plates - we kept forgetting to take photos because we just went straight in for kill)

Greens 4 ways

Eggplants and zucchinis

Beans that were so tasty

Meats and Cheeses

Pastas - got ahead of ourselves here

A serious plate of meat

Yes, that just happened

And we even had room for dessert
And while we attempted to make it to some of the other towns along the way - it wasn't in the cards this go around. But we were extremely interested in visiting Ravello - until next time. 

I will end the post by saying: It is a great place to be in love.

Travelers Tips:

You may recognize some of the photos from Procida because it is where they filmed part of The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Also, one thing we learned on this trip - was to be patient when it comes to transportation, especially when it's factors you cannot control like weather and strikes. Make the best of it because you don't want to ruin the experience before you even get there. Be like and have a drink - you will feel better.

Links to a few of the places we stayed and ate, all of which we'd recommend:

La Casa sul Mare

La Tagliata 
Hotel Palazzo Murat 

Our Two Cents on Trip Advisory: 

Procida: Hotel La Casa sul Mare
*Positano: Hotel Palazzo Murat*
*Positano: La Tagliata*  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Little Nugget Goes to Barcelona

What do you think when he hear Barcelona? Magical? Romantic? City? Beach? Tapas? Sangria? All are true. For us, we were in need of a beach fix and we missed Spain so when Ryan Air pointed us in the direction of Girona/Barcelona - the decision was easy. Bags packed, we were ready for our next adventure. Barcelona Baby!
We arrived in an evening, greeted by the beautiful Arc de Triumph - and made our way to our hotel then immediately hit the streets. Our hotel was right near Sagrada Familia and only a few blocks from Plaza Catalunya. Our first stop was to the famous fountain on Las Ramblas which legend has it, if you drink from it - you will return one day. It's worked for me so far.

From there we strolled Las Ramblas and ended up on a tapas crawl in the Gothic area. Always a good way to spend your time on vacation, eating, drinking - with a side of besos. From Plaza Real, we made our way along the harbor to Barceloneta and ended up at Port Olympica. First night in, we've seen a lot of the city by foot and cannot wait for rest of our vacation to begin.

Day 2, we know the beach is a must. So we decided to walk Las Ramblas in the daylight, say what up to Christopher Columbus, swing into Mercat de la Boqueria, through the Gothic district, past the Barcelona Cathedral, see the Mercat St. Catarina - then to Barceloneta for la playa and a dip into the Mediterranean.

Las Ramblas
Mercat de la Boqueria
Queso snack pack for little jack

Barcelona's Cathedral
Inside the Cathedral in the Gothic area

That night we go to one of the best restaurants in Barcelona - Casa de Tapas. We are little foodies and love good dining experiences and this was one of the best we've ever had. They specialize in perfecting traditional tapas, and while it is a nice dining experience, it won't break anyone's bank. Our recommendation: Suckling pig & the beef cheek. Delish.

Avocado and Shrimpies
Beef Cheek in Secret Meat Sauce - melts in your mouth good.
Suckling Pig - Si Por Favor!
Cheese and Onion to finish off the meal
The restaurant is near Placa Espanya so after dinner, we did the touristy thing and hit the fountain show at Font Magica Montuic. Ended the night with a stroll through the Gothic district and then to bed.
Fountain Show
Plaza Espanya at Sunset
Plaza Espanya at Sunset
Day 3, can't go to Barcelona in the summer and not spend time at the beach so we split our day. We hit up Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell in the morning. Being August in Barcelona - pretty sure everyone is in line to get into Sagrada Familia, we did the ohh that's pretty - on to the next one. Parc Guell was awesome. We took the metro to the Vallcarca stop which is an awesome way to enter the park. We loved it. Very pretty with great views of the city. If only everyone else would leave so we can have it all to ourselves. From there, we have a little lunch at one of the restaurants on the beach. We are on vacation so it's nice to have a view while we enjoy a bite to eat. At sunset, we hit the rooftop of our hotel  with a view of Sagrada Familia and enjoy vino and some light treats. Ahhh the life. Tonight we had reservations at another restaurant in the Gothic area but since we had one of the best meals of lives the night before, nothing could come close. Oh well - Sangria and wine were still good and walking around with my hubby, the best!

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia
Walk Up to Parc Guell

Look back from walk up to Parc Guell
View from Parc Guell
View of Sagrada Familia from top of Parc Guell

View of Sagrada Familia from hotel roof
Sunset from hotel roof - ahhh Barcelona
Day 4, we have to check out of our hotel today. Fortunately they have lockers so we are able to leave our bags there and do the most important thing of the day - pick up some of the best Iberico jamon  in the world -  from black hoof Iberian pig. Seriously - if you have not tried this stuff - you should. It is AMAZING. A few slices and you will be in heaven. We enjoyed ours at the beach with some other tasty Spanish goodies and a few Cuba libres. A great day and to top it off - we decided not to waste our last night in Spain with a bad meal so we head back to Casa de Tapas for another fine experience. When it's good, it's good.

Crab and Rice Dish to top off the day
 We top off the trip strolling through the streets till 3 am. We then grab our bags, make our way to the bus station - and head back to Poland.

Espana - how we miss you already.   

Travelers Tips: When flying on the discount airlines, always be sure to check which airport you really fly into. Often times they say the largest city near the airport, so in this case, we flew into Girona, Spain which is about an hour north of Barcelona. From there you take a bus into Barcelona.

For Barcelona, there are lots of ways to get into the city:

- Bus: We recommend the bus. It is the cheapest and easiest from the airport in Girona and it is a private company that coordinates their schedule with the Ryan Air flights so you will usually find a bus waiting for you when you there. Walk out of the airport terminal and follow the signs to Barcelona Bus. You buy your tickets at the kiosk and load the bus all right there. Single tickets are $16 Euro each or you can buy round trip for $25 - good for all the scheduled times. No need to worry about your entire flight also trying to catch the bus at the same time and fighting over seats, they have multiple buses leaving at the same time to make sure everyone has a ride. Buses are new, clean and comfortable for the short ride. They drop you off right at the Barcelona Nord (Barcelona's bus station) which is in the city center. From there you can catch the metro, public bus, taxi or walk to your final destination.

Bus Website

-Train: There is a train which runs between Girona and Barcelona but you'd have to figure out first how to get from the airport to the train station. This might be a nice option if you are interested in spending some time in Girona/Costa Brava.

- Taxi: If you are pressed for time or don't like being with random people - a taxi is always an option. From the research we found, it costs around $120 Euros so if you are with friends or family - you might not be money behind and they will drop you off at your Barcelona destination.

Not sure where to stay? Our recommendation would be to stay in the Gothic area if you are only there for a short period of time. You will be close to the tapas bars, Las Ramblas, Barcelona Cathedral and in general for all touristy things - it is very centrally located and near lots of metro stops so you can quickly get around the city. For those who love the beach, Barceloneta is not a bad option either. For those who are visiting in August like us and all the good places where booked or asking $500 euro a night - near Sagrada Familia isn't a bad option either.

Where to eat? We highly recommend Casa de Tapas - went back two times while in Barcelona. And while they were closed for holiday while we were there, Tickets is supposed to amazing and is right around the corner. They are in friendly competition with each other. Recommend reservations for both.

Not sure between Madrid and Barcelona? We hear it all the time, people's opinions, and Barcelona is no exception, some people love Barcelona and some people hate it. Our recommendation, if you have to choose between the two, Madrid is a better place to visit as a tourist but Barcelona would be one of the best places in the world to live. We love both and hope everyone can experience both and decide for themselves.

Our Two Cent Reviews: 

Barcelona:  Casa de Tapas Canota
Barcelona: Irati Taverna Basca (not impressed)
Barcelona: Ciudad Condal 
Barcelona: Hotel Aranea