Of course it is in Italy. It is a little town perched above Taormina and we accidentally went to see it when we were traveling in Sicily. I thought we were going to the outlook in Taormina but instead the taxi driver took us to the town that looks out over Taormina.
The town above Taormina is called Castel Mole.
I am not sure who votes in the competition but it seems like there are endless beautiful towns all over Italy.
If you are planning a trip to this area, I recommend a local car service. They also do airport transfers. I found them when I wanted a ride from Taormina to Catania. 100 euro for a van. Divided up by a group, the price was about the same as the train plus taxi. But door to door.
One of the “chandelier” problems with Italy is that the food is delicious and one could spend a life time trying it all. That said, I have some food that I have liked more than others. I expected to like the cheeses of Piemonte as that is where much of the dairy farming happens. But, I found it not so exciting. Here is an article on some of the typical dishes to try. I only managed a few of them.
Agnolotti di Plin are small stuffed pasta. The filling is usually a meat reduction and the one I had was surrounded by a chestnut paste adding to the gamey feel.
Raw meat. They love raw beef tartar.
Sausage stuffed vegetables.
Egg frittata with cheese sauce.
Breadsticks. Grissini are apparently a specialty of the area.
Russian salad. I actually liked this mayonnaise based salad of potatoes, carrots, and peas. The one I had was very fancy.
As I have mentioned before, “pizza” is “bread” in Italy. There are many types of pizza and in Turin, I tried yet a different type. A personal sized deep pan pizza (for those who have had pizza in Pizza Hut in the United States, it is like those). It is called Pizza al Padellino.
In Turin (famous for the Shroud of Turin — which incidentally is so delicate that it will not be on show again until 2025), there is a type of pizza that is small, soft, and baked in a pan. The pan is about 10 centimeters across/7 inches across. The dough is airy and yeasty so rises to a pillow when baked.
The staff encouraged me to get the black pizza dough as it was special. The taste is the same but the dough is black due to charcoal. It looks special too.
The taste was as one imagines. Light, airy, yeasty, and with crunchy edges.
It was not my favorite because the dough had that “cookie dough” quality to it. and I am not into the cookie dough. I preferred it be cooked all the way through. But, if you like raw dough…
Spoiler: It looks more amazing in photos, and in your imagination. But, it was still a fun outing.
The Bomarzo Monster Park in Lazio, a few hours from Rome, is supposedly where there be monsters. This article describes it quite well.
When done with all the other touristy places (what am I saying?), there will still be more places to explore near Rome. The monster park in the sacred wood, Bosco Sacro, is a place you can go wander around for a few hours. There is parking, bathrooms, and walkways. Most of the walkways are gravel and dirt and there are stairs so it is not a wheelchair friendly place.
The same architect worked on Villa D’este but this park is meant to be a fantasy world of the weird and scary.
On a bright sunny day, with children running around, this place does not seem scary. But, imagine if they opened it at night?
With many of the Romans downsizing, there is perhaps a treasure for you to find in one of Rome’s flea markets. When I got here two years ago, I may, just may, have bought some gold red velvet furniture… but not at a flea market.
Here are the major flea markets:
Porto Portese, Piazza di Porta Portese (or Via Portuense & Ippolito Nievo): This is the most famous of the flea markets in Rome. This massive long snaking street market is at the south end of Trastevere. Sunday, 7-1. I thought it was a waste of time, but maybe because I am no longer in the market for someone else’s junk. I have plenty of my own.
Ponte Milvio, Ponte Milvio: Every second Sunday, 9-7.
Mercato di Via Sannio, Via Sannio: Mornings Monday-Saturday.
Borghetto Faminio, Via Flaminia 32. Only on Sundays, 10-7.
Mercato delle Stampe, Largo della Fontanella di Borghese: This is the place for rare books and stamps. It is located right downtown so an easy place to look for treasures. Every day, 7-1.
What can be harder to find is used furniture. There are antique stores in Rome but many are expensive. To find the cheaper ones, you will need to go to the outskirts of Rome in the more residential neighborhoods. The photos are from one of these residential shops.
One that is not too far out is Deal Done Ventino at Viale Aventino 62.
Even then, you may think to yourself, “this is hideous but I kind of want it…” Remember that you can haggle. Even in antique stores.
Some stores will have a delivery service so ask about that. The cost may be almost as much as the item itself. 50 euro for large furniture, for example.
Lastly, sometimes you can find a furniture restorer who is also selling furniture. There are two that I can think of. One is a tiny place near the Deal Done shop, and the other is Antichito Barrique Restauro, at Via Collina 28 (on the corner of Via Collina and Via Cadorna on Piazza Sallustio, but I can’t find it on Google maps!) This is a furniture restoration shop that also sells furniture.
How hard it is to get things done, like paying a bill. This can take a long time because sometimes you do not have the bill you need to pay, then you have the wrong number, then the wrong amount, then the reminder is sent through a system that you cannot access, and so on. But, once you get the bill, the solution is to get help from your local kiosk by showing them the bill and insisting that you want to pay!
The bureaucracy (actually this can be an advantage at times because speaking loudly enough can sometimes get things done).
The slow internet.
The power outages.
The traffic. It can be deadly. There is double, triple parking on many streets. There is little attention to lanes. Cars often stop at crosswalks but with the pedestrians also walking all over the streets, it is basically a melee.
Not disable friendly. The stairs and steps everywhere. Plus, the cobblestones and broken streets make walking quite difficult.
The heat in the summer. Romans tell me that up until a few years ago, the 90+/32+ days were a few weeks. Now it starts in May and ends in September/October.
The broken streets.
The trash. Rome is a dirty city.
The lack of international food of high standard.
The dubbing of films (which hinders people from learning foreign languages). WTF.
There are only 12 so that makes it easier. I am listing the restaurants on flavor, authenticity, and selection.
Seoul: This place was filled with Koreans and the atmosphere is more family than business lunch. They have no mandu (dumplings) but otherwise a full menu. The service was fast and the flavors were authentic. Not a wide variety of panchan but at least the kimchi was okay. This is on the south side (also figuratively) of Termini. This newly renovated place is down in a basement and I think it is located where the previous highly rate Hana was once located. I would go back.
Starbaps: This tiny three high table top take out place has five things on the menu (bento box, rice bowls, dumplings, rice cakes, and soup) but the flavor is authentic. But it annoys me that they deep fry their mandu as this destroys any “chew” factor. I go back all the time.
Gainn: Perfectly acceptable place to eat Korean. Elegant enough for a nice meal. Near Termini on the nice side. Probably would take newbies here.
Hancook: New restaurant, pleasant atmosphere. They are a bit south of the center. The seafood pancake was good, but the bulgogi was bad. It tasted blah. The japchae noodles were excellent. They had no beef mandu (dumplings) but have small deep fried scallion gyoza. They also have pork dumplings in a money sack shape were “sold out” when I visited. The pork, seafood, and tofu stew was spicy and okay. The rice was not sticky Korean rice. The restaurant looks nice but there were not too many Koreans eating there even though the owner is Korean and the waitress is also Korean. She bops around in her mom jean shorts and speaks Italian. Might go back.
Jangbaeksan/Chang Bai Shan: It’s Chinese Korean. Perfectly acceptable Korean food. A bit far out down south of the center of town. Might go back.
Da Lui Bian BBQ: This place is listed as a yakitori (meat on stick in Japanese) place but the photos show Korean items. The Korean items are all fine. The bulgogi was more like roastbeef so not too sinewy. This place is also near the center of town so convenient. Might go back.
Kombi Ni Ni: is a pan Asian place but they do make some Korean items. Very generic pan Asian but okay if your live nearby. It is actually a Korean owned shop but they are doing well enough that it takes 90 minutes to get the food so it is best to order online. I liked their fried chicken but it could have been fried anything. Good though. The kimbap (like sushi rolls/maki but these are with beef) were good too. No kimchi served with meals/bento boxes. A bit like Starbaps. Too far away to go back to.
Mamma Coreana/Corea: This is a bit like eating at a Korean mamma’s house. They have all you can eat which includes some basics including rice and soup. There are a few a la carte items but not much of a menu. When the food is done, it’s done. This is bare bones, TV on, children running around, businessmen on video calls with wife while eating, kind of place. I might go back.
Arirang: The food was very average, the location and facade make it a hole in the wall. This is the place that I’ve seen from when driving around Termini… I even walked around twice looking for this place with the Korean painted frontage… and then I searched on Google Earth… finally, I found it by reading other lists of Korean restaurants in Rome, but I clicked on the image search instead of the regular search. Read that list here. I would not go back.
I-gio: This is possibly the most trendy of the Korean restaurants. The restaurant is elegant. The food was okay but I didn’t find it good enough to finish or take home. I would not go back.
Galbi: This was another strange frankenstein of a place. The menu is made for Italians. If you want the food served more Korean style, the owner will do so. I wish him good luck, but I would not go here for Korean food. I might go back to grill steak on the mini grill for an Instagram video. Would not go back.
Biwon: Sad. I did not finish the food and I left quickly.
There are two other restaurants listed on Google but…
Kumkan-san: way outside Rome, near Ciampino airport. Temporarily closed.
Rist.coreano: Outside the ring road around Rome. I think this is only for organized tour groups and I don’t think this is really open to the public.
And then there are places with Korean food on the menu:
Raviolieri: It’s not Korean but while many restaurants are trying to get a piece of the “Korean chicken wing” action, this place actual has several pages of Korean items on their menu. The items are fusion Roman-Korean.
Most of the restaurants now make “Korean chicken” wings but they are not. They are chicken wings. Some have sauce. It is not the same as the ethereal rice flour wings of real Korean chicken wings.
As they say, what does not kill you, will make you better. I am always suspicious of things that are supposedly really good for you or things that will increase my sexual stamina. Usually these things are things that are terrible tasting.
Italians have an obsession with their intestinal and gut health. Drinking a little digestif, digestivo, is something many of them are accustomed to.
Digestifs are usually an alcoholic beverage that you enjoy at the end of meal. It is not meant to be downed like a shot. As with many things in Italy, most of the Italian digestifs are bitter. Oh how they love bitter here!
I have tried a few. Some made from walnuts and some made from arugula. The one made from arugula is a specialty of Ischia, an island near Capri.
If they are not too bitter, then they are often too sweet. When I tried the Ratafia, I was delighted because while sweet, it at least tasted good.
Some countries are great for tourists. Italy is one of them. Is it this way for everyone? Here is my list of diminishing joy.
Tourists: At the top, tourists. To be a tourist in Italy is a delight. All the mechanisms are here, from ATMs, efficient trains, to affordable food to make you spend your money! The average salary in the United States is almost double that of the average Italian salary, making American dollars welcome.
Exchange students: With the benefit of home and host nation working to make your study abroad semester ah-maze-balls, this is clearly a great place to be. A semester is like a long holiday filled with movie sets, people flirting with you, free things (sample this, take this, have this), and the massive moshpit of AYCE other students all here to find the dolce vita, or meet Romeo, or feel inspired by Raphael, in a land of where wine is part of daily life (and gives no hangovers because of the rules limited wine production to grapes). Every year, Florence receives over 7,000 American exchange students (80 percent women).
Digital Nomads: This new group of people will find Italy a great place to be. The limits on sitting in cafes and restaurants is fairly limitless, the Internet speed is not bad, WIFI is almost everywhere and free, and overall prices are not too high.
International organization employees: Life in Italy with the aid of your home and host nation to smooth out the transitions makes life in Italy a cushy place. Depending on how many years one is assigned to Rome, reality may set in.
Native born white Italians: Yes, life is sweet. The bureaucracy is just a reminder to slow down…
Students: This includes non-exchange students, Italian and foreign. Being a student in Italy is a life filled with optimism and discounts.
Expats/binationals: For these long term residents of Italy, it is a great place but you still have to deal with the bureaucracy which may drive you absolutely bonkers at times, but then, after a stop at a coffee bar, it will seem all okay.
Long term white immigrants who speak fluent Italian: Life is good, even sweet at times.
Newly arrived immigrants: For those who are not white and do not speak Italian, life in Italy is confusing but it will get better.
There are currently 60 million Italians. In 2019, 65 million tourists visited Italy. It may seem like there is no more room, but actually, there is. Try visiting Le Marche, Abruzzo, Basilicata, Sicily, Calabria… or visit in the off season.
The Aeolian islands are called the gourmet islands. I think they may have styled themselves as this as a tourist attraction. Conde Naste Traveler magazine called them this and based the article around a female Michelin star chef who owns Signum on the island of Salina, the second largest of the Aeolian islands. Lipari is the biggest.
Getting to the islands is by boat or catamaran. Of helicopter if you want. The catamaran from Milazzo on Sicily took under two hours. The port restaurant at Milazzo is really good. Best bread I’ve had, excellent sandwiches, good beer, and well, overall better than they need to be for having a captive audience. The ferry from or to Naples from Salina is about six hours and I wouldn’t recommend it. The air conditioning only worked well on one side and because the Italians have a severe fear of upsetting their digestion, those that had sat over there were wearing their jackets and scarves but refused to move. Even in the windy cold side of the boat, it was still only 80 F or 27 C. The hot side of the boat was 99 F or 37 C (I carry a thermometer with me for just this sort of situation). When I opened up some of the vents to get more air, I had many fingers waggled at me to stop. The toilet also became somewhat of a fetid horror.
Getting to and from the islands is fairly easy as there are ferries and local boat companies that stop at the various islands including Stromboli, famous volcanic island. Ask at your hotel or B&B. Everyone knows everyone on these islands so they will all have a cousin or brother or son who has a boat.
But, the islands are famous for their food scene. The restaurants I liked in Santa Marina on Salina were Lo Schiavo, nni’ Lausta, and Mamma Santina. Down in Lingua, there is a restaurant, Il Gambero, on the harbor which runs a shuttle (the dad runs it) to Santa Marina. Try the local speciality called “pane cunzato” a sort of large garlic bread with various toppings. I loved it because they used raw garlic. Although seafood is the speciality, there are vegetarian options on all the menus.
If you have an opportunity, buy the fresh tuna tartare at the fish shop, Pescharia A Lampara (there is only one fish shop). It’s so fresh and glistens like rubies.
While resting between meals, buy linen and crochet. If you can afford it. Some of the nice dresses were handmade and cost 700 euro. Be aware that this is small town life so many shops close for lunch. But a few don’t and most have air conditioning. The people are generally friendly. The main street of Santa Marina is mainly pedestrian making for good shopping and eating. And people watching.
For happy hour, go to the Hotel Mercanti di Mari by the harbor where they have a make your own bruschetta station. Drink wine and admire the view of the harbor.
If you want a nightclub, go to the Porto Bello restaurant by the dock. Just be aware that any shenanigans you take home with you will be known all over the island. If you don’t mind adding to the local action, then never mind.
The reason many go is for the food and one could just visit Salina and eat well. But, stay a while longer, and become part of the local soap opera scene… I befriended a local, not knowing that he was a local passionate about more than fish. When I described this local casanova to the manager at the place where I was staying, she said with a wise nod that she knew who I was talking about . She added, “he is busy busy all the time”… on an island with as many bikini clad tourists as this one, one can see how he constantly had a fresh “catch.”
Otherwise, sit back and enjoy chatting with the locals and soaking up the local. If you imagine a BBC feel-good romantic comedy, then you get an idea of what I saw in this little island buzzing with flashing smiles, bronzed arms, and twinkling glances.