Naples: Pizza #3 at Di Matteo

Round three of pizza this morning. Our first stop was Di Matteo’s, which was less than a kilometre from our accommodation. We got there so early that it hadn’t actually opened so we stopped at a cafe for a rather expensive cappuccino (Luke) and lemon granita (me).

I absolutely hate queuing for things and so I like to arrive, if at all possible, when an attraction or restaurant opens. We keep watching docos or seeing pictures of pizza places here that are swamped with people but so far we haven’t had to wait for a thing.

Di Matteo only have a serving window so we bought one Margherita then walked down the road to a church and sat on the steps. When they hand you the pizza here it is in a sheet of paper and they fold the pizza in half then quarters to make it easier to take away. It cost all of €1.50.

We took photos and video before we ate, which isn’t as annoying as it sounds because it takes a couple of minutes for the pizza to cool down to eating temperature. I had brought along my trusty scissors and cut the pizza in half. Luke thought it would drip everywhere but using scissors worked well and I’ve been glad to have them on me.

We both liked the pizza a lot – Di Matteo has an excellent reputation. The sauce was piquant and the crust had a good texture and char but I think I prefer my pizza served flat. Folding means the topping and crust get squished. Plus serving on paper means the oil does inevitably start to drip and you have to watch out or it gets on your clothes.

After the pizza we took the funicular up to the Castel san Elmo and admired the view. There’s not actually a whole lot to do there apart from a small modern art gallery in the centre but the view from the ramparts is 360 degrees and positively stunning.

Tonight we’re going to another restaurant so I look forward to eating my pizza on a plate and maybe having another Aperol Spritz. I think it is a drink that will now always remind me of Italy, much as peach iced tea now reminds me of Turkey.

Lovely!

Naples Food Tour

Luke organised a four hour food tour with a company he found through Tripadvisor, and we walked the short distance to Bellini Piazza to meet our guide for the day, Mario, and another couple who were from London.

First Mario gave us a super quick history of Naples, which basically fell into periods. First Greek settlers in two waves, then French and Spanish rulers, then eventually unification of Italy in the 19th century. It’s easy as a tourist to forget, with so much history around that points to ancient traditions, that the country we think of as Italy is younger than most, having completed unifying in 1871 (or some would say 1918 for the last few states). I looked at the wikipedia page to find out and my gosh did Italy go through a lot in the 19th century. I wasn’t really into modern history in high school so my understanding of everything after about 30AD is rubbish. That’s quite a period of events to have missed.

Anyhow, Mario seemed to understand that, while interested in history, food was our primary goal and started handing it out right from the first moment. He’d bought a bag of biscuits (called Tarelli) that looked sweet but turned out to be salty and contained nuts. Apparently a little like a small, biscuity pretzel, they were popularly paired with beer.

We walked past churches and statues as we went along. A few seemed to involve good or bad luck. The one below is Pulcinella, the female part of the traditional puppetry that seems to revolve around domestic abuse.

Apparently she’s the ‘good’ character so you touch her nose for luck. Mario explained that Neopolitan Catholics are very superstitious, which makes absolutely no sense to me – if you believe God’s in charge shouldn’t that make you less worried about bad luck? Unless you think that God’s a tricksy fellow who likes to catch people out with tests that he never properly explains, in which case it seems like God’s not really on your side at all. Very confusing.

First sit-down stop was a deli and a glass of wine with a plate of antipasto.

We’d tried everything before except the fresh mozzarella. I was expecting something bland and rubbery like the mozzarella we get at home from the supermarket but it was nothing like it. A white, milky and dripping ball that had quite fibrous texture and a pleasant salty taste. I immediately felt sad that I couldn’t get it at home (real mozzarella must be eaten within two days and not be refrigerated, according to Mario) but then I googled it and there’s a place in Thomastown (just outside of Melbourne) that has a herd of buffalo and a shopfront where you can buy it fresh. Hello!

First stop for hot food was for deep-fried pizza. Not like the one yesterday where Luke’s pizza base was cooked separately. This one was a round of dough with a filling folded in (ricotta, provolone, tomato sauce, and ham) then the whole deep-fried and super puffy. It was also super hot! We shared one between two and we found the dough became more chewy than crunchy.

Next we shared a traditional Margherita which we enjoyed but agreed wasn’t as good as Starita’s.

I had brought a pair of scissors with me to cut pizza as Luke and I had planned to share some on our excursions and they were good for the task. Much easier than trying to cut with a plastic knife on the paper pizza is often served in… although I did look like a bit of a weirdo no doubt.

By this time, and less than an hour in, we were all feeling pretty full and I was regretting the slice of toast I’d had for breakfast.

Next stop was some pasta and grilled vegetables at a restaurant where the tables were across the road from the shopfront.

They were all lovely and I felt bad for not finishing them – it was just as well all our plates were for sharing. I found it funny that as each course was cleared the waiter would scrape the plates into a bin that was obviously just the council rubbish bin nearby – like one you’d find in park at home. Another of those little things that, while quite practical, would just never happen in Melbourne.

More looking at churches etc then a walk down the famous little street where nativity items are sold. If you’ve ever watched a travel doco on Naples you’ll know the one I mean.

I’ve posted a little video on Instagram too as quite a few had moving parts.

Locals add to their nativity scenes each year, often creating little villages over time. The makers of theses pieces have gone far, far beyond the items related in the Bible and not only can you buy an electrically-operated pizza maker, working mill, washerwoman or farmer for your village, you can buy a statue of Maradona or any member of the British royal family. It’s insanely charming and most of the pieces we could see were super cheap too. I might go back ;-).

Then it was time for LIMONCELLO!

My new favourite Italian thing. We went to a shop where they made it out the back and we tasted limoncello balls that looked a little like little malteasers and also tasted traditional and cream limoncello.

Delicious!

Apparently you keep the traditional style in the freezer. I plan to buy some when I get back to Melbourne and do exactly that!

Next stop was for cuoppo, deep fried food in a paper cone. Just what we needed after pizza and pasta obviously. Good god.

These were ok. We shared two cones. One had a mix of vegetarian items and the other was like fish and chips. The cod pieces were very tender and moist but we had to take the bones out.

We had to keep moving our tables and chairs because cars were trying to get past in the narrow space. So Italian.

On the way to our last stop we walked through a huge Belle Epoque mall (seems like the wrong word but I can’t think what would be better) that had an astonishing glass ceiling, somewhat in the style of the original Crystal Palace, and marble everywhere.

Finally it was time for a small dessert and coffee if we wanted it. We stopped at Gambrinus Cafe on the huge Piazza del Plebiscito. I had a pastry with layers of cream and tiny wild strawberries (called a Matilda if you’d like the same) and Luke had a rum baba and the tiniest coffee I’ve ever seen.

We filled in a short survey, paid the somewhat steep 85 euros each, and said goodbye to Mario, who had been a congenial and knowledgable guide. It was a very interesting and fact-filled excursion that I’d definitely recommend to people who like food but don’t know where to start in Naples.

I did a bit of research when I came home!

For your information (in case you were wondering) the word pizza first appeared in writing over a thousand years ago in 997AD in Gaeta, a central Italian town, where a tenant was required to deliver 12 pizzas to the bishop every Christmas and Easter. Of course these were probably just some form of flatbreads and definitely didn’t involved tomatoes. Depending on your source, the word pizza is derived either from its ingredients, the word ‘clamp’, or ‘mouthful’.

Either way it is the world’s most ubiquitous and best-loved food and we can’t get enough of it!

First Pizza in Naples!

I have never really heard anything good about Naples that wasn’t pizza-related. Perhaps a rumour about good museums, but when people talk about the city it is always as something of a cesspool of humanity and actual garbage.

To be honest, this photo could just have easily been taken in Rome or (language aside) London.

Perhaps it was to see if it was really as bad as people say that I decided I wanted to come here. I mean, could it really be more filthy than some Asian capitals like Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh? And of course with Luke’s pizza obsession we were going to come here eventually.

We arrived by train and I was surprised at how new and shiny the main station was and linea 1 was entirely air conditioned too.

Also can I just show you this outfit that I took a sneaky photo of as this lady was getting off the train? Totally irrelevant but what an amazing item of clothing. Where would you even buy something like that? Not that I need to know since I’d never do it justice but… wow. Also I’d have it soaked in massive and undignified sweat patches within about five seconds of getting off the train but that’s a different matter.

When we reached our Airbnb flat the owner told us that the station is so nice because it is only a year old and it wasn’t representative of the rest of the network. Too bad!

Our Airbnb has also recently been done up and has some rather interesting lighting features – three colour-controllable LED strips in one wall and strip lighting around the ceiling. It’s more tasteful than it sounds and it’s actually a spacious apartment too, with lots of food available for breakfast and snacks. Pastries, biscuits, milk and juices. Very nice! We bought a litre bottle of Bombay Sapphire in the Croatian duty free ($35 AUD – bargain!) that we are taking with us from place to place for our evening post prandial drinks.

Also the apartment is on the ground floor, which is always nice! Especially in Naples where there are miles of stairs everywhere anyhow.

The atrium of our apartment block.

Now I have a travel tip for you!

We have gotten into the habit, if there isn’t an ice cube tray in our freezer, of pouring water into the bottom of some glasses before we go out exploring then freezing the whole. This means a nice cold glass into which you can pour wine or whatever when you get home after a day’s hard sightseeing.

So refreshing!

Luke had done some research and made a map of pizzerias that are generally considered top-notch. One was quite a walk from the others so we decided to hit that one first. Plus it had tables so we could dine in. Quite a few Neopolitan pizzerias are just grab-and-go storefronts.

It opened at 7pm so we had time to walk around a bit. Naples street art seems to be a cut above anything we saw in Rome. Which wouldn’t be hard since all we saw in Rome was tagging. Urgh.

We tried to find a bar for a drink but they all seemed to be stand-up affairs. I found a blog that said drinking isn’t big in Naples. What? Italians not big on drinking? This didn’t really fit all my stereotypes of Italian culture. More research will be required.

We got back to Starita as they opened and had already decided what we wanted. We were having their traditional Margherita and their specialty, a deep fried pizza. For this one the crust is deep fried until it is puffy then quickly baked with topping on.

I preferred the traditional, Luke preferred the fried crust but both were excellent.

While I would not go anywhere near so far as to say we are experts, we know a reasonable amount about pizza. Luke helped kick-start a pizza documentary that we have watched several times and if you read our entry on pizza in New York you’ll know how much we love it. I also like making my own from scratch at home so I was keen to get ideas on how to improve it.

Naples is the birthplace of pizza, but from Naples pizza spread via migrants to New York and Boston before being popularised in the rest of Italy. It began as a way for bakers to slightly cool the base of their ovens so that loaves of bread would not burn. To stop the pizza inflating like a balloon (as pita bread does), tomato sauce would be spread on it. This became a cheap early morning food for workers in Naples and then its popularity meant pizza was served all day. Putting cheese on pizza didn’t happen immediately – the Margherita was invented to honour a queen and the basil added to pay homage to Italy’s flag.

In Australia we think of ‘marinara’ as a seafood pizza but here it means a pizza with only tomato sauce and herbs, no cheese. Pizza here is very different to pizza in most other places. It is cooked unbelievably quickly – in as little as a minute – and the sauce is pure pulped tomatoes. The base is charred but the whole thing is a bit soupy in the middle and there isn’t as much cheese as we like to pile on at home. The joy of Neapolitan pizza is in the freshness of the ingredients. For the true traditional pizza the tomatoes must have been grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. The tomatoes taste so tangy and salty-sweet that, combined with the olive oil and cheese there is a buttery-richness that is magical.

All styles of pizza are good and pizza is a dish that is reinvented over and over around the world. Experiencing it in Naples doesn’t mean you have had the world’s best, it means you have added a dimension to your appreciation of it. At least that’s my feelings on the subject!

I would love to know what other people have thought of pizza they have eaten in Naples – or anywhere around the world! Where have you most or least enjoyed it?

Frascati Winery Visit

If you’ve used Airbnb you’ll know that they don’t just do accommodation anymore, they also offer experiences. The sailing trip we took in Zadar was one of these and so Luke booked us on another one, a day trip from Rome to a winery in Frascati, a little town not too far away.

After a completely ridiculous breakfast of cubes of roast pork and slices of focaccia in a paper cone, which we saw at Termini and couldn’t not have, we caught a regional train to Frascati.

If you are ever catching a train from Termini be warned that they have some of the longest platforms in the world and if your train is at a ‘b’ platform it could be a 300 metre walk down a platform to reach your platform and they don’t give you a lot of time between showing your platform number on the board and reaching your train. After buying your ticket you need to find the green machines that stamp your ticket before you board the train. Failing to do so can result in a big fine. Fortunately Luke looked up the process before we boarded.

The train only took about 30 minutes and we were met at the station by Guilana and introduced to the other people on the tour – a family from Baton Rouge and a couple from Oklahoma. They were all very nice and friendly and we discussed our travels.

Our first activity was a walk around Frascati and hearing some of the history. Apparently the hilltop had been settled by the Etruscans and significantly predated Rome. Rome was originally a swamp and so even after it was settled people liked to visit Frascati to enjoy the cooler sea breezes and better climate, particularly in summer. When Rome became very wealthy the rich families would build large mansions there and now there are twelve; some are still owned by the families who built them.

We visited a bakery that is very old and run entirely by women. We stood at the back door and smelled the delicious sugary air that wafted from the ovens. We were told that it has the oldest ovens in Italy. We also saw the oldest bar in Italy (apparently.. Europeans seem to want to call everything the oldest/largest/smallest/best of whatever the thing is, possibly not realising that no one really cares. Besides, to Aussies and North Americans everything looks ridiculously old).

We had a glass of fresh wine that was quite sharp and a few slices of ‘pizza’, which was more like what I would call plain pide, to soak it up. Our guide warned us that the wine was very strong at 14%. I wish I’d asked now which wines weren’t that strong because that seems fairly normal to me.

One of the funny things we saw in the town was a man driving around in an old car with a speaker attached to the front broadcasting his voice constantly. We were told he was the local guy who sharpened knives and fixed things and he was advertising his wares. It felt like every time we turned a corner he was there. How annoying for the locals! Or perhaps they were just used to it.

We also saw the local pork seller who had a little stand where he would sell roast pork every day. It is stuffed with herbs and was the same pork we’d had the previous day in Trastevere and also at Termini for our breakfast. So good!

Then to the winery. It had been in the family for nine generations, apparently, and the current farmhouse had been built in the 16th century on top of a house that had been there since Roman times. We had a look at the vineyards and patted the dog before looking at the cellar and then sitting down to lunch.

We tried several of the wines, which were good, but the food was exceptional. The chef had just returned from working in Paris, where he had cooked for two presidents! We tried a range of foods, such as rockmelon with prosciutto, olive oil and sourdough, bruschetta and more. My favourite were the hard cheeses with wine jam and their home-made hummus with orange rind and Parmesan.

The main course was a pasta dish with a white ragu, toasted almonds and lemon and orange peel. I would never think of using citrus in a pasta dish and it was amazing – so fresh and zesty!

One of my favourite things about travel is getting ideas about what to cook when I get home.

While we were at the winery a film crew were shooting an episode for a YouTube channel called “Alux.com“, which covers luxury escapes and tours. Obviously we’ll post a link once the episode comes out. We might even be in it!

The guy in charge was very friendly and said he got started through making blog videos for family about his holidays, just like the sort of thing we do.

After lunch we were dropped in town and then had a walk around on our own, sitting in a park enjoying the cool breeze then getting some gelato before catching the train home.

A lovely day out and a nice opportunity to see the countryside and chat to new people. I’d definitely recommend it if you ever find yourself in Rome but want to escape the heat and smells for a day.

Architecture, Art and Ancient History in Rome

Our first full day in Rome was up to me to program so I set the alarm for 6:30 so we could get out and about before the city was too hot. Even though it only officially has climbed to 32 degrees it feels much hotter when the sun is radiating off buildings and cobblestones.

First stop was a place I’d found on Pinterest in one of those articles that claims to know ‘secret’ things to do. How secret something can be when it’s the first article Pinterest shows me about Rome… well, I have my doubts.

Quartiere Coppedèo

Our Airbnb apartment was in a location that I’m pretty sure locals would call ‘the arse end of Termini’, the main train station. Despite being almost across the road, the station is almost a kilometre long and we have to walk the full length of it to reach the entrance.

The place were we visiting was a 45 minute walk past the north end of Termini and when we got there we found that we, rather happily, had it all to ourselves (apart from and old guy washing his car using water from the fountain), possibly because it was 8am on a Sunday.

It was gob-smacking.

Please note there is a chandelier in the archway.

I really like interesting architecture and Quartiere Coppedèo was an astonishing mix of Art Nouveau, ancient, medieval, Spanish, and baroque elements.

Essentially it is four buildings around an intersection with a fountain in the middle. Each building is distinctly different from its neighbours and each is in excellent condition and contains details, both small and large, that are entrancing.

Delicate frescos, wrought iron gates featuring animals and insects, crowns and swords and Viking ships!

Absolutely marvellous.

Next:

The National Gallery of Modern Art

I felt like seeing a bit of art to break up all the history and architecture.

Once again we pretty much had the place to ourselves. The lion sculptures out the front were lovely.

There were some classics inside, a Klimt, Monet and Chagalls etc. My favourite was this painting.

Such a gaze!

Now have a guess what this artwork is made from.

Go on.

Acacia thorns! The mind boggles.

Next we walked to the Castel San Angelo, which I had walked past the last two times I’d been to Rome but hadn’t thought to visit until I read surfnslide’s blog .

On the way we stopped for a drink outside a very grand building that I had to google and turned out to be the Supreme Court.

Even for a court this was pretty grand. Apparently locals call or ‘the bad palace’. I’m not sure if it’s a comment on the architecture or the clientele.

The Castel!

The Castel is one of the oldest and most complete buildings in Rome. It was begun as a mausoleum for the emperor Hadrian and his family but became a refuge for popes, who decorated it in the style to which they immediately became accustomed.

We get it, the church has all the money.

Pope bed!

Every window seemed to have a view of St Peter’s.

Great views could be had from the roof.

But then there’s great views from everywhere in Rome, really.

Next we walked to the Tavestere district for lunch. I found a little sandwich shop called ‘Donkey Punch’ (I will always be a sucker for a weird name) and I had a salad with pork and Luke had a sandwich with pork. Roast pork is a specialty of the region and the shop also did a great range of pickled and marinated salad ingredients.

What a menu! All their sandwiches were named after rock bands.

By this time our feet were getting a bit tired. We wandered around Travastere a bit and admired the lovely architecture. The peach and salmon buildings reminded me of Bologna.

It was definitely time for a classic Roman afternoon drink – an Aperol Spritz.

We strongly considered taking a taxi home but decided to walk and break up the last few kilometres with bar stops and gelato.

Amazingly, we managed to walk past the gelateria we visited on our tour last time. We’d gone along for a free tour advertised on the Couchsurfing site and the guy took us to Punto Gelato, who do excellent, and unusual, icecream flavours. No beer this time but I did see pine and also salsa! We were more conservative – I had one scoop each of fig and peach sorbets and they were outstanding.

Luke got pineapple and coffee which is a weird combo.

Next stop was an Irish bar and it was nice to not feel apologetic when speaking english to the bar staff. We were also given free daiquiri samples because they made too much.

Apparently it was the world’s best. It was certainly good, but… best?

Who gives out these awards anyhow?

On the last leg we passed this … building. I guess there’s a building under there? Can you imagine this level of growth being acceptable where you live?

We finished our big day out in Rome with a meal at the restaurant closest to our apartment, sitting outside in the warm night air, listening to a guy on the piano accordion.

Very Italian!

Zadar, Croatia

Apart from our two day trips there are a few other impressions and experiences in Zadar that I wanted to record.

We booked an Airbnb and it turned out to be almost precisely in the centre of the Old Town, just a few steps back from the main street. We would’ve originally been sharing with our friend Lauren but it was almost a good thing that she’d not been able to make it to Zadar because the apartment was very small with only one two-seater couch, despite being advertised for three people.

The very worst thing about the place was this rubbish all over the walls.

I guess one is okay, but six in two rooms? It seemed a bit weird.

We cooked a few of our own dinners there but otherwise we ate out. Our favourite restaurant, which we visited twice, was Pet Bunara. Quite honestly it had the best pasta dishes I’ve eaten in my life. The pasta was made on the premises and the first dish I had was with scampi and the second was beef with truffles. If you are in Zadar make sure you go! It helped that the staff were super friendly… and their friendliness was no doubt helped by us gushing about their food

We also took a very long, hot walk to Mamma Mia, which wasn’t in the older part of town but further north near the marinas. This was a recommendation from TripAdvisor and also excellent. We haven’t really gone wrong with TripAdvisor, even though I’ve noticed some people sneering at it lately. It’s certainly extremely handy when you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language or know any locals to ask for suggestions.

At the very end of the Old Town is a pier that contains two of Zadar’s main attractions; the Sea Organ and Greeting The Sun. We can’t really comment on the latter as we could never be bothered hanging around long enough to see it light up (it’s a solar-powered circular floor but we were told it is mostly not working and needs repairs) but we visited the Sea Organ several times and it was excellent.

Many metres of pipes sit at a level where the waves strike them and then notes are played by the air and water. It is somewhat haunting and very interesting. People gather around the steps where the pipes play and it’s a great place to watch the sun go down.

Apparently Alfred Hitchcock said this was his favourite place to view a sunset. Personally I think sunsets look the same no matter where you view them from but over water with a drink in hand does help.

We also climbed the bell tower and I had a little panic when we realised, as we drew level with the bells, that it was exactly 9am, but it didn’t end up being too loud.

We walked along the seaside promenade a few times and had a laugh at the signs.

And Luke organised a sunset sail, which resulted in this weird photo and Luke getting mildly seasick.

Good sunset though!

All in all, we enjoyed Zadar more than Split. It felt a bit more relaxed but that might’ve been more to do with not having to cross busy roads between our accommodation and the main part of town. Plus they get fewer cruise ships here and the streets aren’t completely clogged with people.

Croatia continue to win in the World Cup and, since we now know what their uniform looks like, we’re kind of going for them. Also they beat Russia in the most recent game, which is ace. Go Croatia!

Krka Falls, Croatia

Our second day trip in Zadar was a trip to Krka Waterfalls.

Our trip to Krka Waterfalls was with Elegance Tours again. We met at their office at 7:45 and then walked to a mini van just outside the Old Town walls. This time there were only six people in the group. It takes nearly an hour from Zadar to reach Krka – it’s about halfway between Zadar and Split.

To get to Krka our driver dropped us at a little village and from there we caught a large wooden boat to the falls. It was quite different to Plitvice in several ways. You can swim at Krka, although only in one lake and not up to the waterfalls – you can see the barrier in the photo above. There are also lots of shops and restaurants and food stalls. Quite an astonishing number selling nuts and olive oil. It is similar to Plitvice in that there is a boardwalk that you can follow to see the upper pools but it is much shorter and there is only one track to follow.

We decided to walk around the loop as soon as we got there and then stopped halfway for a drink. On our walk we saw a snake in the water and a few frogs as well as masses of fish. We also saw an ambulance and Luke saw a large pool of blood and broken glass by one of the bars. Boris later told us he’d seen a woman with a broken leg but we don’t know if it was the same accident.

By the time we made our way around the falls and back the crowds at the swimming area had quadrupled and there was barely room to put a towel down. We decided to catch the boat back to the little village and ended up talking to Boris the whole way. Turned out he studied history at university and told us a lot about Croatia and the differences between Zadar and Split. He had been born in Split but moved to Zadar when he married. We ended up sitting in the front with him all the way back to Zadar and Luke fell asleep while Boris and I talked about everything from the party politics of Croatia to why young people are leaving in droves.

The little town that the boat leaves from.

As a day out I don’t know that I’d recommend going to Krka during the peak season. It depends on how you feel about enormous crowds, really, and if you do go I’d recommend wearing reef shoes as we were told the rocks could be sharp and slippery. They advertise a limited number of tickets but it’s a huge number (over 6000) and Boris said he didn’t think they really enforced it anyway. Plitvice was more beautiful but having the opportunity to talk to Boris was really the highlight. I learned more about Croatia in a couple of hours than I had in the rest of the trip. Deb left a comment on the blog the other day regarding Croatia’s recent history of conflict and I can’t claim to know much about it but I mentioned to Boris that we hadn’t seen any kind of memorials or information or museums about the war – so common in countries like Vietnam and Rwanda where the commemoration of conflict seems to be viewed as a matter of national importance. He said he had only just been noting this with his friends the day before and couldn’t work out why it was so different here. Any ideas, readers?

 

Apologies for the lack of photos in this post, I don’t know why I hardly took any! Too hot and crowded, I think.