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!

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?

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!

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

We booked a day trip with ‘Elegance Tours‘ (possibly the most basic-looking shop front you could imagine – all laminated photos and hand-drawn signs – nice people though) in Zadar (pronounced ZAHdar, not ZaDAH as we kept saying) for our first full day.

Our trip was basically just the bus there with a stop at a restaurant/minimart for supplies on the way in. We were told food was expensive at the park but we found it to be fairly similar to other places we’d been – more expensive than buying at a supermarket or bakery though.

The falls are a two hour drive from Zadar and involve travelling through quite a number of tunnels until you reach the other side of the mountains. The landscape on the coastal side is very rocky and dry but once you get through the mountains it is lush and there are fields of wildflowers. I panicked a bit as I’d stopped taking my hay fever meds but there isn’t much in the way of grass near the lakes – mostly trees and bushy plants.

Our driver was German and spoke almost no English. When he asked if anyone spoke German I indicated (rather foolishly) that I had the tiniest fraction. Luckily I understood his instruction that we’d stop for twenty minutes and then it was twenty minutes to the park. We had a little bit of confusion regarding whether we’d be at the park four hours or be picked up at four o’clock, but eventually cleared it up.

The bus company suggested a particular route around the park which took in the upper and lower lakes but used a train/bus to cut down one leg and a boat transfer (both included in the ticket cost) to speed it up. In the end we possibly could’ve walked the whole way as we took just over four hours to do the loop but it’s hard to estimate that sort of thing on your first go. We are moderately fast walkers and didn’t linger anywhere, however in a few points the crowd bottlenecked to the point where people stopped. I’d guess that we walked about 8 km in total.

The lakes and falls are all exceptionally beautiful. The intense colours come from a combination of limestone sediment, moss and algae. During most of our visit there were clouds and a cool breeze, which was good, but I imagine that sun would bring out the colours even more.

I was pleased to see many, many fish in the lakes and threw a few crumbs in, even though I probably shouldn’t have. The fish do hang around near the boardwalks so I think I’m not the only one.

Our biggest moment of excitement was when a fellow walking in front of us mis-stepped and fell into the water at a point where the boardwalk crossed a small fall, which meant he got stuck on some rocks but with the water flowing very fast around him. We leapt forward and Luke helped a couple of other people grab him and pull him up and I picked up a camera that another lady had put down in order to help as I could see it was going to get kicked in. Poor guy was ok but wearing jeans – he must’ve had a very unpleasant time walking around after that!

We made it back to the point where our driver was meeting us with nearly two hours to spare so we had a drink, took some photos by the largest waterfall viewpoint and relaxed. We saw people from our bus group congregate but they were a fairly standoffish lot who didn’t return our smiles so we left them alone.

The bus got back to Zadar at 6pm and we thanked our driver and walked back to our apartment to make some dinner and plan our next adventure!

Bus: 220 kuna/$55 AUD each

Park entrance: 250 kuna/$62.50 AUD each

London to Split: It Could’ve Been Worse.

Before we had even begun, our trip from England to Croatia had already suffered several blows. Our original plan had been to meet our friend Lauren at Heathrow on the 27th then leave from Gatwick at 5:45 the next morning. Unfortunately, I’d unthinkingly booked us a hotel at Heathrow rather than Gatwick so that meant getting up at 2:30 to get  a taxi at 3am to get to the airport at 4 so we’d have plenty of time for our flight. Unfortunately Lauren’s job situation was thrown into confusion just days before she was due to fly out and she ended up having to cancel the trip, which we were rather sad about as she is an excellent (tried and tested) travel companion and would’ve relieved us of the monotony of talking to each other. Just kidding! (Mostly)

So, we made our way from Cambridge to the Premier Inn on Bath Road – would you believe there are FOUR Premier Inns at Heathrow? Luckily only one is on Bath Road and the bus there is free.

The room was nice, the food at the hotel wasn’t too bad, people were watching Germany get kicked out of the World Cup and seemed to be enjoying it. We got about six hours sleep (champions that we are.. drinking lots helped) and woke up in time to meet our taxi and encountered no traffic or road works on the drive. We congratulated ourselves for being so well-organised and checked in our bags then headed for the gate.

This was when Luke realised that he’d left his passport in his checked bag.

As the blood drained from his face he experienced an adrenaline rush like none in recent memory. We raced to the gate and were initially told, by a geriatric flight attendant who looked to be one of those ‘I know the rules and I’m going to tell you about them multiple times’ types that Luke flat-out wouldn’t be able to fly. What precisely would happen to his bag, since it was checked in under my name, we struggled to work out.

He turned and told another member of staff that Luke had left his passport in his checked bag. “If that’s true,” the man said, “that is the most monumentally stupid thing I have ever heard.” Luke agreed with him wholeheartedly. Then this man, a Turn Controller named Jonathon, proceeded to be just the type of guy you want in your corner during a crisis of this nature. He was calm, kind, decisive and communicative. It also helped, as he pointed out, that the plane couldn’t leave until he signed off on it – and he’d do everything he could to remedy the situation before he did so.

What that involved was Jonathon waiting for Luke’s bag to arrive at the plane, snagging it before it was loaded, and then getting security to oversee Luke removing his passport from the bag before loading it on to the plane. While that all sounds straightforward, given that time was ticking, security was being slightly unhelpful and the geriatric gate guard was blustering at us any time Jonathan wasn’t around to fend him off, it was a very close call. But in the end the passport was retrieved, Jonathan saw Luke on to the plane with a handshake, and he took the seat next to mine.

The sigh of relief Luke let out as he sat down was both palpable and heartfelt. Jonathan popped in to the cockpit to approve the plane for take off and even gave Luke a wink as he left the cabin. What a hero!

Well, obviously we congratulated ourselves on dodging a situation that might have cost us a great deal of time and money (well, cost Luke… I would’ve gone anyhow to save having to buy two new fares) and relaxed, safe in the knowledge that surely nothing else could go wrong.

Honestly, what else could go wrong? Nothing, that’s what.

After enduring the free-for-all that is Croatian passport control, we headed out to pick up our bags. Because we’d been in the non-European queue we were almost last out and the conveyor stopped moving almost immediately with only a handful of pieces of luggage left. Luke’s bag was visible but mine wasn’t.

And wasn’t.

And wasn’t.

We waited for nearly an hour before going to the lost property office and registering my bag as missing. Because of the passport issue in London I had accidentally left my luggage receipt at Gatwick but had, oh-so-fortunately, taken a photo of it before handing it to the staff there, which meant I had all the details of my tag. THANK GOD. I don’t know how hard it would’ve been to retrieve the bag without it.

Somewhat heavy of heart we boarded the bus into town, having to stand up for the forty minute drive because we were nearly last in line.

After a bit of wandering around the back streets of Split we found our Airbnb (phone GPS doesn’t always work so well in narrow stone alleys and apartments don’t seem to have numbers here) and our host was lovely and helpful.

The local markets were only a few steps away and I bought a cheap spare pair of underpants and then we bought a few bits of food and wandered around town.

When I got back I took a photo of everything that was in my small backpack.

Of all the things I didn’t have, a belt was probably the thing I missed most as my new jeans were stretching and I had to keep pulling them up every five minutes. So dignified.

Fortunately that afternoon EasyJet sent us a message letting us know the bag had arrived at ‘an’ airport (which one wasn’t clear but it was nice to know it was definitely somewhere) and the next morning my bag was delivered and order was restored to the universe.

By far the most upsetting part of the whole journey was Luke’s passport incident. I think my weeks of camping and being grotty had left me quite happy to wear the same clothes several days in a row. We also felt good, once the whole thing was over, about how calmly we’d dealt with it. You learn a lot about yourself and others when you have to go through a crisis (however small) together.

Lesson learned though – passport in hand when checking in bags!

Here Comes The Planet 67 – Kenya 08

As we finally close out the Africa leg of our world tour, our Dragoman truck mates reflect on some of the highlights and lowlights, the things we will miss and the things we will be happy to leave behind.

A big part of why I enjoyed Africa so much was our tour guide Steve. His passion for the wildlife really made our safaris a thrill. I don’t think I’d have gotten as much out of the experience if it wasn’t for his enthusiasm. He also had other qualities we enjoyed. 🙂 Many thanks to you, mate!

***

It’s fitting that this video closes out one big section of our 2013 trip, just in time to make way for the one we’re about to undertake in 2018.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a boarding lounge at Melbourne Airport, about to jump on a plane to finally catch up with Amanda over in London. We’re both very keen to be back together again and start our adventure! The videos going forward will be of our current trip. Anyone who’s followed the blog for long enough know that chronology goes out the window when you work as slowly as I do. 😛

I’ll try to get all our 2018 travel videos done by the end of the year – but no promises! 😉