Category Archives: Italy

When next in Italy! Le Marche region

We happened to sit next to some very nice Italian men the other day at a little sandwich shop in Chicago and got to talking. They offered suggestions of locations for our next visit to Italy. I’m sharing them here (and also noting so I remember!):

The Marche region, in eastern Italy, between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea, including Urbino – sights: Ducal Palace (Palazzo Ducale) and countryside that was the background for a famous painting in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery by Piero della Francesca in 1472 (A man gazing at his wife in front of the landscape that they ruled)

Loreto (featuring a basilica with a famous “black Madonna”) – also excellent pork and two open-air opera festivals. (See Rick Steves! and CNN story.

“Do you like opera?” one of the men asked me.

“Yes, sort of,” I said…which was a good thing. The men turned out to both work at Chicago’s Lyric Opera, one as the music director!

Also of note: Ancona, its capital, a port city on the Riviera del Conero, an area with sandy coves, limestone cliffs and medieval villages.

Pesaro, the birthplace of renowned opera composer Rossini. The interior has countryside dotted with fortified hilltop settlements and the glaciated valleys of the Monti Sibillini National Park.

Still on our list for a next trip: Puglia region and Matera.

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When next in Rome…airbnb options

This from my friend Meagan!

we actually stayed at two Airbnbs.
The second was my favorite. Here is the link:
When I went to pull up the information on the first place we stayed, I can find the host but it looks like it is a different apartment. Apparently she owns three so she must rotate which ones are available. (The one that is up now actually looks nicer than the one we stayed in). When we stayed at her other apartment, she and her husband picked us up at the airport for an additional 35 euros which was nice to not have to navigate the train or pay for a cab (which are so freaking expensive) when we were jet lagged. But I’m not seeing that offer on the new page so maybe she doesn’t do that any more. Anyway, here is the new listing:

I can really recommend is the Sant’Eustacio il caffe dal 1938. Super authentic Italian coffee place, pretty close to the Pantheon. You order and pay, get your ticket and then sort of shove your way up to the counter on the other side and give your ticket to the barista.

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Testimonials from friends using takebetsywith you in Rome and LA: love it!!

At the Farmers market in LA with my sweet niece Lucy 2015

At the Farmers market in LA with my sweet niece Lucy 2015

Always love when friends report that they’re using tips from this blog while they’re on their trip. That’s why I bother to write this darned thing!

Here’s the latest reports:

  • Yesterday a postcard from L.A. arrived from my pal Polly in Michigan, who wrote “We took Betsy with us and had a tasty lunch at the farmer’s market.”(Click here for details on the LA Farmers Market)
  • Today, a Facebook message from Rome arrived from my Iowa pal Anne: “Just bought a purse and a belt at ibiz. However did you find this place? Thanks for telling me about it!” (Click here for Ibiz details!)
  • With my Ibiz shopping bag, Roma 2014

    With my Ibiz shopping bag, Roma 2014


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Iowa after Italy

it’s been almost a week since we returned from Italy to Des Moines and now we are barreling down Interstate 80 en route to Chicago and Iowa in autumn is beautiful. Not Amalfi Coast, Mediterranean Sea, Aeolian Islands, Siricusa, Rome beautiful but still Beautiful.
At 7 am, just east of Des Moines, the white grey frost clung to rolling fields of rust colored corn almost ready for harvest and green grass, punctuated by the occasional pristine white farmhouse, worn barn, grazing cows and horses. Sure there were occasional garish billboards and the metal sheds of industrial ag but they were easy to overlook.
A few thoughts/lessons learned/reflections/things to remember for next time From our two glorious weeks in Italy:
— Places to spend more time next time: Naples, Catania
— New places to go: Matera, Puglia
— In the future when flying budget airlines like Ryan air and easy jet advance-pay luggage fees. Even our small bags were not small enough and the fee to check them was almost as much if not more than the flight (which was pretty darn cheap, under $50 but still.) Advance pay is cheaper than paying at the airport (which also takes time.)
— while we are on the topic of advance pay, booking train tix online in advance was cheaper (judging from some of our fellow passengers accounts of their tix price) although not necessary.
— Go to the Amalfi coast off season , which late September apparently was not.
— Remember that many a little b&b prefers to be paid in cash (or does not even accept credit cards) which can require a little advance planning since we could only take out 250 euros per day from an ATM.
— we saw people along the way who looked like: Robert Morley (complete with the plummy British voice), Mr Magoo, Peter Postelwaite, Cecily Strong, our friend Jamie.
— Favorite fellow travelers: Canadians from Winnipeg and Toronto, Sweet boys from Berlin, a funny gay couple from Covent Garden, another nice Berlin couple and a funny Australian couple, the dishy Italian church vestments salesman from Naples and a nice Croatian graduate student whose dissertation compares Julius Caesar’s selling of his Gaul campaign to the US presidents Selling of Vietnam and Iraq invasions.
– surprised that we encountered few americans but the few we did meet were surprising including a Vermont couple in their 60s who spent time (presumably in the 60s) on a commune in the northeast Iowa town of Decorah (one of our favorites, which we recently visited.)
– Interesting/favorite hosts- Vivien, the beautiful former Milan runway model now running an agritourismo is southern sicily; Teresa, our warm hostess in Catania, Diana Brown the plucky South African in Lipari. Good management at our first hotel in Rome, less so our second.
– best meal: hard to say maybe the Kasbah in Lipari, the Ravello restaurant, the famous salumeria in Rome, the pasta on the island of Panacea (that whole day boating around the aeolian islands was golden).
– worst meal: none.




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Return to Rome: street food, shopping, weather, sights

When we were here two weeks ago, I walked until my feet were blistered. This time my feet are battle hardened but my calves ache so badly they feel bruised. but I do not regret walking myself silly today, all over this city. And we will probably walk some more tonight because who can resist? The beauty of this city is irresistible.
We returned to an area we visited last week, in the central Storico and this time went to the less formal bakery of the salumeria we ate at last week — Roscioli il Forno where we had superb pizza slices served over the counter by a guy who hacks away at the pizzas with an exuberant chop. We had some pizza slathered with pesto and anchovies and tomato sauce; and another piece with ricotta, grilled eggplant, basil, tomato sauce. The place was packed for good reason! Up the street, I splurged on an amazing handmade leather purse, sold to me by a young woman who makes the purses with her father at a shop called Ibiz (via dei chiavari 39 ) I thought she might know a good tie maker and so she did, a nice craftsman in a little shop in Trastevere called La Cravatta (via di s. cecilia 12) near our first hotel (that we never noticed). Dirck got a beautiful tie. His splurge.

my new friend, the purse maker, also told us how to get to the neighborhood of Monti, which was a lovely walk that began in the former Jewish ghetto which still has kosher restaurants and a gorgeous synagogue which was packed (and this is how I learned it was Yom Kippur, my bad.) We had fun rambling around Monti, looking at the smattering of small boutiques and design shops around via Urbana, stopping for a fruit smoothy at a place called The Full Monti (get it?) and at an organic gelato shop. We are staying tonight at Villa della fonte near the Santa Maria Transtevere church. More expensive and may be noisier tonight but the place we stayed at last week was booked.tonight we had a totally new Roman dining experience featuring food that seemed more English than Italian but the battered cod fillets served at Dar Filettaro, a little hole in the wall, were selling like hot cakes all night, primarily to large Italian families who ordered plates of the fish piled high along with plates of fried zucchini and white beans. The cod was too salty for me but the batter was hot and crispy and the scene itself was delicious. We finished the night with some granita and wandered through centro Storico and Trastevere on a perfect Saturday night, the sky bright and clear, light breeze, amazed by all the people everywhere and the street performers and the great circus of Rome. We will be back!




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Driving around northeast Sicily mountain/volcano area, Catania

We couldn’t deal with the possibility of more Amalfi Coast-like crowds in the Sicilian resort town of Taormina so we decided instead to take a very scenic drive south on ss185 though the mountains and small lovely hilltop towns north of Mount etna. Very glad we did. Lovely quiet towns and spectacular scenery with fog, rain, sun adding to the atmospherics. We stopped in one town, Novara di Sicilia, to pick up some of its local cheese and salami, then found an unlikely picnic table, very rustic, on the edge of a winding pass in a pine forest (the table was made out of pine trees). We also chanced upon a gorge, near francaville di Sicilia that was pretty impressive, even to this gorge-snob (which I became thanks to Ithaca, NY.) and we got caught behind a funeral procession of people walking solemnly behind a hearse in castiglione di Sicilia another hill town with amazing views out across the mountains.

Unenthusiastic about repeating our past near-disaster experience trying to drive to our b&b Crociferi in the central historic district of Catania, we returned the car early at the airport and took a taxi to the b&b (even the taxi driver was unclear about how to get to the b&b thanks to all the one way streets and pedestrian zones. He dropped us off several blocks away. We had another gorgeous room at the b&b, an old villa, and were greeted warmly by Teresa, who sent us to a nearby family trattoria, Nuova Trattoria del forestiero ( via Coppola 24) that had fantastic Sicilian fare but very slow service. I had pasta Norma (with eggplant, tomato sauce, basil and what was supposed to be ricotta but was a sharper hander cheese. Still great. Dirck had veal scapolinne, in a wine, lemon sauce. Delicious. Surprising how affordable veal is here. And I wish I could cook eggplant the way the Italians do. it’s velvety soft, full of flavor and moisture..

Teresa’s husband Mario drove us to the airport at 6:30 am for our return flight to rome. Again very glad not to have the car. when we next visit, I would like to spend more time in Catania and Naples. Both seemed really lively and interesting, with grand architecture and lots of bohemian street life.




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Motor scooter day on Lipari!

After about 10 minutes of sharing a motor scooter on the winding mountainous road of this small island, I released my death grip around Dirck’s waist and just enjoyed the ride and of course the scenery. There is one main road that runs around the island and it’s narrow, with lots of steep switchbacks. fortunately there wasn’t much traffic once we got out the town, except for the occasional whizzing past us scooter or car. Only encountered one tour bus and the public buses look more like vans.

we stopped for a hike on the southwest side of the island to a gorgeous somewhat secluded beach (Valle mare). After a longer rougher hike than expected, we arrived at a tiny bar on the beach with two tables with a thatched roof– one just waiting for us. perfect place for our picnic, especially since it started to drizzle. I had some of the local amber colored wine (yes, I am drinking wine. A little) and Dirck had a beer. We had a spectacular view of the rocky shore and mountains leading down to it and other rock formations and actual rocky islands in the sea. A handful of people were swimming and we met a few hikers on our way back up but overall very quiet. Lovely. We stopped twice in the smaller town, Canneto, known for its popular beach but we liked it because it was much less touristed than where we are. We stopped twice at the same little bar and had gelato (Dirck) and granita (me). Rental was from Bruno, nice guy who seemed amused by our adventure.

At night we had one of our best meals of the trip (and that is high praise indeed since we have had NO bad meals) at the Kasbah, which serves”modern Sicilian” cuisine in a very stylish environment with an international crowd (lots of French and Germans) but not snobby or stuffy at all. I had the best swordfish I’ve ever had, grilled over spinach with a little prosciutto and some delicious guitar pick shaped frites; Dirck had ravioli with ingredients we don’t really know what they were (no English menu here) but delicious. Chocolate panna cotta and limone Tiramisu for dessert. (Kasbah is not to be confused with 25 restaurant, located at the former site of Kasbah. We mistakenly ate there two nights earlier. Good but not as good.)





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Lipari/isole eolie: Diana brown’s, dolce vita, Stromboli, Panarea,

I owe a huge thank you to my Aunt Janet for urging me to tear up my itinerary so I could add a visit to the Aeolian Islands (isole eolie), an out worldly smattering of volcanic islands in the Mediterranean north of Sicily.

And here we are! amazing place. We are staying at Diana brown’s, a small guesthouse along a very narrow passage way on the main island of Lipari. charming place. Our room feels a bit like a beach cabana, with sliding wooden doors opening onto a one room efficiency.

Today we went on a 9 hour cruise on a small boat with about 30 people to two other islands, Panarea and Stromboli, dropping anchor twice to jump into the sea near a huge volcanic rock /tiny island for a swim in warm clear blue water. heaven! On each of the islands we had time to walk around and explore for an hour or so. Both were fancier and less commercial than Lipari. Panarea seemed particularly well heeled. We found a very friendly family run trattoria for a terrific lunch of spaghetti (vongole, another one that tasked a bit like my puttanesca, using the excellent local capers). in Stromboli, we had the best gelato I have ever had. The chocolate was so rich and creamy, almost seemed like the consistency of frosting, although not sickly sweet. Stromboli is where I’d stay if I visit here next. Tropical, lush vegetation and flowers and crops. And the entire island is an active volcano. At sunset, our boat hovered in the waters next to the volcano, giving us a perfect view of the red slovs trickling down the mountain. Our handsome Italian boat crew member poured us small cups of sweet wine/liquor. The excursion company, dolce vita (run by Diana browns daughter and son in law) knew what it was doing.

Risotante da l’eolian, Panarea
Subba pastries, Lipari,
Lapillo gelato, Stromboli
Totem trekking Stromboli,





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Palazzolo Acreide, Noto, colamosche, Anapama b&b, Modica, Ragusa

very behind in blogging, in part because there is no wifi at this very hidden agritourismo, Anapama b&b, down a very steep narrow winding dirt road leading into a valley in the shadow of the high walls of the hilltop Palazzalo Acreide.
some highlights:
Anapama – beautifully rescued Sicilian stone farm house with lots of rough hewn stone, tile, wood, ceramics, art, Turkish rugs. Feels exotic and lush. Run by elegant older woman named Vivian who looks like an older age fashion model. She lived on a commune outside Santa Cruz in the 70s and tried organic farming in Tennessee, of all places before moving here at some point after marrying someone from Siracusa ( she’s from Milan) and having three kids and opening a bar in Siracusa. gorgeous place with a pool and horses and many dogs and cats but drive here is challenging and the dogs started howling at about 3 am. Great breakfast.
Noto, Modica, Ragusa– all hilltop towns with magnificent caramel colored limestone baroque cathedrals and chock a block homes tucked into the hillside. As I expected, I liked Modica best. Ragusa was beautiful but a bit too posh. Noto was picture postcard perfect. Palazzalo Acreide is more of a real place but also has it’s astonishing churches.
Coalamosche- beautiful pocket beach between two cliffs jutting out into the Mediterranean. Warm water. I was the only one piece suit on the beach.
Restaurants– too good ones in Pallazzalo: trattoria del gallo, homey place, wehearty food, we were served what the waiter offered. No menu. All good. Tonight went to Andrea — little fancier, excellent. No one spoke English and no translated menu which was sort of refreshing. We did ok.
We had a really lovely drive through the Sicilian countryside to get to Modica. Classic olive-grey and khaki fields with winding white stone fences and crumbling or restored stone farmhouses, olive trees, lemon trees, vineyards, persimmon trees, cactus and agave. Vaguely reminded me of Crete. So glad we came here.




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Siracusa: Ortigia, Greek temple/duomo, hotel gutkowski, Sicilia in tavola,

The Ortigia peninsula of Siracusa is spectacular! it’s a small fat finger of land gutting out into the Mediterranean, densely packed with narrow streets and alleyways lined with three story creme colored stone buildings, many with gargoyles and crazy curving wrought iron balconies and then a wide open plaza with what feels like polished marble floors, dominated by a cathedral that is so old that you can see the original huge columns of the Greek temple that served as a skeleton or bone structure of sorts for the eventual ornate baroque cathedral. Wow!

we stayed at the hip but not haughty Hotel Gutkowski, in two old buildings that overlook the crashing waves of the east side of Ortigia. I was lucky to snag one of the handful of sea view rooms, which we could see through our opened French doors. The place was full of texture, rough hewn wood beams, earthy stone tile floors, shabby chic furniture, a jumble of old stuff and new, contemporary art. Very well done. And the staff could not have been nicer. Free granita was served in the early evening on the roof, with a glorious sea view.

for lunch, we had amazing fresh pasta with seafood done in Sicilian tradition at Sicilia in tavola, a friendly trattoria that immediately filled up,for lunch with reservations. But the hostess suggested we return in a half hour so we did and voila…a table! We had some unlikely combos that definitelY worked: spaghetti caserecci (clams, shrimp, pistachios, olive oil tomatoes) and a Sicilian specialty spaghetti alpar palermitana ( pine nuts, raisens, sardines, wild fennel, onions, bread crumbs, tuna). for dinner we ate at Gut, the restaurant in the hotel although not run by it. We had well seasoned octopus over a bed of thin sliced vegetable tempura and some simple fresh fish. the breakfast this morning was great. — finally some really good fresh fruit including very orange, very sweet cantelope, fresh figs, moist prunes.

in the evening, a big Saturday night, we followed the crowd down a narrow street to the duomo and past some hopping trattorias and bars blaring disco music and down to the castle like fortress at the tip of the pen insular where there was another bar and disco music. Fun to watch the crowd, everything from teens on the make to whole families with little kids out and about at 11 pm and a rollicking wedding party. Too much fun!







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