The Boot Camp: Part 4 – The Amalfi Coast

Posted by Tess on February 7, 2016 in Uncategorized




About five years ago we planned a trip to the Amalfi coast. Technically we planned it six years ago. When figuring out where to go on our 2009 trip, we thought we would be really clever if we split up the research. What that meant was that I would go ahead and look into a Northern trip (Rome/Piedmont/Cinque Terre) and The Husband would research a Southern destination (Rome/Amalfi Coast/Pompeii.) Can you see the problem here? Italy being so wonderful, we both fell in love with our separate itineraries and no one wanted to give theirs up. The only solution? We would have to agree to go again the following year. I told you, we have a problem.


The great news about this itinerary is that you can do it all by train. You can catch a high speed train from Rome to Naples and be there in just over an hour. From there you can spend a few days in Naples, which we have yet to have the time to do, or you can catch the Circumvesuviana, a local train which will take you to Sorrento in about an hour.


The Amalfi Coast is so breathtaking, we went again the following year. We found Sorrento, which is larger than the other towns on the coast and can feel at times touristy, was nevertheless a great base of operations. From there we took day trips to Pompeii, Amalfi, Ravello, Positano and Capri. Pompeii is a short distance on the Circuvesuviana and the other towns can be reached by car or boat, although I recommend the latter if the waters cooperate.

Amalfi Ferry

Take the ferry!

The roads are winding if you drive yourself and cabs are expensive. But the ferry ride is lovely and you get the added benefit of being able to view the towns from the water, which is how they look their best.

h/t to Kissy Dugan who recommended our hotel in Sorrento, the Grand Hotel Ambasciatori. In addition to being a fantastic location – it was walking distance to the train, ferries and the rest of the town – it was also beautiful, like one of the old grand hotels of Europe you’ve always dreamed of staying at.

Writing in the cafe of the Ambasciatori.

Writing in the cafe of the Ambasciatori.

The grounds were lovely, too, with a pool, an outdoor café and a dock at beach level where you could swim and sit in the sun and drink a Fiano or some other crisp, white, local wine. And if you get a room with a view you can see Vesuvius from your balcony.


Our hotel being on the edge of Sorrento, we walked the 1 km into Sant’Agnello one night just to get away from the crowds.

Sunset drinks in Sant'Agnello

Sunset drinks in Sant’Agnello

We had drinks at a hotel on a cliff overlooking the water before finding a small, local place to have dinner, where we shared our table with a cat.

Dinner companion.

Dinner companion.






O Canonico 1898 was probably our favorite place for dinner in Sorrento. It’s right on the square so your instincts want to tell you to stay away, but we enjoyed a ’99 Taurasi along with an appetizer of potatoes, calamari and balsamic that was outstanding. Also, our waiter was a great deal of fun pretending that our card was declined and I got to joke back in Italian with him so now I can be turned down for comedy writing jobs in two languages.



Potato Octopus & Balsamic appetizer.




The ancient Roman town that was destroyed when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD is a quick ½ hour train ride from Sorrento. I recommend a guide if you don’t want to walk around several football fields worth of dust and ash wondering just what you’re looking at. We had a great (albeit expensive) guide who got us into places that most of the public couldn’t get into. Totally worth it if your husband is an ancient history freak and studied Latin like mine.


pompeii 2

Here’s a good place to talk about traveling snafus and rolling with them. When we headed out of Pompeii and went to catch our train we were told there was uno sciopero, a strike. We were also told the strike would be over at 2:00. That’s not an uncommon occurrence in Italy, neither the striking, nor the pre-arranging of when it’s over. We had an hour or so to wait and that wasn’t factoring in either a. the train having to first originate in Naples at 2 or b. all of the other people who would be waiting to get on this same train at all of the other stops.

pompeii 3

Some temple at Pompeii. I told you I had no idea what I was looking at. It was just cool.


No one likes to throw good money after bad, but sometimes you have to know when spending money is saving you money. What do I mean by that? We spent a hundred dollars on cab ride back to our hotel. A hundred dollars is a lot of money. But had we not done that we would have spent the majority of our afternoon sitting in a train station and trying to fight our way onto a train, instead of enjoying our vacation that we were already spending our hard earned money on. Sometimes you are delayed and there is nothing you can do about it. But if you can do something about it, by all means, do! Don’t be noble or stoic. Will you care on your death bed that you saved that hundred bucks? Expenses like this that come up while traveling can be hard to swallow, but I have never once looked back and thought about how the bill got paid. It got paid, just like you always pay your bills. What I do remember is the experience.Pompeii


And our experience was great. We had this crazy cab driver who seemed like he was about 80, which was also the speed he drove even on a bridge, in the opposite lane, with traffic coming at us. The drive from Pompeii to Sorrento was gorgeous: we saw a part of that country that we never got to view from the train. And despite having negotiated a flat rate for the trip, the driver insisted on stopping along the way so he could take our picture at these various vistas. He then proceeded to tell us that he had 8 sons, (my Italian being what it was I couldn’t figure out if he had 4 sets of twins or 2 sets of quadruplets, both seeming equally impossible) and then try to sell us books and photos that he pulled out of every compartment in his van. (We bought a great book on Pompeii and he threw in the photo for free.)


Lunch after Pompeii.

At around 2:30 I noticed the time and realized we would just be getting on the train now if we were lucky. Instead, we were back in Sorrento, enjoying a delicious lunch, having already been back to the hotel and washed the 2,000 year old dust off of us. We were eating at a wine bar called The Garden where we had shopped the year before. The bottom floor is the wine bar and also sells honeys and oils and other foodstuff while the café is above. We always love the service there and the food was great. I had a pacheri with porcini, scampi and fresh herbs and my husband had what he refers to as “the best” Pizza Napoli with fresh capers.

The best Pizza Napoli.

The best Pizza Napoli.




By the way, this is a great place to save that hundred bucks. Don’t go to Capri. Capri is like Rodeo Drive meets Coney Island. The ferry pulls into a crappy little port area with a bunch of cafes and tourist shops that all look alike. We then walked up to the Capri Town which is where the Rodeo Drive comes in. A street filled with expensive stores, most of which you can shop at in America. The walk up, while steep, is beautiful and full of photo opportunities and I did have a very good lunch once I got there. But as I said here, if you have the choice between one or the other, I much prefer Ischia. I’ve heard the other parts of the island are better, but I don’t know how much time you’ll have for those if you’re day tripping.


The walk up to Capri Town.

The walk up to Capri Town.

Also, if you’re going specifically for the Blue Grotto, know this is scheduled like a military operation. My husband, being someone who reads and does research knew this. Unfortunately our traveling companions did not. To get to the Blue Grotto you have to take a boat. And then you have to get on a smaller one to row inside the cave, hence the grotto. This means that the water around the island has to be calm enough to navigate and the boats can only go into the grotto at certain times, because of the tides. My husband tried to explain this to our companions who didn’t want to go to the grotto right away because it wasn’t sunny. When they deemed it sunny enough and we went back, the boats were no longer running because the seas were too rough and we couldn’t go later because of the tides. Do your homework, kids.




Positano is the town you see on all of the brochures, the one that rises out of the sea with all of the houses stacked one on top of each other, and it’s the one you see at the top of this post. It’s home to the expensive Le Sirenuse hotel, boutique shops and many stands selling limoncello and lemons as big as your fist.




Ravello overlooks the actual town of Amalfi and can be reached by a bus from there, but of course there was a strike that day and we had to take a cab instead.

Villa Cimbrone

Villa Cimbrone

There are stunning views from the town, as well as from Villa Cimbrone which dates back to the 11th century. Now a hotel and restaurant, the villa and gardens overlook the sea and are open to the public during the day.

Lunch Ravello

One of 4 glasses of Greco di Tufo at The Garden.




Afterwards we had a wonderful locally grown lunch with an equally wonderful view at another restaurant also called The Garden. It must be a thing there. Fresh mozzarella from Salerno and cherry tomatoes and Basil from a local garden, a gnocchi pesto, and prawns with mint which I wouldn’t have thought to do in a million years but was great! Also 4 glasses of Greco di Tufo.








The Boot Camp: Part 3 – Ischia

Posted by Tess on January 30, 2016 in Uncategorized

Tess Ischia 2012


When we were planning our Amalfi coast trip, we were looking for a place to spend our last couple of nights and thinking of the island of Capri, in keeping with our Crowded/Less Crowded/Remote plan.  A friend of ours said, “Go to Ischia.”


Ischia is an island about an hour ferry ride off the coast, past Capri. Everyone knows Capri. They’re famous for those pants. Capri is like Coney Island meets Rodeo Drive and I would personally skip it. But fewer people have heard of Ischia, so we were intrigued. We were further intrigued when we saw pictures of our hotel, Punta Chiarito. It looked like paradise. We were in.

Actualy the view from our room at the Mezzatorre. Couldn't find the one from Punta Chiarito. But you get the idea.

Actualy the view from our room at the Mezzatorre. Couldn’t find the one from Punta Chiarito. But you get the idea.


However, the day we were supposed to sail to Ischia, our ferry from Sorrento to the island was cancelled due to rough waters, these being the waters that Odysseus was tempted by the Sirens to crash in. Instead, we had to take a ferry to Naples, then get one from Naples to Ischia.


The ferry from Sorrento to Naples was pretty rough, begging the question, “Just how bad was the crossing to Ischia?” I had never been seasick before, but I was plenty seasick that day. We got to Naples and had about an hour and a half until our next ferry, during which time I was able to restore my stomach to it’s previous condition, aided in part by a panini that we picked up at the very non-descript, ferry station café. In fact, I was sitting there, staring out at Vesuvius, having not spoken for fear the contents of my stomach would spill out if I opened my mouth when I turned to my husband and said, “This sandwich is unbelievable!”


He said back to me with equal enthusiasm, “I was just thinking that!”


Christ, I love Italy.  The bread was fresh, the cheese moist and full of tangy flavor, despite the rather no frills, worn looking nature of its place of origin. In America it was the equivalent of a gas station sandwich and would have tasted like sawdust and worn tires.


But then it was back to rougher waters. The ferry to Ischia was like something out of a horror movie. Women were screaming while men rubbed their backs and fanned them. A man wandered the aisles with a roll of plastic bags in his back pocket that he would rip off and hand to vomitting people. I remember thinking, “We’re going to die!” and then felt so miserably sick I thought with relief, “Oh, good, we’re going to die.”


In the midst of all of this, one man next to me sat there with his briefcase on his lap and just nodded off to sleep.


I looked at my husband who was already studying the map, looking for a landing strip so that perhaps we could helicopter back, and said, “You better enjoy this, because we are never coming back here.”


We returned twice in the next two years.

So happy I came back twice!

So happy I came back twice!


(Just so you know, the ferry ride back to Naples was without incident, as was every trip we took in subsequent years. And my stomach did return to normal, although I was unable to finish my wine at lunch that day. I’m happy to say I didn’t have that problem at dinner.)




I count that first full day in Ischia as one of the best days I’ve ever had in my life. After breakfast in the hotel, we walked the 3km to the next town over, Sant’Angelo. We passed grape vines and signs that said “Wine for sale” but only in Italian and German and made friends with a cat. Because it wasn’t a straight 3 km – the road meandered up and down and around, and because we were pausing so The Husband could take photos, we arrived in Sant’Angelo just in time for lunch.


The Husband at lunch in Sant'Angelo looking the most relaxed I have ever seen him.

The Husband at lunch in Sant’Angelo looking the most relaxed I have ever seen him.


We stopped at a restaurant right on the edge a cliff, overlooking the water, and had pasta with fresh fish and a crisp, white Campania wine.


After lunch we walked around the town which was quiet, it being only May, and across the isthmus that connects the town to a lush green island, although it’s not an island because it’s connected by land. (Geography nerds, help me out.) We made friends with another cat.


We walked back to our hotel where we were able to enjoy the thermal baths both there, and at Sorgeto Beach, a couple hundred steps down from there. Ischia is built on volcanic soil, the evidence of which you can see in the steam coming out of fissures in the island from the ferry. The volcanic soil means hot natural thermal springs and great wine and vegetables. At Sorgeto Beach, there’s a café and lounge chairs, which are available to you if you patronize the café, which is not a problem. At the time, eight Euros got us both a glass of wine. Despite it being May, people were in the water, thanks to the thermal activity. I immediately went to check it out. There was a sign right by one small inlet that I really should have read because it would have stopped me from sticking my foot in, right by the fissure in the rocks the thermal water was coming out of, and nearly burning the flesh off my bone. It said, “bollente” or “boiling.” I’m happy to say the further away from that spot the less bollente the water got. But those hot springs are no bullshit.


The room itself wasn’t fancy but the sliding glass door that was our entrance looked right over the bay and the beach below and it was private from guests or other traffic walking by. I had the feeling of being on the edge of the Earth where no one could find me, which was nice. Both nights we had dinner at the hotel. It was simple, yet delicious, much of it being “fatto a casa” homemade. They made their own olive oil, their own wine and grew their own produce. At one point a man came in with handfuls of greens he had just picked, so fresh I could smell them across the dining room. “Biologico!” he boomed proudly. Organic.


We finished the night watching old black and white American movies dubbed in Italian on the small television, with the doors open, letting in the night air.


Our day was simple but there are plenty of other things to do on the Island. There’s great hiking, including Mt. Epomeo, which is in the center of the island. I have to say I had less than a super attitude about this the year we did it; I was still jetlagged and think I had bit off more than I could chew. When we reached what I thought was the top I saw this Matterhorn-like peak behind me and realized there was still more to go. It was worth it, providing 360 degree views of the island. And it wasn’t as difficult as my whining may make it seem. There were dozens of octogenarian Europeans kicking my ass on the trail, aided only by a walking stick or two.

Castello Aragonese

Castello Aragonese


If you’re a history buff or just a Game of Thrones fan, you probably want to check out Castello Aragonese which I’m told is just like King’s Landing. You can spend a few hours touring the 2500 year old fortress which also has a restaurant and café with a beautiful view of the other islands.


The view of Ischia from the Castello

The view of Ischia from the Castello


Many hotels have thermal baths and spas. We’ve stayed at Mezzatorre, which has a gorgeous facility. It’s more expensive, but not as far as Punta Chiarito from the next town over, which in this case is Lacco Ameno.


All of that volcanic soil means there’s great wine on the island if you want to go wine tasting. Our hotel set it up for us but you could contact them directly, too. We spent a lovely afternoon at Casa D’Ambra , the terroir of Ischia being shown off in their earthy reds and Aglianicos.


We also had a lovely afternoon that became about six hours at Pietratorcia.   We arrived for our wine tasting and were greeted with a plate of cheese, salumi and bruschetta, all of which was local and one of which was actually made by the owner.

Bruschetta at Pietratorcia

Bruschetta at Pietratorcia

In between the generous tastes of 4 wines we wandered among the vines and started to think of dinner. The man who was pouring our tasting has mentioned that they had reservations for a dinner service later that evening, and when we saw women in the garden cutting fresh herbs we knew we wanted to stay. To this day, it is one of the best meals I have ever had.


Speaking of restaurants…


Il Giardino Eden,  is worth it for the boat ride you take to get there. You get in a small boat and if you go after dark, you go past Castello Aragonese all lit up, and you feel like you’re in Harry Potter. I remember we liked our food, our waiter not so much. But these things happen.


Sunset from Peppina di Renato

Sunset from Peppina di Renato

Peppina di Renato  is a wonderful authentic place that specializes in Flintstone size portions of grilled meats if you’re tired of eating fish. The antipasti, which included a speck that the owner made himself, is almost enough for a meal itself, so you might want to split an entrée. I recommend the chicken under a brick (Pollo Sopra Mattone) which might be some of the best I’ve ever had. We made a reservation early enough for sunset, which is early for dinner in Italy, but gave us a spectacular view.


Neptunus is a great lunch place in Sant’Angelo. I’m sure it’s great for dinner, too, but the view is gorgeous for lunch. There was a man wandering around with a guitar playing traditional songs, which seems like it would be annoying but was really very charming. And after lunch they brought us 4 bottles of local made liquors like limoncello and told us to help ourselves.

Lunch at Neptunus

Lunch at Neptunus


One last word about transportation…


Ischia being an island, you can’t really take your car there so your transportation options are limited when you do get there. There are buses that I am totally unfamiliar with. I know you can also rent a car once you’re on the island, but if you’re not an adventurous driver, keep in mind that you’ll be on narrow roads that someone sometimes has to back up on to let another car pass. We either walk someplace or we take taxis. It’s an added expense that you may want to factor in before you go, but I find it’s nice to not have to find someplace on an island in the dark, especially after you’ve been drinking.



The Boot Camp Part 2: Roman Holiday

Posted by Tess on January 26, 2016 in Uncategorized



Colosseo night

When people tell me they didn’t like Rome, it’s like they told me they don’t like sunsets or puppies or Elvis Costello. Sure on the cuddly scale, Rome is less puppy and more Costello, but like the musician, Rome has a large body of work that encompasses a wide variety of eras over a long period of time.


Where else can you be walking down the street and look up from a fantastic pair of shoes only to see a two thousand year old structure just standing there like it’s no big thing? WHERE ELSE? OK, sure, perhaps, Turkey, Greece, Israel, and a few other places. But where else are you going to also eat a two hour lunch with some of the best wine in the world for a fraction of the price? Where else are you just going to stumble upon the ruins of Largo Argentina, just sitting in the middle of the city, and find out it’s not just an ancient temple, but also a present day cat sanctuary?


No matter where else I go in the country I always return to Rome. And each time I go I discover a new attraction that delights me and fills me with wonder. Rome is like a piñata and there’s still plenty of candy left to fall out.




I should say here that The Boot Camp is not a travel guide per se. These are just places I’ve been that I can personally recommend. It’s the places I tell friends when they ask, “What should we see?” So there will be many more hotels and restaurants and things to see in all of Italy that I can’t possibly know anything about, many of which I’m sure are wonderful and I’ve been missing out on all of these years. Likewise, your mileage may vary. You may not be as excited by my favorite places, some of which it’s been a few years since I stayed there so they may be different now for better or for worse. If you want to see something more up to date, start a kickstarter to fund my travel guide.


I prefer to stay in the centro storico, the old city. There you’re walking distance to all the major attractions as well as great restaurants, cafes and bars. Rome is an incredibly walkable city. You can have breakfast at the Pantheon, walk through Largo Argentina and the Jewish quarter, across the river to Trastevere, eat lunch, and then keep going down the river to the Vatican or up the Janiculum Hill if you’re so inclined.

Across the Tiber, walking up to The Janiculum Hill.

Across the Tiber, walking up to The Janiculum Hill.


However if budget or other needs must, there are great places to stay all over the city: apartments for rent, fantastic Air BnB experiences, and other hotels that may offer more modern conveniences than the ones built into several hundred year old buildings.



In Piazza al Pantheon, I’ve always enjoyed the Sole Al Pantheon.

Sole View

View from the Sole Al Pantheon

The rooms vary as do the rates, but if you’re looking for a splurge, there is a suite with a window overlooking all of the Piazza with a terrific view of the Pantheon.


Last summer I got a fantastic last minute deal at the Pantheon Royal Suite. The rooms are quite small, but nice, with robes and Molton Brown toiletries. Also, the bed is motorized to lift up, revealing a Jacuzzi underneath. Where else are you going to see that?


Both locations can be noisy as they’re right in the middle of a square with cafes serving until late. But you’re on vacation and you only live once: go be part of that noise.


I’ve also stayed in Campo di Fiori at Hotel Lunetta, which, like the Pantheon Royal Suite, has a spa in the hotel. The Lunetta has a roof top bar which is a great place to stop by on your way out or make it the last stop before you go back to your room. It’s on a side street off the Campo, so my experience was that it was less noisy that my stays near the Pantheon.


Years ago we also stayed at Hotel Smeraldo, which was a fantastic location and very affordable.




Don’t leave Rome without ordering Cacio e Pepe somewhere and if you see fried zucchini flowers (especially if they’re stuffed with ricotta) get them. The Italians do fried food like no one else. It is very lightly battered and fried, not dunked in batter and then served up like a heart attack. Also, get the potatoes. Something about Italian potatoes….they’re just roasted in olive oil, salt and pepper, that’s all, but I can’t make them taste like that in my kitchen at home no matter how hard I try.



One of our favorites in Rome is Ditirambo, right in Camp di Fiori. Get the truffle potatoes!



Also a few years back a Roman friend introduced us to La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali, near the Colosseum in what was explained to us as the “Echo Park” of Rome. (Right coasters, think Brooklyn.) They had 2 specials that were amazing: burrata with anchovies and cacio & pepe with truffles. Ask for the English menu. The chicken liver bruschetta is great, too. I’ve also had the pork with truffles which was crazy good. And the potatoes that came with it were great! (SEE POTATOES, ABOVE)


Cacio e pepe with truffles at Taverna dei Fori Imperiali

Cacio e pepe with truffles at Taverna dei Fori Imperiali

Gusto near the Piazza del Poppolo has a pizzeria, a wine bar and a fancier osteria. The pizzeria is known for their fried vegetables and zucchini flowers which my husband has been talking about being the best he’s ever had for the last 3 years. And the enoteca around the back serves wine by the glass if you’re looking for a mid afternoon break. Wines by the glass have traditionally been harder to come by, unless you just want the house wine, which isn’t always so great. But they have a wonderful selection here.



Night cap at Rosciolo

Night cap at Rosciolo


There’s another great wine bar in Campo di Fiori called Rosciolo. It’s not right in the square, but on a side street. They also sell gourmet food items like aged balsamic vinegar and truffle salts and do tastings of cheeses and meats, as well.







If you’re across the river in Trastevere, we’ve eaten twice at both La Scala as well as Olimpio al Drago and they were both fantastic! Drago is a little easier to find than Scala but we loved both meals. The carbonara and cacio al pepe was great at Drago as were the grilled mussels with burrata. Scala has oysters that were the least expensive I saw the whole trip, as well as more burrata and anchovies, and a raviolo with truffles. And both places have super cute bathrooms! (SEE “A WORD ABOUT TOILETS” PART 1)



Lunch at La Scala

Lunch at La Scala

Aroma was a great place for drinks, with a patio that overlooked the Colosseum and was a great place to watch the sunset as the night lights came on around it. Unfortunately, now that side is reserved for the restaurant. The food there was very good, too, but it was on the expensive side and fancier than you get at most Italian restaurants. Which is fine, but not why I go to Italy. I liked it better than my husband. Aroma is also a 5-10 minute walk to Fori Imperiali if you want to go for a drink before eating there.


And before you leave, get a granita con panna at Tazza d’Oro near the Pantheon tazza d'oro




Now that you’re fed and rested it’s time to actually see the two thousand years of history I’ve been going on about.




The Colosseum and forum are must sees, but I think it helps to have a guide point out what you’re looking at and tell you the history. The ruins being ruins, it’s hard to tell your rostrum from your Temple of the Vestal Virgins.The Husband is a huge ancient history enthusiast; he actually studied Latin. He used this company and loved the tour, which had a grad student or Phd as his guide.


Even if you decide not to do the tour, look into getting tickets online ahead of time. And there’s always an audio guide.




We both really enjoyed it. It’s on the smaller, more manageable side so you’re not overwhelmed with gallery after gallery that you feel you have to get through and appreciate even though you have jet lag. It has a ton of Bernini sculptures that are really amazing to look at up close. We were in awe of the detail and texture he was able to put into the marble, like the way a hand presses into the flesh and makes it dimple.




This is an interesting museum with more ancient artifacts not too far from the Colosseum. I don’t think you need to be worried about tickets ahead of time and it could be a great alternative if there’s bad weather and you don’t want to be outside in the rain or cold.

A very large hand & a very jet lagged me at the Capitoline.

A very large hand & a very jet lagged me at the Capitoline.




I’m going to say something really controversial here: skip the Vatican. Look, if it’s your second or third time or you have 5 days or like you’re super Catholic, then by all means go. But I don’t recommend the Vatican museum. It’s crowded and the tours are inefficient and chaotic and overpriced. Our tour guide went so quickly and so far ahead that she lost us and several others and this was the tour that came recommended. And they will tell you that you have to cover your knees and your shoulders and men can’t wear pants and you will show up in the dead of summer wearing pants with shoulders covered only to be surrounded by a sea of people wearing shorts!


Instead I would recommend taking a lovely walk through the Jewish ghetto, across the bridge to Trastevere, have lunch, and then keep going along the river to St. Peter’s Square and seeing the gigantic plaza that is the Vatican before walking back across the river to the Ara Pacis or the Villa Borghese.




This place is great and totally flies under the radar. It’s all frescoes, mosaics, coins and sculpture from ancient Rome and in remarkably good condition. Very un-crowded the day we went and the ticket also gets you into the Baths of Dioclesian and a church across the street. No need to buy tickets ahead of time or anything.




This is church near Piazza Navona with 3 Caravaggio paintings inside, just hanging there. Just walk right in! Another great alternative if all you have the bandwidth for that day is 3 paintings and a glass of wine near the fountains in the Piazza.




This is the home of an ancient Roman altar dedicated to the Goddess of Peace. It’s a gorgeous sculpture made out of marble, and situated in a light filled modern building. Another great thing to look at when you don’t have the bandwidth for observing ALL of ancient history in day. The basement is also gallery space. The day we were there it featured an exhibit on Roman food that was the perfect length. We came. We saw some beauty. We learned some things. And then we went to Gusto for a drink. Perfect Italian afternoon.


Lastly I’ve never done this food tour, but a friend of mine just did the Trastevere twilight tour and raved about it.




The Boot Camp – Advice on Traveling to Italy Part I: Before You Go

Posted by Tess on January 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

Tess writing Italy

When it comes to Italy, I belong in a 12 step program. I am powerless over Italy. I start getting a jones to go every January and it’s all I can think about until I’m actually there, at which point I’m already thinking about the next time I’m going to go. I have a problem.

However, my addiction has benefitted many others. After going to Italy 8 times in the last 8 years, we’ve become a resource for friends when they’re planning a vacation. Over the years we’ve just started putting the information in a doc for simplicity’s sake and over the years that doc has become 14 pages.


Finally a dear friend who asked to see the document for her mom’s upcoming trip suggested that I put everything online. What an even better idea! I could break apart each region into blog posts which would give me the sense of accomplishment of creating new content without actually writing anything new. This would leave plenty of time for a 2 hour lunch (very Italian!) and still allow me to feel I had been productive that day!

I always tell people to ask themselves before they go what is going to be meaningful to them and signify that they were somewhere else? What do they want to get out of this trip? To live like a local? See things that are 2,000 years old? Lay on a beach that’s like nothing they’ve ever seen? Taste local food? I think asking yourself about the philosophy of travel will help you make the decisions about where you want to go and what you want to do when you get there a lot easier.

Most people their first time in Italy like to do Rome, Florence and Venice . I did it, too. But I think a more ideal Italy trip is to do one major city, a smaller city or town, and then someplace really remote. I usually land in Rome, which is perfect because there are people around and it gives me the infrastructure I need if I land at 8 and need dinner at 10 or sleep until noon because of the jetlag and need to go immediately to lunch. (I also think Rome has the best food of the 3 major cities) I then head out to someplace outside the city: Tuscany, Amalfi, Bologna for some less crowded, less typical experiences, and then when I’m relaxed enough to truly enjoy it, I finally head to an island or someplace in the country to feel like I am the last person on Earth and no one can reach me.

A perfect example of this is Rome, Amalfi, Ischia

You cold also do Rome/orFlorence, Tuscany, Cinque Terre

Venice is going to be the most out of the way of the 3 major cities unless you wanted to do a Northern swing like Venice, Verona, Lake Como/or Lake Garda. If you’re into Barolo wine, Piedmont is also an excellent destination up north. Less American tourists (at least when I went) lots of Austrians and Germans. There’s hikes among the vines, great restaurants, and wine tasting.

The most important thing I can say about all of this is to not try to squeeze everything in. Take your time and tell yourself you will be back and can see things then. One of the best things about Italy is the leisurely pace: having a 2 hour lunch in the middle of the day; the little discoveries you make walking around a city instead of running from attraction to attraction. I find if you try to squeeze in 3 monuments by lunch or whatever you will appreciate and remember little of it. Also, you will be jetlagged so take it easy on yourself. I can usually catch up by the second day but that first one can be rough and I’ve found myself dizzy and nearly fainting trying to push myself. I actually started to topple over in the Vatican museum and was at about a 45 degree angle to the marble floor when some young guys asked if I was OK, The Husband being zero help as he was busy taking photos. I would be more upset about it, but he does take amazing photos including the one above which was taken at our hotel in Sienna.

Oh, and one last thing.

A word about toilets: While a good deal of the bathrooms in Italy are lovely or at least fine and certainly no different in quality from the rich potpourri of toilets one may find in America or any other country, occasionally you may find that, in an otherwise nice, even perhaps expensive restaurant, you may walk into the bathroom only to find the toilet bowl and no toilet seat. Your first instinct is to get out of the gents and into the ladies and then you realize this is the ladies. And on the very rarest of occasions (and I mean rare, like this has only happened to me twice in almost 20 years, rare) you find the toilet is a hole in the tile with two suggestive footprints on either side. Unlike the popular poem, that is not evidence that Jesus was carrying you. That’s where you’re supposed to pee. And that’s totally fine. Are you going to let a thing like a few questionable toilets prevent you from living La Dolce Vita!? Hell no! If you want pretty toilets, vacation at the Home & Garden Expo! Travel is about adventure. Just practice some squats before you go and pretend you’re peeing at an outdoor concert.

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War Womb

Posted by Tess on November 7, 2015 in Uncategorized

Last night I was drinking and free-associating in the shower. And my thoughts turned to a friend who had gotten pregnant at 40 something.  I thought she had dodged the bullet of no one having to talk about her in hushed tones about her “struggle.”


For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, congratulations on being young or men. Because once you enter your thirties as women, all other women want to talk about is your plans regarding that space for rent that’s vagina adjacent. Are you going to get tenants anytime soon? Remodel maybe?


If you say you’re planning on leaving it vacant until it’s condemned like some uterine Detroit, people want to know why you hate kids. They want to know why you hate them for having kids. They want to tell you why kids are just the best and you should have one even though they will also tell you they haven’t had an orgasm with their husband in three years.


If you announce your intentions to try to fill it, then they just keep asking whether you’ve found a renter yet. I get it; I’ve done it, too. You want to show an interest in your friends’ lives and if this is something they’ve said is important to them you want to show them it’s important to you, too.


But I’ve also seen it take a bad turn. After a few months you become the woman having “fertility issues.” Know-it-all friends under the guise of concern say, “I don’t know why she doesn’t try blank. I told her to try blank. Blank worked for me.”


I actually heard one woman snidely say, “She does know you actually have to have sex with your husband, right?” Because that’s supportive.


At first they have nothing but excitement for you. Yay! You’re going to join the exclusive club of people who don’t ever see friends again unless a bouncy house is involved! Then you get the pity. Then for some reason I have yet to figure out, you get their resentment. Somehow you have brought all of this on yourself and they just don’t have time to deal with you.


So I was happy for my friend who got knocked up at 40-whatever because she had avoided both traps A and B. But instead people found a way to talk about her anyway, because that’s what we do. No sooner had she defied science and had that baby then people started calling her a helicopter mom.


Look, some people are helicopter parents. I get it. If it walks like a duck and talks like someone who’s read too many parenting books, it probably really is a helicopter mom. But my issue is the way we as women have found yet another way to judge each other. If having it all is really as hard as I keep hearing it is, then where are all these women finding the time to talk badly about all of these other women? Don’t they have better things to do?


Women, is there nothing we won’t find to hate each other over? I can’t even blame men here and nothing makes me angrier at my own sex than not being able to blame men for something.



My friend Molly Mogren Katt wrote a very awesome piece about miscarriage and the fact that we don’t talk about it. Much has been written about why this is such a taboo subject. But I think the real reason we don’t talk about it is that we can’t be sure this won’t be just one more way other women will judge us.  I actually heard one friend say after another one’s miscarriage, “Big deal. Most women have them their first time.”


After reading this you might say I’ve known some shitty friends and you may very well be right. But I’ve been in the field some ten years witnessing this among people I know and the friends of people I know. And there are some good supportive people out there. But there are also a lot of twats. And when it comes to one of the most important decisions you can make in your life, a lot of women are twats.


Reproductive freedom is not just a fight between republicans and democrats; it has become a battleground for women ourselves, as if we needed one more of those. We’re using this most personal of issues as another excuse to mean girl each other, to make others feel inferior, to knock them down instead of building each other up. That’s why we don’t talk about it. Because we don’t want to be the woman who can’t have it all, or who admits to some inferiority or who by making our own decisions to abstain altogether, forces others to think theirs are being challenged.


And is it any shock that this is about our bodies? That this is just another way for us to be at odds with them? To hate their limitations and feel like our body is just not good enough. This is a women’s issue, not because it’s icky and deals with blood and uteruses, but because it strikes at our core of how we can’t relate to each other and how we define ourselves and our self-esteem with our bodies.


Is it biological? My two female cats hate each other so maybe there’s something to that theory. But while my cats have a cerbral cortex the size of a walnut and are therefore incapable of rational thought, I saw Hillary Clinton keep her shit together during 11 hours of Congressional testimony, so I have to at least think we can do better. But then with my own two ears I hear a woman say to my face, “You should always have a baby. Having a career and a baby will always make you feel superior to those who just have a career,” and I don’t know that we can. Maybe we’re just fucked.


Or maybe we all need to just back the fuck off. Back the fuck off of each other. And back the fuck off of ourselves.


For the Love of a god That It’s Totally Cool if You Do Or Don’t Believe in – Can we Please Stop Saying ‘PC?’

Posted by Tess on September 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

I hate the term “politically correct.” Which isn’t to say I hate the spirit behind it. I’m all about that. I just think it fails to accurately describe the intentions or the behavior. And even worse, it’s become a term loaded with derogatory meaning in an effort to undermine the cause, like “Obamacare” or “Sex and The City Fan.”



Here’s a brief history lesson: once every generation a group of diverse people raise up their voices and say, “Hey, just so you know, we think this is insensitive.” And every generation a group of not so diverse people raise up their voices even louder and say, “NO, IT’S NOT!” In the 90’s these two camps were called “politically correct” and “politically incorrect.” Today we just call them “straight white dudes” and “everyone else.”


OK, what I just said is potentially divisive and that’s wrong of me and I’m sorry. See what I did there, Straight White Dudes? OK, I apologize for that, too. But here’s the thing with the term “politically correct.” In the 90’s it quickly became this term that was sneered at. No one was called “politically correct” out of respect. It was said in the same tone they had been calling people “humorless, frigid, cunts” – or worse – for years.  So the fact that people are bringing this back now immediately changes the discussion to an adversarial one. They don’t want to be open to what people have to say. They want everyone to know these people are humorless, frigid, cunts.


But what I hate even more about the term “politically correct,” is that in and of itself it’s incorrect. Have you looked at the politics of our country lately? We have a major political party whose members consider it correct to govern women’s bodies for them, teach creationism, and shoot unarmed black kids. We’ve heard their “politically correct” language.  That’s why we’re here.


I think the term “politically correct” is lazy, in actuality it says nothing about what people are trying to do, but I get why we use it because it’s shorthand and what we are trying to do takes too long to say. I think what we’re trying to do is just raise awareness. Hey, here’s something you probably haven’t thought about because you’ve never had to or no one has felt comfortable bringing it up before now. That’s how I try to hear it when someone says it to me, because we’ve all been on both sides of this and we all we continue to be. And raising awareness is a good thing – it’s the only thing that got us out of The Stone Age. But maybe wanting to be out of The Stone Age is all about perspective. The Stone Age, and many ages afterwards, were bad for people like me. I like being out of The Stone Age. I can vote. I can earn my own money. I can keep that money. It is not my husband’s legal right to beat me or have sex with me whenever he wants. I have (for now) access to birth control and reproductive freedom. But The Stone Age was pretty sweet for some people. And maybe that’s why they’re so desperate to stay there.


The Most Revolutionary Thing I Ever Heard Part II

Posted by Tess on March 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

So why was, “I don’t want to change the way you feel,” the most revolutionary thing I ever heard?

As most people by now know, Patricia Arquette won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and made a statement for wage equality. Because I’m a class act, here’s what I immediately tweeted.

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I thought some of the wording in her speech was awkward but I quickly got past that because Wage Equality! It was easy for me to explain away: she’s nervous, she’s under pressure, she’s not a writer, I’m drinking, and of course I know what she really means.

But the next day I learned that, in fact, not every woman did want to go down on Patty Arquette. At issue was some of what she said, what I had dismissed as awkward. (And for a much more articulate explanation than I could hope to provide of what these specific issues were, please read here.) Once again, my first response when I saw the essays and comments on Facebook and twitter was to explain it away.

Two things stopped me. And I’m glad they did. Because I would have missed out if they hadn’t.

The first thing that stopped me was what my friend had said a few weeks earlier: I don’t want to change the way you feel. While it was never my intention to tell anybody who felt marginalized by Patricia Arquette’s comments they were wrong to feel that way, chiming in with the way I interpreted it amounted to the same thing. We both heard the same speech. Telling them the way I heard it wasn’t going to change the way they heard it. If anything, it really only illustrated the problem that white middle class feminists are out of touch with the issues of women of color and the LGBT community.

The second thing that stopped me was my own experiences with sexism. We are no longer fighting Mad Men era misogyny in the workplace and at home. It is no longer this obvious bogeyman in a men’s only club drawling over bourbon that ladies are delicate bird brains because of their periods. Sexism is now taking the form of guys who LOVE women, their moms were single women, why their wives work! They just don’t realize they just commended a guy for having the same idea a woman had ten minutes ago because they don’t remember that the woman said it. That they look at men who are under stress at work as being “important” and women who are under stress at work as “not being able to handle it.” Or they don’t realize why it’s such a problem that they call watching their own kids “babysitting” when they do it, and nothing when their wife does. And these are guys we like! We know they have good intentions. They don’t mean to perpetuate the patriarchy. But just because they don’t see it happening doesn’t mean it’s not.

I am a straight, white, middle class woman who experiences sexism. I don’t mean to perpetuate racism. I don’t mean to perpetuate homophobia. But just because I don’t see it happening, doesn’t mean it’s not. And it doesn’t mean that I’m not part of the problem.

I can’t know the experience of a person of color or LGBT because I am not one. And the more I thought about it and the more I thought about my experiences as a woman that I struggle to explain to the well-intentioned men in my life, the more I recognized that it’s not for me to explain away Patricia Arquette’s words.

Instead I wrote a friend, a woman of color who I knew had strong feelings about the speech. I initially expressed my sadness that this had become divisive. Like many well-intentioned people, I believe that we can better achieve our goals if we all stand together. But whose goals? If I don’t want to listen to your issues with what I’m standing for, then doesn’t that really mean that I want you to support my goals, but I have no interest in helping you support yours? Instead of bemoaning divisiveness, I have the ability to help get rid of it. I can listen. I can try to understand. I can find out why my goals fail your goals instead of assuming they are the same. And telling you that they should be.

I know there are dozens of times in my life when I would not have been able to have this conversation; I wouldn’t have even tried. But I was in a place where I was not out to change anyone’s feelings and I was open to the actuality that we’re not all having the same experience.  And I knew how fucking soul crushingly awful it felt to not be heard. I didn’t want to explain it away. I wanted to understand. And while having friends who have different opinions than you can be hard, it can also be an opportunity. If I like this person, then it’s harder to discount what they think so maybe I should find out a little bit more why they think it. It could be revolutionary if we all try to understand each other a little bit more. To not try to change the way someone feels, but to listen. And to recognize that just because you have good intentions, just because you don’t see it happening, doesn’t mean it’s not.

I’m very grateful that my friend was very patient with me in explaining her perspective. I’m sure she’s tired of it just like that meme that says, “I can’t believe I have to still fight for this shit.” I’m also grateful for my original friend – who in the interest of full disclosure was a man, and a straight one – who said, “I don’t want to change the way you feel.” And I’m really grateful for all the men, all the “good guys” who still don’t get it. Their sexism has made me a better feminist.







The Most Revolutionary Thing I Ever Heard: Part I

Posted by Tess on February 25, 2015 in Uncategorized

Recently a friend said the most revolutionary thing I’ve ever heard.


I was upset about something. It was one of those somethings that 99% of the time would have had little to no effect on me. But, as in comedy, the secret to being soul crushed is timing. And so this something that may have not been a big something at any other time of my life was a HUGE something. It wasn’t about the thing – it rarely is – it was about a pattern of behavior from a person in my life that left me feeling hurt and disappointed and alone and humiliated and angry and everything else that feels awful and can only be numbed by a good Italian red, which is what we were doing when he said this revolutionary thing.


As friends we want to help and be there for each other, which is why we often try to explain away the behavior that our friends found hurtful. And as it sounded like he was about to do the same I interjected with, “I understand what you’re saying, but it doesn’t change the way I feel.”


“Oh, I don’t want to change the way you feel,” he said. And then he looked me in the eye and said it again.


In that moment I felt relief. I didn’t feel judged as I had feared. I didn’t feel that my feelings were wrong and that I had to defend them. I felt like someone acknowledged that it was OK to feel the way I did whether he understood it or not. That he didn’t have to understand it for it to be valid. I felt heard.


I want to be clear: my instinct as a friend is never to do this. When the shoe is on the other foot I am the first in line to try to explain the bad feelings away. I know it almost always comes from a good place: my friend has a perceived hurt that just comes from some misinterpretation and if they can understand the miscommunication they wouldn’t be hurt. Well intentioned? Yes. Helpful? Almost never.


Yes, sometimes a friend can say, “Did it seem like they were mad at me?” And you can say, “Oh no, their goldfish died, that was all,” and it quickly goes away. But when it comes to feelings of sadness and despair and hurt and anger those are way too real even if you think the circumstances that caused them may not be. Your friend is past the point where you can erase it with a dead goldfish.


Trying to make it better (WHICH I DO – ALL THE TIME) by trying to explain what really happened or how you saw it or what they might have been thinking lacks what the person really needs: compassion. Saying, “But here’s why you shouldn’t feel so bad,” while well-intentioned – which I know it is because I do it ALL THE TIME -  sounds dismissive. Telling them not to feel that way is a waste of time because they ALREADY DO. The last thing a person needs to hear is that they shouldn’t feel that way because then it adds a feeling of inadequacy to their enormous pile of already shitty feelings.


It’s also easy to get frustrated with the person who’s feeling badly, as if they must want to wallow in their misery because they are not seizing on our brilliant explanation. I know, because I have been that person, too. We think, “Well, I guess they don’t want to feel better.” They do want to feel better! But what you’re saying isn’t going to make that happen. Saying “feel different” is not how to make people feel better.


So why is this the most revolutionary thing I ever heard?


For starters, it made me feel better in the midst of a spiral of truly awful feelings. And any non-food, non-beverage, non-clothing or non-trip to Italy that can do that is remarkable.


But more importantly it left me open to an important experience this week by inspiring me to get out of the way of my own shit long enough to hear someone else.


Stay tuned for “The Most Revolutionary Thing I Ever Heard Part Two…”


Greetings from the Skunk Tour!

Posted by Tess on October 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

In the last week I’ve told this story to about 3 different friends which makes me think it bears repeating. Also, I love being able to tell any story that involves an anecdote about my dear friend, Knoxie.


When I first moved to LA there was another Boston comic out here. Actually there were many. It was the end of the comedy boom and the streets were no longer paved with high six figure development deals for anyone with a tight 8 minute set, if in fact they ever were. Perhaps it was all just a story that got told so often people believed in it like Jesus or Silver Linings Playbook being a good movie. In any event, being a Boston comic in LA was a difficult adjustment for many. Boston was one of the few places in the country where you could be a relative unknown but work every night of the week and make a pretty decent living. There was a culture shock to coming to LA ,where you had to beg for random sets at gas station bathrooms, make no money doing it and still remain a relative unknown. Some comics stayed. Some eventually went back.


So this one comic moves back and we’re talking to our friend Knoxie, who never left, and we ask how the guy’s doing. And Knoxie answers with his usual honesty, “The first six months or so were great. He was working all the time, making money. Then he realized he was on the skunk tour like the rest of us.”


What Knox was referring to was the downside to working an hour a night, to working every night, to making money. Chasing the bookers down for your money. Chasing the bookers down for work. Driving 3 hours to a gig in some random New England town for the night. Getting short money to play the best club in town. Doing a hell gig in some place that has no business hosting a comedy night.


Over the years in our house “being on the skunk tour” has become synonymous with all the things you don’t like about your job. It’s shorthand for when someone gets an alleged dream job and then finds it’s rife with all the bullshit you had at your last 5 jobs. But it’s not a pretentious, inside baseball way for us to complain. It’s actually a way for us to remind ourselves that it’s OK.


In life there is no magic job where suddenly everything is expense accounts and hand jobs. I mean in Japan, probably, but you get my point. If you’re lucky, you’ve been able to chase a career that was your “dream job” and if you’re really lucky you landed somewhere near the bullseye. And sure, you probably thought, you’ll have to work hard, but it won’t ever suck. It’s my dream job! Here’s the truth: sometimes every job sucks, even in the bullseye. But here’s the other truth: it still can be your dream job. A dream job with no problems, with no challenges, with no disappointments or struggles is not a job, even with the word “dream” in front of it. Getting paid to do something that never makes you unhappy is not a job, it’s a fantasy, a story that got told so often people believed in it, like the French being rude or dogs being smarter than cats.


So when we or a friend of ours gets down about something work related, we remind them and ourselves that we’re all on the skunk tour. Not because life sucks, but because life is actually pretty amazing, but it’s never perfect.


Bridget Jones’s Surgery

Posted by Tess on October 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

OK I’m going to try to make this quick because the world needs another “Renee Zellwegger’s Face” think piece like it needs a brow tuck, which is to say, it doesn’t need a brow tuck, but it certainly is free to choose to have a brow tuck, so you’re free to read this or age gracefully.


(And not that it should matter, but for the record Bridget Jones’s Diary is the only chick flick I can or will watch, I adore it and I adore Renee Zellwegger and have tweeted something that may be a joke about that not looking like her face. Part of the problem? Part of the solution? Unfunny hypocrite? That’s your call to make. I’m just off for the week and have thoughts to share.)


Renee Zellwegger showed up this week looking different and everyone assumed she had plastic surgery and maybe she did. And because we all hate our jobs and are looking for anything to distract us from them, the internet responded, sometimes with jokes and sometimes with mean comments.  And then because we hate our spouses and children and are looking for anything to distract us from them, the internet responded again, this time defending Renee Zellwegger’s alleged plastic surgery, saying that Hollywood and society are mean to actresses and women, that we the public are mean to actresses and women, and that for years we criticized Zellwegger for having a puffy face and squinty eyes and so that we are somehow culpable if, in fact, she tried to change it.


For the record:


Yes, Hollywood and society are mean to actresses and women.


Yes, we the public are mean to actresses and women.


However Renee Zellwegger is a grown woman, a successful woman, capable of making her own choices in this world. To claim that anyone “made her” do what we don’t even know if she did or not, implies that she is some easily lead, weak, shallow woman incapable of any kind of cognitive thought, which is also insulting, also perpetuates a stereotype, and is just as destructive to women and our perception of ourselves and each other.


Because we have a choice.


I’m going to say it again. We have a choice.


Yes, there are very real pressures on all women to look a certain way. And every day we make choices to succumb to that pressure or not. Do I order a salad? Do I go for a run? Do I wear heels? Do I put on makeup? Do I rub some expensive fruit acid on my face? Would it be nice to just go about one’s business without all of this taking up bandwidth? Yes. But this problem is a luxury. There are places in the world where people would be stunned to hear that we have the choice to starve ourselves or not and that not everyone chooses the “or not.” And again it is a choice.


By defending someone’s plastic surgery, not by saying that we have the choice to do what we want to our bodies, but by saying societal pressures forced someone to do it, overlooks the power we have over our own lives. We can decide how we want to look, not society. We decide what we love about ourselves, what we find beautiful. We decide what we want to change, why we want to change it and how we will go about it. As much as I find it tiresome when Lena Dunham makes a get out the vote video all about her dancing in a onesie, I have to appreciate that it’s a woman making a positive choice about how she wants to be seen and what makes her feel good regardless of whatever pressure is out there.


The power is ours to lose. Let’s choose to keep it.

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