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Italian Cuisine: 5 Ways Olive Garden Isn’t Authentic Italian

26 April 2024

Italian Cuisine: 5 Ways Olive Garden isn’t authentic Italian food

Be prepared for a drastically different menu & experience when visiting a genuine Trattoria in Italy

If you follow me on social media you inevitably have come across more than a couple “Culture Shock” videos. And considering that it’s one of the things Italy is most known for, unsurprisingly several of those vids revolved around food. It is after all one of the first things an American visiting Italy for the first time would notice…especially because, consciously or not, we all have preconceived ideas of what our “Italian” food will look like when we order it–years of our American Mac n Cheese and Spaghetti & Meatball dinners helped shaped them.

Ya know, we can probably pass some blame to the Chef while we are at it. You know, everyone’s favorite Boy, the venerable Chef Boyardee.

I mean what teenager or dorm resident hasn’t Spaghetti-O’d or Beefaroni’d a late night meal?!

So yeah, when I first came to Italy, I thought I had a good idea what to expect come dinner time. Lol – boy was I wrong. Yeah, I knew the canned ravioli was probably not authentic. But what else had led me so far astray?!

And then…I had an image pop in my head. Of limitless breadsticks. Of Build Your Own Pasta. Of Chicken Parmesan.

There’s not one culprit to blame, but could the most well-known Italian restaurant chain in the US have helped turn me into one of the naive? Olive Garden wouldn’t serve us anything less than premium Italian fare, right? Have you seen their commercials? Come on now.

So I started thinking about all the things I thought I knew regarding Italian cuisine. And then I pulled up the Olive Garden menu on their website. 

It got me thinking a bit, I admit. 

One of the most frequent questions I receive about Italy is about the food…people asking if they’ll know the menu items in places, if the dishes here are as they are prepared in the US, etc etc. 

Our ideas about authentic Italian food come from many places. Looking at the Olive Garden menu, I couldn’t help but think that, while maybe not the cause for our misconceptions, they are a perfect encapsulation of them. Here I have pulled 5 (Okay, maybe it’s six or seven) ways that Olive Garden is actually Italian-American cuisine and not food you will find on a menu in Italy.

(which, as a small note: ya girl loves some Olive Garden. This is in no way a diss to Italian-American cuisine and dishes, all of which have origins in typical Italian dishes, were brought over to America by Italian immigrants, and altered to not only work with the products that had available to them, but also to cater to American tastes. So that being said – if you’re posting it up at your local Olive Garden Friday night, I’ll be the last one to judge you. In fact, please save me a seat.) 

By the way…there are no Olive Garden restaurants in Italy lol. 

But…there are ristorantes, trattorias, osterias, pescerias… 

So, does the O.G. really offer up…
“OG” Italian Cuisine?

(see what I did there?!? been holding on to that one since the opening paragraph!)

  • Olive-Garden-Logo

  • olive garden storefront

1. The Starters – Soup, Salad, Apps
(& Breadsticks of course)

Olive Garden:

  • OGthesoup

  • OGsalad

  • OGardenBreadsticks


We’ll start with an easy one – which coincidentally is also the start of their menu.

While no doubt tasty, their Zuppa Toscana (“Soup in the style of Tuscany”) soup is…well, it’s not something you’ll find in Tuscany.

Traditional Tuscan soup is traditionally made from a selection of kale, beans, zucchini, potatoes, celery, carrots, onions and tomatoes. While Olive Garden does have some of those ingredients, the broth itself is more watery-an Italian sin-and includes things such as red pepper, sausage and american bacon. 

You won’t find that bacon in Italy.    

And unlimited breadsticks?! Not exactly. Italian breadsticks aren’t the super fluffy, buttery, overtly fattening (but so tasty) ones you find at Olive Garden. 

Typical Italian breadsticks are known as grissini. They are long, thin and hard enough that they snap in half. Trust me though – they are so much better than those little packages of hard, crispy breadsticks I think we all used to get in diners and such with spaghetti growing up. 

As for salad dressing, that may come as a surprise too….

2. Fettuccine Alfredo is to Italy…
what the Taco Bell Quesadilla is to Mexico

Olive Garden:

  • ogalfredos

  • OGchickenalfredo

  • OGshrimpalfredo


Though there are some anecdotal evidence of its ancestry being of Italian origin, the reality is that the fettuccine Alfredo that Americans of all ages have grown up with is actually a New York City creation. 

Yes, every time you order the delicious, filling, fattening treasure, available at seemingly every restaurant from Applebee’s to Bob Evans to of course Olive Garden, you are eating something no more Italian that the plastic bottle of Kraft Parmesan Cheese.

The story behind it: There was an Italian in the 1910’s named Alfredo in Italy, and he did create a pasta dish using fettuccine. His concoction was memorable because of the presentation–the dish itself was simply fettuccine al burro, or “fettuccine with butter”. 

There’s a 1930’s version of this Alfredo, too, which just adds to the confusion.

Another tale more on the mythological side is of a man named Alfredo and his pregnant wife. The story goes that wife was hungry, but kept throwing up everything he made for her. (I should note that a common element of this myth is Alfredo was slaving over a hot stove for his wife but she was being a “pain in the butt”…the patriarchy was strong in post WWI Italy, I guess, I dunno). He finally satisfied her many attempts later (surely there’s a pun there). Of course, in this version it was just pasta in bianco–basically plain pasta with oil and butter. 

Pasta of various sorts and styles has been served with butter and cheese for generations in Italy. It wasn’t until the original recipe was brought over by celebrities and immigrants alike to America that the “Alfredo sauce” we commonly think of was created, cream and all. 

So you won’t find the American “Alfredo” sauce in Italy, that’s the bottom line. 

But fun fact? 

No one knows who Alfredo was, but its generally agreed upon there was a man named Alfredo who like fettuccine. That’s why when you type in “fettucine Alfredo” your spell check will automatically make sure that “A” is captalized!

Fettuccine with cheese and butter or oil? Italian. 

Fettuccine in an actual creamy sauce made with cream? Not so much

3. Chicken Parmigiana, Chicken Carbonara
(and every other dish combining pasta & chicken)

Olive Garden:

  • OGChickenParm

  • OGChickCarbonara

  • OGEggplantParm


Some things you know don’t mix. 

Oil and water. Sports and Politics. And in Italy…Chicken and Pasta!

I feel like I undersold that. Let me try again.

Italians-Do-Not-Mix-Pasta-And-Chicken. Period.

Now, Parmigiana itself, a dish made with sauces and cheeses and baked, is an Italian recipe, but the standard recipe calls for eggplant and has origins in Southern Italy–thus there’s no need to call a dish Eggplant Parmigiana, for example. Chicken Parm is 100% an American created dish stemming from early immigrants from Italy having much easier access to the abundance of chicken & other fowl compared to back home. 

Now, since meatballs are about to be covered below, I should note that there is Bolognese sauce in Italy. But it’s basically never served with spaghetti, which Italians feel is too weak of a pasta to support such a thick sauce. Thus Spaghetti Bolognese is American

And spaghetti with big meatballs perfectly situated right on top? Well….

4. Meatballs & Mozzarella Sticks
…sure sound Italian?

Olive Garden:

  • OGspaghettimeatballs

  • OGmeatballparm

  • OGfriedmozzarella


As noted above, Italians don’t ever mix their chicken and pasta. In fact, it’s two completely separate dishes, served at two completely different times. The same goes for meatballs – unless it’s mixed into the pasta sauce, such as a ragu made from beef, pork, wild boar (so good), rabbit, meat has their own standout moment on the menu as a secondi dish, typically ordered with simple, easy sides like a small mixed salad or roasted potatoes. 

So with that in mind, not only are Italian meatballs never served directly on top of pasta in Italy, but authentic Italian meatballs are not massively giant like the “giant meatballs” you’ll find on the Olive Garden menu. They are traditionally much smaller, and served on their own.

And Fried Mozzarella? Well “Cheese Sticks” have their ancestry traced back to…Mexico, most likely.  Though there are fried cheese dishes like Mozzarella in Carrozza in Italy.

See, it might not be real Italian…but it’s so good that a Hedgehog loves Olive Garden

5. Shrimp Scampi

Olive Garden:

  • OGshrimpscampi

  • OGbulkshrimpscampi

  • OGchickenscampi


Alright, ready for this: Chicken Scampi? Not only is that not an Italian dish, it’s actually an Olive Garden creation. 

Shrimp Scampi? Nope, not a dish that you’ll find in Italy, in any way, shape or form. That’s American through and through baby! 

You see…Scampi are small lobsters found in the Atlantic and Mediterranean that are a staple part of the Italian seafood diet. Shrimp are related, but altogether different animals. Scampi is the plural of scampo, the Italian name for the langoustine or Norwegian Lobster. 

So saying Chicken Scampi or Shrimp Scampi just doesn’t make sense. 

While in England and some other western European countries the lobster might be replaced, its really only in the US that the word “scampi” has become a term for a style of pasta dish, as opposed to actually referring to the oceanic basement dwellers themselves.

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Bonus Round!
About those Beverages & Drinks menu pages…

Olive Garden:


If you fancy an alcoholic beverage while in Italy to accompany your dinner, it’s wine or sometimes beer (if you’re eating a pizza). 

Yes, that’s it – wine or beer (sometimes). Not a cocktail. Wine or beer (…sometimes).

Italian chefs go to great lengths to prepare their dishes, and that doesn’t end with just the food. Unsurprisingly, Italians take enormous pride in their cuisine–and matching a delectable glass of Chianti Classico to take the flavor of the dish to the next level is right along with that.

Long story short, you would never find a “featured cocktail” menu like the ones at Olive Garden at a genuine (non-tourist trap) Italian ristorante or trattoria. Cocktails are meant for aperitivo time before dinner, or at the cocktail bar after you’re done with your meal. 

You can see all my Italian Food Tips playlists here:

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A Guide to Spending & Currency in Italy (+Europe)

10 March 2024

A Guide to Spending in Italy: Currency Options & More

A Few Helpful Tips as You Prepare to Visit Europe & Italy

While preparing to visit Italy, and for that matter anywhere across Europe, a common question many Americans have has to do with money.

Or more specifically, currency, and how (and when, where) they can exchange some of their cash for another kind–like Euros. It’s related to what I think is a common fear, especially among those leaving the U.S. for the 1st time: being caught in the unenviable position of being in a foreign place without a way to pay for anything. It sounds like a scenario recreated in the opening scenes of a horror flick, lets be honest.

And although the adoption of the Euro has made travel across the various countries of Europe infinitely easier, when it comes to money there is no shortage of caveats, unique situations and cautious tales. Whether a first timer or a veteran of traveling abroad, there are several important things that Americans should know before their next trip across the Atlantic.

While I don’t have a “new American girl in Italy” nightmare to share–or one that wouldn’t bore you to death, at least–I certainly have learned a few things since moving here. And I’ve definitely picked up a few tricks & tips these past couple years. 

Let’s get to it, shall we?

This blog is broken down into three simple sections:

1) A guide to what currencies (and credit cards) are accepted throughout Italy & Europe

2) A review of how to best utilize exchange rates and where/when/how to make a currency exchange

and, of course…

3) Several tips & tricks, anecdotes, and nuggets of information covering everything “money”— from why you should avoid spending US Dollars even in places that advertise their acceptance, to why Travelers Checks that generations of people grew up with are no longer necessary…and actually can be more inconvenience than not.

So let’s get to it.

But before that…I leave you with a clip from an underrated comedy treasure.

Spending Money in Italy & Europe

Peaking inside your wallet to see what will be accepted, and what won’t be

  • Cash is King in Italy! Italy is pretty well known to be a cash-based society, even in comparison to close European neighbors. The biggest reason for this is that Italy is dominated by small villages and towns, and many of the most tourist-friendly places have economies built around independently owned shops, eateries, street vendors and more. 

    Like the rest of the modern world, the usage & acceptance of Credit & Debit Cards and “Alternative” Payment Apps is increasing rapidly. While many places might accept your card, just be prepared–have cash on you, or a way to get cash, at all times.

  • Credit Cards: Visa and Mastercard are the big two. If a place/store takes credit card payments it is virtually guaranteed these two are accepted. 

    American Express and Discover, however, are a different story. Discover, in fact, wasn’t accepted anywhere in Italy as recently as a decade ago. Major hotel chains and such, especially in cities like Rome, might take it, but it’s not a given. And it’s incredibly rare you will find many places in smaller resort towns and the various vineyards. 

    It’s similar with American Express, but not quite as drastic. If you broke it down by percent, of the places that accept card transactions, 99.6% (or more) take Visa/MC, between 45% and 55% accept AMEX, and 10-15% Discover. And for the few people that still have Diner’s Club cards…I swear, someone asked me that recently… those are now owned and operated under Discover (and only work through Discover card systems).

  • You can forget about most of the American payment “apps”, things like CashApp, Venmo, etc. PayPal has 91% of the market share in Italy as far as “online” banking/payments, but it is almost exclusively used for peer-to-peer payments. It’s just incredibly rare to find businesses that accept these types of things. Further than that, CashApp, for example, won’t even work for you in Italy (there’s reasons why you have to “share” your location when you download!)
  • One result of COVID-19 was the rapid growth of contactless payment, and the number of places that accept it. In major tourist hotspots like Rome and Milan a good number of places now have the capability, which also means that things like GooglePay and ApplePay are often accepted (provided they’re being funded via Visa/Mastercard, of course)
  • While some tour companies will accept US dollars in some cases, it’s very rare, and you shouldn’t assume you can use US dollars anywhere in Italy. Like much of Europe, Italy uses the Euro, represented with the € sign. Paper currency comes in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100€. Similar to the dollar, fractions of a Euro are called cents. Coins can be found in in 0.01, 0.02, 0.05, 0.10, 0.20 and 0.50 cent denominations, along with 1€ and 2€. And in contrast to the US$, 1€ and 2€ denominations are in Coin only

The “Common” side of Euro Coins–
Regardless of  issuing country this side is always the same

  • Sample 1 Cent Euro Coin


  • Sample 2 Cent Euro Coin


  • Sample 5 Cent Euro Coin


  • Sample 10 Cent Euro Coin


  • Sample 20 Cents Euro Coin


  • Sample 50 Cents Euro Coin


  • Sample 1 Euro Coin


  • Sample 2 Euro Coin


A few examples of Euro Coins issued in Italy
(Pictured: 1 Cent, 2 Cent, 1 and 2 Euro)

  • Sample, Italy Issued 1 Cent Euro Coin

    Italy 1 Cent Euro

  • Italy 2 Cent Euro Coin Sample

    Italy 2 Cent Euro

  • Italy Issued 1 Euro Coin Sample

    Italy 1 Euro Coin

  • Italy Issued 2 Euro Coin Sample

    Italy 2 Euro Coin

Examples of paper/bill Euro Denominations

  • Sample-Five Euro

  • Sample-Euro 10

  • euro20

  • euro50

  • euro100

Exchanging Your Dollars and
Having It Make Sense

Avoid Wasting Money with These Tips

Exchanging your US Dollars for foreign currency is simple in theory, but like everything else in life, in actuality gets complicated real quick.

There’s a reason why you see “Exchange Currency Here” signs seemingly everywhere when you get off a plane, train, ship…hell, you can do somersaults and back-flips across a sovereign border and you’re pretty much guaranteed to land within a few feet of one. And that’s because it’s “easy money” for the one doing the exchanging.  Places in high traffic tourist spots can take upwards of 10%(+) just for swapping one form of money for another.

So keep these things in mind when it comes to Exchange Rates and Spending Money in Italy:

  • The current exchange rate between US Dollars and Euros depends slightly on which direction ($ to €, € to $) the exchange goes. You can expect $1 to get you roughly .92-.93 cents in Euro. Conversely 1€ gets you between $1.08 and $1.09.
  • You should try your best to avoid the instinct to exchange currency right upon entering Italy/Europe, places like airports and train stations. Similar to how a bottle of water magically goes from a dollar at 7-11 to like 6 bucks at the airport, you’ll end up paying higher fees or commissions on any exchange, regardless of how they advertise their exchange rate. Transportation & tourist hubs charge those prices because, well, they can. And they don’t suddenly become altruistic when it comes to turning your $1 Bill into a 1€  Coin. Trust me.

    So how should you exchange / get Euro for your trip? 

    1). At Your Bank: The first and best place to exchange your money is right at your bank in your home country. This is where you’ll get the best exchange rate most of the time! Bigger banks in the US will likely have Euro on hand and can do the transaction immediately, however smaller banks and branches may have to order it. Your best bet (better safe than sorry!), is to go to. your bank and exchange money 2-4 weeks before your trip. 
    2) Small shops and cambios, which are kinda like small boutique shops for these types of services. Be aware that “tourist traps” like the transportation hubs still may apply, so this refers to more within villages and towns than meccas. I cover the way to approach this a bit more in the final section.

    3) An Italian ATM: The fastest and easiest way to get Euro is to simply use your debit card at an ATM when you’ve arrived in Italy. But not any ATM, because there’s naturally a caveat for that too!

    • You want to make sure the ATM is bank-affiliated (bancomat). Bancomats affiliated with one of the main banks in Italy do not charge fees. You will get the established government exchange rate without a commission fee, assuming you are using the ATM to withdrawal funds from your US checking account. You absolutely should avoid independent ATMs, the most popular being  EURONET. You know the type…the little ones you see in corners of random liquor stores and such. The fees from independent ATMs can be simply disgusting.
    • One thing you don’t want to use an ATM for is withdrawing cash off a credit card. This isn’t across the board, as their are a number of credit cards tailored to international travelers, but generally speaking credit card companies do one thing well: make money, usually with unproportionate fees–like ones for cash advances.

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Before You Go…

A Few More Things to Know

Some Last Pearls of Wisdom, Nuggets of Gold and I’ve run out of Money Puns

  • A good website for up to the minute exchange rate info, for any and all recognized legal tender, can be found here. Your local bank branch often provides printed rates upon request, as well, for a good idea of what to expect before you arrive.
  • Before leaving on any trip, be sure to contact your bank/debit card and credit card companies. Many banks put automatic fraud safeguards in place and you can be easily caught unaware until your card is declined. Chase Bank, for example, often denies ATM withdrawals over $25 if not done within a certain proximity to your billing/account zip code.  The additional layers of protection are generally great for account holders and consumers, of course…until they’re not.
  • While on the phone with the credit card peeps, ask for details on/if they have any sort of travel insurance/protection. A large number do, though you can expect a whole lot of fine print along the way. Whether its Rewards Points for airline travel, rebates for hotel chain bookings or custom travel insurance packages, you’d be surprised what you can learn from these calls.
  • Once in Europe…Keep a set amount of euro on you. As I mentioned, because of the predominance of small markets & shops, and the overall cash-dominant economy of Italy, it’s always smart to make sure you have local currency on you in case of unique circumstances or emergencies. But be sure to exchange them back to US Dollars before heading home! Especially the coins–you’ll be amazed how quickly change can accrue in your pocket when you’re dealing with a couple extra fractions of denominations, along with the lack of a 1 or 2 Euro bill. 

     Obvious Note: In the States it can be easy to just toss change aside or let it be buried within the couch cushions. It’s a bit different when you pay for a 0.70 cent candy bar with a 5€ bill and get your change all in coins!

  • I know some of the older generations will revolt at the mere thought, but Traveler’s Checks … are no longer a viable way to protect your money abroad. Most of Europe, especially Italy, it’s downright extremely rare to find a place that actually accepts them for purchases. Even most of  Italy’s official banks will not cash them. And even you do find a place that will honor the check, or swap it for euro, you can expect grossly exorbitant fees for their trouble.
  • Like many modern countries, you will find a lot of shops that accept US currency. It can be tempting, too, because its comfortable. It’s not advisable, however. “Rounding off” might not be a “fee”, but it’s not rounding for your benefit obviously. Small shops and eateries might charge you as much as 20% more if you pay with US Dollar, quite a bit more than the actual 7-8.5% difference in currency value.
  • It sounds simple and obvious, but you’d be surprised. Leave the weight at home! All those random store credit cards and pharmacy/grocery store rewards cards. Stick with one or two credit cards, your bank card and cash money. That’s it. Traveling, vacationing, especially with a family and kids, can be a smorgasbord of spending, of nickle and dimes. Keeping track can be a nightmare, even more so when dealing with foreign currency. Its easier to keep up with your budget, too. And honestly, the majority of everything else won’t be used or can’t be, and serves only as opportunity for those with ill intent like scammers and thieves. 
  • Be wary of Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC), or Cardholder Preferred Currency (CPC). These are merchant-provided services that let you see your foreign credit card transactions in your home currency at the point of sale. Fees for DCC are higher than those charged on regular credit card transaction. DCC is optional; do not let a store force you to do this if you dont want to. It’s akin to the “rounding off” and “currency surcharges” that the shops do with US Dollar payments. 

    From the website Investopedia:

    “Dynamic currency conversion (DCC) allows you to make point-of-sale (POS) credit card purchases in a foreign country using the currency of your home country; it is also known as cardholder preferred currency (CPC). While DCC makes it easier to understand the price you are paying—and lets you avoid doing the currency conversion math—it often comes with a poor exchange rate and other fees that can make the transaction more expensive than if you simply made it in local currency.” -jim brobasco on investopedia

That’s your guide to “Spending in Italy”! 

Hopefully it will answer some questions and give you some guidance if–sorry, when–you begin planning your trip abroad.

Check back periodically as this blog, like the previous ones covering Travel & Entry Requirements and What You Can Bring Home Through US Customs, will be updated regularly with updated information and fresh tips.

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Understanding What You Can Bring Home from Italy

10 February 2024

Returning From Your Visit to Italy

A quick guide to what you can bring home, going through US Customs & even how to keep your wine safe

The process of going through US Customs & Border Protection, US citizen or not, can be stressful. For vacationers coming back home to the states it’s an emphatic vacation’s over reminder. With a little preparation, though, it doesn’t have to be too painful–and there’s even a few ways to expedite the process as well. 

A couple of weeks ago I covered what you need in order to enter Italy, now and in the future. Now I will help you to understand what you can, and cannot, bring back from Italy (or from most countries, for that matter) so that you can be prepared for the moment you get the US Customs Declaration form…or more importantly you know what you shouldn’t bother to buy overseas in the first place.

After I cover going through US Customs, I’ll highlight the Department of Homeland Security Trusted Traveler Programs, which are like the Express Checkout Lanes for US Citizens returning from abroad. The pricing is surprisingly affordable, especially considering the application/fee is good for 5 years.

I’ll finish up the blog discussing one of my (not so private) fears: Opening a suitcase and finding my beautiful bottle of Italian wine in pieces, having turned my clothes purple. Personal experience may or may not have played a part in how I came up with my suggestions for how to best travel with your wine. (Whoever said rolled newspaper is a great insulator is full of it, by the way.)

So, without further ado, here is your quick guide to navigating US Customs, and what you can bring home with you from Italy…or from any other foreign country.

Going Through U.S. Customs

What You Should Expect & What You Should Know

Sign Directing Travelers Entering the US

  • All travelers entering the US, including citizens, must pass through US Customs & Border Control if they are arriving from a foreign country. There really isn’t any exceptions to the process, though US Government & Military personnel have slightly different rules & regs. The only alternative option for individuals is to take advantage of the Trusted Traveler Programs offered by DHS. I discuss each of those programs in the next section of the blog.
  • Each individual is required to complete a Declarations form, officially known as Declaration Form 6059B. You will fill it out in its entirety and provide it to US Customs upon your arrival & interview. (You can see a photo of the form at the end of this section).
  • Each traveler may bring back up to $800 in goods with them. Basically that includes everything you have with you upon your arrival in the US that you didn’t have when you originally departed it. 
  • The US has some of the world’s strictest policies when it comes to bringing in certain foods. Not Allowed: Meat, Poultry, Eggs & “Liquid” Dairy. Certain cooked and pre-packaged foods might be okay (think like Slim Jim beef jerky), but its not even worth trying, honestly.
  • Other foods Not Allowed are fresh fruits, vegetables and raw nuts. Canned fruit & cooked/candied nuts are probably okay but, to me, watching US Customs confiscate your canned peaches just doesn’t seem worth it
  • Spices, chocolates and candies? Allowed. So is most seafood, which I found surprising. I was behind a woman that had a fresh octopus bagged and checked-in her suitcase. Seriously. Mind: Blown.
  • Of course Italian cheese is world-renowned. The good news is that many types of cheese can be brought home, as long as they: 1) are sealed/vacuum packaged (most cheese shops in Italy will do this for you upon request) 2) not liquid/runny–aka no Cottage or Ricotta and 3) do not contain any meat (like bacon). A friend of mine has a good write up here
  • There are different rules for individuals bringing home goods under that $800 mark versus people bringing home a mass amount of a singular product for resale in the US. That’s when duties, taxes and all sorts of questions arise. In this blog you can assume I am speaking strictly about personal use laws and restrictions. 
  • Although strict, it also doesn’t mean immovable when it comes to restrictions. Customs agents are sensitive to an individual’s specific dietary needs, and to dairy allowances & formula for infants, for example. Just don’t try and hide anything–It won’t end well. Be straightforward.
  • You can bring wine back! 1 Liter per person is allowed duty-free, though as long as you are honest and upfront about the extra wine being for your personal use Customs will not tax it (if they do, its probably a couple bucks each bottle). Also, Remember: 21 and up. Regardless if you were able to purchase the wine as a 20 year-old in another country the US laws on alcohol stand. 
  • Wine, specifically, must be stowed with your luggage, as it cannot be carried on (due to TSA liquid restrictions). I offer some suggestions for how to best pack and protect your grape treasure below. You want to have a gameplan for your return trip; kind of like bringing an extra suitcase expecting to buy a bunch of souvenirs. Having to purchase luggage at an airport at the last minute never worked out well for anyone’s wallet.
  • Tell. The. Truth. full stop.
  • When it comes to authority, almost by default humans have a tendency to become protective and secretive when it comes to “our stuff“. Avoid this urge. It is always best to be 100% honest and upfront with US Customs. These are people who have seen & heard every lie, half-truth and packing trick. Its not even worth it, honestly…the fines/penalties for lying on Declarations forms outweigh any benefit, and chances are you are lying about something they wouldn’t have even cared or bothered with anyway! US Customs & Border Patrol agents have little interest in confiscating a gift and ruining the end of your trip.

US Customs Form 6059B 

  • customs-declaration-6059b

  • Form 6059B US Customs ThumbNail

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Trusted Traveler Programs

Homeland Security does offer a few ways to expedite your US Customs wait

Homeland Security's Trusted Traveler Programs

There is no escaping one undeniable fact: It is impossible to absolutely, 100% know all the intracies of the rules & regulations as you prepare for US Customs. That’s sort of the nature of the beast with a bureaucracy; you’ve got the strict laws of TSA, the always evolving restrictions from the USDA (they are always monitoring worldwide food borne illnesses and such), the complexities of the FDA and even the ATF setting standards…and that’s all before the IRS and State Department gets a say.

It underscores my last bulletpoint–just be honest and transparent and you should be okay.

While obviously experienced travelers may be more comfortable with going through US Customs, there are options for those who wish to expedite the process. Anyone who travels frequently, or anyone who wants to, for that matter, should check out the Trusted Traveler program operated by the Department of Homeland Security.

If you’ve been to an airport recently you’ve probably seen one in action. You know when you are in that long winding line, waiting for TSA to look at your ID and inspect your fancy shoes? Ever notice the people who seem like they are VIP status, going straight through off to the side? That’s the TSA Pre-Check, which is exactly like it sounds. It’s a “skip the waiting in line” pass for approved individuals. It costs roughly $80 and saves you some time & headaches. Like all the Programs, enrollment is good for 5 years.

Then there is Global Entry. The easiest way to describe Global Entry? It is the US Customs version of TSA Pre-Check. It’s basically a “skip the line” for Customs. Being enrolled in Global Entry also automatically enrolls you in TSA Pre-Check, so you don’t have to apply and pay for both. Global Entry eliminates you having to physically complete and submit your Declarations forms and paperwork; instead of waiting in line to meet with a US Customs worker  you can actually use a self-serve kiosk and skip the line entirely. Many of these kiosks are quite 22nd Century, if you will, with security features like facial-rec built right in.

Global Entry is obviously a little more expensive than TSA Pre-Check, but considering it includes both at $100 its practically a bargain. It can take up to 6 months to process your application, so signing up doesn’t do much for someone traveling very soon, but its a worthwhile endeavor for a lot of people–if you travel internationally once a year, even, I think its worth it.

Also, unlike TSA Pre-Check, Global Entry applies to individuals traveling via land and sea, as opposed to Pre-Check, which is air travel only.

A couple other programs to note, that don’t apply to Italy specifically, are the NEXUS and SENTRI programs.

NEXUS deals with travel to and from Canad only. Like Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check, it promises quicker border crossings for pedestrians, vehicles and sea travel, along with air travel between a US and Canadian city (NEXUS includes access to TSA Pre-Check in these incidences). It’s $50.

I should note that NEXUS differs from the “Enhanced IDs” available to those living in New York, Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota and Washington. Those are kind of your “US – Canada Passport”. NEXUS lets you skip the line to show said Enhanced ID.

The final program to note, SENTRI, is for US/Canada and Mexico. It is $122, and is similar to NEXUS except it does not include travel via sea. Not exactly sure why, but it is what it is.

Traveling with your Italian Wine

A couple of suggestions and products to consider
for protecting your vino

It’s kind of the nightmare scenario, right? You come home from your fantastic, amazing vacation to Italy, and open up your suitcase, prepared to study the bottle label one more time, or maybe uncork a bottle ‘cuz you’re so giddy with anticipation…only to see that despite wrapping the bottles in every hotel towel you managed to swipe your entire suitcase, all your luggage, is colored burgundy. It doesnt matter if it was turbulence or the burly baggage handler…your dreams are dashed.

This makes me think of the Bob’s Burgers episode where one of the kids breaks mom Linda’s wine bottle, and she sops it up with a dirty rag…only to then, in desperation, wring out a few drops onto her tongue. Oh I am literally LOL’ing at the thought.  

Oh…how we wine lovers can relate to that feeling, eh?

There’s hundreds of products you can find online, but trust me, they are not all the same.

If you plan to bring more than a bottle or two home…or, hell, even if you plan to bring one bottle home…I got your back. 

Like with every blog I post here, I’ve created a small list of Amazon Recommendations in my Storefront. Unlike, for example, my “Fur Babies Travel Too” blog and recommendations, there are only a few items in this one. But check em out if you need some packing ideas or inspiration!

Please Note: As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualified purchases. 

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Understanding Italy’s “New” Travel Visa Rules

7 January 2024

Travel Visa Requirements for Italy in 2024 & Beyond

Guiding you past the rumors so you can plan your visit stress-free

OMG! I need a Travel Visa? What is ETIAS?!”

Of all the questions I get asked, the one regarding ETIAS and the mythical “Travel Visa” is by far the most frequent. Well, that along with anything regarding Travel & Entry Requirements into Italy, really. So this blog is probably overdue.

A few years back, around 2019, the European Union announced plans for the ETIAS program–aka the European Travel Information & Authorization System. ETIAS was intended to be user-friendly, built as an online database and website for easy applying. It would give travelers a “visa waiver” to be used in conjunction with traveler’s passport.

Unfortunately, for most people the only thing “current” with ETIAS is a general confusion and state of paranoia among travelers. While in the idea of uniting most EU countries (known as the Schengen Area) and adopting a program that increases safety, convenience and consistency in international travel is great, the launch of it has been anything but. And it has created quite a bit of confusion online (plus a few panic attacks, I’m sure). Especially on social media, where viral doses of misinformation spread wildly. Pretty wild considering that ETIAS still has not started and won’t until at least 2025.

In this post I’ll explain what (if anything) is new for 2024 regarding Travel & Entry Requirements into Italy, breakdown and explain what ETIAS is and what exactly it will eventually mean for travelers, as well as offer you some links and trusted online resources for more detailed information. 

This blog will be updated as needed.

What You Need for Travel in 2024, and Why the Confusion

Mythbusting & Rumor Smashing

Welcome to Italy, Vintage Passport Stamp

The majority of the current confusion regarding traveling to Italy centers around one simple question:

What do I need for entry into Italy?

The answer, for 2024, to be blunt: The same thing you needed for 2023, 2022 and so on (not counting any COVID-19 era vaccine mandates and such). And that is a valid US Passport

There’s two things I’ve seen creating confusion online.

The first is the near-viral online discussion about Americans needing a Travel Visa to enter Italy starting in 2024. This is not accurate and not true.

This stems from people mixing up short stay (or tourist) “visa-exempt” status given to many countries, such as the US, and a yet to begin EU program for its member countries  that will eventually require a “visa waiver” for travel to most of Europe

That program, of course, is the aforementioned ETIAS. It was supposed to start in 2024 (well…2020), but there’s been few updates, and everything we know about the ETIAS Program comes from the original announcement a few years ago. It defines an area called the Schengen Area, basically the EU countries minus Cyprus and Bulgaria (but also includes non-EU Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. In March 2024, Bulgaria and Romania will join as well).

Eventually, once in place, ETIAS will require anyone traveling to Italy (or inside the Schengen Area) to apply for a “visa waiver” or “travel visa waiver”–it will be mandatory. It’s sort of a pre-paid passport stamp for 29 countries.

I will discuss ETIAS in additional detail in the next section, but, as of now, the EU says it will be ready next year–but that’s been said literally every year since the original announcement in 2019. So I certainly would not stress about it.

Of course, describing & equating ETIAS as a “Travel Visa” is a little disingenuous, and makes it seem like its something much more complicated than it is. It’s really not that big of a deal, to be honest. The wording used with ETIAS is what creates the confusion and is compounded by…

The wordy legal jargon of government websites and an acronym like ETIAS itself. Then you get different versions of what ETIAS will entail in PR releases every year for 5 years, and you end up with a lot of only partially correct information floating around.

But man, legal jargon. It’s the worst, seriously.

A particular example is the requirement for US Citizens traveling to Italy needing a dichiarazione di presenza”  or declaration of presence. 

Well, fear and stress not. The dichiarazione di presenza is what that little stamp on your passport represents when crossing the border into Italy!

Be Sure to Check Out My Custom Amazon Recommendations Specific to this Blog! Personally Selected Items to Help Keep Your IDs, Passports, Travel Documents & More Safe During Your Travels!

You can also check out all the rest of my Amazon recommendations!

Screenshot of US State Department Website
Travel to Italy Quick Facts

US State Department travel information for Italy

Explaining ETIAS &
What That Means For You

Two Clicks, Ten Bucks, One Visa

Once ETIAS finally takes effect, while acknowledging anything “new” takes an adjustment period, the overall impact on future visitors to Italy will be minor.

ETIAS is a visa waiver that will screen travelers before they can travel to the region. So while people saying “OMG! I need a Travel Visa now?!” is, uh, kind of correct come 2025, it’s not quite accurate as the “Visa” is more of a simple waiver.

Think of it as an additional later of protection for all parties. It creates a uniform database of individuals travel and a second level of security for countries and their border/customs agencies.

From a personal standpoint, this will help fight things like identity theft and even human trafficking & kidnapping–which is an abhorrently growing problem for even the most industrialized nations. From the EU perspective, the benefits begin and end with national security for the member countries.

I suppose, in some ways the benefits could be a parallel to the “No Fly List” the TSA, FBI and FAA implemented in the United States post-911. 

Regardless of your citizenship you most likely will need to apply and submit for ETIAS.

All visitors who previously traveled visa-free to Europe, such as visitors from the United States, Canada, Australia, and many others, will need an approved ETIAS to enter any ETIAS member country such as Italy, France, Germany and Spain.

All travelers, regardless of age, will be required to obtain an ETIAS, and the authorization will be valid for 3 years or until the date of passport expiration.

The process will not be obtrusive or time consuming. It actually will be pretty easy, all things considered. 

For an ETIAS into Italy, these are the general requirements, though there are case by case exceptions:

  • A valid passport with a minimum validity of 3 months from the expected date of departure from Italy
  • Demonstrate to have sufficient financial means to support the stay in the country
  • To not appear on the “non-admission” list of the EU
  • International medical insurance (usually can be obtained or auto-included via cruise/airline, credit card, bank, etc, though most US health insurance plans have some sort of international protection
  • Accommodation or an invitation letter (IE documentation of your hotel plans, AirBNB, or a resident of Italy outlining your visit)
  • A round trip ticket

The application itself is standard fare for international travel. Who you are, Where you been, What crimes have you committed, you know, that whole bag (for some reason I just inner-monologued that in Dr. Evil’s voice, from his therapy session in the Austin Powers movie. I admit this reference is probably going over people’s heads. Sorry, my brain is weird sometimes!).

It will be all done online, and cost a nominal fee. Originally it was supposed to be like 7 bucks, then I heard ten. Either way, won’t be anything like a US Passport fee!

Screenshot from the ETIAS Italy website

Basic ETIAS process/requirements

The entire process for a ETIAS visa waiver will be done online. The application will cover basic questions such as travel history & criminal record, and once approved will be valid for travel to all ETIAS countries for 3 years, or until your US Passport expires.

Keep Tabs on the Latest ETIAS 2025 News

A tl;dr Recap & Sites to Bookmark

I’m sure you may still have a couple questions or uncertainty regarding ETIAS & the travel visa/waiver. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the entire system has been pushed back yearly since 2018/19, there isn’t a ton of definitive information regarding any aspect of the program other than the bold-faced talking points given in brief PR releases by Italy & other E.U. member countries.

That said, there is enough established to clear up the basic misinformation going around, and most importantly to relieve the stress & anxiety that this adds for prospective visitors to Italy & Europe.

For the “tl;dr” crowd, remember these key bullet points:

    • When ETIAS does take effect, the entire process will be done online. The application will be short, consisting of questions on travel history, criminal background & employment. In order to submit the application you will have to pay a non-refundable processing fee that can be paid only via a credit or debit card. 
    • Additional requirements for entry vary by country, and are separate than the ETIAS waiver. These are typically asked for at the entry point (for example, in the US, an airport’s Customs & Immigration). Italy’s established requirements are pretty standard, including establishing the financial means to support one’s self while there, travel plans/accommodations, and medical insurance.
    • Once ETIAS system is in place, an approved application will be good for a maximum of 3 years. It will be automatically be invalid upon your US Passport’s expiration date, regardless if you seamlessly received an updated one, as each ETIAS waiver is “attached” to the passport you have upon applying. Basically: New passport = New ETIAS waiver. 
    • An approved ETIAS application grants you entry into any country in the Schengen Area. This is essentially the EU countries minus Cyprus and Bulgaria, but also includes non-EU Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. In March 2024, Bulgaria and Romania will join as well.

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My Puglia Road Trip (Part IV) – Bari


My Puglia Road Trip [Part IV] — Bari

Over So Soon?!

puglia (apulia)

The region of Puglia (or Apulia), Italy

[from part 1]  
We embarked on a 9-day road trip throughout one of the most scenic–and criminally underrated & unheralded–regions of Italy. A coastal region in the southeast “heel” of the country, Puglia (also known as Apulia) remains a hidden gem of sorts as tourists flock to the more well-known cities. After meeting in Bari, our itinerary would take us to Polignano a Mare, Ostuni, Alberbello, Matera and finish with a couple of nights back in Bari.

As we drove back to where we started, the capital city of Bari, the realization that our epic road trip was nearing its end started to dawn on me.

Isn’t it kinda crazy how you can spend a week on a vacation somewhere, and even with some days feeling like they last forever (as you get up early and stay up late, somehow taking in both the sunrise and sunset lol), towards the end of the trip you inevitably think: “Wowthat week just flew by!”

Bari is an interesting city. To be honest, I have to admit that I kinda had preconceived notions about it, I just figured it was a port city like any other along this stretch of coast. Its old-world architecture, ample marinas playing host to schooners and sailboats and yachts, and idyllic weather combine to almost invite these notions…I mean, if you judged the “book by its cover” I think it’d probably get a one line review of “Peaceful, tranquil, boring.”

Of course, that’s why Meredith and I made it a point to not just let Bari be our roadtrip’s pushpin starting point on a map–instead ensuring this university and port city of a quarter-million people (nearly 1.5 million across the metropolitan area) received the time and attention it deserves. 

Bari is almost a split personality, one young and vibrant, one older and esteemed. The latter can be encapsulated by Bari Vecchia, the historic old town, a city center filled with countless trattorias, piazzas and shops. This invokes, for Americans like me, a sort of downtown “Main Street, USA” vibe…except it’s backdrop is picturesque lighthouses overlooking the Adriatic Sea and too many museums to count.

When you combine this sort of dual-personality with that idyllic weather, along with the sea dotted with boats large and small, it really seriously reminds me of Florida. I mean, palm trees? Check. Sunshine and cool breeze? Check. Seems boring yet peaceful when you first arrive? Yep. Perfect place for retirees…okay you get my point.

But even further than that, the way Bari can almost separate its identities, like with that downtown, historic setting of Bari Vecchia on one hand, and perhaps the nightlife near the Norman-Hohenstaufen Castle on the other…it feels like Miami, honestly.

So…the end is near. But not…quite….yet

We girls had 2 days left on this incredible journey. And as we entered the city, equal parts exhausted and excited, the anticipation that comes from getting to explore a new place for the first time fueled us (Well, that and caffeine, of course). No time to waste…Bari awaited us.


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The Food. OMG…The Food.

I mentioned Bari Vecchia, and the tons of little cafes, shops, trattorrias, etc etc. 

Well, by now you all know how I love me a Street Food Tour. 

You can see where this is going. 

We did this tour, and it was amazing. Our guide was knowledgable, and the food….well, let me just reiterate the OMG…THE FOOD headline now. 

[Side Note: AirBnB has really become an irreplaceable resource, especially for international travelers/vacationers. Obviously many people (like my brother) associate them with just “renting someone’s bedroom” (his words), but damn, they’ve really expanded their portfolio of options as the company has exploded worldwide. You can not only find some great accommodations, but some of the best walking and street food tours I’ve taken have come from using the site.]

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Strada delle Orechiette

In Bari there is a famous street called “Strada delle Orechiette”, where you can find a ton of Italian Nonnas (Italian word for grandmother), sitting in the street making a type of pasta called Orechiette. 

[Another sidenote…I was watching Friends the other day–I mean is there any where on Earth you can’t watch that show?!–and the episode with Joey Tribbiani’s grandmother was on. Now knowing “Nonna” means grandma was like a lightbulb moment watching the episode haha. Also….I’m thinkin I know where the usage of “nana” comes from…]

Yeah, so, anyway, you should definitely check the place out is all I’m trying to say.


For our accommodations in Bari we again went with an Airbnb. Close to shops, restaurants and within walking distance of many piazzas and photogenic destinations, it was exactly the kind of central–and most importantly, safe accommodation that really highlights some of the benefits of using sites and app platforms like Airbnb.

It’s Over? awww

Hopefully you got a little insight into Puglia through these posts. It is mindblowing how much culture and history Italy has to offer; I mean, its smaller than several US States and yet it feels like, one way or another, the entire history of man traces through this country at some point.

I sincerely hope you get a chance to visit this eden. Whether you opt for Florence, Naples, Venice or any of the other numerous visitor staples–Rome? Milan? There’s so many!–you simply can’t go wrong. Everybody needs, and deserves, to visit this country at least once in their life.

Remember that I’m available to help prepare you as you plan your Italian vacation…Or you could even travel with me on our next group trip!

And that wraps my Puglia Road Trip blog series! You can see some additional videos & photos on my social media pages, especially TikTok & Instagram.

Stay Tuned for more…Coming throughout the fall I’ll have new posts like Street Food Tours, Tips & Tricks, Shopping Guides and more!

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Puglia Road Trip III — Matera (Basilicata)


My Puglia Road Trip [Part III] — Matera (Basilicata)

puglia (apulia)

The region of Puglia (or Apulia), Italy

[from part 1]  
We embarked on a 9-day road trip throughout one of the most scenic–and criminally underrated & unheralded–regions of Italy. A coastal region in the southeast “heel” of the country, Puglia (also known as Apulia) remains a hidden gem of sorts as tourists flock to the more well-known cities. After meeting in Bari, our itinerary would take us to Polignano a Mare, Ostuni, Alberbello, Matera and finish with a couple of nights back in Bari.

Before we continue on to Days 6 & 7…
I should point out that Matera is actually in the region of Basilicata, to the southwest of of Puglia. 

Matera is in Basilicata, bordering Puglia to the south

Just wanna try and make sure I don’t offend or slight any lucani 😉

After thoroughly enjoying our Day 5 “lazy day” at the Trulli Ad Maiora –check out this Tik Tok for a peek at these gorgeous accommodations– it was time to get back in the saddle again (its a road trip, of course, but ‘back in the car again’ doesn’t exactly pop quite the same) and continue on this epic journey we had embarked upon.

We were headed south, to the region of Basilicata, a mountainous, Gulf of Taranto-bordering “instep” of Italy. 

[Random info I find funny… because Italy is shaped like a boot, the 3 southeastern regions of Italy are colloquially known as The Toe (Calabria), The Heel (Puglia/Apulia), and between them lies The Instep –Basilicata!]

Here we would visit Matera, currently home to the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the region (although rumor has it there might be a couple more getting some recognition at some point). 

Not as populated as neighboring regions, Basilicata has a complicated past. It hasn’t been until relatively recent times that the region was even open to traditional tourists. And it didn’t happen overnight for the economically depressed area, neither. I mean, in the years after World War II the Italian Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi actually referred to Matera, Basilicata’s capital city, as a national disgrace!

Oh how far we’ve come…

Matera, simply, is the oldest city in Italy, the oldest city in Europe, and one of the 3 oldest cities in the entire WORLD. No offense to Mr. De Gasperi, but any city with that resume gets a mulligan for a decade or two of disrepair. 

While still lacking easy accessibility, Matera is slowly gaining traction amongst vacationers for its absolutely one of a kind cave dwellings, aided by the 1993 naming as a European Capital of Culture by the EU. Known as “sassi”, these rock-cut & excavated habitations are believed to have been resided in as early as 7000 BCE –or even a few millennia before that! 

And, alas, a mere 900 centuries or so later the sassi are once again called “home” by some. The history of human civilization really does seem to often revolve around the regions of Italy (and Rome, of course).

Okay, history lesson over. Lets get to the good stuff.


Days 6…My-Oh-My, Matera!

The immediate feeling you get when you step foot onto one of the narrow, stone and brick streets throughout Matera is almost indescribable. 

For one thing, you literally feel the history around you. The awe-inspiring views cause almost automatic introspection…honestly it’d be a helluva place for some group therapy if it wasn’t for the panic inducing cliffs, heights and seemingly 90 degree drops around any random corner. 

It’s crazy to think a stone bench you sit on could have literally been sat on seven, eight, nine thousand years ago. The Sassi you walk in could have been inhabited by people that history doesn’t even recognize or know about. It brings you a sense of closeness to the historical people of he region and yet reminds you of the vastness of time & human experience. 

The history is just so impressive.

I’ve said this about a lot of places throughout Italy, but it may be most true in Matera, a city comprised of extremely narrow walking paths that occasionally pass for roads:

The best way to see and explore Matera is by walking tour.

This is what we chose, and I highly recommend it.

Besides, I couldn’t imagine a traffic jam of tour buses navigating around these cliffs & mountain tops. That’d be more scary than those 90 degree drops. 

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For accomodations, we decided that it’d be fitting to stay in a cave home. Not quite the Sassi of millennia ago, but not exactly a Holiday Inn Express, neither.

We ended up staying at the Locus Amoenus.

Essentially within a stone cave, I’d recommend it–though the rock-hard (see what I did there?! haha) beds were a little too firm for my liking.  Noteworthy, too, was the host and staff–very attentive and kind. 


Here in Matera we ate at by far our favorite restaurant of the entire trip, Radino Wine Bistrot. It’s a restaurant located in a cave from 600BC and the food was absolutely incredible

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Day 7…A Free Day of Exploration

I know, I know…

You’ve heard me say things like “OMG, you have to see this place!” a million times already in this Puglia blog series, let alone the blog in general.

Sometimes there are places in Italy that are obvious, yet so one of a kind they can’t be overstated, like the Roman Coliseum or ruins of Pompeii. It’s, of course, one reason why I always encourage people to “get off the bus” and do walking tours, or street food tours for city-specific culture & cuisine. 

I mentioned in Part 2 how sometimes you just need a “decompression” day in your vacation. Well, sometimes you also just need that “free” day without a set itinerary of tours and stops, despite how beneficial the aforementioned tours can be. 

The best part of these “winging it” types of days is you sometimes come across people, or scenes, or buildings, that you probably would have missed…and they can be the most memorable experiences of a trip.

For us in Matera, there was two specific places this can be said for… 

On our free day in Matera, we decided to visit the Cathedral of Matera, which was breathtakingly beautiful.

Then we spontaneously made a visit the Casa Grotta in Sassi Matera.


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And there you have how we spent two days in one of the oldest cities of the entire world, Matera! You can see some additional videos & photos on my social media pages, especially TikTok & Instagram.

Stay Tuned for Part 4, Bari, coming next week!

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My Puglia Road Trip (Part II)


My Puglia Road Trip [Part II]

puglia (apulia)

The region of Puglia (or Apulia), Italy

[from part 1]  
We embarked on a 9-day road trip throughout one of the most scenic–and criminally underrated & unheralded–regions of Italy. A coastal region in the southeast “heel” of the country, Puglia (also known as Apulia) remains a hidden gem of sorts as tourists flock to the more well-known cities. After meeting in Bari, our itinerary would take us to Polignano a Mare, Ostuni, Alberbello, Matera and finish with a couple of nights back in Bari.

Meredith and I continued our epic 9-day Puglia, Italy road trip with a visit to Alberobello, the third city on our itinerary.  Alberobello is a small town (or commune) of roughly 10,000. It’s actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site, achieving the status in 1996, for its unique and historically significant architecture–specifically its Trulli houses.

Taking advantage of the vast quantity of limestone in the region, these dwellings dot the Alberobello landscape thanks to their unmistakable hue, mortarless framework & conical/coned shape roofs. Just like in Polignano a Mare--well, Puglia in general, really–the brilliance of the white & off-white buildings against a backdrop of a crystal blue Italian sky is just mesmerizing.

Trulli houses are noteworthy, too, for being one of the few prehistoric construction techniques still in use. I don’t know exactly why, but for some reason that tidbit of info really has sat with me. It’s just crazy, I guess, that in a 21st century world, where we worry about A.I. taking over human communication–basically, worrying about the Terminator movie coming true to life–there are regions still using building techniques that the dudes in the Gladiator movie considered as ancient history. The juxtaposition is fascinating, right? No? Just me? Welp. 

So, yeah, anyyyway, here’s all about Day 4 and Alberobello!


Day 4…Trulli Truly

We wasted little time once we arrived in Alberobello, opting to spend “Day 4” doing some hardcore sightseeing in lieu of a more relaxing “Day 5”. There is a tremendous amount of history packed into this little town, and thus our decision to visit the city center and sign up for a walking tour with a local guide turned out to be a very, very smart choice. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it again, but the knowledge and familiarity you get from local guides simply cannot be replicated. It’s also impossible to match the level of cultural immersion & educational opportunity you get from a walking tour versus by taking one by car or train. 

It’s like living in a Postcard from 1623 here in Alberobello.

The Trulli houses gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1996.




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For our accommodations in Alberobello, we actually stayed in a Trulli Villa in the countryside just outside the city. We actually preferred staying outside of the city itself–but its probably just a matter of personal preference.

Of course, the fact that we had planned in advance for our second day in Alberobello to be a “chill and just relax” day–and our villa being in the peaceful seclusion of the countryside–probably had a whole lot to do with our preference too.

Our villa was called Trulli Ad Maiora.

Check out my video about our spectacular accommodations


Our Accomodations at the Trulli Ad Maiora





Day 5…Sleep and…Grocery Shopping?

It didn’t feel like it at the time (probably from all the walking throughout the city on our tour!) but in retrospect the two days in Alberobello went by extremely fast. 

On Day 5 of our road trip we actually opted for “eating in”, visiting a local market to pick up some fresh groceries and crafting our dinner ourselves. 

It’s really difficult to manage sometimes, but just like in “regular” life I feel its super important to just have periodic “do nothing”/”plan nothing” days. I think, actually, it’s quite essential for traveling abroad and lengthy vacations. Its so easy to get wrapped up in planning, and sightseeing, even dealing with necessities like where you’re sleeping and where you’re going to eat, that you don’t even realize the stress building upon you.

I mean, how many times have you returned from a whirlwind vacation or weekend getaway and, as you unpack and think of all the things you have to get done, think to yourself “Dang..I need a vacation!!”

Trust me…having a day built-in to your vacation to just decompress is a must.  

And that wrapped up our 2 days in Alberobello! You can see some additional videos & photos on my social media pages, especially TikTok & Instagram.

Stay Tuned for Part 3, Matera, coming next week!

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My Puglia Road Trip – Part I


My Puglia Road Trip [Part I]

Accompanied by one of my good friends from New York City, Meredith, we embarked on a 9-day road trip throughout one of the most scenic–and criminally underrated & unheralded–regions of Italy. A coastal region in the southeast “heel” of the country, Puglia (also known as Apulia) remains a hidden gem of sorts as tourists flock to the more well-known…and more easily accessible, to be honest….cities like Rome, Venice, Milan, etc etc..

After a 6 hour train ride from Florence, I met Meredith in Bari, the capital city of Puglia, where she had flown in from NYC. From there we rented a car, just two girls driving with the top down low and radio up high…

Okay maybe it wasn’t quite like a Hollywood movie, we were not driving like Thelma & Louise nor did we actually have a convertible…but we were off for what promised to be a memorable summer adventure. Our itinerary would take us to Polignano a Mare, Ostuni, Alberbello, Matera and finish with a couple of nights back in Bari

Polignano a Mare

puglia (apulia)

The region of Puglia (or Apulia), Italy

Day 1…And we’re off!

After navigating the always fun airport crowds in the Bari airport, (sarcasm…just a wee bit) Meredith and I headed right away to rent a car. We used Sixt, a quickly growing and expanding company also found in the States. (Side note: While I certainly haven’t tried all of the rental companies in Italy, I’ve used Sixt a couple of times and I literally have 0 complaints. Highly recommend.) 

As I briefly mentioned, Puglia–and for that matter, most of southern Italy–is absolutely best seen by car. The south does have its share of commuter trains, and most of its larger cities/tourist destinations have public buses, but there is a decided difference compared to the northern regions in the availability of mass transportation (not to mention both the quantity & quality of options).  While certainly not rural, regions like Puglia tend to be more spread out as far as tourism goes, and unless you intend on spending a fortune on taxis–which in themselves aren’t always a guarantee to find–having a vehicle of your own to wander and explore is undoubtedly the way to go.

Polignano a Mare is, to be blunt, one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever been. It is a beach town, and some of the views are just jaw dropping. 

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In Polignano a Mare, we stayed at the stunning B&B called Quintessenza Domus Luxury Suites and it was the most wonderful experience that I couldn’t recommend more. There are only 6 rooms, all run by a woman named Carola and her family. Their breakfast in the morning is all handmade, and her elderly father is there helping to serve breakfast, telling us which pastries he made himself (and which cheese and produce he hand picked that morning at 6am!). Carola went above and beyond to make our stay wonderful. They also have parking available for a small fee so it was great for road-trippers like us!

Check out my video about our spectacular accommodations 

Our Accomodations at the Quintessenza Domus Luxury Suites 

  • Quintessenza

  • Quintessenza Bathroom

  • Quintessenza Patio

When we arrived we spent time exploring Polignano a Mare, though honestly I probably could have just sat and watched the sunset…and then waited for the sunrise, because it’s that dang intoxicating. We went to dinner at Restaurant Antiche Mura. They brought us fresh lobster pasta and fish that was caught that day – even going so far as to bringing us the living lobster to our table that we would be eating in a few minutes (this was a bit much for me, I’ll admit). But the pasta itself was VERY good, the ambiance was wonderful, and the staff was super friendly – I’d highly recommend heading here for dinner. 

Dining at the Restaurant Antiche Mura

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Day 2…A Day Trip to Ostuni

The next morning we decided to take a day trip to Ostuni, a city about a 30 minute drive or so from Polignano a Mare. Ostuni is a popular summer destination for tourists, and sees the average winter population of 32,000 jump to over 100,000. Known as the “White City”, it is roughly 6 miles from the coastline. Even though the city was in full tourist-mode we found parking pretty easily–I absolutely recommend using EasyPark, a growing in popularity app available worldwide.

The White City, Ostuni, is known for its tall white walls & white architecture. Even with an influx of visitors it has a unique calming aura.

  • The White City

  • The White City

Once we arrived back from Ostuni, we went to the restaurant called Grotta Palazzese for dinner, which is an Instagram famous restaurant in Polignano a Mare. I had made a mental note to make sure I visited it, since so many people have asked me about it online in the past and its burgeoning reputation. We made sure to make reservations about a month before visiting since – as you can imagine – reservations are snapped up quick!

The ambiance alone is probably worth checking out, tucked in and around a cave that sits cliffside–zero surprise why it’s become a popular Instagram staple for visitors. It was worth the trip for the locale, and while the food was good, none of the dishes really blew my mind –and it was a bit expensive for my personal taste. The menu offered 6 different “tasting” menus, which are pre-designed menus of various dishes and price points, ranging from MINIMUM 195 euro, all the way to 450 euro PER meal. They also offer the possibility to create your own menu with 3 or 4 dishes, but even that was a minimum price point of 195 euro. So as you can see – it was PRICEY. Unfortunately you can only visit the restaurant if you are having a meal – there’s no option to sit down for just a cocktail or aperitif. Man, I wish there was though! 

All that being said, I can see it being a perfect spot for an engagement party, or a special occasion in general because it really is a stunning place! But strictly as a tourist, its probably not the most economical.

The famous cliffside cave restaurant, Grotta Palazzese

You can also check out my video about Grotta Palazzese

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  • Cave Restaurant

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Day 3…Life’s a Beach

For our last day in Polignano a Mare we checked out the famous  Lama Monachile Beach. Lets just say…this isn’t like the beaches I grew up near in the States, to say the least. It’s awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping and a thousand other raving adjectives I can’t even begin to list. As you can see by some of the photos below, there is a lot to take in and see, and although incredibly popular with tourists and locals alike, it somehow is able to retain a sense of privacy & quaint charm. 

We decided to take a boat tour of the caves underneath the city of Polignano a Mare with the boat tour company Cave Emotion Giri in Barca – our captain Michele was SO fun that our exploration seemed to fly by. The caves are a transcendent experience. 

To arrive at the port that the boat tour took off from, we took a TukTuk! In a city like Polignano a Mare, its a unique way to travel and see the area. Think New York City cab…if it was 3-wheeled, open-air, motored like a golf cart and the “cabbies” were super friendly locals lol. The company we booked with was called Polignano Made in Love (I mean, that name is awesome, right?!?).

The famous Lama Monachile Beach in Polignano a Mare and our Cave Emotion Giri in Barca bout tour.

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  • Cave Tour

  • TukTuk

For dinner we went to a new innovative restaurant called Jamante, which was even better than the cave dinner.

I’d definitely recommend heading here if you don’t want to pay the price of Grotta Palazzese. The chefs are young and innovative with the cuisine, the service was outstanding, and for a 4-course tasting menu, we paid only 45 euro – a STEAL if you ask me, considering how good the food was. 

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Also, just to really drive home how wonderful the entire staff was again – I hit 1 million friends on TikTok on the day we went to Jamante, and this is what the staff did when they found out – can you even believe how kind that is?? I already can’t wait to go back here! 


And that wrapped up our 3 days in Polignano a Mare! You can see some additional videos & photos on my social media pages, especially TikTok & Instagram.

Stay Tuned for Part 2, Alberobello, coming next week!

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Another Amazing Street Food Tour…In Naples

2 July 2023

Another Amazing Street Food Tour…
In Naples!

I’ve talked about some of the best street food in Sicily, and raved about my tour through Florence already. So it was only natural that upon a visit to Naples I reconnected with Marco, owner of Streaty Food Tours, for another fantastic day of walking, learning, and, most importantly, tasting some of the best food in the city. 

Honestly, I probably wrote and deleted 15 different analogies for the food in Naples…but it was an episode of a classic tv drama, serving as background noise, that gave me an “aha!” moment. 

In every movie and every tv show ever made in the history of the world, Italians are always stereotyped on screen in certain ways – even though most of the time the stereotype is not the reality, haha. One that is constant, though, is of the Italian restaurant (always with a red & white checkered table cloth for some reason) with a smorgasbord of super filling pastas, creamy sauces, various fried offerings (always mozzarella sticks which, fun fact, you won’t commonly – if ever – see on an Italian menu in Italy!) and well…just generally the South Beach Diet’s worst enemy. I think these scripted stereotypes originated once upon a time from someone visiting Naples.

It is the birthplace of the modern pizza, afterall. And mozzarella (see how it’s all tied together?! haha) is actually produced in Campania, the region where Naples is located. Typical Napoletano food is vast, but what really stands out to me is their STREET food – it absolutely is the land of temptation for those with a sweet tooth or a love of all things fried golden crispy.

A bit about Streaty Food Tours…

If you have followed this blog for a while then you know how much I love Streaty Food Tours. And if you know anything about me, then you also know I don’t give out my “stamp of approval” to just anyone. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience several different types of food tours, in several different cities throughout this amazing country, but when anyone asks me for highlights or suggestions I always come back to my friend Marco and his Streaty Food Tours.

Streaty approaches each tour as not just an opportunity for people to try some great food, but to explore, educate and just generally immerse customers in the culture of the region. They make an effort to connect with each person and really go out of their way to make people feel comfortable, which is huge when many tourists can be intimidated by a new environment, especially when they have never been to Italy or face a language barrier. 

At the end of the day, its about trust, right? When you sign up for a tour like this you want to know that your safety is important to your guides, to know that your really are being shown great and unique places and not just an Italian version of Papa John’s or something. 

Hey–don’t laugh…there are actually food tours that strategically end (or even sometimes begin) a tour by feeding their groups generic pizza, obviously a food that everyone loves, to insure positive reviews & profitability. 

That’s more reason to love Streaty, though. A walking tour, they strive to educate. They also encourage people to try food outside of their comfort zone–which, if we are being honest with each other–is the whole point of a food tour, right?

Oh…and finally….Street food is simultaneously the best introduction to a region’s culture & cuisine–and some of the best damn tasting food on the planet!

Please note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases made after clicking/following a link result in Kacie Rose Travel receiving a small commission. I only promote products/services that I’ve used & love myself. Thanks for supporting my blog 🙂

A Bit About Naples…

Some Quick-Hitter Facts & Background Info about Naples:

–Naples is the 3rd largest city in Italy, after Rome and Milan. Its population is a hair under 1 million.

–It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities/regions in the entire world. Its ancestry can be traced back all the way to the first millennium B.C., founded by the Greeks.

–Was the capital of the Kingdom of Naples (1282-1816) and the Kingdom of Two Sicilies until the unification of Italy in 1861. 

–The port of Naples has played an influential part in helping the city become an integral part of the Italian economy, and it is the European home of NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command. 

–The city centre is steeped in history, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Highlights for tourists nearby include the Palace of Caserta, the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and Mount Vesuvius.

–The term neopolitan means “Pertaining to Naples”. Of course, most people think of ice cream when they hear the word–but there’s actually not a lot of definitive proof the concept of “3 flavors in 1” was borne in Naples. Early Italian immigrants to the States brought a general expertise in frozen desserts and would mold three flavors together to match the Italian flag…it wasn’t until later in the early 20th century that the commonly associated chocolate/vanilla/strawberry became famous. 

–As I mentioned, Naples is known as the birthplace of pizza. During the Kingdom of Naples it grew in popularity in part due to the disproportionate amount of poor people in the city at that time. It was known as “the food of the poor”, in fact. The King Ferdinand IV, of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, helped bring it to the masses, including the elite. 

–Spaghetti is also closely associated with Naples. But as a coastal city its seafood has a reputation all its own. Dishes like impepata di cozze (peppered mussels) and baccalà alla napoletana (salt cod) are Naples staples (sorry, I really wanted to fit in a Naples-staples combo somewhere!)

When Italy was unified in 1861 the country saw much of its wealth in the south, especially the regions inside the former Kingdom of Naples, move north into Milan. With much of the population already “lower middle class” the city’s economy was decidedly depressed, impacting the majority of its citizens.

With the region becoming more and more poor, a lot of the amazing cuisine we now laud Naples for creating/inspiring was borne. In addition to carbohydrate-rich pizza & pasta, fried food became increasingly popular, as it was cheaper to prepare and cultivate than “fresh” food and the fatty oils gave people a sense of “feeling full” much faster (the oils expand in digestion). 

All of that is part of why Southern Italy has kind of an unfortunate reputation compared to the “Rich & Well-off” North. And I do mean its unfortunate…in some ways it reminds me of New York City, actually. Yeah, its maybe a little gritty, and its definitely chaotic…but the people are thus just real, totally vibrant and energetic and extremely hospitable to tourists & newcomers alike–just like in NYC, all you have to do is ask! (Also like NYC, I feel like the people of Naples have this stupid rep of smugness to outsiders, but really its just a city of busy people living their best life!)

Street food tour

The Food…

Cuoppo: A cone of fried things, usually seafood. There’s some land options but from the sea is the way to go, I feel. We tried this at the seafood market in the city, where fresh fish is caught and sold daily. It’s a pretty crazy and hectic environment, but that’s kind of what makes street food perfect, right?

Bufala Mozzarella: Mozzarella made from Buffalo Milk. Creamy and delicious, and a little smoky almost? It was like no mozzarella I have ever tried before! 

Trippa: Just to be blunt…it’s stomach and intestines from various animals. Throughout Italy you can find typical dishes that use alll parts of the animal, but in Southern Italy you can find this ALOT (for the same reasons that gave us pizza!). To be honest, you might see some initially jarring types of dishes & ingredients in Naples restaurants. This wasn’t my personal favorite item of the day, lol.

Lets just say I don’t know if Trippa was the dish that got Naples restaurants the most Michelin stars of any Italian city. 

Pizza fritta: Fried Pizza. OMG. Yes, its as amazing as it sounds. Filled with ricotta, mozzarella, tomato, pork fat and pepper flakes. 2 Thumbs Up!

Taralli: A super crunchy breadstick. This particular ones had almonds, which really enhanced the overall flavor. (Additional note…went oh-so-well with a Peroni, a famous Italian beer also available in the States!)

Snowflake: A desert pastry filled with cream and topped with powder sugar. Honestly after the fried pizza and taralli, I didn’t think I could eat much more, and at this point I thought I’d burst if I finished it all. But I did…and I didn’t burst. And it was well worth it!

In conclusion, my dear readers…

All in all, if you’re traveling to Naples, Sicily, or Venice, I HIGHLY recommend checking out Streaty Food Tours. They are simply awesome and provide such an awesome experience for tourists to not only see and enjoy the city, but to fully immerse themselves in the culture. And because I cannot recommend them enough, Marco gave me a discount code to share with all of you!

Book a Streaty Food Tour!

Happy eating, friends!

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