Blog Travel Guide

Rating Budget Friendly Negronis in Florence, Italy

Florence has too many overpriced Negronis. Maybe it’s the worldwide warming to the city’s native cocktail of gin, sweet red vermouth, and Campari bitters, spurred by endorsements from the likes of Anthony Bourdain, Stanley Tucci, and Ernest Hemingway. Celebrity preference or not, the drink’s delicious and I count myself a fan.

Cameron and Negroni
Maybe show the Negroni next time??

When I realized Kirsten and I would be in Florence during Negroni Week – a Campari-brand spearheaded celebration of the drink with an emphasis on charitable fundraising – I was ready to party in the birthplace. As it turns out, Italy does not observe Negroni Week. They save that party for Campari’s birthday week in June. So there I was, the lone American celebrating Negronis in Florence.

I found most guides for Negronis in Florence are touristy, flashy, and easy. Anybody can find Harry’s Bar. But did you know a Negroni at Harry’s Bar costs 20€? I wouldn’t pay that even if Hemingway was still there, which he wouldn’t be because he went to the original Venice branch. Also, he’s dead.

Some guides seem entirely more interested in which rooftop they were on than the cocktail. So if you want a view on a budget, go to the Piazzale Michelangelo and do your drinking after. When you do, consider hitting up:

Mercato Centrale

Mercado Centrale Negroni

Blocks from the Basilica di San Lorenzo, Mercato Centrale is an upscale food court serving excellent street food at tasty budget prices. With a bar running through the entire middle of the wide atrium, it isn’t difficult to order quickly, even when the place is busy.

This was our first stop, and a good first choice. The ingredients were bare-bones basic: Bombay gin, Martini Rosso vermouth, and Campari – heavier on the vermouth and Campari. The result was unremarkable, except for the orange slice and lemon peel garnish. It’s a perfectly acceptable Negroni, but you can do better.

Price: 7€
Score: 4/10

Piazza del Mercato Centrale, Via dell’Ariento
10a-12a Sun-Sat

Caffè Notte

I love a locals bar, and I couldn’t find anything more local than Caffè Notte. It was the furthest away from our Airbnb near the city center, but worth the walk. (Florence is infinitely more walkable than Rome.) Beautiful tiles and woodwork cover the inside of this easily-missed corner spot. The space is cozy and warm, with three rooms and minimal outdoor seating in nooks. As this is a traditional Italian caffè, you can also get snacks, espresso, and tea – but that’s not why you or I are here.

Caffè Notte Negroni

The woman pouring the drinks was very friendly both in demeanor and on the pours. She’s rolling with Gordon’s Gin (a personal favorite), Martini Rosso, and Campari and eyeballing the measurements. After she finishes the first round of pours, she’s going back for seconds and getting a classic bar-style orange slice garnish. There’s a joy in simplicity, especially with a delicious drink. This is a no-nonsense Negroni, in a comfortably no-nonsense setting, at a no-nonsense price. I love it. I’d come here all the time if I could.

Price: 5€
Score: 9/10

Via delle Caldaie, 18
9a-6p Sun-Sat

Cabaret Firenze

Please note this bar opened less than a week before we visited and is still finding its sea-legs. It’s a larger, bare bones spot in a high traffic location. If you stay late enough, they do have live music and a lively crowd. The bartender was eager, excited, and affable.

Cabaret Firenze Negroni

The bad? The Negroni tasted like straight Campari. The good? It was, based on my motor skills shortly afterward, apparently a fairly heavy gin pour. Also heavy: the lowball glass they served the drink in. I’m a sucker for weighty barware. Also in Cabaret’s defense, The Aperol Spritz that Kirsten ordered was the best I’d ever had. I do wish humanity would stop serving them in wine glasses, though. A wine glass is no place for a cocktail.

I’m rooting for Cabaret. Not the best Negroni spot, though.

Price: 5€
Score: 3/10

Via dell’Ariento
9p-2a Sun-Sat

The Arts Inn

The bartender at The Arts was awesome. The home of 18(!) different Negroni variants, The Arts Inn can and will craft a cocktail catering solely to you. After I asked for a Negroni, they quizzed me on what I liked my gin and vermouth to taste like and then walked me through my options. They were knowledgeable without pretension, which is either called being helpful or caring. I forget which. 

The Arts Inn Negroni

Based on the bartender’s suggestions, I gather The Arts revolves around Tuscan ingredients. They still stock international standards for those in comfort zones. I chose Gin Dry Vallombrosa. Things I learned about Gin Dry Vallombrosa: It is Italy’s oldest gin. Monks make it. A very powerful Japanese mixologist travels to Florence yearly to get 2 crates of it for personal use. It is also very good – ludicrously crisp juniper kicks you in the mouth. This would completely overpower most cocktails, but it was miraculously balanced out with the Campari and Del Professore Vermouth.


The garnish was an orange peel cut into either a Penrose Steps formation or a letter not yet invented. This Negroni is more about the taste than alcohol content. Speaking of taste, decor-wise, The Arts Inn looks like a perfect bordello to write a smart, sweaty novella. Salacious paintings are everywhere, including the most erotic painting of an orange. The walls are burgundy. The lighting is low. The music is the best of haunting indie. Go with a date.

Price: 10€
Score: 8/10

Via del Porcellana, 63 Rosso
Tue-Thur 6p-12a
Fri-Sun 6p-1a (Closed Mon)


Manifattura is, unsurprisingly, Italian for ‘Manufacture’ and has decked out the bar staff in matching white lab coats. Why lab coats instead of coveralls for manufacturing I’ll never know, but as long as it’s not a Triangle Shirtwaist, it’ll do. Manifattura is Europe’s first bar to serve only Italian-made products, which I can get behind for a proper Italian Negroni. I also wonder who was the second, and if they’re in Germany.

Manifattura Negroni

The inside is dark and lush, with recessed lighting, ivy-lined walls, and a killer soundtrack of Italian oldies. We took our drinks in the courtyard, where mostly couples gathered to share a drink under umbrella’d patio tables. They featured a seasonal menu, but still covered the classics. The Manifattura Negroni used Luxardo London Dry gin from Padua, Campari, and a Tuscan sweet vermouth. The result was surprisingly citrusy, which I don’t typically like Negroni-wise, but it was delicious. 

Price: 10€
Score: 7/10

Piazza di San Pancrazio
Tue-Sun 6p-2a (Closed Mon)

Mad – Souls & Spirits

Mad is the most fun stop on the list, tucked into the row of bars filling Borgo San Frediano. This is a wonderful dive – patronized by old friends, off-duty bartenders, and people wanting good, creative drinks made by a staff that knows booze. They change their menu seasonally to match a certain theme. (Past menus honor Urban Legends, A Fistful of Dollars, and Soul Warmers.) We caught them in a 90’s mood with Im-Peach-ment Project, Truly Madly Deeply, and mine – the Negroni Di Provincia (De)Nuclearizzata.

Mad Nuclear Negroni

The most complex Negroni on the list, Mad’s had Bitter Nardini in place of Campari, along with the gin, sweet vermouth, summer fruit and “nuclear technology.” The summer fruit was a dried in-house orange. The name Mad might refer to the number of mad science projects all over the bar involving various infusions, agings, and drying taking place on premises. The “nuclear technology” will remain a mystery. Though there was a strange dust on the drink I still can’t place…

Everyone in here is having fun, and the staff obviously loves their work, The B-52s were blaring, and the drinks were excellent. This one will give you a nice, warm nuclear glow inside.

Price: 9€
Score: 8/10

Borgo San Frediano, 36r
6p-2a Sun-Sat

Snack Bar Anna

This was the last stop for Negronis in Florence – a tiny cafe three minutes from our Airbnb. I’d noticed it every day and thought we could stop in on our last for a proper sendoff from a proper hole in the wall. The bartender made the drink by eyeball with around two measures Gordon’s Gin, two measures Campari, and one of  Cinzano Vermouth Rosso.

It was awful. The vermouth was somewhat akin to poison. I wouldn’t give Cinzano to my worst enemy after this. The thought has occurred that maybe the vermouth spoiled on the shelf. (Rule of thumb: don’t keep opened bottles of vermouth for more than 4 months.) No matter, it was easily the worst Negroni I’ve ever had.

Price: 5€
Score: 1/10

Do you really want the address??
Do you want to suffer the way I did?? Be free!

Final Thoughts

You can do multiple truly excellent Negronis in Florence for much less than Harry charges. Don’t let me stop you from absorbing Harry’s Hollywood history or keep you from an aerial view, if that’s what you’re here for. For those of us that want four great Negronis instead, find us at Caffè Notte.

Blog Travel Guide

The Amalfi Coast By Bus: A Guide to Danger!

The Amalfi Coast is one of the most  beautiful places on Earth. It’s also home to some of the wildest bus routes on Earth.

Stunning coastline. Sheer cliffs. Eyewateringly pink tourists. The inimitable setting for films like The Talented Mr. Ripley, Tenet, and Luca (kinda). It’s recognizable on sight. It’s the Amalfi Coast.

There are many cities on the Amalfi, and all are easy and expensive to get to by water – whether by yacht or ferry. After taking and paying for a ferry to Capri, I figure yachting might be the most cost effective method of the two. While his transport looks better on Insta, Leonardo DiCaprio will never know the adrenaline thumping joy of exploring the Amalfi Coast by bus.

Amalfi Coast By Bus

Campania, the Italian region comprised most famously of the Amalfi, Vesuvius, and Naples, has the highest percentage of bus drivers who thought rally racing would simply be too boring of a career and said “can I get a bigger vehicle on a smaller road?” They now work for SITA Sud, the Navy SEALs of Italian public transit.

The Amalfi is not messing around. The sheer cliffs from earlier? 300-400 feet up. The width of the road? Mostly a car and a half. The only thing separating you from a Final Destination movie death is a  3″ thick concrete barrier and the nerves of lead currently deciding whether they want clams or roast in their primo piatto while wheeling your bus around the hairpin turn somehow inside another hairpin turn. This is some incredibly dangerous road, up there with the planet’s most.

“But Cameron, what about that Death Road in Bolivia that kills a bunch of people each year?”

I don’t actually want to die, yeah? The Amalfi Coast by bus is a circus tiger to the Bolivian’s jungle tiger. If anything, I feel 100% safe on a SITA Sud bus. Not because these bus drivers view my life and the lives of all passengers on board as sacrosanct. I’m not even sure they’re even fueled by self preservation. I’m simply convinced that the humiliation of getting a singular scratch on their bus is so great that they would run their grandmother’s Vespa into the Tyrrhenian Sea before defiling their noble steed. (Mental sound cue: a long fading buzz and a tiny splash.)

I can’t even figure out what the pecking order is for bus drivers. We took a bus to Nerano for a dinner at Lo Scoglio, famed family seafood restaurant visited by Stanley Tucci in Searching for Italy. On the way there, our bus driver confronted another bus driver on a one-bus-wide ridgeback road down into town. Our driver made the other one back up down a quarter mile straightaway and an entire curve which scattered the cars behind like the most panicked cockroaches when the light goes on. Our driver then proceeded to verbally berate the other driver before dropping us off at our very tasty, very pricey dinner.

Be prepared: it takes a considerable amount of time to get a very short distance on the Amalfi Coast by bus. Sorrento to Amalfi (city) by road is 40km/25mi and it takes 2.5 hours to get there. Unless you’re from LA, 10 mph is typically unbearably slow, but here anything higher feels like tempting fate. You’ve never noticed how much buses lean around curves until you’ve driven the Amalfi Coast.

Hot tip! Board as close to a terminus as you can. Routes get very full during tourist season, and 2 hours is a long time to stand up on a bus. Plus, your teetering feeling will only be that much worse. The best stops for a high seating chance are the Sorrento train station, the farthest east stop for Positano (ask for the marina), and the main Amalfi city stop.

If headed west (Sorrento to Positano to Amalfi), the left side of the bus offers unbelievable views. If headed east (Amalfi to Positano to Sorrento), go with the driver’s side. If you’re skittish and afraid of heights, choose the opposite as listed above and/or close your eyes and/or take a ferry.

Purchase 24 Hour Unlimited Ride Passes for the Amalfi Coast for 10 euro or single ride tickets for 2,40 euro from the Sorrento train station or at tobacco shops. Why tobacco shops? I don’t know! But it’s the Italian way. And you wouldn’t want to question your bus driver, would you?

Blog Travel Guide

Bourdain’s Beginnings: A Trip to La Teste, France

“It’s where I crept up on adolescence – where I had my first, and most important, food experience.”

–  Anthony Bourdain, A Cook’s Tour

The first (and still only) movie I’ve seen in theaters since COVID took over our daily lives is Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. Kirsten and I went on release night during our stay in Washington state. He’s been one of my core heroes since I saw Parts Unknown debut as a college Sophomore in 2013. The way he saw the world, spoke, wrote, and traveled was refreshing. He saw the world like a film or a great novel – like it was, should, and could be all at once. I’ve devoured his books, shows, recipes, and interviews numerous times. 

I had a lot of emotions leaving the parking lot after Roadrunner. One of them was a problem with how the documentary’s narrative began. It presents Anthony Bourdain’s book deal for Kitchen Confidential like the beginning, but his story didn’t start in New York City at Brasserie Les Halles, it started some 3,500 miles away at a small bistro in France.

Kirsten and I arrived in Bordeaux, France on August 27. We caught an hour long bus to our Airbnb with the priority of getting proper hydration and downtime. When we arrived, our host Martine instead insisted on giving us the full rundown of what to see in her city. It was a very thorough list. My mind wandered freely after she pulled out the 8th tour brochure, but when she mentioned a day trip to Arcachon, it popped a flag in my mind. “Arcachon… Seems familiar… Wasn’t that where Bourdain went with his brother?”

In trip prep I had reread A Cook’s Tour, the accompanying book to Anthony Bourdain’s TV miniseries of the same name, in an effort to make me feel better about chronicling the journey. It was his first show, spring-boarded off the unexpected fame of Kitchen Confidential. A fully funded world trip, “in search of the perfect meal.” What a dream.

In Chapter 2, Back to the Beach, Bourdain links up with his younger brother Chris for a trip back in time. When Anthony was 12, he spent the summer with his father’s side of the family in his, “ancestral homeland,” of Arcachon. As a thriving resort town just a bay away from the Atlantic, Arcachon is landmark city and, as such, is used as the main location for the TV version. In the book and in real life, that summer and revisit was spent minutes away in La Teste-du-Buch, or just La Teste – a calmer, less touristy destination where Bourdain’s aunt and uncle lived. Over the course of the episode (available on YouTube and arguably better delivered in the novel), the brothers eat fish soup, play in the sand Dunes du Pilat, and visit their aunt’s old house for memories of their father and a place that changed their lives. If I had a chance to see where Anthony Bourdain had his first food experience, there’s no way I could miss it.

What will be left? Would anything be remotely the same as he saw it? It’s been 20 years since A Cook’s Tour and pushing 50 years since Bourdain spent his summers there. I’d already found one fiction. The brasserie visited in the episode’s opening minutes isn’t in Arcachon. It’s in Bordeaux. And since 2002, the restaurant has become less of what he called a, “French version of, you know, Joe’s Diner,” and more of an overpriced tourist trap. What else is different? Only one way to find out: we boarded a commuter train to La Teste.

45 minutes later, we were on the simple platform facing a small park as the train pulled away. We were where the Bourdain story started. It was a short walk from the station to the locations found in the show. The family-owned bakery where the Bourdains got their breakfasts of baguettes and raisin bread every morning moved across town years ago. The bakery that took over the space didn’t make it through COVID. Not a great start. Then around the corner, there it was – Le Bistrot du Centre, the restaurant where Anthony had his first food love, remains.

“I guess I was impressed by its relative complexity and strangeness. It was kind of exotic, yeah. It was murky. It was brown. It was scary looking. I really loved that stuff. As soon as I started cooking professionally, it was one of the first things I put my repertoire…Of course, I never got it to taste like it did here.”

– Anthony Bourdain, A Cook’s Tour Episode 9

And I didn’t get the fish soup. Go figure. They didn’t have it scrawled on the chalkboard menu of the day. We were also sitting outside in the south of France in August. But we did finally get some excellent, proper French food. I had a superb meal of duck gizzards and roast duck leg over greens, sausicce rougail, light sausages with a thick tomato sauce served over white rice, and a fraisier, a traditional French strawberry cake. Kirsten had fried and grilled calamari, salmon tagliatelle, and fresh fruit ice cream. All excellent and 30 euro total.

Very full, we rolled off the deck and down the street to #5 Rue de Jules Favre. It’s a quiet, ordinary suburban street. There’s no marker, no memorial. Why would there be? But the Bourdains’ house is still there. The aunt moved out long ago, per A Cook’s Tour, and the house isn’t visible from the road thanks to a very large hedge fence, also seen in the show. But it’s there and I got to stand where Anthony stood and feel a little closer to someone I’ll never meet but always admire. There was a silent moment, a picture was taken, and we left it behind.

Anthony Bourdain's Childhood House

“The whole concept of the ‘perfect meal’ is ludicrous. ‘Perfect,’ like ‘happy,’ tends to sneak up on you. Once you find it – like Thomas Keller says – it’s gone. It’s a fleeting thing, perfect.”

 – Anthony Bourdain, A Cook’s Tour – Epilogue

To eat good food in France, in the late summer sunshine with someone I love, on an adventure; it was perfect.

Travel Guide

Getting an EU Digital COVID Passport as an American Abroad

Converting a US COVID Vaccination Card to an EU Digital COVID Passport for travel can be easy, but is it necessary?

With all the COVID-19 precautions for travelers worldwide, proving full vaccination is the easiest way to gain entry to countries and experience them to the fullest. There’s plenty of speculation and misinformation on how, or if, Americans can convert their paper COVID-19 vaccination cards into the more convenient EU Digital COVID Passport

EU Digital COVID Passport and Mask

This Passport is an individually generated QR code confirming full vaccination with an approved vaccine. The list is: BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson. The Passport allows for free travel between all 27 countries in the EU and in 9 non-EU states.

Some EU countries only require an American vaccination card to enter their borders. Some, like our first stop Portugal, need a negative PCR test taken less than 48 hours before arrival unless you have a EU Digital COVID Passport. Since we’re visiting several EU countries over the next few months, Kirsten and I looked into converting our American vaccination cards to the EU standard. This would ideally make country transfers easier, while saving money on potential COVID testing. A single non-resident test runs around 50 Euros average.

Many websites and articles gave differing facts and timelines on whether Americans could get the EU’s Passport. The one base fact I picked up was that individual EU states add their own citizens to the passport program. To get on the EU list, it would have to be through a country we were visiting.

I first tried the Portuguese government. I emailed their embassy 10 days before leaving for Lisbon about obtaining a pass. A day later received a polite but firm response of, “No, please have your negative PCR test ready when you deplane.” I get it. I’m not mad about the policy. Protecting travelers and citizens should be priority one. But it was frustrating and added extra steps and testing time to our departure schedule.

We were both rapid tested the morning of our flight out of JFK, with results arriving in around 30 minutes – negative. We had no issue in boarding our flight or traveling through Portuguese customs.

With rising COVID numbers due to Delta, if you want go to bars, clubs, museums, concerts, sporting events, or eat out indoors, you’ll need either an EU Digital COVID Passport or a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 72 hours. Some countries, like Portugal, only require Passports or negative tests on the weekends. Some, like France and Italy, have taken more aggressive measures, requiring a safe QR code every day.

We visited with one of my old grade school friends who was honeymooning in Portugal. He and his wife had problems getting into restaurants the weekend before, even with their American COVID-19 vaccination cards. Kirsten and I passed several Lisbon restaurants checks with no problems, but the possibility remains to bar entry to American travelers.

Then during my nightly research, I discovered that France is digitizing non-resident vaccine certificates as of mid-August for those traveling to the country. This was our chance! We flying into Bordeaux next on August 27th.

I discovered this French government website, which instructed I email a copy of my passport, COVID vaccine card, departure flight info out of France, and some light paperwork with a signature to verify. Now the procedure routes through FranceConnect, a webpage requiring users to create an account. I imagine this is much more efficient than the email system, but I only had to wait three days before I had my pass.

Using individual accounts should fix the one rather large problem we ran into. I sent in both mine and Kirsten’s information in separate emails, but received my info back twice instead of our separate Digital Passport QR codes. This might be a clerical error, but there was no outlet provided to address this issue. Kirsten then submitted the documents again from her email address, but again didn’t receive anything back. Maybe there was no response because they already had her info in their system, but that left me as the only one with a Passport.

I took the Passport for a test drive in Lisbon, easily gaining access to restaurants. Our border crossing into France also went smoothly with the Passport and with Kirsten’s paper card. Honestly? Even with Bordeaux’s “pass sanitaire” initiative we haven’t had much problems with getting into restaurants or museums with Kirsten’s paper card, though it does get some looks like, “oh, this is soooo janky.” (It is. We couldn’t do any better, US?)

As for the EU Digital COVID Passport, I like it. I can keep it on my phone without looking out for my massive American card. which is a terrible size for everyday carry if you don’t have a purse. It also feels like there’s more legitimacy to my vaccination status and Kirsten’s to anyone asking for a pass. This said, most countries and businesses do recognize American vaccination cards. You shouldn’t worry too much if you can’t get the EU Digital COVID Passport before your trip. This could change as the EU recently removed the US from its recommended safe country list, but isn’t likely.

While most countries are still focusing on their own citizens, I have found another way to convert. The Italian government also has set up an online portal allowing non-residents a digital certificate under their “Green Pass.” Site navigation is very tricky and I couldn’t find an English translation of the page. The application is way more confusing than France’s. If you’re considering a European trip and really want to go digital, it may be worth your while to make a stop in France.