Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Italy - Campania Region

October 8 (Wednesday) – Our final home base in Italy was Salerno, a city and comune in Campania and the capital of the province of the same name. It is located on the Gulf of Salerno on the Tyrrhenian Sea. We had to take two trains - one from Lucca to Florence and another, a “fast” train from Florence to Salerno, with speeds of 300 kilometers per hour (187 mph) and stops in Rome and Naples.

Our rooftop apartment was small but offered amazing views of the sea, mountains and the moon setting over the mountains in the morning.

View of Salerno and Amalfi Coast from apartment

Dinner that evening was at the Pizza Club, dining at a small sidewalk table. Ahhh, this is Italy!

October 9 (Thursday) – We talked to a travel agent about trips to take outside of Salerno and then walked through the historical area of the city. Lights were being hung in preparation for a Luminary celebration to be held in November.

Luminary festival
A tradition: passeggiata, the nightly stroll through the old town

At the recommendation of the apartment manager, we walked around the corner to Mama Rosa's (#25 on Trip Advisor) for dinner. This was a family restaurant and no one spoke English. The menu was all in Italian too. Those language classes didn’t help much.

Mama Rosa greeted Jamey with a kiss on each cheek. It felt like they should be related. Mama wanted to serve us everything on the menu. The son of Mama Rosa seated and waited on us. We let him recommend dishes for us. We had pasta with mussels, clams and some long narrow shell fish we had never seen. Delicious! Then Jamey had a plate of fried (no batter) whole shrimp and calamari rings - very tender. Ken had four huge grilled prawns. Adding a nice finish to an already scrumptious meal, we shared dessert, a chocolate torte with whipped cream. All with red wine! Mama Rosa kept pointing to her Certificate from Trip Advisor and herself and chattering away in Italian. Kisses again when we left.

Dinner at Mama Rosa's

October10 (Friday) - Ken had to go to a TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile) store to get a new SIM card for the cellphone. Then we walked to the train station. Protesting students carrying banners were marching down the middle of the street. We never found out what they were protesting. We purchased tickets to go to Pompeii today. Our scheduled train was canceled due to protesters sitting on the tracks in the Rome area, preventing trains from coming in. Fortunately, we were able to catch a later train. On arrival, we had to walk a mile or more to get to the entrance of the historical site. Needless to say, we did a lot of walking in Italy!

Pompeii was larger than we expected. We walked through much of the ruins which are still being excavated and repaired. There was also a lot we didn’t get to see – just not enough time.

Ruins of Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius in the background
Interior of one of Pompeii's buildings

Dinner was delicious at Il Tagliere. Again, no English spoken here and the menu was entirely in Italian. Trying to understand explanations from the waiters of the different menu items was challenging but we finally made choices, which turned out to be great ones. We were served two different kinds of bread, bruschetta and thin slices of prosciutto and a bowl of barley potato soup (all of which we did not expect) before our meals. Many different meats were served on their antipasto plates and the restaurant had their own hand-slicing machine out in the middle of the restaurant. We watched a waitress preparing a tables’ antipasto order, which included meat carved from the head of a pig. This made for interesting photography. We were contented and full when we left.

An interesting experience at Restaurant Il Tagliere!

October 11 (Saturday) - Stayed at home, rested and did laundry. Our dryer was Mother Nature. We hung clothes out on the rooftop.

October 12 (Sunday) – Today, we went to Sorrento, a beautiful city which sits on the southern end of the bay of Naples and attracts many tourists. There were incredible views from here and was the starting point of the dramatic Amalfi Road, one of the most famous drives in Italy. Our lunch was a plate of anchovies, fresh from the sea. Oh heaven in Italy!
The beautiful seaside town of Sorrento
Anchovies and bruschetta
Sorrento lemons
Limoncello, of course!

October 13 (Monday) – To get to Vietri Sul Mare, one of the small villages next to Salerno, we took a bus. When we purchased the ticket we were told what bus to catch and that the driver would just let us off on the road and we would have to walk down to the village. We weren’t sure where to get off and a woman, speaking only Italian, motioned for us to follow her off the bus and down some steps. Was she a helpful Italian? Where was she taking us? We kept trying to ask if we were in Vietri Sul Mare. She just kept talking and motioning for us to follow her. We did until she pointed to another set of steps leading down to a dark building. We think she was directing us to a tourist office in there but weren’t sure so we thanked her for her help. Not knowing where we were, we saw a young girl and asked her if she spoke English. Happy days, she did and told us we were in Vietri Sul Mare, known for its ceramics. We popped in and out of the many shops with beautiful ceramic pieces. We would have loved to have purchased some but kept reminding ourselves we didn’t have luggage space to carry them back. Note to selves – pack an empty bag for bringing back souvenirs or take less clothes.

Vietri Sul Mare
One of the many ceramic shops

Vicolo della Neve, a fantastic restaurant serving traditional foods in a traditional style, was recommended by the tourist agent we talked to about sites to see in and around Salerno. Ivano, our waiter, spoke no English but was wonderful and very animated. The foods - eggplant parmesan, pasta fagioli, peppers stuffed with anchovies, and other dishes, were in large pans in a glass case. The diners would choose their meal and the waiters would spoon out large portions into a pan to be taken to the kitchen and reheated. Baskets of bread were provided for soaking up sauces and juices.

October 14 (Tuesday) – Another train trip, passing through some gorgeous countryside, to see the Paestum ruins. The main features were the standing remains of three major temples dating from the first half of the 6th century BC. These were a basilica and temples of Neptune and Ceres. The local National Museum featured painted tombs from both the Greek and Lucanian periods. This is the only example of a complete Greek fresco from the era around 470 BC. Buffalo mozzarella was made here in the traditional manner.

The Greek ruins of Paestum

From Paestum we went to Agropoli where nothing was open because we arrived during siesta time. Shops wouldn’t reopen until 5 p.m. A medieval castle was perched on top of a hill but we did not go up. After enjoying Italian beers at a seaside bar, we caught the train back to Salerno.

The sleepy town of Agropoli on the Cilento Coast

La Botte Pazza, #5 on Trip Advisor, was our choice for dinner. A fantastic dining experience that included the chef describing the evening's menu and free, red or white wine!

The chef presenting the menu at La Botte Pazza

October 15 (Wednesday) – We took the ferry to Positano, a small Amalfi Coast seaside village west of the town of Amalfi that is built on the steep hillside which leads to the sea. It was a cloudy and overcast day which helped to keep the heat down as we wandered the steep and scenic streets. There is a church which contains a black Madonna icon with an interesting, although untrue, legend. As the story goes, pirates had stolen the Madonna from Byzantium. Their ship was hit by a storm off the coast of Positano and they heard a voice telling them to leave the Madonna behind. The icon was dropped off at Positano and the storm abated. Sounds like a good pirate story for the locals to tell the tourists.


Canolli - yummy!

October 16 (Thursday) – A stay home to rest my weary body day. Got laundry done and had pizza for lunch and Greek food at Mythos restaurant for dinner. This was our first non-Italian meal.

October 18 (Saturday) – One more Amalfi Coast village to see before returning home. We took the bus to Amalfi, known as the most scenic village along the coast. From here, we hopped another bus which wound its way up the very twisty road to the beautiful hill-top village of Ravello. The views here were breathtaking. No ferry could reach this village.


A lunch of mussels and sardines

October 19 (Sunday) – Sadly, this was the day to pack for our return home.

October 20 (Monday) – Planes, trains, and automobiles. It was time to start our journey back home. Walk to train station, towing luggage behind; train to Naples then scary taxi ride (driver was a maniac, making three lanes out of two, regardless of oncoming traffic) to airport.

First leg was a flight to Stuttgart, Germany; next flight was a turboprop to Dusseldorf where we overnighted at a very comfortable, clean and cute inn, Hotel Destination 21. We took a taxi from the airport to the inn and the inn’s owner drove us to the airport the next morning in his Mercedes.

After six weeks of eating Italian food, we enjoyed a dinner of schnitzel, french fries, and German beer at Ikaros restaurant.

October 21 (Tuesday) – Compared to the Italian airports, especially Naples which was very confusing and people were rude, the German airports and countryside were neat and clean. People were very friendly and helpful. We boarded our plane for an eleven hour flight to Miami.

The airplane hit bumps often, trying to dodge a hurricane/tropical storm sweeping up into Europe, bringing wind and rain. Evidently, we had gotten out of Europe just in time since we had had fantastic weather during our 6 weeks.

Crazy thing was it was still October 21, Tuesday, when we arrived in Miami. We gained back those six hours we had lost. With the Ebola and Islamic State concerns going on, it wasn’t easy re-entering the USA. It took over an hour to get through Customs, get our luggage, and get our rental car. After a four hour drive, we made it home, dropping the luggage, and quickly going to bed.

Italy was definitely amazing. We were going to miss it but it was good to be home. Facing the realities would have to wait until tomorrow though.

Remember... "Enjoy life, it's not a dress rehearsal"