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Felice Anno Nuovo!

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for joining me on my Italian adventures during this past year. I officially launched Mezzogiorno Living at the end of November 2015. Since that time, ML has received almost 4,000 views from Italian lovers spanning over 60 countries! Thank you for your loyalty as we explore The Cilento and Beyond and stay tuned in 2017 for new adventures.

I can feel good things coming in 2017 and I wish you all the best year ever! Keep positive and follow your dreams! Create the life you want to live. Refuse to get caught up (mentally bogged down) in anything that does not lead you toward your dream life. Keep an open mind. Don’t eliminate anything from the realm of your possibilities. Never say “I can’t do that”.  Dare to dream without boundaries and if a crazy idea, thought or opportunity presents itself – dare to seriously consider it!  And trust God. Life doesn’t always work out the way you planned, but there is always something good to be taken away from every situation.

Eight short years ago, I was faced with a life altering event – the death of my beloved first husband from ALS. As many of you know, events like this can have a devastating effect on a life. Or you can take the experiences and lessons learned and live your best life going forward. 

The choice belongs to all of us – Lemons or Limoncello??

I’ll take the limoncello!!

Love,

Gio

 

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Until Next Time, Villa Velina (Fino alla prossima volta)

I awoke gently to the special sound of one of our local bird species “who who who who-who . . . who who who who-who” and the church bells down in the valley. The realization that today was the day we depart Villa Velina to return to the states poured over me like a bucket of ice water, propelling me to jump out of bed and savor my last views of Monte Stella, our beloved valley and sea.

This would be the first time we would be traveling the SP430 detour return trip on a Saturday the first weekend in September and Giorgio was concerned about the traffic we may encounter as the remaining Italians returned home from an extended vacation.

We got showered and dressed and enjoyed our last fresh white figs and biscotti as we savored our final moments in our beloved Villa Velina.

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Next, came the part most difficult for me . . . the covering of Villa Velina. We drape all furniture to protect it from the dust while we are gone. This action meant the next step was walking out the door fino alla prossima volta!!!!! And fino alla prossima volta could never be abbastanza presto (soon enough) in my book.

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In spite of my suggestions that I may stay (envision Giorgio prying my hands from the terrace railing), soon enough we were in the car and in the thick of the beach traffic as we passed all the bufala mozzarella azienda casearias (dairy companies) along the way. The Mozzarella di Bufala Campania has been granted the status of Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC). The provinces of both Salerno and Caserta in Campania are the traditional areas that produce bufala mozzarella. As we passed store after store, I want to buy it all and take it home!

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For a quick lunch, we settled on an Auto Grill near the Ikea in Baronissi, a bit north of Salerno. We had been to many Auto Grills before and love them, but nothing could have prepared us for what we encountered this time – a Wild West themed fast food burger joint. Giorgio and I do not eat meat, and we are not the type who go to Italy to eat American food, so this was not good news to us, but we found it amusing and enjoyed the Italians enjoying it. We chose wonderful caprese sandwiches from the regular counter. Although, of course not as good as a regular restaurant, you can never go wrong at an Auto Grill. I am always amazed that you can buy full bottles of wine there (for your drive?).

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As we continue our drive towards Fiumicino, we pass Vesuvius and my very favorite cypress umbrella trees. . . I take picture # 1,004 of these trees, saving more memories for my departure.

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Soon enough, we are nicely settled into our airport hotel, where all we can do is wait to be processed out of Italy. Why? My mind keeps asking me. I don’t have a good answer.

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Before we know it we are preparing to land in Philadelphia and we have another chapter of Italian memories recorded forever in our hearts.

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Bella Italia!!

Gio (Jo Febish)

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Giorno di Mercato (Market Day)

We awoke this Friday morning, our last full day at Villa Velina this visit, with our plan for the morning’s activity in place. As we surveyed “our territory”, we could see that it would be a perfect day.

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We head to town early to catch breakfast at Isola Verde and enjoy the energy of the Marina due to the additional surge of activity. Isola is much busier than usual with everyone from the usual beachgoers to a group of ladies all dressed up for market day.

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Each Friday morning, Marina di Casalvelino is abuzz with activity as the market moves into town. The food vendors line up along Canale Tufolo from Via Velia to Via Lungo Mare and the household goods, clothes and shoe vendors set up across Via Lungo Mare in the parcheggio (parking lot) by the beach.

Everything you need for survival in The Cilento exists at the Friday Market, and then some . . . fresh fruit and vegetables, wonderful local bufala mozzarella, a wheel of parmesean, baccalà, and olives along the Canale. Across the street, you can find everything from Italian playing cards to bras to trash cans and tablecloths. In other words, tutti e niente (anything and everything)!

After a leisurely colazione (breakfast), we stroll the market, deciding what to buy and enjoying every second of our interactions with the locals. The produce was very reasonably priced and there were definitely deals to be had. We want to buy all of it, but we are leaving the next day, so sadly there is no way we can consume it all. I purchase a top for 10 euros and George purchases a deck of Italian playing cards, totally different from American cards. We will have to learn the games.

Keeping with our normale style, we decide it is time for a break at our local hangout.

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As we relax and recount our fun morning at the market, we discuss our options for our last afternoon in Casalvelino. We decide to visit our favorite beach club in Ascea, Poseidonia, to have lunch, relax and enjoy our last afternoon in the Mezzogiorno.

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It’s tough eating incredible food and drinking fine wine right on the beach, but we’re up for it . . . later, it’s time to nap on the beach.

Ciao!

Gio

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Castle Hopping in Agropoli, the Gateway to The Cilento

On this particular morning as we awoke, George said “I want to visit Agropoli, we haven’t been back there since we opened our bank account”.  Now, that brought back memories of a very interesting day in the middle of the second week of our honeymoon . . .to keep a long story very short, we saw the inside of bank the first time we went to Agropoli. (See Planes, Cars, Ferries and Buying Villa Velina for the details of how that first visit went and our interesting Italian bank dealings.)

Agropoli is the largest town nearby, about 18 miles nord di Velina, with a population of about 20,000, so it was like going to the big city for the day. We headed out of town and hopped on the SP430 northbound to Agropoli for the 40 minute drive. Before the rainy season of the winter of 2013-14, this would have been a fairly quick trip on a very limited access road. However, just after we visited Villa Velina for the very first time over Thanksgiving after purchasing it on our honeymoon, the skies broke open that winter. It just poured and poured and the beautiful limited access highway that we drove once to view our home for the first time and again over Thanksgiving week, simply caved in and washed away at a spot between Agropoli and our home.

We were horrified as we learned of this unraveling weather event. It just would not stop raining! We found ourselves nervously pacing back in forth in our home in Pennsylvania; we felt so helpless. Our friend Maria kept us informed and we were connected to some local Italian sites on Facebook that would post articles and pictures. We kept trying to figure out exactly where in the road this break occured. To put it mildly, we were devastated! We had just barely learned how to get to our new home, which was rather isolated, however connected to civilization by a highway. Now the highway was broken (strada rotto)!! From our distance of 5,365 miles away, we could not begin to imagine the twisted route we would be forced to take as a detour. Believe me, we tried figuring it out via Apple Maps, but it sure wasn’t obvious. We were hopeful that they would just get it fixed. . . then we heard those words – Not. Possible. It seemed these two words were used to describe whatever someone in Italy did not want to do or could not do for you, from exchanging dollars to euros at a bank to opening up a bank account to fixing roads . . .just fill in the blank.

It appeared that the section of the road that gave way was elevated (as most of this highway was). It was on pilings and the ground under these pilings was, well, saturated to say the least. I spent hours translating news articles from Cilento Notizie, a great news site with a FaceBook page. To our horror, my detective work revealed that liquefaction was involved. This is a process by which water-saturated sediment loses its strength and acts as a fluid, like when you wiggle your toes in the sand at the edge of the water by the beach. This is also terminology found in earthquake glossaries, although it was not an earthquake that caused this damage.

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On the way down from Roma, the detour began just after Agropoli at the Agropoli Sud Uscita (exit) and continued until just before the tunnel at Prignano Cilento. It seemed very long, the first time we took it. The detour on SP45, travels along the edge of the mountain that the SP430 was built to avoid. If you are afraid of heights, let’s just say you won’t enjoy a ride in the passenger seat for the southbound journey. The guardrails, when present, are interesting. If that is your seat, and you’re scared of heights AND you have trouble KEEPING.YOUR.MOUTH.SHUT. as cars pass on narrow winding roads with plenty of blind hairpin curves that don’t always have guardrails – I suggest using a blindfold. How do I know this?? Ask George. It’s not a great idea to scream and scare the driver on roads like this.

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At any rate, traveling a new road always seems longer the first time. Have you ever noticed this? By the second time, you know what to expect and how long it will take and that knowledge seems to make it feel shorter.

In spite of the detour, before we knew it we were approaching Agropoli and following the signs to Centro Storico, normale for us. There were many one way streets that were getting narrower and narrower. This is a sign that you are very close or maybe already in the Centro Storico. At this point, the fear that you may get stuck or lost in the labyrinth of roads kicks in, as backing out a twisty road barely narrow enough for your Fiat, isn’t fun. We came to a “T” in the road and the signs told us the Centro was to the right, so we turned left to search for parking, not wanting a “narrow road encounter”. Luckily, as the road we were on descended down a hill, there was a nice, large parcheggio by the beach and marina! We parked the car and noticed everyone had parking receipts on their dashboards, but there was no sign of where to get them. After walking around and asking the workers at a restaurant, George finally located the central parking meter about a quarter mile away.

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As we were figuring out how exactly to get into Centro, I spotted a Farmacia. We had been trying to find one that was actually open (when we were nearby) for a couple of days now. I had been trying to shake off a sinus infection, and felt I was losing the battle. So, I went inside and waited in a short line to talk to the pharmacist. Although I did not speak very much Italian at all at that time, and he did not speak very much English at all, we managed to communicate and he “prescribed” a medicine for me and then had it all wrapped up like a gift.

We continued walking up the hill and to the left and found a beautiful street lined with shops that swept up upwards and morphed into a very wide, gradual staircase.

Signs guided us along the way . . . although the historical center was our goal, this one sign presented a particular challenge (we love gelato)!

In spite of the temptation, we did not follow the sign to the gelateria, but continued our upward climb. As we reached the Portico to the Borgo Antico, we looked to our left and saw our car parked far below.

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As we climbed higher, our journey was rewarded by more breathtaking views. We will never tire of viewing slices of scenic beauty cropped by edifice antichi (ancient buildings).

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One of our first stops was the Church of Santa Maria di Costantinopoli.

Continuing on our upward climb, the Angevin-Aragonese castle, Castello Aragonese, was our ultimate goal. The castle standing today was built on 6th century Byzantine foundations. We couldn’t wait to see what was in store for us along the way, as the the promontory on which the Centro Storico stands has been inhabited since Neolithic times! There were so many wonderful buildings, views and doors along the way, it was such an interesting walk  . . .

As we reached the castle, we were rewarded with gorgeous views along the sea, looking to the north of Agropoli.

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We walked the castle, imaging how life was back in the day.

The view to the south from the top of the castle was amazing.

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And upon leaving the castle, another surprise “historically cropped” view awaited us. I imagined an intruder who, after miraculously scaling the foreboding walls of this castle, was forced to “walk the plank” to his death . . . if you had to go, I thought, this was the way to do it. At least your last memory would be fabulous. Many have gone before us with lesser visions just prior to their final journey to their ascent or descent, whichever they had earned.

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Not yet wishing to leave our newly discovered Borgo Antico, as we decended from the castle, we found the perfect bar to sit and relax while recapping yet another perfect day in our beloved Cilento.

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Ciao!

Giovanna (Gio)

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I Tre Gufi . . . The Three Owls

Having just completed our drive through La Strada Rotto, Giorgo and I decided it was time for some liquid refreshment. Arriving in Pisciotta was interesting; we barely blinked and we were already out of town and doing a three or so point turn on the narrow road to retrace our recent path and locate parking. We find a piccolo parcheggio (small parking lot) immediately on our right and pull in. While it had three levels, there were only about six or so spaces per level and maneuvering around the turns proved to be “not very possible”.  But George is an excellent driver and he managed to make it work and the car was now parked.

Resolving one problem immediately revealed the next as we could not determine how to pay for the parking, as there were no machines or attendants. Fortunately, a gentleman returning to his car came along that very moment. Once again in part Italian, part English and part charades, we managed to communicate with him and George learned that he would need to walk into the main piazza and pay for the parking at the bar and get a biglietto (ticket) to place in our car. Until we returned, how would they know that we were planning to pay, we wondered? So, not wanting to get a ticket along with another opportunity to visit Posteitaliane to pay it,  I decided to wait in the garage with the car until George returned with the strangest looking parking receipt we had ever seen. It was issued on the honor system. George paid for the amount to time he thought we would need, but we would indicate the time our parking began by filling in little circles with a pen on each of the one hour tickets, just like taking the SAT exam.

Pleased with ourselves that we had navigated yet another interesting Italian experience, we headed off to do our thing . . . explore the town and discover the best it had to offer. As we exited the piccolo parcheggio and strolled to the main piazza, I could see why we almost missed it completely. The town was on two hills with the main road (and only road that could be traveled by car) cutting through the middle. To the left was the main piazza and to the right was a staircase – yes, only a staircase that lead to the other side of town, with tables from a restaurant lining the beautiful stairs. It was so inviting, but we held out, opting for the Centro Storico instead.

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George had spotted the sign for Centro Storico (the historic section) when he went to the bar to pay for the parking, so he knew it was to the left beyond the piazza.

The main piazza was mostly in the shade at this time of the day and all of the locals were gathered in various groups talking, sharing stories and smiling. We always enjoy these Norman Rockwell-esque scenes we encounter in the small towns of the Mezzogiorno.

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As we neared the back of the piazza, the gradual upward slop abruptly ended as we entered the Centro Storico. Just before the climb up, we came upon this beautiful Osteria, but sadly it was not yet time for lunch.

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The views off to the left of it were stunning, and we had not even climbed a staircase yet! We could see the peninsula of Palinuro jutting out into the sea.

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Then, we began our initial ascent into the beautiful historic area. We walked all around and I did my usual “official town photographer” stint, enjoying every second.

The initial climb up was a bit steep and we encountered small, tank-like vehicles with actual tank treads that were used to make deliveries to restaurants and shops up the staircases. Very. Interesting.

At the one edge of the Centro Storico, we were rewarded with a gorgeous view for our efforts. Little did we realize, the best was yet to come.

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As we climbed the last remaining stairs, we discovered the pinnacle and crown jewel of the entire Centro Storico – I Tre Gufi!! Our jaws dropped as we took in the amazing view and we felt so lucky that we had explored before choosing our lunch destination. Before us lay a stunning “bird’s eye” view of the beach town portion of Pisciotta. As many ancient towns often do, Pisciotta had both a coastal town and a hill town to escape to whenever the Saracens, or any other unwelcome breed decided to ravage their seaside towns and women.

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Once again, we had found our magic place in yet another beautiful town as we ascended onto the outdoor terrace of I Tre Gufi feeling privileged as though we were entering the Gates of Heaven.

We lingered over a very long lunch of fish, roasted potatoes and a wonderful arugula salad with parmesan and walnuts and finished pranzo with an incredible light and moist lemon cake, wishing we would never, ever have to leave! By now, we realized that we were taking longer than we were probably covered for parking. “Non ti preoccupare, nessun problema” (don’t worry, no problem), the owner told us. “La polizia sta anche mangiando il pranzo ora, in modo da non disturbare la vostra macchina.” (The police are also eating lunch now, so they won’t bother your car)

Oh, and did I forget to mention there was plenty of wine flowing? We would need that for facing the broken road on the way home! Va bene . . . we could both say d’accordo to that!!

Ciao!

Giovanna (Gio)

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La Strada per Pisciotta (The Road to Pisciotta)

In our quest to visit all of the towns along the Cilento Coast, on this particular day we chose Pisciotta, a hill town a bit south of us. By the map, Pisciotta appears to be just down the coast from Ascea, a beach town near us. Conveniently, we identified a fairly direct route, which is rare considering all of the mountains. We had discussed the possibility of driving to Pisciotta via this route with our friends, and a concerned look crossed their faces as they cautioned us that “la strada è pauroso” (the road is scary).

As we sat at Isola Verde having breakfast, we pondered our options. Shall we take a chance on the more direct, but scary route, or drive inland and pick up the SP 430 to drive way out of our way around huge mountains and then out to the coast south of our destination, only to drive north quite a distance. We opted for the “scary route” because it would take us on “new turf” which we always prefer.

The beginning of our route was familiar as we drove to Ascea, but as we got to the edge of town, we took a turn away from the sea. In Ascea, the road directly along the sea, ends at Baia Tirrena, a cliff that juts out to the edge of water. The road was small (narrow) as we climbed up above the town, but it remained on a relatively straight path with some wiggles along the coast. For these drives, typically I am the navigator and George is the driver. I watch the navigator program and keep George informed regarding upcoming road conditions. George focuses on the immediate road and conditions such as potholes, upcoming blind curves and other vehicles passing us on blind curves.

Suddenly, the road took a sharp turn to the left as we headed away from the coast to follow the side of a hill inward as a valley jutted in from the sea. As we turned, I first looked across to the other side and instantly decided not to share what I thought I saw, because as I quickly glanced into the upcoming hairpin curve, I could see this already “small” road narrowed significantly AND a couple of vehicles were on their way toward us from the other side. Based on the size of one vehicle and the road below, I was not sure we could safely pass each other. With a steep hill on the left and an equally steep drop-off on our right, there was nowhere to go. This could involve backing up for quite a distance until a place in the road is reached that is passable. So, this is what our friends meant . . .

In a split-second, I warned George about the imminent “passage risk”concerning the large SUV. Then I allowed myself a second to absorb the positively terrifying view of the road I initially saw as the road curved away from the sea. There was a visible gash in the road for quite a distance. It appeared that half the road was gone! Most likely, some of this already extremely narrow roadway had fallen down into the valley below and the road was in the process of being repaired. All of this right before the point where the large hairpin jut into the valley is over and we would be back out to the edge of the cliff approaching the sea again. I just couldn’t even begin to imagine how two vehicles would pass . . .

My mind came back to the present as we were bottoming out in the inside of the valley in the middle of the hairpin curve and we could now see the rather large (by Italian standards) black SUV barreling towards us towing a small boat!! We each slowed down and pulled to our respective edges of the road a bit. By this time, we were on a straight section of the road and we made it without further maneuvering. I breathed a sigh of relief. Now, I had to tell George about “la strada rott0” (the broken road). A good Italian road navigator does not bombard his or her driver with multiple stresses at once.

I quickly shared what I had seen with George just in time for us to face two cement pillars in the center of the road. Now, had we a moment to think logically, we would have realized that the black SUV that just went by us fit through this, but the pillars were just close enough together to cause concern and bring us to a near-halt. Slowly, we entered the construction zone, without a clue about what we were about to encounter. This mini-adventure lasted about one kilometer, although it felt much longer at the time as we both were well aware how much more “interesting” it would become should another vehicle come along while we were in the zone. Also, it’s important to note that as we entered this area, we had no idea how long this would continue, which just added to the “excitement”.

Along our construction adventure, we found a few workers who had to move some equipment so we could continue, and a long area of the road that was passable by only one car as they worked to carve the road further into the hillside to compensate for the no longer existent original right lane that had fallen down the mountain. We, fortunately did not encounter another car. We were quite relieved to make it out of “the zona” and by the time we arrived at Pisciotta, we had already agreed to return home the same way!

Stay tuned for our day in beautiful Pisciotta!

Ciao,

Giovanna

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Una Giornata a Maratea (A Day in Maratea)

This day begins like many other days, at Isola Verde, grabbing some wifi, having breakfast and discussing how to spend the day. Since we had a local day the day before, we decide to explore some new territory today. We refer to this as “new turf”. Two towns came to mind and as we compared maps, our decision was made.

Camerota or Maratea. Hmmm, let’s just say on this particular day, the maps decided for us! We chose Maratea for two reasons; we just weren’t into extreme hairpin curves today and going to Maratea would take us to the Province of Potenza – totally new turf!

We would take our familiar Strada Provinciale, SP430, a highway we could access within a few miles of our home. This limited access road cuts through some major mountain passes, utilizing tunnels and sometimes very, very long suspended stretches of road on pillars high above the valley below. In at least one case, you exit a tunnel to find yourself almost immediately on a suspended stretch of road – not for the faint of heart, but beautiful. Although this highway cuts away from the sea, at times you find yourself at such a high altitude at a place with a pass between two huge mountains, and there you can “see” all the way to the sea. That, and the dramatic mountain views make this a very scenic drive.  All along the way, we see small borgos and villaggios dotting the tops and sides of mountains and make mental notes to go back and visit.

Just before Sapri, the SP430 dumps us onto the SS18 for a beautiful drive along the coast, past Policastro Bussentino, Capitello and Sapri.

As we near Maratea, we drive through the small, beautiful borgo of Acquafredda, where the street is so narrow, it only allows one lane of traffic at a time, so there are traffic signals at both ends of town.

Continuing on, we can see the sign that we are approaching Maratea. The mountaintop overlooking Maratea is home to the fifth largest statue of Christ in the world! It is so majestic perched high above the town.

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We drive into the lower part of town and park and begin the short walk up into the Centro Storico. One of the first things we notice is a very old church with “Jesus” (yes, in English), written on the bell tower.

Along the way, the skies begin to brighten and we enjoy the beautiful views on the walk up.

 

We stroll through the Centro Storico a bit to get our bearings. Maratea is so beautiful with interesting streets and piazzas everywhere.

True to form, we decide it’s time for pranzo (lunch) and settle on a restaurant that shares a piazza with the municipio building. We have a delicious lunch of Fiori di Zucca and Risotto ai Funghi (zucchini blossoms and mushroom risotto).

As luck would have it, just as we are finishing lunch, siesta has begun, so my plans for shopping are not going so well.  Note to self: get moving earlier in the morning!! Often, by the time we arrive at our destination, siesta is beginning, which means all the stores will be closed until about 4:30 pm!! This sort of cramps the shopping. . .

I notice a beautiful hand-made ceramics shop, but it is closed. As we walk back out the very narrow little pathway it is on, we discuss how sad we are that we cannot buy anything there. Suddenly, a gentleman tells us (in Italian) to wait – “Aspetto!”, he can find the owner for us! We wait and he does – she comes to find us and opens her shop!  The owner makes everything on the premises by hand. We choose a beautiful holy water dish and a town crest of Maratea. The store owner doesn’t take credit cards, “solamente soldi” (only cash), so we have an adventure locating the nearest Bancomat and return with the cash.

Well, we say to each other as we leave Maratea, “un altar giorno in paradiso”! As we arrive home to Villa Velina, the skies agree with us.

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Ciao!

Giovanna