Beach Time – Tempo di Spiaggia

As we awoke on this first morning in Villa Velina this trip, I did what I do every morning – open all the shutters and take in the view of Monte Stella and the sea. There, below us was the magnificent scenery we would soon be part of as we experienced our very first beach day at Marina di Casalvelino!

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But, it was still to early to park ourselves on the beach – so, first things first. Down to the Marina we went for some breakfast (colazione) and our Wifi fix for the day. As we approached our favorite beachfront bar, Isola Verde, we could tell instantly that it was a whole different experience in August, abuzz with the increased influx of vacationers.

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People were everywhere and finding a place to park was certainly not the easy task it was off-season. But we loved seeing the activity and people. We managed to get the last open table outside and ordered breakfast.  We relaxed and made our plans for the day and then took a stroll down the street along the beach. The private beach clubs were all getting set up for the day. We choose one that looked fun, called Lido Azurro, and made a reservation for the afternoon.  This may only be rural southern Campania, but the Italians here know how to live. Not only would our reservation come with two beach chairs, an umbrella and music, but also with wifi and the ability to enjoy a glass of prosecco, wine, beer . . . basically your beverage of choice. No silly rules like no alcohol on the beach like in the U.S. – after all we’re all adults!

We returned to Villa Velina to get ready for our afternoon at the beach. We had packed extra beach towels from home, but we didn’t have a beach tote, no problem, we would pick one up on the way into town. We arrived at the packed beach club and were so happy we had made a reservation.

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The chairs and umbrellas were lined up neatly in rows and each couple had enough space for their two lounge chairs with umbrella table in between (for the prosecco) and a small aisle for walking around their chairs. Everyone was so friendly. The couple immediately in front of us heard us speaking in English and began speaking to us. We did our best to communicate in very broken Italian and some charades. In less than a minute, we heard a voice from a few chairs over “perhaps I can be of assistance”.  As we looked up, we saw a beautiful woman on her way over. This is how we met our friend, Sandra. Before we knew it, Sandra came to our rescue and became our personal translator. We learned the couple lived in Naples and their niece, who also spoke very good English was at the beach with them along with her friend, also a great English-speaker.  We met them both later.  Sandra speaks an amazing number of languages in multiple dialects – at least English, German and Italian as far as we know. We were absolutely amazed to learn that Sandra lived in the states (so far she is the only one we have met there who does) and visits a friend in Casalvelino a few times a year. In fact, she told us about her friend’s pasticceria and invited us to stop by one day. She was truly an angel sent to help us that day.

We totally enjoyed our day at the beach in the thick of the native Italian vacation season and the vistas we had in all directions. Looking southwest, we could see all the way to Capo Palinuro.

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Looking to our north, we could see the boat marina and tower of Marina di Casalvelino.

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As beach day came to  an end, we reluctantly gathered our belongings and headed home. I took one last look back at the beach from the sidewalk, thinking it may be a while before we are back during the busy beach season and saved this snapshot in my memory.

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Ciao!

Giovanna and Giorgio

 

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Amo Cilento in Estate! (I Love Cilento in the Summer)

Our Italia-influenced move to a simpler (smaller) U.S. habitat kept us occupied (occupato) until it was time, once again to escape to Villa Velina. Before we knew it, we were at Philly International waiting to board our flight. Since we had not ever been to our area of Italy during the summer when the population was at its peak, we were excited to see Marina di Casalvelino in full swing.

In our mountain-contained valley leading to the Tyrrhenian Sea (the part of the Mediterranean Sea off the western coast of Italy bordered by Sardinia and Corsica), the population dwindles to only locals in all but the months of July and August. Don’t get me wrong, the population gradually swells leading up to those months, but by August, all of the Italians are on vacation for the month. When added to all of the Germans and Brits who also vacation in Marina di Casalvelino, this normally sleepy little beach town instantly turns into a whir of activity from crowded beach clubs to volleyball tournaments to nightclubs.

The first time we saw Villa Velina just days before purchasing it, in the beginning of June, the Marina was empty other then ourselves, our realtor and three to four others strolling by the sea. Now, we couldn’t wait to see August in the Marina! We tried to get some shut-eye, if not sleep on the way over. Soon, the sun was rising. This is the part of our flights to Rome I love the best, because it means 1) I get to see my “funny island” (Monte Argentario) connected to mainland Italy by two strips of land, and 2) we will be landing soon!

This time we get a cute hatchback Lancia rental at the airport. We quickly speed down the autostrada. I just love the interesting views as we get close to our destination.

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We arrive at Villa Velina as the sun is on the downturn. We quickly remove the plastic coverings from the furniture and clean (after all, it is siesta and no shops are open). Then we pick up some tasty snacks from the Supermercato and prepare for happy hour.

As we chill on our balcony, enjoying the ever-changing vista of Monte Stella, we look forward to the beach day we have planned tomorrow!

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Buona Notte,

Giovanna e Giorgio

Italia made us do it!

The next morning, we woke up in Villa Velina for the last time this trip. On the way home from dinner, George suggested we leave as early as possible and drive up to Fiumicino, drop our luggage at the hotel, return the rental car and take a train into Rome to walk around a bit and have some dinner. George knows how much I love Rome and so I figured this was a very strategic move on his part to make sure I left Villa Velina. It worked! When we awoke, we quickly showered, packed and covered the sparse furnishings in plastic sheeting and began our journey.

On our way as we wind around Mount Vesuvius, we are always dumb struck at the sheer size of it, even as we realize it almost appears as two separate mountains today after the nuclear-in-scope 79 A.D. explosion that froze Pompei in time and kept it covered for centuries. As we gape at it, George and I always imagine the dotted line from the side of each remaining peak, meeting at one central point way, way up in the sky. Wow! That’s an entire mountain, almost larger than what is remaining, that was displaced. And we think of the dark volcanic sand an hour and a half south, on the beaches of Positano, and realize how far some of that ground traveled to find its new home! I take a picture every time, while George is driving, but my photos are never able to do justice to the sheer size of the remnants of Vesuvius.

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We continue up the autostrada, past my favorite trees and on to Fiumicino to drop off luggage and the car.

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As we depart from Termini, Rome’s main train station, we are reminded that the Christmas season is upon us. Not that we wouldn’t see decorations in the U.S., considering that this is Thanksgiving weekend, but the Italians don’t have Thanksgiving to mark the official beginning of the Christmas season. Here in Rome, Christmas is in full swing, with beautiful lights strung along the vias and adorning buildings everywhere as we decide where to have dinner.

We settle on a restaurant about a block or two from Termini that doesn’t appear too touristy, and go down a half-flight of stairs to enter. We are not disappointed with our food. I chose a seafood and pasta dish, one of my favorites.  We strolled the streets a bit after dinner and then returned by train to our Fiumicino hotel. We always enjoy Rome!IMG_5060

Although we stay on the airport property, it’s our policy to arrive in Fiumicino very early. Since all flights to the United States must clear though a special terminal (Terminal 5) before being transported to the main airport gates, you never know how long it will take. Although, I certainly wouldn’t care if we missed a flight . . .

We spend our extra time having a delicious Italian pastry and, for me, a morning prosecco! One last real Italian bubbly on “the soil”. George comes along as I pretend shop for jewelry at Bvlgari. Unfortunately, I will have to leave this €16,500 necklace behind!

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At last, we board and find ourselves flying high above the Alps.

We couldn’t have predicted what happened next. As we settled in after takeoff and my obligatory Alpine photos were taken, George and I began to discuss what fun we had had and how surprising it was to learn that we could survive and actually thrive and enjoy our lives in only 425 square feet of living space! We loved the views and location of Villa Velina from the start, but were a bit concerned about the size of the space. But what we learned was that it lived so LARGE! From the gigantic views to the spacious rooms, we felt freed from the trappings of society. From our 85-wine-glass collection back home to the many other belongings we had both accumulated over the years, we learned it felt great living without such a heavy load on our backs – and this was the biggest surprise of the whole trip! In Villa Velina, we had only what we needed – each other, a spectacular view of the world around us, the bare necessities and a beautiful, although small, abode – but that made us feel happier.

This conversation led to a major revelation for me. While still high over the Atlantic, I looked at George and said “let’s call Mary Pat and talk with her about putting that big house of ours on the market and find something more manageable to live in”. As this stream of consciousness thought became words, we were both a bit shocked by it. We loved our home and although it was much bigger than we needed for the two of us, we loved throwing huge parties in it. We also loved playing “weekend bed and breakfast”, but our “bookings” had been dwindling. As the grandchildren got older, there were weekend activities that prevented them from traveling and we found ourselves going to them instead.

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Really, my surprise revelation, made a lot of sense. Italy had totally changed our view of our future. We no longer planned to just hang out where we had been and continue our current lives as we flowed into our retirement years, wondering what to do to entertain ourselves for the next phase of our lives. Now, there was Italy . . . a true game-changer. Now, we were busy learning Italian, immersing ourselves in a new culture and friends and new horizons to explore. We saw ourselves taking the party and our friends and family to Italy. Why not position ourselves to fully enjoy our new future?

P.S. Our home was listed 28 days later and sold in 6 days . . .

Ciao,

Giovanna

 

Con Te Partirò (Time to Say Goodbye)

Before we knew it, the time had come to leave our beloved Villa Velina and Cilento. We had done and seen so much and enjoyed the food, beautiful scenery, friendly people and all of our experiences so very much. We truly felt “at home” in our new home there. All of us at one time or another may have lived in a place that never really felt like “home”, but here we just felt instantly like we belonged. Even though there was a language barrier, this did not make us feel uncomfortable . . . everyone we met truly made us feel welcome with open arms!

We decided to have our “last supper” at La Campagnola, one of our favorite local restaurants. We couldn’t decide which of our favorite things to have, so we ordered and shared many items including salad, swordfish (spada), mixed seafood grill (grigliata mista di pesce), pizza AND tiramisu! This was quite a feast and cost us only €32 for both of us, including vino!

As we dined, we reminisced about our wonderful first visit to Villa Velina and all that we had seen and done and all the fun we had:

Stopping in our beloved Positano to pick up our dishes; our first trip to the supermercato and meeting the nice ladies there; our morning visits to Isola Verde for cafè to get our wifi fix; meeting Rafaele (who worked at the store that delivered and installed our kitchen) and how he was so quick to close his store and take us across the street for cafè to celebrate; how sweet it was for Maria and Alessandro to drive all the way from near Rome to bring us welcome cookies, wine and olive oil (all homemade); how we had managed to buy furniture  and otherwise totally furnish a new condo, with everything needed for survival (think: corkscrew), that had nothing in it before we arrived other than a kitchen, table and chairs and a bed; the overwhelming kindness of the people and the beautiful scenery.

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As we discussed these wonderful memories, I felt warm salt-water tears begin to flow down my cheeks. I didn’t want it to end. I believe I could have just stayed and left all of my earthly belongings back in the states. I think George was seriously thinking at this point that he may have trouble getting me back on the plane. . .

We talked about our long-term plans to spend more time at Villa Velina and said “arrivederci” to our town, for the next morning we would leave to take the 4.5 hour drive to Roma to spend the night to catch our flight the following morning. The only reason I decided to leave was so I could return . . .

Ciao!

Giovanna

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving in Italy

So, here we were, beginning to feel quite at home in Italy and preparing to celebrate our first American holiday here. As I awoke two days prior, I gasped with excitement to see the surprise Monte Stella had in store for us – She was adorned with a light, glistening frosting of snow!! Snow is extremely rare in Southern Italy and rarely ever happens, but we were lucky enough to witness this rare event.

Monte Stella stands at a majestic 3,711 feet above sea level right by the sea, so this just further emphasizes her stature! There is truly no way to capture her majesty with a lens. You must be physically present to take in the full effect, which in case you haven’t gathered by now, I would be more than ready and willing to do 24/365, except for the wonderful family (including adorable little grandchildren) and great friends we have in the US. In Italy, I always rise early every morning and practically run to the window and balcony to check out the view. This often leads to yet another photo shoot of the coastline and Monte Stella, because it’s never the same picture twice. Yes, God is the most amazing artist! And in Casalvelino, He has big sky, huge Monte Stella and the sea to work with, all at once . . . in my opinion, it doesn’t get better!

Before we knew it, it was Thanksgiving and we awoke to find quite a different view. The atmosphere had become a bit unstable, perhaps due to the cold air that caused the snow to fall on Monte Stella. Our weather app told us to expect a stormy day for Thanksgiving, and the skies certainly supported that forecast, so we hurried out to the shops before afternoon siesta set in to grab everything we would need for our Cilentano-style Thanksgiving Feast.

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So, off to the pescheria (fish store), pasticceria (pastry shop) and frutta e verdure (fruit and vegetables) to gather everything needed for our feast.

Then to go home and enjoy preparing our “catch”. The tiny clams were simply dilizioso! Everything had such a fresh taste and smell, unlike the watery tasting fruit we often are stuck buying back in the states, unless you are lucky enough to be located close to a produce source so you can buy fresh directly.

The day was filled with back to back thunderstorms and we enjoyed watched the spectacular cloud formations over the sea and around Monte Stella from our hilltop perch across the valley.

After about twelve back to back dramatic storms, clearing seemed to be coming from the sea. Red sky at night, sailors delight!

Ciao!

Giovanna