Beach Time – Tempo di Spiaggia

As I 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 I would soon be part of as I experienced my very first beach day at Marina di Casalvelino!

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But, it was still to early to park myself on the beach – so, first things first. Down to the Marina I went for some breakfast (colazione) and my Wifi fix for the day. As I approached my favorite beachfront bar, Isola Verde, I 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 I loved seeing the activity and people. I managed to get the last open table outside and ordered breakfast.  I relaxed and made 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. I 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 my reservation come with a beach chair, 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!

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

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

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

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

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

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Ciao!

Giò

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

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

In my mountain-surrounded 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 I saw Villa D’Amore just days before purchasing it, in the beginning of June, the Marina was empty other then myself, my realtor and three to four others strolling by the sea. Now, I couldn’t wait to see August in the Marina! I 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 I get a cute hatchback Lancia rental at the airport. I quickly speed down the autostrada. I just love the interesting views as we get close to our destination.

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

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

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Buona Notte,

Giò

Italia made me do it!

The next morning, I woke up in Villa Velina for the last time this trip. On the way home from dinner, I decided to leave as early as possible and drive up to Fiumicino, drop my luggage at the hotel, return the rental car and take a train into Rome to walk around a bit and have some dinner. I love Rome and so I figured this would take the sting out of leaving Villa D’Amore. It worked! When I awoke, we quickly showered, packed and covered the sparse furnishings in plastic sheeting and began my journey.

On my way as I wind around Mount Vesuvius, I am always dumb struck at the sheer size of it, even as I 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 I gape at it, I 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 I think of the dark volcanic sand an hour 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 driving, but my photos are never able to do justice to the sheer size of the remnants of Vesuvius.

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

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As I depart from Termini, Rome’s main train station, I am reminded that the Christmas season is upon us. Not that I 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 I decide where to have dinner.

I 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. I am not disappointed with my food. I chose a seafood and pasta dish, one of my favorites. I strolled the streets a bit after dinner and then returned by train to my Fiumicino hotel. I always enjoy Rome!IMG_5060

Although I’m staying on the airport property, I 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 I missed a flight . . .

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

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

I couldn’t have predicted what happened next. As I settled in after takeoff and my obligatory Alpine photos were taken, I began to think about what fun I had and how surprising it was to learn that I could survive and actually thrive and enjoy my life in only 450 square feet of living space! I loved the views and location of Villa D’Amore from the start, but was a bit concerned about the size of the space. But what I learned was that it lived so LARGE! From the gigantic views to the spacious rooms, I felt freed from the trappings of society. From my 85-wine-glass collection back home to the many other belongings I had accumulated over the years, I learned it felt great living without such a heavy load on my back – and this was the biggest surprise of the whole trip! In Villa D’Amore, I had only what I needed – a spectacular view of the world around me, the bare necessities and a beautiful, although small, abode – but that made me feel happier.

This thinking led to a major revelation for me. While still high over the Atlantic, I thought “I’ll call Mary Pat and talk with her about putting that big house of mine on the market and find something more manageable to live in”. I was a bit shocked by this thought. I loved my home and although it was much bigger than I needed, I loved throwing huge parties in it. I also loved playing “weekend bed and breakfast”, but my “bookings” had been dwindling. As the grandchildren got older, there were weekend activities that prevented them from traveling and I found myself going to them instead.

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

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

Ciao,

Giò

Con Te Partirò (Time to Say Goodbye)

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

I decided to have my “last supper” at La Campagnola, one of my favorite local restaurants. I couldn’t decide which of my favorite dishes to have, so I ordered too many items including salad, swordfish (spade), mixed seafood grill (grigliata mista di pesce), pizza AND tiramisu! This was quite a feast and cost me only €22, including vino!

As I dined, I reminisced about my wonderful first visit to Villa D’Amore and all that I had seen and done and all the fun I had:

Stopping in my beloved Positano to pick up my custom dishes; my first trip to the supermercato and meeting the nice ladies there; morning visits to Isola Verde for cafè to get my 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 me 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 me welcome cookies, wine and olive oil (all homemade); how I 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 I 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 I recalled 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 was seriously thinking at this point that perhaps I just wouldn’t get back on the plane. . .

I thought about my long-term plans to spend more time at Villa D’Amore and said “arrivederci” to our town, for the next morning I would leave to take the 4.5 hour drive to Roma to spend the night before catching my flight the following morning. The only reason I decided to leave was so I could return . . .

Ciao!

Giò

Thanksgiving in Italy

So, here I am, beginning to feel quite at home in Italy and preparing to celebrate my first American holiday here. As I awoke two days prior, I gasped with excitement to see the surprise Monte Stella had in store for me – She was adorned with a light, glistening frosting of snow!! Snow is extremely rare in Southern Italy and rarely ever happens, but I was 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. 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 a big sky, huge Monte Stella and the sea to work with, all at once . . . in my opinion, it doesn’t get better!

Before I knew it, it was Thanksgiving and I 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. My weather app told me to expect a stormy day for Thanksgiving, and the skies certainly supported that forecast, so I hurried out to the shops before afternoon siesta set in to grab everything I would need for my Cilentano-style Thanksgiving Feast.

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

Then to go home and enjoy preparing my “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 I enjoyed watching the spectacular cloud formations over the sea and around Monte Stella from my 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!

Giò