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

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