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)

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)

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

Cambiando Cieli del Cilento (Changing Skies of the Cilento)

We awoke on this Monday, Labor Day in the U.S., but just a normal day in Italy. Our plans included just staying in town, taking care of a few things and simply relaxing a bit at Villa Velina.

As always, my morning ritual begins with taking in the view of Monte Stella. It’s truly so beautiful that I don’t think I will ever tire of seeing it. I also do not believe that I will ever take it for granted. It’s never, ever the same view twice.

On this particular morning, Monte Stella was MISSING!!! Who stole her? Dove è Monte Stella? Little did I know this was a clue that today would be a very interesting weather day.

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Our plans for the day included stopping by Bar Pasticceria Franco, owned by Sandra’s (who we met at the beach two days prior) friend, Gaetano. As we walked into the shop to get some breakfast, we couldn’t believe our eyes. There was a full case of pastries spanning almost the length of the shop! What to choose?? I finally decided on three small pastries.

Then, as we were eating, we saw Sandra and Gaetano leaving the bar. It was great to meet Gaetano and see Sandra again. We thanked her once again for the interpretation assistance on the beach a couple of days before. We made plans to have them come to our house for apertivi and then go out to dinner together later in the week.

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They sent us home with some delicious cookies, wrapped beautifully like a present, just like everything else you buy in Italy, even pasta.

So, on to our next activity, which was paying for a parking ticket we had received when at the beach.  We forgot that all times are noted in military time and the meters said you had to pay until 1:00, so due to our orientation, we took that to mean 1:00 pm as in the afternoon. But that would have been 13:00, so that is why we found the ticket on our car when we returned from the beach. The next day, we had tried to pay the ticket in the police station. There was a lot of chatter between the two officers and some laughing, none of which we understood. They reduced the fine from 25 euros to 18 euros, but told us we couldn’t pay them.

Instead, we would have to go to PosteItaliane to pay the fine, but they were closed on Sunday, so here we go on another new experience in Italy. We could walk there from the bar. We laughed and joked about it all the way – we heard you can do anything at PosteItaliane except buy postage stamps!! People pick up and cash their pension checks, pay their utility bills, anything except  buy a stamp. As we approached the doorway, we could see we were in for another lesson in “Italian lines”. There were a couple of women sitting on a bench by the door, both windows were occupied, and there were several people scattered all around. This was not dissimilar to an earlier experience we had at a bank in Rome a few years ago. Really, all you need to do is remember who was inside before you got there, then once they were all taken care of (no matter where they may be standing), you will know it is your turn.

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The “PosteItaliane Experience” took some time, and after that we needed some liquid refreshment, not to mention a wifi fix, so off to Isola Verde we went to grab a prosecco. This bar is right across from the beach. George went inside to order and let them know we would sit outside at a table. While I was waiting, a man at the next table began speaking to me in Italian, but I did not understand him. So, in Italian, I told him, I could only speak a little Italian. He immediately began speaking to me in perfect English (he was actually German).  He wanted to let me know that there was something of interest out over the water. I looked up and saw it.

At first, there was just one very skinny waterspout and then a thicker one also dropped down. I always wondered what I would do if confronted by a tornado – and, now I know! I would stay put and photograph it. A moment of fear swept over me as the thought crossed my mind about what if it got too close, but before it could take hold, the waterspout dissipated.

Wow, all this excitement for one morning! It was now time to stop by the local wine store and pick up some wine and go home for lunch. We tried a few different wines and selected our favorite. We didn’t have our own container, so he filled a water bottle for us. This set us back a whopping 2 euros!!

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Once back home from our local but eventful morning, we prepared lunch. We had some fresh tomatoes and white figs that were absolutely delicious and so fresh. Fig season is the end of August/early September. They are the best. Eating in Italy has really ruined me – the bar is really high now.

We relaxed a bit after lunch and then decided to take a local drive on a road we had not been on before. As we drove, the skies became very dark suddenly and a severe thunderstorm skirted around us and the sun soon appeared.

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As we rounded a bend, George almost drove off the edge of the road as I let out a scream (of delight), but apparently he did not realize that and thought something was really wrong. I just kept saying, pull over, park the car. Then he saw it.

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It was the most unusual rainbow I had ever seen and it was a double, although the top one was faint. The darkness of the sky was the perfect backdrop for this magnifico arcobaleno!! As I zoomed in you could see it was framing Salento, one of our favorite little hill towns.

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Wow, what a day with such beautiful and dramatic skies!! How beautiful is God’s canvas? I could watch it always. Rainbows are God’s checkpoints for me letting me know I am exactly where I am supposed to be at that moment.

Ciao,

Giovanna

 

 

 

 

Coastal Exploration (L’Esplorazione Costiera)

On our second full day, and the last day of August, we decided to take a drive up the coast and check out a couple of beach towns – Acciaroli and Santa Maria di Castellabate.  George and I both love the beach, but we also love exploring, so our love for the unknown trumped our desire for another lazy day at the beach.

As we headed out for the day, we passed one of our favorite little towns, Pioppi. A tiny hamlet by the sea, Pioppi boasts views of the curved protected bay at Marina di Casalvelino that compete with the best. Think Bay of Naples – on a smaller scale, but just as spectacular and even more so to me without all of the buildings and population nearby.

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As we leave Pioppi, we are on “new turf”.  George and I always make a spoken note of this, wherever we are. Maybe it’s the gypsy in both of us. How do people get like this, I wonder? Here we are, two people who have found each other here on this earth, who both treasure, in fact, crave new experiences. Crazy? Or pazzo? One person’s craziness, is another person’s fun and entertainment. Sometimes we talk about how we got that way. For the most part, we are each the explorers of our individual nuclear families and we both also happen to be first-borns. Each of us moved to California, forcing a trip to visit on parents who likely never would have made the journey, had we not moved. Both of us have lived many places across the U.S. while our parents and all siblings have remained living in the same areas they were born and grew up. We’re not sure why . . . it just IS us!

After Pioppi, we do a few zigs and zags on the SRexSS267 (big name, small road) up over a large “hill”, we’ll call it due to the huge mountains within view, and the road brings us down to near sea level when we catch sight of Acciaroli.  We take a slight left, and park down by the marina and take a stroll through town by the beach.

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The beach is still buzzing with activity. After all, it is still August. We enjoy watching people swimming and sunbathing and jumping off of rocks.

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We linger for awhile and then reluctantly return to our car to continue on to Santa Maria di Castellabate. This is the sister (beach) town of Castellabate.

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SM di Castellabate is a classy beach town with great shopping, hotels and restaurants. We see the stately Hotel Villa Sirio along the beach and enter to explore. Inside we find a very friendly owner, who graciously gives us a tour of various rooms, all beautiful.  As we are leaving, we comment on the beautiful portrait in the lobby and he proudly tells us this is his family.

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We meander around town enjoying the buildings, shops and a the occasional adorable kitty.

As is always the case, we decide it is time for a rest at the local bar and we find the main piazza and a bar by a beautiful umbrella cypress tree. I just love these trees and stare at them along the way from Rome to Casalvelino.

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As we refresh ourselves, we have a lively discussion with with the Nonna of the bar owner, who shows us a beautiful hibiscus plant that bears two different colors of blossoms.  We don’t speak much Italian and she speaks no English, but that didn’t stop any of us from having any enjoyable conversation.

We decide to take one more pass by the beach before we leave. Although it’s still light out, George is quite interested in driving home in full day light and I’m sure it’s because of the narrow, cliff-hugging road with lots of sharp switch-backs and I agree! I sometimes close my eyes while we’re driving on roads like that, especially when someone near us decides to pass on a blind curve. . . let’s face it – any crash they would cause at those speeds, and we’d all be off the cliff!!  George, doesn’t have the luxury of driving with his eyes closed.

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We sigh as we absorb the sight of this beautiful beach and hate to leave, but we know we will return again soon.

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Ciao!

Giovanna