Giorno di Mercato (Market Day)

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

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

Keeping with my normale style, I take a break at our local hangout.

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As I relax and recount the fun morning at the market, I consider options for my last afternoon in Casalvelino. I decide to visit my favorite beach club in Ascea, Poseidonia, to have lunch, relax and enjoy my “last supper” in the Mezzogiorno.

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

Ciao!

Gio

Castle Hopping in Agropoli, the Gateway to The Cilento

On this particular morning as I awoke, I thought “I want to visit Agropoli, I haven’t been back there since I opened my bank account”.  Now, that brought back memories of a very interesting day in the middle of my vacation to Capri, Sorrento and Positano . . .to keep a long story very short, I saw the inside of bank the first time I went to Agropoli. (See Planes, Cars, Ferries and Buying Villa Velina for the details of how that first visit went and my 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. I 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 I visited Villa D’Amore for the very first time over Thanksgiving after purchasing it, the skies broke open that winter. It just poured and poured and the beautiful limited access highway that I drove once to view my home for the first time and again over Thanksgiving week, simply caved in and washed away at a spot between Agropoli and Velina.

I was horrified as I learned of this unraveling weather event. It just would not stop raining! I found myself nervously pacing back in forth in my home in Pennsylvania; I felt so helpless. My friend Maria kept me informed and I was also connected to some local Italian sites on Facebook that would post articles and pictures. I kept trying to figure out exactly where in the road this break occurred. To put it mildly, I was devastated! I had just barely learned how to get to my new home, which was rather isolated, however connected to civilization by a highway. Now the highway was broken (strada rotto)!! From a distance of 5,365 miles away, I could not begin to imagine the twisted route I would be forced to take as a detour. Believe me, I tried figuring it out via Apple Maps, but it sure wasn’t obvious. I were hopeful that they would just get it fixed. . . then I 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 my 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 I 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. 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 I knew it we were approaching Agropoli and following the signs to Centro Storico, normale for me. 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. I came to a “T” in the road and the signs told me the Centro was to the right, so I turned left to search for parking, not wanting a “narrow road encounter”. Luckily, as the road I was on descended down a hill, there was a nice, large parcheggio by the beach and marina! I 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, I finally located the central parking meter about a quarter mile away.

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As I was figuring out how exactly to get into Centro, I spotted a Farmacia. I had been trying to find one that was actually open (when I was 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.

I 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 me along the way . . . although the historical center was my goal, this one sign presented a particular challenge (I love gelato)!

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

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

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

Continuing on my upward climb, the Angevin-Aragonese castle, Castello Aragonese, was my ultimate goal. The castle standing today was built on 6th century Byzantine foundations. I 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 I reached the castle, I was rewarded with gorgeous views along the sea, looking to the north of Agropoli.

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I 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 my newly discovered Borgo Antico, I decended from the castle and found the perfect bar to sit and relax while recapping yet another perfect day in my beloved Cilento.

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Ciao!

Giovanna (Gio)

I Tre Gufi . . . The Three Owls

Having just completed my drive through La Strada Rotto, I decided it was time for some liquid refreshment. Arriving in Pisciotta was interesting; I barely blinked and I was already out of town and doing a three or so point turn on the narrow road to retrace my recent path and locate parking. I found a piccolo parcheggio (small parking lot) immediately on my 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 I managed to make it work and the car was now parked.

Resolving one problem immediately revealed the next as I 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, I managed to communicate with him and learned that I would need to walk into the main piazza and pay for the parking at the bar and get a biglietto (ticket) to place in my car. Until I returned, how would they know that I was planning to pay, I wondered? So, not wanting to get a ticket along with another opportunity to visit Posteitaliane to pay it,  I hightailed it over there to buy the ticket, returning with the strangest looking parking receipt I had ever seen. It was issued on the honor system. I paid for the amount to time I thought I would need, but I would need to indicate the time my 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 that I had navigated yet another interesting Italian experience, I headed off to do my thing . . . explore the town and discover the best it had to offer. As I 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 led to the other side of town, with tables from a restaurant lining the beautiful stairs. It was so inviting, but I held out, opting for the Centro Storico instead.

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I spotted the sign for Centro Storico (the historic section) when I went to the bar to pay for the parking, so I 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. I never fail to enjoy these Norman Rockwell-esque scenes I frequently encounter in the small towns of the Mezzogiorno.

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As I neared the back of the piazza, the gradual upward slop abruptly ended upon entering the Centro Storico. Just before the climb up, I 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 I had not even climbed a staircase yet (note, I did not say hill)! I could see the peninsula of Palinuro jutting out into the sea.

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

The initial climb up was a bit steep and I 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, I were rewarded with a gorgeous view for my efforts. Little did I realize, the best was yet to come.

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As I climbed the last remaining stairs, I 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 I felt so lucky that I had explored before choosing my lunch destination. Before my eyes 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, I found my magic place in yet another beautiful town as I ascended onto the outdoor terrace of I Tre Gufi feeling privileged as though I were entering the Gates of Heaven.

I 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 I would never, ever have to leave! By now, I realized that I was taking longer than I probably covered for parking. “Non ti preoccupare, nessun problema” (don’t worry, no problem), the owner told me. “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? I would need that for facing the broken road on the way home! Va bene . . . I could certainly say d’accordo to that!!

Ciao!

Giovanna (Gio)

La Strada per Pisciotta (The Road to Pisciotta)

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

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

The beginning of my route was familiar as I drove to Ascea, but as I got to the edge of town, I 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 I climbed up above the town, but it remained on a relatively straight path with some wiggles along the coast.

Suddenly, the road took a sharp turn to the left as I headed away from the coast to follow the side of a hill inward as a valley jutted in from the sea. As I turned, I first looked across to the other side and instantly decided not to believe 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 me 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 my 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. And I am basically NO GOOD backing up hills with a stick shift. So, this is what our friends meant . . .

I allowed myself to absorb what I saw for a split second. 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 I was bottoming out in the inside of the valley in the middle of the hairpin curve and I could now see the rather large (by Italian standards) black SUV barreling towards me towing a small boat!! We each slowed down and pulled to our respective edges of the road a bit. By this time, I was on a straight section of the road and we both made it without further maneuvering. I breathed a sigh of relief. Now, all I had to worry about was “la strada rotto” (the broken road). A good Italian driver does not allow his or her mind to be bombarded with multiple stresses at once.

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

Along my construction adventure, I encountered a few workers who had to move some equipment so I 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. I, fortunately did not encounter another car. I was quite relieved to make it out of “the zona” and by the time I arrived at Pisciotta, I had already decided to return home the same way!

Stay tuned for my beautiful day in Pisciotta!

Ciao,

Giovanna

Cambiando Cieli del Cilento (Changing Skies of the Cilento)

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

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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My plans for the day included stopping by Bar Pasticceria Franco, owned by Sandra’s (who I met at the beach two days prior) friend, Gaetano. As I walked into the shop to get some breakfast, I couldn’t believe my 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 I was eating, I saw Sandra and Gaetano leaving the bar. It was great to meet Gaetano and see Sandra again. I thanked her once again for the interpretation assistance on the beach a couple of days before. I made plans to have them come to my house for apertivi and then go out to dinner together later in the week.

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

So, on to my next activity, which was paying for a parking ticket I had received when at the beach.  I forget that all times are noted in military time and the meters said you had to pay until 1:00, so due to our orientation, I took that to mean 1:00 pm as in the afternoon. But that would have been 13:00, so that is why I found the ticket on my car when I returned from the beach. The next day, I 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 I understood. They reduced the fine from 25 euros to 18 euros, but told me I couldn’t pay them.

Instead, I would have to go to PosteItaliane to pay the fine, but they were closed on Sunday, so here I go on another new experience in Italy. I could walk there from the bar. I chuckled to myself all the way there – I 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 I approached the doorway, I could see I was 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 I 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 I required some liquid refreshment, not to mention a wifi fix, so off to Isola Verde I went to grab a prosecco. This bar is right across from the beach. I went inside to order and let them know I 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. I tried a few different wines and selected my favorite. I didn’t have my own container, so he filled an empty water bottle for me. This set me back a whopping 2 euros!!

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Once back home from my local but eventful morning, I prepared lunch. I 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.

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

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As I rounded a bend, I almost drove off the edge of the road as I let out a scream (of delight)!! I parked the car as soon as I found a spot where I could safely pull off the road.

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

As I headed out for the day, I passed one of my 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 Napoli – 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 I leave Pioppi, I am on “new turf”.  I always take note of this, wherever I am. Maybe it’s the gypsy in me. How do people get like this, I wonder? Here I am, a person here on this earth, who treasures, in fact, craves new experiences. Crazy? Or pazzo? One person’s craziness, is another person’s fun and entertainment. Sometimes I think about how I got that way. For the most part, I am the explorers of my nuclear family and I also happen to be a first-born. Once, I moved to California, forcing a trip to visit my parents who likely never would have made the journey, had I not moved. I have lived many places across the U.S. while my parents and sister have remained living in the same areas where they were born and grew up. I’m not sure why . . . it just IS me!!

After Pioppi, I do a few zigs and zags on the SRexSS267 (big name, small road) up over a large “hill”, I’ll call it due to the huge mountains within view, and the road brings me down to near sea level when I catch sight of Acciaroli.  I 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. I enjoy watching people swimming and sunbathing and jumping off of rocks and make a mental note to bring my swimsuit next time.

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

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

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

As is always the case, I decide it is time for a rest at the local bar and I 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 i refresh myself, I have a lively discussion with with the Nonna of the bar owner, who shows me a beautiful hibiscus plant that bears two different colors of blossoms. I don’t speak much Italian and she speaks no English, but that didn’t stop either of us from having an enjoyable conversation.

I decide to take one more pass by the beach before I leave. Although it’s still light out, I am quite interested in driving home in full day light because of the narrow, cliff-hugging road with lots of sharp switch-backs! I sometimes squint my eyes briefly while 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!!

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

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Ciao!

Giovanna