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)

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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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Buona Notte,

Giovanna e Giorgio

Con Te Partirò (Time to Say Goodbye)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao!

Giovanna

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving in Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao!

Giovanna

 

 

 

Sono Tornato! (I’m Back!)

Buon Giorno!

It’s great to be back! My apologies that it took me twice as long to “return to blogging” than I thought . . .our truck “landed” in Florida on February 22nd and life has been a whirlwind of activity ever since. It was really took much more time and elbow grease than originally anticipated. While I have totally modified my last two homes from a design perspective, this time, the home is vintage 1985 and all modifications, including major changes, like kitchen and bathrooms are being done WHILE we reside in it. Add to that the fact that this is the smallest home and the oldest home we have owned in the United States. Our home in Italy is THE smallest home we have ever owned. Very soon, in an upcoming blog, I will share with you how buying Villa Velina has been the single factor that has impacted our view on home ownership ever since!!

Here’s our Villa di Mare progress so far:

Back to Italy, thoughts of Italy and writing about my beloved Cilento!

Giovanna

Cilento Life

So, here we were, waking up in Italy in our very own home for the first time! This would be our first full day in Villa Velina since we settled on the property the last day of our honeymoon, six months prior. Other than the hour that we viewed the property three days before buying it back in June we had never visited Italy south of Naples.

Under the Tuscan Sun has always been one of our favorite movies, due to our love of Italy, but it was never our intention to impulsively buy a property in Italy or anywhere else. In reality, that only happened in the movie version of Frances Mayes story. In real life, she had rationally purchased a home in Cortona only after spending about 20 summers there. We often giggle to ourselves that Hollywood would not have to alter our story, since we just do what is the unthinkable for most normal (normale) people.

Since it was Thanksgiving week, it was well into November and we had the chance to witness the winter weather patterns for the very first time. We have incredibly indescribable views from Villa Velina, which is why we decided to buy it sight unseen after one email conversation with Luisa from Property Organizers.

The very first thing I did upon waking on this first morning was walk out on the balcony and view my “new empire”. From the far right, I could see the valley, some farms and olive groves.

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As I panned to the left, directly in front of me stood Monte Stella, a 3,711 foot high reportedly extinct (hopefully true) volcano. I just stared at “her”, my jaw dropped in childlike wonder. This was just the beginning of a morning ritual for me. The clouds were so dramatic.

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Then, continuing to pan further to the left was our perfect slice of the Tyrrhenian Sea!

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I knew one thing for sure, there would be much sky gazing during my days at Villa Velina!

Ciao!

Jo (Giovanna)