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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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

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

Beach Time – Tempo di Spiaggia

As we awoke on this first morning in Villa Velina this trip, I did what I do every morning – open all the shutters and take in the view of Monte Stella and the sea. There, below us was the magnificent scenery we would soon be part of as we experienced our very first beach day at Marina di Casalvelino!

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But, it was still to early to park ourselves on the beach – so, first things first. Down to the Marina we went for some breakfast (colazione) and our Wifi fix for the day. As we approached our favorite beachfront bar, Isola Verde, we could tell instantly that it was a whole different experience in August, abuzz with the increased influx of vacationers.

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People were everywhere and finding a place to park was certainly not the easy task it was off-season. But we loved seeing the activity and people. We managed to get the last open table outside and ordered breakfast.  We relaxed and made our plans for the day and then took a stroll down the street along the beach. The private beach clubs were all getting set up for the day. We choose one that looked fun, called Lido Azurro, and made a reservation for the afternoon.  This may only be rural southern Campania, but the Italians here know how to live. Not only would our reservation come with two beach chairs, an umbrella and music, but also with wifi and the ability to enjoy a glass of prosecco, wine, beer . . . basically your beverage of choice. No silly rules like no alcohol on the beach like in the U.S. – after all we’re all adults!

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

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

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

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

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

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Ciao!

Giovanna and Giorgio

 

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