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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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

 

 

 

 

 

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)

 

Innamorarsi di Villa Velina (Falling in Love) – Part I

It had been five months, one week and five days since we stepped back on US soil holding the keys to Villa Velina, and finally time to return and stay there for our first time. We would spend Thanksgiving week in Italy! Our only prior visit was three days before settlement and for less than an hour. During the wait, we were like children with an Advent Calendar counting down to Christmas!

Villa Velina now had the basic necessities – a bed to sleep in, a cucina to cook in and chairs and a table for eating the delicious fresh local foods we would cook. Other than this short list of furnishings, Villa Velina was empty – not a wine glass, not a dish, not a fork, not a toilet seat, not a shower surround or shower curtain rod. One thing it did have was lighting in every room; albeit that lighting consisted of black electrical wires with a light bulb attached at the end! While eagerly awaiting our return, we made lists of everything we would need to comfortably furnish our love nest (nido d’amore).

During our stay in Positano, one of our three honeymoon destinations, we fell in love with this magical town and its beautiful ceramics. Our rental villa there had beautiful dishes and after returning home, I attempted to find which store made them – yes, they make their beautiful dishes right there! I was pleasantly surprised when I located the store online – Ceramica Assunta (http://www.ceramicassunta.it/). Their designs were quite distinctive. Our rental had beautiful multi-color plates with a chicken design. Since we are pescatarian, chickens weren’t exactly what we had in mind, but maybe fish or lemons. After previewing the many options, I choose a beautiful lemon pattern. I decided to do one in each color since we would only have one set of dishes, at least that way it would feel like four different sets. Then, I sold George on the idea that we could stop in Positano on our way down, spend a night and pick up the dishes.

George wrote an email to the store and than called them and placed the order. Lucky for us, we were planning months ahead, because they make their dishes to order. The store owner assumed that we would want our order shipped to America. When George explained that we wanted to personally pick them up because they were for our home in Casalvelino, he could feel the man smile over the phone. George explained that in 3 months when we arrived, we would have a small window of one afternoon to come pick up the dishes. Since we were picking them up in person, they did not want any money at all up front. We were told we could pay when we came. George arranged for us to pick them up in the afternoon of our first day there. Since November is off-season for Positano, and the shops have limited hours, he actually made an appointment to pick them up. We crossed our fingers that this would actually work out.

After flying into Rome and grabbing a rental car, we arrived in Positano by noon and checked into Hotel Villa delle Palme right in town on Viale Pasitea. We then quickly drove into the center of town to the ceramic shop to pick up the wonderful ceramic dishes. Since there was no where to park, George stayed up the street in a hotel parking area, while I walked down to the store to preview the dishes and pay for them.

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I walked into the ceramics store and the friendly owner greeted me. He had everything ready; all in the same lemon pattern, but 4 different color schemes: 4 dinner dishes, 4 salad plates, 4 bowls, 4 mugs.  All were perfect. I smiled and thanked the owner profusely, especially for opening up the closed store just for us that day! I handed him my credit card and he told me my husband also needed to see the dishes . . . I guess since George was his contact remotely throughout this transaction, he wanted to meet him and also make sure that he also approved! So, I sent George down and he returned with a smile on his face and we both had a new friend!

Virtually Furnishing Villa Velina

During the five months between receiving the keys to Villa Velina and our return over Thanksgiving 2013, we kept busy researching the area and purchasing and arranging for the installation of our kitchen (cucina). Interestingly, the word for kitchen and cook is the same, which explains why you will sometimes hear someone Italian say “you are a good kitchen”.  I can assure you that when we attempt to speak Italian, we say equally interesting things!

We could never have done this without the help of Maria, whose family sold us the condo. It all started when we asked Maria where she would suggest we buy our kitchen.  She suggested Mobili Oranges in Casal Velino Marina and “Facebooked” pictures of some styles. We immediately fell in love with one and Maria said she would negotiate a better price for us!! She did a great job and got a matching table and chairs for free! It is customary to sell “sets” like this in Italy.

Most kitchens are modular (think Ikea) and you can buy different configurations to fit your needs. The configurations include sinks, stoves, ovens, refrigerators and dishwashers (if desired). George and I decided against a dishwasher. We were going to have a 10 foot kitchen and did not want to sacrifice the extra cabinet space. Also, we were only planning to have tableware for 4, so we would never fill a dishwasher before we would need the dishes for the next meal. After all, the whole point of Italy for us was to go back to a simpler time – not to buy extra sets of dishes so we could store the dirty ones in the dishwasher until the full load was ready to run! The excesses of our Big Fat American Lives were really beginning to sink in  as we planned what we would need and how we would furnish Villa Velina.

While there in the summer with her family, Maria also arranged for and oversaw the installation of our kitchen. We wired the funds to Mobili Oranges just prior to installation. We learned that Mobili Oranges also sold other furniture, so we inquired about a bed. Once again, Maria came to the rescue and chose a (very comfortable) bed. This was the last item we couldn’t do without for our first visit. Mobili actually delivered the bed before receiving payment for it!! When would that ever happen here? They simply trusted us to wire the funds, as we had for the cucina.

Maria’s husband, Alessandro also helped us tremendously. For example, the oven came with a cord that needed to be hard-wired, and there was a plug there. This is just a small detail that Alessandro corrected for us. We truly couldn’t have done it without them!

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