La Strada per Pisciotta (The Road to Pisciotta)

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

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

The beginning of our route was familiar as we drove to Ascea, but as we got to the edge of town, we took a turn away from the sea. In Ascea, the road directly along the sea, ends at Baia Tirrena, a cliff that juts out to the edge of water. The road was small (narrow) as we climbed up above the town, but it remained on a relatively straight path with some wiggles along the coast. For these drives, typically I am the navigator and George is the driver. I watch the navigator program and keep George informed regarding upcoming road conditions. George focuses on the immediate road and conditions such as potholes, upcoming blind curves and other vehicles passing us on blind curves.

Suddenly, the road took a sharp turn to the left as we headed away from the coast to follow the side of a hill inward as a valley jutted in from the sea. As we turned, I first looked across to the other side and instantly decided not to share what I thought I saw, because as I quickly glanced into the upcoming hairpin curve, I could see this already “small” road narrowed significantly AND a couple of vehicles were on their way toward us from the other side. Based on the size of one vehicle and the road below, I was not sure we could safely pass each other. With a steep hill on the left and an equally steep drop-off on our right, there was nowhere to go. This could involve backing up for quite a distance until a place in the road is reached that is passable. So, this is what our friends meant . . .

In a split-second, I warned George about the imminent “passage risk”concerning the large SUV. Then I allowed myself a second to absorb the positively terrifying view of the road I initially saw as the road curved away from the sea. There was a visible gash in the road for quite a distance. It appeared that half the road was gone! Most likely, some of this already extremely narrow roadway had fallen down into the valley below and the road was in the process of being repaired. All of this right before the point where the large hairpin jut into the valley is over and we would be back out to the edge of the cliff approaching the sea again. I just couldn’t even begin to imagine how two vehicles would pass . . .

My mind came back to the present as we were bottoming out in the inside of the valley in the middle of the hairpin curve and we could now see the rather large (by Italian standards) black SUV barreling towards us towing a small boat!! We each slowed down and pulled to our respective edges of the road a bit. By this time, we were on a straight section of the road and we made it without further maneuvering. I breathed a sigh of relief. Now, I had to tell George about “la strada rott0” (the broken road). A good Italian road navigator does not bombard his or her driver with multiple stresses at once.

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

Along our construction adventure, we found a few workers who had to move some equipment so we could continue, and a long area of the road that was passable by only one car as they worked to carve the road further into the hillside to compensate for the no longer existent original right lane that had fallen down the mountain. We, fortunately did not encounter another car. We were quite relieved to make it out of “the zona” and by the time we arrived at Pisciotta, we had already agreed to return home the same way!

Stay tuned for our day in beautiful Pisciotta!

Ciao,

Giovanna

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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

Cambiando Cieli del Cilento (Changing Skies of the Cilento)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao,

Giovanna

 

 

 

 

Coastal Exploration (L’Esplorazione Costiera)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ciao!

Giovanna

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

Italia made us do it!

The next morning, we woke up in Villa Velina for the last time this trip. On the way home from dinner, George suggested we leave as early as possible and drive up to Fiumicino, drop our luggage at the hotel, return the rental car and take a train into Rome to walk around a bit and have some dinner. George knows how much I love Rome and so I figured this was a very strategic move on his part to make sure I left Villa Velina. It worked! When we awoke, we quickly showered, packed and covered the sparse furnishings in plastic sheeting and began our journey.

On our way as we wind around Mount Vesuvius, we are always dumb struck at the sheer size of it, even as we realize it almost appears as two separate mountains today after the nuclear-in-scope 79 A.D. explosion that froze Pompei in time and kept it covered for centuries. As we gape at it, George and I always imagine the dotted line from the side of each remaining peak, meeting at one central point way, way up in the sky. Wow! That’s an entire mountain, almost larger than what is remaining, that was displaced. And we think of the dark volcanic sand an hour and a half south, on the beaches of Positano, and realize how far some of that ground traveled to find its new home! I take a picture every time, while George is driving, but my photos are never able to do justice to the sheer size of the remnants of Vesuvius.

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We continue up the autostrada, past my favorite trees and on to Fiumicino to drop off luggage and the car.

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As we depart from Termini, Rome’s main train station, we are reminded that the Christmas season is upon us. Not that we wouldn’t see decorations in the U.S., considering that this is Thanksgiving weekend, but the Italians don’t have Thanksgiving to mark the official beginning of the Christmas season. Here in Rome, Christmas is in full swing, with beautiful lights strung along the vias and adorning buildings everywhere as we decide where to have dinner.

We settle on a restaurant about a block or two from Termini that doesn’t appear too touristy, and go down a half-flight of stairs to enter. We are not disappointed with our food. I chose a seafood and pasta dish, one of my favorites.  We strolled the streets a bit after dinner and then returned by train to our Fiumicino hotel. We always enjoy Rome!IMG_5060

Although we stay on the airport property, it’s our policy to arrive in Fiumicino very early. Since all flights to the United States must clear though a special terminal (Terminal 5) before being transported to the main airport gates, you never know how long it will take. Although, I certainly wouldn’t care if we missed a flight . . .

We spend our extra time having a delicious Italian pastry and, for me, a morning prosecco! One last real Italian bubbly on “the soil”. George comes along as I pretend shop for jewelry at Bvlgari. Unfortunately, I will have to leave this €16,500 necklace behind!

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At last, we board and find ourselves flying high above the Alps.

We couldn’t have predicted what happened next. As we settled in after takeoff and my obligatory Alpine photos were taken, George and I began to discuss what fun we had had and how surprising it was to learn that we could survive and actually thrive and enjoy our lives in only 425 square feet of living space! We loved the views and location of Villa Velina from the start, but were a bit concerned about the size of the space. But what we learned was that it lived so LARGE! From the gigantic views to the spacious rooms, we felt freed from the trappings of society. From our 85-wine-glass collection back home to the many other belongings we had both accumulated over the years, we learned it felt great living without such a heavy load on our backs – and this was the biggest surprise of the whole trip! In Villa Velina, we had only what we needed – each other, a spectacular view of the world around us, the bare necessities and a beautiful, although small, abode – but that made us feel happier.

This conversation led to a major revelation for me. While still high over the Atlantic, I looked at George and said “let’s call Mary Pat and talk with her about putting that big house of ours on the market and find something more manageable to live in”. As this stream of consciousness thought became words, we were both a bit shocked by it. We loved our home and although it was much bigger than we needed for the two of us, we loved throwing huge parties in it. We also loved playing “weekend bed and breakfast”, but our “bookings” had been dwindling. As the grandchildren got older, there were weekend activities that prevented them from traveling and we found ourselves going to them instead.

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Really, my surprise revelation, made a lot of sense. Italy had totally changed our view of our future. We no longer planned to just hang out where we had been and continue our current lives as we flowed into our retirement years, wondering what to do to entertain ourselves for the next phase of our lives. Now, there was Italy . . . a true game-changer. Now, we were busy learning Italian, immersing ourselves in a new culture and friends and new horizons to explore. We saw ourselves taking the party and our friends and family to Italy. Why not position ourselves to fully enjoy our new future?

P.S. Our home was listed 28 days later and sold in 6 days . . .

Ciao,

Giovanna