Cilento Life

So, here I was, waking up in Italy in my very own home for the first time! This would be my first full day in Villa D’Amore since I settled on the property early in June, six months prior. Other than the hour that I viewed the property three days before buying it back in June I had never visited Italy south of Naples.

Under the Tuscan Sun has always been one of my favorite movies, due to my love of Italy, but it was never my 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. I often giggle to myself that Hollywood would not have to alter my story, since I just do what is the unthinkable for most normal (normale) people.

Since it was Thanksgiving week, it was well into November and I had the chance to witness the winter weather patterns for the very first time. I have incredibly indescribable views from Villa D’Amore, which is why I 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!

Giò

Innamorarsi di Villa D’Amore – Part III

I knew our first day living in Villa D’Amore would be a long one. I entered and saw my beautiful new cucina, table and chairs, in person, for the first time! Then I practically ran into the bedroom to check out my new bed. These were my only possessions in Italy, except for the beautiful dishes I had just picked up in Positano and the extra suitcase of linens, bath towels, a Pottery Barn duvet cover made in Italy and a down comforter I had brought with me.

The many other home furnishings I would need would have to be purchased locally, and I had decided the more local, the better. The Casalvelino area is a small somewhat remote area and I felt it important to support my local town and businesses. I knew there was an Ikea located near Salerno, about an hour and a half north of us, so I had come “armed” with an extensive list of items I had compiled by walking through my local Ikea in Philadelphia. But my plan was to buy as many things as I could from the closest Supermercato, right down the hill from me.

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After a quick view of Villa D’Amore, I quickly departed for the Supermercato, my first local activity. It was almost 1:00 pm by now and I knew at some point they would close for afternoon siesta, and not reopen for a few hours. What I didn’t know were the exact times.

As I entered the store, I immediately got some interested looks. After all, this was the end of November and tourists or foreigners (aka stranieri) were not commonly found in the area at this time. I was greeted first by a nice lady who inquired if I was German (Deutsche?). I replied “No, Americani”, and got a huge smile. I then had an exchange that consisted of her local dialect, my beginner Italian and some charades. Both parties seemed to feel we understood each other. She then took me to some of her work colleagues and made introductions. One thing that really surprised me was – Philadelphia Cream Cheese.

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In the Supermercato, the food is on the main level; upstairs I found a wealth of household goods ranging from crystal wine glasses to toilet seats and chandeliers to pasta pots. I immediately went upstairs and began grabbing everything in site that I needed starting with the important items like a corkscrew and wine glasses (no need to explain this one, right?) and a toilet seat. Yes, Villa D’Amore came with a toilet, but not a toilet seat! This is apparently a very personal decision. So, after I filled my cart to overflowing with pots, pans, glasses, etc., I went downstairs to check out.

Once outside the store, I realized that they had shut all of the doors and turned off the lights. “Oh”, I thought, “this must be the start of siesta”. Later, I learned that these nice ladies had kept the store open 30 minutes past the start of siesta just for me!

As I returned to Villa D’Amore with my “catch of the day”, I turned around to look at the hill behind me and squealed with delight as I spotted a rainbow (arcobaleno). God’s sign to me that all was well and I was where I was supposed to be!

P.S. Rainbows are very meaningful to me and follow me wherever I go. For more information please see the Facebook link below to Rainbow Blessings and visit our YouTube channel.

Rainbow Blessings on Facebook

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Innamorarsi di Villa D’Amore – Part II

After accomplishing my “dish mission” in Positano, I headed down the Amalfi Coast for Villa Velina. I thoroughly enjoyed my short stay in this town, that will always and forever hold a piece of my heart, but this day would mark the very first time I would stay overnight at Villa D’Amore and stay for more than an hour! I had driven from Positano to Casalvelino before with Luisa, my realtor, but this would be the first time on my own.

I gawked at the scenery more than I should have while navigating the narrow areas and blind hairpin curves of this absolutely magnificent stretch of road that was designed and installed first by the Greeks and later improved by the Romans. “They sure knew how to live”, I thought as I benefited from the views of such beauty that were beyond description. Back in the day, we’re talking horse traffic, so there was no need for these roads to be very wide.

It was stormy and a bit overcast along the Amalfi Coast that day, but nothing can take away from the spectacular experience (except maybe if you try to do this in July/August when these towns are bulging with tourists and the Amalfi Coast Road is gridlocked. And you get to back your car around a hairpin curve because a tourist bus cannot fit. I witnessed many amazing sites along the way.

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Then, I reached Salerno. From this point on, I would be driving my local turf through Bufalo Mozzarella territory and the roads would get more and more provinciale until i reached Villa D’Amore.

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As I skirted around Salerno and continued my journey, I could see the skies brighten, until a beautiful blue sky with an interesting cloud formation appeared near Paestum. It was just magical!

As I exited the Provinciale Autostradale 18, I could barely contain my excitement! Just a couple of kilometers and I would be home in Italy (casa in Italia)!! Even as I drove, I took some initial shots of my town. There had just been a storm and the skies were so dramatic.

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After a left turn (gira sinistra) and climb up the hill, I identified my dirt road (strada bianca) and turned right. The name of my street is painted on the gray pole: Contrada San Nicola (Saint Nicolas Street or Santa Claus Way).

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I continued down the strada bianca and as I turned right to enter my driveway, this view was waiting for me. At this point, the driveway takes a very sharp turn to the left. Anyone missing it (due to the beverages they chose to drink or inattention), will suddenly find themselves tumbling 600 feet down the hillside into town!

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Ahhh, Villa D’Amore at last! As I entered my Casa Dolce Casa (home sweet home), she gave me views that will always possess my mind when I leave and keep me coming back!

Giò

Innamorarsi di Villa D’Amore (Falling in Love) – Part I

It had been five months, one week and five days since I stepped back on US soil holding the keys to Villa D’Amore, and finally time to return and stay there for my first time. I would spend Thanksgiving week in Italy! My only prior visit was three days before settlement and for less than an hour. During the wait, I behaved like a child with an Advent Calendar counting down to Christmas!

Villa D’Amore 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 I would cook. Other than this short list of furnishings, Villa D’Amore 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 my return, I made lists of everything needed to comfortably furnish my beloved Italian home.

During my stay in Positano, one of my three destinations on that particular trip to Italy, I fell in love with this magical town and its beautiful ceramics. My 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. My rental had beautiful multi-color plates with a chicken design. After previewing the many options, I choose a beautiful lemon pattern. I decided to do one in each color since I would only have one set of dishes, at least that way it would feel like four different sets. Then, I decided it would make sense to stop in Positano on my way down, spend a night and pick up the dishes.

I wrote an email to the store and than called them and placed the order. Lucky for me, I was planning months ahead, because they make their dishes to order. The store owner assumed that I would want the order shipped to America. When I explained that I wanted to personally pick them up because they were for our home in Castelnuovo Cilento, I could feel the man smile over the phone. I explained that in 3 months when I arrived, I would have a small window of one afternoon to come pick up the dishes. Since I were picking them up in person, they did not want any money at all up front. I was told I could pay when I picked them up. I arranged to pick them up in the afternoon of my 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. I crossed my fingers that this would actually work out.

After flying into Rome and grabbing a rental car, I arrived in Positano by noon and checked into Hotel Villa delle Palme right in town on Viale Pasitea. I then quickly drove into the center of town to the ceramic shop to pick up the wonderful ceramic dishes. Since there was no place to park, I just hugged the side of the road.

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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 me that day.

Virtually Furnishing Villa D’Amore

During the five months between receiving the keys to Villa D’Amore and my return over Thanksgiving 2013, I kept busy researching the area and purchasing and arranging for the installation of a 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 I attempt to speak Italian, I say equally interesting things!

I could never have done this without the help of Maria, whose family sold me the condo. It all started when I asked Maria where she would suggest we buy our kitchen.  She suggested Mobili Oranges in Casal Velino Marina and “Facebooked” pictures of some styles. When I immediately fell in love with one, Maria said she would negotiate a better price for me!! 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). I decided against a dishwasher. If I was going to have a 10 foot kitchen, I did not want to sacrifice the extra cabinet space. Also, I were only planning to have tableware for 4, so I would never fill a dishwasher before I would need the dishes for the next meal. After all, the whole point of Italy for me 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 my Big Fat American Life were really beginning to sink in as I planned what I would need and how I would furnish Villa Velina.

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

Maria’s husband, Alessandro also helped me tremendously. For example, the connection in the wall was set up for a hard-wired connection and the oven came with a cord with a plug. This is just a small detail that Alessandro corrected for me. I truly couldn’t have done it without them!

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Post Vacation Blues – or Italia-itis

I can’t even begin to describe the culture shock I encountered as I de-planed in Philadelphia after my “Big Fat Italian Vacation”. I know it may sound ridiculous, but I believe that I’m in very good company. There seem to be many people who have fallen hard for Italy after a visit. After my first visit to Rome with side trips to Orvieto, Naples and Pompeii, I definitely wanted more. But nothing could have prepared me for the feelings I had post-Capri, Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, Ravello, and especially Casalvelino.

It was early June when I returned state-side and I literally thought and talked about all things Italia constantly. Sometimes I would just sit around the house on a beautiful summer day and wonder “why did I come back here??” I kept looking at my photos on our big screen tv and the nearly life-size views made me (almost) feel like I were still there. I  would look at the Villa Velina keys. There would be tears in my eyes. . .

I am sure I owe many friends and relatives an apology for talking about Italy too much, or practicing my fledgling Italian on them, leaving them with no idea of what I was saying. To all of you who fall into this category, I blame Italia-itis for this. I had no control, I could not help myself, my mind was taken over by a country in which I am considered a straniero (foreigner). Italia-itis is not just a passing illness, but rather a malady; a disorder of the brain that is chronic or deep-seated. Once contracted, it can only be kept at bay by talking about, thinking of or traveling to Italy.

So, my apologies, but as you can see Italia-itis makes me do it!

Planes, Cars, Ferries and Buying Villa Velina

Continuing from The Big Decision . . .

Before I knew it, I was on my way to catch my flight to Rome to begin my two week Southern Italian vacation. As I cleared customs and was reunited with my luggage, I instantly spotted my driver holding a sign with my name. Antonio took me just across the road to his Mercedes (illegally parked, of course) and whisked me down the autostrada to the Naples ferry port and my hydrofoil to Capri.

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While in Positano, I had a little business to take care of – I needed to open a bank account at Banco di Napoli. Property Organizers had made arrangements with the local branch so we could conveniently handle this while in Positano. Property Organizers had already secured a Codice Fiscale for me, so securing an Italian bank account so I could transfer my money in to cover the purchase, was the last detail left. Oh, did I forget the most important thing? The other piece of business while in Positano was to meet my realtor and travel down to actually physically see Villa Velina, a detail most normal (normale) people would have handled before (prima) sending all those Euros for a deposit.

My time in Italy felt leisurely. The Monday after arriving in Positano, I made it a priority to get to the Banco to get my account opened. My contact there was Paolo and he immediately greeted me and invited me into his office. Once in, I could see he had a stack of account-opening documents in front of him. We exchanged greetings and small talk and Paolo asked me about the location of the property I was buying. I replied that it was in the Caselvelino area, about 1.5 hours to the south. Paolo began to shuffle the papers nervously and asked why I was opening the account in Positano, rather than closer to where my home would be. He spoke very good English. I explained that Property Organizers had arranged for this in Positano for my convenience because I was vacationing there. Paolo then continued to play with the papers and looked up at me and said “I have never opened an account for people who do not live in Positano and I don’t feel comfortable doing this”. I tried everything, including getting Property Organizers involved, but Paolo wouldn’t budge. This was a huge concern, because I had to get the funds transferred in time to clear and be available for settlement and I understood in Italy even though you may wire-transfer, it could take a couple of days to be recognized by the bank. Once the funds were available, I would have to go back and get the equivalent of a cashiers check for settlement! (How I managed to get the funds in cyberspace awaiting the opening of the Italian account is a topic for another story)

So, Property Organizers came up with Plan B. When Luisa picked me up on Wednesday, we would go first to the branch in Agropoli (a town one hour to the south) to open the account. I realized we were going to be cutting this close. Wednesday came quickly and I had the pleasure of meeting Luisa and driving down the remainder of the incredible Amalfi Coast for the first time as we traveled first to the bank and then to Villa Velina.

We arrived in Agropoli at 1:30 pm, excited to be finally getting this done and found the doors of the Banco locked! “Oh, no”, I thought, “this is siesta”. This did not fluster Luisa, she just pounded on the door until someone came and opened it for us! We were taken upstairs and met with our banker, who spoke only Italian. Fortunately, I were there with Luisa. The account got opened, the funds got transferred and we crossed our fingers that on either Thursday or Friday the funds would be available when we went back to the Positano branch to get the checks for settlement.

Now, on to Villa Velina! As we neared the area, it became clear that we were not quite in the right location, so Luisa called the owner’s son and he agreed to meet us at a gas station. We followed him up the hill to the property and there it was gleaming in the sunshine with views and interior exactly as expected and yet better.

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After taking all of the requisite photos, Luisa drove down to the nearby beach town that we could see from our balcony and we had lunch and gelato as we walked the beach promenade. As we drove out of town, there Villa Velina was glowing in the sun on the hillside across the valley! The only thing that could have made it better was a rainbow!

Back in Positano for Thursday, I enjoyed my last two days so much – I really could live there. Below is a picture of me on our balcony and one of our many shots of this Bella Città!

On Friday, I successfully extracted our funds for settlement, on Saturday I traveled up to Rome and met up with Luisa to go to settlement. All went smoothly.  After settlement, I went out for caffè with my wonderful new friends.

When I hopped on the flight home the next morning with Italian house keys in my hands, I can’t begin to express how wrong that felt. Shouldn’t I be staying????  I must be certainly crazy . . .sono certamente pazzo!

 

Site Update

IMG_7586I will begin regular blogs again this week. In the meantime, I want to highlight some of the website updates added since my last blog. Under beach towns, the pages for each named town has a picture gallery.  The same has been added for Hill towns up through Maratea. Also please note the Local Markets page (under Cilento Lifestyle) has photos and write-ups. Under food, there are some bar, pasticceria and  restaurants written up (many more coming). Enjoy! All photos shown on our site have been shot by us. In the rare case that this is not true, you will see a photo credit.

The Big Decision

Continuing from Villa Velina Just Happened . . .

So, there I was, having just learned that Villa Velina was not a timeshare. The next week I was in a mental frenzy as I turned the possibility of owning a home in Italy around in my mind. I corresponded further with Luisa, the realtor from Property Organizers, and gathered a bit of additional information, including some more photos.

Don’t get me wrong. This information was not to help me make a decision; my decision was already made. As soon as I had received the “not a timeshare” confirmation, I thought “I’ll move forward with this until I hit a roadblock”. This additional information was just due diligence, to the extent one can call remote property investigation “due diligence”.

The unit came with all walls and floors finished and a completely outfitted bathroom.  As you can see, the “kitchen”(cucina) was a tile wall with gas, water and electrical hookups. I was completely expecting this having previously overdosed on House Hunters International.

The large picture at the very top of this blog, shows the two available units on the top floor. I was liking the one that faced both the ocean and mountains (red arrow pointing from it). I also “Google-Earthed” the local area and tried to locate the property using the address I had been given.  Although I was able to locate several Via San Nicolas in the area, I could never find a property that looked like the property or views that coincided with the pictures I had received. A few days later, I received GPS coordinates from the owner’s daughter so I could confirm the exact location. Ahhhhh, now I could tell why I was not successful with our previous attempts. Not only was my Via San Nicola on a hillside on the opposite side of the valley from the one I had been “traveling”, but I could now also see that the property was perched high on a hill. Getting to this lovely location could not be accomplished via the normal “Via”.  This would involve a mile long strada bianca (dirt road) and a long private driveway.

So, now I was ready to commit (or be committed). I asked Luisa what I needed to do to reserve the property. The answer was “send a deposit”. Normally, buyers would go view the property in person at this point, however, this was March and I would be traveling to Italy in May, so I opted to pay the deposit (site unseen) and Luisa would take me to see it while I was in Positano three days before I settled on the property in Rome. To be continued . . .

 

Villa D’Amore just happened

Ciao Amici!

Well, this is my first official blog on Mezzogiorno Living! At first, I am going to tell a multi-part story about how I came to be where I am in Italy and love The Cilento and Mezzogiorno as I do! Thanks for joining me and I hope you stay for the journey!

There is much romanticized about Italy in movies and the stories we have all heard, but how much of it is really true?

Well, I can tell you that the movie Under the Tuscan Sun is definitely a romanticized version of a true story. Apparently, Hollywood didn’t think the cool things Frances Mayes did were interesting enough to sell without changing her marital status. Also, Frances didn’t just jump off the bus, like in the movie, and buy a house in Italy; she and her husband had vacationed in the area for 20 years before taking the plunge.

While planning my vacation and looking for vacation villas, I inadvertently happened upon a site that was not a rental site, but rather properties for purchase.  All of a sudden, these pictures were in front of my face for an unbelievable price.

I kept staring at “my find”, thinking “I know I am only looking for a rental and there is no way I will do this, but just look at this price – it must be a timeshare. Should I just write the realtor and ask?” I thought that when I learned it was a timeshare (which I am very against), that would be the end of it.

Already, my mind was working overtime about the possibility of doing the impossible. i had perhaps, watched one too many episodes of House Hunters International, and if you have already read my “About” page, you know that my love for Italy had me set up for adventure. Luisa (the realtor) answered back almost immediately, telling mw that this property was not a timeshare, but simply an outright purchase and ownership.

Stay tuned for the next episode . . .