A Taste of Italy…Part 1

I haven’t written in awhile because so many things have happened in May and June 2017, I just couldn’t keep up!  So many dreams came true for me, one’s I had been hoping for for a very long time.

May, 2017

I finally graduated from college with a BA degree in Creative Writing/English.  I graduated Cumma Sum Laude, which for me, was a very big deal.  It was a goal I had decided upon when I first enrolled in college back in 2012.  I was going for a 4.0 but ended up with a 3.96, close enough in my book. My husband and I flew out to New Hampshire so I could walk.  I didn’t have to walk but I felt the need since I had worked so hard and gave up so much of my free time in order to achieve this dream.

My friend, Carolynne from New York drove out to celebrate with us and even though we really didn’t do much sight seeing, we enjoyed the time we had with each other.   Both her and my husband cheered me on as I walked up to get my diploma.  My daughter watched it live on computer and was able to snap a picture of me as I was handed my plaque from the President of the college.  I had four honor cords around my neck and my cap was decorated with “Finally” and “It’s Never Too Late”…all blinged out!

When we got home, it was time to prepare for our honeymoon/60th birthday/graduation trip to Italy.  Yes, that’s right.  It was really my 60th birthday present from my husband however because I was still in school at the time, I had to postpone it.  I made all the arrangements in January and then just before we left, I booked the tours we wanted to take.

June, 2017

We flew out of Denver on Thursday evening June 1st.  The airline was Lufthansa and the flight was a very pleasant one with the exception that our seats were in the middle of the plane.  It was one of those planes that had two seats on either side of the airplane and then 4 seats in the middle.  I was a little scrunched but was able to get a little sleep.  They fed us dinner and breakfast and all the wine we wanted to drink.  The flight took 10 hours to Munich, Germany where we then had a 4 hour layover.  We drank beer and did a little shopping waiting for our flight to Naples.  We finally took off and the plane was packed with weekenders going to Italy for the weekend!

Once we landed in Naples, we didn’t have to go through customs which was a little disappointing because I wanted an Italy stamp in my passport book.  But since we didn’t have anything to declare and we were both exhausted, we went looking for our driver.  Found our driver who was standing holding a sign with my name on it.  I felt so honored!  He was happy to see us and guided us to the car.  Once in the car and on the road, it became very obvious why my husband did not want to drive in Italy!  More about that later!

It was a holiday that day, Republic Day, which is like our 4th of July, so traffic was heavy. We had to go through several tunnels to get to Sorrento, which was our final destination and about an hours drive from Naples.  During the drive our driver made light conversation which was nice because not only were we exhausted but we were also excited.  I was finally here.  The place where my DNA started.  I looked around at the old apartment buildings, the groves of citrus trees, and all the people on motorcycles or scooters.

We had rented an apartment because we decided Sorrento would be our home base and we could venture out from there.  The place was called Corso Italia and the girls in the office were super nice.  They spoke English, thank God, and we went down the street to our apartment.  We were on the first floor and the big, heavy wooden door and old fashioned lock was a little difficult to maneuver but my husband got the hang of it.  We unpacked our suitcases and decided to find a restaurant to eat before calling it a night.

Bougainvillea’s

The first place we ate at was called Bougainvillea’s.  It was on the main strip, right down from our apartment.  We had no idea at that time that this restaurant would become one of our favorites, not just for the food, but for the people who worked there.

As you walk into the restaurant, to your left is a huge selection of homemade gelato which had so many flavors I’m not sure how one could decide what they wanted! Then also to the left as you walked further in, was the pastry cabinet which housed Italian cookies, pastries, cannoli’s, pies and cheesecake.  The coffee bar was after that and then a huge room that opened up with tables and linens.  In the very back was a fire pizza oven.  On the right of the walls was a fountain of water which was very calming to listen to while you ate.

I ordered a pizza (of course) that had roasted veggies on it and my husband ordered a meat pizza.  In Italy, everyone gets their own pizza which is about the size of a dinner plate.  My first bite, I was in heaven.  The flavor of the sauce, cheese and veggies were out of this world and the dough was very light but the flavor is one I just can’t describe.  I had to have the recipe!  I did not finish mine and ended up taking it back to the apartment.  But as I looked around at the other customers, each were enjoying a bottle of wine, and eating all of their pizza!  There was no rush to eat and get out as it is in American restaurants.  In fact, we had to ask for our check.  In Italy, they want you to take your time, enjoy your conversation and food and whenever you are ready, then you can leave.  The waiter was very accommodating and friendly.

When we got back to our apartment, I crashed.  I don’t even think I changed into my PJ’s, that’s how tired I was and we had to get up early the next day to meet our guide who was driving us to Pompeii and Herculeanen.

Saturday, June 3rd

The alarm rang way too soon but I was excited to finally get to see these amazing sights first hand.  We showered and dressed and walked down to Bougainvillea’s for a cappuccino to go.  They weren’t opened yet, but the owner, Rose, said no problem and she made them herself.  The weather was perfect, not too hot, not too humid.

We walked down to the property management office to wait outside for our guide.  A young man pulled up in a Mercedes Van.  Umberto was our guide.  A young, Italian man who lived with his girlfriend and they were both raising their 18 month old son, who was named after one of the men in the family.  He was so full of knowledge and planned our trip well.  He took us to Herculeanen first where he gave us 90 minutes to tour.  Remember, it was about an hour’s drive to the place so we were able to converse the whole time.  He asked us questions about America and we asked him questions about Italy.  He gave us some very good advice about the food and how to decide what to order from which restaurant.  Like, only get pizza from a pizzeria and only get gelato from a place that only sells gelato.    He asked how we felt about Trump which I found amusing because most Europeans get their information from their news, which, if it’s CNN, then we all know most of it is made up shit!

When we got to the sight, we were going to hire a guide to take us through but after waiting 15 minutes for the one we choose, she decided to do the tour in Italian because most everyone there spoke Italian.  We decided to go it alone but as we walked closer to the entrance, we saw a kiosk that was renting iphones and headsets.  We soon found out that for 12 Euro, we could get a tour by renting the iPhones.  She showed us how to use the devices and we went on our way.  What a huge savings that was…the guide wanted 100 Euro to take us on the tour and this only cost us 12 Euro.  Please if you decide to do this tour, just rent the iPhone tour, it’s cheaper and you can go at your own pace.

The sight was amazing.  I was floored by the depth of ash that had covered that small, rich town.  Bones were still in place of the people who tried to escape into these, what looked like garages, to escape the ash but ended up burning to death.  The structures were built with such precision, that the walls were still standing as were the fresco’s still painted on the walls.  Fountains, tables, urns, cooking holes, and art work were all still intact.  The sea today was much further out than when Mt. Vesuvius  erupted.  The sea had been right up to where the city started but so much had been eroded.  The tunnel we had to walk through to get to the city was huge and you could still tell it was made of ash.  I can only imagine the effort it took to excavate that entire site.  We left in awe of it.

Our next stop was Pompeii, which was much more extensive than Herculeanen.  We, again, rented the iPhone guides to take us through this city.  It was amazing to see the town square and the justice center, where the columns were still standing.  The streets, which at the time the city was prosperous prior to the volcano erupting, you could still make out their water/waste system.  The streets were very narrow and I’m guessing only horses could fit through there.  Again, buildings, walls, frescoes, courtyards, fountains, pottery, tables, were all still in place.  This sight was one that took a little longer to go through but Pompeii was a very large city with not just rich Romans but poor ones as well.  All the while, visible at both sights, Mt. Vesuvius sat in the background.  Today, just a hole in the ground but laying dormant until she decides to awaken again.  The last time she erupted was back in the 1940’s and people still talk about it today.

When we finished up with Pompeii, Umberto gave us an option.  Did we want to go visit the hole in the ground or did we want to do a wine tasting?  Hands down, wine tasting and lunch!  He made reservations for us but we got there a little early, so he gave us a tour of the winery.  The wineries vineyards were extensive and in between the rows of grape vines, the owner was growing vegetables.  All in the Vesuvius dirt which was very fertile.  The vegetables were used in their restaurant and all GMO free and pesticide free.

Our table was by the window where a nice breeze flowed in.  The restaurant was hopping with conversation, groups of people, couples, speaking all different languages.  It was a five course meal with different wines accompanying each meal.  The food was fantastic and the wine was superb, so good, we purchased a case of it to be delivered to our home.  The Tears of Christ (Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio) a very popular Italian red wine went well with the pasta dish we were served.  I can’t even remember all the names of the wines we tasted I just know we loved them and so we asked if they could ship them to us.  Thankfully, they could!  When I receive them, I will be sure to update this blog with the names.  If you are a wine enthusiast, you will appreciate the update.

On the ride home, we were tired and satisfied.  Umberto entertained us with more tales of Italy.  I didn’t realize when he was talking to us, that I would say “gotcha”.  In fact, I said it way too much after it was brought to my attention!  Umberto said to me, “If you please, what does gotcha mean?”  I told him it meant “I understand what you’re saying.” We both started laughing.  He had never heard that expression before and he kept repeating it, “Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha!” See? I told him, you learned a new American slang word!  He was impressed and said when I write my review to please put that in there!  So I did!! Umberto dropped us off at the apartment and in parting we told him if he ever wants to visit Colorado, he was more than welcome to stay with us!

Part 2 – Taste of Italy – coming soon!

 

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