It’s been a while since the blog was updated so I’ll do my best:
We spent three weeks in Italy: 2 weeks in Minori in the Amalfi Coast and 1 week in Rome. While on the coast, we visited Capri, Ravello, Maori, Amalfi and Positano. We also enjoyed a small-group tour through the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Minori is a sleepy coastal village. We opted for Minori because of the affordable apartment we were able to rent for 15 days (Il Sagrato). This same apartment in one of the ritzier parts of the coast would’ve been a deal breaker for us, but our experience in Minori was everything we had hoped it would be. It appeared as though we were the only tourists in town and we soon established several acquaintances. One of these is Antonio who owns a local restaurant. Antonio is always at work acting as host, waiter, bus boy and to us he was a lifesaver! Due to a lack of concierge service (because of the apartment rental), we could count on Antonio’s broken English to help us in our time of need, from learning to decipher bus schedules to obtaining tickets and anything else we needed. His restaurant was one of the few that were still open during this off-season so we enjoyed his wife’s cooking quite a bit.
The staff at Sal de Riso, the pasticerria below our apartment, was also very helpful and ready to serve. They seemed to be always on the clock — we wondered sometimes if they have private lives!
There’s someone else I’d like to mention – Giuseppe — our elderly waiter at La Botte, a basement restaurant. Absolutely no English is spoken here, but we could always count on affordable and round-the-clock service of home cooked meals. Our order was always so lovingly handled by this gentle man in this cramped restaurant. Shannon holds a special place in her heart for the elderly…she has told me she will never forget Giuseppe.
As for the local life, Minori grew on me in that it was exactly what we were looking for. After all the tourists leave only the locals remain — I loved the quaintness of this place! The residents know and greet each other at every corner, the kids meet up in alleys or at the soccer field or basketball court for a quick pick up game while mothers sit by talking and laughing, all the while keeping their eyes on the young ones. During the day it is eerily quiet, but after school the laughing and talking and screaming and excitement of the local kids truly wakes up the village.
We had stocked our kitchen with enough ground coffee and milk and sugar for our daily “cafe latte,” but we had to purchase other staples almost on a daily basis. And it’s just too easy to walk over to the village bakery for fresh bread and Italian donuts. Yum! Even in the daily morning mist, Michael and I would walk around the village gathering breakfast items to take back to the kids.
The local Tabacchi (newspaper/cigs/snack food stand) can be counted on for any bus ticket anywhere on the coast, a refreshing Coca Cola, or any other small treat such as the ever-present hazelnut-chocolate candies. (Europeans in general LOVE their hazelnut and chocolate confections.) Gelatterias are also around every corner serving any flavor of ice cream you can think of in sizes varying from “piccolo” to “grande.”
The weather was so pleasant the first week that we actually went swimming! The water is a cobalt blue and because of the impending change in seasons, it was cold. The beach was rocky — made up of smooth pebbles with a few colored stones interspersed here and there. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera handy to capture the beauty beneath our feet, but the memories linger. However, we do have some photos of our small-group boat trip to Capri. When Franco arranged a “boat trip” for us I was assuming it would be on a ferry. To our surprise we ended up on a 40-foot power launch and the two most charming hosts. It took us about three hours to get to Capri because of the frequent stops we made including the area’s grottoes and even a stop at the sirens’ favorite hangout.
A hiking trip (up 1,000+ steps) to Ravello was also in order given the excellent weather conditions. The best I can describe Ravello is to say it is a coastal garden with a village thrown smack dab in the middle of it. Flora and fauna accent every nook and crevice, crawling up every ancient wall in sight. The sea views from atop Ravello, as well as coming down from it, are absolutely breathtaking.
All of this beauty of course comes at a high price. We decided to eat at a little outdoor cafe rather than sit inside a restaurant. That decision alone saved us probably $50!
Aside: One lesson we learned after a few days in Italy is that “take away” prices are much lower than “dine in” prices. Even at the simplest cafes we were charged a “pane e coperto” charge which is a “bread and table setting” or “cover” charge per person. Not complaining, merely observing — this is the custom in Italy. We also learned that because of this charge, tipping is not expected. However, I felt like a total schlep at the mere thought of not tipping so we usually left 10%, which was highly appreciated by the waitstaff.
I’m ashamed to admit that after what seemed like an eternity of eating pasta and pizza, we set out on a 3-hour search of gastronomic excellence – McDonald’s! Apparently Sundays are lazy days with scarce bus service. So our excursion began with a 1-hour bus ride into the nearest “large” town of Salerno, after waiting 1 hour for said bus. We’re up to 2 hours, right? Next, we get off in the port area of Salerno because McDonald’s “is only about 10 minute walk from here” – or so we were told. Add 1 more hour to our journey and – Voila! – the beloved golden arches! After dinner (a whopping $40 by the way) we embarked on the journey back. Let’s just say the way you get TO McDonald’s is not the same way you get BACK. Two hours later we were overcome with relief as the little familiar Sal de Riso bakery building appeared around the curve of the Minori cliff. We had come to love this building – wall-to-wall confections, most made using Nutella (chocolate and hazelnut spread) and coffee drinks at any time of day. Home sweet home! By the way, Nutella is a staple here in Europe. I’ve seen jars on every restaurant, cafe and sidewalk kiosk.
This first foray into Salerno did not impress us; it was Sunday and most everything was closed, too much graffiti, and just too much “grayness.” However, we took the bus into Salerno again the Saturday before we left for Rome and I must admit it was a totally different place! The city was bustling with life forms of all kinds (so many pets on leashes) and of various ages — young and old alike were out and about just socializing in no particular hurry to get to any particular place. I loved the experience, but not all the smoke! Italians (and then later in my travels I learned most of Europeans) LOVE their cigs!
The second week brought cooler temperatures and tornado-like winds, and even a hail storm! This weather pattern lasted throughout our stay in Italy until we left Rome after our third week there.
It’s been over a month since we left the Coast and in writing this blog entry I realize how much I truly miss it and what a treasure that experience will always be!
Our next Post will be mostly photos from the side trips we took while in Italy. Until then, ciao!