Last Days

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Friday was once again a beautiful day, so we decided to just take it easy before the long slog home. We did wander down the hill past Agropoli to Capaccio Scalo, where many of the bufala farms are. We’d bought cheeses from a small caseificio in the area, but this time we went to Vannulo, one of the largest and best known. This place seems to have dome a massive marketing campaign, as there were tour buses in the parking lot and sunburned cruise ship groups getting tours, with others  crammed into the bufala gelato shop. No matter, we walked around, said hi to the water buffalo, and bought some fresh mozzarella and still-warm bufala ricotta.

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On the way back, we turned up the hill and drive the steep road up to Capaccio, perched on one of the rocks surrounding the valley. A bit of a white-knuckle ride down, but enjoyable.

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After a cheese lunch, we enjoyed an afternoon in our beach chairs, reading and enjoying the scene. And then sadly, packing for home.

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We were a bit seafooded out by this point. While the area boasts wonderfully fresh seafood, most of the restaurants have a similar mindset to Cape Cod’s “fried or broiled” offerings, here, fried or grilled. We parked at the end of town where the lungomare ends, and walked back into town. A drink under the porticoes, and then wandered over to a pizzeria. Nice, crispy pizzas with bufala and vegetables, yum. And a last gelato and sunset over the sea.

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Saturday morning, we headed back through Basilicata and onward toward Bari. Basilicata again looked lovely, though very empty–it’s a long way between villages there.

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Around Bari, we looked for some place for a last lunch, but were striking out everywhere–in the non-touristic towns, restaurants were firmly closed up on Saturday, I guess everyone went to the beach. Finally found an open place where we had an OK lunch in an empty restaurant, with the owners daughter watching Italian cartoons and her mother fighting with the chef.

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Easy flight to Berlin, and a short cab ride to our hotel on Kurfürstendamm. The Amedia was comfortable, newly renovated, (although some of the design choices were odd–why the mural of the Taj Mahal over the bed?) and a fine place to overnight. We wandered around looking for a place to get a late dinner, and eventually circled back to the place next door to the hotel, where we had beers in glasses as big as our heads, and some decent food while everyone watched the World Cup. Berlin looks to be a lively, attractive place, one I’d love to return to explore.

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The usual cramped, long flight back to the US, chaos at JFK, and finally connected with my harried sister who kindly picked us up. Larry felt OK to drive, so four hours later, we were back in our own bed.

As one of our children’s favorite bedtime books said “It’s nice to be out and about, but its nice to come home too.”

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Ceramics and Temples

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Thursday morning I managed to convince Larry that schlepping down to Vietri sul Mare would be just the thing. “What’s there?” My mumble of “ceramics” got me an eyeroll. Yes, we’re traveling with two carry-on sized bags. No, I do not need any more Italian serving platters. But hey, I can get those cute little ceramic number tiles for the front door! They’re little, right?

We decided to try taking the coastal route past Battipaglia (which I think means “ugliest truck-stop town in the Cilento” in Italian) instead of the crazy-making A3 through Salerno. We turned toward the sea, driving through what I dubbed “Tomatoland.” Fields and fields of tomato plants, with the occasional cornfield or used car graveyard thrown in.

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Once we reached the coast, we went through a few kilometers of sad looking lidos and empty hotels before emerging into the chaos of Salerno during rush hour.

Salerno is a big city, and it seemed that those who were not trying to edge their cars in front of us at intersections were walking right in front of us. The good news is that traffic was so thick it all took place in slo mo, so at least we got to enjoy the show of elderly ladies dragging their shopping carts, people drinking espresso in cafes, and shop owners leaning in doorways. It’s a lively place, with some attractive streets and a nice waterfront walk.

We eventually emerged and followed a bus around a 180 degree turn to get to Vietri sul Mare. It’s an old ceramics town, where much of the stuff sold on the Amalfi coast is produced. It’s the southernmost town on the Amalfi, so I can tell my MIL I went to the Amalfi Coast. (she cannot understand why we’re not staying there).

We immediately pulled into the small parking lot the road dumps you into when you reach Vietri. Nice view from the parking ot, huh?

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And yeah, they sell some ceramics here.

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We walked round the small streets. There are many ceramics shops, but also everyday stores, and there didn’t seem to be many tourists yet. We poked around the shops, seeing lots of differences–many sold what are obviously mass-produced pieces from the big factories, but there were also some independent craftspeople working in some of the shops. I bought number plaques for the house, and then wandered into a shop because of the delicacy of the painting on the ceramics in the window. She had a large multisectioned antipasti platter I adored, but there was no way we were going to be able to carry it home. Instead I got a pretty plate, white with a lemon pattern in the rim, edged in blue. (sorry, it’s embalmed for travel now, photo later)We also learned the Italian word for bubble wrap.

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Drove back up the coast (took the A-3 this time) and got off in Capaccio. There re many hotels, lidos, agriturimos, and restaurants in this area, to take advantage of visitors to the beaches and Paestum. We followed a sign for a restaurant down a small road, and found it open for lunch. We shared a primo of a plate of pasta, sauced with chunks of fresh tuna, zucchini blossoms ad a few shrimp. The secondo of bufula tagliata (Makes sense that the rest of the buffalo should be of use occasionally) was overcooked to my taste, but that seems to be how meat is generally cooked in southern  Italy. Also got a nice plate of grilled vegetables.

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By now the heat had abated, so we decided to head over to Paestum. The GPS led us to the ancient walls, but instead of following the signs to the site, it led us around the walls and then through a gate and down a little road that was blocked at the end. We parked under a tree, and saw that the site was just across the street. We entered the museum to pay, and decided to visit the museum first. This was a good orientation, with displays chronicling from the prehistoric times, through the Greeks, the Lucanians, the Romans, and until the area was abandoned in the middle ages, probably because of  malarial conditions. Lots of relics found on the site, and signage in Italian and some English.

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Afterward we wandered the site, somewhat aided by the crappy audioguide. Signage at the site is in very bad condition, so unless you have a printed guide you’re pretty much on your own.

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The three temples are of course amazing, but also of interest are the remains of the Roman homes, baths, and meeting places. There were perhaps another 20 people on the large site, and most of the time we didn’t have anyone else in view. After the crowds of Pompeii, this was a treat to experience the place in the quiet.

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Back home for sunset on the beach, then cooked up some more fabulous vegetables for dinner.

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Clutching the Jesus Bar

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We began Wednesday with some time on the beach. The weather was starting to change, with grey skies and a stiff wind. The formerly calm water was now pushing rolling swells to shore, looking more like the Atlantic than the Tyrrhenian Sea. (I just looked at the map–the Mediterranean seems to divide from the  Tyrrhenian  at Santa Maria di Castellabate) Most of the chairs on “our” lido were deserted, except for us crazy New Englanders who still considered this a nice beach day.

We eventually got into the car and started driving south, first stopping at the nearby village of San Marco. Similar to Santa Maria, it’s a former fishing village now well supplied with beach hotels, restaurants, and a marina with mostly pleasure boats. There’s a nice view up toward Castellabate perched on the hill.

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We followed the road inland for a bit, and then took the turnoff for Licosa. This is a lovely, isolated area with just a few hotels and a nice stretch of beach. You can walk out along the point through the pines.

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Back on the 267, the road started to climb and twist as it followed the coast. Interesting driving, with the rock wall on one side, the sea on the other down a sharp drop, and trucks barreling down the hill toward us. Will admit to clutching the bar and gasping every now and then. But beautiful views at the villages and towns clustered along the bays. These towns were very quiet, with the beach season not yet started.

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A bit of rain started falling as we reached the beach town of Marina di Casel Vileno. Not much was going on, but we followed a sign leading from the main shoreline street to an open restaurant. I think we and another gentleman were the only people who showed up for lunch that day. We ordered a seafood antipasto for one, and enough little bits arrived to serve four–octopus salad, smoked fish, marinated shellfish, smoked seppie, fish crostini, fried baccala. Next, I had my standard spaghetti con vongole, and Larry had a special of frito misto of just fish. And quite a mix–there must have been five different kinds of fresh fish, all lightly friend whole and piled on a platter. The tiny ones like alici (fresh anchovies) you just eat whole, as the bones are extremely soft. The larger ones you carefully take the meat off, which takes a while.

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After lunch, we pointed the car inland, first going through an agricultural valley, and then climbing the hills, up and down steep winding roads. Very small towns, lots of pine forests and a few grape and olive fields. We eventually found the road back toward Agropoli, and headed home.

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Pompeii

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Tuesday morning we got up early to drive to Pompeii. I had arranged for a guide with Emiliano Tufano (pompeiin.com) to meet us at 9 am. The drive took a bit over an hour, though we hit traffic and the usual interesting Italian driving habits getting through Salerno. It makes Larry crazy that Italian drivers leave getting over to the exit until the last possible minute; and then when they enter the highway from an entry ramp, unexpectedly slow down instead of smoothly merging.

In any case, we easily found the Zeus parking lot near the Porta Marina entrance. After a series of texts and phone calls our guide arrived (he’d been given a different meeting point by the office). Although he claimed to be an archaeologist, he only gave us the bare bones of what we were seeing, and we found we had to ask a lot of questions to get more details out of him. At least he did know the back ways through the site, helping avoid the incoming huge groups from the cruise ships. (note to self–when heading to a popular place where cruise tours go, check the port schedule for the days with the fewest ships in port!)We were very glad we went so early, as by noon the place was packed and very hot. Pompeii is also not for those with difficulty walking–you’re constantly walking on ancient Roman stone roads, and have to be careful of your footing as you cross different levels of stone. I felt sorry for the many red-faced older or less fit people we saw struggling.

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It’s an enormous place, with even more areas not yet excavated. Because of costs and labor issues, some of the areas were closed or under restoration–but there’s still plenty to see. I find I’m particularly drawn to the few remaining (most was either carried off by the Bourbons, or is in the museum in Napoli) frescoes and mosaics.

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Speaking of frescoes, we opted to take the walk out to the Villa dei Misteri , at the far end of the site. A good choice as the crowds were building, and there were few people at this end of things. More importantly, it’s a fantastic house with wonderfully preserved frescoes, currently undergoing preservation. The “mysteries” refers to the subjects in one of the room, suggested to be of some sort of female rite. At the end of our visit Larry walked the 10 minutes back to our car along the road, much easier than returning through the site itself.

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A few other tips for others–go as early as you can, preferably when the gates open at 8:30; or after 4, which our guide suggests is also a quiet time. The Zeus parking lot and Marina entrance are also easy to find and not as busy as other entrances. Bring water, and perhaps a lunch to eat in the shade above the theatre. The only food sold inside the site is from the Autogrill, though we did take advantage of their air conditioning for a rest. Also, be warned that the bathrooms are filthy. I was amused by the sign above the sink that asked people to not wash their hair or feet in the sink.

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For lunch, we found Nonna Sceppa in Capaccio, a large restaurant with a breezy covered terrace. Groups of businessmen and large families had huge plates of seafood. We started by sharing an antipasto of polpo(octopus)  salad, dressed simply with olive oil and lemon. Loved this. Then I had a slice of tuna in a sweet and sour sauce, with more gorgeously cooked zucchini. Larry had what I call fish french fries, alici (fresh anchovies) fried to a crisp. With a salad of lemony green beans, a delicious lunch.

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After driving home we stopped at a roadside truck for cherries,  relaxed in the late afternoon on the beach, listened to the Italy game from the beach bar tv (lots of silence from the watchers at the end) and had a simple dinner of bufala, bread, and wine. Then a stroll along the beach to the village, where the evenings entertainment were two local teams playing sand soccer on a field built off the Piazza. Gelato–fig and coconut for me, chocolate and pistachio for Larry.

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Matera to Santa Maria

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After a nice hotel breakfast, we collected the car and began the drive to Campania. Basilicata seems very empty after the density of Puglia. Lots of rolling hills covered in grain or pastureland, rocks, mountaintop villages and market towns in the valleys. We passed one of the towns Carlo Levi was banished to in the 30’s. I’ve been reading Christ Stopped at Eboli, and it paints an evocative picture of the poverty, social malaise, and harsh physical and spiritual conditions of the area. The road to and from Potenza skirts the Dolomiti Lucani, an impressive mountain range.

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We arrived at Santa Maria di Castellabate in the early afternoon. Santa Maria is a beach town that gets very lively with vacationing Italians, a few Germans,and as far as we can tell, two Americani. The village is cute, with a nice pedestrian area, a tangle of hilly streets above, and the sea at the bottom. Way up on the hillside you can glimpse the Castello of Castellabate and the village above.

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We rented an apartment through Summer in Italy (great agency, BTW!), one of a bunch of apartments a short walk from the village. Our apartment is cute, simple, and has views to die for from the terrace and patio. And what seems to be the best parking spot in the complex, alone on a slope, not crammed in among other cars on the perilous hillside you inch down from the rapidly-closing gate at the top.

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We wandered down to the beach bar and had a late lunch, then hit the village for essentials like bufala, vegetables, and wine.

Dinner on the terrace after a spectacular sunset. It was so clear, we could see the shape of Capri in the distance.

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Monday was spent doing a bit more grocery shopping, and lazing on the beach. I love the Italian attitude toward beachwear and body shape–anything goes, with everyone from youngsters to grandmothers in bikinis or speedos. (except young children, who wear sunscreen and a smile). Italian beaches are set up with chairs and umbrellas very close to each other. Our favorite parts of the day are early morning, or after 4 pm.

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We took a drive up to Castellabate. Made the mistake of taking the very steep way up, which the poor Panda did not appreciate. Lots of restaurants and hotels up there, with wonderful views down.

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Santa Maria was quiet at lunchtime, we had a good lunch of mussels, pizza, and fantastic zucchini finished with mint and vinegar.

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Back to the beach for the afternoon, watching the vacationing families try to keep the kids from smacking each other. Made bufala ricotta-stuffed fiori and fried eggplant for dinner, with a little salad.

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