A Travellerspoint blog

Buon Giorno and Aspetta

(Good Morning and Wait!)

June 15
Chris and I are debating which is appropriate, 'buon giorno' or 'buona sera'. When does the evening begin and the day end? One means good day (buon giorno), buona sera means good evening. I know that you do not use 'buona notte' until you are literally bidding your adieu for the evening, as in going to bed. Good night, period, final. But after lunch, is it still buon giorno or sera? Chris defaults to buona sera after noon. He thinks all afternoon counts as the evening. I tend to say buon giorno until the sun goes down or I am going out to dinner, then it is officially evening (sera). We both go about our days saying our respective greetings, and both get enough confirmations to keep going, and enough of the other response to be curious...which is it? When does the official conversion of giorno to sera occur? For instance, we went into a market for food yesterday around 1... the woman said buon goiorno. Then we went straight to a cafe/bar for a macchiato and got 'buona sera'. So I guess the official answer is that they are basically interchangeable in the middle of the afternoon. No one looks at you funny for saying either one and both are appreciated. The worst is to not say any greeting at all. In Italy, you say hello when you enter a store. You say goodbye when you leave. It's polite and they like conversational politeness. Our Italian slang has improved little by little too. Instead of saying 'arrivederci' like we did when we arrived six weeks ago, we now say "rivederch".

Long road trips with a toddler can be exhausting. For him, definitely. For us, occasionally... if we don't time them perfectly, they can wear you down. Especially when that trip takes a little more time than you anticipate. Yesterday we made the journey from the Amalfi coast up through the bay of Naples to Pompeii, the 'lost city'. After visiting Pompeii, we drove another several hours up to Rome. After arriving in Rome, we drove around in the rain in circles as our gps lost satellite reception... recalculating...recalculating...is it bad when I start thinking murderous thoughts toward this voice that has no embodiment?!) Our son is in a full whine (get me OUT of this carseat!!!). I am literally throwing toys over my shoulder, and finally pull out the Ipad that i know will provide five minutes of peace. But then he begins to bang it against the car seat. Oi. I really hope it doesn't break. Even more, I hope that I do not break. Snapping at a thirteen month old who is just hungry and tired from being in his car seat for five plus hours is not becoming. but I must admit I started to bark: PATIENCE! Shh. Aspetta. (WAIT) Wait. Just be quiet a few more minutes, I can't hear myself think. I am trying to direct the car...to get us there as easily and quickly as possible, to keep a baby occupied, to keep it all together. But those little moments happen on the road. And we have been on the road a lot... So we coordinate and prepare as best as we can, and hope for the best. Another big trip tomorrow, Rome is just an overnight stopover as we head North again up to Lucca (in Tuscany) tomorrow.

I want to smack the former me for ever thinking this parenthood thing was easy, or even something you can evaluate. I have pooled a good number of people now, and it turns out we are all just winging it.

Posted by globalmomma 15:33 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Expecting the worst

We have arrived again on the Amalfi coast...this time south toward Sorrento in the area of Massa Lubrense. I am trying to figure out how it became known as the Amalfi coast instead of the Sorrento coast, because Sorrento is basically a city by Italian standards, while Amalfi is only several streets long. Maybe it has a better ring to it. We only drove through Sorrento but I was surprised at how large and un-quaint it was, compared with Amalfi and Positano. Too much road noise. In Italy, pedestrian zones are like gold. Now when I hear a town (like Lucca, Siena, Positano) has a pedestrian zone where cars are limited, I automatically get interested. Hmm, that sounds nice. Relaxing, quiet, none of the buzz of mopeds and the franticness of wondering if the next Fiat might run over your toes.

Being in Italy is a continual lesson in patience, unpredictability, and surprise. It keeps you sharp, because you have to be. It is really no place to be groggy or sleep-deprived. My husband, who has to navigate the narrow corridor streets and avoid hitting any manner of pedestrian, bus, mopeds angling past, the occasional goat crossing... he needs his sleep to have quick reflexes to drive appropriately in this country. There is no such thing as cruise control.

Things we often take for granted, like predicatability and standardization, are totally foreign here. I read a passage in a book by Italian author Beppe Severgnini,about the psychology of Italian hotels.
"Unlike other people, we are not looking for predictability and uniformity in a hotel. We want to be treated as unique individuals, in a unique place in unique circumstances. The model Agip chain was Italy's boldest attempt at standardization. It was an interesting cultural experiment with a hint of nationalistic self-sufficiency, but today hotels have taken another direction.....boarding houses are even more Italian if that were possible." When things do not work, they see it as a challenge. It is part of the experience when a toilet does not flush, the lights do not turn on, the TV doesn't work. To me, I think, Why on Earth didn't they check the room before we checked in to make sure everything was in working order? But here, it is not expected that everything be just so, in fact, it is basically expected that things will not be standardized and functional, that changes will have to be made.

Remember my post about the Ischia hotel, about the air conditioning not working? Well, here, at our new villa, it is the Internet connection. I tell the owner my husband must have internet to do his job. I ask if he can have it fixed by this evening, because my husband has to be online by 4PM. He smiles at me, shrugs, and says, "yes, I hope it is possible". I am used to "it will get done"; but here, everything is somewhat left up to the forces of nature, and the whims of the only person in town who has the authority to fix something. If he gets back from his lunch break by four, then yes, perhaps it will be possible. I try to remain calm, but inside I have been infuriated again and again by this process. Checking into a new place that says WIFI, Sky TV, air conditioning, etc, and having it not be so. Waiting one or two days until the right person can fix it, hoping for the best but expecting the worst. The internet did in fact get fixed, by 6pm, which is in fact quite an impressive job, so I thanked the owner for obviously pulling some strings to get it solved.

Posted by globalmomma 12:20 Archived in Italy Tagged hotels coast air italian amalfi sorrento chain conditioning internet ischia patience massa lubrense Comments (0)

It's not about the money...

June 1
"It's not about the money, we don't need your money, we're just trying to make the world dance, forget about the price tag... we don't need no ch-ching ch-ching, we don't need no bl-bling bl-bling, we're just trying to make the world dance, forget about the price tag"
This is our theme song for the moment. We are in Tuscan wine country, enjoying sweeping views of olive groves, green-striped fields of vines, tall cypress trees.  Our money plan for continuing to travel is not going so well. We'll take it day by day and see how long we can keep going.

It's best here if you have no particular agenda. Today we drove into the mountains, then on the way back, we stopped to taste some wines. I have been seeing sign after sign advertising wine, olive oil, 'agriturismo'. Agriturismo is a word for agricultural-tourism, which means people from the cities come out to stay on a farm or in the country.  Here you can find typical products of the region: wine, cheeses, olive oil, spreads, etc. Farmstays are wonderful, but often a bit mysterious. For instance, where we stay they have a little farm shop, but it isn't open and I have no idea how anyone would ever find it. It is more of a glorified closet. So I keep seeing these signs for wine and olive oil, and I am wondering: can you just stop and taste? are they open? We drive into a place that has a BIG welcoming sign on the road advertising wine and olive oil tastings. We drive down a dirt road to a small house and there is no additional sign, no business-looking structure. We think we may be in the wrong place, but I decide to ask. A woman comes out and I ask in meager Italian: is this the place for wine tasting? Um, yes, but wait a moment and I will call. Utoh. She places a call and then hands the phone to me. I realize Chris has been right - this is just not how it is done. I apologize to the man that we cannot come back in several hours, and for bothering to call. We get in the car and speed off. I realize I have just knocked on the door of a winemaker and asked for his wines. I suppose you need appointments. Or maybe the general public does not do this... I have asked in a few towns if the wineries are open for tastings, and the people have seemed puzzled. Wine tastings? at the wineries? I am beginning to think this is a foreign concept here, and I am just desiring something that is not really the way wine country in Italy presents itself. We see another place along the road that has people lingering outside and looks a bit more promising. Stop! I am determined to try. We walk inside and I ask, can we taste? Just a moment. A old man comes out to greet us and brings us to a wall of wines. What would you like to taste? He goes through the varietals of the area in Italian and Chris and I are both stunned to find out that we actually understand everything he is saying.  We choose one - a Montecucco wine that is mainly sangiovese grapes (as this area is predominantly using) with a small amount of Merlot.  He opens it, pours two full glasses and disappears. He comes back with a full platter of local salami and cheeses. Hmm, this could be expensive. Chris and I are both wondering and slightly worried about what I have gotten us into here, but decide to just go with it and enjoy. We have a wonderful lunch/snack, and he asks if we would like another taste. We wish we could, but no, we'll pay the check. Do you want the wine? Yes, it was one of the best I have tasted. OK, he says, 9 euros for the wine. We buy some oil and leave after spending 13 euros. We are both shocked. Really? free tasting? all that? It was a perfect afternoon experience and I am, once again, glad I persevered to 'crack' the mystery of Italian wine tastings. It seems you find the right enoteca, and voila. 

Tonight Chris is learning to bake bread with Viola, the owner of the villa where we currently are staying. I just peeked in on them to see them slathering olive oil over focaccia that they had spread out by hand onto baking sheets, and placing cotton then wool coverings over the bread to keep it from drying out. Amazing, the smell of sourdough rising. Bodhi's hands were going a million miles a minute, I know he was anxious to get his hands into the dough and play. He got to hold a little of the sticky dough in his hands and move it back and forth. Now I understand the origins of playdoh. He was mostly interested in eating it, then when he found out it wasn't very good, he was mostly trying to drop it on the floor, but it continued to stick to his hands. They are baking pizzas for everyone, so tonight we eat all together, like I have wanted to do since we arrived in Italy. To sit in a pergola and eat under the moonlight with other guests and locals, talking, eating and having some wine. Especially to treasure the bread just made this afternoon, local cheese, and vegetable toppings picked fresh from the garden...it will be the best pizza regardless of taste. And with it, we bring our jug of rosso di montalcino, a 5 gallon jug of vino for 14 euro, to make it that much sweeter. 

Posted by globalmomma 10:23 Tagged villa wine pizza tuscany tasting siena agriturismo montalcino enoteca Comments (0)

Fields of Gold

"Will you stay with me, will you be my love
Among the fields of barley
We'll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we lie in the fields of gold"
(Sting)

Being in Tuscany reminds me of this song. It makes me hum with the colors and the light, and the natural hues all around. I know why painters and photographers migrate here. There is a certain something about the radiance, the mix of nature and progress, comfort and nostalgia.

Posted by globalmomma 10:38 Archived in Italy Tagged sunset fields country light sunlight tuscan Comments (0)

My husband, Mario, and Montalcino

Today we are on top of the world in Montalcino!  After a long day of driving, we are tasting 6 of the finest Brunello di Montalcino's ever made in a castle at the top of the Tuscan countryside with a view that even Baccus would envy.  How do we find these treasures? I am not sure we even know, follow your nose I guess...our mantras used to  include "if it smells good" and "go toward the pretty buildings" but that was then...we are now guided by "find a place for Bodhi to eat" or "go buy something so we can use the banyo"... Such are the differences when traveling with a 1 year old.  The castle?  Simple dumb luck...could have turned to the right, but chose left and there we were...wine, castle, English-speaking staff member...there really is a heaven and we are happy to be together in this moment(s) of bliss.  Then there was the ride home...

No, I did not have more then a few ounces for all of you with a guilty conscience...I have a GPS.  Yes, we are staying somewhat off the beaten path on an olive oil farm near Pari, but heck, we do not intend to go offroading in a Fiat Punto with seating for 4 (ish) and about 3 inches of clearance...Bad enough we have to navigate a dirt road for 2 KM getting to the farm, but getting back once we set the GPS to take us somehow ends us up somewhere across the valley where we can clearly see our bedroom window but are powerless to reach it.  Despite the sleeping baby in the backseat the GPS is, in a clearly defiant tone, telling us to go offroad to reach the previously entered waypoint.  "Navigate offroad to your destination", she snides, but I see a driveway and a terrace with people eating al fresco. Does the dirt road go any further? We are hesitant to find out...I am calling Garmin in the morning to report the attitude of our computer generated guide voice for being overly persistent.  Luckily a local guy who spoke English (and whose backyard dinner party we literally drove into) told us the error of our (her) ways and directed us to go back around.  "GPS is dangerous" were, I think, his final words...

We arrive at the villa in the country that will be our home for the next three or four days. I call this 'home-ish' now. I used to say to Bodhi, "Only 5 minutes and we will be home" (referring to being back at the hotel if we were in the car or out). Then I would correct myself and say, well, home-ISH.  So now, where we are staying is called HOME-ISH. It fits. He gets it. Everywhere we end up is a new adventure for him. It is like arriving at Disneyworld every few days... he arrives at a new wonderland to explore. He checks the cupboards, opens and closes doors, checks the drain of the bidet, crawls around the perimeter. I love to watch him explore and discover. For me, it helps me to think this travel lifestyle has elements that are good for him.
Our home-ish is now a place called le lapole, a beautiful terra-cotta farmhouse in Tuscany along a dirt road outside of a small village called Pari. We would never have found this place if not for good friends who found it first and recommended we come here. It is so dark and quiet I can see every star. The drive to get here was through the most amazing countryside filled with green trees and rows of vineyards, golden straw, hazy blue mountains in the distance, and old hilltop villages with orange rooftops dotting the horizon. Then there was a steep rugged dirt road and a few poorly marked splits in the road that we happened to guess right, and allowed us to find the place. My husband, Mario, isn't used to the open roads of Tuscany. He has been used to the aggressive driving of Southern Italy on small streets with big consequences... the driving that demands urgency, attention and quick reflexes.  He honks his horn like an Italian, passes on curves and occasionally I feel like we are in a live simulated video game of Mario Cart. He has become, like all other Italian drivers, an incarnation of Mario Andretti.
 

Posted by globalmomma 01:58 Tagged driving roads italy country villa wine farmhouse tuscany montalcino pari grosseto tastings brunello Comments (0)

It's a great evening after all

our road trip from Ischia to Santa Marinelli

Today we leave the island of Ischia and head North for our next week of adventures. First step is the ferry from Ischia to Naples. The ferry leaves at 10:30am. We leave the hotel, all packed up and ready, at 9:30am, and B takes his morning nap. All is going according to plan. But Ischia is a small place filled with one way streets, so we get turned around on our way to the port. Still we arrive early, but there is a long line of cars waiting to get on the ferry...so we get into the mix. I get out and try to find the 'biglietteria' to buy our tickets, while Chris navigates our Fiat through the maze of other cars all angling and wedging their way into line. I find the place to buy ferry tickets, I ask to purchase for 2 people, one car. Documents?, She asks. Oh no, I have forgotten they need these damn documents for the car. "Un attimo" (one moment), I say and walk quickly toward the line of cars inching their way toward the ferry boats. I find Chris in the line and grab the documents from the glove compartment.  I run back to the shop and buy the tickets, and commence sprinting back to our car in my mini skirt and flip-flops. I check my watch. Three minutes until 10:30am, three minutes until we miss the boat. I just paid 50 euro, so I really hope I get to the car in time to get on the ferry. I run in my flip-flops and little skirt all the way to the boat, where Chris is at the end of the line, talking to the ferry man collecting tickets. I hand him the tickets, jump in the car, and we pull on. We are the final car. After we pull on, the cranks start going and the back of the boat pulls off of the dock. Wow, JUST barely made it. I ask Chris, What were you going to do? Filibuster? iIf I didn't get back were you going to just stall until I made it? He said he wasn't going to take NO for an answer. I tell him I now understand how he is part-Italian. Every once in a while little personality traits creep through. Being in Italy, the land of his ancestors, gives me some further insight into this man I have been married to for 4 years and known for 11. He also has started talking with his hands while he drives, and mumbling insults at people who are driving poorly. Hmm.

Arriving in Naples is again a zoo of people and sounds and commotion. We get on the autostrada and say "Arrivederci, Napoli". We are excited about going North, and make it almost to Rome when Bodhi wakes and we need to get out, stretch, and get some food. I like the highways here - they carry steep tolls so they are not crowded with cars, there is not much traffic, and there are easy stops along the way. You don't have to drive through some historic little town looking for a gas station. There are defined exits for restaurants and gas, that literally only take seconds out of your way. Chris actually looks forward to these travel days on the highways because of the delicious and gargantuan "Autogrills" that are positioned along the autostrada (toll highways). They have salad bars with more vegetables than we have seen in any restaurant. They have warm prepared foods, deli sandwiches, wonderful espresso bars, and cheap wine and cheeses to make your own picnics. In short, a real experience if you are traveling around Italy. Nothing like the road stop depressions we see in America where to stop for food is to surrender to gross fast food or packaged chips and candy.

We follow the road northwest from Rome toward the coastal beach towns. We are heading toward the port town of Civitavecchia. We are looking for a place to stay along the sea, just for the night. It is a frustrating proposition, since it is a Saturday night, in a seaside town, on a summer day in Italy. There is not much available. We go from place to place and each place is either sold out, or exorbitant. We see family reunions, weddings, parties. Apparently the beach was not our best decision for a quick stopover for meeting our two criteria: available, and under 100 euros a night. We are getting desperate, & Bodhi, who has been exceedingly patient for the whole day's journey, has had enough. He is fidgeting and complaining. He is hungry and tired of being in a cramped car seat. I sympathize but tell him he is learning patience, as we all are. We almost decide to just take this place that is WAY over budget, and absolutely not worth it, with a cramped monastery of a room, no terrace, and no place to be once B falls asleep for the evening... We are at our wits end, bickering, pleading with B to last a few more minutes, and almost give in to this place... then decide to press on a little further. It is in these moments that test your resolve, that often you are rewarded. I think this is true in life as well as travel; those moments where you seem at your breaking point, to have reached your absolute limit, this is when if you keep going, you will be rewarded. We were rewarded, with a recommendation for an affordable but quaint place outside of the town of Santa Marinelli on the coast, called "Portofina". I called on our way there, and they had a room, so we backtracked five miles to the hotel. It was perfect. We walk in and there are small shirtless children running around the 'living room' in the lobby of the hotel laughing. There is a hippy-looking man with long curly hair who greets us, and I know instantly this is our kind of place. People are talking, children are playing soccer, and the beach in front of the hotel has rolling waves and is dotted with surfers. We found the surf town for Rome vacationers. I love it here. We get into our modest hostel-like room, get settled, and go outside. Bodhi gets to run around and play - there is a slide, a playhouse, a field of soft grass, and a beach filled with smooth large rocks. He is giddy with excitement. We play and laugh until it is time for dinner, and we have one of the best meals we have had yet. I have pasta with crawfish and salad with shrimp, arugula and fresh tomatoes. Everything so fresh and simple, and fresh from the ocean. After a long drive and an exhausting day, we have arrived at a wonderful stopover and it has been a great evening after all.

Posted by globalmomma 16:38 Archived in Italy Tagged coast beach town santa ferry naples ischia marinelli autostrada autogrill Comments (0)

The day I discovered granita

Ischia and Procida

may 27
Ischia is a small island off the coast of Naples that is known for its volcanic soil and thermal waters. It is solely a tourist economy, mostly Italian and German tourists come here. So menus and some brochures are in German as well as Italian. This is helpful for me, since I can read German much better than I can get by with Italian.  Most of the people in our hotel are German-speaking, and my guess is that the Germans come for the thermal waters and treatments. There are massages, manicures, facials, the basic elements you find in spas all over the world, but also fango or mud treatments and baths, using the particular thermal waters. These waters are tested and described by their therapeutic purposes - for healing dermatological issues or rheumatological or respiratory ailments. Here there is a pool they refill daily with the local water from the spring. It is ruddy in color, a cloudy suspension of minerals. It looks like rooibos tea with milk in it. A muddy reddish tone. When you immerse yourself, it is lukewarm and thicker than water. When you get out, your skin smells like iron and sulphur, and has a tinge of orange coating. I like this daily soak.
Other than that, I am not particularly amazed by Ischia. It is a small fishing boat community turned touristy. There are shops, restaurants with views of the water and seafood and pasta on their menus. Ischia also has the best shopping I have seen so far in Italy...good shoes, designer boutiques, unique products...a very very good tourist spot to visit, well worth the journey, but bring your pocketbook filled with money. There is a positively stunning old castle fortress built on an outcropping of rock near our hotel, called the castle of Aragon. We will visit it tonight. We plan to take a boat tour around the island if we can find a boat big and sturdy enough to not look like it would sink under too much weight. I doubt there is any chance of getting an infant life vest or any such precaution for Bodhi so I hope to find a larger boat than the dinghys we have seen that provide water taxi around the island.

I should be happy to speak German, but I have yet to speak it. For some reason, Italian seems easier, even though I know much much less. I think with Italian speakers there is much more room for error than with German. They are more forgiving of grammatical mishaps and fumblings. I can be a C student here, where Germans expect A's, or speak to you in English instead. 

I am developing a love-hate relationship with Italy. There are parts I adore: the romanticism, the fresh simple local foods, the sea, the wine... And parts I cannot stand. For instance, our hotel is supposed to have air conditioning in the rooms. They DO have it, and it works...sometimes. But then they shut it off again. So, I go downstairs and tell them it was working, but now it isn't working anymore. Without it, it is an absolute sauna in our room. The baby wakes from his nap restless, head covered in sweat. Oh, they say, sounding shocked. We will see what we can do. This is Italian for: I will do nothing. After harassing them and pleading, the air conditioning comes back on. For a few hours. Then off again. I have been downstairs at reception now five times in two days to discuss the matter with various employees. I have heard now five different stories. Oh, our colleague that works the AC is off today. Oh, the management deals with the AC and sets the times. Oh, we are having it fixed today. All lies, wrapped up in sweet apologetic phrases. I know it should be a simple fix. But nothing is simple here, everything MUST be complicated.  I bought a thermal mud mask for my face yesterday at a shop. I told the saleswoman I did not need a bag for it, I would just put it in my purse. Oh, thank you, she said, but I must. So she wrapped it nicely in a bag. How bizarre, that they have rules that they must follow, regardless of logic or thought, based on authority. The employees do as they are told to do. Nothing more, nothing less. I am sliding against a wall of impatience and tolerance.

The next day, our AC was fixed, the room was cooler, and I have a new outlook on this hotel, this island, this country. It's so much cooler than I thought. They serve an amazing breakfast here: fruit, juice, water, coffee, breads, croissants, eggs, breakfast ham, cheeses, yogurt, cereals... much more than a typical breakfast in Italy. Still every person stops to admire the little one. Piccolino. (Little one), Amore (love), Bello (beautiful) are common words we hear.

Today we set out for the port to see if we could find a boat to drive us around the periphery of the island of Ischia. We missed the daily boat, but there was another trip leaving for Procida, a very small island nearby, so we signed up. It was fortuitous, because the island and the views in this tiny place were absolutely magnificent. Best I have seen yet for our entire trip. Literally breathtaking. Well, it was partially the view, and partially the gigantic hill we had to climb over cobblestone streets with a stroller and 20 lb baby that caused the breathlessness. But it was well worth the trip. As we reached the top of the hill and the historic city center, we also found a granita limone. Basically crushed ice, sugar and fresh lemons blended into a cold, refreshing slurry, which Procida is famous for, and now we know why. I already want to take a boat back for another one. You cannot imagine the sweetness and refreshment, the pure liquid sunshine... cold icey sweet tangy goodness melting on your tongue. I gave Bodhi a taste and kissed the rest of my granita goodbye. The look of shock and joy on his face was magical. The lemons grown here have some kind of life force energy from the sun and soil that makes them absolutely irresistible. The small of lemons, a citrusy earthy scent, follows you around the coast of southern Italy. Limoncello is amazing here, lemon anything can be found on the menus, anything made with these lemons is sensational. At night, when it gets sticky hot, I dream of lemon granita...
 

Posted by globalmomma 01:20 Archived in Italy Tagged water shopping island thermal lemon ischia gelato procida granita Comments (2)

The Q8 and Arriving in Ischia

What a wild, hairy, skin-of-your-teeth kind of day it turned out to be. We left Amalfi today (I apologize....I know I am behind on adding the entries!). It seemed a basic enough task - drive 1.5 hours from Amalfi to Napoli, take the hour long ferry to Ischia, and check in to the hotel we booked last night.
First step was to haul all of our bags and groceries down the eight flights of winding staircases again from our apartment "perch" on top of Amalfi. We labored down slowly. The lady we were renting the apartment from was sincerely sad to see us leaving...I think she considered us house guests. Every day she would bring us something...today it was caffe' on the terrace, while she had an excuse to hold Bodhi and we sipped the juice. Clearly the best contribution Italians have made to society is their amazing espresso. I have not had a bad one yet... In fact, every one seems better than the last...but I digress. While we are sipping, she is trying to coerce us to stay another night, asking why we must leave. These are the moments I am glad I am not fluent because I really have no solid excuse for going, other than I am getting antsy and we feel we should move on. But I tell her best I can, so she will understand, that we need to meet family in Caserta, so we must go. I didn't tell her we aren't meeting them until the 5th...

She carries a bag down all those stairs for us... A retired woman in her seventies shlepping our bag, and giving us kisses goodbye. I kinda do wish they would adopt us so we could come back every year. I think they were definitely taken aback that I had found them again, and asked to stay at their apartment. They clearly weren't advertising it. Maybe they don't even rent it anymore, I don't know. But they were clearly pleased to have us, and it was nice to be welcomed so kindly.

So off we went in our little Fiat heading up the winding road again back to Vietri, since that was the direction the gps was pointing us. About ten kilometers in, I say to Chris, don't we still need gas? Oh no. The orange gas light is glowing, and we remember it had been on when we arrived in Amalfi days before...but we hadn't remembered until now. Utoh. There is nowhere to get off the Amalfi coast highway. It is no highway. It is a small winding road dug out from a rocky cliff line, with steep overhanging sections,and not much chance to pull off the road. I check the gps for a gas station. Next one is in Vietri (a lovely town by the way). We could turn around, but we'd have to backtrack PAST where we started from to find gas, so we press onward. Chris is attempting to coast in neutral whenever possible, as well as avoid passing motorbikes, oncoming tour buses on hairpin turns, and pedestrians walking alongside the road. It is a stressful enough stretch of road without thinking about abandoning your car along it and hiking to the nearest town. We consider stopping at a safe point and calling for reinforcements. But there aren't any safe looking spots to stop. The needle of the gas gauge actually passes UNDER the orange light, and I begin to get worried, as we are really below empty now. I am expecting the sputtering and stuttering of the engine any minute. Both of us are holding our breath. Both of us thinking, how could we let this happen? And Bodhi already getting hungry in the backseat, unaware of the current predicament he is in. I am doing a countdown as I grip the gps: 4 kilometers left, now 3.5. I see the town approaching and think, well, good, if we can get close enough to town, at least we can walk and not hitchhike to the station. We reach within 500 meters of where the gps is pointing us and think, yes! we made it, but no, that is just to another turn onto the highway. Another kilometer and a half to the final destination at a Q8 station. Another few minutes of silence as we hope for the best, and then we see the station around the corner. Shew, made it. We aren't cheering though, just sighing, thankfully exhaling our breath. We fill up the car and head to Napoli. That was more stressful than it had to be. I tell Chris - "That was a healthy dose of daily stress", but he doesn't laugh. It is one of those times you hope will become funny in a few days time but we are too close to it to find it funny now.
On to Naples. We drive into the center of town, toward the bullseye that designates European town centers, and I realize why this is the Italy everyone fears. There are piles of trash by the side of the road bigger than any I have seen outside of India. There is more trash strewn along the roadside. There are men loitering and winding their way through traffic trying to wash windows and sell plastic objects. A brush and dust pan, some children's toys, some other useless looking things. This place makes you feel on edge. It has a reputation for being dangerous, for pickpockets, thieves and scams. For noise, pollution and chaos. Driving through, I definitely feel no urge to stay. We head directly for the harbor, keeping our eyes averted. After a few misdirections, we reach the harbor and I venture in to fumble my way toward tickets to Ischia. The man says, "With a car? you must go to the OTHER harbor." So I hop back into the car and we go to the next row of boats, people, parking lots and trash. I go inside to buy tickets again. The man tells me, you have documents for the car? It is a rental car, I tell him. Yes, he says smugly, documents??? Just a minute. I run back to the car. We have only 15 minutes before this boat leaves. We thought the boat was at 14:30, but that was the passenger-only ferry. The ferry for cars leaves at 14:00 even. It is now 13:45 and we have yet to have lunch, feed, Bodhi or figure out how to get on. I grab everything in the glove box and bring it to the man at the ticket booth. Here. "See", he says, pointing to his eye, "documenti". I feel the urge to smack his glib little face. uh, huh, who knew you would need such a thing? I tel him, in America you just drive onto the ferry in your car. No document-i. He ignores me. I pay the 50 euro and rush back to the car. We literally drive onto the boat while it is idling, and five minutes later, we are enroute. It was good timing, after all. Somehow, it worked out, and we were able to eat a somewhat shabby sandwich lunch onboard a ferry bound for the island of Ischia. It is a reliief to get the heck out of Napoli...it doesn't seem a place to bring a baby. Too much ugliness, garbage, seedy-looking characters, strange stares. There aren't the kind smiles here that you get in the country. There are hardened looks. I feel a little bit sad to think our new friends from the terme are living here, in a cramped apartment filled with noise from the city. It's not a nice place, or a congenial place. The accent here I am starting to pick up, since I am hearing more words now that I understand. They chew on the ends of their words. Everything sounds like "brioche" or "schoch". It makes me hungry and I can't concentrate. Instead of capito, it is capisch. Instead of carciofi, carciof. Words end in a harsh chewing sound that makes the language sound ugly and slurred. This is definitely Italy's underbelly, and has a reputation that I think the rest of the country is trying to transcend. It is the old Italy I remember hearing about from guidebooks years and years ago, with stories about handicapped gypsy children stealing wallets and not entering a train station at night, or letting a stranger hand you something, because then they will demand money and make a commotion until you hand it over. All these stories I remember hearing abut Italy are coming back to my memory as we pass through Napoli and see the hoards of salesman, homeless, and the general chaos of the city. We are glad we are aboard the ship, putting miles between us and the city for at least a few days...

Posted by globalmomma 00:53 Archived in Italy Tagged coast highway language station amalfi naples gas crime napoli vietri accent Comments (1)

Generosity

Lest anyone (especially me) begin to think romantic thoughts about this journey we are on, let me reassure us that it still has all the regular smatterings of life's ups and downs. There are days I still struggle to get out of bed when I hear my child stirring. There are moments I want to quit, get off, and go home. There are moments we are having much less than a good time.
I tend to do this...I hype expectations to the extreme, idyllic realms, and often reality falls quite a bit short.
Today is one such day. Bodhi is still recovering, so he is sleeping the majority of the day; hence, we are in the apartment stewing around most of the day, getting cabin fever.   When he is not sleeping, he is hanging on my pant leg and whining.  We are still struggling to work out the logistics of a plan, figure out finances from afar, and do all the other regular housekeeping from thousands of miles away. It can be taxing to be so far from any comfort zone, or not to have one at all. The key is to find it inside. We are teaching Bodhi this, I hope, to find his comfort spot inside of himself, but sometimes, this Buddhist trait does not make it through the murkiness of the self. However, even on these worst of days, there are bright spots. And those breaks in the clouds are the parts of days we should remember every time, travelling or at home. For instance, after arriving back at our apartment this morning from getting groceries, whiny baby in need of a nap, feet sweaty from the trek, our 'landlady' from downstairs knocks on the door and presents us with a gorgeous platter of fried fresh anchovies she has labored on this morning. It is quite a gift. We are like house guests here and are treated as such, with daily gifts. And the difficult morning evaporates in a flash of generosity.

Posted by globalmomma 12:49 Archived in Italy Tagged travel house amalfi guests anchovies Comments (0)

Church bells

Well, I am still only managing to shower once every three days, but at least now I am writing. In my spare time with a baby, I still don't get basic hygiene done like at home, but instead of cleaning the house and running errands, now with free time I write and hand wash our clothes. This morning, as I was hanging our clothes out on the clothesline on the terrace, the church bells were ringing and chiming, and it was magical. It was late morning and all the families were headed to church on this warm summer Sunday in Amalfi. The birds are chirping, our clothes are swinging in the breeze, I am listening to the songs of hymns and many people's voices as they sing. It give me a spiritual feeling, and I want to head over to the church to be immersed in the music and the bells. Bodhi is napping, Chris is cooking, and I dress to go down to the piazza but I don't go. I just listen from our perch above town, right next to the church, literally I am adjacent to the singing, and the ringing bells.  I could get used to this. My husband and I are already contemplating asking the owners to call us if they consider selling this place. But these places never go on the market here in Italy - they get passed down generation to generation over a long time. As we found out in Ostuni on an old olive farm, we asked the man how he came to own this beautiful place. He said, my grandfather's great grandfather bought this farm from a friend. exactly. and every son has owned and worked it since then, and forevermore. That is part of the mystique and allure of these old farms and villas, I think, is their unattainability and the generations of family that have slept, ate, cleaned, worked, washed, created, birthed and died here. You can literally feel the cycle of time and that you are but a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of the place, that has been there and will continue to be there for a long long time. Italians just do not replace things and move on with the frequency that we do - there is a rich tradition and they hold onto everything. The apartment we are in probably has been unchanged for at least the lifetime of the current family...definitely nothing has changed since we were here eight years ago, and this is pretty typical situation here in Italy. If you like a place, and send your children there when they grow up, it will probably basically look the same as when you were there 30 years before.  Maybe this is part of the reason Italians do not mind waiting - their sense of time is different from ours - they are just not in any rush to innovate, to renovate, to get things done. They know the good things last.

Posted by globalmomma 23:01 Archived in Italy Tagged church bells morning terrace amalfi laundry Comments (0)

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