Long anticipated vacation finally arrived. July 2018 we decided in touring from central Italy to the southern tip of Calabria. My wife, brother and his family along with my two sisters and their husbands flew to Rome to start our venture. As we still have family in Cassino, we decided to stay a few days and visit the common tourist attractions there.
Monte Cassino, Italy’s most bombarded monastery during WWII is always a must. With its white huge stone walls, the sunrays simply make the monastery visible from miles away. The center courtyard with its side arches create portraits with the background landscape. With peacefulness and cool from the high altitude winds one can gaze out and only imagine the chaos when it was under bombardment. A short drive to the Polish cemetery always accompanies this tour to honour over the 1000 Polish troops who perished during WWII.
What’s an Italian town without a “mercato” on Saturday mornings. With all sorts of cloths and shoes, we had to see for ourselves. Great looking merchandise with huge discounted prices. Question would be, “will they last?”. In fact, we were surprised that what we purchased did indeed pass the test of time since many of us wore it the duration of the trip and continue in doing so.
On our way to Gaeta, we stop to visit the Sanctuary of La Montagna Spaccata. Follow the series of steps (climbing steps seemed to be the theme of this trip) and one is standing between two massive mountains with an ideal picture spot. Looking down reveals the beautiful ocean water. We usually descend to sea level to visit the Grotta del Turco but since we arrived late, that part of the attraction was closed.
One thing about Italy is that there is no real average supper time other than eating late. Our cousins have brought us to several restaurants during our stay and each one with their own specialty. Food is always in abundance that seems to pile on the tables while drinks and conversations never end. Italians surely know how to take their time in eating.
Home suppers were also exquisite and every single family member opened their doors to us. Family is so important and although thousands of miles apart, their sincerity, love and affection made us feel so welcomed. We had booked this trip many months ago and only a few weeks prior to our arrival did we hear of several malaise from our aunts and uncles. One having been operated in Rome, one having eye surgery the day of our arrival and one having just removed a full leg cast……while the list goes on, we were debating if we over stayed. In fact, the complete opposite. They enjoyed it and used it as a regenerative form of healing, we hope anyway.
On our 4th day, the day before our departure for Calabria, my brother left for Campobasso, my older sister left for Rome to board a cruise ship, we instead, decided to visit Sperlonga for the day. Sperlonga is a coastal town in the province of Latina overlooking the beautiful blue Tyrrhenian sea.
From the constant eating we definitely needed one day to lounge by a beach and relax. Many beaches were packed and showing all their lots full. A little convincing and we were able to park in one and spend a few hours in the ocean. Despite thinking we were subject of a prank, we paid for a beach umbrella and two chairs to someone who, at first, seemed to be an ordinary gentlemen enjoying a Sunday at the beach, but instead did work for the beach area. Water was clear and calm and it surely refreshed both our bodies and, more importantly, our minds.
On our way back from Sperlonga, we stop by Gaeta near the American Naval base and have a great late lunch. The weather was gorgeous, the view was spectacular and the food was delicious. What more can one ask for.
One day before having lunch, we take a stroll along a small town called Sant’angelo in Theodice. Bruno, my cousin, who is a young 18 year old that excels in history recounts several points of interests that were told to him regarding WWII. As it turns out, the Gustav line that laid out north of Cassino to the south ran just below the small town. Below the town, along the “Bridge of four Battles”, a peace bell was erected to honour the troops. Still today it receives many visitors. A more gruesome picture was the Gari river in which was said that many dead soldiers were found floating downstream.
On a more pleasant note, he showed us the exact location in which my mom used to bring laundry to wash by the ravine. History never appealed to me in school but as I age, it is the only subject that truly interests me. Time remains the best commodity and keeps getting more precious as we have less of it.
The nights were very humid and sleep was scarce. It did play a fatigue toll but nevertheless always great memories when seeing family.
Monday morning we pack up and head for Tropea in Calabria. Our Nissan Qashqai was very comfortable and the five and a half hour drive passed rather quickly. The road was beautiful with winding turns, mountains all around and tunnels that pierced the hill sides. Add some nice music, sunshine and great company…..definitely a recipe for success and happiness.
We arrive at our Michelizia resort and as we normally do, check the surroundings, grab a nice supper and end off with an Italian gelato. Walking the cobble stone streets of Tropea, we can’t help gaze at all the little details from the corner street lamps to the beautiful cascading flowers around doorways.
Every corner we turn captures our interest until reaching a cliff which reveals the iconic “Santuario di Santa Maria dell’Isola”. The mountain seems like harden chalk, the ocean background gives it a mysterious glow and the church itself exudes peacefulness. We’re definitely going to have a great time.
Next morning we head down to the beach and notice the waves are quite rough. Soap suds fill the shore line with the constant thumping of crashing waves. The undertow is just as dangerous and pulls every bather towards the deep. Timing it properly, we leap over a wave and able to float before the waves break. Constant treading water surely tires us off and with a calculated dismount, we follow a wave back to shore.
Walking through the city center we stop for lunch and despite moving seats twice to avoid the light rainfall, the lunch was very tasty. Some light rainfall followed us into the evening as well and trying another restaurant for supper marked the worse pasta I have ever tasted. I ordered pasta with shrimp but was surprised that the shrimps were actually the ones still in their shell with full tentacles. Pasta completely overcooked and the fish seemed several weeks old. Oh well, I guess it can happen at any restaurant!
With the little sleep thus far, July 18 was definitely a day to sleep in. Quick breakfast and head to the beach. This time instead of walking the steps down, we take the car and were able to park nearby. Again rough waters, but with an organized water entry, we were still capable of enjoying the ocean waters. After supper, we decide to visit the sanctuary. Here goes more steps…….we decent to the mountain base, then climb back up the Sanctuary. Quaint little church with a view from all sides.
We tour the inside of the church and upon exiting from the rear, we find ourselves in the court flower garden. Not your typical flowers but more along cacti and shrubs forming a fence along the perimeter. Every spot is great for pictures since the sun was setting in our direction. We end the visit by climbing to the roof top terrace where many more pictures were taken.
Descend more stairs to the city center and have another great supper. This time around we replaced the usual gelato with a Tartufo. Wow…another great decision and despite it being filling, we enjoyed every spoonful.
Next morning we all agreed in chartering a boat to ride the coastline and view the city from the crystal blue waters. Water was calm, we board the boat and away we go for a 3 hour tour. I used to love Gilligan’s Island. The boat was quite comfortable for us 8 and all along the ride, the skipper would stop at strategic places for us to snorkel and dive in. Water was very clear but the fish seemed to be very scarce. Despite the calm waters, my wife started to feel a little sick which having her jump in the water actually helped her.
During every trip, I try to pause at different intervals and take in the beauty of what surrounds me. I try to truly appreciate what I have and the people I share it with. I always mention on how Time is important and we all have to take a step back from our every day rat race and appreciate it. I’ve realized the more I understand this, the more I enjoy the very simple things in life. Gorgeous morning ended with the boat docking and after both lunch and supper for our last day, we pack up to start our second half of our adventure. Praiano, Amalfi coast, here we come.
We thought we had our share of climbing steps in Tropea, but what was ahead of us in Praiano, no one ever imagined it!
Upon arriving the area of Praiano, we noticed that our GPS was going crazy trying to constantly recalculate. As if the place was non-existent. We come to realize that our villa is nestled along a mountain side that has no automobile road access but only a pedestrian access. We had to park our cars at one location and then descend to our villa via the hundreds of steps that zigzagged along the mountain side.
We finally parked our cars and met with our contact, Norman. He showed us the villa and all amenities and upon leaving, he offered a boat ride at a discounted price to visit Capri. Since it was on our list of sites to visit, we scheduled the excursion.
Here is the moment I mentioned earlier that I try to pause and take in the beauty of my surroundings. This was it. A villa perched along the mountain side overlooking the ocean. Flowers alongside the window frames yielding to “v” formed channels of white water streams behind boats that slowly ride the calm ocean waters.
While the view is spectacular being on the cliff of mountains, the steps we’ve climbed were in abundance.
After settling in, we head to the local food market to stock up on several items that will get us through breakfast and lunch for the coming days. Even a trip down to the local market becomes exciting since the local’s social habits become so contagious. A chore of buying some fresh produce that should take 5 minutes, ends up taking 35 minutes. It seems they have a winning formula to avoid any stress. They talk, and talk, and talk! Their hand gestures are comical and they seem to have no concept of time. Just beautiful.
La Moressa was the restaurant we ate at that evening and it couldn’t have been a better selection. A platform suspended at a mountain edge giving it a spectacular view of the ocean. How tasty can supper be with basic ingredients? Somehow they figured out the trick and everyone enjoyed their meal.
After a relaxing evening and a peaceful sleep, our day starts with a nice walk to the beach. The beach was nestled between two mountains and despite looking quite small, we managed to find space and enjoy the day.
Late afternoon, we take a local bus to Positano and walk the cobble streets. There are many gorgeous places around the world and if this place is not ranked amongst the top ten, then that list is not accurate at all.
Winding streets with cascading flowers along building sides give way to pebble filled beaches. Everyone minding their own business, yet everyone talking to each other. Pockets of groups enjoying supper, gelato and fashion stores. Everyone seems in a good mood and excitement fills the air. Vespas buzzing left right and center, and if one is not attentive, you may get them so close that the only thing that separates you from their wheel is a fine piece of hair. They mean no harm, and despite wanting to control the chaos, you just become like them and simply enjoy the moment.
Bus back to Praiano and sip down a Limocello on our terrace looking out in the distance. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay out too long for the mosquitos had their final say.
Our plan was to visit Capri from Praiano which would avoid driving to Positano and then boarding a ferry. All seemed great the first day we arrived since the opportunity arose and booked a beautiful boat directly from our Villa. This package would involve a boat and skipper at our disposal from 9 am to about 4 pm. From when we booked it, our minds couldn’t stop thinking of the fun we would have. A full day on a boat living the life of celebrities. We had it all planned; dress to kill – music play list ready – glasses – even change of bathing suits for some of us.
Morning comes and despite the weather looking a little cloudy, we stuck to our guns and hoped for the best.
From the distance we spot a boat swaying side to side being totally challenged by mother nature. With some difficulty mooring the boat to the port side, we had to jump on deck like a group of Navy Seals performing a rescue mission. Calculated with every wave, we leap in one at a time. Under normal circumstances, or actually under normal common sense, no one in their right mind would attempt this ride. We waited so long for this that nothing would stop us now! Yeah RIGHT!
Within the first 5 minutes, despite the 15 foot swells, we were all getting accustomed to the drastic movements. Needless to say, mother nature had different plans for us. Many got sick on board and with the skipper notifying us that docking in Capri won’t be possible, our mission was aborted.
Head back to shore, disembark with even more challenges and after several laid down to get back on track, we slowly climb hundreds of steps back to our villa. Mission aborted! Oh well, there will be another time.
I always say that everything in our lives happens for a reason and as we settle in the villa, we get a call that our cousins from Cassino are in town to visit us. The evening was very entertaining as we all drove to Amalfi for supper and walking in town simply assured us that Amalfi and its neighbouring villages are breathtaking.
During our stay in Praiano, we also experienced a major down pour. For over an hour, the rain was so intense that we all ran into this small souvenir shop. Making it all part of the experience, it was amazing on how the rain was flowing down all the steep steps. The current was flushing everything in its path. Several hours later, all was dry as if it hadn’t rained for months.
That afternoon, after the down pour, we head to Positano again via local bus. My brother Johnny and his family stay around the area whereas Antoinette, Robert, Anna and myself take a ferry to Capri.
The remaining 2 days of the trip involved both Capri and Naples, with the last night in Rome. Seeing both places have their own style, I figured of elaborating more deeply with their respective blogs.
We fast forward to our last night and before arriving in Rome, we spend a few hours at a shopping mall. Seeing we had some troubles in locating the hotel, we arrive fairly late. All with an empty stomach, the hotel front desk suggests a local restaurant called La Pecora Nera. Their suggestion was spot on! Local eatery, family owned with the owner’s mother and grandmother behind the kitchen. The food was amazing and their willingness to satisfy us was so commendable. They surprised us with home made delicious sugar-coated doughnuts on the house. Italian hospitality at its best.
A fantastic trip to further convince me that Italy is one true gem.