Italy

sweet memories


Ran across this article in the Post about Praiano, Italy, the little village we stayed in Italy when we were there for Vince and Kate’s wedding in 2003. The article is spot on, and brought back the memories of the entire trip. It mentioned everything: Bar de Sole, the language barrier, the stairs, Padre Pio…

It’s funny, I was just thinking about our trip not that long ago.

What’s particularly interesting is that the Details article that accompanies the main article mentions the market we frequented. Given what happened to me on our last day, well, you decide if you want to go shopping there. I don’t think I will again. The trip as a whole was amazing though and the village was just about perfect.

[Relive our whole trip in the travelblog and the gallery.]

Italy, June 2003, Day 8 Part 2

Now that we have all the necessary souvenirs, Brendan, Geoff and I head off to Rome in the BMW. Keith and his mom, Gail are staying an extra week and are traveling to Rome by train since there’s not enough room for all of our stuff in the car. (Ask Keith how the Tower of Pisa was…)

Bren and I have made reservations in advance at a hotel right near the airport. Geoff hasn’t got any, but figures he can probably get a room at the same hotel. He can, but it’s in the hostel room, which has three beds, a shared bathroom and no AC. Our room though has air conditioning so we crank it up and lounge around for a few minutes.

We don’t really have a whole lot of time, but since we’re so close to Rome, we have to go in. We first decide to wait for the bus that stops at the corner, but it doesn’t seem to be coming that often and it’s really really hot out. So, we decide to drive to the airport (since we have to figure out how to do that anyway), and take the train into the city. This train is easy enough to figure out, it’s the metro that gives us all sorts of problems. The machines that dispense fare cards are finicky. Extreme pain in the ass. Then you take the card, and put it through another machine and it stamps the time and date on it. Then you get on the metro. I take the DC metro every day, so it’s not like it’s terribly complex, but the doors on the metro car don’t automatically open, you’ve got to press a button. Well, we can’t get the one to work at the Coliseum stop, so we end up getting off at the next one and then trying to find our way.

It’s not all that difficult, the Coliseum is an easy thing to spot.

The whole thing amazes me. You see something on TV all the time, and then once you get there it’s just breathtaking. The rocks and the stone are what really impress me. Just thinking about how centuries of people have walked on them and worn them down is just awe inspiring. I’m walking up the same stairs as some of history’s most important people. It just blows my mind.

And the sheer engineering that had to go into everything!

The forum which is down the old Roman road from the Coliseum is pretty fascinating as well.

Old buildings and stones are everywhere. I can’t help but think about how young the US is at times like this.

We try and hook up with Keith and Gail who should be in their hotel by now, but are unsuccessful, so we have a late lunch and take the metro (without getting new tickets, just hoping we don’t get caught with invalid passes) and the train back to the car and then to the hotel.

The next day is pretty uneventful, except that Bren and I almost missed our connection in Heathrow. The line through customs was painfully long, and then there was a shuttle bus ride to the other terminal, a run to the ticket counter where we were told that they just made a last call for our seats and we’ve just made it, another run to the gate all the way at the end of the hall, and then being seated in the very back of the plane. So, always, always leave at least two hours for transfers at Heathrow. An hour is not nearly enough.

Italy, June 2003, Day 8 Part 1

I’m splitting day 8 into two posts since there’s two separate stories to tell. What happened before we left Praiano, and then our afternoon in Rome.

It’s just about time to leave Praiano. Take one last look of those views…

While Keith and Brendan pack the car, Geoff, Gail and I go to the market for one last time to get some water and snacks for the ride to Rome. The old man at the market makes sure to say goodbye. In retrospect, he is very thurough in his check that we are really leaving town for good.

Then once I get back to the car, I realize that I forgot the lemoncello. We cannot leave without that. So I go back to the store (alone) to pick up a few bottles. “Bella,” the old man says. “You’re back!”

“Lemoncello,” I say.

“Come,” he says looking at me waving his arms, like he wants to give me a hug. No big deal I think, we was a helpful guy this week. He was nice to all of us. So I go over, bottles in hand to give him a little hug. Next thing I know I’m getting kissed on the mouth, he’s got one hand on my ass and the other on my right boob. Blech. I still get grossed out and can still feel it, in all it’s whiskery hideousness every single time I tell the story. He was such a sweet old man, and now, forever in my memory he’s a stereotypical Italian perv.

As I pushed him off of me I realize, the whole town is in the store seeing all of this happen. And then, I’ve got to wait in line to pay for the lemoncello, because I’ll be damned if this stops me from taking some home. So I stand in line for what seems like and eternity to pay old man’s wife. She gives me this mean look like I was the one who did something wrong. I just wanted to yell at her and say, “Listen, it was your husband who did that, not me!”

So when I got back to the car I said, “Don’t ever make me go back there. Ever.” Then I proceeded to tell everyone what just happened and they laughed and laughed. I just kept drinking water and occasionally getting disgusted…

Blech.

Italy, June 2003, Day 7

Drove to Sorrento and took a ferry across the Bay of Naples to Capri. Once we got to the island, it became clear that we were going to have to hire a car to take us around. The main cities, Capri Town and Anacapri, are way up a hill. You can see the harbor where we arrived in this picture. We did start to walk, but we just couldn’t do it. Our exhaustion coupled with the short amount of time we had on the island meant we had to hire a car. It turned out to be the best thing we could have done. Someone (Keith?) bargained us a good deal.

The main square in Capri Town, the Piazza Umberto, is quite nice. There are all sorts of fancy shops around. If only we could shop at them! Cartier. Chanel. Everyone is so fashionable. It’s too hot for me to really care too much.

I end up preferring Anacapri. It’s quieter and less pretentious. If I had to live on the island (which is terribly expensive), I’d live here. We don’t really have too much time to explore, though. Our driver is just running us around before we have to go back to the boat. We did have enough time to go shopping. Bren and I picked up some souvenirs for the family, I got a new purse since mine got trashed on the plane to Heathrow and Keith found himself a nice Italian magazine.

Of course we had to see these, the Faraglioni. Then it was back to the boat.

Later on that night, we went back to L’Africana. This time, we went a little bit later, but it really wasn’t too much better. It could have been so cool! Apparently, we were too early in the summer season for it to be packed (with tourists of course). There were some Aussies who were also on the coast for a wedding. They got naked and went for a swim — so it was at least more interesting than the night before. Plus, we had money for the poor parking attendant, so we tipped him extra well. He seemed a little bewildered. I don’t know that he remembered us.

Italy, June 2003, Day 6

We did a little more exploration on this day. First, we went to the Emerald Grotto.

We took an elevator from street level deep into the ground where it was nice and cool. About a dozen of us got into a little row boat with our Chilean guide. He took us around and showed us the stalagmites and stalactites. It was a lot like Luray Caverns in VA in that the rock formations are said to look like things — like the one that resembled Ronald Reagan.

As our guide moved to the edge of the grotto, where the light was coming in underneath the water, the reason the grotto was named the Emerald Grotto became quite clear. The more the water was rippled and the light was refracted, the greener the water appeared. Quite stunning actually. Photos didn’t really come out because it was so dark.

Then, he took us over to a shallow place on the side: “¬°Milagro! ¬°Milagro!”, he said “look there is a natural forming nativity scene!” (photo is above) We got quite a kick out of that. But the best was the woman from Pittsburgh who was sitting next to me and said something like, “That doesn’t look natural, it’s painted.” But she totally thought the rocks were real, just that they had faces painted on them. And it was her second time through!

Then after we visited the gift shop, we went to the beach. Like I said earlier, the walk to the beach was torturous. But we made sure to take a lot of water with us. We’d gotten smart and had started to keep half bottles of water in the freezer, so it stayed plenty cold. The water was so amazing. It was warm and clear. You could see way down to the rocks on the bottom. Since we could see them, it seemed like we should be able to stand on them. Not the case. All the locals were so incredibly brown. Now, I normally feel like a pale white girl, but here it was very apparent. Everyone seemed to be staring at us.

Later on in the night, we went to the nightclub L’Africana:

The Night-club “L’Africana”, which can be approached by a path excavated in the rock dropping to the sea, was the seat of a cultural meeting-place in the Fifties and in the Sixties. The memory of the merry nights of dancers and singers, of the short-lived and passionate loves of actresses and Latin lovers is still alive…1

Everything I had read about this place seemed really cool. A club set deep in a cave, with an entrance for boats. Glass floors with fish swimming underneath. So we decide to go, and when we get there, everyone but Brendan gets out of the car as an older gentleman tells him where to park. Brendan ends up sort of hitting the guy as the car is a manual and it lurches forward (I think, some say backwards). We quickly hurry into the entrance where we pay a whole lot of money to get in, but we get a free drink. No one has any small change to give the poor parking attendant.

Then we are escorted down an elevator to the club — where it’s painfully obvious we’re going to be just about the only ones there for the night. Another guy takes us on a little tour of the place. In it’s heyday it must have been really cool. The seats are really low along the wall, and the view of the water out the back of the club is very nice. So we decide that we are out early (10pm) for Europeans, so we’ll give it a couple of hours. Even the DJ gives up and just leaves on a Lionel Richie (!) album. Then, it’s midnight and we decide to leave. The bill for our drinks is pretty large so Geoff and Keith go to complain about it… and then they meet the owner. He’s such an old gangster. Really. People come by and he has his own little table and he leans over and talks in their ears, they kiss his hand and walk away. He lowers our bill, and gives us free admission the next night.

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Italy, June 2003, Day 5

Mostly pictures this recap. Not only did Vince have a rough night, but others did as well! But, by the time it mattered, everyone was fine.


Vince.


Brendan and I.


Keith.


All of the boys recovered nicely.


Kate looked absolutely stunning (Admittedly, this photo is from after the wedding, but she looks so nice…). And the chapel was the perfect size for the dozen of us that were there.


The ceremony went smoothly but,


we all had to make Vince and Kate pause so we could all take pictures of them


as they left the chapel.


The reception afterwards was just as nice as it could be. We all sat around in a square and course after course arrived. I wish we had taken photos of them all because each one was presented so well.

Kate’s sister Meghan gave a really nice toast, and so did Keith. Then, inspired earlier in the day, Brendan read a little poem he wrote and made everyone cry. He’s a real softie sometimes. Don’t tell anyone. Geoff drew a little cartoon for them, too. (Yes, we got them other gifts too, but they got those after we all got home.)

After the reception, Brendan, Geoff, Keith and I went to the hotel in Positano where Vince and Kate were staying and had a bottle of champagne sent up to their room. I know the explaining to the concierge there was difficult, but since I was waiting outside, I can’t say exactly how it all happened. Confusing, I think would be an accurate word for it. Eventually, everything got straightened out and the champagne made it to Vince and Kate’s room.

Not sure if we just collapsed from exhaustion afterwards or had yet more lemoncello once we got back to the apartment. It’s not really important anyway.

Italy, June 2003, Day 4

Since we did not meet up with Vince as planned in Pompeii, we had to come up with an alternate plan. We knew that he and Kate will be at the chapel meeting with the priest at some point in the day.

We knew what the Hall of Justice chapel looks like and the name (San Pietro) so we set off to try and find it in Positano proper. However, we can’t find it or anyone who knows where it is!

We also knew that the rehersal dinner (although no there is no official rehersal) tonight. But had no idea where that was, either — not even the name of the restaurant. What we do know is the name of the hotel where the wedding reception is going to be, so we head from Positano to the hotel. The concierge does not know how to reach Vince and Kate but he does have the wedding planner’s card. At least we have something (although still no phone that works). As we are walking out of the hotel to the car the van containing Vince, Kate and Kate’s family drives by!

So they stop and we find out that they thought we were meeting at the train station in Pompeii. They were there all day waiting for us. For eight hours they waited. They were even at both stations at either end of Pompeii.

We also learn that the chapel is on the road between Priaino and Positano and that we drive by it all the time!

It just blends in well. The chapel is the top square of the ivy covered building. (EDIT: No it’s not) From here, you can see the church in Priaino and perhaps the house we stayed in (although I’m not sure now which one it may be). You can also get a sense of how long our walk to the beach was — at least using the full version of the photo — if you look across the balcony on the backside of the chapel hotel, you can see some little buildings built into the rocks. Just below them is the beach.

We decide that Vince will come back with us after dinner at Da Enzos tonight. Actually, the restaurant is called Cucina Casareccia da Vincenzo, but we find it just fine.

Dinner is so good. There’s just tons of food; it just keeps coming. At some point there was a scramble for Lactaid for Keith but he tells that story much better than I ever could.

After dinner, we all drive in the McGinley Euro-van to our car which is parked way on the other side of town. We take Vince all the way down the miles of stairs to the apartment to drop off his stuff (or maybe some of us do and some of us stay at the top of the hill, I can’t recall). At any rate, we all end up at the Bar Del Sol where hang out for a while. Then we go back for lemoncello.

This is where things get interesting. Most of these quotes were from this night, Vince’s big night. We all drank a whole lot, and lord knows I said some pretty dumb things, but Vin really had a rough night. His wedding was the next day, but not until 6 so he was fine by then.

Most of the funny stuff happened just after this happened:

bathroom

Vince came out of the all in one bathroom soaking wet and in this heavy, fake Italian accent said:

“Uno, I fell asleep on the toilet. Due, I turned the shower on myself because I thought I [sic] was the doorknob.”

and then:
“I didn’t say ‘Doot Doot’ and think I was the doorknob!”

and then:
“…and then the shower was spuh — itting on me…”

Poor Vince.

Italy, June 2003, Day 3

Originally, the plan was to pick up Keith and Gail in Rome, give Vince one phone and then meet up with him in Pompeii. That of course, didn’t happen.

Since the car is practically the only place where there is any air conditioning, everyone in the backseat falls asleep.

Once we arrive, we take out the cell phones. Vince still hasn’t called. One phone through a freak series of button presses locked itself and became unusable. The other has no time left, there isn’t even enough money left on it to call and add more money! We decide that the way this trip is going, we’ll just run into him in the ruins. Since we just ran into Keith and Gail at the airport, and somehow found Pepino. Plus, hell, we’re in freaking Pompeii!

The old city is pretty much just in the middle of the current city of Pompeii. There’s just a big fence around it. Before we even get our tickets a guy at gate tries to be our guide. Basically tells us we’re fools for going it alone.

We took an insane amount of pictures in Pompeii, but there is so much to see here.

There were some places where you could wander around in the ruins, and some more intricate homes with paintings on the walls, and columns in the courtyards that you couldn’t walk in. Mostly it was just like any city, with tenements and wealthy sections, bars, entertainment venues. It’s just eerily quiet and still dusty. There were moments when I felt like the volcano had just erupted. But maybe that was just the heat. I did get a little sick and dehydrated because of it. There were practically no trees, just dust and stone.

We did have a few things on our itinerary to see:

The forum with Mt. Vesuvius in the background.

The ampitheater.

The gates to the city.

Petrified body.

Stadium.

There were these dogs that roamed around and a couple of them had taken up residence in the governor’s house. Gail went up to one of them, that seemed to be blind in one eye, and as she got close and reached out her hand to pet it (it was a huge St. Bernard looking dog) it barked and snapped and almost got her. (Unfortunately, no pictures of the dogs.)

Once we were finished with the city, we walked around outside of the fences looking for Vince. But nothing. What else could we do? We decided to go back home, and figure out something then.

Sorry, you’ll have to wait the recap of day 4 to find out what happened to Vince!

Italy, June 2003, Day 2

In the morning, we go to the market. The market is run by what you might consider a typical Italian family. The old man runs the place and he doesn’t speak much English. He helps us pick out produce. His wife works behind the counter. Most items you have to ask for and she’ll get it for you, bread, cereal etc. Their son also works behind the counter. He must carry boxes and crates all day. The old man is short, comes up to my shoulders probably, and hunched over all the time. His wife is also short and stocky with cropped brown hair and unshaven armpits. But they seem genuinely nice. He helps us pick out produce and she tries to understand our broken Italian. She counts out our change very deliberately as to teach us.

The Amalfi coast is known for its lemons. They are as big as grapefruits! They also had tons of other fruit: types of cherries I’d never seen before, nectarines, apples, oranges that were also massive.

We bought some fruit, bread and gallons of water. The heat is unbelievable. Our apartment has no air conditioning and it’s beginning to get oppressive. The entire town shuts down from around noon until three. There is a breeze coming off the water that cools things some.

The apartment has two floors. You walk in off the “street” (which is actually an alley or sidewalk, but they all have street names) onto the second floor. To the right of the door is Geoff’s room and the bathroom. Directly across from the entrance is our room and next to ours Keith and Gail’s room (which also has a bathroom). Our room and the adjoining room open out to the second story balcony. Geoff is not so lucky. But that’s what he gets for arriving a day late.

Downstairs there is a sitting area to the left of the stairs. Immediately behind the sitting area is the third bathroom. The entire thing was tiled dark blue. It contained a toilet, what seemed to be an ill-functioning bidet, a sink and a shower. The shower was just a drain in the tile floor, a nozzle and a couple knobs on the wall. No divides or anything.

The dining area to the immediate right. With the small kitchen behind it. The best thing about the kitchen was the toaster. Instead of being like a standard toaster where the bread pops up, it had two baskets on handles that you lowered in. Very nice since the bread was a lot smaller than I am used to.

Then farther back another sitting area. The couch there was actually a sleeper, but no one used it for that.

All of the rooms downstairs opened up to the first floor patio.

Being geniuses, we decide to take a walk to the beach in the early afternoon/late morning. It looks like it would be really close, but no. It’s down miles and miles of stairs.

But the views on the way down are just breathtaking. And the Italians are very smart and put in a drinking fountain on the way down the largest hill. Plus the walls of the stairs are just the right height to sit on. The way back is a little rough, but we make it.

Today, Brendan and Keith had to go to Sorrento and pick Geoff up at the train station. They were so proud of themselves, they got to the station all kinds of early, and so they got a prime parking spot and went to wait for the train to come. It arrived (on time even) and no Geoff. Then they realized, they were one town away from Sorrento proper.

So back on the road and they park again and find Geoff waiting at the station. They help him with his bags and walk him to the car. All the time they are telling him about how crappy the place that we rented is. How there’s no AC etc. and then they get to the beemer and Bren says “Well this is us.” Geoff doesn’t believe it, and then Brendan pops the trunk. There is much celebration. Of course then Geoff finds out that in fact, the place rocks.

We decide that we should all go out to a nice restaurant in town. We all eat a whole lot since we’ve been sweating and going up and down stairs for the past few days (which doesn’t change a whole lot the entire trip). All I really remember about dinner is that there wasn’t a whole lot of butter around, but the olive oil and basil was wonderful. And then dessert, we had a sampling of some local pastries. Of my favorite, a light cake with lemon creme filling and icing I said, “It tastes like eating lemon air.” Which inspired Keith to start keeping track of interesting quotes from the trip.

After dinner, we went back to the apartment and drank a lot of lemoncello. Lemoncello is meant to be drunk in small amounts after dinner. It is best when it’s very very cold. Essentially it’s made of grain alcohol, lemon zest and sugar. Strong stuff to say the least. Keith and I got into this heated discussion of God and science and I gave him my second brilliant quote of the evening: “I’m smarter than everyone, and you all know it!”

Italy, June 2003, Day 1 (ish)

Last year at this time we were driving to our apartment/villa in Praiano.

It seems so long ago — of course, I’m not the one who got married. I’m sure Vince and Kate feel like it was just yesterday and so long ago all at the same time.

I’m just trying to recall day one…

We spent a lot of time in the airport waiting to get our car. We didn’t spend nearly as much time as Vince and Kate and their families, though. Things started off planned and then as the week went on, those plans just slipped apart. We were smart and got ourselves two European cell phones so that we could be in touch. When Bren and I were getting off the plane we had a message from Keith that Kate’s dad’s luggage was misplaced and they were trying to find it so they were still in the airport. Now, Bren and I were a good three hours behind them, but you guessed it, everyone was still in the airport. This was actually good news for us. Originally Bren and I were going to go pick up Keith and his mother Gail at Kate and Vince and Kate’s family’s hotel in Rome. What we didn’t know is that it was in a historic district so we wouldn’t have been able to drive in anyway.

As fate would have it, they were at a luggage belt just a few down from us so we met up with Keith and Gail and went to get the car. But before we got there, while we were on the phone with Keith, Vince and Kate left and Vince apparently said (this is a fact of great dispute to this day) “See you in Pompeii at the train station.” (Part two of our Grand Master Plan was to meet Vince in Pompeii on the two days before his wedding so that he could hang out with us his last nights as a bachelor. Didn’t exactly happen that way.)

Also, even though it was insanely hot, there wasn’t any air conditioning in the airport.

There were going to be six of us on a few days and five on most so we took a chance and reserved a midsize hatchback. They didn’t have any left so they gave us a Passat wagon. Nice, right? So we go from the rental car counter to the parking garage to get the keys and the car. Except that they gave the Passat to the woman in front of us. Both reservations happened at nearly identical times or something. So, we sent Brendan back to the counter. Meanwhile, there’s another couple, not American, maybe German, in the garage waiting for a car. They throw a huge fit and so the guy says to them well, you can have this tiny little Peugeot hatchback right now. They take it and drive off in a huff. Then, Brendan comes back with this huge grin on his face and walks us right to a navy blue BMW 5 series with tan leather interior. That’s what happens when you are nice, kids, you get to drive this:

on some of Europe’s most scenic roads.

Finally finding the guy, Pepino, who was to give us the keys and take us to the apartment was also a small adventure. He didn’t speak much English and kept hanging up on me when I’d call him. “I’m at the Del Sol” is what he actually said, but it sounded much more mangled. Then he’d say “You understand?” and I’d say no and he’d hang up! Fortunately town was very small.

He unloaded our car on the side of the road and then showed Bren where to park. They came down the massive hill on his scooter and Brendan was clinging on for dear life! Then we took off down the ramp past a restaurant and then to a square where there was a church.

And then back around the side (past the obligatory statue of Padre Pio) down at least 90 more stairs until we finally reached our apartment.

The walk was well worth it. This was our view:

I don’t think I could ever get tired of that view. Ever.

We had just enough time to run to the market before it closed and buy some bread, pasta, sauce and water. We were fortunate to be in the store at the same time as an American family who seemed to live there. Bren and Keith were busy talking with the parents trying to figure out what we should get. I wasted no time and asked their 10 year old son what he liked to eat — Barilla pasta! So we had a meal that we could have made at home.

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all the photos are in the gallery.

Disclaimer.

Brendan joined the party on January 2, 2004. He's cool now.

Jessica has never been cool. She is OK with that.

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