Monday, November 30, 2015

NaBloPoMo Wrap-Up

Amazingly enough, I have made it. NaBloPoMo triumph, for the first time in three years.

Unfortunately November 30 falls on Cyber Monday this year, and I've been consumed today with starting my Christmas shopping and decluttering/decorating my house instead of blogging. I was going to conclude the month with a "Things I Learned" post, but I'm just not feeling it. And I could put up a traditional Monday gratitude post...but I just did a 100-item gratitude list less than a week ago.

So...the anticlimactic ending to my month of blogging is, I'm afraid, one of those cheater "I did it" posts, without much substance. I'm going to add a lovely coffee photo, because it doesn't really fit with any of my Italy posts and doesn't merit a post all its own, but it needs to be shared:


On the day we left Naples, we checked out of our B&B too early to get breakfast there, so we grabbed coffee and pastries at the train station. I learned that gianduia basically means Nutella (chocolate + hazelnut) and is *delicious* as a cappuccino flavor. Yes please.

I have no idea who out there is enjoying my Italy posts and who is just wishing I would shut up about it already...but I was kidding myself to think 31 posts would suffice. I haven't even gotten to Florence yet, and we spent the most time there!

So the pace is about to slow up quite a bit with the usual December craziness, but I hope to finish up the Italy travelogue in the next month. Still to come: the typical Florence highlights (Galleria degli Uffizi, the Duomo, the Accademia, Piazzale Michelangelo, Palazzo Vecchio) and a wine and food tour in the Chianti region--plus lots more gorgeous churches and some reflections on that. Thanks for reading along--and if you're sick to death of Italy, check back in January :)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Return to La Tradizione

Having spent all day Saturday hiking on the Amalfi Coast, we had planned to eat dinner in Sorrento. But we were tired and nothing particularly struck our fancy, so Steve suggested we take the train back to Portici and go to La Tradizione again, since our first time had been so great. Best idea ever.

This time we arrived around 9:00PM, and the place was packed--we didn't even know if we'd be able to get a table, and we certainly didn't expect extra attention. But we were seated right away, and as the host led us to our table, Luigi passed us and gave us an enthusiastic "Welcome back! Welcome back!"

Steve decided to order a bottle of wine instead of the usual quarter-liter or half-liter, and when Luigi himself came to take our order, his response to Steve's wine choice was, "Wow." After we finished ordering and he walked away, I said, "What did you just order?!" I was so afraid that somehow, with the language barrier, he had just accidentally selected a 100€ bottle or something.

So when Luigi returned with the bottle of wine, Steve asked him how much it cost. Luigi was a bit confused ("Don't you know? You ordered it...") but got a menu and showed Steve: 24€. Steve asked why he had said "Wow!", and Luigi explained that it was a very good choice, an excellent wine. He then poured just a tiny drop in each of our glasses, and said he had to take the bottle back to the kitchen for ten minutes.

In the meantime, we enjoyed our appetizer: bruschetta con pomodorini. I basically could not get enough bruschetta. 

We also had our pasta course: bucatini alla Don Salvatore. It was the hollow spaghetti (which are so hard to eat!) with sausage, provolone, parmesan, tomatoes, and something else listed as pendolo on the menu, which Google Translate helpfully says is "pendulum." Right, thanks. Anyway, it was SO good. 

Luigi eventually came back with our wine, and Steve asked what he'd done with it back in the kitchen. After rephrasing (his English was very good, but we still struggled a bit here and there), he understood the question and explained that he'd had to decant it. He spent time telling us all about the wine, where it came from, the type of grapes, why he doesn't mark it up as much as other restaurants, etc. Then somewhere in the midst of all that, the power went out in the restaurant. Total darkness.

We didn't expect to hear from Luigi after that; clearly he had more pressing things to attend to than a conversation about wine with us. His restaurant was packed and had no light or air conditioning. Yet incredibly, the kitchen continued bringing out food as normal. Our meat course was misto di carne alla brace (mixed grilled meats--four kinds of grilled beef and pork), which honestly wasn't fabulous. Not bad, just a little lacking in flavor. And we also had misto di verdure alla griglia (mixed grilled vegetables)--also OK.

The power wasn't coming back on, so we propped up my phone with its flashlight on in order to be able to see what we were eating:

The infamous bottle of wine
Much to our surprise, a while later, Luigi returned. Even though the power was still out and the restaurant was packed, he came back to finish his conversation with us! He chatted with us about wine and then explained why the power had gone out (Italian politics--fascinating). 

And then he sent us a complimentary dessert! I don't know what it was called, but I think it was essentially a deconstructed cannoli--fried pastry and sweet cream, stacked instead of rolled and filled. Terrible picture, of course, because I had to use my flash in the darkness of the restaurant!

The price for all that--an appetizer, a bottle of good wine, two entrees, a vegetable side dish (and dessert!)--was 59€ (about $65). Total. That included a cover charge, and tipping isn't a thing in Italy, so that was it. What in the world?! We easily would have paid $100 for a comparable restaurant meal here. And Luigi actually knocked it down to 55€ because of the power outage.

Steve and I sat there staring at the receipt, marveling at the price, and when Luigi spotted us studying it, he immediately came over to ask if there was a problem. We explained that we were just pleasantly surprised by how inexpensive it was, and he chatted with us all about his philosophy of pricing and said something like, "I don't have a nice view. I don't have parking. I realize you can go to places that have these things." I said to him, "Well, the hospitality and the food more than make up for that."

Clearly that made his day :) He walked away with a big grin saying, "Thank you! Thank you!"

Of course we had to get a picture with Luigi before we left. I for sure look like a hot mess in this photo--it was nearly 11PM after a day of hiking, a windy boat ride, a long train ride and then sitting in a hot restaurant--but it still makes me smile so much because this man was just the epitome of Italian hospitality. So, so fun.

I wish we could drive more traffic to his restaurant, but the reality is, it's in Portici. Very few tourists have any reason to go there. Gosh they are missing out though! My only regret is that we didn't even try the pizza, which was being made up front in this oven:  

Kicking myself for that missed opportunity. Alas. La Tradizione! Totally worth a special stop if you ever find yourself on the Circumvesuviana train between Naples and Sorrento. It's only a couple of blocks from the Portici via Libertà station and you won't regret the detour. Tell Luigi we sent you :) 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Campania Day 6: Positano and Sorrento

After finishing our hike on Sentiero Degli Dei, our main goal was to get to Sorrento by ferry in time to explore Sorrento a bit and then catch one of the last Circumvesuviana trains back to our B&B. We bought tickets for the 5:00 ferry and then had a couple of hours to relax in Positano.

We were pretty hungry after all that hiking, so we wandered into a waterfront hotel called Covo dei Saraceni for a late lunch.
Steve ordered a limoncello, the famous liquor of the region. It is supposed to be served ice-cold, but this one wasn't. Whew, was it ever strong.

We ordered focaccia caprese--definitely one of the most beautiful meals we ate in Italy. It was refreshing and delicious.

And of course I had to have some gelato :)

A view of Covo dei Saraceni from the water:

I wanted to wade in the Mediterranean just to say I had...

But the beach was awful! There was no sand, just tiny rocks, and they were so painful to walk on barefoot!
Looking up at Positano from the water

Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta

The water had so many brilliant shades of turquoise and blue:

I would have loved to see more of Positano, but we had to get to Sorrento and eat dinner early enough to make sure we didn't miss our train to Portici. The ferry was a great way to travel--we got seats on the top deck and enjoyed sitting, relaxing, and cooling off with the sea breeze while taking in the coast. Here's Positano as seen from the water:

After Positano, the rest of the coastline around the Sorrentine peninsula is pretty barren. The water was a stunning inky blue-black:

The Isle of Capri

Finally we reached Sorrento, high on the cliff overlooking the water:

The main thing I wanted to see in Sorrento was intarsia, a woodworking technique the city is famous for. We wandered around looking for a place I'd read about and also just taking in the sights...

After we'd seen a couple of shops, we found the main cathedral of Sorrento, whose wooden doors were created by some of the artisan families. It was some of the most beautiful, impressive artwork we saw in Italy. Unfortunately I was unable to take photos inside and could not find any on Flickr; you can see some on the cathedral's official website

The restaurant Lonely Planet had talked about in Sorrento didn't seem to be an actual restaurant, only a shop, so we wandered around aimlessly, not sure where to eat dinner. 

Finally Steve suggested we just head back to Portici early and eat dinner at La Tradizione again--and that turned out to be the best possible idea. But first, we had to take the Circumvesuviana train back. I thought this artwork on one of the trains was fun:

And that was the end of our time on the Amalfi Coast/Sorrentine peninsula. One more meal in Campania and then off to Tuscany!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Sentiero Degli Dei: Nocelle to Montepertuso to Positano

Once we finished the main part of the Sentiero Degli Dei hike, we continued on paved roads and through villages for about two more miles from Nocelle to Positano.

In between is the village of Montepertuso:

Montepertuso is Italian for "hole in the mountain"--you can just barely see where the name comes from on the left side of this photo:

Here's a better close-up I found on Flickr:
photo: flickr/the-consortium

In Montepertuso, we stopped at a charming little restaurant along the route called Il Ritrovo. One of the great things about hiking with Gabriella was that she has lived in Positano her whole life, and between that and all the hikes she leads, she has developed relationships with people all along the trail.

This restaurant is owned by friends of her family, so Gabriella popped in to get some free biscotti for us to try!

Then the owner offered us little samples of granita limone--lemon slush, so refreshing:

And as if that weren't enough, they gave us complimentary snacks: sauteed zucchini and onions, bruschetta, and a fresh fig!

After that fun, delicious break, we continued on toward Positano. Here's one more view of Montepertuso, from the other side of the village:

The rest of the hike was perhaps the most difficult part--the only walking of all the miles we walked in Italy that gave me a (small) blister. Down, down, down hundreds of steps...

Here you can see SS163, the famous Amalfi Coast road we had driven on in the disastrous taxi ride:

Positano, closer now:

Gabriella, our lovely guide who was so full of interesting information:

At the edge of Positano, Gabriella helped us get oriented, gave us a few of the cookies to try, and then said goodbye. We continued on down to find lunch and dip our toes in the Mediterranean before catching a ferry to Sorrento.
Just a few more stairs. Whew.