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Life in Firenze

We have been living in Firenze for a month now; two weeks in a rustic hillside house and two weeks in an palace apartment.  You would think with so much time, I would be writing about our experiences.  When we are home, I am enjoying relaxing and reflecting on the day.  I plan to write a compendium of our experience in Firenze when we arrive back in Hercules.

We are having a wonderful time.  I am sure people wondered how we could endure six weeks in Florence.  Most tourists visit for a few days, four at the most, and move on.  Florence is steeped in history and its art.  It is one of the most storied cities in the world, and was home to an unrivaled list of genius’.  Every day holds something new for us: sometimes a bit of historical information, often something more contemporary.

Then there is the food.  Think of Italy and most Americans think pizza.  We have ordered our share of pizza in Italy; it is quick, tasty, and inexpensive.  It is not what I consider Italian cuisine.  I have had fresh ravioli, cone shaped and stuffed with Porchetta, bread, mussles, and pop pig.  I have no idea what pop pig is, but it was delicious. Spaghetti cacio e peppe and spaghetti alle vongole verace are both wonderful.  The antipasti can be surprisingly tasty with unusually paired flavors.  Along the coast, the seafood is marvelous.  Italian wines and artisan beers are quite easy to drink.

Everywhere we have gone we have had fun talking to the people in our small but expanding Italian vocabulary.  Most everyone speaks English, but they love to see us speak their language.  Sometimes we get a barrage of Italian in response!  Then we sheepishly have to respond in English, popping the illusion that we can actually speak Italian.  It’s fun.  We are learning every day and that’s fun too.

The food is so good and so varied, it is impossible not to gain weight.  As Antonella said over dinner last night,, “Italians do not eat like this every day.  We typically eat a light lunch, maybe a salad.”  We do not eat like this every day either, not “at home”.  Visiting Italy, now that’s an entirely different beast.  Overindulging for a week’s vacation is one thing.  We are staying for two months.  We have gained some weight.  I hate dieting, I enjoy food far too much to deny myself this simple pleasure. I do see an extensive exercise program in my future.

We have taken an massive gallery of photographs.  If I had to guess, I’d say we have taken six thousand photos and videos.  Some simply document meals and restaurants.  Some chronicle ancient ruins we have visited.  Others picture expansive views of the sea or cities we have visited.  Some are spectacular.   It takes time to sort through them, culling the best and posting those.  For now, I claim laziness! I will post photos and an in-depth description of our stay in Florence some other time.

Ciao!

Day 15, out of sequence below

A quick note.  Somehow our WiFi connection failed when Day 15 should have been posted and I did not notice it until days later.  It’s the nature of a blog that each entry is sequential, hence my re-submission of day 15 is out of chronological order.   We had a great time in Sperlonga, in fact we’ve had a great time wherever we’ve gone!

We are now in Florence and I’ve been very remiss in updating our blog.   Given a choice of enjoying Florence or writing about it, I must admit writing takes a distant second place.  We’ve had a wonderful time at the outskirts of Florence in a charming farmhouse and an equally wonderful time in San Niccolo near Oltrano.

One day I’ll feel the muse, but for now we are simply having fun re-discovering Firenze.

Our hosts have been wonderful.

Salve Firenze!

Day 15, Gaeta and Sperlonga

 

Hotel Poseidon

We had breakfast at the hotel. Fair cappuccinos, ok cornetti, good scrambled eggs and a bacon like ham thing.  We ate comfortably, meaning we did not gorge ourselves.  Photos of the hotel make it appear to sit on the water.  It is actually a block from the sea. The dining area overlooks a parking lot and the sea.

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The manager handling the breakfast buffet was two faced.  He was gracious to the guests and rude to his workers.  I think he was eastern European, though he could easily have been Italian.  He ruled the dining area with intimidation and an iron fist.

I do recommend Hotel Poseidon.  It is comfortable, close to Pompeii, close to exquisite sea food, and has a parking garage.

 

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Torre del Greco: Getting a Boat to the Marina

We left Torre del Greco for Gaeta around 10:30.  Getting out of Torre del Greco was a trip.  Our GPS guided us along the coast on a road that grew increasingly primitive.  At one point it led us to a dirt parking strip fronting a repair shop.  An ancient wall rose up to our right, the sea and old unkempt buildings to our left.  There was a very tiny opening in the wall.  That was the road.  I had to back up to negotiate that turn and the immediate left turn that followed.  Eventually we found a road that took us to the autostrada.  Did I mention driving in Italy is both fun and challenging?

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You wouldn’t think it’s a bridge, but for the tower and cables

It was a gloriously sunny day driving the coast north.  We had roughly three hours drive to get to Sperlonga. Time was tight; we decided to skip driving to Bacoli.  This way we avoided Napoli entirely.

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Mondragone, on the Road to Gaeta

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Parked in a Blue Pay Parking Space, *SAFE*

A bay curves into a point of land that is Gaeta.  Most interesting geological formations along Italy’s coast are home to ancient towns that grew into modern towns that harbor a centro storico, or historical district.  Gaeta is one of those places.

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We Parked Just Off This Small Square

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We drove into Gaeta and immediately found an expansive parking lot across from the bay.  It is Saturday, the day before Easter..  Most people are home visiting family and relatives. Great. I parked.  Another rookie mistake.  It is a better idea to drive around a small town some to reconnoiter.  Check out where the points of interest are and the scale of the town.  This works if the town is small.  It can backfire if the town is large.

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Ellen at Gaeta Along The Shore

We parked and walked along the sea promenade.  We were very hungry at this point; many (most) Italian restaurants close after lunch then open again after setting up for dinner.  We’ had been caught looking for la pranza (lunch) at 2:15 with no luck.  Not this time!  We walked by Antica Pizzeria Ciro, which was open and had lunch there.  We both ordered spaghetti vongole. We cannot get enough clams on the Italian coast!  My glass of house white wine was  “ok”, and the vongole was fresh and tasty, but probably yesterday’s catch.  While good, it was noticeably different.  There were more clams that didn’t open when cooked indicating they had died prior to going in the pot.   Lunch was just ok.

 

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Ristorante Ciro, 1923

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Spaghetti con Vongole

We had a table by the Plexiglas and canvass windows and had a wonderful view of the bay.  Toward the end of our meal, a group of six or eight people, friends of the owner arrived.  They apparently complained of the heat in the room.  The owner opened our Plexiglas/canvass window/door such that the Plexiglas rolled up and away and the canvass rolled up blocked our view.  Worse, now the bottom of our “window” was open to the wind that immediately made our table frigid.

Moments later our waiter dropped by asking if we wanted anything more, dessert, coffee, espresso…  “Yes, could you ask the owner to close our window so we don’t freeze and can see the bay?”, but of course that went unsaid.  Instead, we asked, “il conto per favore” and made as if to leave.  The waiter had watched the entire fiasco.  He actually went to the owner to mention they were losing business having the window open.  The owner could care less.  Italy has pluses and minuses.  This was a minus for us, but only because we had not engaged the owner earlier.   It was no big deal, we were planning to leave then anyway.

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What, Gaeta Has No Centro Storico?

Continuing our walk along the promenade, we first came to a marina, then parking, then a “centro storico” sign, and the old part of the city built into the hillside.  There were a few ristoranti open, some bars too. We walked the historic center and enjoyed the view from high above the sea.  Gaeta is well worth a stop for lunch and to walk the old city.  I know I will look further along the promenade and skip Ciro next time.

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Where We Should Have Parked and Eaten?

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The Fort, Gaeta, Played a Role in the Unification of Italy in 1860.

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Details of a Bell Tower of St. Erasmus, Gaeta

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Church of St Francis of Assisi, Gateta

 

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Duomo, Centro Storico

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A Stairway, Let’s See What’s Up There!

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Everywhere You Go, Stairways

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Some Stairways Are More Historic

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Find Your Place in the Sun.

The drive from Gaeta to Sperlonga is about thirty minutes.  With this in mind, we lingered in Gaeta.

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On the Road To Sperlonga

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Sperlonga from Tyberius’ Villa

The drive into Sperlonga is along narrow two way streets that are not that intimidating.  We found the hotel by driving past the street twice, parking, and using Google on our Italian phone to get us the last 100 meters. “Here is your room key, breakfast is served on floor zero.  Your room is on the 2nd floor.  Park anywhere in back.”  As with every room we have stayed in thus far, the room was clean and outfitted with brand new Italian fixtures.  We took the elevator to the 2nd floor and didn’t find room 215.  It was one floor down on the first floor.  Breakfast must have been served of floor –1!  We unpacked what we needed from what little we had and headed out to explore Sperlonga.

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A Very Nice Shower Fixture

Sperlonga has two long, beautiful beaches divided by a high spit of rock that juts into the  sea.  The old city of Sperlonga sits atop this rock and has steep narrow staircases between very old buildings.  Pathways lead to pathways that go up or down; up to the piazza or down to the sea.  There are boutique hotels and B&B’s hidden away in dead-end stairways or closed off gates. In the old town cafes and ristoranti line the piazza.  Further from the sea, is a piazza that local children use to play.  Soccer balls fly here and there, most are run down.  Children show off their skills or mess up trying a new skill.

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The Spit and Tower that Divide the two Lidos

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The More Developed and Lively North Lido, Sperlonga

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The Less Developed South Lido, Sperlonga

We walked the pathways (street conjures up the wrong image) coming to know Sperlonga’s ins and outs.  Hungry again, even after a good spaghetti lunch.  We vowed not to eat pizza tonight!  While pizza is tasty, Italy has so much more to offer.  Local cuisine varies so much from region to region, it seems a travesty to just have pizza. Eat local.

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The Slow Food Sign, Sperlonga

Sperlonga is a  “slow food” city.  Italy’s slow food movement began in Rome when McDonalds attempted to open a store right beside the Spanish Steps.  That store was opposed by residents who feel that a fast food chain is anathema to the concept of Italian life.  “Slow Food” is a movement trying to preserve the best of regional foods by encouraging the use of local ingredients and promoting cooking, eating, and enjoying a meal SLOWLY.  Piano Piano, as the Italians say.

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Stairs From the Sea to Centro Storico, Sperlonga

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Sperlonga’s Marina

I wanted to try local cuisine, but at the same time have a light meal.  It was the day before Easter and many ristorante were closed.  Then it was too early for others to open.  We walked up to the main piazza, around the upper town, then back down another route, not settling on any place to eat.

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Sperlonga’s Central Piazza

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Sunset Walking To The Sea

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Sunset on Sperlonga’s Lido Nord

Back at sea level, we walked the lido toward home, Viriglio Grand Hotel Sperlonga.  I whipped out my trusty Italian phone and looked up restaurants near me.  Up popped “Tropical Pizza” rated #1 for cheap eats.  Pizza?  Well ok.   It was busy, though we were seated quickly as were a hoard of people behind us.  The place was overflowing with good natured talk among family and friends.  They had an astounding variety of pizza.  As Julia Roberts said, “There are only two kinds of pizza, Margherita  and Margherita with double buffalo mozzarella.”  I ordered a Margherita pizza, Ellen had vegetables of her choice grilled and half of my pizza.  It seems just a bit weird to be eating pizza in a slow food town.

We were hungry and the pizza was good.  Tropical Pizza had a Tropical Bar next door that played loud music.  Inside, the pizza place played a low volume mix of Italian ballads and U.S. mellow rock (think Beach Boys).

Italy Day 13, Amalfi and Ravello

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The View Back UP the Hill, Ravello

We slept well.  The bed at Basilius is firm without being hard. We headed out around 9:30 for colazione (breakfast) peering into the occasional cheese or fruit shop along the way.  Ellen suggested getting a juicer and some fruit later.  Sure, let’s not get one now ok?

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Fruit In Hand

We settled on a small pastry shop with seating in the sun.  With the warmth of the sun and a cold wind, we chose to sit in warmth. A woman was just getting her order as I was considering what to get for Ellen.  A fellow ordered a number of items for his family.  He was fidgety and seemed impatient.  He was vary particular about each individual item.  The barista, a tall striking Italian woman, was clearly getting annoyed by this fellow’s attitude.  She said nothing. Time to pay, and his credit card would not go through.  We’ve all be in this situation.  It sucks.  This fellow got insistent that the card was good, “try it again”.  It failed again.  He got more animated, “try it again”.  The Barista called the manager over, they tried a third time, then after a full power reset, his card went through.  He acted like he had been vindicated.  After he left, the barista asked , “prego”  I ordered in Italian as best I could and the barista glanced at the departing fellow, curled her lower lip, and made what I took to be a disparaging almost growl.

Outside with our order, that family had positioned themselves right beside Ellen and I. Our chairs were facing the street, directly facing the four of them.  We turned our chairs.

Today we could either visit Positano or Ravello.  We had stopped for an hour in Positano on the way to Amalfi.  We hadn’t seen Ravello, “let’s go there”. Most people know Positano from the classic photos taken from the sea.  Positano is picturesque, but to me it is all shopping and tourists. You even have to pay for a spot on the beach in high season.  Off season, as it is not, locals frolic on the beach.  It is free.  Our espresso finished, we easily found the bus pickup along the (short) Lido.  There was a long line waiting for the Ravello bus.  A bus arrived, people packed aboard, and we were left waiting, first in line for the next bus.  Surprisingly the next bus arrived in under five minutes!  Our bus wound its way up around up and around for quite a while. At one point the bus could not make the turn and had to back up a bit and try a 2nd time. We were on the land side of the bus.  The ocean side had quite a view of the sea and the drop-off.

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The View from High Atop Ravello.

It was about 40 minutes from Amalfi to Ravello.  Across from the bus stop sits a paved overlook with stunning views from the height of Ravello to the sea far below.  We soaked in that view and took a photo or two as well.   Ravello is gorgeous.

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Fruit is Available Everywhere

Up the road perhaps 40 meters is the main square of Ravello.  One side of the square has an open view across a gorge,  Shops line two sides of the square.

We first walked down a series of steps to the left as you approach the square.  The steps continued down and down. Past a chapel on the right, past private residences and small doors to B&B’s.  Sometimes the view closed in with no panorama, simply steps and old building walls. Turning a corner an expansive view of the Gulf of Salerno may open.

Walking back up those steps, we found advertising and a brochure kiosk for the 2017 Ravello Concert Series. Each year the Ravello Concert Society presents an extensive series of concerts at Ravello.  Some of the concerts would be held in this small chapel. Other open-air events are held in the Villa at sunset.  For more information on the Ravello Concert Series: http://www.ravelloarts.org/festival/index.php.  For us a trip to Ravello from Firenze is unlikely.

Just to the left past that first stairway just before you enter the square is the entrance to Villa Rufolo.  You pay a nominal fee ( I assume for maintenance) to enter the villa.  The upper garden and arched entries are dramatic as are the rooms of the villa.  Sunlight and a sea view will draw you outside without even seeing more than a few rooms of the villa.  The sight of the gardens, on descending tiled patios is stunning.  I’ve forgotten most of the villa itself,  It is the layout of the gardens, with stairways descending from one level to the next. The symmetry of the plantings. But most of all the view from high atop the hill will stop you in your tracks.  It is hard not to be moved by this panorama.  Ellen and I easily spent two hours walking, gazing, taking a photo or two (or too many).

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Scattered around the grounds are video advertisements for the Ravello concert series presented in electronic kiosks.  Even the advert was inspiring.

Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia about Villa Rufolo:

Originally belonging to the powerful and wealthy Rufolo family who excelled in commerce (a Landolfo Rufolo has been immortalized by Boccaccio in the Decameron), it then passed by inheritance to other owners such as the Confalone, Muscettola and d’Afflitto.

Around the middle of the nineteenth century it was sold to the Scotsman Francis Neville Reid who took care of a general restoration, resulting in today’s layout.

The villa is entered through an opening in the arched entrance tower, and after a short street a clearing is dominated by the Torre Maggiore: the latter facing the bell tower of the cathedral in Ravello, overlooking the terraces (upper and lower) as well as overlooking the Amalfi Coast and the Gulf of Salerno with flower gardens that are in bloom most of the year.[1]

Of particular interest among the rooms of the villa is a large courtyard elevated like a cloister and some rooms forming a small museum.

The German opera composer Richard Wagner visited the villa in 1880. He was so overcome by the beauty of the location that he imagined the setting as the garden of Klingsor in the second act of Parsifal. In commemoration, every year the lower garden of Villa Rufolo hosts a Wagnerian concert.[2]

I was mesmerized.  I’ll let our photos speak to the beauty of this Villa.  I could sit for hours as I am sure the Villa’s extremely wealthy owners once did.

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We skipped walking through the villa’s interior, choosing instead to walk Ravello, the town.

Ellen and I are not shoppers.  We do not willingly walk down the main shopping street of say Capri and oh and ah at the pricy goods.  We do appreciate excellent materials and artistry in the design of “some things”, actually most things.  As we walked down Ravello’s shopping street just past the square, I ran my fingers down fabrics on display.  Quality is in the feel of fabric.  One fabric in particular had an wonderful hand; it was unusually fine materials.  I was going to say something to Ellen, who was just a few steps ahead of me when she disappeared into this shop, Ricordi di Ravello.

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Ricordi di Ravello, Wonderful Linen & Cashmere Clothing

The shopkeeper was an unassuming, direct woman about Ellen’s height.  Ellen went right to a light gray-blue shawl on and asked if they had this material in her size.  The owner (she was the shop owner) pulled down a garment that fit Ellen quite well. Not surprisingly this was the same material with the excellent hand.  “That material is the best quality cashmere from Firenze.  We purchase the material there.  These are all our designs.”  Me, “Where do you manufacture the clothing”  “On the peninsula, about 20 minutes from here.  We have a small factory.”  It was unlikely we would find these designs in Firenze.

One Splendid Walkway

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One Splendid Walkway

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Another Splendid Walkway

There was a dark blue 3/4 length light weight coat in the same material that I asked Ellen to try on.  It did not hang well on her.  We both preferred this color.  Ellen tried on a poncho, a shawl, zippered sweater, and the 3/4 length coat.  She preferred the poncho. The price was high, but not for this quality.  Ellen left happy to have a warmer article of clothing.  Evenings and even some days had been cold and we would soon be heading north.

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Main Square, Ravello

We walked Ravello. Toward the end of the street we found “Wine & Drugs”.  Funny I thought, but I plan to save wine tasting for Florence.  We are still nomadic and do not need the weight.  The shop-gal popped out.  We greeted her with “Buona Sera”, good afternoon/evening, and we had a conversation in broken English and Italian.

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Wine and Drugs

Communication is not that difficult, unless it’s about ideas.   Wandering on we climbed some steps to find the Chiesa di San Giovanni del Toro and the Belmond Hotel Caruso, named for Caruso the great tenor.  The hotel sits on a promontory with views to the east and west.  It has an understated elegance that exudes exclusivity.  Dinner or sunset drinks here would be fun, but we want to be back to Amalfi for Da Gemma and our reservations for dinner.

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The Belmond Hotel Caruso, Ravello

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Dining Patio, Hotel Caruso, Ravello

One ristorante on the piazza had outdoor tables at an overlook in the sun.  Perfect. I relaxed with a birra alla spina (draught beer) and Ellen had aqua naturale.  The sun came and went.  At this time of year, the sun is very warm but the wind is very cold.   We alternately baked and froze all while listening in on two 20 something couples joking around in Italian.  Eventually the cold got the better of us (or my beer glass was empty).

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A Quite Unusual Beer!

We queued at the bus stop to go back to Amalfi.  It was now about 4:20.  Time passed, the queue grew, a few busses for other towns came and went, but there was no bus to Amalfi.  It was now 5:20 and the queue was a crowd.  Finally, 15 minutes later the Amalfi bus arrived.  People were aggressively getting aboard.  Ellen got on with me right behind her, but at least five other people crowded ahead of me. Wondering where the boundary between politeness and rudeness is, I intentionally cut off some young girls pushing through and boarded the bus.  On board I encountered a frantic woman pushing forward past me.  We could have gotten a room, it was that intimate.  It turns out she boarded the bus, but her husband (probably a nice guy) didn’t make it. She found he was not aboard, and exited the bus.  That could easily have been Ellen were I less assertive.

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On the Bus to Amalfi

We left about half our number at the bus stop.  On the windy way down we did not see another bus come up the route.  Those people left behind were in for a long wait. This was not high season.  I wonder how bad it could be then.  My thought?  Stay in Ravello and visit Amalfi and Positano  bus and/or by ferry.

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Polipo Arrostito con Pomodori,  Roasted Octopus

We walked back up our familiar route to drop our cameras and freshen up ahead of our second meal at Da Gemma. Our reservations were at 8 PM.  This time we were seated by the window.  Oddly the table and chairs tilted.  After we ordered, we switched chairs as Ellen was uncomfortable with the tilt. Ellen’s back bothered her less after we switched. Tonight had the grilled octopus appetizer; we both ordered spaghetti con vongole and a glass of house wine.  The spaghetti was mixed with nearly creamed broccoli.  The waiter made it a point to correct Ellen, “No, this is not broccolini, it is broccoli. No broccolini.”  He was being funny.  When time came to clear the table, he kiddingly tried to whisk my two smart phones onto his crumb plate. He mentioned a fellow who took his Rolex off at diner and almost lost it to the crumb plate. His eyes followed the Rolex as it slid across the table.

For dessert we had a hard time deciding.  We chose the chocolate with chili dessert, which sounded unique.  We were very surprised and had a good laugh when the same dessert we had had last night was placed at table.  “No, this cannot be what we ordered”  It was.

The broccoli detracted from the spaghetti con vongole.  We enjoyed our meal, but not with the sense of ecstasy we had last night. We met almost no one as we walked “home” and to sleep.

We absolutely loved Ravello and Amalfi.  Tomorrow we must say, “Ciao Amalfi” and push on to Torre del Greco.

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Leaving the Next Morning for Salerno

Italy Day 11, Capri, the Blue Grotto, Toni & Nunzia

 

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The Faraglioni Rocks

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Waiting for the Bus

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The View of Marina Grande from our Apartment

We were not up early the next morning.  My best guess is we walked to the bus stop around 10AM.  Our plan was to take the direct bus to Anacpari and walk to he blue grotto as Toni had suggested. We watched bus after bus go by; none for Anacapri. We asked the market shopkeepers when the next bus would come.  “quindici minuti”, the bus would come and it would not be for Anacapri.  Strangely it would not be for Capri either.  We stood and waited.  Finally the Annacapri bus drove by, right by.  Ellen flagged it down furiously, but the driver waved her off.  The bus was full.  Ok, we’ll take the next bus and go from there.

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The Dramatic Isle of Capri

Capri

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A stroll along a Via, Capri

The next bus took us to Capri, though it was labeled something else.  We walked to a ristorante for espressos.  We also had caprese; Ellen’s as a salad, mine as panini. The price was excessive.

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Pathway of Forts, Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto

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Our Oarsman Giovanni

We walked back to the bus terminus and queued for the Anacapri bus. We missed the first bus, but we were the first couple on the next bus which arrived almost immediately.  We took the bus to the last stop, past Anacapri and had to retrace our steps a bit to find the road down to the blue grotto.  It was a long walk.  Most of the views were obstructed by trees, walls, and villas.  Here and there we saw well maintained gardens and trellises of wisteria in full bloom. The road stretched down and down.  Down and down.  Bicyclists passed us coasting downhill and later passed us again going up hill!.  I kiddingly called out,” ancora, un altro”  That got a laugh and, “Si,, certo”

Still we walked down toward the water.  Eventually a British family passed us, the sun and husband first followed by the wife.  We exchanged pleasantries, though I had the impression they were not happy.

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Father and Son fishing at the Blue Grotto

Eventually we arrived at a walkway to the sea with a restaurant on one side and a trinket seller on the right.   On the sea there must have been eighteen rowboats, some servicing tour boats that had arrived, taking couples from the tour boat into the blue grotto and back.  IT is a well orchestrated affair with the rowboats queued up taking turns.  I caught the eye of one oarsman who turned his boat and rowed my way.  I discussed pricing. 15 euro per person entry fee and whatever we chose to pay him.  I asked if he could go twice around inside, “Si”.

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Souvenir Time?

I had some difficulty explaining that there were two of us and that I wa  s waiting for my wife who should be down in 4 minutes. After a bit Ellen came down and said that they would not let her use the bathroom. Then Ellen said she could go up and ask again and she asked the oarsman how much time she had (meaning would he wait for her).  The oarsman chuckled and said, “that depends on you, how much time do you need!”  We had a good laugh and Ellen and I piled in the boat after some assurances to the oarsman, “va bene”.

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A tour boat loading and unloading passengers

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Iridescence

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An Unexpected Delight, Alone in the Grotto.

The tour boats bring a dozen or so people to the grotto.  They are loaded into the rowboats in pairs.  The last two rowboats from a tour boat were ahead of us rowed into the cave as we paid the entry fee. One other rowboat was inside as we entered and a moment later we were alone in the cave.  Ellen, I, and Giovanni. Giovanni serenated us a bit and more importantly showed us some of the beauty of the cave.  As I had asked we took a very slow double loop around the cave.  It was memorable.

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Not a Tour Boat in Sight.

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Arrivederci Giovanni

Anacapri

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Atop Monte Solaro

We took the bus back from the grotto to Anacapri, bought calzone and a beer at a pasta shop, and took the lift to the top of Monte Solaro. You have a 360 degree view from the top. Capri sits three miles off the tip of the Amalfi peninsula.  It looks like you could reach out and touch it.  The calzone was not what we expected.  It appeared to be deep fried thick dough with some mystery sausage and greens inside. The beer was great. We lingered a while, our hopes to see sunset dashed by the 7pm closing of the chair. I assume the path down the mountain closed sooner to avoid having people lost after dark on.  For me the ride back facing downhill was fun.

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One View from Monte Solaro

We walked Anacapri.  The chapel was closed.  The shops in Anacapri are much more modest than the Capri shops.  Is hardly a designer shop on the main street.  The merchandise quality is a small step down, but still good quality.  The prices are significantly lower.  We both eyed scarfs, but did not buy anything.  At the end of the main street sits a small park probably near a school.  There were many children playing.  I noticed one mother with a young child looking anxiously around.  She eventually found her two boys and gave them 5 euro for gelato.  Both Capri and Annacapri’s main street were filled with people. The pace seemed slower in Anacapri.

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Descending Monte Solaro

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Fresh Squeezed Orange with a Touch of Lemon

We found the bus back to Capri and took the the Funicular down to Marina Grande.

This was our first time on the funicular; we had to try it once at least.  There is a single track that doubles up in the center.  The two cars run past each other in the middle, one going up, the other down in the middle.  It is a smart and inexpensive way to double the capacity of the funicular.  The cars move slowly, but arrive quickly,, the track takes a very direct route.  The uphill section of track is quite steep.  The uphill car takes a hold of a cable that pulls the car to the top much like a chair lift cable.

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Nearing Sunset, Marina Grande, Capri

Now in Marina Grande, we sat for an espresso, looked at the menu, and ordered a spaghetti Bolognese and spaghetti vongole.  I’m sure you know who had the vongole.

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Marina Grande Sunset Looking Towards The Amalfi Peninsula.

We had forgotten how long and steep the walk back to the apartment was.  We could have taken a bus bit chose to walk.  It was the golden hour of photography and our last night in Capri.  Without hesitation we walked “home”.   The market was still open.  We stopped in for a few items.

Capri is not to be missed, but to really feel the island you must get away from Capri’s hotel and shopping area.  That is not the Capri I will remember.

Tomorrow we leave for Amalfi by way of Sorrento and Positano. We meet our driver at the ferry dock in Sorrento.  We will take the 9:25 ferry that arrives Sorrento at 9:45.

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The Faraglioni Rocks at Sunset

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Sunset on the Island of Capri

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Now How Do I Get Off this Thing?

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Waters the Color of the Caribbean

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Alone Again on the Piazza overlooking the Faraglioni Rocks

Italy, Day 9: a Ferry, a Bus, and Luigi too!

 

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On the Ferry to “the continent” as the Sicilians Say

Messina, 5 AM

We dragged out of bed with under four hours sleep, packed, and headed out to find the ferry Villa San Giovanni.  Wisely (so I thought) I booked the 8:20 train to Salerno, but didn’t expect we’d go to Catania and back the night before! The plan was to get to bed early.  That just did not happen.

Ellen suggested (wisely) that there might be taxis at the bus terminus.  We were intimately familiar with that building, and it was only three blocks away.  At the terminus we found a taxi who was very accommodating, knew where the ferry departs, and would take us there.  Here I made a crucial mistake.  I failed to ask, “quanto costa”.  Establish a price or you are doomed.  We were doomed.  First off this fine specimen of humanity became tour guide.  Over here is the Duomo.  “But we want to go to the Ferry”.   “Yes, but you have time, let me  show you the palace”.  “No, we want to go to the ferry”,  “And over here we have…”  “Ma, No! Adesso. Take us to the ferry”  Eventually he complied.  My 2nd mistake, pulling a wad of 20’s and 50’s from my pocket with this shark standing at my shoulder.  Brazenly, he pulled first one 20, then a 2nd, then a 3rd from the wad while I stood there dumbfounded.  I just could not believe this was happening and couldn’t speak.  When he went for a 50 I stopped him.  He left with far too much for that fare.  Worse, he got away with it will feel more confident with the next sap who comes along.  LESSON LEARNED!

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Villa San Giovanni Train Station, Platform #3

Sometimes timing is everything.  We got tickets and walked right onto the ferry.  It departed immediately.  “And over here…” We could have missed this ferry and had to sit for an hour. I am still steaming over the taxi “ride”,   Ellen had a few choice words for me over it too.

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Twenty minutes later my Italian smart/dumb phone guided us to the train station along with a few “Dov’e il stazione ferroviaria” and “Dritto e a destra”.  At the biglietteria I asked “a che ora e li treno per Salerno”  “alle otto venti”, but he spoke so fast I only heard “8”.  Then he offered “platform 3” with a quizzical look.  We turned toward the platforms, then II thought I’d better see if the ticket I printed from the web is actually a ticket and not a voucher.  I handed the tickets to the attendant and he nodded, “Si, questi sono I biglietti”.

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On the Train to Salerno

Next, let’s find an espresso.  We found a very seedy bar with an espresso maker and a tall bearded tattooed fellow with a stud earring in his left ear.  I ordered cappuccino for Ellen and my macchiato doppio.  “Where are you from?” and that started an on again off again conversation with Frankie (Francesco, but I called him Frankie) about travel, family, where is good to live, there’s noting happening in Italy (if by Italy he meant Villa San Giovanni, he’s probably correct).  Time flew by. customers came and went, and still we chatted with Francesco.

As 8:15 approached, we left Frankie for platform 3 and our train to Salerno.  I texted our landlord, Luigi, that we were on the train from Messina and would arrive in about three hours.  I did not hear back from Luigi in those three hours.

Italian trains, particularly the non-local ones, are very  comfortable.  Not the seats so much, but the train and the tracks.  There is very little screeching and no side to side wobble that you get on English trains in particular.  We could doze off from time to time.

Arriving Salerno, I called Luigi.  He picked up and after a Buongiorno or two asked, “where are you”  “We’re at the train station”.  I’ll come right over.  I’ll be driving a green Mercedes. “   “Ellen is a short blond woman wearing a blue jacket.  We’ll be waiting across from the station”  A short wait later, a quintessentially dressed professor walked up asking “Ron?”.  He wore a shirt and tie under a sweater with a brown/gray jacket to top it off.  He grabbed our bags and ushered us off to his car where he introduced his stunning wife and their son, who speaks English.  Luigi’s English is fine for communicating, far better than my broken Italian.

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Luigi, Renaissance Man Extraordinaire

Luigi and family took us on a brief tour of Salerno.  Then he and his son accompanied us to Santa Maria Dei Barbuti.  Along the way, he gave us a history lesson in Salerno’s past and the Longobardi who ruled Salerno and were so named for their long beards.  The apartment is in a converted Church; very interesting architecturally.  Luigi has been selectively removing plaster to expose the old original stone walls.   With its half meter thick walls, the apartment was cold, though there was adequate heat.  We spend most or our time out anyway.  The bed was firm, comfortable. 

The apartment was exactly as shown in the photos, perfect.

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First up, some lunch.  After, we’d find the ferry to Capri.  With only one evening in Salerno, we wanted to know ahead of time where we’d catch the ferry.  Luigi has recommended a number of restaurants,  we went to a pizza place he suggested.  I thought the pizza was a bit under cooked.  The crust was not firm, but the beer was good!

We walked down the waterfront promenade, past a carnival like amusement park, and asked a parking attendant where we’d find the Capri Ferry.  “lungo diritta, molto (sounded like Mollo)”, back to from where we had come.   We opted to go back to the apartment now and find the ferry tomorrow morning.

Back at the apartment we turned the heat on and relaxed some before heading out for dinner.

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A View to the Marina

My schizo Samsung phone showed Luigi’s favorite restaurant close to where the ferry should be.  I say schizo because I cannot figure out how this thing works.  It often appears inconsistent. 

Apparently the Amalfi Coast ferries leave from the south end of Salerno and the Capri ferry leaves from the north.  We can have dinner then check out the ferry schedule. Great.  With little sleep last night and after walking most of the day, we were looking forward to a good dinner and some sleep.  We found the restaurant windows dark, not a light on in the place. It was closed!  Strike one. 

A bit further on and we found that the ferry terminal with its lights on!  It too was closed. No schedule for any ferry was posted outside.  Strike two.

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The Old and the New

the new could easily be older than most US buildings

No problem, we’ll just walk around and find a nice place for dinner.  We walked and walked, no we did not want pizza, nor hamburgers (?!?), nor the pizza place overlooking the duomo. We found bars and cafes open, but very few ristoranti or osterias open.  Those that were open did not appeal.  We walked and walked some more. We were getting cranky, not to the point of homicide; not yet. 

By now it was approaching 10:30. On one of the main streets Pinocchio was open.  We had an oscillating moment of uncertainty Ellen wanted to eat there, I didn’t, then I said OK and Ellen didn’t want to.  We eventually were seated.  Ten minutes later we had menus in hand, slow even by Italian standards.  The menu was typical of U.S. Formica tabled nondescript eateries.  Each page, encased in well worn plastic,  showed a series of photos, each with a description of a dish. “Strike Three”, I thought.  Ellen found a cheese plate she wanted.  I saw vongole (clams).  Wow, clams here?  OK.  As we ordered I noticed for the first time the human sized statue of Pinocchio against the wall.  Not an inspiring site if it’s a good meal you want.

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A Sure Sign of Quality?

I was not at all encouraged by the décor, the couples behind us smoking, the rock playing conspicuously, nor our waitress’ interest in serving food.  The outlook was bleak.  We expect we may find a “best meal of all time” on this trip.  We’ve also been looking for a “worst meal of the trip”.  I thought Pinocchio’s would be a contender.  I was wrong!  The plate brimming with baby clams was perfectly seasoned and came with dipping bread.  The cheese selection was good and bruschetta with very fresh tomatoes was excellent.  After dinner we had their home made tiramisu and complimentary Limoncello that had quite a kick.  Despite the restaurant’s ambiance, which I think was catering to a young crowd,  this was an excellent meal.

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The Vongole Disappeared FAST!

It was 19 hours from the time we awoke to catch the Messina to Villa San Giovanni ferry to lights out in Salerno.  We were exhausted.

Sicily, 8 Days, Leg 1 of our adventure

 

The first leg of our Viaggio Italiano has come to a close.  We have many memories of the people we met and places we’ve visited. 
Francesco of Don Ciccio who graciously accepted us into his home at midnight!  With indefatigable energy he described the property, breakfast, and showed us our room. With his English and my understanding (lack of) Italian, we had a great time getting to know one another that night.  We had to push on the next morning, but would have loved to stay and chat with him for hours.
Laura of Between Sky and Sea.  What a wonderful person she is.  We were all of us tired when we met.  We had had a long day and arrived hours later than we planned.  Laura was accommodating and showed us where things were and hot to work the locks, went over a map of Cefalu pointing out points of interest and her favorite restaurants.  It was when we were leaving that her unmistakable warmth and deep friendliness was so apparent.  Her husband took me by motorbike to our car and guided me back to the apartment.  On the way to the car he stopped often to greet friends.
The anesthesiologist,, Mike, and his wife, Dorothy, whom we met at Just Be and b.  Fellow travellers who enjoy life, good food, and lively discussions.
The waiters, waitresses, chefs and restaurant owners who created unique dining experiences and with whom we bantered in English and with an attempt at humor in Italian.  We have been very fortunate in our dining choices.
In Leg 2, we will meet the effervescent Luigi, an Renaissance Man who deeply cares about people and enjoying life.  And  we will meet Justin and Kate Mink, newlyweds and Kate’s first experience of “La Dolce Vita”.  The four of us negotiated Naples ferry harbor looking for a boat to Capri. “No, dritto poi andare a sinistra”. But I get ahead of myself.
Leg two takes us to Capri and the Amalfi Coast via Salerno.

Italy, Sicily day 8 Tindari, Messina, and off to Salerno (and oops, Catania)

In Messina we take a ferry to Villa San Giovanni, the mainland, and a train from there to Salerno. We drop our Volvo off in Messina.

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Tindari

On the way to Messina I planned to visit Tindari, Home of a Greek-Roman archeological site.  It is also the home of a Cathedral of the Black Madonna.  The archeological sites interests me far more, though the legend of the Black Madonna is worth a read, here.  A restaurant owner also suggested we visit Montalbano Elicona for it’s monolithic rocks, but we do not have time for both.

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Tindari’s legendary Sand Spit

The road to Tindari from Piraino is a slow one.  It is windy and in one place the main road is closed to do a mud slide.  The alternate road is what should be a one lane road used for two lanes of traffic.  Luckily that stretch of road is lightly travelled.  There are numerous tunnels and many areas where road work narrows an already narrow road.

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The Coast Road to Tindari

Tindari sits atop a hill overlooking a bay and a legendary spit of land (see “Black Madonna” above)  Our NAV system took us right to the parking lot at the base of the hill.  A talkative fellow approached as I looked for the parking ticket kiosk.  “Parking here is free.  Do you want to take a bus to the top?  You should eat at “the Greek”  for lunch.  it’s the restaurant right over there.  It has very good food.  Where are you from?”  This guy was genuinely friendly and aside for being a barker for the restaurant, he was interesting to talk to while Ellen sorted out what she needed from our bags in the car.

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We chose to walk to the top (why not, we’ve walked everywhere else?) and skipped the bus.  For the first half or two thirds of the hike up, there is no view.  You pas houses, some with inquisitive dogs.  Every now and then a local buzzes by.  The bus passed us once going up and again going back down.

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Closer to the top a dramatic view opens up only to close out around the next bend.  Near the top we encountered the first row of vendors selling trinkets; some selling fruit and nuts.  It is hard to pass up a free sample.  Once you take a sample, the hook is set. If you say we’ll see you on the way down, they own you.  We did buy some nuts on the way down only to find the quality varied enormously from nut to nut.  My recommendation?  Avoid buying anything from these folks.  Get nuts and fruit from a supermercato.   We did not take photos of the vendors, we did not want to draw attention to ourselves.

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Tindari’s Cathedral

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Tindari’s Cathedral sits prominently atop the hill.  It is visible from miles around.  To me it is too modern to be interesting.  The piazza that fronts the church has a commanding view of the sea and Tindari’s famous spit of sand.  We lingered soaking in the sunshine dancing on the sea as a sailboat slowly drifted by below.  We were both hungry, but thought we’d check out the ruins first.

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The walk to the ruins is along a short street lined with pizzerias and trinket vendors.  Both were tranquil; we were not accosted once here.  Like most things in Italy, you pay to visit the ruins.  The fee is small.  The money goes toward preservation and improvements.  You walk right into the top of the amphitheater.  The stone bench seats are fenced off.  The Greeks placed their theaters high in the hills and at the shore; close to their gods.  I think performances were for the gods more than for the audience.  Wasn’t a Roman Emperor a god?   Greek plays are performed in the theater to this day.  The amphitheater dates to the 4th century BC.

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The Sicilians have let plans consume the amphitheater. I have no idea why.

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Ancient Mosaic Tiles

The trail past the amphitheater takes you down to a road that leads to the ruins.   Inside the low walls to the left are nearly intact mosaics; works or art in themselves.  The Greek arches ahead are the remnants of the Basicila.  The City of Tindari was founded in about 400BC by Dionysus I, “the Tyrant of Syracuse”.  Only the ruins of the city remain today.

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A Glass Urn from around 4 BC

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A quick Bite

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And a Birra

Messina ?

It was fun walking these ancient paths on a gloriously sunny day in Northern Sicily.  The views are stunning.  Hunger eventually got the better of us.  We went back to Restaurante Tyndaris.  We shared a beer and a heated Panini then headed off to Messina.  Now the GPS took us to the autostrada and we made good time to Messina.  There was no way to enter the street address in the nav system, Via XXVII Luglio 34, Messina.  What to do with XXVII?  We tried everything 26, XXVII, twenty six: nothing worked.  My trusty Italian phone took us right to the address!  Well almost, it has an accuracy issue and the version of google maps is horrendous.  I’ll check for an upgrade soon.

We found the address.  A V-shaped floor to ceiling glass wall with a  door, a series of buzzers, and nobody.  Out of my set of folders I pulled “Caroli Guest House” and called the owner.  The woman who answered in Italian, hesitated then passed the phone to her friend who spoke better English than my Italian.  They’d be right down.  In five minutes time, they were.  The apartment was exactly as presented online. It was clean, comfortable, and perfect for us to make connections with the ferry to Villa San Giovanni tomorrow to connect by train to Salerno.  The women were very helpful pointing out their favorite local restaurants (no, not family run), where the supermarket was, and where to catch the ferry across the Straits of Messina.

I left Ellen in the apartment and drove off to drop the car off at Europcar.  The NAV system took me right to their Messina office in a seedy industrial area.  The office was closed! Nobody was there and a sign read: open Saturdays 9:00 – 13:00. Monday-Friday stated hours,  Sunday was not mentioned.  Not Good! I would not be able to drop the car off until Monday?

Catania ?  Yes, Catania!

I called europcar.  The representative was not very sympathetic.  “You missed the drop-off time!”, well, yeah. “You can drop the car off Monday”, well, no.  “You could drop it off in Catania”, that’s not happening “What if I leave the car where it is” silence on the line for a heartbeat then, “It will be stolen.  Drop the car off in Catania, it is the best”.  I hung up, realizing that I probably didn’t check the drop-off hours. Crap.  I called again to see if I could get a more sympathetic ear.  Nope, I heard the same story: Catania. “It’s only 40 km away and you can take the bus back”  right.

I called Ellen, described the situation, and suggested that I’d drive to Catania and come back by bus.  She wanted to come along. OK, we were off to Catania’s airport to fine Europcar.  Trust is a funny thing.  That 40km estimate was 110km by our GPS.  It took an hour and a half to get to the airport.  Traffic wasn’t too bad, but it was going crazy fast with lots of trucks.  I was asked in a “white knuckle” sort of way to “please, slow down”. 

Ellen was great at spotting signs to Europcar.  I would not have found it so easily myself.  They accepted the car.  I asked where I might pick up a bus to Messina.  The first person I asked just made a “tsch” sound.  This is a typical Sicilian way of saying “it’s not going to happen” or “it didn’t happen”.  I had heard that just once before in one of the Montalbano episodes.  This chilled me.  We are now 110 km from the Messina to Villa San Giovanni ferry.  Not good.  You know the definition of insanity, right?  I asked another fellow, hoping for a different answer or at least not a “tsch”.

Fellow number two said, “I’m not sure, but most busses stop right in front of the airport, right over there (pointing toward who knows what over “there”).  By now Ellen and I are both starving.  All we had eaten today was a half sandwich.  We were subdued by this situation. There was no blame, no why didn’t you blah blah.  We resigned ourselves to finding a bus or train back to Messina and headed in “that general direction”.  Surprisingly, right over there was the main entrance to the airport AND a bunch of busses queued along the walkway.  With some difficulty we found a bus schedule that included Catania to Messina.  A bus would be leaving in an hour.  It was now about 19:30. Cool, we fount the biglietteria and purchased two “semplice”  tickets.   Now for some food.

The Best Pizza

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Airport food is not the best, unless you happen to be in Catania. There was my favorite pizza place in Arlington Mass where I’d buy pizza by the slice after school.  The crust was done perfectly, with numerous very small spots of char on the bread, a fantastic combination of cheeses, and just the right amount of sauce.  I’ve had good pizza, bad pizza, home made pizza, “the best” pizza, but none has ever come close to that old Arlington pizza by the slice.  None, until now.  I bought a single slice of Margherita Pizza from Sfizio and was in heaven.  This was exactly how pizza should be.  The taste, doneness, texture, cheeses, sauce; all were perfect.  It made the evening’s disaster worth it (well not really, but at least something went better than planned). We ate though Ellen’s first choice was disappointing: all bread.  Her second choice was really good.

Messina !

We found the kiosk for the Messina bus, boarded, and took a ride back to Messina. Luck was with us.  The bus drove right by Carini Guest House.  The bus had been making random stops for other people, I hopped up and asked if he could stop for us right here.  I said this in Italian somehow.  The answer?  “no”  We went to the bus terminus, two blocks further down.  No Problem.

Back at Carini House, I check my notes and found that I had booked the train from Villa San Giovanni at 8:45 tomorrow morning.  To be safe we’d have to take the 7:20 ferry.  Counting back in time we set our alarms for 5AM.  It was now 1:30 AM.  Tomorrow would be a crazy day.

Italy, Sicily day 7 Cefalu, Just Be & b, and Piraino

 

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The Beach between Centro Storico and the newer residential area

Cefalu

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One of Many Piazzas in Cefalu

We got our signals crossed the next morning.  We thought Laura would be by at noon, she dropped by at 11 while we were packing.  Graciously, she said she’d come back at noon.  She also offered to have her husband take me to our car on his scooter and have me follow him back to the apartment going around “The Rock”.  Memories of XO tours Vietnam collided in my head, good memories.

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Centro Storico: Typical Cefalu

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Old Town looking toward New Town

True to her word, Laura and her husband arrived at noon and I had a fun motor bike ride through old town to my car.  Negotiating Cefalu for a novice could be just as challenging as Vietnam.  Laura’;s family has lived in Cefalu for generations.  I assume her husband has as well.  He was excellent at negotiating the cars and pedestrians, stopping a number of times, here and there to greet friends .  Cefalu is full of one way streets and a ZTL zone.  GPS is useless in the town.  It is confusing at best without a “guide”.  We drove back around the rock with me following closely behind, driving into the narrow pedestrian filled streets of old town. It was fun and challenging.  We parted with Laura and her husband with the typical Italian parting: two kisses on either cheek and “ciaos” all around.  We really enjoyed Larua, it would have been fun for us to get to know them better.  Then again, we were in Cefalu for a few days then gone.   I wish we could have stayed longer.

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We Counted 64 Tunnels between Cefalu and Piraino!

Familiar with the Italian Nav System, I punched in Piraino and off we went.  The GPS guided us out of town and onto the autostrada with ease.  Italian roads are typically in very good condition, though there is constant road work.  Italian drivers take the speed limit as a suggestion.  As I drove the 100 km from Cefalu to Piraino, my speed slowly inched up as I was constantly being passed, sometimes by traffic going 40 kph faster.  Often at 120kph or 140kph Ellen would suggest I slow down.  Most times I did.  The Italians have no trouble closing one direction of a highway for 10 or 20 kilometers.  The funnel traffic into one lane, then guide traffic across the median and into one of on-coming lanes, which had been cleared of traffic.  This leads to situations where the speed limit can go from 110kph to 40kph in a reasonable amount of time, but only if you’re aware of what is going on.   Over a 100km stretch there might be five of these.

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A Panoramic View from a Ridge Crest in Northern Sicily

Tunnels, Sicily has a vast number of tunnels. I counted 64 of them between Cefalu and Piraino alone.  Some were short, many were very long, and some had oncoming traffic in the left lane due to highway repair.   Northern Sicily is very mountainous; the drive is beautiful.

As we approached Piraino, we used the instructions Chantal had given us to locate Just Be & b.  Google maps cannot locate the property. Just Be & b is located over a ridge close to the top of the rise overlooking the sea.  As we climbed up toward the small town of Piraino, Ellen grew more and more suspicious.  “Is this really where we’re going?”  “Where are we staying”. When the old town of Piraino came into view around a turn, Ellen was half surprised and half worried that we were staying somewhere in town.  “Are there restaurants?”  or “Where are we going to eat?” Piraino is small.  There are good restaurants in the surrounding hills, but they are isolated and hard to find.

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We topped the rise and descended on a very narrow road.  I had scouted this location with Google maps and drove right by the location Google had set for “Just Be & b”. Clearly GPS was again outright wrong.  The road widened out and turned just ahead of a very well maintained house.  A husband and wife sat on a patio watching come down the road with disinterest.  “This cannot be the place”, I thought.  We turned the corner and both saw the white gate and pink house that mark the B&B.  We’re here.  Ellen was still not sure this is where she wanted to just Be & b.  I rang the bell and waited for some time trying not to be rude and ring the bell a second time.  A woman approached welcoming and asked if I was Ron. “Yes”, the gate opened and as I dutifully carried our bags to our room, Ellen had a tour of the property and got to know the owner’s mom.  The owner is a Swiss German whom we met sometime later.

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Relaxing at Just Be & b, Piraino, Sicily

We sat admiring the view as a beer, prosecco, and fruit arrived on a cart.  The room was large, clean, and fully functional. The view from Just Be & b is spectacular.  What I felt most was a sense of peacefulness and calm.  The grounds below the main house are terraced with various edible plants and fruit trees planted here and there.  It has the feel of a work in progress being carefully maintained with a plan for sustainable growth.

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Limpari, a large comfortable room

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A very comfortable bed.  We slept very well here.

We were offered a ride to a local restaurant around 7:15 pm if we liked.  Yes, we would like that.  I could relax with no concern for driving or parking for a day.  The beer and prosecco hit the spot.  We walked the grounds then collapsed into bed for a rest.  We found a note on our door at 7:15 that stated our ride would be available at 7:30.   An example of German Precision.  At 7:30 Chantal arrived with her boy friend and family.  They had returned from and outing of some sort, exited the vehicle (a large SUV) and Ellen and I jumped in.  Chantal whisked us to a restaurant up and over a nearby ridge.  She drove carefully, without hesitation, and reasonably fast, as a local would.  We arrived to find another couple, also guests at the B&B being seated.

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The Restaurant was cool and I bundled up.

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The Food was  a Continental Italian Fusion,

We kept to ourselves for mot of our meal.  Enjoying the suggestions the owner/chef made.  In fact he ordered for us,. We would have it no other way.  Our dinner was Italian inspired with a Swiss-German twist.  It was very good.  Toward the end of the meal we struck up a conversation with the other couple.  A German doctor and his wife, a striking Indian woman.  We hit it off and had a wide ranging discussion that evening.  We exchanged cards. They drove us back to the B&B.

Ellen and I have “retired traveler” “business” cards printed.  This gets around writing extraneous information on napkins.

Exhausted, night faded into sunrise and breakfast time.  Chantal has had a breakfast house built on a terrace just below the bungalows.  It is glass enclosed to take advantage of the view, and modestly but comfortably appointed.  I asked for a double macchiato and received something closer to a pint of foamed milk with two shots of espresso floating mid glass.  It was a work of art.  Not what I expected, but welcome nonetheless.   That plus a croissant was enough for me.

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Breakfast with a View of The World.

While Ellen busied herself with her breakfast choices, I said, “buongiorno”, renewing our acquaintance with the German couple who were seated outside.  Conversation flows easily with like minded people.  Easy if both speak a common language, English in this case.  I’ve studied German, Russian, some French, and lately Italian.  I envy Europeans who can speak two or often five other languages.  The German fellow is an anesthesiologist and an expert in pain medication. We discussed the current opioid crisis, which is international in scope.  He feels (and I agree) that some pain is a good thing and that masking pain can have ill effects. That pain the the body’s feedback loop for repair.   Chronic pain is a different animal and must be treated differently, but in both cases prescribing highly addictive pain medication is absolutely the wrong long-term approach.   We also talked politics, and the funny, unimaginable, and scary ascension of “the Donald” and Brexit on the world stage. While stating that “Angle Markel is not my party”, Mark also has high regard for her integrity.  I cannot say the same for the U.S. current administration.  We talked health care and ceilings on doctor’s earnings in Germany, something I did not know about.  At some point I realized my breakfast was getting cold and begged off.

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Buddha with our breakfast.

We resumed our conversation on the veranda after breakfast.  They live in the historic section of Wiesbaden on the Rhine, in Germany’s wine region for Riesling wine.  He exports wine to India.  We exchanged offers to come stay at each other’s homes.   Mark warned that they do travel and would likely take us up.  “Fine, I said.  That would be our pleasure!”.  If we get bored with Florence this trip, we could always drop in on Mark and Dorothy.

It was later in the day than expected as we loaded the car and drove away. The amazing view from high atop the hillside, the care the owners show in the B&B, and Chantal’s concern for nature and the environment make our brief stay here memorable, perhaps unforgettable.  When leaving Chantal mentioned that the drive down the hill is faster than going up and around.  The road is very narrow and without barriers in whole sections.  She prefers that road as it is scenic and fun to drive.  We chose to take the downhill route and were not disappointed.  It was steep in many secitons.  Single lane practically the whole way with hairpin turns everywhere.  It was a blast, though I took it slowly for any number of reasons.

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One hairpin turn after another on a steep downgrade, fun.

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Out of the mountain, stopped for the view

The Nav system guided us to the autostrade and we reached Messina in an hour thirty with our speed varying between 40 kph and 150kph.  The Nav system could not identify the address of our next apartment!  My very inexpensive Italian smart phone could and guided us right to the door.  I parked in a blue parking zone, a pay zone, without paying and called in.  The owner would meet us in five minutes.  GREAT.  They had been trying to reach me via email and on my California number. I keep my US phone turned off most times now to avoid ATT’s pricing.   It all worked out in the end.

Off to Tindari on the way to Messina.

Italy, Sicily day 6, Cefalu

 

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Cefalu, The Rock, the Town, the Bay

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Jetlag is finito. Now if only my cold would “poof” and be gone.

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Between Sky and Sea is cozy and comfortable for two people.  It has a view over rooftops to the ocean. A derelict building’s bell tower stands tall, a proud reminder of past glory.  With the porch door open, I hear Cefalu waking up to the sound of passers by chatting and the occasional car or motorbike.   It is early morning.  I let Ellen sleep while I write.

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The apartment is the smallest we’ve rented thus far.  The bedroom is fine.  The dining/living room can be a squeeze with our computers, phones, and cameras and the two of us scattered about.  We would have moved the table out on the porch, but mornings and evenings are cool.  I’m inside with the heater running.  Aside from its size, everything in Between Sky and Sea works.  There is surprisingly good water pressure and plenty of hot water.   The shower is tiny even by Italian standards.  That’s fine, we spend little time in the shower anyway.  I feel relaxed even comforted by the azure sea view.

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Sunset from our Balcony

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Living and Dining Room With a View!

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The Small But Functional Kitchen

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The Bedroom Ceiling

Up and out, we head for morning coffee.  Laura recommended “the shop beside the farmacia”.  As we turned onto the Piazza Duomo, a barker stopped us and offered a table.  Ellen hesitated and we almost sat.  “let’s get something for my cold at the Farmacia first”, popped into my head and out of my lips.  Ellen agreed and we said we’d be back.

“Buongiorno, I’d like something for my throat”, I said to the pharmacist, motioning to my throat.  Though my voice is so bad that probably wasn’t necessary. “Caramelle or “ and here he motioned toward his mouth as if spraying something and said, “tsh tsh”. “non caramelle, per favore”. “Utilizzare due or tre volte al giorno.”  “OK”

We walked out of the shop with a small fire-hydrant looking thing with a twist nozzle.  Fascinating, but how the heck does this thing work?  It took a few tries to figure that you press down on the “hydrant’s” top after twisting the fire hose up and stuffing that down my throat.  This stuff works!

Next we stopped at “our” coffee shop, the one Laura recommended.  “Salve, un cappuccino, un macchiado doppio, e due crema crossianti per favore”, we had our usual coffee and a bit more.  I should have ordered “due cornetti alla crema”.  Macchiado means spotted; it’s an espresso with a dollop of foamed milk.  We sat outside in the semi-sun, it was partly cloudy this morning.  We loosely planned our day: first find a supermercato for supplies and things we didn’t pack (we travelled very light), then perhaps walk the archeological site Laura mentioned, assuming we could find it.

My cheap TIM Samsung has been great for navigating with no worries about running out of data.  Google “markets around me” and we were off.  Funny, it guided us to the small market where we purchased menthol drops the evening before.  It is a market, but not what we’re after.  We headed out of Centro Storico to the new part of Cefalu toward where we parked the car.  I had to pay for another half day parking anyway.

At the Parcheggio, I showed my first hand written parking paper to the attendant and said I wanted to stay through 14:00 the next day.  No problem, 10 euro, another hand written note and we were good. With both notes placed on our dash, we were off.  I approached a fellow leaning on his car, clearly a local, “Scusa, dov’e un supermercato, per favore?” Not skipping beat the fellow pointed down the street, “dritto a quattrocentro metri poi andate a sinistra. E li”  “Grazie”  No problem.  The fellow was missing his two front teeth.  That didn’t seem to bother him at all.

Typical for us, we followed his instructions, but probably turned up a street too soon.  Another block down we asked the same question at a hotel. The concierge looked surprised, “dritto attraverso la strada” and pointed across the street. “Grazie”.  We did turn one street too soon!  There was “Deco”, the large name supermarket.  It takes some getting used to:: parking at the market is not free, carts to get your groceries out to your car are not free.  Many little conveniences are a few cents extra.  One restaurant charged us 4 euro each for our seat out under an awning! It’s not a problem, just one of those things in Italy.

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The Local Chain Supermercato

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Where To Buy Hair Dryers, Washers, Refrigerators, etc.

Walking back toward the hotel I noticed a huge sign “Musotto elettrodomestici”.   “No, I thought.  It couldn’t be.”  I steered Ellen toward the entrance and saw a hair dryer in a display case on the far wall.  We exchanged Buongiorno’s with an early 40’s woman who was probably a co-owner of the shop.  She spoke some English and we speak fluent “gesture Italian”.   Right away Ellen had a flat iron in her hands.  Being particular about things, Ellen asked if perhaps they had one that was wider/bigger.  Yes. But that iron came in combination with a hair dryer at 40 euros versus 20 euro.  Ellen left with her flat iron and without an extra hairdryer.  Today was a glorious day in the world of frizzy hair.  The sun was shining bright.

We passed a shop selling socks, calze (duolingo actually works!).  Both Ellen and I need more socks.  Ellen because her sneakers drag her socks into the shoe.  Me because I packed very very light.  The shopkeeper, a short older gal, spoke no English, none.  But she loved to talk. This was perfect, what an opportunity to practice Italian.  More often the Italians want to practice their English.  We purchased calze and tried to leave the shop twice.  Each time one of us would say something and conversation was off again.  We could easily have spend an hour there just chatting away.

On our way back we watched movers taking care of business.  I often wondered how large pieces of furniture were moved three or four floors up super narrow steep stairways.  Here’s the obvious solution.

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Ahh, THAT’s how you do it!

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Not for Tourists, Repairing a Fish Net!

Dining in Italy

Ellen and I agreed that as much as we could, we would eat lunch as our main meal to keep some of the pounds off.  Walking back from our “sock gal” we looked for a place to have lunch.  Laura had recommended two local ristoranti.  We passed one of them on our way back “home”, Kenlia.  With no hesitation we went in for lunch.  It was now around 2pm.  The restaurant was mostly empty.  We were ushered to our table without noticing much but the view of the bay.  There were two other couples, and a multi-generational group of Russians.  We were pretty much alone.  When our waiter dropped by Ellen asked what the difference was between the spiny lobster and the lobster.   He siad, ‘eh, spiny e local.  fresha”  That did it for Ellen, she ordered the spiny lobster in paste.  We added a bottle of aqua naturale and a bottle of Nero d’ Avola, the typical Sicilian table wine.  We watched the world go buy through the drawn Plexiglas walls  First the water and wine arrived,  followed by an eggplant carbora appetizer which was fantastic.  There are two things I love about eggplant, it is a chameleon if not charred taking on the flavor of the sauce as it cooks and if it becomes distinctively and wonderfully different if charred.  This dish was both.

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Spiny Lobster

Ellen’s main course was impressive.  She had a whole spiny lobster, half  cut into her pasta dish.  The other half lobster was presented in the shell on her plate. I really enjoyed my pasta.  Ellen did offer me some of her dish; she was clearly so happy that I declined.

I later learned that Spaccatelle, the pasta I had ordered, is one of the few original Sicilian pasta forms.  Who knew.

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Spaccatelle, My Lunch. Good but not Spiny Lobster!

We savored the wine and food, then with an “Scusi, il conto per favore” we were off in search of the Archeological Site that Laura had mentioned.   On our way out, we noticed the restaurant itself.

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Should You Eat Here?  Absolutely!

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Oil at Our Table

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Olive Oil Urns atop An Olive Press

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Kenlia”s Main Dining Room

The Rock

We both agreed we would not climb, “the rock”, which is of course exactly what we did.  The Archelogical Site is on the rim of the rock.  A castle stands still higher up in the center.  We compromised by not climbing to the Castle.   After the fall of the Roman Empire, the town of Cefalu dwindled as pirates of all stripes pillaged the Sicilian coast.  The city relocated to the top of The Rock, built fortifications, and with a massive cistern and food supply it withstood numerous sieges. Eventually the city relocated down on the shore where Cefalu stands today. The Rock is massive, impressive for its size and height.  It’s a nearly round  easily defended “mesa”.

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The Rock is Truly a Cliff Outcropping of Massive Proportion

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The Walt to Top of The Rock

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Ellen at the Crenelated Wall atop The Rock

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Dubrovnik?  No, Cefalu

 

Back down in civilization, we went to “our” coffee shop.  I was feeling my cold something fierce and ordered an Irish Coffee!  Right, go to Italy and order an Irish Coffee.  The bar tender didn’t even blink.  Ellen had a double gelato. All were delivered to our table.  In all seriousness, the Irish Coffee was absolutely the best ever: espresso (not coffee), Irish whiskey, and real foamed cream (not whipped) garnished with flakes of coffee bean made with care..

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Irish Coffee in Italy?  Ma Si, Certo!

We walked the shoreline for a while as the sun set before heading back to Between Sky and Sea. We were sad to be leaving, but happy that to ;have experienced Cefalu.

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Cefalu’s Beach, Off Season

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A small Boat Harbor?

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Fresh Fruit brought to You Daily!