Thursday, July 19, 2012

Eat your heart out, Samantha Brown!

Do you ever get Travel Channel envy?  You know, where you are watching some cute young thing prance around visiting gorgeous sites with beautiful views and, even if you have been there, it looks better than anything you have seen?  Where you are watching a movie, like Under the Tuscan Sun, and you are sure that it is impossible to find spots so lovely, just waiting to be discovered?
I often feel that my photos are never truly representative of what we have seen; that they either look way better than what we saw while visiting a place, or that they can never capture the beauty and majesty of what we have seen.  But a couple of weeks ago, while touring around with my sister Mary and her husband Bill, we found some places of such extraordinary beauty and simplicity that we had to pinch ourselves to be sure we were really there.  Some of the photos I am attaching to this piece may give you an idea of what a treat we had.
When Mary and Bill landed at Capodichino Airport after a very long series of flights from the States, we headed immediately down to the Sorrento peninsula.  They wanted to take advantage of every moment they had here in Italy and so we wasted no time in getting them into tourist mode.  We arrived at our hotel, the Ulisse Deluxe Hostel, after an adventurous drive from the airport and were immediately pleased with our accommodations.  For 79E a night, including breakfast, we had lovely rooms with large bathrooms, AC, and free wi-fi. 
Our first meal was memorable in that we prepared it in our bathroom!  Mike and I had stopped at a mozzarella shop on the way to the airport and bought a kilo of the good stuff, some rolls and some tomatoes, that we sliced up and garnished with evoo and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Mary and Bill were ready for something to nosh on but were totally unprepared for our little feast.  It really hit the spot.  Our first evening in Sorrento was spent walking through the lovely narrow streets that have been trod upon since the Greeks first came and settled there.  We stopped for photos at the Villa Comunale, a public park with fantastic views of Vesuvius and the beautiful Bay of Naples.  A visit to the cloister of St. Francis and Santa Chiara was restful and restorative.  We finally stopped for drinks on a roof-top garden and then supper sitting in a piazza in the center of town. 
Tuesday morning  found us on a boat to cruise the Amalfi coast.  We were picked up at the hostel and were escorted to our port in Massa Lubrense and were immediately boarded onto a nice boat for our day-long excursion.  We have driven the Amalfi coast highway several times but had never done it from the water.  How lovely it was to be able to relax and enjoy the view without any white-knuckles on a steering wheel!  We stopped in Amalfi for a lunch break where we rented some umbrellas and lettini and enjoyed a nice swim and our sandwiches.  We also had a stop in Positano where we indulged in more sightseeing and some fresh pistachio and peach gelati.  After that it was back to the hotel.
So, where does the travel channel envy come in?  We have seen beautiful coastline views before, we have swum on nicer beaches than we did in Amalfi, we’ve eaten great gelato all over Italy.  Well, of course, it involves food!  And water views!  And great wine! 
La Tavernetta Restaurant was recommended to us by our hotel, and Trip Advisor had a majority of positive reviews, so we decided to give it a try.  We were picked up by their shuttle service at 7:30.  On the website, there is a picture of a modern van with lots of seating, but in reality?  The car that met us was reminiscent of a cab ride we once took in Cairo.  It was none too roomy, no AC, quite rickety and gave me pause.  If this is the ride to the restaurant, what will the place be like?  What will the food be like?
No worries!  I understood the need for the tiny car when we headed down to Marina di Puolo, a seaside section of Massa Lubrense.  There was a series of switchbacks such as I have never seen before.  At one point, even our tiny car was unable to manage the turn, so we just went down that stretch in reverse!  After a 10 minute trip, we arrived at the scene and we knew that every part of the trip was worth it.  There lay in front of us a sheltered little cove with white sandy beaches.  There were several restaurants that fronted up to the lungomare, and la Tavernetta was one of them.  Tables were set up right on the sand by the waterfront, but after some discussion we opted to sit on the terrace where we gazed out at the most beautiful sunset imaginable.  Soft music was playing in the background.  A couple of young boys were frolicking in the water, enjoying the limpid, warm sea at sunset.  It defined perfection.
Toninio, our waiter, was helpful in picking out our choices, which were fresh and delightful.  Whenever  we go to a small, family-run restaurant like this one, we just ask them to bring us what’s good.  And boy, did he ever!  We had sea-food salads with octopus, squid, fried sardines, clams….every kind of seafood imaginable.  We then moved on to a variety of seafood based pastas; every one of them was out of this world.  After desserts, out came the limoncello, homemade of course.  Accompanying the sweet liqueur was a cutting board full of roughly chopped dark chocolate.  This wasn’t a combination that I would have thought of myself, but it was so good!  When my brother-in-law asked to buy a couple of the restaurant’s shot glasses as a souvenir, Toninio presented them to him gladly, at no cost.  He also brought out another round of limoncello and chocolate as we waited for our shuttle home!  We rolled out of there, fat and happy with the choices that we had made.
So often, we watch something on TV and are never able to duplicate what in our mind’s eye must be a perfect spot.  That night, Mary, Bill, Mike and I experienced a spot just this side of heaven, and we will never forget it.  So, when you are in Sorrento, forgo the tourist-area restaurants and search out something out of the way and more interesting.  Make it La Tavernetta for a night you will long remember, and then, as we did, count your blessings that you too were able to have a Travel Channel moment!

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