After a week and a half of beautiful madness in Morocco we flew to Rome’s Ciampino airport to kickstart another Italian adventure. I have been fortunate enough to have travelled a decent amount in my life and if you haven’t been to Italy – go. There is so much beauty in the landscape and architecture, delicious food and drinks, and wonderful people. You can find yourself one day looking at Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia in Florence then the next day wine tasting Chianti Classico in Tuscany. Or perhaps taking in the glorious sights on a hike in Cinque Terre. Or maybe taking a swim into a crystal blue grotto on the Isle of Capri. Or eating the best pasta of your life in Rome then walking over to Vatican City to gaze up at the Sistine Chapel before getting a papal blessing, and so on. Go to Italy.
This next Italian adventure was slated for three weeks accompanied by my Mom and Aunt Becky. We were thrilled to have travel partners after two months of globe trotting on our own. We had emailed my Mom and Aunt Becky months prior asking if they were seeking a slow-pace, more relaxing trip or a fast-pace, packing as much in as we could. They opted for the latter. How often are you in Italy, right? So the planning began with the Amalfi Coast being our first stop.
Peter and I did a good amount of research for their visit. Where to go, where to stay, for how many days and the routing and transportation to tie it all together. For part of the trip we knew we needed a car. And since our luggage is on the big-size we knew a standard car wouldn’t fit four people and four suitcases. After careful research, Peter told me we needed to get a mini-van. This is funny and scary on a few levels. We were headed to the Amalfi Coast where the roads are legendary. Unfortunately, they are legendary for bad reason. Hairpin turns are one thing, but hairpin turns on narrow roads with sheer cliff drops is another. If you google “Positano road” words like danger, warning, narrow, and stay safe pop up.
So Peter heads to the rental car shop in Rome and comes back smiling and says, “they didn’t have any minivans so they upgraded us to a full-size passenger van!” He shows up with this.
To drive this.
See what I’m saying? Funny, but more scary.
We had one night in Rome and an extra day before we picked up my family at the Naples airport. We were a bit apprehensive about staying in Naples because of the reputation of the area being unsafe, a pain to navigate and elusive parking. So while we were trying to figure out where to stay that was close enough to the airport I started to do a search in my email from a friend who had recommended the best pizza spot in Naples, L’Antica Pizzeria, when I came across an email from my Aunt Marcy. In the email she wrote about a hotel near Naples that she and my Uncle Gary stayed at a few years ago. So we decided to go ahead and book a room for a quick night’s stay at La Medusa Grand Hotel. It was a gem of a hotel in a not so nice area of Italy, but it was perfect for what we needed. Here we are enjoying a drink before dinner in the beautiful garden area.
The next day we jumped into our boat of a van and headed to Naples airport to pick up the team. I was beyond excited. You can see my Mom was too.
We are all excited and practically shouting at each other catching up on what had been going on in all our lives over the past couple of months. The sun was shining with no jet lag in sight for Mom and Becky. Birds were singing. It was Christmas and my birthday wrapped into one. You could feel the energy and happiness in the car.
Then we arrived to the Amalfi Coast driving what might as well have been a hummer limo. This is where the mood quickly changed and the birds stopped singing. Becky found this great quote from John Steinbeck that I think captures the terror that had instantaneously taken over Becky and my Mom.
“Flaming like a meteor we hit the coast, a road, high, high above the blue sea, that hooked and corkscrewed on the edge of nothing, a road carefully designed to be a little narrower than two cars side by side. And on this road, the buses, the trucks, the motor scooters and the assorted livestock. We didn’t see much of the road. In the back seat my wife and I lay clutched in each other’s arms, weeping hysterically….”
There was a lot of “oh my god!” and and maybe a couple expletives coming from the backseat.
Oddly, the roads didn’t faze Peter nor myself. I started to question why we weren’t bothered. Are we dangerous people? Not really. Illogical? Sometimes, but not to a fault. Then a powerful memory came to mind. Playing a real life video game of Frogger, as a pedestrian, with oncoming traffic days before just outside the Medina in Morocco. This was much, much more scary. I believe the perilous experiences in Morocco had desensitized us to the current situation at hand and instilled trust in the common sense of the other drivers not to do something stupid. Or something like that.
With a little higher blood pressure from our co-travellers in the back we arrived at our Positano dream flat that we found on AirBnb. All was well again in the world.
The first thing my Mom said when she saw our view was, “It looks like a Hollywood set.” Indeed it does.
Our flat had an enormous balcony with the above view so most nights we were content staying in, drinking wine, visiting with each other, and breathing it all in.
A thunderstorm rolled in off the coast on our second day in Positano. It was really to our delight as we had this spectacular view to watch the clouds, sea, and rain dance together as we perched up on the hillside of Positano.
Later that day we had a cooking class schedule in Ravello at Hotel Villa Maria. We hired a driver to take us on the scary Amalfi coast roads instead of Peter who sat this cooking class out to work. Our driver was named Octavia as he was the 8th in birth order in his family. He was a real character. Whenever my Mom asked a question, he would answer her, “Oh Mamma Mia.” After awhile I would joined with him in unison. Mom would ask question, Octavia and I would look at each other and together exclaim, “Oh Mamma Mia!” This was much to our delight, but not so much my Mom’s.
Rain continued to pour on us as we drove from Positano to Ravello. Becky and my mom continued to worry about the treacherous roads. Octavia and I laughed at the scared-tourists in the back seat. ”Oh Mamma Mia!”
At one point during this road trip we were about to enter a cave by way of a hair pin turn when we heard a vehicle honk its horn twice. Octavia quickly pulled to the curb and just moments later a huge tourist bus blew past us. This maneuver left the crew in the back in disbelief and terror. Nevertheless we charged on to Ravello. Octavia dropped us in the city center and gave us walking instructions to the hotel which he said was very “close” to where he dropped us off. He also said suggested that instead of the cooking class we could just come to his house and cook with his family. We respectfully declined his offer, although it did sound fun.
As we started our “close” walk to the cooking class the light drizzle turned into buckets of water being dumped on our heads. Octavia had told us, “head down that street, turn right and you will be there.” Our walked turned into about 20 minutes of us questioning the directions, laughing at ourselves, and transforming into three drowned rats.
We did make it to the hotel and we did get a few looks of mild disgust for our appearance.
Our chef Vincenzo guided our group which included the three whirling dervishes (us), a couple from San Francisco, a Spanish woman, a Brazilian couple, and my personal favorites, Michael and David, a gay couple from New York.
Chef Vincenzo was a sight of a person. He had the most tan skin I think I have ever seen with piercing light blue eyes. It was almost like staring at the sun if you gazed at him for too long. I think he could sense that my family and I were a bunch of characters so who did he volunteer to lead the class?
I was grouped off with David from New York to devein shrimp. David and his partner have also traveled extensively including Morocco so we enjoyed and exchanged travel stories. We both loved the Riads and Hammams, but also agreed on the underlying sense of desperation that is palpable in the air. As the class went on I quickly recognized that David was the extrovert of the relationship while his partner Michael is the calming force, which makes for a perfect and lovely balance.
The class certainly did not go without entertainment. Chef Vincenzo patiently tried to teach the students how to “flip” while you are cooking. Essentially you are supposed to push the pan forward while slightly tilting it up – all while flicking your wrist backward in a circular motion, standing on one foot. Ok not the last part, but that’s how difficult it seemed. That pan was heavy, but you know who it wasn’t heavy for, David from New York. After a few sips of vino, David put on a one man act of flipping, while singing, and dancing. First picture is of Mom and Becky trying to master the flip. Second is of our entertainment.
After preparing a meal of pasta, sea bream, and shrimp we all sat down and enjoyed a delicious Italian feast together. Many “life is good” toasts were made and laughter was everywhere. It could have been the white wine that was included, David’s singing, Chef Vincenzo’s disapproving head shakes, and/or all of the above.
When we were finished eating, I made a mention to Vincenzo about how much I have been enjoying the limoncello in Italy. He then whisked our group away to a hidden room upstairs where he showed us how and where he makes his own limoncello. He told us we could enjoy a glass at the hotel bar on him after the class. Yay Chef Vincenzo! See what I mean about the tan skin blue eyes combo?
After said glass of limoncello we said our good byes to our new friends with promises to keep in touch. Octavia picked us up and we took narrow coast roads back. Maybe it was the darkness or maybe it was the limoncello, but the trip back was met with a lot more ease.
The next day we took a ferry over to the Island of Capri. My friend Lindsey had just celebrated her honeymoon in Italy and had given me an email address to book a grotto tour in Capri. That’s really all the information I had.
My inquisitive husband of course had a lot of questions regarding the tour and what we were getting ourselves into. I eventually told him, “it’s going to be fun, but I’m not really sure what we are doing.” As the ferry pulled into the harbor I saw a man holding a sign that read, “Jaime Hodges.” I overheard a woman on the ferry say, “Who’s Jaime Hodges. He is going to have a good day.” Yes, she said he, but her prediction was spot-on. Thank you Lindsey for such an incredible recommendation. The tour was a two hour private trip around the entire island. Along the way we saw people packed in boats like sardines as we delighted in our own personal boat and guide, with all kinds of space to soak in the sun.
It was a wonderful day of spotting crystal blue and emerald green lagoons, marveling in the beauty of Capri, and cooling off in the Mediterranean sea.
As if this day couldn’t get any better, we finished our adventure in Capri by sitting at a sea side restaurant, L’ Approdo, where we ordered up some delicious Margherita pizza for under 5 euro a pie. The theme in Italy for our happiness: amazing activity, amazing food, repeat.
Our last night in Positano we had managed to get reservations at a restaurant that had been highly recommended by a few different friends, La Tagliata.
This restaurant is a must in Positano. I feel confident in reporting that it will be like no other dining experience you have had. It’s an event that starts with a chauffeur picking you up at your Positano location in a large bus while making stops along the only road of Positano picking up dozens of other guests. Bus full, the driver then takes you up the winding roads which eventually leads you to the restaurant which provides beautiful views of the city. Once seated the owner comes over to your table and informs you there are no menus and that everything is prepared by his sisters, grandmothers, third cousins, etc. Its a family affair.
The event began and didn’t stop until five full course meals were served. It started with antipastos, then vegetables, pastas, meats, and finally desserts. Wine and limoncello flowed as well. This was a real Italian family style meal. We couldn’t help but laugh each time the table was cleared only to be decorated again with dish after dish.
The kicker was at the end of eating and drinking till our hearts were content we received the bill and it amounted to only $35 euros per person. After a wonderful Olympic event of eating, weighing in a bit more than when we left, we hopped back on the bus which took us home. There was a couple on the bus that had just got engaged that day. It was fun to think about the journey they have ahead of them between now and their wedding.
In the morning we packed up, loaded our semi-truck (van), and started our road trip to Rome.
Thank you Positano for three perfect days. It won’t be a trip any of us will forget anytime soon. “Oh Mamma Mia”
With a heart full of gratitude, thanks for following.