As my cousin Francesca drives the winding path along the coast, the narrow road ahead looks as though it must be one way. There is a cliff on one side of us and a steep drop to the sea below on the other side. Surely there is no room for oncoming traffic in such tight quarters. As we continue we notice in amazement that cars are brazenly parked on the side of this tight road. Shaking my head I almost miss the goats that have joined us on our journey coming from somewhere in the hills. Then we see it – oncoming traffic. It seems absolutely impossible, but this is the Amalfi coast and it works. Drivers are fearless and carefree here. They seem to pay no mind to the sea below, protected simply by a short stone wall or a thin rail. No one seems worried as they leave their cars by a cliffside to run off and explore the beautiful towns of Ravello, Amalfi or Positano. This makes parking in Manayunk (go ahead Google it) look like child’s play.
In Ravello we visit one of the beautiful villas surrounded by lush trees and plants still thriving in this unusually mild weather. We’re here at just the right time to see the foliage stuck between summer and fall. There are lemon trees and rows of pumpkins within steps of each other. Green leaves and bright plants are mixed in with red and gold leaves just starting to hit the ground.
In my memory of our time here, one town runs into the other and although they are close in proximity, they are separated by winding roads and in some cases miles of steps. What should be a lazy destination by the water is really a work-out for an active traveler. By the time we’ve reached the town of Amalfi, we have earned our lunch. In a trattoria overlooking the Duomo di Amalfi we enjoyed Napolitana style pizza, delicious prosciutto, salty cheese and grilled vegetables. We could have sat there all day soaking up the southern Italian sun and sipping Peroni beers, but we had lots of sites to take in.
At the top of a long flight of steps sits a beautiful church with ornate, gold covered ceilings and intricate iron gates. Inside, it is filled with majestic tile work and crystal chandeliers. Its grandeur is contrasted by the simple ceramics which fill the shops that line the streets around it. The colors are bright and cheerful and I want to take every piece home with me. In my inability to chose, I lose my opportunity to shop as we move to the next location. For me, nothing compares with the colors and styles of Amalfi. Even Positano with its water-color pastels and picturesque views can’t compete as far as I am concerned.
My favorite part of our coastal adventure occurs on the way to Positano. A large tour bus driving toward us is stuck as another tour bus a few cars ahead of us tries to pass it. They are stalled, side by side, facing opposite directions, filling up the entire space of the road between the mountain and the sea. We missed the dialogue and hand waving that undoubtedly took place before a solution was reached and each oversized vehicle made its way forward. This common local incident reminds me of New York City in that it simply shouldn’t function. “It is a miracle that New York works at all. The whole thing is implausible,” wrote E.B. White in 1948. I’m reminded of this explanation as we drive through these little hill towns, partially surrounded by water and isolated from the rest of the country.
We wind down our southern excursion with dinner in Praiano, a somewhat lesser known tourist town with breath-taking views and an amazing restaurant on the water. Mike is baffled by the moderate prices for such a feast. Antipasto of fish and cheese and vegetables followed by gnocchi, spaghetti alle vongole (clams) and pork chops hardly add up to a casual lunch by New York standards, and the addition of wine doesn’t make a dent in the check. We reason that we’re actually saving money by being here and justify plans for a return trip!
We stayed the night in an AirBnB rental that looked and felt well above our means yet was unbelievably affordable (further justification for our return visit). It was spacious and sparsely decorated with simple but perfectly curated furniture. The accommodations were modest yet comfortable and inviting. However, location was everything as we discovered upon walking out onto the terrace awash in the bright morning sun. The air was crisp and the sea below was as blue as the sky. If only we had more time here. We could spend the day never leaving this terrace. Of course high above the town separated by hundreds of steps, the convenience of New York did not exist and hunger would have gotten the better of us eventually without Seamless to bring us nourishment. For now espresso overlooking the sea would be enough.
Our last stop is Sorrento, another coastal town, perched atop a high cliff facing the Bay of Naples. We barely have time to stroll through the town and have lunch before we must head back to Rome for our farewell dinner. Tomorrow we must return home to the states. But first we wander down a tiny alley that leads us to a gem of a restaurant where we enjoy another delicious lunch. The service is warm and attentive. The waiter who is also the proprietor brings us water and bread and a woman who I can only guess to be his wife takes our order. I’m getting in all the fresh seafood that I can while I’m here. There is pasta with a medley of shellfish for me and ravioli for Mike. Someone how Francesca is unphased and manages to order light vegetable dishes during all of our meals. Mike and I leave wishing we could have taken additional meals home with us!
We’re so overwhelmed by Francesca’s kindness and generosity. She has made our trip unforgettable, tending to all of our needs and making sure we got to see as much of this gorgeous country as possible. She welcomed us into her home, made us great meals with the best Italian ingredients and acted as our personal tour guide. We wonder every day how we can possibly reciprocate. As we drive home I sit day dreaming in the back seat. How will I ever remember every detail and how can we possibly leave this magical country tomorrow?
That is a worry for the morning. The night ahead of us is meant only for celebration. We arrive in Rome just in time for our last cena at Maria’s house. All of my cousins are there. I try to ingrain this moment into my memory wanting to savor every minute of it. I don’t know how other people manage to successfully vacation in Italy without my family to guide them and make them feel welcome and at home. Today is Thanksgiving Eve and it is the perfect day to end our story. We are grateful for our family and friends, for the traditions and memories that we share and of course for the delicious food we have the privilege to cook and enjoy and share with you through this blog. Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Thank you for reading. We are grateful.