Saturday, October 3, 2009

October 2, 2009

Oct. 2nd:
So as high as my expectations were for Venice, my expectations for Naples were extremely low. Having heard and read about the crime and robbery in Naples, I was extremely nervous about visiting here. But what is a visit to Italy without a visit to Pompeii and the Amalf?

Since I was a bit nervous, and since we havem't yet spent a cent on loding since we landed in Italy, we decided to splurge and checked into the Hotel Excelsior, with its marble lobby, terraced breakfast area and balconied room overlooking the bay of Naples.

And, since we were spluring, we really splurged and hired wonderful Carmine from "Sea Almalfi Tours" as our guide for a day. Okay, so he also picked us up at the airport and drove us to our hotel. So when asked if I was scared driving through Naples, I was able to respond - "Not from the back seat of a Mercedes I wasn't."
Driving through Naples I understood the reaction - though mine differs slightly. What I see is Naples is a city that has not yet recovered from World War II...Modern buildings with bullet holes amidst ancient dwellings representing Napole's vast and varied history. It's a city that takes pride in its history and yet not for its present. The focus is on the economic driving force of the Amalif Coast. My guess is that most Americans just pass through Naples en route to Sorrento and Positano or Capri. Naples is gritty and dirty and teaming with life.

We went out to dinner last night at a fish restaurant that had been recommended by the hotel. Unlike Rome and Venice, where locals tripped over themselves to welcome us into their establishments - the staff at La Scailuppa acted more as if they were honoring us by making room for us in their establishment. We found the contrast funny and the food excellent.

So Carmine picks us up first thing this morning and off we go to explore the Amalif Coast. To connect with Carmine is to have him adopt you, so the day became a family adventure, and one that is possible because you don't have the constraints of a large tour bus while keeping track of scores of others.

We started at the top of a mountain giving us a view of the entire area in tiny Rovello. They are reknown for their ceramics which are truly incredible.

Along the way, we stopped at the Donadeo Cameo factory. This region is home to the world's great masters in cameo crafting which was introduced by the Romans some 2,000 years ago. I didn't realize that cameos are carved out of shells and you don't belive it when you see the ringlets, lace, etc. So much that is done today is by laser. We met Vincenzo Scirla who is considered one of the grand masters. He is ancient and his hands have taken the shape of the tools that he holds.So, in his honor, of course we had to purchase on of his creations, the "Goddess of Flowers".

Then on we went exploring Amalfi, Sorrento, Positano and more. I've often thought that the folks who decided to build a town on the hills of San Francisco were crazy. Well, after having spent a week in Venice, which was basically built on marshlands, and a day on the Amalfi Coast with towns built into mountains, I'm not so sure.

Each town, with its windy roads and alleys and building ranging from new to hundreds of years old, provides such a contrast even to itself. No nook is left unutilized - have a four foot a vegetable stand. Have a partial remain of a Norman fortress, open a jewelry shop. Crowded and close and dark - an alley suddenly opens up to a breathtaking view of the sea, or a piazza with a Byzantine church. I was never sure what to look at first.

And then, on top of a mountain, Carmine stops the car and says "For this you will never forget me....." and he shepherds us into La Tagliata, a restaurant barely seen from the street - a hidden Shangri La w ith a stone floor and thatched roof and an amazing view of Positano. "I have ordered for you", he says, "All you do is eat what is before you."

I don't even know where to begin. We have never tasted such food in our lives. Both of us were dumbstruck. We sat down and a side table was put next to ours and both tables were filled with plate after plate of tastes - just tast - each set to tease the palatte in a different way.

My first bite was of brocolli cooked in such a way as to burst with flavor in my mouth. I literally gasped at the surprise. I mean how could someone make brocolli taste like that? This was followed by a pumpkin souffle, then spinach with seasonings that, again, had us moaning in heaven. There were potatos and a sauteed bean salad. Taste upon taste, seasoning, texture, color, smells. The tomatos made me understand for the first time that they really are a fruit - and this, combined with goat cheese that was so subtle as to coax the flavor of the toast and tomato even further.
Then eggplant parmesana. My sister loves eggplant and occassionally I will indulge her and share a dish with here - but I've never understood its appeal. Well, one bite into their eggplant parmesana and I started singing (not too loudly). There was simply no other response.We turned around and the dishes were cleared and out came the pasta course - again tastes - a sample of ravioli, canneloni, gnocci and something else that is the Italian version of a blintz.

The restaurant is family run and Mamma gets up at 5:00 a.m. every day to make the pasta from scratch. Then desert - again little samples served with lemoncello - a dessert lidqour that we had tried in Rome and hadn't cared for. This lemonciello - homemade. The wine - homemade. Since everyone who works in the restaurant is family, each and every one takes great pride in every moan, smile and sigh. We were brought into the immaculate kitchen to meet Mama who welcomed my kisses of appreciation and beamed when told that her cooking made us sing.

Back in the car it was back to Naples for a quick downtown tour. We got back to the hotel and could only shake our heads at the experience of the day's sights, sounds, smells and tastes.
for more photos click on the following:
Next stop Zoagli, outside of Genoa - the Italian Riviera.... not sure of wifi capacity, so it may be a few days before we post again... Click below for our next home exchnge>>

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