So, we pick up from where we caught the fast train from Bari to Caserta – across Italy. Well, at least we thought we were getting the fast train……. Turns out it was a mix of (a) fast train for an hour – in first class which means service – yeah right! The “crew” offered drinks that weren’t available, a toilet which they kept locked for themselves…… and gave no info about where we were to change trains……….. (b) the train only went for an hour then everyone had to haul their luggage off, and put it on a bus. No directions, no info re what or where……. And then, on a packed bus for 2.5 hours. Mind you the scenery was good although it was quite wet. (c) then off the bus, herded like cattle, to catch the next connecting train…….. first class again this time an open toilet and a drink. Apparently this is normal so we couldn’t understand why it wasn’t explained. But there was also a group of Americans and a couple from England in the same situation so we had a bit of a yarn with them which was nice. We couldn’t believe when we were on the bus to see so many HUGE wind farms on the hills. They went for literally miles and miles…….. Makes those near Plamerston North seem tiny indeed!
Then we got to Caserto rail station. We then had to buy a local train ticket to get to Salerno where our friends were meeting us. (Shaun and Michele – they live in Rome at the moment). We had an hour wait at Caserta so went to the train station café for a bite. Mama Mia (as they say here)……. Pizza to die for and selling prosciutto and bags of coffee beans to the locals. – For us even better than a good deli in NZ! Even sold wine and beer. Italy had me drooling already!
Then to Salerno – another hour on the train. By this time we had been travelling 29 hours! In hind sight a flight from Athens to Rome would have saved a day, we wouldn’t have missed much in sights, and been so much easier. But anyway…… So we got to Salerno and Kiaora! Here were the kiwis to meet us with two of their other kiwi visitors (Leone and Miles) from Auckland. So the 6 of us set off in a people mover, with our huge bags etc to the Amalfi Coast.
Mama Mia again! The Amalfi Coast – it is JUST like the movies……… So beautiful, so steep, so pretty, and such winding steep and narrow roads! Thank goodness for Shaun’s great driving. We could not believe the steepness of the sheer cliffs where houses and hotels are built and the large groves of lemons and grapes are planted. Oh, the lemons! So pretty.
Michele and Shaun had booked us all in to a hotel at a wee town at the edge of the Amalfi. We arrived about 5pm and of course, it was gin time! The hotel was St Peter’s so fitting for Peter…… After a drink we ventured in the rain to find a restaurant for dinner. Unlike previous times Michele and Shaun had been there, due to the rain we think and also the earliness of the “tourist season” there was little to choose from. But we found a place and had veal, pizza bread and red wine. Yum!
Only…….. by the morning two of our crew were sick as…….. and they blamed the veal! (A few days later Peter and I came down with the same bug so we now know it was not food, but a virus). Poor them – and we had to get back in the people mover to get up the Coast to get back to Rome, as Shaun was flying to Brussels that night for work.
The scenery on the Amalfi Coast is so stunning – words and photos cannot really describe the feeling of it. The roads are paved and like goat tracks to us –with full on tour busses coming at you. They have “bus road monitors” who stop traffic when a bus is coming as really it is only one lane wide.
We stopped at Amalfi town. The town is so quaint with all paved tiny streets cut out of hills and rock. The basilica there was quite something and dwarfed everything else in sight. For those of you who know lemonchello the drink, they had dozens of shops dedicated to lemonchello – due to the huge number of lemons in the region. Heaven………. And the price! In NZ you might pay say, $60 for a litre of the lemon drink, but there, 9 euro – (about $16NZD). So of course…………….
We stopped off at a Pottery Factory (in the middle of nowhere, up on the cliff!) as Leone and Miles were thinking of buying a hand painted stone Italian table top to send home. As it turned put they didn’t buy, but what an amazing place to see – and they showed us how the work is done. So beautiful.
Then more coast and then via Naples in to Rome. At one stage the GPS (“Sally”) stopped working which got the drivers and navigators a bit nervous but she came through in time! Shaun went off to the airport for Brussels and we all had local for tea – local Chinese that is! What a hoot – first night in Rome we had Chinese like the second night in Istanbul we had KFC – both at the request of the local hosts I might say hee hee hee.
Suffice to say we loved the Amalfi Coast and could go back for an extended period there.
And Rome……… or Roma as it is here. Mama Mia again! We loved it. The history and ancientness, everywhere. Michele and Shaun live so central we were literally 2 blocks from the pyramid built in 12BC, the cemetery where Shelly and Keats are buried, a few more blocks to the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, the Vatican City………. So a metro stop here and bus there and we were full on tourists! It was so easy and Michele turned Tour Guide was fantastic. Thanks Michele! Then Shaun turned in to our Duty Free manager as they can get duty free at their work and here we are – stocked up for the trip!
I also went to the local market with Michele – I was blown away with the tomatoes (for those who know my tastes, tomatoes are one of my very favorite foods!). One stall only had tomatoes – about 11 different types I counted. And to a deli like I could only dream off – parma hams by the dozen hanging from the ceiling, cheeses like I have never seen, pastas, antipasto treats, etc. And they were cutting the parma by hand in to those thin slices – in NZ they use electric machines. Of course we also at local pizza (yum!), pasta and for Peter, some fish. Michele introduced us to cornette (like a croissant with custard in the middle) for breakfast with a good Italian coffee.
We had a day or two ill in Rome so missed a few sights but even so, we were on sight and history overload. My favorite has to be the Coliseum and the Sistine Chapel. Peter says all were his favorite!
Michele cooked some yum home food which after 6 weeks travel were much appreciated!
Rome to Tuscany
So then we were to leave on Saturday to head to Tuscany, to a village off the beaten track called Castelmuzio. Through Shaun, and via a couple of locals, we had booked this place before we left NZ. But launching on the journey from Rome to Castelmuzio was a little daunting to say the least. First – we were to pick up a car and DRIVE – on the wrong side of the road – and second we had to find the remote village, via GPS which we had never used before.
So, part one. Shaun and Michele get us to the local train station. Bags are now really heavy with all the “duty free”. Part two – no lift up to the train platform so Shaun and Peter lift the bags up. Part three – on the train to the Rome Airport where we were to call the car lease agent and get the car. All went well. Part four – we get the car and are to drive out of Rome airport district to the A1 motorway and there we are, on our way to Florence which we are to turn off beforehand. EXCEPT, we miss the turn to the A1 and I am at the same time trying to set up the GPS which has a broken plug……….. and there we go – heading back in to Rome. Of course, no cross words were exchanged……… J
After an hour of seemingly endless circles, we get back on to the A1. We have now cemented our first lesson in using a GPS. You see, the GPS must be set on the same course as the paper map the man at the car shop gives you! We had the simple paper map saying head this way to the A1 and the GPS saying turn left and go somewhere else. This was due to GPS being on the setting: Most direct Route instead of: Fastest Route. But now we know………… You see, the most direct route may not go via the motorways and the speed limit on the motorways is 130kms/ hour ……….. so it may be the fastest.
Anyway, we got here. And only 30 minutes late (after another two wrong turns!). We are literally in the middle of nowhere in a tiny village (maybe ,300 population) and so delightful. On the way we passed through Umbria – which bought a wee tear to my eye, me being so romantic. Have you seen the film “My House in Umbria” with Judi Dench? If not, have a look at the DVD and imagine us. It is EXACTLY like that here. As we were driving on tiny narrow roads through groves of olives, small soft top, two seat sports cars were zooming past………. Just like the movie! (Equivalent to our motor bikes out on Saturday afternoon jaunts in NZ). Peter is getting used to driving on the right hand side – although there were several events where we just missed the right hand side barriers or cliff by 1 or 2 millimeters!
And we got here – Susie, our new best friend, the GPS (once we made friends after Rome, that is) took us right to the door of Piaza 4, Novembre 4, Castlemuzio, Siena. I recognised the door from the photos we had seen. The family who owns it was waiting and we could hear yelps of delight as we knocked on the door. You see, we are the first customers to rent here and we were 30 mins late…….. they were so delightful. Mother, daughter (with speaking English) and boyfriend of daughter.
We were greeted with so much enthusiasm and taken on a tour of the house which is so lovely. Recently renovated, with all new appliances, new linen etc – and a tiny kitchen for me to play in. Heaven………
There was on the kitchen table, as a gift to us, a bottle of local red wine (year 2003), a bottle of the family’s own olive oil and a bottle of vincetto. A sweet wine to sip with the home made fruit flan the mother had also made us. What a treat and how humbled we felt.
The view from our bedroom is also like a movie – over olive groves and rural scenery with a castle village on the hill adjacent. After they left we went for an explore of the village and to the “supermarket” which is about the size of a NZ dairy and a co-op which we were pleased about. The village has the co-op, a small bank, a pub/dairy/restaurant and a church. So we called in to the pub/restaurant to ask about dinner that night. They told us it was going to be really busy so we’d need to book. Imagine our surprise at that being such a small sleepy village. So they advised booking at 8pm which we did.
So we came “home” and had a drink on the deck/balcony which overlooks all the neighbours and the main village intersection – so we can keep an eye on comings and goings. What a hoot! We also overlook the church bell tower so get the bells on the hour every hour, as well as a half hour dong. So traditional.
At 5 to 8 off we go to the pub/restaurant and there is no one there. As we expected we thought – pulling the wool over the tourist’s eyes……….. and on the way in there we see an electronic set up outside with a data projector…… music we think, later at the pub. We’ll be in, we think……….
So we ask about our dinner reservation, only to be told the restaurant is upstairs. So up we go and open a door to be greeted by a PACKED restaurant and the smell of fresh truffles. Ha ha – we were fooled and did we laugh! The restaurant was mainly packed with locals (when we say packed it only seats about 40) as they were all gathering to watch the football game between Italy and Germany – ah ha! THAT is what the data show is for.
So as we eat (and the most amazing food!) they all leave to go downstairs to see the game. But before I go on to the game, let me tell you about dinner.
There was no pizza and only hand made pasta to choose from (oh, boo hoo – yeah right!). The main courses only a top of 12 euro for scampi / prawns etc. Peter had soup made of grains and vege and then guinea fowl. I had handmade gnocchi with porcini and a hint of truffle with shavings of the pig with white skin and a black band. It turns out this region is the land of all the different wild pigs. For main I had slivers of the white pig with black hair (exactly how they described it) in a rosemary sauce. Mmmmmmmm. We declined dessert and went downstairs to see the game.
What a hoot. The outdoor projector was set up to project on to the church wall – as it is the flattest surface with plaster and no bricks. So here are all these soccer players running all over the church wall. Classic!
But the reception was not too good – so after a while the locals (all 50 of them) bring their chairs inside to watch the 30 inch screen. So the data projector people rush off somewhere and come back with an aerial cable and plug it in, which stops the indoor screen working so the chairs and their people move back outside. We were highly entertained!! PS: the Italian team won – thank goodness!