Playing catch up…5 weeks in Italy

Playing catch up…5 weeks in Italy

Oh, I’ve been very bad! Here I am in the heat and rain of Sri Lanka’s jungle forests finally writing a post about our 5 weeks in Italy and Sicily!

Meglio tardi che mai (better late than never)!

So, where did we leave off? After a week of picking grapes in the tranquility of the Slovenian vineyard, Todd and I met my parents in Poggibonsi, Italy – a small, nondescript town in the Tuscan hills. The four of us stayed in a stone barn-turned-villa among olive trees. For six days, we visited some familiar Tuscan towns and discovered some new ones. Wine became the only drink poured at dinner and we gorged ourselves on pasta, pizza, cheese and cured meats. Every girls dream…

In 2010, we took an amazing family vacation with my parents and Todd’s dad and stepmother to Tuscany. It was one of those trips that will forever be perfect in our memories. This time it was just my parents, Todd and I so we definitely missed the other third of our group.

The four of us visited many of the same towns, restaurants and gelaterias – some remained the same while others changed (for better or worse). It was mid-September, so many tourists flooded the more popular towns like San Gimignano and Greve in Chianti and previously off-the-beaten-path towns like Certaldo were now discovered. Still, we managed to find diamonds-in-the-rough like lovely Colle Val D’Elsa – a town perched high upon a crescent-shaped hill. The gelato at La Antica Delizia Gelateria in Castelina in Chianti is quite possibly the best in all of Italy and it has improved in the five years since we first visited.

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Standing outside the main gate of Colle Val d’Elsa

Our second week was spent in a town called Maiori on the famous Almafi Coast. While not as big and popular as Positano, it is far less crowded therefore much more enjoyable. If you really want to visit the madness of Positano, I suggest taking the bus or ferry. Driving the narrow, traffic-ridden twisting roads while dodging scooters and tour busses is an exhausting endeavor (and one of the only times Todd, our chauffeur, almost quit).  We arrived in crowded Positano at lunchtime and were lucky enough to eat at one of our favorite restaurants: Da’Vincenzo.

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After an exhausting ride from Maiori, we finally arrive in Positano for lunch at Vincenzo’s

From Maiori we took several day trips – each time Todd patiently and successfully navigated our Ford C-Max through the narrow cliff-hugging mountain roads as on-coming tour busses inched their way through tight passes. It goes without saying that a visit to the archeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum is awe-inspiring and a highlight of every trip to Italy. The buzzing, crowded streets of Naples makes your senses come alive as cars and scooters dare you to get in their way. And waiting over an hour to eat the deliciously gooey thin-crust pizza at Pizzeria Da’Michele is totally worth it.

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To die for pizza at Pizzeria Da Michele in Naples
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Here I am manning the counter of an ancient restaurant in Herculaneum. Like Pompeii, Herculaneum was buried under 60 meters of ash from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

One highlight for all of us, but especially my dad, was a visit to a small town in the mountains above Naples called Sant’Edigio di Monte Bianco. It is the town from which my father’s maternal grandparents originated. All over the town, our family name “Ferriole” is found. Piazzas, streets, the WWII monument (dedicated to fallen soldiers from Sant’Edigio) and even a palace all donned our ancestor’s name.   My father was as proud as a peacock and when a local towns woman welcomed him to Sant’Edigio with a kiss, he practically blushed.

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My dad in Piazza Ferriole of Sant’Edigio de Monte Bianco

In our third week, we ventured to the province of Bari – near the heel of the boot. Neither Todd nor I had ever been to Bari and we instantly liked it. We stayed in a beautiful fishing village called Monopoli. It is quickly becoming an expat destination with many apartments in the old town listed for sale. Old town is made of white buildings along narrow cobblestone streets, all squished together with churches and compact piazzas, surrounded by a sea wall and fort. The waterfront bustles every morning and evening as fishermen sell their daily catch to restaurants right from their boats. A dinner of daily chef-selected small plates at restaurant La Locanda Dei Mercanti was one of the best (and filling) meals eaten in Italy. For fantastic sandwiches, meat and cheese platters, wine and drinks, check out Vini & Panini in the Piazza Garibaldi.

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Super moon over Monopoli’s wall.

Day trips from Monopoli included visits to the elf-like homes called “trulli” in Albero, the cave dwellings called “stassi” in the white cliffs of Matera and the deep caves of Castellana.

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Trulli houses
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Matera, Italy. The cave homes are hidden in the cliffs.

From Monopoli, we drove over two days to Sicily – a first for Todd and I. As soon as we crossed by ferry, it was like the wild west! With traffic moving every which way and highway roads under never-ending construction, driving was a challenge. Sicily is so different from the rest of Italy you almost think you’re in a different country altogether. Contrary to what I’ve heard, Sicilians do speak proper Italian – and thank goodness: Sicilian is not even remotely Italian (it’s a big mishmash of Arabic, Greek and other languages). After a few weeks in Italy, my Italian was dusted off and I could communicate pretty well with locals. I found Sicilians really chatty and curious so it was great that I could communicate with them.

Our first stop in Sicily was the charming beach town of Cefalu. It had a resort feel with plenty of English pubs offering true happy hour drink specials and small bites for us foreigners. In between day trips to Greek ruins called the Valley of the Temples and the big city of Palermo, we hit the beach to enjoy the hot southern sun.

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Sunset on the beach in Cefalu
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Palermo, Sicily
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Valley of the Temples. This is only one – the site is really quite large with several hundred ruins.

Our second and final accommodation in Sicily was a gorgeous Airbnb apartment in Modica – one of my favorite cities visited this trip. Modica could be straight out of the Godfather movies with white buildings streaked black from pollution, palm trees and locals filled with the hubris of mafia. The city lies in a valley surrounded by rugged mountains so getting to the Church of San Giorgio perched high above the town and atop a 250 staircase, is an athletic endeavor.

To reach this cathedral, you must walk up 250 stairs!
To reach this cathedral, you must walk up 250 stairs!
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Modica, Sicily

Lucky for us most of the town’s action including bars, restaurants and shops, were located in the valley and a few steps from our apartment. Modica is one of those dreamy Italian cities in which you can stroll up and down the main drag, relaxed and unbothered. From Modica, we visited the ancient Roman mosaics at Piazza Armerina and a few other towns nestled in the rocky hills of southwestern Sicily.

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One of the hundreds of intricate mosaics in Armerina.

It was time to part ways with my parents: they flew to Milan for a week while Todd and I flew to Florence to see the Dave Matthews Band in concert. Florence stole my heart when I studied there as a college student so seeing Dave Matthews there was one of the highlights of the entire trip for me. To see the band I’ve loved for two decades in the city that is my second home was extremely emotional for me. It was just another dream come true among dozens I’ve had on this trip.

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Coming around a corner and seeing this – The Duomo – never gets old.
Happy to be back in Florence at Santa Maria Novella!
Happy to be back in Florence at Santa Maria Novella!

We finished up our time in Italy by visiting Rome and Venice for two more fantastic concerts and a bit of sightseeing. Although Rome is far more crowded and touristy than ever before (the wait to enter the Coliseum was over two hours!), Venice was just as unique and special as I’d remembered it and quiet corners can be found deep within the narrow, winding streets. From Italy, we went to Munich, Copenhagen and Berlin – both to see Dave Matthews and to meet my friend Christie in Berlin. We absolutely loved Berlin – it’s graffiti, counter-culture hipster scene, phenomenal Turkish and international cuisine and historical significance.

On the rails at the Dave Matthews Band show in Copenhagen.
On the rails at the Dave Matthews Band show in Copenhagen.

Even though we went over our budget a lot and we were definitely spoiled, our time in Europe was wonderful. Spending a month with my parents and then five days with Christie really relieved some homesickness. It filled our cup enough to carry us through the next leg of our journey on the other side of the world.

 

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