Monday, July 22, 2013

Amalfi Coast: Living & Driving the Good Life


Ro and the Fiat 500
We had managed to avoid driving a car to this point in our Italian adventure, but that was about to change.  The driving adventure started when we took a taxi to the Ciampino airport to pick up our rental car.  We had planned to add a GPS to our rental, but the rental car agent quoted a price of $700 Euro to rent a GPS.  Upon further inquiry, for some bizarre reason, his records showed we were going to be renting for approximately 70 plus days.  Now wouldn’t that be fun?  But, even the cost of a three day GPS rental and returning it to another location he did not recommend.  "You can buy one much cheaper in Rome," he suggested (of course we had just come from there with no plans to return).  So neadless to say we set off in our sexy Fiat 500 white on white edition (JLo style) and headed South.  This has to be one of our biggest feats to date, actually navigating data and GPS free, old school style, in a foreign country.  We have to believe many a marriage could have ended attempting this and we definitely do not recommend it.

We made it successfully to our first stop, the ancient preserved city of Pompeii, incredulously preserved under layers of ash for centuries.  We found it enchanting, retracing the footsteps of this ancient civilization that dated to the first century A.D.   We left the ancient city and continued our trip farther South to Salerno. 


One of the items at the top of Flo-Jo's bucket list (you know all those things you swear you are going to do before you kick the bucket) was to drive the Amalfi Coast in a convertible Ferrari with her hair being blown gently by the warm Mediterranean trade winds. This drive is famous for villages literally carved into the side of steep cliffs overlooking gorgeous views of the deep blue sea.  With those villages being just at the edge of cliffs it does not leave much extra room for a highway.  There is a harrowing two-lane road that hugs the edge or the curvy mountain, but the reward for the traveler is you are on the edge of what has to be one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

So substitute the Ferrari for a Fiat 500 and place a check-mark next to Amalfi Coast on the old bucket list.  

We then put our own lives on the edge literally of risking life and death as we drove around the steep, 'don’t look over the edge,' cliffs of the Amalfi Coast. Immediately we knew this was going to be a challenge and were very thankful we had one of the smallest cars on the planet to navigate the less than generous lane space.   We had several near head on collisions with drivers more interested in showing off their ability to drive fast on this famous corridor vs. actually staying on their side of the narrow two-lane cliff hugging road.  


FloJo at the wheel
We were left wondering how the Italian engineers were able to build such a feat allowing just enough room to navigate.  Come to find out these roads were built in the 1800s even before cars were invented.  Probably the most incredlous feat we witnessed was how the local buses made it up and down the coast.  Of course, they took up more than their own lane and forced us even closer to the cliff wall.  We faced one head on coming around one of the tight corners and had to stop while the bus carefully used every available inch of space to make the hairpin corner.





The online pictures and descriptions in guide books did not do the scenery justice.  We ended up arriving as the sun was setting, which only amplified the colors bouncing off the cliffs and onto the blue water.  There were not many places to pull off to take pictures so we took mental pictures that will stay in our heads for the rest of our lives.  We neared Atrani, the small town on the coast we would be staying at for the night, just as the sun had completely set and darkness was beginning shroud the scenery.

After we found the hotel (by asking locals where it was) and then by pure accident parking by the water in front of the hotel sign. Who needs a GPS when you have that kind of luck?  We hiked like mountain goats up the steep steps to the hotel which was carved into the side of the coast.  The rooms were all named after actresses and had modern art replicas of said actress in the room.  The front desk had cubby holes with actual keys to each of the rooms and small pictures of the room's featured actor or actress.  Perhaps by coincidence we got assigned the American actress, Julia Robert’s, namesake room overlooking the beach and the famous Amalfi Coast.  She, like us, was enamored with Italian food in the movie Eat, Pray, Love.


After we settled into our room, we hiked back down the hill literally within a stones throw of the fishing boats.   We knew we would be having a lot of fresh, delicious local fish for dinner.  


The meal started off on the right foot when the waiter brought us a “welcome gift” of orange liquor we believe to be aperol.  We were intriqued by the "taste every fish on the menu" option for 40 Euro, but took a more conservative and less glutinous approach.  We began with a mixed salad of shrimp, cucumber, radichio and lemon.  We dressed the salad ourselves with the Italian staple olive oil and vinegar.  Simple, but delicious and we needed the green veggies, which had been very lacking in our travel diet.  

Next we moved on to the pasta course comprised of Italian parsley pasta and tomatoes with mixed seafood (mussels, clams and shrimp).  The mussels were our favorite which paired nicely with the house white.  The main course was a stunner, a whole local fish that was listed on the menu as, “the best local fish.”  Seriously, how do you pass that up?  Our cute Italian waiter put on a show table side de-boning the fish.  He carefully removed the spine, the dorsal fin, the head and then the tail.  He put all the bones onto FloJo’s plate and reconstructed the skeleton to look like it’s former fish self, telling her when he was finished with the reconstruction, this was her serving, while Ro got the real fish.  Not fair!  Luckily there was an extra plate hidden and we shared the real fish, which was, as advertised, the best local fish.  



The evening ended on a high note, literally, with a visit to the restaurant by the local traveling band.  Comprised of a clarinet, guitar, violin and FloJo’s favorite a tambourine player (there may be a career for her yet in music).  They had an eclectic playlist stretching from LaBamba (a crowd favorite), but a little out of place in Italy to Volaré (a little more appropriate).  We ate our molten lava chocolate cake, which reminded us both of the city we had just visited.  Too bad Pompeiii had not been covered in chocolate instead of volcanic ash.  We sipped our “good-bye present,” the best lemoncello we’ll probably ever have (although FloJo has plans to try to make a house version).   


Happy, full and content that we had witnessed an ancient civilization almost completely preserved for thousands of years, survived the harrowing drive down the Amalfi Coast and enjoyed a feast of amazing seafood a stones throw from the water.  The real feather in our cap to end this day was we navigated with no digital assistance.  The ancients would be proud!

Live Life with Lemoncello, Fiats and Fun!

-Ciao!