Connectivity continues to be a challenge, but I have arrived, finally. See photos below. My arrival was done in steps, first a week with my mom who is doing very well compared to October, a fun mini reunion of cousins in the NYC airport hotel, two weeks in Italy with my family, a dinner with part of my Italian family, and finally a train ride to Calabria.
My time with the family was really a wonderful gift. Of course, it was fun to show the ancient cities and beautiful countryside of Italy to my grandchildren (who faithfully marched thru endless churches and ruins without a single whine) and the food and wine we enjoyed was really good most of the time, though we certainly had a few tourist meals and occasionally rude service, but not rude enough to overcome the great pasta. (See Yelp for Kirstin’s review of Il Tara in Amalfi) But, the real gift was to be part of the family and going on an adventure. It has been many years since I have lived in a family setting 24/7 and I loved having that experience again. I got a little taste of it before I left as Kevin and Miles and Catherine hung out for 2 days trying to get me put together and out the door, it was all wonderful.
The trip was a collage of vignettes- a rotund middle aged lady yelling in Italian at a suspicious character on the subway until she got him to leave the train, breathless climbs to the top of a dome in Florence, cramming all five of us and our luggage into a Fiat, then emptying it like clowns at the circus to pile into a roadside gas station for a caffé, Ryen making great use of the language, “Usita!”, always checking to see who has Babbo Natale, having great fun with Louisa (once she stopped looking terrified at the prospect of waiting on a bunch of Americani, particularly Craig) at a small Roman trattoria, hanging on to the “Oh shit bars” of a Ferrari while Craig raced around the “track”, er, I mean the city streets of Modena to the shouts of his pilot “Via, Via, Via”, and so much more. But, nothing, absolutely nothing, beats New Year’s Eve in Naples.
Naples was only to be our jumping off spot for a tour of Pompeii since they are notorious as a city of crime. In Florida my brother told me about a two-year garbage strike in Naples. (How did I not know about that?) Then, in Sienna, we asked our host for a hotel recommendation in Naples. Mr. Coucco, who was standing nearby, said we should not go to Naples, but rather to Salerno where there was to be a beautiful celebration and a tree bigger than the one in New York City, “Yes, Bigger that New York.” Those were actually all the English words he knew. He provided, through our host, names and phones numbers for hotels in Amalfi and Salerno whose owners were personal friends of his. We made those calls and determined that the picture on his cell phone of a Lamborghini must not have been pretty wallpaper, but rather a shot of his own transportation. The price, even for Mr. Coucco was well beyond our reach, besides there were NO rooms available anywhere in Salerno on New Year’s Eve. We stuck to our original plan, go to Naples and pay a little more for a good hotel to insure our safety. Good ole Venere.com got us into a nice 4 star for a good price and we were off.
Everywhere we have been we found English well-spoken, and subtitles on most important signs – there was no such luck in Naples. Figuring out the correct train and Metro line was a goat rope, with several false starts and the accompanying flights of stairs which we had to drag and bump our luggage up and down. Once on Linea A we discussed whether we should exit at Piazza Garibaldi or go to the next stop, per our instructions. We pointed at the map, spoke about the options and decided to stick with the directions. However, a very dirty, grimy fellow who had come in and sat next to Kirsten, reeking of alcohol and seemed like a homeless person had obviously overheard our discussion and had reached a different conclusion. When the train pulled in the station he started shouting, “Piazza Garibaldi, go, go. Listen to me, go go.” We tried to ignore him but he was relentless.
Eventually we got to our destination; there English was only a concept – a language spoken at the tower of Babel perhaps, but not there. Our pronunciation of our hotel’s name brought scowls of non understanding, followed by an argument by the two gentlemen in the station there to assist travelers, of which we were the only five. A big dispute ensued over whether or not we should have taken the Metro at all to this remote station, we should have stayed where we were and walked 200 meters to our address. Eventually we communicated the name of the hotel and that settled it, of course we had to take the Metro, it was too far to walk. Now, he would tell us how to get to Hotel Magris from there.
Previously, when we asked for directions and received them in Italian we generally understood. Hand gestures and abbreviated information helped us learn left, right and straight ahead, and that everything is either 20 meters or 200 meters away. Here, directions were more like a conversation, with significant editorial comments, none of which I understood. Our faces must have given us away because he decided we needed to take the bus. After scolding Lizzy and Ryen for standing in the elevator, as though perhaps another living soul might come along and need to use it, we piled in (actually two trips since elevators in Italy are notoriously small) and went down to the street where he hand delivered us to Luigi. A half dozen huge yellow busses lined the street and in a small room off the sidewalk were about as many men needed to drive those busses plus a few more, all having a fine chat. We followed Luigi to his bus– but–then an argument ensued about whether or not we needed a bus or we should walk. There was much discussion, it was settled and then we were given more instructions which we could not understand. Finally, a young budding bus driver who knew four English words came to the rescue—and we were off, on foot.
It was right about then that we came face to face with the garbage crisis. The dispute is bigger than a strike and it is about where to put the garbage, so, the obvious solution was not to pick it up, then there is no discussion about where to dump it. It is in massive piles along the street and loose papers blow all over the place. Staying near the train station is cheaper and you don’t need a taxi to get to your hotel, but between the garbage, the gang signs, the graffiti, and the slummy part of town, we were pretty anxious to get to our hotel and hoped that 200 meters was accurate. It wasn’t, but we did find it before too long, and everyone had to admit, it may be a crumby neighborhood, but man the food sure smelled good and the pizza looked fabulous!
We headed for downtown to find a restaurant so we could get back before too late and we grabbed a cab and the fun started. Craig’s hair raising ride in the Ferrari was nothing compared to the cab ride in downtown Naples. He dropped us off in a deserted part of town, across a bridge, near an ancient castle and wished us aguri and boun anno (Happy New Year). We had heard many restaurants were closed for the Cenauno, the first dinner of the New Year, and although we saw restaurants, they were vacant save for the huge piles of dead marine life and at least one or two waiters/hawkers inviting us in. We asked to be seated inside since it was chilly near the ocean and the plastic sheeting that were the walls didn’t offer much warmth. He said it was the same on the other side, which was true, since there was no inside at all. Only the kitchen had actual walls, and they only had three. We ate mountains of fish from squid to octopus to shrimp to all sorts of fried things and a white pate of fish and eel and something that looked and tasted remarkably like bread dough rolled in breadcrumbs and fried, which he assured us was seaweed. That was followed by a platter of fish the size of a soccer field with an entire baked fish on it and adorned with mussels and clams all resting on some really tasty pasta that looked like big sections of 1” PVC. This was the worse hustle we had ever received in Italy and the bill was 2 ½ times what we usually spent, but we did have fun, and we ate all that fish. The smooth talking circus barker then tried to make it up to us with individual oil lamp favors for the ladies, but he still got a lousy tip for taking advantage of us.
We called for a cab and although we had had a nice local wine with dinner, we wanted to have some for the evening so we could toast in the New Year back at the fortress, I mean the hotel. The return cab ride was every bit as thrilling and when we asked to go to a supermercato to get wine he said they were all closed, but he knew a place. As we approached Piazza Garibaldi he pulled up in front of an outdoor food stall, he got out and seemed to know the proprietor. A minute after Craig went to get the wine he was back asking Kirsten to help him pick one out. They were back in a flash with a very large bottle of beer and a bottle of red wine. Maybe it was because we were near the end of our trip, maybe we were tense just being in Naples, being taken at the restaurant, or at the mercy of insane cabdrivers, but whatever it was, we were at the edge by then and Craig took us over it when he explained that the dirty, smelly homeless guy who shouted at us to get off the train, was the same fellow who had sold us the wine and thrown in a couple of complimentary plastic cups to boot. Kirsten couldn’t contain herself when she asked why Craig needed help selecting a vintage, since there was only one kind, and it had no label. After that moment everything was funny, the car, the driver, the trash, the pizza, the whole day was hysterical.
Once in our rooms we couldn’t wait to see exactly what was in that mystery bottle. Neither screw cap nor cork, it was stopped up with a sort of reusable plastic plug – right away making us wary. When Ryen maneuvered the cork out it started spewing like a shaken Coke bottle and we were wiping up red wine all over the floor and the bathroom sink where he had dashed with it. Not trusting that the free glasses were virgin we unwrapped the plastic ones from the hotel and poured a tiny taste. It was hard to describe with only one sip, it required a second taste to fully appreciate what we had there. It wasn’t vinegar, but it was really lousy wine, and it wasn’t champagne but it did have effervescence. In the end we determined it was awful wine mixed with sparkling water and rebottled into a well used vessel. With everything we knew so far the best course of action seemed to be to send it back to the sea, via the bathroom sink.
While we were still laughing out heads off recounting the day, fiasco by fiasco, a very professional waiter showed up with a lovely bottle of wine and two REAL wine glasses. Craig had gone down and talked the hotel out of a bottle for us to have in our room. What a guy!