Some days – the ones when I am not pretending to work – Jack and I get in the car for rides to nowhere special. We simply drive and stare. We have visited and lived in Italy for more years than I will admit to and the views still enthrall us. Patchwork green hills frame the blue sky. My favorite nowhere special drives have the sea on one side of the road and the hills on the other. One day, we saw a sign that said Porto Vasto and thought – what the heck lets check out the port. We veered off the highway and started bumping down one of Italy’s many pot hole riddled roads. I think it was the bumping that got our tummy’s gurgling for food. Stop! I screamed. What! Jack screamed. Look there is a sign for a restaurant – Il Corsaro della Baia Azzurra. Pirate by the blue bay???? Ahoy matey we found a place to eat. We made the 90 degree turn and slowly crept down the narrow lane. We approached a large white house that seemed perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. Jack and I stared at each other. There was no sign of life – and certainly no sign that said “Good Eats, Eat Here.” What the hell, we are adventurous. As I started to open the car door, Woody Allen with a Jerry Garcia haircut burst from the house, helped me open my door and hugged me like I was his long lost Auntie Midge. We were whisked into the house and a smiling gracious woman came out of the kitchen wiped her hands on a mapine and gave us hello kisses.
Where are we? I thought the first time we went. Where are the cameras? Is this my closeup? Antonello and his wife Grazia are the owners, front of house, cooks and bottle washers of what has become our absolute favorite seafood restaurant. The interior is adorable. The walls were festooned with portraits of press clips of a man who kind of looked like our host. Further investigation revealed that Antonello’s dad, Claudio Crisci, was a vibrant entertainer who started the restaurant with his wife. It has always been a two person operation committed to slow fresh food. The tables faced a wall of windows with a stellar view of the sea. Rather than sit, we were taken on a short tour of the veranda that overlooks the Adriatic ocean. Talk about view! We would just come for the view but the food! The scents of the sea wafted over us and we remembered we were starving. We only chose courses from the sea and all were prepared perfectly. How can one woman alone in the kitchen turn out such great stuff? Now that we are five times a year regulars, I can tell you that it is a wee bit more than eating in Pontelandolfo but worth it. Our bill is usually around €100 but we spend hours drinking two bottles of wine, eating seafood antipasti served in multiple courses and a grilled fish entré that would feed a small family.
I could show you pictures of the food and talk about each course, but you will only get jealous and race to the refrigerator to angrily discover you don’t have any miniature clams opened in white wine, or octopus sautéed with parsley and garlic in the most fragrant of local olive oils and be frustrated because you can’t find langoustine split and grilled in your grandmother’s clay baking dish. So, I won’t tell you what we had. But please watch the video!
IT takes us an hour and a half to get there but ahhhhh – seafood by the sea with antics by our host. Who could ask for a better way to spend the day. “Ristorante Tipico, Il Corsaro della Baia Azzurra is located at Via Osca, 51 in Porto Di Vasto. Call them at 0873.310.1113
Watch out! Sheeeeeeeet, the motorini is aiming for us. I clutch the armrest. My heart races. Jack scowls and bellows, “stop screeching.”
Ahhhhh, thank you for listening. I have discharged my angst. I inhale deeply, and count to ten. H,mmmmmmm. I visualize white light surrounding the car. WATCH OUT!!!!!! I immediately stop all this relaxation, funky granola, bull poop and bellow, “DON’T EVER TAKE A FREAKIN’ CAR INTO THE CENTER OF NAPLES!”
Here’s the story. It was a beautiful day and we thought we could explore Naples. Our fabulous landlord had taken us a few weeks earlier. He drove us directly into the glorious historic center. He was incredibly familiar with the city and assured us the historic center was clean, safe and wonderful. It was! The architecture and history are worth a visit. With Nichola we strolled down to the waterfront, had a caffè in a small bar and people watched.
We thought we could do it on our own. (Notice the “we thought”.) We were accompanied by Giusy who attends Università DI Napoli “Federico II”. The plan was to take the train from Benevento. The down side of idyllic, very small village life is that there is really no public transportation. At 7:00 or 7:40 AM students and those lucky enough to have jobs can take the bus to Benevento. At 8:30 AM there is a bus to Campobasso. We didn’t know until a few days later you can take it all the way to Naples but it is a really long – stop everywhere – ride. Where was I? Oh yeah, the plan was to take the train from Benevento. Great plan – 20 minute ride to the station – 30 minutes trying to figure out where to park – and then finding a parking lot only to discover that the prepay machine only took coins! Sounds like New Jersey transit – we’ve got the trains just nowhere to leave your car. Shouting and cursing ensued – that was me. Jack did the scowl sigh thing. Giusy said, “maybe we should just drive.” Well she lives there how bad could it be?
I need to point out that the last time Jack drove to Naples – about 5 years ago – we were going to the Capodimonte Museum and National Galleries and got stuck in a horn blowing, knives flashing, traffic jam at a 1/2 mile wide round-about (circle). We were forced to crawl around the circle for about 45 minutes. We had only gone about half-way around the huge thing when Jack was able to ease off into a wide avenue. In less than one block, the wide two way street had bottlenecked into a goat path. People had double parked or abandoned their cars on both sides of the street. It was an impassable, drivers screaming and horns blaring NIGHTMARE. Jack Mr. Calm in a crisis pulled the car onto the sidewalk and told us to get out. When in Rome or Naples do as …. We abandoned the car, took a cab to the museum and worried abut driving later. So, here we are driving in Naples again. Are we insane? Don’t answer that.
This time we had our handy iPhones and could use the GPS. We knew we wanted to explore a neighborhood and picked the bayside “Posillipo”. Getting in was a dream. We took the autostrada to the city and then followed the water all the way to Posillipo. Parking in a lot was easy – though again you could only use change. Since we figured we only needed three hours to stroll, eat lunch and stare at the sea, we scrounged enough coins. The view from Posillipo is amazing. We all agreed this was the neighborhood to live in.
Gated private streets led to magnificent houses and apartment buildings. Sigh, anybody want to give me a scant million?
Strolling through the neighborhood we discovered a restaurant with an incredible view. Reginella Restaurant was the type that brochures touting the charms of a seaside community are sure to mention. It was perched on the side of the cliff leading down to the Bay of Naples.
We sat on a terrace overlooking the sea. Initially, the charming host sat us right next to the railing – ah a glorious view! Giusy and I looked at each other – we were both turning green. All I saw was my life passing before my eyes as I fell off the side of the cliff and lay broken on the rocks below. With chattering teeth we asked for another table.
Once we were happily seated a bit further back, we concentrated on the incredible seafood. I’ll let you see the food and judge for your selves. (Pssst – My “risotto alla pescatore” was chock full of clams, mussels, scallops and pieces of calamari.)
Delicious! Seafood by the sea . Those of you waiting for the other DON’T DRIVE shoe to drop. Hang on – here it comes.
After lunch we strolled a bit and took in the sites of the neighborhood. Most shops were closed. Even stores in the cities close for lunch and a break, opening again at about 4:30. Sated from lunch and the fabulous view we decided to head for the historic center and check out where Giusy attended university and lived.
Whaaaaaaa. Whaaaaaa. Nervous breakdown alert. If you do not have a strong stomach for street chaos stop reading.
We set the GPS for the address of the apartment, followed the bay and suddenly were told to turn left into Dante’s third level of HELL. Thousands of Evil Kenivals zoomed in and out of stop and go traffic on motorcycles, motorini and broom sticks. Cars double and tripped parked making streets impassable. The GPS didn’t quite get street closings due to well who knows – it was Tuesday. Where the hell was my Xanax? Clutching the purse on my lap like a life jacket, I tried not to cry out every time a freakin’ car or motorini cut us or or came careening toward us. My nails bit into my palms. Jack squared his waspy jaw and forged ahead. Forging ahead isn’t the right phrase. Begging for life – that’s a good phrase. Or crying for my mother – that’s a good phrase. It is like driving a car in a full washing machine set to the spin cycle. Bump, rrrrrrrrrrrrt, squeak, ugggggggg — HELL.
Giusy reminded us she always took the bus and walked and didn’t really know the direct route to her apartment. Gee, thanks for the relevant information! We saw the sign for a parking lot and whipped the car in. Relief. On foot, we enjoyed exploring the university.
Next, it was on to discover how college kids live. We checked out Giusy’s apartment – palace sized rooms stuffed with kids. Sound familiar? Well, in the U.S. we really don’t usually find apartments with 14 foot ceilings, beautiful ironwork elevators and five bedrooms, two baths for 350 euros per each of the five roommates. Granted, clothes were still tossed around and the furniture was all cast off – but still it felt like a palace.
Time to go – so we trudged to the parking lot – where being 8 minutes late – they charged us for an extra hour. Giusy argued like a trooper and oh yeah – she won! They didn’t charge us. We gritted our teeth for the drive home. I couldn’t watch as Jack tried to squeeze out of the garage to the street. We hadn’t a clue how to get out of town and the GPS in our iPhone was obviously under a lot of stress. We ended up by the docks – well that was fun. Not TOO many cars jockeying for position there. We sat inhaling exhaust for what felt like hours – Jack says it was only 30 minutes. The conversation in the car came to a dead halt. Since I was’t allowed to make caustic comments or scream, it was very quiet. Somehow Jack got us out of the city and on to the highway. We all exhaled and enjoyed the mountains, farms and lush green that is the Italian country side.
Naples is a glorious city. TAKE THE BUS!
PS: Jack says it wasn’t so bad. We got home didn’t we!!!