At least I’m not wearing an ankle monitor! How do Jack and I manage not to kill each other during our latest quarantine in Pontelandolfo? He reads, feeds the chickens and stares at the mountain. I ramble up and down the stairs of our chilly stone house, cook, stare at the mountain and remind myself it is only for ten days. Lets back up a wee bit. How did we get here? Why are we quarantining when tourists from the USA can take quarantine free flights?
After dealing with health issues and the Covid Crisis for what seemed like an eternity in New Jersey, we finally felt secure enough to travel back to our Pontelandolfo home. I knew I didn’t want to visit more than one airport and risk seething at wackadoos who refuse to wear masks in crowded spaces. That meant finding a flight directly to Rome and ordering a car service to drive us from one region to another. Finding the flight was easy. We bought tickets on United from Newark to Rome. Their website was incredibly helpful as were the reminder emails to do everything on the pre-boarding list. Besides the usual chaos promulgated by the TSA, everything at Newark Airport went smoothly. The mask mandate was followed by our fellow travelers. This brought joy to Jack since he wouldn’t be embarrassed by me giving the evil eye and a tongue lashing to anyone who was non-compliant. People were courteous and spatially conscious. Here is a look at that pre-boarding list –
Vaccines?Check – we both had our two doses of Moderna. They didn’t ask to see them but we had our cards ready. Actually, we provided the data in advance to United and the EU-PLF.
EU-PLF? Check – sounds like peeeyyuuuu stinky feet but it is the Passenger Locator Form that you have to keep on you. Passenger Locator Forms (PLFs) are digital and will help public health authorities do contact tracing. That means if someone on my flight had some infectious disease, the European Union/Italy could find me. The idea is to prevent the spread of disease. In Newark they just wanted to see the piece of paper with the bar code but no one scanned it. When we got to Rome no one scanned it either. I’ll keep the bar code in my wallet with the vaccine card.
Covid-19 Test 48 Hours Before Landing – Check – for $85 each we got our noses swabbed the afternoon before we left. I carried our negative test results and a United representative barely glanced at them.
Digital Health Pass Reservation – Check– we made appointments to get our noses tickled again by a doctor administrating a covid swab test in Rome. In Rome’s Fiumincino Airport this was really well organized and it only cost € 20 each. Why did it cost so much more in New Jersey? We were swabbed, waited about twenty minutes and given a certificate of a negative test. Hmm – what happens if the test is positive? I’m glad I didn’t have to find out.
Self-Declaration Form for Travel to Italy From Abroad– Check. Double Check and Tripple Check. I completed this form in English and in Italian. It states that I am not a denier – I get that there is Covid -19 and haven’t tested positive, took the swab test, will take a swab test in Rome, will self isolate and where you can find me climbing the walls during self isolation. NO ONE took the form! United staff glanced at it. On the plane they gave us another one to fill out. NO ONE took that form either. I tried to give it to the car service driver. He didn’t want it. I thought maybe Pontelandolfo wanted it. They wanted something different…
After going through Border Control, we went out front and found our driver. He waived a sign with our names on it, helped lug the luggage and made us comfortable in his clean Mercedes sedan. Anybody need a lift from Rome – www.autonoleggiocerrato.it! In a three hour super highway and winding hill road journey, we made it back to Pontelandolfo. Our masked family and friends who are like family, were waving at us from the other side of the street. Think parade of one car with social distancing. When we got in the house, our cupboard and refrigerator were both jammed packed with fresh vegetables, meat and the cheeses you can only get in the Sannio hills. Wine from the local vintner was peeking at us from a shelf. Thank you! Grazie a tutti!
We settled in, I couldn’t wait to go see the piazza! What, we can’t go see the piazza? Jack looked at me – “quarantine remember.” But we took the covid quarantine free plane? “Tough – the village expects it.”
It has been eight days. Only eight days. Soon it will be ten days. Quarantining is the right thing to do. We care too much about this village to be the bearers of evil infectious yuck. Besides, quarantining isn’t so bad when you have a view like this.
On a recent snowy night, I hunkered down to clean out a dusty over stuffed plastic tub. You know the kind – large, filled with files and memoribillia you will get to some day, covered with a snap on lid and left to fade in the back of a closet. I opened the tub, pulled out a batch of files when a folded cache of browning papers fell into my lap. Was it very old love notes from a high school beau? Or recipes in my beloved zia’s hand. Giggle, I slowly unfolded the cracked paper and saw the date – January 2009. Wow, it was a love note of sorts, my notes on an earlier trip to Alghero, Sardegna and Italian lessons at the fabulous Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera. Walk with me back to January, 2009 and take an armchair voyage.
We were excited to be heading back to Alghero. Never having been there in the winter we didn’t know what to expect. The city juts out into the sea. Walking the sea wall in the summer is bliss. Will it bluster in January?
On Saturday, January 3, 2009 – courtesy of air miles we flew Primo Classe on Alitalia from Newark to Rome. (In those days there were flights out of Newark, New Jersey.) I still use the little grey tweed makeup bags they gave us filled with mini stuff that I probably tossed. .
On Sunday, January 4, tired and still tipsy from all that Primo Classe booze we lugged our suitcases across the terminal to our jumper flight to Sardegna. We had an uneventful but cramped Air One flight to Alghero. (They went out of business in 2014.) A 25€ cab ride organized by Pintadera brought us directly to the apartment they had found for us. Pintadera co-owner, Nicola, met us with keys in hand. I looked at the steep staircase from the street leading up to the apartment, muttered bad words and lugged my suitcase up. Gasping for breath I walked in and saw the sea. The steps were worth it. Wow, we have an apartment with an ocean view. The terrace was tiny but a terrace. There was a twin bed with pillows in the front room, a chair or two, table and a kitchenette. The bedroom had a king-sized bed. For the amount of time we planned on staying there it was perfect.
I love Pintadera. This was our second trip to the school. We are so taken with the place and people, that I had organized a group of Italian language students from New Jersey to join us this time. Starting Monday, January 5, we had classes daily from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM. The weather was perfect. Staring at the sea, sipping a cappuccino at a bar with a view was heavenly. January in Alghero means very few tourists, sales in the stores and lots of sun.
The queen of not doing enough research and just diving into travel, I really lucked out. The first week in January, Alghero was transformed into a cultural Mecca. We had no idea how important Epiphany was nor how involved the arts community would be. That Monday, after class we strolled the tiny cobble stone streets and alleys following the sounds of carolers. Sparkling arches of holiday lights topped the throngs out for a pre-epiphany passegiata. Itinerant volunteer actors dressed like La Befana or the three Kings could be found in every small piazza dispensing nuts and fruit to every child. Even us kids in our second acts!
Piazza Teatro lived up to its name. A troupe of wheelchair assisted and developmentally challenged actors costumed beautifully portrayed the manger scene. The love pouring out from every actor filled the piazza and my heart. Their focus and passion for the nativity brought the scene to life.
After a scrumptious dinner of roasted calamari and l’insalata at a nameless little spot we followed the sounds of six part harmony. Angelic male voices filled the air from Piazza Civica. The crowed surged there. It felt and sounded like there were hundreds of men dressed in black with white collared shirts singing in intricate harmonies. Traditional Sardo and spiritual songs wafted over the crowd as we trailed the singers from piazza to piazza. Choiristers sang a rousing march as they moved from spot to spot. I never found out if all of these musical artists were from Alghero.
La Befanas scampered about clutching brooms and tossing sweets at children. The the night before Epiphany, La Befana traditionally flies from house to house bringing candy to good children and carbone, coal, to evil monsters. Besides engaging with the crowds La Befana was also plastered on doors or hanging from lamp posts. (The universe must be kicking me. I just had finished yet another rewrite of my play “Mamma Mia – La Befana!??” when I found this picture. Hmm – time to start pitching that work???)
Often, other amateur actors appeared dressed as angels or in traditional Sardegna garb to entertain with stories, dance and pageantry. Music and art was everywhere.
After class one day, I saw a sign for a children’s theatre performance at Alghero’s opera house, Teatro Civica di Alghero. Built in 1829, the space is amazing. Think a jewel box version of Carnegie Hall with draped box seats surrounding the house. It is unique because it is the only Italian theater built entirely of wood. Lavish is an understatement. We ventured in and sat down in our box excited to see our first performance in Italy. It was the worst children’s theatre I have ever experienced in my life. Disclaimer, in the 1970s I was the director of a touring children’s theater company so I kind of know what works and what doesn’t. Here are just some of the reasons it was abysmal – for the first fifteen minutes the star – a middle aged curly haired sprightly woman stood on stage directing traffic to seats. Then the curtain opens – late of course – on an amateur cardboard set. Add to that bad lighting and a shared microphone and you have all the stuff you need for failure. I love audience participation and pre -show warm ups but this crew did a warm-up that lasted an hour. Then there was a brief pause and the scripted piece began and went on and on and on. The show started at 5:00 PM. We snuck out with many others at 7:00 PM and the show was still going on. Do I sound snarky? I love theater and it pains me to have troupes produce less than professional work for children. That said, seeing the interior of Teatro Civica was worth the distraction.
Early Wednesday mornings I took an early morning jaunt to the covered market. This market is classic. One whole section is just stall after stall of fish vendors. Sardegna is an island and Alghero sits right on the sea – perfect location for the freshest of fish. Fruit and vegetable stalls, ready-made treats and more filled the space. I love wandering the aisles and discovering what I will be cooking.
I love this city! We also loved the wine and local cheese plates we enjoyed in Ovella Negra, the grotto like bar below the apartment. (We have been back to Alghero many times since and sadly, this bar is no longer there.). The owner was a real foodie. He only served local fare and treated us like visiting royalty. During our two week stay, we did go there almost every single day so I could see why they treated us well. This particular night, I must have had an orgasmic food experience – why else would I have written down every morsel. We tend to share lots of small plates – think tapas style. First, he served us a fresh, unsalted goat cheese that was so light and creamy it must have been made by angels. With that, of course we had Cardegna, a dry white wine. Next, some room temperature small plates to warm ones heart of dried tuna and sword fish. Yup, caught off the coast. We tasted bottarga, Sardinian cured fish roe, for the first time. Now, we are bottarga junkies. Bottarga is cured, air-dried roe from flathead mullets and is a Sardinian staple. After dinner, we were given a glass of Mirto – a local digestivo. It is the national drink of Sardegna and made by infusing alcohol with fresh myrtle berries. Most nights we staggered up the stairs to our apartment. The stairs seem easier when I stagger.
Saturday, January 10th we took the train to Sassari. The train ticket was 3.80€ roundtrip. It was a twenty-minute walk to the train station from our center city apartment. The ancient train meandered through a valley and we were surrounded by mountains. Sheep, sheepdogs and olive groves completed the picture. They city of Sassari was reminiscent of any neighborhood in any major Italian city. Cobble stone streets, buildings that were built during the middle ages and – of course – one of the finest restaurants on the island. We had the best grilled calamari ever at the Trattoria Gesuino. Seriously, the best ever! So very tender – I can still taste it. We visited the Museo Nazionale “Giovanni Antonio Sanna.” This archeological museum was chock full of great finds – including glass from 200 BC. We will go back someday.
Every great day takes longer than you think. Gulp, we missed the last train back. Thanks to that snafu we experienced even more of the island on the bus. The bus was 3€ – bella vista – we saw hills, small towns and more sheep. No wonder the local cheese is so fantastic! The bus meandered through villages the train passed by. We were dropped off in the park by the city wall. It was a shorter walk back to the apartment. Which of course we didn’t enter, going down to the bar instead.
Life in Alghero for educational tourists like us is magical. We didn’t know what to expect in January – except cheaper prices – and were happily surprised by the temperature, holiday culture and the food. Since I kept that journal in 2009, we have been back to Pintadera at least four additional times. We love the sea, the food, the people and of course Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera. We will return – perhaps we will see you there too.
When “buffalo” means Buffalo Mozzarella! Who knew that the creamiest of mozzarella cheeses came from a water buffalo? I didn’t. Did I just admit a lack of knowledge on something edible and Italian?
About 20 years ago, Jack, my Aunt Cat and I drove through the valleys of Compania searching for buffalo. Silly me imaging the bison that ruled the plains were nestled in the Sannio Hills. Oooops – classic mistake. Can you imagine milking a two-story tall mammoth bison? Thanks to Martenette Farms, a group of ten farm to table foodies will see the buffalo for themselves.
Fattoria al Tavolo With Martenette Farms*
Ace organic farmers Andrea and Tony of Martenette Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey wanted to share their love of farming and good eating with others. They created a super culinary and farm adventure that takes place in my home town, Pontelandolfo, from October 17 – 24, 2020. Guess what it includes? A visit to a buffalo farm!
Participants will explore, eat and live in a small southern Italian village. Becoming part of village life, they will gain a cultural understanding of what lies behind great Southern Italian dishes. This farm to table experience is for those of you who want to see a part of Italy that is off the crowded tourist trail, see where the local food comes from and taste dishes that go back generations.
For example, the group will eat in private homes and at agriturismos – farms that serve food. Visit working farms, hear lectures on herbs, look for edibles in the Sannio Hills, learn the ancient sport of cheese rolling – La Ruzzula, and of course visit olive groves and taste great wine after trekking through vineyards.
I can’t wait to meet this group of culinary adventurers! Ci vediamo!
*Regretfully, there are no special dietary considerations. Since you will eating in people’s homes, not restaurants, accommodations cannot be made for allergies or preferences. This medieval village has charming cobblestone streets, but it is not handicapped accessible. The adventure and experience in the home of local families requires the ability to climb stairs, walk on uneven streets and feel comfortable in a hilly mountain environment. The calendar of events may change but will be similar.
Like a lioness roaring at her cubs, I announced in una voce forte, “hop in the car we have places to go and animals to see.”
“What,” queried Jack, “sheep in the mountain? Stop bellowing like a lion. Where do you want to go?”
“Lions and tigers and bears -oh my – to the Zoo Delle Maitine in Pesca Sannita!”
Spending a lot of time in Pontelandolfo BN, we are always looking for day trips. Since lots of folks come to visit us or are culinary tourists in our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo program, I think of it as research for our guests. Actually that is just an easy excuse. I love to explore. Life is short and there are lots of places to see. I have an old Visit Campania book – which I love. It is much more complete than the website and includes little towns. I looked up the Provincia di Benevento. Pesca Sannita had a fairly good write up. Hmm, I bet their administration understands PR and sent something in when they were asked. I googled the town, expecting to get the droll web-site template that Pontelandolfo and other towns use. Whoa – Pesca Sannita has a website dedicated to tourism. The blurb included a photo of a parrot and an invitation to visit Zoo Delle Maitine. That impressed me enough to get in the car and point driver Jack towards Pesca Sannita.
Besides, who knew there was a zoo? Perhaps the gnu knew, and now I’m telling you. A scant trip over the mountain to Pesco Sannita and we came upon a darling well thought out little zoo.
There was a sign saying “paid parking”. We pulled in and an older man pointed out where to park. I had a €5 bill in my hand – huge mistake – and asked him how much? He took the 5 and scampered off. I found out from the ticket taker that you just tip the person in the lot – like €1. Oops. For a well organized place, the zoo needs to get some “Parker Beware” signage up in the parking lot.
Our €6 each senior citizen tickets made up for the scammer in the parking lot.
What struck me at first was how clean the zoo was. Every animal encampment was pristine and large. For example, only two lions are in the huge lion park. It had a little lake, trees and lots of grass – very plain like. Next to the lake, the lioness was reposing in the shade. The man with the mane was posing for the cameras.
My zoo experiences are urban – Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo. And I remembered as a kid holding my nose against the smell – I was a wee bit obnoxious – thinking it was stinky and the animals were squished. We visited the Zoo Delle Maitine on a hot summer day and there wasn’t any odor. OK, that is a lie, it was a hot summer day and there were lots of sweaty kids. I will rephrase that – there wasn’t any overt odor from the animal habitats.
Signage near each grouping of animals talked about extinction. There were charts showing how endangered the animals were and why. I hope the signs are a catalyst for family discussions.
Most of the visitors had small children with them and some of the viewing areas had glass partial walls that permitted small faces to get up close and personal with the monkeys and other animals. One part of the zoo, that my “child” particularly liked was the fattoria, farm. They had really miniature goats and sheep. A perfect size for little people to look at and play with. It was an open area – still clean. We walked in and the farm yard animals obviously used to guests, ambled over to play. I had on a white skirt and bolted, but I’m told there were all kinds of food bearing animals.
Did they have every animal in the universe? No, but what they did have seemed well cared for and a joy to look at. Also, for the nonni who were bringing kids, there were lots of benches placed in shady nooks. One of the things I appreciated was that, unlike urban zoos, they didn’t gouge us at the refreshment stands. A bottle of water was the same €1 we would pay in a local bar. They even had a picnic area for folks who carried their own grub.
Jack and I spent half a day there and really enjoyed ourselves. Granted, people looked at us strangely because we didn’t have any kids with us. Occasionally, I remedied that by looking at groups of kids and saying things like Salvatore, sta attento!
Next time you come to visit Provincia di Benevento, add Zoo Delle Maitine to your list!
We are now signing up culinary adventurers for our May 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo. Check out our website.
The magic of being the only person swimming in the clear Adriatic Sea is not lost on me. I feel like I’ve found a secret place that allows me to be me, frolicking like a dolphin under the noonday sun. Standing in the warm water, I look west past the ancient hilltop towns to snow capped mountains touching the clouds. The only sound I hear is water lapping on the shore. Welcome to San Salvo Marina at lunch time!
For the last 4 years, always in June, Jack and I have rented apartments here. We have now rented for the second time a two bedroom apartment – the kitchen is the only other room -with a large 3rd story balcony that gives us a wedge of a sea view and all modern appliances for €550 a week. (About $645.) We take advantage of off season rates, great summer weather and very few beach goers. Once school is out, this place will be packed and prices will escalate. The second week in June is perfect. Noon until 3:00’ish, when the few families who are here have left for lunch and a snooze, it is even more perfect.
I must admit, living in low costing Pontelandolfo has caused me to get shell shocked at even off season beach town prices. What, I bellowed one night after staring at the ocean and drinking at Beat Cafe, €7 for one glass of house wine and an aperol spritz? It would be less than half that at home. Jack reminded me that we would pay double that at the Jersey Shore. Oh, I sulked, OK I will try not to whine about prices MUCH.
Why San Salvo Marina? It is only about an hour and a half away from Pontelandolfo – which makes going to the beach an easy drive. If I am in a car for more than 2 hours, I become meaner than the wicked witch of the west. Having lived in Asbury Park and known the Jersey Shore intimately, I can say unequivocally that I loathed the honky took of places like Seaside Heights and loved the kinder gentler feeling of Ocean Grove or Sea Girt. San Salvo Marina has a wonderful lungomare – seafront promenade that includes closing off the adjacent street to vehicular traffic. It is a great place to stroll after dinner. The beachfront is full of medium rise condos that look like they have been built in the last 15 or so years. New ones keep popping up. That said, it doesn’t feel cramped and crowded. There is green space between buildings and a park between the buildings and the seafront.
We walk about 5 blocks from our apartment to the beach front stand we like. This year I GULPED when it cost me €75 to rent our spot near the sea for 7 days – yeah, yeah it was less than €13 a day but still. We got our two lounge chairs, table and giant umbrella set up by the attendant and nestled in for a seaside view and ahhhhh moment. €13 pppfffew – is niente, nada, nothing for this.
Being foodies, we also like San Salvo for its restaurants and proximity to our very favorite seafood restaurant – Il Corsaro Della Baia Azzurra in Porto Vasto. When we arrived this week, the first thing we did after lugging all the crap from the car and getting organized was walk the half block toward, Ristorante Al Metro. We were salivating as we thought of their riffs on local Abruzzo food and their industrial style modern and elegant dining room. As we started to cross the street this teeny tiny little girl – I found out later she was 6 but soon to be 7 – stopped Jack and was prattling away. Sensing he didn’t have a clue about what she was saying, I walked up to them. She had handed him a flier for Risto Pizza da Bocconcino, the corner joint we had just passed, and was delivering a marketing pitch that was freakin’ perfect. We thanked her, I put the flier in my purse and we continued on to Al Metro – which was now closed!!!!! We went back, found the girl and let her guide us into her dad’s Risto Pizza da Bocconcino. After praising her to her pop we took seats outdoors in a comfortable space and had a pretty decent but €40 lunch. OK, I’LL STOP WHINING SOON ABOUT PRICES. I had grilled cod, pickled onions and sautéed spinach. Jack had – I don’t remember – but we did share a bottle of a great Abruzzese white wine and mineral water. Since we were late eaters, the place was cleared out by the time we finished. Out came the home made limoncello, caffè and conversation. The owner sat with us and we argued about politics. He was the first Italian I have ever met that didn’t think the current president of the USA was a putz. He liked his brazen style! Let the arguments begin! Putting politics aside, we enjoyed ourselves and will go back.
One night we decided to drive the strip and look for a new place to dine. We discovered Medusa Ristorante Pizzeria on the very active Via Magellano. We agreed – an anomaly – that we had eaten the best mussels we have ever had. Their Cozze Marinate was full a chunks of garlic and parsely that added to the perfectly braised mussels. Yummy. We each had a fresh fish dish, side of veggies, mineral water and coffee for €54 – oh yeah there was that bottle of Abruzzese wine too.
Can we talk about gelato??? Ai 3 Scalini makes and serves the best gelato I have had in forever. It is fortuitous that it is a short half block from Medusa Ristorante! We had no choice – really Jack made me go there kicking and screaming down the street. The strawberry gelato reminds me of the wild strawberries of my youth. OMG – the chocolate is so full of chocolate that Belgium chocolates pale by comparison. We vowed we would only go once this week. But I’m thinking if I don’t eat breakfast or lunch…
I’ve got to stop talking about food. Time to stare at the sea, thank Vodafone for the cheap data plan that lets me turn my phone into a hot spot, and hmm it’s 6:30 PM here maybe walk to a seaside bar for an overpriced Aperol Spritz.
The sun was shining, the air was clear and we were energized to take the Metropolitana to the Duomo. Every time we come to Milano, like tourist lemmings we head for the Piazza Duomo, gawk at the Gothic marvel constructed of pink veined white marble and enjoy the energy of the crowd.
The outside is amazing. The facade features more than 3,200 statues. We have stared and created narratives to go with some of them. Today, we were determined to see the inside of this incredible house of worship.
Have I ever mentioned that I run from hordes of tourists? That backpacks attack me? That lines that go on forever are not enticing? Now, we knew it might be crowded. It was after all a glorious December day but we had no idea…
First clue – the armed guards at every door. Second clue – long lines waiting to get into the church. I asked when the next mass was and if you had to stand in line for that. The guard put his hand on his gun and looked at me. We went to the back of the line and discovered that to go inside the Duomo you had to buy a ticket. Ok. Ok. We can do that. Where the hell is the ticket booth? We wandered around the gigantic exterior and across a side street finally saw the ticket and Duomo souvenirs store. Upon entering I was handed a number – 40. I was number 40 in the longissimo queue to buy a ticket to stand in a two hour line to wander with a pazillion people in the duomo. NOT!
I remembered reading about the quality of art and architecture of Basilica di Sant’ Ambrogio, pulled out my map and dragged Jack in that direction. Boy, am I glad I did! It wasn’t a short walk but it got us out of the tourist crunch and into a neighborhood. The amount of graffiti I see in Milano confounds me. We were in, what appeared to be, an upper middle class neighborhood and there were graffiti tags everywhere. Tired of walking and ready for wine and sustenance, we happened upon Caffe’ Della Pusterla (Via De Amicis, 22). Yummy, friendly and full of local folks who were happy to help us on our journey to Sant’Ambrogio. We both had Stinco e Patate – pork shin, think ham hock braised to perfection and served with lemon roasted potatoes. I flashed back to my grandmother’s Sunday dinners. Ahhhh. After a great meal, wine and the local digestivo – Fernet – we set off to the Basilica.
Coming upon the complex, I felt like I was stepping back centuries. Saint Ambrose (Sant’ Ambrogio) is the patron saint of Milan and was the driving force behind getting the building done. The church, originally built between 379-386 A.D., is a great example of Romanesque Style.
For great pictures – CLICK HERE. The Basilica’s website has a super surround view gallery.
Today, the Basilica of Saint Ambrose’s crypt is the final resting place of the patron saint. It is below the main church, in an area called the “Tesoro di Sant’Ambrogio”. Numerous martyrs from Roman times have also been buried there. For €2 you can head down to the Tesoro see the Basilica’s artifacts. We walked through the iron gate, paid our €2 and slowly walked through the exhibit of gold and silver artifacts and other objects of high artistic and religious value from the 13th to 19th centuries. The works of art that had the greatest impact on me, were not made of gold, silver, silk or jewels but of found objects, scraps of cloth and stolen pieces of wood.
In 1944, Italian soldiers who were held at Wietzendorf, a German Concentration Camp, created this nativity scene. Determined not to compromise on their religion, these brave men created something special with a Boy Scout knife, small pair of scissors and door hinge as a hammer. We joined another couple staring at the installation, soon tears were sliding down all our cheeks.
Leave Piazza Duomo behind and visit the Basilica di S. Ambrogio located at Piazza S. Ambrogio 15. You don’t need a ticket and there aren’t any lines. All you will find is a pleasant opportunity to explore a historic venue in a great neighborhood.
Baci, baci! Grand abbraccio! Kiss, kiss, big hugs. Within half an hour after landing at Malpensa in Milano, Jack and I were embraced by Milanese warmth and passion. Right off the plane we were welcomed back with gusto. For us, the hugs started at the Taxi queue. Since we were traveling with four – count them 4 – giant bags, we wanted the next mini van in line. Bentornati, welcome back, echoed from the cache of drivers waiting for fares. Three helped our driver put the hernia inducing bags in his van. One stole his keys, which – after a bit of kibitzing about why does he always get the bella gente, nice people – were returned. Bentornati? Who did they think we were? How could they know us? My kind husband smirked and noted that I chat up everyone, how could they not remember us? The standard fare from Malpensa to the city center is €95. After the driver belly lugged our bags to the door of the hotel, I handed him €100. He thanked me profusely and gave me a big hug. Bentornati!
We rang the bell at Il Girasole High Quality Inn’s portone (humongous door blocking the complex from the street) and announced ourselves. Midge, Jack Bentornati! The words rang out before the door was fully open. Nicola Negruzzi, one of the vivacious owners of our favorite little hotel, pulled open the door and wrapped me in a cocoon like embrace. Next, Jack’s turn for a huge hug. Whenever we come to Milano – which is about once a year – we stay at Il Girasole. Co-owner, Matteo Negruzzi came in – saw us – and….. Bentornati! Baci, baci, grande abbraccio. Big hugs and kisses to both of us. Matteo reminded us that Il Girasole is our Milanese home away from home.
Jack and Matteo
We always truck over to Mail Boxes ETC and ship our suitcases to Pontelandolfo. If we are arriving from the states and off on other adventures, it makes sense to off load some of the baggage. Jack schlepped the bags over the threshold of the store and the owner joined the Bentornati chorus. He knew exactly why we were there, whipped out the right forms, asked where we were off too and guaranteed our luggage would make it home before we did.
Up the street and around the corner is Tony’s, an inexpensive restaurant that serves pretty good fish and just about anything else you could find in a higher end local place. We walked in, asked for a table for two, took off our coats and whomp – heard Bentornati! The waiter looked at us and said – New Jersey right? Glad you’re back – but you always come back!
I could give you two more examples – Vineria San Giovanni and the Restaurant Mamma Lina – but you get the drift.
Wow – I must look like someone famous! In high school I could pass for Sally Fields in her flying nun phase and once in an airport Jack was confused for Tom Wilkenson (British actor). Maybe we give off a famous person auro? Baaammm – then it hit me. We are irregular regulars! There is no schedule. No one knows when we will return to Quartiere Villa San Giovanni, this friendly Milanese neighborhood. We are absolutely irregular regulars!
Except to see the sites, listen to music and window shop, we avoid the tourist packed historic center of Milan. A few years ago, thanks to Nonna’s Mulberry Tree subscriber Lynn Y., we got turned on to Il Girasole. Located at Via Doberdò 19, close to Metro stop Villa San Giovanni, the hotel has all the bells and whistles of the big guys – free wi-fi, parking, more than continental breakfast and incredible staff. Every time we fly to Italy through Milan or venture north with our car, we stop and stay in this neighborhood populated by real people and featuring non tourist prices in restaurants and shops. At il Girasole, my favorite room is somehow always available for us. The afternoon registration ritual turns into aperitivo e spuntino and we like the local eateries. Bam – irregular regulars.
Becoming an irregular regular sort of comes naturally to me. I like things that are familiar and good. If the service, price and goods are great – why not go back?! Are you wondering how folks remember us? The former mayor of Princeton, Barbara Sigmund, taught me a great politicians trick – stick out your hand and say your name. Then make sure you get the waiters, store owners, etc. name and use it a few times while you are there. Of course, ten minutes later don’t ask me their names but I’m good while I’m in the place. Also, name badges and writing on uniforms help a lot. Why not joke, laugh and chat with folks where ever you are? It feels good, makes the time pass pleasantly and BONUS – you too can become an irregular regular and hear that pleasant bentornato – welcome back!
The universe can toss you a curve ball when you least expect it. Certainly, riding a “hop on hop off” bus would be one of those places where you would least expect it. Least expect to fall in love. Least expect to find me. I’ve always striven to be the non-tourist and even thinking about riding the hop on hop off bus would give me hives. My hip friends, Mike and Lori, insisted that I would truly enjoy it – no matter what city I was in. Well, I didn’t know if I would enjoy it but Jack and I had four hours to kill in Naples.
Who knew the hop on hop off bus would have such an impact on my life. Maybe it was the Neapolitan songs. Maybe it was the sun shining over the bay of Naples. Maybe it was the 30 children on the upper level of the bus who were excited to be going to an art museum. Maybe it was the architecture or the feelings that the people of Naples sling at your soul. Who can ever really tell you why you fall in love with someone or something. Love is a strange emotion. It pieces your heart, turns your brain into mush and forces you to do things you never thought you would. Today, I fell in love with the turbulent, bad boy city called Naples.
Historically, I have found Naples crowded, a driving nightmare and the train station full of obnoxious faux cab drivers. My eyes have been opened to the incredible parks, interesting neighborhoods and wealth of theaters and museums. Tomorrow, we are going to Teatro San Carlo to see Verdi’s Il Trovatore. Sigh…my love may deepen.