September 30, 2012

The Long Road to the Amalfi Coast - Has Anyone Seen Tony?

We leave Assisi pretty early in the morning since today would be a long travel day for us as we leave Umbria and make our way to the Amalfi Coast. Conveniently located right off the highway are gas stations with snack bars, complete with espresso bars. Interestingly enough, they also feature full alcohol bar service. The only way to reach these pit stops is from the highway, so we're still trying to figure out why they feature full bar service. Aren't these people DRIVING? We stop at one to stretch our legs and partake in an espresso. It was 90 cents! And delicious!

We have a nice, uneventful drive to Orvieto, our last stop in beautiful Umbria. Founded by the Etruscans, Orvieto is situated on the flat summit of a large butte of volcanic tuff, rising dramatically from the bluffs.

Conveniently, they have a funicular that you can take from a FREE parking lot outside the walls of the city. On this Monday, the city was not as crowded with tourists as other cities we'd visited the previous few days. It was kind of a nice change of pace not to have to rub shoulders with tour groups.

From the funicular station, we took the shuttle bus up into the center to wander around a bit, visit the cathedral and eat lunch.

Like other Italian churches, the facade of the Orvieto cathedral is stunning. The cathedral was begun in 1290 and took almost three centuries to complete.


The inside of the church wasn't as dramatically decorated as some others we'd visited, but was still a marvel to view.

The chapel features large frescoes by Luca Signorelli depicting the Apocalypse and the Last Judgement. The scenes were almost disturbing to view.

After our visit to the cathedral, it was time for lunch. April had found a recommendation for Il Giglio d'Oro in the Fodor's Italy travel guide and it was conveniently located within the same piazza as the cathedral.

Our lunch proved to contain both a culinary journey to places I love to visit and some much needed humor. At first, we were a bit put off by the "snooty" attitude of both the female maitre'd and the male waiter, but we quickly observed after being seated that they were just sick of tourists treating their fine dining establishment as a snack bar.

The outdoor seating was limited, with only about 6 tables and we had a couple of good laughs as they shooed away many different parties of tourists whose intent was just to merely sit at their lovely terrace and enjoy a glass of water, or perhaps a glass of wine. "This is NOT a bar" we heard them bark at them. "You must eat! This is a RESTAURANT, not a snack bar!"

We on the other hand, ooed and awed over the menu and made it quite clear that our intent was to "dine" and quite leisurely. Our waiter was a cute Italian fellow (probably liked other cute Italian boys) and really enjoyed our praise of their menu and the excellent service. We were their model dining guests and we glowed under the special attention we received. We took great pleasure in the treatment of those less fortunate who thought to treat this sacred ground as a mere stopping point for their aching feet.

I don't remember exactly everything we ate, but one of the excellent starters we had was an eggplant terrine with truffles. And although simple, the insalata mista (mixed salad) was delicious! The olive oil was so full of flavor, I literally wanted to lick the plate. We enjoyed a nice bottle of local red wine that they had recommended, and it did not disappoint.

While we were still waiting for our dessert and espresso to arrive, a party of 6 arrived to dine. They were 3 couples, two from Texas, and one couple from Laguna Beach. After they sat down and were handed the menus, we struck up a conversation with them about Italy travel and the menu. We made several recommendations based on our own, quite delicious lunch. They all perused the menu, and when it was time for them to order, they all asked if they could just have "spaghetti, with a meat sauce." The waiter rolled his eyes, looked over at us and said "help me!" It was pretty funny!

I could tell that he really had to restrain himself from speaking his mind and instead, tried his best to point out dishes on the menu that would please both their palette and their pocket books. They were hoping for "fine dining" on a snack bar budget! After a delicious end with a dessert we all shared and espresso, it was time for one last look around Orvieto before we hit the road.

April and I both purchased some really beautiful local pottery. It was nice that they offered (if you spent enough!) free shipping to the U.S., so we didn't have to lug around anything heavy. Before we boarded the shuttle bus back to the funicular, there was a nice viewpoint out into the countryside.


We get back to the car and April plugs our final destination (Massa Lubrense) into the GPS. For some reason, our Garmin map cannot find the coastal town, so we plug in Sorrento, since we had directions from our villa owners from that point. According to the research I had done previously, the trip from Orvieto to Massa Lubrense should have taken us about 3-1/2 hours. Our estimated arrival time would be about 6:30 PM. Naturally, that didn't happen.

Most of our drive was on the 6-lane super highway. When we had scoped out the route, we new that our destination was southwest of Rome, but that we would bypass Rome and kind of go around it. Things started to get kind of messy at about the time we were supposed to be going "around" Rome. The GPS is directing us to exit onto another highway that April believes is now pointing us away from the coast. And she was right. Thankfully, we only drive about 20 KM out of our way, but still, this is taking up precious time. We also encounter some pretty awful traffic in the suburbs of Rome as we are hitting the city right around the end of the work day.

We correct our mistake and finally again, we're going highway speeds. The highway has a few "bumps" we encounter at pretty high speeds (130 KM per hour) and we hear a noise coming from our car that wasn't there before. We're driving a Fiat wagon, but my Dad is continually remind me that it's not a Fiat, it's a "Fix It Again Tony" car. The car is already kind of in disrepair; the front bumper looks like its been glued on at the corners after encountering some damage and the drive train is somewhat noisy and clunky sounding; kind of like the sound a car makes when you are driving on a flat tire (but our tires are fine). Anyway, we come to a toll booth and it's apparent we have an issue and need to find Tony. The car is dragging something. We drive to the right where there is thankfully a gas station with and large "auto supermarket" where they sell everything from food, souvenirs, groceries and alcohol.

I'm digging out the Hertz rental agreement, convinced that we're going to get stuck there for hours while I contact Hertz to inquire about a replacement vehicle. Meanwhile, Dad is under the the car, laying on the ground trying to diagnose. It wasn't hard to spot the problem: most of the plastic "air dam" was hanging off the car and who knows just how long it had been dragging. Half of the hard plastic was shredded. Dad could see that there still remained a couple of screws that connected this large plastic piece (about 3-1/2 feet long by 2 feet wide) to the underside of the engine. Naturally, we didn't have a screwdriver, but I started to walk away to see if I could find/buy one. Dad needed a phillips. Before I had even walked a few feet away, Dad had successfully pulled the entire piece off the car. So we stuck it into the back of the wagon, and off we went. Disaster avoided, thanks to my Dad, who I now may occasionally refer to as "Tony."

Our next major fork in the road is Naples. We decide to find a grocery store or market here since it was getting so late and we wanted to get some basic supplies for the apartment for the morning. We take our designated exit off the super highway to the more rural coastal road we would travel on to our final destination. Luckily, we spot a market. However, we almost became roadkill just getting through two intersections to park at said market.

Let's just say that Naples drivers are bat-shit crazy and don't obey any traffic laws or even common driving courtesies like you would normally encounter at 4-way stops. These drivers (cars, scooters and motorcycles) really don't consider stopping at all. Seriously, these were some frightening intersections! Basically, you just GO and pray. Don't stop, just force your way into the center of the intersection. You had no choice; you couldn't hesitate, you just had to go for it.

We make it through the cluster of vehicles and motorcycles and successfully navigate ourselves into a spot in front of the market. Dad and April go into the market for supplies while Joan and I sit in the car. We are front and center with a view of the crazy intersection. We see several near-misses. It's amazing there wasn't an accident every 5 minutes. Then some comic relief: a guy on a motorcycle zooms by us and plows through the intersection all while singing Opera at the top of his lungs. It was pretty funny!

Supplies safely stowed in the back, we push ourselves through again to return to the coastal road. I think I might have driven through the intersection with my eyes closed. We make it to Sorrento and see the sign for "Massa Lubrense." We're relieved. Our relief started to ebb away when we started climbing up steep cliffs and encountering hairpin turns, all the while encountering LOTS of scooters and motorcycles, tour buses and other vehicles seemingly dive-bombing straight for us in the opposite direction. They crazy drivers actually pass me (apparently I'm driving too slow) on blind corners (in the dark!). This was white-knuckle driving at its best. We were all just a little frightened. Originally, we were planning to navigate this treacherous road during daylight, but you know, the best intentions.

As we continue to dodge ongoing traffic and avoid going over cliffs, we never see another marker for Massa Lubrense. We have NO idea where we are. I'm not sure how we actually find the meeting point near the house, but we do. It's now almost 10:00 PM. We are tired and completely stressed out. It's with much relief that we actually connect with the villa owners in the tiny village of Massa Lubrense.

We arrive at the house, all of use exhausted. Dad doesn't miss this opportunity to mention he has to walk down 27 steps to the house. He will mention these steps pretty much on a daily basis, but hey, it's the sacrifice you make to be RIGHT on the ocean (the view is lovely). April and I lug our baggage down to the house and we all find our respective bedrooms and call it a night. We're looking forward to the morning so we can truly see WHERE we're at. And yes, it was stunning.

You can view my Orvieto pictures on Shutterfly.


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