Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Aviano Reunion in Italy--Part 1

What a wonderful week we had in Italy! Come to think of it, have we ever had less than that in this beautiful country? And as always, Roberto Bechi and his amazing assistant Anna put together an excellent itinerary for us, this time in southern Italy, visiting jewels we would have otherwise missed. When is the last time anyone told you he went to Italy and visited a buffalo mozzarella farm, the Sassi of Matera, and Trullies of Alberobella? Confused? Then keep reading.

Our tour began in Rome where Aviano Reunion Association members convened for pickup at the Rome airport. Since one flight holding 10 in our group was delayed, we sent one bus on to Anzio with Ben for the prearranged tour of the nearby World War II cemetery, while I stayed with the second bus holding the late arrivals and those who didn‘t mind missing that quick tour. Our reward was getting to the restaurant first for our first taste of southern-style Italian food. Yum.

Then it was on to Hotel Corallo (“coral“) in Sorrento for four nights. Ben and I first visited this gem of a city on the Sorrentine Peninsula back in 2002 when we fell in love with surrounding views of the Bay of Naples, Vesuvius, and Capri, not to mention the famous liqueur of this area, limoncello. I‘ve never been much on liqueurs, but limoncello is the exception, and this area is where it all began.

The Corallo is also well positioned for all of the above views, making it easy to see the smaller ships that are able to call on Sorrento such as Azamara Club, Silversea, Star Clippers, and the small Pacific Princess. The meals prepared for us by the Corallo staff were delicious, and the people were most accommodating. If only the water in the shower had been hotter. Ah, travel in Europe....

Our first day in Sorrento included a city walking tour and then free time for shopping. If a cold front hadn‘t blown in with wind and rain, we might have left more money there--but we did a pretty good job, anyway! Sorrento is famous for excellent inlaid wood products: serving trays, multi-purpose tables, music boxes, and “paintings.“ Among the most famous is A. Gargiulo & Jannuzzi, where master craftsman Giuseppe Mastellone sells his work. Magnificent!

Next up was a bus ride back up the winding, crowded highways from Sorrento to the autostrada and on to the famous ruins of Pompeii. Another return visit for Ben and me, but having a tour guide this time made a big difference. She included lots of history and took us to the most interesting sites on this huge site. Founded in the sixth century BC, Pompeii is now the second most visited archaeological site in the world behind the pyramids. At the time of the eruption, this very advanced (if corrupt) city had a population of 12,000 citizens; 20,000 counting slaves. Ironically, all the signs we now recognize as possible harbingers of volcanic activity were occurring: a disastrous earthquake about 17 years prior, a drying aqueduct, swelling landscapes, etc.

In the meantime, I've been reading a book called Pompeii by Robert Harris, which is a gripping historical novel of the final two days prior to the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 that focuses on the man in charge of the Aqua Aqueduct which brought water to the people around the bay. A great read!

Lunch was all about cheese--mozzarella, that is--when we visited a buffalo mozzarella farm in Torre Lupara. The farm is self-sustaining, growing all of the grains needed to feed the buffalo in order to produce the highest quality cheese--so high that it has earned the USDA stamp of approval for import. If the caprese on your menu doesn‘t say “buffalo mozzarella,“ the cheese is from a cow rather than a genuine water buffalo. Our visit there included not only a tour of the farm and close encounters with the buffalo herd, but also that lunch I mentioned with something like seven types of mozzarella and aged pecorino.

We couldn‘t spend time in this area without eating genuine Napolese pizza, so we ended our already cheesy day with an all-you-can-eat pizza dinner at one of the two original pizza restaurants in Italy. The margherita was the best!

Next, you'll read about our day cruise past Capri to Amalfi and then to the ancient city of Sassi in Matera, where several scenes from Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" were filmed.

Click here for Part 1 of Ben's Aviano photos.

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