I mentioned a small trip occurring this past weekend in the previous post. Well, I called it before it happened; boy was it an adventure.
Listen, I knew it would be an experience going to a brand new place in Southern Italia, but I did not anticipate any aspect of the peculiar trip. That is the greatest thing about life though; its innate, uncontrollable spontaneity.
I wholeheartedly invested in meeting my boyfriend’s family, by visiting them for a day or two in their small town in Campania. I have never ventured south of the Amalfi Coast (specifically Minori.) I also never found myself in southern Italy during the winter time. There is always a first for everything.
The [car] journey through the regions (Toscana, Umbria, Lazio, and Campania – in that order) is impeccable for window gazing. It really gives mostly the passenger glimpses at the unique versatility of Italian land. Pieces of history are scattered everywhere, from the various church steeples to the sturdy medieval castles perched along the hill tops or built into mountain sides. I began to make a list of villages I could see from the road and identify through Google Maps. I wish that I had all the time (and money) in the world so that I could stop and visit each place along the way. But, gas is not cheap and family eventually will run out of patience.
Not an ounce of Campania’s natural beauty is lost from the summer to the winter. The sun shimmers graciously over the unceasing mountains. I can say it is actually more attractive, with a less boisterous off season scene. I can’t say that I confronted the usually warmer temperatures of Southern Italy this time, unfortunately. A cold front swept through Italy this past weekend, bringing plenty of snow to the south that I will I explain shortly through an unprecedented anecdote.
Vesuvius has always been a point of reference for me while traveling to the Amalfi Coast. It noted the close proximity of the winding roads of the coast; the ones that used to make my mother go mad since my stomach as a toddler could not handle the twists and turns. Nonetheless, it was truly extraordinary to see it from the A30, illustrating a brand new perspective and reference point.
Vesuvius marked our direction towards yet beyond Salerno. We were moving deep into authentic Campania territory. Not the glitzy summertime Amalfi Coast where pasta costs an average 15 euros a plate Campania. The mountains and farmlands of Campania. We arrived in Oliveto Citra, a small town roughly 50 km East of Salerno and 40 km west of the border of Basilicata. It is located next to the Monte Picentini, a mountain range part of the larger Apennines. This area boasts a dynamic of extensive green pastures and the rough base of the mountains, where daily exercise comes from just walking up and down the steep streets of town.
It is a town where everyone knows everyone. My boyfriend’s roots are deep seated in this town, with ancestry going back hundreds of years. It was new for me to be introduced to someone else’s gigantic Italian family. The first night we went to dinner at Ristorante La Veduta, which consisted of 24 people. Not all the family was there, by the way.
This is the magical view that I greeted the two mornings we spent there. We stayed at Albergo La Collina, mostly because we came last minute and there was not much space at the family’s places at the moment. We arrived on La Befana, the last holiday of the Christmas Season. Oliveto Citra is a highly Catholic town, just like many others in Italy. Therefore, the holiday is not taken lightly. That night, at the dinner for 24, we ate solely fish and lots of it. (If you do not get the reference, please google.)
The next day, Saturday, was the most eventful. We went to have lunch further into the mountainous area of the town, at my boyfriend’s cousin and great aunt’s home. They raise their own chickens and grow many of their own vegetables on their own land. Unfortunately, I did not whip out my phone or camera to provide visuals of our fantastic lunch. This was a highlight of the short stay, that left me more plump than an American chicken. After lunch, it began to snow heavily. Despite this, my boyfriend’s cousin and his wife attempted to drive us back down the mountain to our hotel. One step outside and I realized what Siberia must look and feel somewhat like. Temperatures down into the negatives with nothing insight, just thick white mist of snow and uneven pathways considered roads.
Basically, at some midpoint on the mountain, the car slid on ice, which almost dragged us into a field. Thanks to his cousins’ driving skills, the car halted to a stop at the middle of the road, adjacent to another stuck car. All I could do at that moment was laugh, nervously. The wife and I were able to get a lift from the neighbors back to their home. My boyfriend and his cousin some how ended up having to walk back up to the house, joining the rest of us as we all crowded around by the fireplace, sipping homemade chocolate liquor. My boyfriend and I ended up being picked up by my boyfriend’s Uncle in his 1990 4×4 Fiat panda a little bit later.
I really wish I could have filmed the entire thing, but moments like that can only be vividly recalled through the now deeply seated memories in my mind. The day wrapped itself up perfectly, when we attempted to scout out dinner in the midst of the storm. Unsurprisingly, there is not a delivery system similar to New York, where poor delivery guys work in every type of weather condition, from snow storm to hurricane, to provide New Yorkers with some burritos or Kung Pao chicken. We needed to go eat pizza because, naturally, we could not leave Oliveto or Campania without eating it.
Rather than walk all the way to town on icy roads in -2 degrees Celsius, my boyfriend chose to take me to the popular take away pizza joint down [and up] the road from the hotel. If I were to see the exterior of this place, in any city, I would have expressed blatant reluctance. But, in a humble town, the name “Planet Food”and a bunch of corny food signs do not suggest much sketchiness. It was a mom and pop pizza joint with its own forno a legna (wood burning oven.) The pizza was stellar, the fior di latte so fresh and so satisfying. I teared a little, especially since it was only 4.50 per pizza.
We were too impatient to eat so we indulged in their tiny seating area.
The trip was short, really just two days spent in the town. I cannot wait to go back and to experience more of this simple, genuine place. Meeting the family was a challenge, but hopefully my Italian will be further advanced by the time they meet me next. Many family members speak a dialect unique to the town and similar to many found in Campania. That is another story for an upcoming post, hopefully. I hope to return there in the warmer months where I can participate in some hands on farming work. I never plowed a field in my life or road a tractor. I think that will be at the top of the list of goals prior to returning to the States.
Until I accomplish that, buongiorno a tutti!