The Windy City
Quit job. Go places. Meet friends. Try things. Give and receive. Be happy : )
From Pompeii I went down to the Amalfi Coast with plans to stay in Agerola and get an early start on the hiking trail between that town and Positano I’d read was so beautiful: Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods). Well, the strike put a damper on my plans as transportation was iffy at best and I got struck in Amalfi. Oh, poor me, stranded in one of the most beautiful coastal towns in Italy and perhaps the world. I ended up finding a dorm room with three other ladies in Atrani, a smaller but just as charming town a few minutes walk away. And though I didn’t get such an early start on the hike, it didn’t matter: the views really were incredible! And the hike itself was pretty easy other than the 1500 steps at the end. It took me about an hour and a half from beginning to end, and definitely recommend it to anyone in the area.
An overnight trip took me first to Pompeii. What was most interesting to me was how similar it actually was to our cities today. Sure, everything was built out of stone (even the pillows. comfortable.), but there were streets made for walking and streets made for driving, homes with artwork, kitchens with ovens and bathrooms with toilets. I walked around with a podcast I’d downloaded ahead of time, and it provided details about life in the city as it guided me through the ancient streets. Life hasn’t really changed that much since 79 AD, when Mount Vesuvius erupted and covered the city with ash and lava.
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Lucia’s good graces didn’t end in Salento: she’d arranged for us to stay in a trullo in Alberobello. On the way, we stopped in Martina Franca. A large and bustling city, it has an elegant, regal seeming town center. It’s almost entirely white, which I’m beginning to see is common in this area. Castro and a few of the other small towns in the south were also white, as is Alberobello and several of the other towns nearby. Hold up, you’re probably thinking. What’s a trullo, or in plural, what are trulli??? Well, I didn’t know either until I got there. But they’re like small huts with stone teepee like roofs. Apparently they came about because they were easy to disassemble quickly in order to avoid an old property tax.
After Alberobello, Robin went west towards Taranto and I headed northeast to the Gargano region. With just four nights, I managed to pack a lot in: San Giovani di Rotundo (a pilgrimage mecca with its Padre Pio sanctuary), Monte Sant’angelo, Vieste, Peschici, Rodi Garganico and a quick look at San Severo before catching a train. For anyone else going, don’t been discouraged by the lack of trains. I imagine there aren’t any because its so hilly, which means AMAZING views. And the busses are very efficient and affordable. Monte Sant’angelo, Vieste and Peschici were all incredibly lovely. The first is on a hill with a breathtaking view down to the sea and the other two are right on the sea. Vieste is the biggest, but all three are full of old, tiny, winding streets and men selling fruit and vegetables and fish from the beds of their small Piaggio three wheeled trucks. Though it’s hard to pick, I think Monte Sant’angelo may have been my Gargano favorite.
Having been so fortunate/stupid/brave to quit my job, get rid of most of my possessions, and travel through Europe and Asia for over a year, I wanted to share some of that with my mom. Sure, I’ve told her things and she’s seen my photos. But it’s not the same as being there. So I took her to Italy, a magical and easily accessible country (i.e. its western, like my mom). But of course I wouldn’t let a ticket to Italy keep me there for only 2 weeks when I have no job calling me back, so I decided to visit Puglia before she came over to meet me.
And it was amazing! I joined a backpacker friend, Robin, in the Rome airport and together we hopped over to the east coast. We had a couple of nights in Lecce and another couple in Otranto. Lecce welcomed me back to the world of good espresso and the innate sense of style seemingly synonymous with Italy. It was really nice to fare due passi again, even more so with a pistachio gelato in hand. And Otranto welcomed me back to the beach, if only for a slightly too cold for your bathing suit afternoon. Wishful thinking. We were lucky in Otranto to find a great agriturismo, or local farm that also offers accommodation and good eats. It was walking distance from town and offered not only peace and quiet, but many fruit and olive trees, a private pool overlooking a vegetable garden, and, most notably, the warm and loquacious Maria Giovanni. She makes you feel instantly welcome and at ease with her throaty salutations, amplified by years of smoking.
Happily sated with wine and espresso, we set off for Santa Maria de Leuca, known to some as “the end of the world” for its location at the southernmost point of Puglia. The train only goes so far as Gagliano, though, and luckily we decided to walk around town and ask for information at the Municipal Office. Lucky, indeed, because it was here we met Lucia. She basically adopted us for a few days. After a proper Italian lunch at her home, she drove us on a tour of the area, set us up in her brothers spacious and well equipped rental house, and offered to lend us her car for sightseeing during the next few days. Mama, mia! What a fortunate turn of events. With her car, we were able to drive up the coast to Gallipoli one day, and up to Santa Cesarea del Terme the next, then through the inland countryside on our way back, seeing a mishmash of small towns amidst the olive trees. For me, the diamond in the rough was Castro, home to a famous cave we failed to see and a really beautiful, old town center. Another highlight was the combined bike ride and hike we took one day in Gagliano. I may have pilfered a pomegranate or two. They’re so plentiful and delicious looking I just couldn’t help it!
Lucia pulled strings for us to go on a guided tour of Presicce, a town not far from Galgiano, for free. Granted, it was all in Italian, but I did pretty well! It was especially interesting to see the underground caves where oil used to be made and to learn more about the process. I am not sure if its the same today (ok, ok, the guide probably explained this on the tour, but I missed it since I couldn’t understand all of the Italian), but at least in the past, oil made in this region wasn’t used as a table or cooking oil at all - it was sent away and made into soap. The olives around Bari produced much higher quality oil. Thanks to Lucia and her italian-mother-sized-heart, the Puglia that we experienced in the south exceeded all of my expectations. When I gave her a hug and a two cheek kiss at the train station just a few days after meeting her, I was more than sincere when I told her how wonderful it would be to return the hospitality if/when she travels to my side of the pond. Grazie, mille, Lucia!
to be continued….
Alaska. It’s big. It’s beautiful and pristine. It’s cold! And it was a very welcome surprise. The friend who I worked with on the boat in California after I quit my job and before I headed to Italy invited me back to the boat, this time in Alaska. I met her and the rest of the crew in Sitka and we made our way south to Ketchikan, by way of many sea otter, whale, eagle and rainbow sightings. The rain provided lots of down time to catch up, but there were enough sunny days for some quality time outside too. On the first day, Patricia, Anna and I went on a walk through some woods just outside town, not far from the dock. We came across what I came to understand was normal and prevalent at this time of the year: hundreds of spawning salmon in a creek. After two or three years out in the sea growing big and healthy, salmon return to the place where they were born to lay and fertilize eggs, then die. Mike explained that once a salmon begins to spawn, it changes drastically. Depending on the species, it might change shape or color or both, and all of them start to waste away as they struggle upstream against the current. Anyway, it was interesting to see them that first day. Surrounded by wise, tall pines with snow-covered peaks in the background and salmon spawning at my feet, I couldn’t help but think: yep, this is really Alaska.
Another day held a hike to a lake and a natural hot - very, very hot! - spring just by a rushing waterfall. There were a few salmon hatcheries to be seen, where salmon eggs are raised into fish before being released to exponentially improve their chances of making it and help the fishermen out too. One of the bigger hatcheries was graced with a big group of clever bears having a salmon picnic just outside the fence of the hatchery. It was amazing to see so many bears so close up! I think there were 12 or 13 altogether. Of course, the bears weren’t the only ones fishing. We did our fair share as well. I went out on the tender early one morning with Mike and Patricia and we caught lots of things that I thought were big, but were apparently just small change for Alaska. We threw them all back, but the boys got lucky enough on the other days to more or less completely fill the freezers on board (and now some is in my parents’ freezer too!). I also go to try something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time: paddleboarding. It’s not nearly as hard as it looks, and its really fun! Yes, of course I tested the water temperature by falling in. Oops. It was not warm. But luckily I was literally right next to the boat (I knocked myself over by bumping into it - smooth move), so it was no big deal to paddle around and change clothes for take two.
Alaska is the kind of place that, when you look around, makes you feel very grateful for the chance to soak it all in. And grateful I am, not only for the opportunity to see and do some truly amazing things, but to do see and do them with a very best friend.