It is said through the Urban Dictionary: “Passion is when you put more energy into something than what is required to do it. It is more than just enthusiasm or excitement. Passion is ambition that materializes into an action that puts as much heart, mind, body and soul into something as is possible.”
Let’s empty my passion for travel with my wife and family, photography, foodie discoveries, hiking and genealogy all into a blender. Whip it up on high speed and, voilà! The result is a cocktail for travel that is rich, flavorful and satisfying. Over the next few months, I will be sharing with you my passions and thoughts, all in a crystal decanter full of ten European countries and Israel. Come and fill your glass with exciting adventures, told firsthand through You, Me and The Dock!
We visited Italy numerous times with a different set of goals each time. The more we visit an area, the more refined our ambitions become. The first timers head for the tried and true touristy meccas. However, when you can weave local color and tradition into your schedule, the activities become more memorable and tailored to your trip’s goals. On this particular adventure, we visited Salerno and the eastern Amalfi Coast. The City of Salerno, as viewed from our hotel, looks over the bay. The pier, which is shown in the above photo is one of two places that travelers can depart from by boat.
Italy is shaped like a high heeled boot and Salerno, being the capital of the Campania Province is located about ankle high above the “foot”. Situated at the start of the Amalfi Coast, the city lies on the Gulf of Salerno, on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Salerno is hedged in by mountains as is most of the Amalfi Coast. In my opinion, this is one of Italy’s most picturesque areas.
Monte Stella overlooks Salerno at its highest point which reaches over 3,100 feet. There are several modern buildings that dot the skyline in a city with approximately 150,000 residents. It is believed that civilization existed in the general area as far back as the 9th Century BC. Salerno itself dates back to 197 BC when the Romans created the new colony of Salernum.
As foodies, we love Mozzarella cheese and especially when I layer it with my homegrown tomatoes. We chose Salerno as our travel base due to its proximity and train access to many of our planned destinations. Tenuta Vannulo, with its Mozzarella dairies, was one of our selected adventures. From the milk of the Italian domestic buffalo to the final kneaded and braided product, we had a chance to observe the creation of Mozzarella cheese itself. We hopped on a train in Salerno to the town of Capaccio Scalo. It took approximately 30 minutes. This was followed by a taxi ride to the dairy from the center of town.
We witness 600 beasts receiving pampering with special shower sprayers, rows of electric massaging brushes, piped in music and premium grazing areas. An estimated 300 Italian buffalo cows which are at least 3 years old, provide the needed daily milk for making the cheese. Each year these 300 cows birth a calf of which 50% are female and 50% are male. There are only eight breeding bulls called the “Happy Bulls”. These new male calves are evaluated, but rarely selected to join the ranks of the 8 bulls.
If these calves are not selected, they immediately advance to the butcher and leather shops. They become purses and shoes which are then sold to visitors. The female calves are moved to the pampered milk production process after three years of grazing in the grassy fields. The process of selection can seem a bit cruel but again, this tradition has gone on for centuries. Mozzarella cheese has to be delicately refined in order to keep its reputation for quality and one of a kind taste.
Visitors are shuffled along a catwalk above the dairy and watch while craftsmen cut and knead cheese into perfect braids. Tours are available, but reservations are highly recommended. The tour concludes with a tasting of the freshly made Mozzarella cheese that was produced right in front of you. There is a small café conveniently attached and provides a light fare, including Italy’s famous gelato. Don’t forget to say “Cheese” when you take your picture in the town of Tenuta Vannulo.
Mozzarella cheese falls into the category of “Slow Foods”. You can buy products at all of the Slow Foods production facilities, but not all can come home with you. You are prohibited to return to the United States with any meats, fruits, and vegetables along with other agricultural products. Importing meats into the U.S. is a Federal Offense.
So, take the time to enjoy it and leave any uneaten products in Italy. Products like cheese, olive oil, vinegar, wine and limoncello are all permitted to bring back to the states. Before going to Italy, check out the U.S. Customs Limits site. It is well worth the time to read any limitation when traveling abroad.
We complimented our lunch with some local wine and of course, we had to sample the cafe’s gelato and baked “Dolci” (sweets). When visiting a place like Italy that has world class cuisine, live a little! Forget about your diet. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
Paestum – If Greek and Roman architecture is a passion of yours, then the Paestum archeological site is close enough to add to your mozzarella dairy tour. Paestum is home to the remains of 3 Greek temples. It has been reputed to be one of the rarest collections of Greek temple ruins. The Romans made significant additions after taking over the city in the 3rd Century B.C. However, already observing Roman and Greek ruins on other trips to Ephesus, Corinth, Ostia (Rome) and Athens, we chose instead to enjoy the sunshine at the hotel’s swimming pool after our day’s adventure.
AMALFI COAST – The towns of Amalfi and Positano are the two jewels perched high above the water on this picturesque coast. Even the courageous of drivers will opt to ride the regional buses or hire a taxi to snake around the curves of this treacherous coastal roadway. On our first trip, we hired Salvatore. He was an Italian charmer that handled his taxi with precision. Our first experience around the narrow pathway was quite a thrill. Regardless of the mode of travel, keep in mind the schedules for the last return trip(s) of the day to avoid being stranded. It is very important to pay attention to the schedules.
With other tourists and townspeople, we hopped on a public boat that accessed the towns along the Amalfi coast. We could see the archways supporting the narrow hillside roads, mountainside tunnels, and the Saracen towers and old castles. The Saracen towers offered protection to the citizens of the Amalfi coast. They helped to defend the pirates who plundered the villages during the Byzantine period.
We were indeed pinching ourselves and living the reality of “La Dolce Vita” (the sweet life)! Boat schedules are posted at the Salerno pier and your hotel. This was an absolutely delightful way to enjoy a day on the water and see some of Italy’s most beautiful Mediterranean shoreline.
The 10th and 11th centuries were Amalfi’s heyday as a maritime power. It rivaled the trading giants of Venice, Pisa, and Genoa. Residents of Amalfi coast were said to have traded in gold coins, while the rest of Italy used the barter systems. The centerpiece of the town is the majestic Cathedral. It is a lovely combination of Moorish and Byzantine styles. The cathedral claims to possess the remains of St. Andrew under a huge bronze statue. The Amalfi maritime dominance came tumbling down in 1343 when a tsunami stemming from an underground earthquake reduced the town to rubble.
The nearby town of Positano is a perfect place to chill out, relax, and get away from the frantic bustle and bustle of the megacities like Rome and Naples. It is rumored that Positano is a mecca for celebrities seeking to find solace and peace. In the nearby town of Sorrento, you can see the two islands previously owned by ballet famed Rudolf Nureyev. It is quite a site if I do say so myself.
The main walkway from the beach up to the main piazza is a shopper’s paradise. It features local boutiques, fine linen shops, various art galleries and plenty of quaint cafes. A favorite beverage of mine is Limoncello. Even though it is a high alcohol content liqueur, in moderation, it makes for a great after meal cordial. The Italians say it is the perfect antidote that can immediately burns off all the fat calories you consumed during your meal.
We enjoyed a sunlit lunch at a local restaurant facing the beautiful Amalfi shoreline. The added ambience was perfect to sit back, eat some fantastic food, and people watch while nestled above the Mediterranean Sea.
Italy has a wide variety of Artists. Whether it is with a pinch of this and that, an easels and brushes or arranging intricate displays of fresh seafood, it’s all good.
My wife loved the food so much, she had to meet the chef. She gave praise for his works of cuisine art. He in turn was gracious enough to come out and speak with her personally. It’s somewhat unusual, but she got an opportunity to get a photo with the head chef! It was a proud moment for her. However, the day was getting long and we had to move on.
When getting around Italy, we used high speed trains, local trains, taxis and the occasional private driver. I am not one for rental cars foreign countries. Why you ask? I want to enjoy sightseeing. If I were driving, I would miss the sights while maneuvering the roads and figuring out traffic signs. I would also be navigating to places I have never been to and where do I safely park the rental car?
High Speed Trains have significantly shortened the time for long distance travel. These trains literally “fly” you to destinations at speeds of 180 to 200 miles per hour. However, they do require advance tickets and seat reservations. In preparing for our European tours, I rely mostly on Rick Steves train schedules. The following website is a wealth of information; http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en. He has been sharing his tips with world travelers for over 30 years. On his site is a Deutsche Bahn train schedule. It provides you with schedules, routing, and the types of trains for any European travel. Always printout all your itineraries. When you arrive at the ticket window, your printed schedule clearly identifies your itinerary to the clerk the exact train(s) you wish to use.
Added Travel Advice. This will also help with any language barriers. This is an invaluable aid. Usually at a major city train station, I will purchase tickets for the next 5 days at one time to ensure I have my reserved seats in hand. I always encourage my friends who travel abroad to go to www.RickSteves.com and check out his European travel information. He is also on PBS TV stations on a weekly basis. Check your local TV and/or cable guide listings.
Arrivederci my fellow travelers! The time has come to say goodbye for this edition of my travel experiences. Stay tuned for future editions as I plan to share my passion for international traveling to Italy, Scotland, England, France, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Germany, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands. I started this adventure with discussing how my passions meld to make a holistic experience that my family and I will treasure for years. As you travel, finding those gems will continue to sparkle years after you originally experienced them. Which in turn, will generate all the more desire to return!
“Love, Laugh & Travel Lots”