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, my wife and family, photography, foodie discoveries, hiking and genealogy all into a blender simultaneously. 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!
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 trips goals. On this adventure we visited Salerno and the eastern Amalfi Coast. Salerno, as viewed from our hotel, looks over the bay. The pier (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, 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.
Monte Stella overlooks Salerno and at its highest point just over 3,100 feet. There are some modern buildings that dot the skyline in a city with a population of just under 150,000. 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, 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. We hopped on a train in Salerno to the town of Capaccio Scalo, which took approximately 30 minutes, followed by a taxi ride to the dairy from the center of the little town.
We witness 600 beasts receiving pampering with special shower sprayers, rows of electric massaging brushes, piped in music and grazing areas. About 300 Italian buffalo cows are at least 3 years old and 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.” The new male calves are evaluated, but rarely selected to join the ranks of the 8 bulls. If not selected the male calves 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.
Visitors shuffle along a catwalk above the dairy and watch craftsmen cutting and kneading cheese into perfect braids. Tours are available but reservations are highly recommended. The tour concludes with a tasting of delicious and freshly made Mozzarella cheese produced right in front of you. A small café is conveniently attached and provides light fare including gelato. Don’t forget to say “cheese” when you take your pictures at 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 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. Cheese, olive oil, vinegar, wine and limoncello are all permitted to bring back to the states.
Following our tour of the dairy, one of the employees gave us a ride back to downtown Capaccio Scalo. Here is where we enjoyed a delicious caprese salad (mozzarella, tomato & basil) and some pasta. We complimented our lunch with some local wine. And of course we had to sample the cafe’s gelato and baked “dolci” (sweets).
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. Having already observed 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 that are 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 the 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 and avoid being stranded away from your accommodations. It is important to pay attention to the schedules for each season.
With other tourists and local townspeople, we hopped on a large two level public boat that accesses the towns along the Amalfi coast. From this perspective we can see the archways supporting the narrow hillside roads, mountainside tunnels, the Saracen towers, old castles and elegant sailing vessels. The Saracen round towers protected the inhabitants of the Amalfi coast. They defended themselves from the pirates who plundered the villages with incredible ferocity 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 a delightful ride and an efficient way to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
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 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 which is a lovely combination of Moorish and Byzantine styles. The cathedral claims to possess the remains of St. Andrew under a huge bronze statue of the saint. 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 and get away from the frantic 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 fame Rudolf Nureyev. Be warned that during the high season the surrounding towns attract large crowds. The main walkway from the beach up to the main piazza is a shopper’s paradise featuring boutiques, linen shops, art galleries and plenty of cafes. A favorite of mine is Limoncello, which is a high alcohol content liqueur. The Italians say it is the perfect antidote that immediately burns off all the fat calories you consumed during your meal. Made from lemon peels, limoncello is served partially frozen and is a refreshing after dinner cordial. I personally keep some in the refrigerator to sooth sore throats during the winter.
We enjoyed a sunlit lunch facing the beach at the Buca di Bacco Restaurant. The ambience was perfect to sit back, eat and people watch while nestled above the beach. Artists were in abundant whether it was with palettes, easels and brushes or arranging intricate displays of fresh seafood.
When getting around Italy we used high speed trains, slow snail-pace local trains, taxis and the occasional private drivers. I am not one for rental cars in a country such as Italy. And why you ask? I want to enjoy sightseeing. If I were driving I would miss the sights while maneuvering the roads, figuring out the traffic signs and trying to navigating to places I never have been to. Then there is the question (when you get to your destination) where do I safely park the rental car? We look forward to using several private drivers this fall when we visit family in the Veneto region.
High Speed Trains have significantly shortened the time for long distance trips. These trains literally “fly” you to destinations at speeds of 180 to 200 miles per hour. They do require advance ticket and seat reservations. In preparing for our European travels, 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. 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! 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 passions for international traveling to Italy, Scotland, England, France, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Germany, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands. I started this adventure 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!