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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cocumella, Vera, Amalfi, Capri ... and Me

It was just two years ago today that my special angel, Miss Carol had me post her memory of a very special stop on what I think was our favorite trip together ... I think it was our favorite because each was different and each in their own way deserve that honor!
The picture almost looks fake, doesn't it? An amalgamation of beautiful things pulled together from a multitude of sources ... but fake it is not, for I have been there and it is real. Walkway skirting the Bay of Naples, sunset over the Bay of Naples, sailing ship Vera at anchor awaiting tomorrow and awe-struck guests from the Grand Hotel Cocumella in Sorrento, Italy. That's what this picture shows.
Sometimes life's dreams do come true. All my childhood years, my father said to me ... "If there is one thing that you go see in your life, you go and see the Amalfi Coast in Italy". He told his stories of the beauty of the Amalfi Coast so many times that I felt that I had already seen it. When Bob and I had the chance to go to Italy, I wanted to be sure that I understood what my father had been talking about ... and fortunately, we chose a grand hotel ... The Cocumella.
Our trip to Italy was scheduled to be a tour of Rome, Florence and Venice. My company was rewarding agents for meeting sales' goals and I was lucky enough to be invited along. We scheduled staying on after Venice and I told Bob that we were going to see some of the most beautiful places in the world.
After a wonderful two days to ourselves in Venice, we flew to Naples where the hotel in Sorrento was having a driver pick us up. We were supposed to arrive about mid-afternoon in Naples but Alitalia Airlines has its own timetable. We finally arrived just about dark at the Naples airport. The poor driver was totally exhausted and got us to the car as quickly as he possibly could. He zoomed out of Naples and we were on the road to Sorrento. It was dark by then and all I could see was the outline of the umbrella pines. We knew we were driving along a road that hugged the seacoast, but we couldn't see the ocean. By the time we got to the Grand Hotel Cocumella, the restaurant was closing ... they offered to see what the chef could do but all I wanted was to go to bed.
By the next morning, I was convinced that I had made a terrible mistake in choosing Sorrento and this hotel. Our room faced an internal courtyard. The room delivered breakfast, however, was very good. Flaky, crusty Italian rolls with homemade marmalade and fresh cut tomatoes with mozzarella cheese. The cheese was obviously just made and the coffee was the best I ever had.
Still not enough to overcome my depression, I continued to bemoan my mistake in extending the trip. Bob, finally tiring of listening to me, went downstairs to scope out the rest of the hotel. When he came back, he brought me a small red flower and said that I had to come outside. I finally did leave the room and went outside into - heaven on earth.
The hotel was originally a Jesuit monastery, opened in 1637. The hotel was started in 1822. The hotel sits in the most beautiful garden/citrus orchard ever seen. The sights and smells were heavenly. Sorrento lemons are world famous and are the size of oranges. They emit their fragrance while still growing on the trees. The gardens were full of other fragrant flowers and plants. You walk a path through the garden to the terrace overlooking the bay and look back on Naples and Vesuvius.
Bob worked his magic with the Chef Concierge, Giuseppe di Pietro, and, almost before you could snap your fingers, Giovanni and his car showed up. Giovanni had been a merchant mariner and spoke passable English. Our plan - morning in Pompeii and afternoon driving down the Amalfi Coast. Bob's magic ... he asked Giuseppe what he could do on short notice!
Giovanni retraced our previous night's route, this time to Naples. We saw what we had missed the night before. The coastline is unbelievably beautiful. My father was correct. It is the one place you have to see. Pictures can't really do it justice. "See Naples and die."
He got us to Pompeii and we walked up to the beautifully excavated town. It's real and it's human. Once you are there, you know why they would have delayed and delayed leaving. It truly is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
After seeing Pompeii, we rejoined Giovanni and we drove down the Amalfi Coast. It's a narrow 2-lane road with the land falling straight down from the roadside to the sea. It gives you a magnificent view of the ocean. You drive through small charming towns and sometimes have to back up the car to let the large tour buses through. Amalfi is touristy but still charming with beautiful pottery and cameos for sale.
Bob lucked out ... He didn't have to buy me a cameo as I have two. My father bought one for my mother and one for my grandmother when he was in Amalfi at the end of World War II. They are both now mine.
Positano is also touristy but very sophisticated. We stopped outside of town and I bought a pottery plate. Bob wanted to buy out the store, but he had no idea of how to get all the breakable stuff home. In Positano, it's helpful to be a mountain goat ... you get to from the top to the bottom by climbing up and down narrow stairs. There are no roads down to sea level. Your car must be parked at the top and you climb up and down these charming, steep staircases with shops and restaurants on either side.
That evening, we ate on the terrace of the Cocumella Restaurant. We both had minestrone soup. I almost didn't order it. We always had cans of Campbell's Condensed Minestrone soup when I was growing up. I never liked it but my father was addicted to it. I understand now that he was trying to somehow recapture what minestrone soup should taste like. He had eaten it in remote farm cottages outside of Naples and in small restaurants in Naples. Campbell's minestrone soup - forget it. The real thing is a simple vegetable soup made with the freshest ingredients possible.
The evening's entertainment was provided by the hotel's excellent musicians and an American family; man, wife, son and his New York "Princess" betrothed ... members of the nouveau riche, or pretenders thereto ... gauche was the operative word. They were a real hoot ... the father belittling "foreigners," announcing to the world how wonderful his son was, ... and loudly telling his family how he had used his influence to arrange for the Vera to take them to Capri. He also used his influence to assure that we were able to enjoy "New York, New York" over and over again, throughout the evening ... instead of Mattinata and Torna a Surriento.
The next morning we were off to Capri on the sailing ship Vera. There were two other couples ... plus the American family, who couldn't understand why we were all on their "boat". We went under sail and the water was a blue that I have never seen before. And, then there was Capri, rising out of that blue water. I know that you can get to Capri more quickly by ferry and hydrofoil but under sail is really the only way to go.
For lunch, the crew served us wonderful roasted chicken, Insalata Caprese (sliced tomatoes and basil from the hotel's kitchen garden, freshly made mozzarella cheese) and crusty rolls.
We sailed around the island and through the Faraglioni, the limestone masses called Sea Stacks that stand out of the sea.
We then disembarked on Capri with Bob and I taking the funicular to Anacapri, which is at the top of the island. We walked back down, sightseeing and eating gelato, as we came down to the harbor.
We sailed back to Sorrento. Since we were flying back to Rome the next day, I wanted to eat in the room. The Cocumella didn't really have a room service menu at that time but the chef made me a simple tomato and basil pasta, which was incredible. Home made pasta and tomatoes and basil from the kitchen garden.
We were really treated like royalty there ... in fact, I wonder why our names aren't listed on the hotel web site with some of their other distinguished guests like: Goethe, Hans Christian Andersen, Sigmund Freud, and the Duke of Wellington.
Somewhat more than 48 hours of life's magic moments, never to be forgotten.
My father was correct; it was something that I had to do in my lifetime. I understand him better now after that trip. We weren't that close (there are many reasons for that) but he had really wanted me to have an extraordinary experience and lacked the financial means to send me or take me himself. He saw that I got a good education and understood that you had to work very hard at your job to be successful. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to do it and to share it with Bob. We still share the experience; we talk about it and relive it from time to time ... I really don't think he had even heard of the Amalfi Coast before we took the trip.
Like Dr. Ben said to me back in 1787, "the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others" ... Comments and Discussion please