Can you imagine my surprise when about a year and a half ago, when Alex and I still had the jewellery business, I received an e-mail from an Italian guy I met years ago? I met Fabio for the first time some 14 years ago, whilst on a ferry going from Italy to the Greek Islands! Out of nowhere I receive an e-mail asking if it was really me! To cut a long story short, Fabio googled my name, and up I came! Remember that we had a business web site, so my name came up immediately. Come on, how many Ombretta Zanettis are there in Australia? Needless to say, I promptly e-mailed back, and before we knew it, we had set up “skype date” (I repeat, computer technology…..where would we be without it?) We were soon chatting away like no time had passed, and I promised that I would swing through Italy, as you do, when we passed through on our upcoming world trip.
So, some 17 months later and 11 months into our trip, I contacted Fabio to say that we were coming. Although both originally from Napoli, Fabio and Federica now live in Perugia. We only spent a night in Perugia, but spent a truly wonderful day with Fabio and his family, which included his sister Rosalba, brother-in-law and nephew, as well as Federica’s mum, Bianca. Fabio and his brother-in-law Andrea came to pick us up at the train station, and gave us a whirlwind tour of Perugia, before going back to his house. Besides catching up on 12 years worth of news (I saw Fabio again 2 years after I met him), we also…….surprise, surprise, ate copious amounts of food! Only eat once a day in Italy….that’s all day!! Sauteed eggplant, mozzarella, salami, prosciutto, olives, bread, pasta alla bechemel, pizza (from Federica’s dad’s pizzeria in Naples), wine, mineral water, not to mention the birthday cake, which was one big baba , with swirls of whipped cream on the top! It does not get better than this! How many more times can I say that Italy is a foodies Mecca? You will certainly hear it a few more times before this blog’s out!
It was only a day, but we packed in a lot, both conversationally and food wise. Fabio had organised….you know with the Italian connection thing….for us to stay in the Holiday Inn, at a very reasonable price. I’m not going to lie, it was so tremendous to be able to lie in a bed with an A-1 mattress and a pillow that was neither Mt Kosciusko nor as thin as a piece of rice paper. The buffet breakfast was excellent to say the least, oh and the “complimentary” lunch (aka the continuation of the buffet breakfast) was not too bad either. Our splurge was short lived, as we had to get up early as we were off to Naples.
We went to Naaapuli (as the Neapolitans pronounce it) via train, and on the way met a lovely lady called Michela. Unfortunately, due to time restrictions, we did not take Michela up on her offer to go and visit her, but, we will next time. I promise you Michela!
As they say in Italy, “Vedi Napoli e muore“, or as we would say in English, “See Naples and die”. Naples, you either love it or you hate it! I love it, and can never get enough. It’s crazy, frenetic, dirty, unorganised, exotic, seedy…..bring it on, this is Naples! There simply is not another place on earth like it! And every time I go back, I am reminded of my roots, and of course my mother! As much as I am proudly Australian, Naples always shows me who I really am, and where I come from…..definitely a “figlia di napolitana” (daughter of a Neapolitan). Despite being famous for Sophia Loren and pizza, I am much more inclined to say that Italy’s sfogliatelle should be the show stealers! What, you do not know what sfogliatelle are. Now, THAT is a culinary crime! Did I mention the coffee? Again, bring it on! There I go again, it really IS all about food!
Now the reason I really jammed Naples onto the agenda when time is burning ( I am now constantly hearing my ticket calling out its expiry date!), is that my mum’s first cousin, Giovanni, would be here at the same time. I have visited Giovanni a few time in the USA where he lives with his family, and he has also been to Australia, the most recent being only a year and a half ago. Now, 11 months into an around-the -world trip, we would be in the same country at the same time, when his trip was only a total of two and a half weeks. This was an opportunity that I was going to miss for nothing!
When we arrived we ended up at a place called Hostel of the Sun, very close to the heart of the city. It was run and owned by the very affable and very Neapolitan, Luca, and his excellent staff. From Tiziana, Gemma and Carla, on the front desk, to Taty (originally from the Dominican Republic…which I guessed!) in the kitchen, they were all super friendly and entertaining. I have to say, I just love Neapolitans and southern Italians! I can really see the “me” in “them” and I just love their warmth,vitality and love of life. It is, without a doubt, a southern Italian trait! Despite the chaos and the hardship, they always seem to find a way! As the Neapolitans say, ” ’ca nisciun’ è fesso“, which loosely translates to, “here, nobody’s an idiot”. In the face of adversity, they always seem to find a solution!
I have to confess that it is my favourite place in Italy, and further more, the first time in Europe on this trip that I felt at home. Europe is lovely, too lovely for me in fact, and it is mostly very organised……and then you reach Naples, and you have to cope with a million sights, sounds, smells and situations. I like this hustle and bustle. Safe may have been part of what I enjoyed 18 years ago, but after the likes of Central and South America, I am much more into adventure and culture. Europe for me has become too easy, which also extracts some of the fun. To be perfectly honest, and it is only my opinion, it now sits comfortably in the 3 O’s bracket: over-rated, over-priced and over-populated! There are a lot of places on earth that are far more exciting and that really do give you more bang for your buck! The only bang for your buck in Europe, is the one that almost kills you every time you go and pay for something, which is almost always ludicrously expensive!
You cannot see it all, but we tried to fit in a few of Naples’ sights, including the Amalfi Coast. “Dramatic scenery” is an understatement, and nothing really prepares you for the narrow roads (The Great Ocean Road move over!) that wind precipitously around 50 kilometres of sheer rock face. There are a number of little towns where you can stop off and take a look see, perhaps the most famous two being Amalfi and Positano. Both famous and beautiful they attract hordes of tourists. Despite their beauty, again they were obscenely over priced, but I could have almost coped with that, if it was not for the quadrillion people there……shopping on things they could have bought at home! Hello, we are in Italy, take a bit of a look at the spectacular surrounding scenery! No better buy that leather handbag that I can buy $5.00 cheaper than at home! Why go to Italy, when you can go to China! No sorry, China now comes to you, albeit politically and economically incorrect, as well as at a much cheaper price! I am cheeky, aren’t I!
We visited museums and palaces, strolled through the historical centre, visited the Palazzo Reale, which was the former official residence of the Bourbon and Savoy Kings, but we mostly just strolled, ate lots of sfogliatelle (well, me anyway!) had copious espressos (the best in Italy!), and just soaked it all up!
Drum roll……………………….and then was our day with Giovanni. He had been on the island of Capri (no, we did not get there this time), and we were supposed to meet him at midday, as he arrived by ferry in Naples, but we missed each other. Long story, but we called him on his mobile and met him at the hotel he was staying at close by. As we arrived, he was there to meet us at the front door of the hotel, where a number of hugs and kisses promptly followed. It was so wonderful to be able to see him again, and we both stared at each other in disbelief! We had seen each other in Australia and the USA and now in Italy! It all seemed a bit surreal really! After a couple of hours in the hotel chilling and chatting, we went out for a stroll. We had our own personal guide as Giovanni was raised in Napoli. He took us to Caffe Gambrinus, which is Naples’ oldest and one of its fanciest cafes. It is supposed to be a haunt for artists, intellectuals and musicians. Luckily I do not lack self esteem or confidence, as my shorts, singlet top and hiking shoes were no match for the flashy designer gear which surrounded me. He then showed us the home of the first and original shop which made and sold Naples’ famous Pizza Margarita.
After going “home” to get changed into something a “little more decent” (I dare you to find “decent” in a backpack which has been hauling mostly the same clothes for 11 months!), we went to Giovanni’s sports club in Posilippo, which is where he used to hang out and do sport as a young man, before leaving his beloved Italy. Sports clubs in Italy are a little hard to describe as we do not really have an equivalent in Australia. They are more like a cross between a sporting and a social club…..any excuse to be able to mesh friendship, drinking, coffee and food. I say cheers to that one. Giovanni showed us around the club, which sits right on the spectacular Neapolitan Harbour, and introduced us to many of his old friends. We then sat down to an exquisite, creme de la creme dinner, whom he also invited his close friend Corrado too. Great food, amazing company, mind blowing scenery. Need I say or describe more!
After dinner, Corrado took the four of us in his car, and showed us Naples from above. By this time it was dark, and the lights illuminated the bay in such a way that…..just when you thought it could not possibly get any more spectacular, it could and it did! Ah yes, I had seen Naples and I was almost ready to die, but not quite! We still had Rome to do! Corrado then dropped us off at our hostel, and we both gave Giovannino, as we fondly refer to him, a big hug and lots of kisses goodbye. Not before telling him that I loved him of course! I believe that if you love someone, tell them! Life is short, and people are not mind readers! I told Giovanni that we would see each other again, and I meant it! We looked at each other with that look which is hard to describe but which comes from a soul level, and we both felt it.
Next morning we were off to Rome, but not before one last sfogliatella and a couple of good espressos. I am starting to sound like all we did in Italy was eat, which wouldn’t be too far off the bat really. I am also sounding like I am obsessed with food…again, in Italy, that would not be too far off the bat either!
Rome…..get in at 4.00pm, already had hotel booked, hotel had a leaky plumbing system, moved to another but better and cheaper room in an apartment close by, visited Colosseum, Roman Forum, Pantheon, St Peters Basilica, Vatican City, Piazza Navona, throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain (one was for the soul of our dearly loved and now parted friend, Giulia Arcuri, who we knew loved Italy, loved Rome and loved life!), Piazza di Spagna, walk all over the central part of Rome (due to its enormity, it would thus be fair to say that we walked SOME of the central area and not its entirety)….. huff, huff, puff, puff…….catch train from Roma Termini Station to Leonardo da Vinci Airport, check in and…..fly from Rome to Barcelona the next day at 5.30pm! Did you get that? No? We barely did either! Having decided to spend an extra day in Naples, we knew we would not be able to do all that much in Rome. Well at least we thought we wouldn’t, but we sure gave it our best shot. Had not really expected to arrive at the Clayton’s Room either (the room you’ve got when you haven’t got a room!). It did subtract us from an extra hour of playtime, but it was a brilliant self-contained room in a plushy apartment block, which was a welcome surprise. It just meant that we were flat stick for almost 24 hours! Needless to say, we collapsed in the plane and I slept for the entirety of the short trip to Bar-thelona! (That’s how they say it in Spain!)
Rome is big, overwhelming, and has a remarkable history, and 2700 years worth at that. Being in Rome is like tripping over one of your child’s toys. You are constantly “bumping” into or “walking” into things that you had not previously seen or noticed! I love the way in which the new city has simply been built around these enormous toys! Oops, monuments!
St Peter’s Basilica just blew me away, but not necessarily in such a wonderful way. It truly is spectacular, and a work of art, but each time I see it, I am overwhelmed by a multitude of things. One of these things is trying to reconcile how an institution as great and wealthy as this one can have so much, whilst so many have so little! It does not make any sense to me at all! Whilst people are lining up for hours and hours and hours to get into the Vatican Museums close by, and paying a small fortune I might add, there are people all over the world dying of starvation. I just don’t quite get it! I wonder about the priorities of both people and institutions. And I feel saddened, very saddened in fact. It’s a conspiracy……. I always thought that 2 plus 2 equalled 4.
“Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned.” -Unknown
Dedication: This one is for our beloved friend Giulia Arcuri, who died a little over a year ago. You are always in our hearts and thoughts, but in Rome your light was shining brightly. We love and miss you. And for you too Maria (Brancolino), who was Giulia’s best friend. Your constant and unfloundering devotion and care towards Giulia taught Alex and I what true and unconditional love is all about. May love and light always protect you both.
Next: Spain, begining with Bar-thelona.
(Photos: 1.- Perugia, Umbria. 2.- Lunch at Fabio’s. L to R: Alex, Fabio, Andrea, Antonio, Rosalba, Federica and Bianca. 3.- With Fabio and Federica. 4.- Having a sfogliatella in Amalfi. 5.- Munching on a pizza napoletaaaana in Spaccanapoli. 6.- At the Hostel of the Sun, where breakfast is included, nuttela is king! 7.- Positano, Amalfi Coast. 8.- Ombi & Giovannino at the Posilipo Sporting Club. 9.- Ombi, Giovannino & Corrado at the club, with the bay of Naples in the background. 10.- Night view of Naples. 11.- Neapolitan delicacies. 12.- A 21st century Roman gladiator….having a smoke!. 12.- A beggar in Rome.)