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Rachel Marie

    Stories from the Road

    Dreams on the Amalfi Coast, Part One: The Kindness of Strangers

     

    I stare forlornly at my cappuccino as you frown at the mute gray sky from a window lightly splattered with raindrops. Last night, the wind rattled the worn wooden shutters of the B&B as we hid under the covers hoping to wake up to sunshine.

    That didn’t happen, and as you sip your espresso and I butter my toast, I can’t help but feel extremely scocciata. Annoyed. As the promise of a sun-drenched breakfast on the panoramic terrace fades, I grab my camera, and we head out on our mini hike down to the center of Positano.

    If I played a word association game, the first one out of my mouth after hearing “Amalfi Coast” would be “steps”. Hundreds and hundreds of stone steps, older than you and me, carved into mountains during a time when laborers used only their hands.

    As we make our descent, the sky transforms into a glowing white, the sun burning brightly behind the clouds, tired of hiding. Come out, come out wherever you are.

     

     

    Yesterday morning, we were climbing more steps in Minori, a 40-minute bus ride from Positano. Unlike today, we were going up instead of down, and when you’re up, the air is so much cleaner, away from the collective smog. We followed the Sentiero dei Limoni, the Path of the Lemons, which curves around the breathtaking, coastal landscapes that connect the village of Minori to the village of Maiori.  If you’re lucky, and it’s late Spring or Summer, you’ll find yourself drowning in the vertical lemon groves, sweetly fragrant and impossibly yellow. The amount of lemons is jaw-dropping. Currently early in the season, most of the lemons are covered under a dark-colored netting.

     

     

    State guardando i limoni? “Are you looking at the lemons?” asked a voice up ahead. An old gentlemen had stopped a few feet down the path and was looking back at us. He’s going to accuse us of stealing lemons, or of doing something suspicious. My body tensed up as if reliving the sporadic bouts of hostility and general coldness I’ve faced as a foreigner in Italy.

    He set his grocery bags down and walked toward us.

    “We uncover the lemons at the end of this month,” he began to explain, “We cover them in the winter, mainly to protect them from the wind, frost, and rain.”

    We looked at each other relieved, and nodded  our heads as he proceeded to explain the peculiarities of lemon cultivation and how the mountains and the sea create the perfect microclimate for the citrus beauties to thrive.

    He took time to answer our questions, and soon I felt as though we were talking to a dear old friend we’d known for years instead of a perfect stranger. We learned that many of these lemon groves were abandoned. Over the years, the owners and their families found it increasingly difficult to sustain the land and the lemons, and a lot of them had moved away.

    “See that white house up there?” he pointed up the mountain. “That’s where I live. You’re welcome to pass by and I’ll give you a tour of my lemon garden. Unfortunately I’m on my way to a friend’s house at the moment, but if you come by tomorrow morning, I’m at your complete disposition.”

    He gave us a little wave and headed off down the path, his salt and pepper hair dancing in the wind.

    People can surprise you.

    Back in Positano, we’ve made it down to the beach, and as you sit and watch the waves, I start hunting for those green glassy pebbles that used to be abundant in this area, but are now almost non-existent.  After sulking about the weather for a good 15 minutes, I start snapping half-hearted shots of the famous multi-colored buildings, stacked one on top of the other like legos, and then it happens. The clouds part.

    The scene transformed almost instantly from this:

     

     

    To this:

     

     

    And this:

     

     

     

     

     

    Sometimes, the world can surprise you.

    Coffee, Food

    Macha Cafe in Milan – A Little Green to Brighten Your Day

     

    I found a matcha cafe in Milan!

    Although I’m not a college-age hipster and avid frequenter of green tea cafes, I do love it when Milan embraces different food & beverage trends. Originating in Japan, matcha cafes have also been popular in the US for some time now. I’ve spent most of my young adult life in Italy, and there are so many food trends that have been taking off in the US that I have yet to experience. So I was definitely psyched to hear about Macha Cafe. Read more…

    Destinations

    Weekend in the Italian Riviera: What to see, what to eat, and where to relax in Camogli

    Location: Camogli, Italy

    I close my eyes and feel the light breeze ruffling my hair. Down below, framed by the rugged coastline, the sea sparkles underneath the glowing afternoon sun. I’m in Camogli, a seaside resort town on the Italian Riviera, facing the Golfo Paradiso. With a name like that, how can you go wrong? Located in the Liguria region, this coastline is one of the most geographically stunning areas in Italy. Perhaps best known for the famed Cinque Terre or the jet-setting Portofino, Camogli is a jewel on its own, embodying all that is uniquely Ligurian, with its own exquisite beauty.

     

    WHEN TO GO

     

    For the warmest weather, liveliest evenings, and that busy summer vibe, high season is the obvious option. Be forewarned, like all summer hot spots, Liguria becomes insanely crowded and expensive in July and August.

     

     

     

    Alternatively, I would suggest a visit in the Spring – from the end March to the beginning of June – when the sun rays are warm and pleasant, and you can spend a few days relaxing in tranquility. Read more…

    Stories from the Road

    We Rode a Vespa around Favignana Island, Sicily

    Location: Favignana Island, Italy

    We zipped around the island on a rusty old vespa, its motor puffing out clouds of smoke. It was the best way to explore this fabulous little paradise.

    Favignana is the biggest of the Aegadian Islands, located on the western coast of Sicily, and its natural beauty is powerful enough to astound all your senses. The jagged cliffs and stunning blue waters were the dramatic backdrop as we zoomed through the roads encircling the island. Read more…

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    Stories from the Road

    Pride and Tuna: 24 Hours in Carloforte

    Location: Carloforte, San Pietro Island, Italy

    Off the southwestern coast of Sardinia sits a tiny island called Isola di San Pietro. It has only one inhabited area – a fishing village called Carloforte. Its residents, the carlofortesi, live an uncomplicated existence fishing and minding their own business.

    It’s a warm summer day in June, and we hop on a ferry from Sant’Antioco to spend a day in Carloforte, or U Pàize (“the town”) in local dialect. The first residents who colonized the island were fishermen from Liguria, and so the Carlofortesi speak an old Ligurian dialect called Tabarchino, instead of Sardinian. Despite being only 7km from Sardinia, the Carlofortesi don’t consider themselves Sardinian. Read more…

    Food

    The Best Street Food in Naples

    Location: Naples, Italy

    As soon as you set foot in Naples, you’re enveloped in a world of perfect chaos. Caught in a flurry of scattered pedestrians, speedy vespas, and crumbling alleyways, you’re a mere dot splattered on a canvas.

    There’s the banter and shouting of animated locals and the impatient, aggressive honking of congested traffic squeezed into the tiny, twisted streets. There’s the aroma of fried local goodies, of freshly baked bread and pizza a portafoglio. There’s wonderfully brewed espresso. There’s babà with custard! There’s sfogliatella. Amidst the confusion, there are historical gems like Castel dell’Ovo and beautiful old churches around every corner. Read more…

    Stories from the Road

    A Brief Lesson on Dignity in Lecce, Puglia

    Location: Lecce, Apulia, Italy

     

    We wander into the musty, dimly lit store in search of fruit and a brief escape from the intense July sun. There are no windows, and the entrance is closed by a worn bed sheet, which keeps the heat at bay. Baskets and old beaten crates of fruits and vegetables are strewn about the room, and pictures of the Virgin Mary are taped to the walls. A single portable fan set on the counter provides the only ventilation.

    Read more…

    Food

    Bombette, Booze, and Baked Potatoes

    Location: Lecce, Apulia, Italy

     

    During our road trip around Puglia, we stopped in Lecce for a day. When evening rolled around, looking to have a casual dinner, we scoped out a place that served bombette – a popular Pugliese specialty that I had read about before our trip.

    Fresh ingredients such as ham, eggplant, nuts, cheese, asparagus, and mushrooms are wrapped in fresh slabs of pork, which are then grilled to perfection. It was madness when we walked in. A sweaty horde of people gathered around the meat counter, the heavy scent of pork fat wafting through the air. Read more…

    Stories from the Road

    Old World Blue in Otranto

    Location: Otranto, Apulia, Italy

     

    We wake up in an old manor farm, called a masseria here in Salento, to the sound of birds chirping and golden rays of light flowing through the shutters, promising a hot day ahead. After a simple breakfast of croissants, cappuccino, and fresh fruit in the orange grove, we hop in the car for our next stop.

    Most of my summers in Europe have been spent by the sea in pursuit of peace and inspiration, and nothing has been quite as inspiring as discovering the endless shades of blue that exist.  Read more…

    Food

    In Puglia, onions are the “death of the octopus”

    Location: Apulia (Salento), Italy

     

    There’s a great expression used in Italian gastronomy that describes how well two different ingredients go together. It’s “la morte sua”, which is “to die for” in English. However, I find it more fun if you translate it literally, word for word, because it sounds like one ingredient causes the death of the other.

    For example, you could say: OMG, you have to try this bread, it’s amazing! Spread some nutella on top – it’s la morte sua (it’s the bread’s death)! Read more…