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Report 1008: 'I Vincitori' Learn to Get Lost in the Hills and Valleys of Italy

By Marian from New Jersey, Spring 2006

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Page 6 of 15: Ellen and Marian's Really Excellent Adventure (Thursday, 11 May)

photo by Marian

Scario, view from the lungomare

This morning, Marc and Cheryl want to make a second stab at visiting the Amalfi coast. Ellen and I set out on another Cilento journey, planning to head toward Novi Velia. But before that I want to visit Tenuta Vannulo, where the best mozzarella di bufala is made.

On our way out, we stop at the pasticceria bar La Ruota for breakfast. The usual cast of characters is there: Barbara, the British woman who seems to be the baker and counter help; the blonde woman who always has a cigarette hanging out of her mouth and a mop in her hands; the older woman whose role is not clear to me. Barbara takes our order from the counter located behind the pasticceria and the blonde woman tells us to sit outside, she will bring it to us (we are always the only patrons). The coffee and pastry are both sooooo good. I go back for more coffee but the older woman shakes her head in a “no” to my request. Not “we have no more coffee” or “ask someone else”, or “just a minute and I will get someone to help you” but “no”. I find Barbara, and she happily gets me some more coffee (and another pastry, perhaps). Whoever this older woman is, she must be related to someone of major importance.

Next, the drive to Vannulo. But first I execute my famous “let’s get this car turned around” maneuver, never an easy task in the Cilento. It’s accomplished and we are heading in the correct direction, on our way. Now we know that Vannulo is in Capaccio Scalo and yet I cannot find it. I drive through the town, and back and forth on SS 18, despite excellent directions from a postman. I telephone the people at Vannulo, who give us the kilometer post number on SS 18, and we are there. How could we have missed it?

The tenuta itself is quite interesting, and we get to see the water buffalo lolling in their meadow. We wander over to the museum; it’s closed but we can see in through the glass walls. At the retail shop, sure enough, there is a line of customers; some of them must be from local restaurants as they are buying huge amounts of cheese. I get some mozzarella and some ricotta, which they pack for me in a Styrofoam container. I decide to skip the yogurteria, as even for me it is too early in the day for a gelato-type experience.

We take off again, aiming for a particular restaurant in the small village of Novi Velia. The roads are the same kind of narrow climbing ones we have come to expect. But as we approach Novi Velia, we are amazed to find the restaurant quite easily, right there, at the entrance to the town. This is the first place that we have found without first getting lost for a bit!

“La Chiocciola” turns out to be a wonderful restaurant. There is no menu, and when we arrive there are just a couple of tables with men and one woman (all apparently locals) eating. The proprietor starts to tell us what he is serving for lunch, and that’s when we have to tell him that we are vegetarians. This is no problem. (Avid readers of this report are probably thinking "How can she be a vegetarian when she ate fish just the other day?" Truth is, I observe kashruth rather than vegetarianism, but it's usually much easier to say "sono vegetariana" when there's no menu.)

The proprietor thinks for a bit and then offers us a wonderful fettuccini al verdure and plates of gorgeous grilled vegetables. These vegetables are as delicious to taste as they are beautiful to see: artichokes, zucchini, eggplant and so on. (I take a photo, but apparently neglect to depress the shutter fully, so no picture.) We accompany this with a local white wine that is just a bit frizzante; I have no idea what it is called.

Next comes the scary part. We decide to head up to the mountain sanctuary in Novi Velia. The weather is cloudy, but it’s been cloudy most of our trip and this has not been a problem. But we soon find ourselves climbing a tortuous, fogged in road. Ellen is driving (she is a really good driver) and I am getting quite --- well, if not scared, then at least anxious. Partly, this is because I have been looking at the map, and have become just a wee bit nauseous. I decide not to tell Ellen about the nauseous part.

We wonder: Is this a real road? (This question is always valid in the Cilento.) Yes, it is, because we see signs directing us onward. Ellen cannot see ahead of her. Up and up, around and around we go, hitting a few rock slides on the way. Finally, we come to the top and can head down! Somehow winding down is not as scary; we know the distance is finite. (We later find that we have climbed about 1700 meters, well over a mile!)

This experience does not dissuade us from continuing on to beautiful Scario, a largely undeveloped beach area to the south of Palinuro. The beach is truly breathtaking, and there is some lovely modern sculpture on the lungomare. I find a place for gelato (you may notice that I've not had much gelato on this vacation), and we begin to head back on the twisty narrow roads, then again find the interchange with SS 18 variante, the wide new road.

The car doesn't feel right, so Ellen gets out to check and, sure enough, a flat tire. The rocks we hit on our way up to the sanctuary have done some damage. I call Europcar, but it becomes clear while we are waiting for them to call back that they are unlikely to be of any help. So Ellen (yay, Ellen!) changes the tire. It's a doughnut tire, of course, but it will be good enough to get us home.

Home again, home again, with lots of tales to tell. We enjoy our delicious mozzarella, and find the fresh ricotta is indescribably good too. More wine to drink, more sunsets over Capri to watch. Another boring day in the Cilento is ending.

It's time to comment here on the joys of travelling with companions versus the joys of travelling alone . A travel-loving widow, I've lately been on several solo trips to Italy. But we are all having such a very good time together. We get lost, we find our way, we do things together, we do things separately. Each of us is blessed with a sense of humor and a sense of perspective. And then again, this is Italy, and we love it!

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