Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Isle of Capri

Capri from the drive up.
We decided to go to Capri on Sunday since it was supposed to be another sunny and hot day. Capri is an island in the Tyrrenian Sea close to the Amalfi Coast and very popular among tourists and locals. After we debarked the ferry we hopped on a bus which took us up some very narrow and winding roads (much like Amalfi) to the town of Anacapri. The ancient Greek prefix "ana" means up or above signifying that it is at a higher elevation than Capri (the town). Here we caught the Seggiovia (chairlift) which took us to Monte Solaro, which has the highest peak of the entire island at just about 2000 feet. As we rode up we passed private homes and pretty gardens and orchards. At the top we were welcomed with amazing views of the bays and Capri down below. It was pretty hazy that day so we couldn't see as far as we wanted to, but we got the gist of it!
Why hello there!

Hello Joe!

View from the seggiovia.

At the top.

After Anacapri we went down to Capri. We walked around the streets gazing into little boutiques. Every once in a while we stopped, took in the views, and continued on our way. We bought some Italian goodies and souvenirs and explored the narrow streets and shops along the way. We stumbled upon a few streets that looked like they could be Rodeo Drive or 5th Avenue. Stairs and walkways crisscross the island making it accessible and fun to explore! We didn't see a lot of the island, but we'll be back to explore the Blue (and other colored) Grotto!
In Capri.

The dock area.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Amalfi Coast

Oh Amalfi Coast, we think you are the most beautiful place we have seen...

After we said goodbye to Gaetano and Pompeii we hopped in our van driven by our guide Daniel and made it to the Amalfi Coast. Yes, everything you have heard about driving on the Amalfi Coast is true... and we're soooo glad that we didn't have to drive it ourselves! The twists, turns, narrow roads, speedy cars, buses, and scooters was enough to make someone with the strongest of stomachs feel a little queasy, but it made this trip quite exciting! Breathtaking views of pastels built into hillside cliffs, boats coasting through the water below, and winding roads paralleling the jagged coast, make this area so fantastic.
Along the coast.
More coastline
We stopped in the town of Amalfi, which is a quaint town on the water. It has an older feel to it than the other towns on the coast, with a Duomo and piazza. It also has many ceramic/glass shops, which is where we bought decorated oil and vinegar holders and salt and pepper holders.
Through the streets of Amalfi.
Next, Daniel took us back up the coast to our lunch destination. As we got closer he played "That's Amore" by Dean Martin. As the song ended we arrived at Fattoria La Taggliata. This restaurant caters to the locals and tourists who happen to have a private guide taking them there... lucky us! Overlooking the sea and cliffs we ate like kings with eight different antipasti, four different pastas, and four different desserts! Simply delicious!
The garden at the restaurant. Fresh veggies!

View from the restaurant.
Our next stop was Positano, which is located in a beautiful valley and opens up to a magnificent stretch of coastline. We didn't spend a lot of time here, but the very narrow streets with boutiques on either side were pretty charming. Winding pathways and staircases guaranteed that we had amazing views around every corner!

While driving home after a long day at Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast our driver played Italian music. The four of us laid back, relaxed, and were speechless. Overlooking the coast I kept thinking how lucky we were to be in this beautiful setting with the people closest to us in our lives. It truly was remarkable.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Ancient City of Pompeii

So we had the pleasure of having our first guests visit us! Joe and Lori (Jon's parents for those who don't know) made their way from New Jersey to Tuscany and then down to Napoli for a visit. We were so excited for their arrival and so sad when they left :(

Joe had arranged for the four of us to have a private tour guide for 10 hours on Saturday. He took us to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast, which also included the towns of Amalfi and Positano. Our driver picked us up from the hotel and whisked us away to the ruins of Pompeii. Here, we met Gaetano Manfredi for a private tour of the ruins. This guy is the best of the best and has been on numerous television travel shows including Rick Steves. We were able to tour restricted areas that other people and other tour guides were not allowed to enter... not bad at all!
While walking through the town we were amazed at the lifestyle the people of Pompeii lived. It looked relatively modern with bars, shops, small restaurants, food markets, theaters, bathhouses with steam rooms, and brothels. The city was very lively in its time! It was also an efficiently planned and technologically advanced city for this time period. Among other things, water was able to get to different parts of the city with several leveled pipes and water towers, drainage systems were built into the ground, they had one-way and two-way roads, and they had built large stones for pedestrians to cross streets so they would not dirty their feet. Houses served both for the private family as well as the master of the house's office. Skylights served as water collection basins as well as to light the rooms. Streets were designed in a grid with a central plaza for gathering. It was a port town where a lot of travelers would come through in order to rest and use the facilities for a fee, while also making trades for their future travels up to Rome.

The Basilica
Original mosaic tile and wall.

A mold of a person.

Stepping stones to cross the street.

We couldn't believe the preservation of the city after all of this time! When Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, Pompeii was buried under ash and pumice and it was lost for nearly 1700 years until it was discovered accidentally in 1749. The eruption preserved the city exactly how it was on the day. Incredible. I remember watching "Pompeii: The Last Day" a long time ago and thought the same thing... incredible. But this time we got to experience it in person:)

In front of the waterfall fountain.

In the forum.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Only Synagogue in Naples

With the holidays fast approaching Jon and I were starting to wonder where and if we would go to services. After we googled "synagogues in Naples, Italy" and did some research we found that there was only one in all of Naples! Rome has more options, but driving two hours for services didn't sound too appealing. I emailed the Rabbi who quickly got back to me and invited us to dinner for the upcoming Friday night.

The hard part was getting to the actual synagogue. After the usual crazy drive into downtown Naples, we found parking and walked around the cobblestone crowded streets in the heat for at least 30 minutes. We showed people the address and they kept pointing us in the same direction, but we just couldn't find this place. One person told us it was in the parking garage and just as we were about to turn around and abandon our plans for the night, Moshe calls from above and says, "Hello!!" Three flights of stairs later and we found the front door. We finally made it!

We walked into the small chapel and we introduced ourselves to the other people there (about eight men and two women). We figured beforehand that this was going to be more religious than we are used to and that we wouldn't get to sit next to each other during the service, which we didn't. It was very interesting listening to a service that was mainly in Hebrew, but the rest in Italian. The tunes of the songs were sung differently as well. We tried to keep up as much as we could, but of course had some trouble. The service only lasted an hour so we didn't feel out of it for too long.

Afterwards, we all gathered in the kitchen for dinner. The dinner was delicious... it was a typical Italian meal minus the prosciutto, seafood, and other unkosher stuff. After the appetizers and fish course Jon and I felt incredibly full... but wait! Here comes the eggplant lasagna! I guess you can picture an Italian Jew pushing even more food on you than if he were just Italian or just Jewish :)

What Jon and I really liked about the whole experience was that almost everyone there was from somewhere else and had sought out a place in order to be connected to Judaism. The girl I sat next to during the service was from Paris and had just moved to Naples two days prior in order to study abroad for the semester. The other woman was from New Zealand who was married to a man from Naples. Two of the men were from Israel and they were studying in Naples. And then of course there was us, the Americans. Jews from all around the world gathering in the only synagogue in Naples, Italy... it was a pretty cool scene! Even though there were only eight of us at dinner, at any given time there were four languages being spoken (Hebrew, Italian, English, and French).

They invited us to come back the next day for services, but we declined. We may go there for Rosh Hashanah in a couple of weeks so that will be enough for us! All in all, we stayed for more than four hours and had a memorable time meeting new people!

The synagogue, taken from here

If you would like to visit the synagogue for your own experience or have a Jewish tour of Naples then call or email Roberto Modiano at 0039.337971717 or r.modiano@libero.it.

If you're interested, here is some information on the synagogue and a short history on the Jews in Naples, which I took from their website (with the help of google translate):

The synagogue today is testimony to the rebirth of Jewish life in nineteenth-century Naples, but one must remember that the Jewish presence in this city is much older and dates back to the first century.
In 1541 all Jews had to leave the kingdom of Naples as a result of the definitive decree of expulsion. We will come back for a few years from 1740 to 1747, attracted by the Bourbons, and finally and definitively from 1831 onwards.  

The rebirth of the Community of Naples is tied to the family of German bankers named Rothschild, who conceded a huge loan to the Bourbons, which would allow the return of Ferdinand to the throne of Naples. In 1821, Adolph Carl Rothschild moved to town and opened the first branch of the Rothschild bank in Italy. He flourished and he resided in the current Villa Pignatelli. For several years a room in the house was home to a chapel where resident and visiting Jews had the opportunity to participate in religious services.

After the unification of Italy, a lot of Jewish families moved to Naples and the Jewish community was founded and rented the premises of the Old Chapel Street, for religious services. Baron Adolph Carl Rothschild was one of the most generous underwriters for the first five years of rent and for the restoration of the property. The Rothschild family has participated actively in the life of the community until 1900, the year of the death of Adolf Carl who made generous donations to the Community institutions and other philanthropic Naples. In 1910 Dario Ascarelli, then president, left a large sum of money to be used for the purchase of existing premises. These were purchased in 1927 with the help of other members. 

At that time there were about a thousand Jews in Naples. Then slowly it began to decrease and during the Second World War, some Jews were deported to Naples, fled or displaced by reasons of war in central and northern Italy. 

In addition to these, Neapolitan Jews of Greek origin who were expelled from the 'Italy as a result of the racial laws, were forced to go back to Greece and later deported from Athens and Thessaloniki. At the end of the conflict there remained only 534 people, now reduced to about 160, and they are added to these new members of the section of Trani, which since 2006 has joined the Community of Naples. 

Today, the Synagogue of Naples is back to its former splendor with the restorations carried out with funding from the Ministry of Culture.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A weekend in Tuscany

What better way to spend Labor Day weekend than in Tuscany? More specifically, Sienna and San Gimignano. I don't even know where to begin... it is so beautiful. We booked a room at Hotel Sovestro, a pet friendly establishment in San Gimignano. Of course we brought Maya with us, and although she was absolutely fine I think it's time to cut the cord and just place her in a boarding facility (for the record, we have no problem doing this in the States, but the boarding places here aren't the greatest, which is why we're just a little hesitant). Que sera sera... or as the Italians would say, "qualunque sarà sarà".

Running towards Jon at the end of a walk.

We started out Saturday morning taking a drive to Sienna, which was only about 30 minutes away. A cute quaint town, it has that old European feel to it with the narrow cobblestone streets and tall stone buildings. The Piazza del Campo is the main area where one can sit and watch the world go by. This is also where they hold the city's horse races in the summer.

Piazza del Campo from above.
Piazza from a little higher up.
Torre del Mangia

We climbed the Torre del Mangia, a tower that was built in 1338-1348 and can be seen from all points in Sienna. It consists of tiny, narrow steps going up in a circular fashion, which came to be quite a challenge! After about a 10 minute climb we were welcomed with breathtaking views of the city and beyond. Afterwards, we walked around for a while and stopped in a pizzeria off of the main area to have lunch and much needed water!
That's a long way up!
More of Sienna.
The Duomo in Sienna.
We also saw the small town of San Gimignano, which was only about 5 minutes from our hotel. This is a walled medieval hill town best known for its architecture, especially its towers. We had two excellent meals here that consisted of real Tuscan cuisine... much different than the Neapolitan cuisine we've been eating. Tuscan food is more hearty, meaty, and cheesy, while food in Naples focuses on seafood with light sauces. Among the food we had here was wild boar (which tasted like brisket), prosciutto with figs (figs may become my new obsession, amazingly good), rabbit, and gnocchi with truffles. Yum!
A delicious meal out.
Prosciutto and figs.

Some of the towers.

Food and wine.
Sunday was our wine tasting day. Jon booked reservations at Tenuta Torciano for a private wine tasting. It is a family owned winery consisting of 13 generations of wine producers. When we walked in there was a huge table set for two with 10 wine glasses in front of each plate. Included in our taste was a 3 course lunch with ten tastings to complement the food. As Pierluigi, our wine connoisseur, poured each glass he explained the proper wine tasting technique and gave a description of the grapes used and the aging process.  The huge goblets were filled almost halfway for us to taste. It took us the whole two hours to finish it all! At the end he even said, "Take your time and pour yourselves more of the wine if you want". Needless to say, Jon and I were a little giddy when we left. At least we had the food to help offset some of the alcohol. I won't go into every detail of the food served, but just know that his sister made all of the dishes for us using his grandmother's recipes and they were like spoonfuls of heaven! All in all, we ended up buying 11 bottles of wine, 1 balsamic vinegar, and 1 white truffle olive oil. I would recommend this winery to anyone visiting the area. Not only for the delicious wine and food, but because of their hospitality... it was so welcoming. We felt like visitors in their home and it was just perfect. It's an experience we will always remember and cherish.

Practicing my skills.
Jon practicing his skills.

A great day!