If you are lactose intolerant and hate citrus, then Sorrento is not for you. Luckily, that’s not the case for us. We spent the past 3 days basking in the sun and gorging ourselves on fresh mozzarella cheese and delicious lemons and oranges.
Once we arrived in the southern part of Italy, we felt like we had entered the stereotypical Italy portrayed in movies. On every train ride and walk, we saw people who looked like they could be cast in any respectable mafia film. There was a dead ringer for a 25 year old Marisa Tomei sitting across the aisle from us on the train to Sorrento; the gaunt faced young male with dark rings under his eyes wearing a nice, but slightly outdated and too large, blue suit, making out with his Meadow Soprano girlfriend on the train seats across from us to Naples; the henchmen, in their trench coats, brimmed hats, hands clutched tight around a leather briefcase, standing on the corners; and the 20-something men in 1980 style Adidas tracksuits in the streets of Naples. And of course, there was Lucia, the Sorrentine mother whose favorite pastime is fattening her family up. But more on her later.
On our first day in Sorrento, we walked around the picturesque ocean-side town and marveled at the orchards of orange and lemon trees that seemed to be on every patch of open soil. This region is home to water buffalos, and although we had already had our fair share in Rome, it didn’t seem right not to try mozzarella di bufala here too. So off we went to the “Inn Bufalito,” which served us a plate of buffalo mozzarella and buffalo ricotta cheese (both were delicious).
The next day, we cashed in a wedding gift (thanks Erin K!) and met our surrogate Italian mother, Lucia. Lucia took us on a tour of a cheese factory, a small limoncello producer, and her family’s orchard, picking up fresh ingredients along the way. After the tour, Lucia took us to her home, which included a fabulous outdoor kitchen and dining room, fit to cater a party of 100. There, Lucia taught us how to make mozzarella and a few other cheeses first hand. It’s actually a lot of work! But soooo worth it. After this, Lucia put us to work peeling lemons and dumping the peels in a jar of Everclear to start the process of making lemoncello. Tired from a hard days work (we know, life is so difficult for us right now), Lucia invited us to stay for lunch. As it turns out, Lucia cooks lunch for her family everyday. Her extended family members simply pop in when they’re ready for lunch, and Lucia always has plenty of delicious food waiting for them. After pouring us a glass of prosecco, Lucia made us bruschetta and put out the various cheeses we had made with her earlier. Next came a bottle of red wine (yes, we drank it all) and our “primi” course, which was rigatoni with tomato sauce that had been simmering for hours. Then, our “secondi” course was beef wrapped around fresh herbs and covered in the same fantastic tomato sauce, served with fried scalloped potatoes. Finally (yes, we were very full, but we couldn’t say no to Lucia), we had a ricotta and lemon cake, scented with orange blossoms, along with a shot of homemade limoncello. We felt we had finally been initiated into the Italian lifestyle, and thought about asking Lucia to adopt us. We were so full, that we skipped dinner that night…but still had a scoop of gelato for dessert 🙂
We spent our final day in the Sorrento region taking in all the beauty that the area is famed for. In the morning, we took a ferry ride over to the Island of Capri. The island is surrounded by crystal clear water, and we took a chair lift up to the top to see the spectacular sights below. In the afternoon, we took a bus along the narrow and windy Amalfi coast, and stopped for some R&R and dinner in the cliffside town of Postiano.
The next day, we took the train back up towards Naples and got off to visit the ancient ruins of Pompeii. Matt was especially excited for this visit because his 7th grade Latin textbook was all about a family living in Pompeii right before Mt. Vesuvius erupted. Unlike the ruins in Rome, a visit to Pompeii really gives you a sense of what daily life was like back in BC. And, to be honest, we think we’d rather live in Pompeii in 79 BC (minus the whole volcano thing) than in some of the places we visited in the last 3 months. When Mt. Vesuvius exploded, it covered the entire town in ash, collapsing the roofs, but leaving the walls intact. Paintings, furniture and yes, even people, are still incredibly well preserved. We saw the Roman baths – complete with heated floors – the fast food restaurants with marble countertops (marble must have been cheaper back then), the bakery with grain mills and a brick oven, and even the brothel, where you can still make out frescos graphically detailing what’s being offered in each room! Its incredible how similar daily life was 2000 years ago.
From Pompeii, we continued on to Naples. We stayed the night because we had an early flight the next morning, but just as everyone had warned us, Naples is a dump. There were addicts slouched under overhangs, shady characters selling fake bags and real iPhones (hmmm, wonder how they acquired them?) and piles of trash in the plazas. The saving grace to the city is that Naples is where pizza was invented. Surprisingly, this was only about 150 years ago. We visited a 100-year old pizza joint and got tasty margarita pizza before double-checking the lock on our hotel door and calling it an early night.
And now, we’re in Sicily for our final Italian adventure!