Monday, July 16, 2012

Vacanze Italiane Part 1!

Hello blog friends :) I mentioned in my last post that I was going to blog about my trip to Italy and I figured I'd finally get around to doing it. SO! Without further ado...

We started the vacation off way in the south of Italy in a small town called Agropoli located in the Salerno region. If we're to picture the "boot", Agropoli is on the arch of the foot. We spent a week here just shopping, going to the beach, chilling by the pool, and eating. Our hotel (Hotel Mare) was right on the beach which was really nice. To be quite honest, I'm not the type of person that can spend hours laying on scorching hot sand in the heat of the day... But my mom is. So I did that. I got a bit of a tan too except it's starting to fade which is a little disheartening. But I'll survive. We made our way up to the medieval town in the mountain a couple times to do some shopping and it's really lovely up there. The lower part of the town has been renovated and it's filled with cafes and shops, but if you take the hike up to the peak (I think it's well worth it), the buildings do date back to the Middle Ages. I can't quite remember the history of it, however the town is set up in a way that's meant to ward off pirates/on-coming attacks. The buildings are very tall and the walk up is a little lengthy. There's an old castle way at the top and it's stone walls are still standing. What I love about Italy is that it can be both a relaxing vacation as well as a cultural experience. I guess that can be said for mostly all of Europe but I feel like Italy is a special case.

Here's a shot of the lower part of the town in the mountains. You can see the modern restaurants on the side, but if you keep walking along this path, you'll hit the really old section. Also, literally every guy in this place was wearing shorts like that (short and bright-colored), but I guess Italian fashion is a whole other conversation.

All of the buildings are incredibly charming. I love the old brick on this one, the contrast of the fuchsia flowers, and the shop sign ("Cose Inutili", which translates to "Useless Things").

Another thing my mom and I did while we were in this Salerno area was take the train to Paestum. Paestum is a location that dates back to "Before Christ" times, making it incredibly, incredibly old. Here, you can basically find a series of three temples dedicated to various Greek deities (one to Poseidon, one to Athena, and one to Hera). The Romans took over the area in the year 274, and built a village surrounding the temples, of which only the ruins can be seen today. The only place is very fascinating and we spent about 3-4 hours wandering around, checking out the sites, and visiting the accompanying museum.

This is the temple dedicated to Athena, the first of the three. (That's my mom in the pic, lol)

This is the temples dedicated to Poseidon. Although this was the largest of the three temples, it surprisingly wasn't the "most important". The most important temples of the three was the only dedicated to Hera, wife of Zeus (which I conveniently don't have a picture of). The temple dedicated to Hera was where they would keep the treasure and all that.

The last little excursion I'm going to mention for this part of my trip is the "Enogastronomical tour" that my mom and I took. The day started off visiting the factory where mozzarella di bufala is made. We got to hang out with the buffalos and I actually really enjoyed myself. The buffalos looked really comfortable (despite living in a factory), and I got to pet a few of them which was fun. They are massive creatures though. The factory, called Vannullo, claimed that the only way to achieve quality mozzarella is to keep the buffalos happy and serene. They therefore played Mozart for them every morning and set up a station where they could get massaged... Not bad!

Next, we were off to an amazing vineyard in Agropoli. It was a private-owned vineyard and winery where we got to taste some great wines. If I wasn't a fan of wine before this trip, I definitely am now lol! They also had a ton of olive trees and made their own olive oil as well, which we got to taste on some of their home-made bread. Really yummy!

For lunch, we went to a tiny town located way up in the mountains called Castelcivita that also dates back to the Middle Ages. And when I say mountains, I mean WAY up in the mountains. It was a quiet, quaint little village--mostly attributed to the fact that the only people who still live there are 80+ years old. All of the young people in the town have moved out and gone to the larger cities. Anyway, it was really fun to see and we had dinner at a lovely restaurant that served locally-grown foods only. To be honest, I'd be incredibly happy living up there. Maybe I'd get a little city-sick once in a while, but it's got way too much character and life not to be appreciated. I don't know. It's really a gem. 

This was the view from the restaurant we had lunch at which was located a little further south from the major part of the town.

That pretty much wraps up the first week of the trip. Next on the agenda was four days in Monopoli, a city on the outskirts of the Bari region, located on the ankle of the boot, which means 6+ hours of train rides from Agropoli to there... Not fun considering my luggage weighed a million pounds. But hey. Once we got there we met up with my mom's friend Mariangela who invited us to spend our time there at her mother's house in Monopoli. My mom had already spent time with them last time she was in Italy but it was going to be my first time ever meeting these people so I was a little anxious, but they were so friendly and affectionate and caring and cooked the best food. Also, Mariangela had a niece my age named Francesca who spoke English so I spent a lot of time with her and her friends & family as well, which was nice.

They have these special cucumbers that grow only in the Monopoli region and they were SOOO good! Best spherical cucumbers ever!

One day we were driving around and came across this tiny beach... But have you ever seen water so stunning?!

I'll just quickly go over some of the things we did in Monopoli now... The first night I went to the beach with my friend Francesca and her friends. I was a little nervous, again, considering I didn't know these people and they didn't know me... But the whole thing turned out to be a lot of fun, even if I didn't really understand them since they spoke mostly Barese dialect (which is basically a whole other language. Seriously. It can't be Italian.). Anyway! Francesca's friend Davide picked us up in his silver convertible and we went to meet Francesca's other friends at a little shack by the beach where we picked up some beers and pizza. All of her friends were extremely friendly and all took the time to introduce themselves to me, and one bought me a beer which was cute. One thing I noticed, though, is that at least Francesca's group of friends (not sure if I can generalize this to "all Italian teens") drink much less than we do here in Montreal. Just an observation. But I think it goes to show that they genuinely just enjoy one another's company and aren't worried about not having a good time without drinking. It was refreshing. I'll try to describe her friends a little more...

One thing to be said is that Francesca is an activist for all different types of causes, from animal to human rights--the whole spectrum. And so are all her friends. I don't know if this is why, but I found them to be the least materialistic group of teenagers I've ever met (maybe besides the silver convertible, however I later found out it was environmentally friendly AND not to mention it had a WWF bumper sticker). Also, none of them were self-conscious whatsoever. All the girls were wearing bikinis and as soon as we hit the sand they all bolted straight to the water.

One of her friends brought his guitar along and made a very futile attempt at playing songs I might recognize (aside from some Beatles, they seemed to be really into Norah Jones... Really?). Davide let me flip through his iPod. I don't know why that surprised me. It was chock-full of Oasis-esque bands and classic rock. Later one of her friends was telling me he was in a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band, lol. Anyway, everyone sang and danced and talked all night.

This wraps up part uno of my blog posts on my Italian vacation (I honestly didn't think it would be this long and I'm tired)... So the rest will be up soon!

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