American living in Italy appreciates quiet calm of the island
Southern Italy is known for its sunny skies and gorgeous terrain, but on this day, the sun won’t even get out of bed.
I planned on escaping to an island off the coast of Naples to celebrate Thanksgiving as an American living in Italy. A colleague had told me about a place on Ischia, a large island known for its many thermal baths that she absolutely loved.
After debating inwardly about whether I should go anywhere on such a gloomy day, I booked it at the last minute and headed out. The grayness from the sky was descending in light drizzles of rain. I parked my car near the airport and caught a bus to take me to the ferry. By the time I arrived at the seaport, the rain was coming down steadily; I was damp and clammy.
The ferry ride out to the island took around an hour, and it was surprisingly packed with passengers. I passed a couple of men who blew me kisses and breathed out “Amore.”
When we docked, I stood behind two women, one of whom was smooching and cooing to what appeared to be a baby held in the other woman’s arms. Upon closer observation, I realized it was a toy dog in a purse. Laughing I called out, “Bambino!” as I passed, and the woman nodded happily.
Before leaving the mainland, I booked a room in Villa Marinella, a bed-and-breakfast on Ischia; in the process, I made an agreement to be picked up at the port by an inn employee. But once I was back on land, no one was waiting for me. I stood by the road and checked messages on my phone, trying to distract myself, when a car appeared and stopped right in front of me.
I looked up and smiled. Andrea, my driver, was tall, dark and Italian handsome. He fussed over me with a flurry of apologies and, feeling special like some random celebrity, I got into the car and was speeding off to Villa Marinella, which was owned by Andrea’s family and named after his mother. It was a short ride, less than five minutes up a spiraling road.
When I entered the villa, its bright white walls seemed to sparkle and say, “Hello.” The orange trees, flowers, warm lighting and plants along the path to the front door beckoned. It was like the sun shining in the middle of the night.
My room was decorated with the calming, watercolor oceanscapes by a local artist. The pale blues and greens blended in with the outdoor patio that adjoined my room. I was thrilled to discover its stylish cobalt blue and eggshell colored décor and special lighting under the benches, giving it an elegant romantic feel. I could see the bluish ocean below through the mélange of green trees, bushes and flowers.
I thought, “All this for me?” as if God himself had handed me a gift. I wanted to stay forever, inhaling the salty air and feeling the soft breezes passing through the palm fronds.
And there was another surprise. “You have a coupon to the ‘terme’ (thermal spa), worth 20 euro!” Andrea’s father proudly announced later on. Thank God I’d brought a bathing suit. He also said I should try to eat rabbit while I was there, since that was a popular dish on the island. Who knew?
I settled in for the evening and slept happily. On Thanksgiving Day, I got up for breakfast and sat near the other two guests. They were exuberant Americans from California. The smell of hot bread and coffee wafted through the open room, and our orders of omelettes, fresh tomatoes, an assortment of salty meat, bread with Nutella or jam, hot tea and coffee and fruit set the tone for the day.
I walked down the hill into town, heading for the spa and passing gardens, gorgeous views of the ocean below, vineyards and lush, green flora. When I got to the bottom, I instinctively headed toward the port before realizing that I needed directions and asked a friendly stranger for help. Passing through the quaint town, I enjoyed the momand-pop storefronts and elderly gentlemen dressed in suit jackets and nice shoes, sitting and chatting with each other at outdoor cafes. Finally, I found the spa.
Inside was a steam room where I could rub down with a small cup of salt. The smell of eucalyptus made it even more cleansing. The sauna was hot-hot and coed and I had to cut a man off in mid-conversation to escape the increasing temperature. I didn’t last long there.
Luckily, there was a nearby cooling room built of pink Himalayan salt crystals. And there also was a Turkish bath with a huge hot tub that could probably hold about 30 people. I swam around for a few minutes then, politely avoiding the dozen other spa lovers. After purchasing a small bar of mintgreen natural soap, I was ready to return to my villa.
I walked back, stopping at a rotisserie to purchase half a chicken and vegetables dredged in olive oil. “How do these Italians stay so slim with all this oil and pasta?” I thought. “They break all the rules. They often stand while eating or drinking, eat late at night, devour bruschetta…”
Oh yes, and I scanned the menu for rabbit, but not seeing any, continued on my way.
The next morning, I met a couple from Belgium at breakfast. He was the owner of a restaurant in Bruges, which I apparently pronounced correctly (“brooj”) because the woman smiled and said, “Brava!” The man invited me to his restaurant for dinner next time I was in their country; I assured him I would oblige.
I decided to take a bus around the island, just to get a feel for the other villages around. When the bus pulled up, it was packed with locals, so I stood for several stops before a seat became available. The bus curled sluggishly up the mountainous slopes that make up the majority of Ischia’s terrain, passing an interesting pizza joint that hung off the side of a cliff with a direct view of the ocean below.
I cringed as two young teens wrestled at the back, one knocking the other’s head against the glass door while they both guffawed and giggled. Everyone else ignored them or laughed good-naturedly. There were brown people with curly hair, women in headdresses and the regulars in tight pants and good shoes.
Upon my return to my villa, Marinella took me to the seaport herself so I could board the ferry back to the mainland. We kissed each cheek goodbye, while I wished I had booked a third night. At least then I could try the rabbit stew.
|(This piece was originally published by my hometown newspaper.)Publication: Chattanooga Times Free Press||Date: Jan 25, 2015;||Section: Life;||Page: 5|
Visit the archives at http://www.tfponline.com to see this article as it was originally published.