A walk in Ischia, Italy, a small island off the coast of Naples, is often remarkable. The cobblestone streets you still find in many places stands as a stark juxtaposition to the yachts in the port and the designer clothes on display in the stores. Whenever I’m walking around, I find myself wondering what this world must have been like for my ancestors, even my father who spent his childhood here. They lived without the luxuries the natives of today know. Yet, they still have much in common with their modern counterparts.
For one, the “bella figura” lives on. I’ve tried many times to explain “bella figura” to non-Italians. And I’m not sure I have the right words. But here I go again. First, it literally translates to beautiful figure. People say they want to “fa bella figura” or “make a beautiful figure.” What they are really saying is that they want to make a good impression. They want others to perceive them in a good light.
They Judge the Book by Its Cover
Sometimes, they are referring to avoiding embarrassment, such as a slip of the tongue or falling in front of everyone. Other times, however, they are simply referring to looking good while walking around. Every hair needs to be in place. Their shirts must be crisply ironed. And they would never walk around in sweats. Flip flops are only permissible if they are walking that one block to the beach here in Ischia. Breaking these rules could mean failing to make the “bella figura.”
So, when you take a walk in Ischia, you have to be perfectly coiffed and wearing your best clothes. You don’t always have to be dressed for a formal wedding. But even your relaxed look should be planned out and designer if possible. This is the reason I am often recognized as an American. I used to wear flip flops everywhere. And I still don’t mind going outside the door in a comfortable T-shirt and lounging pants.
Still, when in Ischia, I try to conform. I’m more aware of what I’m wearing, what I look like. In addition, I’m careful about what I say and to whom I say it. Sometimes, I fail at the bella figura. I chalk it up to my Americanness. I always feel relief at returning home to America, where few care this much about this stuff.
Castello Aragonese is connected to the island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples, by bridge. In fact, the town around this medieval castle is called Ischia Ponte, which translates to Ischia Bridge. It is a stunner. You simply can’t take your eyes off the place. From afar, some will mistake it for a mere cliff. But it’s an actual castle carved into a cliff, and it’s full of history and stories to tell, if you just listen closely.
You can still visit the castle and walk through it to see what life inside may have been like for its various inhabitants. When you step inside, you’re entering another world. The hard rock facade, the ancient walls that whisper of the past, set the stage for the island outside its gates. Mainly built between the 14th and 17th century, the castle has ghosts as far as I am concerned. And every so often I get the urge to visit them. They are deliciously haunting.
The castle had served as fort, love shack, church, and prison. Historical figures, such as Vittoria Colonna, resided there. So did monks and nuns. In fact, you can still see the catacombs, frescoes, and altars of another time. And there’a Torture Museum featuring all sorts of devices that had been used to wear down humanity; I call it the dungeon. You can see ancient winemaking tools lying around. You can only imagine what went on here.
History swallows the island. And the juxtaposition of a monastery next to the Torture Museum next to a love shack is fitting for Ischia. After all, Ischia is everything and nothing at once. Most are swept away by the headiness of this place. The scent of the flowers growing in every nook of the castle is intoxicating. Then, there is the vision of tomatoes growing in one of the gardens. But the view of Ischia Ponte and the sea is enough to move you into a fantasy.
Of course, there’s no denying the beauty all around you. Pastel homes dot the lush hills nearby. Waves crash on the rocks agains the bridge. Often, you’ll find sunbathers perched on the rocks. Boats rock feet from the castle. A coffee bar at the feet of the bridge buzzes with tourists and natives alike; some say it’s the best espresso on the island. Every so often, newlyweds come to take their wedding photos out front. (My husband and I did.) You will feel invisible when the sun sets and sinks into the ocean, and you’re standing toward the top of the castle.
Today, you can stay at the castle as a hotel guest. If an overnight stay isn’t in the cards, you can also visit the museum. I’ve done both, and it’s always a true journey. But you don’t even have to enter the gate to take in the “bellezza.” It’s a must stop for tourists because few photo backdrops compare.
Ristorante Bar Dai Tu’ is a small eatery perched over the sea on the island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples in Italy. Located in Ischia Porto, the island’s capital, the restaurant offers delicious seafood in an ultra romantic setting. I would love to inform you about price. But this is southern Italy, where the prices are never set in stone. If you know the owner, you pay one price. If you don’t, you pay another. That’s just the truth. Still, from what I’ve gathered no one has ever been gouged here. So, we can call it affordable. Whatever you call it, you’ll be calling the food delicious.
Essence of Romance
See those lights in the photo? That is the restaurant. It looks like a tiny shack, but it’s absolutely charming. The inside features an arched doorway to the kitchen and long farm tables. But the luckiest diners score a table on the terrace outside. The lovely breeze and the view of the sea make Ischia all the more alluring. I was there with my husband, his entire family, and our son. But my sister-in-law had been there with her husband for their anniversary and raved about the pumped up romance level, especially when seated outside. The nice part is that some “romantic” restaurants are elitist. Or they’re so fancy that you feel uncomfortable. This is not like that at all. The restaurant is casual and beachy, so it does not come off as stuffy at all.
See the Seafood
Of course, the best part of the restaurant is the food you are served. Seafood in Ischia is hard to beat. It’s super fresh since this is an island. It never has that fishy smell or taste like you sometimes experience in the United States. At this restaurant, you can experience the sea’s treasures and a touch of sweetness to boot. You won’t be disappointed. Discover the plates my group sampled:
Shellfish is my absolute favorite whenever I’m visiting Ischia. The best way to eat it, in my opinion, is in “saute.” This is when the juice from the shellfish, white wine, olive oil, and some seasoning, including garlic come together to form a broth. The mussels and/or clams sit atop a shallow pool of this broth. And there are always pieces of grilled, crusty bread adjoining them. I’ve shared with friends visiting the island; they always tell me they want to drink vats of the stuff. It’s seriously addicting. When I’m not in Ischia, I dream about it. This version at Dai Tu’ was one of the best I’ve had.
Served still warm, the octopus are boiled to make them soft for this salad. I’ve had this kind of salad cold, too, which is just as delicious. This warm version was doused with olive oil and lemon. The ruchetta (known to Americans as arugula) was particularly spicy, which was a nice contrast to the mild octopus.
This plate of fried fish was the very reason we headed to this restaurant. One of the people with us was having a craving. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of fried fish with “spina,” bones. And I don’t really know how to clean these fish well. So, I mostly steered clear of this dish. But it included a few types of fish, including merluzzo, a mild white fish popular on the island. My husband enjoyed this dish and gave me a few bites of his. It was truly delicious, especially with a spurt of lemon. It made the flavor pop.
Normally, these kinds of eateries disappoint when it comes to dessert. After all, the emphasis is on the fish. The sweets are an afterthought. But this place has it all. For starters, the presentation is gorgeous. The light, fluffy cheesecake is served in a bowl made of cookie crust. Then it is topped with homemade sorbet and sauce. I believe it was a wild berry sorbet and topping. Everyone at the table was envious of those of us who ordered this.
It was divine. The sorbet was refreshing and cut into the sweetness of the creamy cake. That bit of crunch from the crust was just perfect. Others at the table ordered tiramisu (in a cup) and panna cotta. They were all satisfied with their dessert, but I focused on the cheesecake. I didn’t even feel the need to taste the others. It was the cherry – err, wild berry – on top of a delicious night.
A happy Monday in Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples in Italy, isn’t hard to achieve. The fact is that the natives long for Mondays in the summer. All the tourists come for the weekend, so they are catering to whims all weekend long. “Put the umbrella over here.” “Per favore, bring me a prosecco.” “It’s 1 a.m., I’m buzzed, and I locked myself out of the villa…again.” True story. These are just a few of the antics with which the natives of a beach lover’s paradise have to deal.
On Monday, many of the travelers go home. Often, the natives get a reprieve. Things are just a little slower until they hit Thursday again. So, Monday is met with pleasure. An American with an office gig, I have a hard time getting used to this upside down calendar. But every now and then in Ischia, I give in and head to the beach on Monday morning. It’s like starting the week off with meditation.
While my American colleagues are still snoozing, I’m taking a dip in the sea. Or with my feet dug in the sand, I’m writing in my journal. The views are spectacular. For a writer, it’s a way to discover inspiration. You can close your eyes, zone out, and conduct some introspection. The ideas flow from there. Even if you’re not a writer, you can appreciate this form of recharging yourself. Join me on this fine Monday morning in pictures.
A Place in the Sun
This morning, we changed up our beach routine. We headed for Luigi a Mare, which is both a beach front for renting lounge chairs and a restaurant. The plan was to spend some time on the beach first. Then, we would walk to the back and eat one of the sublime lunches at the restaurant. Our friend is a chef there. He sent over a delightful apperitivo. That’s a small pre-meal bite, usually accompanied by an alcoholic beverage. Those who know me are probably wondering if I partook. I definitely ate the cheese and chips. But I left the alcohol for my husband and the chef to enjoy beachside. Still, I’m sure many of you are imagining yourselves sipping prosecco while drying off right about now.
One of my favorite things to do at the beach in Ischia is to watch the boats – sailboats, motor boats, row boats, yachts. They are sometimes completely still in the middle of the sea. Seeing the island by boat is something I’ve done a number of times. And it is always remarkable; you always discover some new nook or giant rock protruding out of the water or patch along the shore. However, when you’re on the sand looking out at the boats, you can use your imagination. I like to make up stories about where the boat is going or where it has been. Of course, you can make endless speculation about who is aboard.
First Small Bite
“Crudo” means raw in in Italian. This is how many people like to sample Ischia’s fresh shellfish. I am not the biggest fan. But my husband “cooked” the shrimp for me by drenching it in lemon. It wasn’t bad. My husband devoured it with a big smile on his face. If you’re into it, then Ischia is the place to eat it.
On this lovely little tray, we received salmon, breaded swordfish, and a lightly dressed salad of thinly sliced octopus with fennel, tomatoes, and capers. It was perfect in its simplicity. My favorite of the three has always been the breaded swordfish. But I found the salad slightly tangy and refreshing on a hot summer day. You easily could make a whole meal of this antipasto. We split it in two. Already, we were feeling full. But who could resist the “primo piatto” that was still to come?
Treasures of the Sea
My favorite meal in Ischia is any pasta dish with clams. While I love to eat clams in the United States, too, the taste is entirely different here. It’s better in Ischia. Obviously, here all the fish is fresher. You often see the fisherman lifting the goods out of the sea and handing them over to the chefs cooking for you. These beauties are called vongole veraci. The small size and two little tabs attached to each give away their identity. They are sweeter and lighter than any clam I’ve eat in the U.S. This gives a distinctly different taste to the pasta. Unlike in the U.S., Italian clam pasta recipes never call for anything but clams, its juices, olive oil, and maybe light seasoning.
Aglio olio, which means garlic and oil, is the standard meal in a pinch in Italy. Everyone knows how to make it. However, this version includes a bed of raw shrimp under the traditional pasta. My husband says it brings new life to an old favorite. I don’t know about the taste because I’m not the biggest “crudo” fan. But the presentation is sublime.
The Sweetest Ending
In a previous post, I explained how these cannoli will be the death of me. But I will die a happy, happy woman. Honestly, cannoli are not usually my thing. But these are traditional like the ones in Sicily, the originals. That means the fried dough shell is stuffed with a smooth ricotta filling. But the base of the ricotta is goat’s milk as opposed to cow’s milk, which is all we know of Stateside. You will eat these cannoli and think of nothing else. Getting your next fix will become your life’s goal.
The best New Jersey day trips are the ones spent with loved ones. They are inclusive, so even young children can participate. And they offer something different from the norm. While the state often gets a bad reputation, it provides endless opportunities for both studying and enjoying life. As a Jersey girl, born and raised, I have had the chance to visit all these places. Nowadays, I bring my son, niece, and nephew. What makes these little adventures the best for me is their ability to spark the imagination. They are educational and fun all at once. And they make for the perfect time out during the summer, when everyone is a little freer.
Here, you can pick your own fruits and vegetables in season. Also, special events to honor holidays and celebrations are draws for the whole family. During many of the events, kids can go on a hay ride, ride a little wagon train, jump in the moon bounce, and climb stacks of hay. They can also ride a pony and visit with the farm animals. In addition, there are always holiday appropriate activities like picking pumpkins at Halloween and searching for eggs at Easter. Sometimes, you can tour the apple cider mill and see how it’s made. The samples are delicious. In July, there is a strawberry festival and a blueberry festival . In August, you can participate in the Peach Harvest Festival and Jersey Fresh Harvest Festival. You might consider the pancake breakfasts. On Farm Fun days, the little ones can do pretty much all those special event activities. When you tire of the farm, the quaint and charming Chester neighborhood awaits.
Turtle Back Zoo offers another opportunity to get close to nature. At this small zoo, kids can take a train ride, spin on the carousel, and see some impressive animals up close. The tortoises, penguins, and giraffes are favorites with most. Now, lions have joined the mix. The sea turtle rescue area is educational. You see the recovering wild sea turtles and get educated on how zookeepers help them. Another good time is the aviary, where you can feed parakeets. They land on your feet and hand. Careful not to roll over them if you have a stroller. Of course, TBZ also offers the chance to ride a pony.
AC is not the first place in Jersey to come to mind when you’re planning to hang out with kids. After all, the casinos are what make the place famous. But you’d be surprised to know that there are actually some fun things to do with kids, even on the Boardwalk. For starters, there’s a beach. The adults can take turns watching the kids and playing the slots. Also, there’s shopping galore. Outlets are within walking distance, and a mall is right on the Boardwalk. Ripley’s Believe It or Not is a fun museum with outrageous, unbelievable exhibits. Of course, the most popular place for kids is the Steel Pier. This amusement park is historical and offers a ferris wheel, other rides, and delicious treats. Nearby White House Sub Shop, with its V.I.P. following, offers a menu of sandwiches made with homemade fresh bread. Don’t forget to pick up some salt water taffy for the ride home.
Truly, all the shore points offer a good time. But Jenkinson’s Boardwalk in Point Pleasant offers something special. Besides the usual carnival rides and games and snacks, such as fried Oreos, visitors can visit the aquarium right on the beach. It’s small but the kids will be wowed by the wildlife, including penguins. Then, of course, you can always splash in the ocean and build castles in the sand. A couple of the Boardwalk restaurants serve the kids’ meals in a pail replete with shovel. Few can leave without indulging in soft-serve ice cream to boot.
Singing the praises of LSC is hardly difficult. This interactive museum makes science and technology come to life. One exhibit teaches about the Hudson River and some of the creatures that call it home. Another gives you the chance to see a working honey bee hive up close. The Skyscraper exhibit helps kids understand what it takes to build tall buildings. There, you’ll also see some 9/11 artifacts. The Infinity Climber gives kids a chance to jump and climb in a suspended, multistory play center. Warning, moms and dads, you might be terrified when looking up at your kids roughhousing in the sky. During the summer, the little ones will love digging in the sand to search for dinosaur fossils. There are always interesting traveling exhibits making an appearance. Pick up some astronaut ice cream and an LSC pencil that changes colors in your hand at the gift shop. Or you can just snap a photo of your crew wearing astronaut helmets before leaving.
Many people don’t realize that Liberty State Park is in New Jersey. From here, you can take a boat to the statue and Ellis Island. The New York skyline is in the background and the park makes for a beautiful backdrop for photos. Of course, visiting the statue, climbing inside it, and learning about the country’s immigrant roots is momentous. Finding artifacts people brought from distant lands and tracking down your own ancestors who passed through are among the highlights.
MAMMA’S DIARY – DIARIO DI MAMMA / FAMILY TRAVEL – VIAGGI
An Ischia Italy beach day can change the way you think. The intoxicating scent of the sea lures you like the sirens of Greek mythology. When you first squish your toes into the hot, soft sand, you think you’re walking on fire. So, you get your ballerina on and tip toe, tip toe, tip toe to a lounge chair. A tall, dark teenager leads you to the perfect spot nearest the sea. Exhale.
Your son is ready to jump in. But you’re l’Americana. So, you first cover him in cream and sheathe him in a rash guard. Then, you warn him of the dangers of going too deep. You tell him to stay close to his father and never go past the buoys. Just then, your husband whisks away your baby and takes him past the buoys. Inhale.
Who cares? You’re at the beach…on an island…in Italy. Pull up a lounge chair. Exhale.
Other children are running in the sand. Or they’re trying to catch waves. A few are making rocks dance on the water. An Italian mamma in a skinny bikini is bouncing a naked baby on her hip. She covers him with a blanket in the hopes that the sound of the sea will help him drift off to sleep.
Teenagers are finding excuses to climb on one another, forming human pyramids in the sea. They are young and pretty and seem to know it. Bronzed and carefree, they are like the personification of hedonism. For a moment, you are both nostalgic for your own youth and jealous you never experienced being a native of an island. Then, they topple and crash onto one another with a thunderous flop. Suddenly, you recall that youth truly is wasted on the young. And the island limits where you can go. Next, one or two of the young couples steal a salty kiss. You lean back and the mind wanders.
These are not the youth of your America. They are distinctly different. Italian children are less tame, far less controlled. Many of the babies – boys and girls alike – are nude. They splash and pee with wild abandon. Little girls as old as 8 wear no bathing suit top. An American lawyer I know once visited and would not allow his wife to photograph the beach for fear it would be considered child pornography Stateside.
Still, one of the little girls toddles over to your son and asks to borrow his shovel for building palaces and pools in the sand. He gleefully obliges. A friend for a moment is better than none at all. Despite the language barrier, they get along well. Pointing and hand gestures work. And they look at each other in wonderment.
Then, of course, the place is teeming with adults. The amount of flesh on display takes some getting used to for those of us from comparatively puritanical America. The natives, in fact, mock your one-piece bathing suit and shorts. You once wore skimpier swimsuits. But now you’re a mamma of a certain age. You like your cover up covering up things. Of course, the damage the sun can do is another excuse – err, reason – to hide skin. But the sun is life in Italy.
So, natives have a different take. Some of the men, especially the older ones, still wear speedos. It’s hard to avert the eyes. The image of a banana hammock burns into your memory much like Vesuvius at Pompeii. More modern men wear a regular bathing suit. Of course, theirs are shorter than yours. This is not the place for board shorts. While Jersey Italians are spraying on their tans, Italian Italians are doing it old school. They drench themselves in sun. Many still use oil. They shimmer like diamonds. Nearly naked diamonds. They jeer you for your milky white skin and 50+ sunscreen. Don’t even get them started on your kid’s rash guard and long swim trunks.
Even the nonne (grandmas) wear two-piece bathing suits. Many don bikinis that leave little to the imagination. Let’s just say you are seeing more than just the cheeks on their faces. The foreign women are even less reserved than the Ischitani. Finding tan lines intolerable, they go topless. Some are old and wrinkly. Others are young and perky. They all take your breath away.
Ischia Makes You Feel Sexy
Even among those who work on the beach – delivering drinks or renting umbrellas – there’s a casualness. It’s as though the heat makes it all right to be in various stages of undress. While closing your eyes, you have a revelation; what’s beautiful is the acceptance of all shapes and sizes. Because it’s hot, everyone can uncover herself. It’s permitted. There’s a freedom that comes with this acceptance. Removing shame of the flesh is actually empowering in a way. But your Americanness prevents you from fully appreciating it. And you can’t bear showing too much of yourself in Ischia. It takes a kind of courage you’re not sure you have.
An ad once suggested Ischia was where you eat, you drink, and you “whistle.” The latter is in quotes because it is a euphemism for sex. Some, however, say it just points to the laid-back vibe of the island. The heat and scent of the sea and all that natural beauty certainly have their influence. You’re suddenly lightheaded. You notice your husband swinging your son into the sea for one more run. The sunlight is bouncing off his curly locks. Sure, he’s gotten older as have you. But his midlife paunch and a few gray hairs don’t change the fact that his green eyes are twinkling. He’s Italian. He’s yours. And he’s friggin’ sexy.
When he comes over and brushes your hand as you offer him his towel, you still feel electricity. It’s time to head for the restaurant on the beach, just behind you. Tonight your son demands a chicken cutlet and fries. And you’re having linguine and clams. The Ischia sun is setting in the background. The sea breeze lightly caresses your face. Your husband gives you the look. And your son begins to fall asleep in your lap while twirling your hair. It is the end of a perfect day.
An Ischia Italy postcard calls your name. Can’t you just picture yourself diving into that picture? On this Neapolitan island neighboring Capri and Procida, you will find many beaches that allow you to escape everyday life. While falling asleep on the sand, you will dream long and hard. Anything will seem possible. You’ll feel stronger and prettier. There’s something about a lazy day on the beach that is inspirational. It’s almost like going to church. You’re renewed.
Giardini La Mortella in Ischia, Italy, an island off the coast of Naples, gives visitors some tranquility. The beautiful plants and flowers provide the backdrop for a leisurely walk. Even though you sometimes have to climb steep steps, you feel at ease. There are waterfalls, whose natural music is welcoming. An aviary filled with majestic birds catches the eye and elicits gratitude for nature. When you’re feeling down, a piece of lemon Caprese cake will lift you up. I ate it a decade ago, and I still remember it. Every so often, the gardens become a concert venue. I can only imagine how delightful it must be to hear the strumming of a violin amid all this beauty.
The gardens are the creation of Susana Walton, the late Argentine wife of British composer Sir William Walton. Designed by his is the home to both subtropical and mediterranean plant life. Many of the species are exotic and not easily maintained on the island. In 1956, Susana Walton turned to landscape designer Russell Page, who envisioned a plan to include the view of the sea and the volcanic rock formations naturally in the garden.
A Tour of La Mortella in Photos
Located in the town of Forio in Ischia, the gardens are displayed in two levels. The lower level is called the Valley, and the upper level is known as the Hill. From the top, you can take in the view of the stunning San Francesco beach in Forio. In the Orchid House, you will find some beauties. In fact, there is an orchid hybrid that was created in honor of Susana Walton because of her passion for gardening and contributions to the community.
The Old Man
Take a Seat
On the other hand, one of the most memorable parts of my walks through La Mortella is this olive tree. It is hundreds of years old and truly spectacular.
Truly, seeing this chair carved out of a tree stump is a whimsical touch. Indeed, there are many objects like this at La Mortella.
When you turn a corner, and see this life-size alligator figure amid these short cascades of water, don’t be frightened. Simply put, it’s a touch of humor.
After you have photographed lots of plant life, you might opt for a selfie. This bamboo makes for a lovely backdrop.
When Water Falls
Just when you think you can’t be any more relaxed, you hear this – the sound of running water. The various fountains around the gardens are as beautiful as they are soothing.
Let the Light Shine
This little nook in the gardens is typical of Ischia. The wall, fountain, and moss harken to the island’s beginnings. Known as L’Isola Verde or the Green Island, Ischia offers many scenes just like this.
Being One with Nature
In fact, gardens like this are a perfect fit on the Green Island. While religion is not at the forefront of the images in the gardens, there is a spirituality that resonates. Statues like this capture the mood and make for an appropriate accent.
La Mortella is a great place to take a stroll. You can unwind and witness breathtaking views worthy of photographs. Even if you don’t have a camera, you will carry the images in your memory for years to come.
Puglia is underrated among tourists. Overshadowed by Tuscany, Venice, and Florence to the north and Sicily and islands, such as Capri, to the south, the capital Bari and its surrounding area offer hidden gems. Much like Naples in Campania, the area is grittier than most tourists prefer. But if you know where to visit, you can be safe and enjoy some must-see places. Long ago, before we were married and had our son, my husband and I ventured to Puglia. It. was. epic. See below for some highlights from our trip. You should put these sites on your bucket list:
We saw Puglia by car. The signs are easy to read and follow. My husband and I got a kick out of the town named Monopoli. We had a long-running inside joke with my parents about the game. We took this picture with them in mind. The Grotte di Castellana called our name. We had hoped to see the animals at the Zoosafari in nearby Fasano. But it was closed the day we were in town. Just our luck. Maybe someday we’ll get back there. I’ve heard good things.
Grotte di Castellana
The Grotte di Castellana are a study in science and a tourist attraction. Found in the town of Castellana Grotte, they are underground cavities, where limestone has eroded. Over time, this limestone has formed a landscape brimming with fissures, sinkholes, ridges, and towers. The most impressive scenery is the stalagmite and stalactite covering the ground and roof respectively. A museum neighbors the caverns. There, people can get a deeper understanding of the natural wonders they just visited.
In Alberobello, you might feel as though you’ve arrived in a giant Smurf village. The round rooftops of the houses, known as trulli, are among 51 sites in Italy on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. They are stunning. We looked at the town from above on a flat rooftop, and all you could see were these charming homes that didn’t even look real lining the streets. It was lovely to walk through the streets and just take in the scene. I also really enjoyed the shopping, which included many handmade souvenirs.
Pottery Offers Pizzazz
While I would never lug one of these babies home, I couldn’t help but photograph them. They were gorgeous. And the pottery piled together like that looked like a painting. The setting sun only added to the artistry. Although I was sad a vase of this stature was too big a purchase to bring home with me, I found other souvenirs. All these years later, I still cherish the treasures from Alberobello. I bought some beautifully decorated bath towels for relatives. Also, I found hand embroidered towels with images of the trulli on them. We still keep a mini trulli replica front and center in our china closet. The trip was a long time ago, but the memory lives on in our hearts.
This is the first in a series of stories about traveling to the island of Ischia in Italy.
Mine are the peasant people of Ischia in Italy. This island is considered a province of Naples in Italy. Ischia neighbors the more famous Capri. Another neighboring island, Procida, had its 15 minutes of fame when the charming film Il Postino was released. When my people left in the 1950s and 1960s, the island was suffering. World War II had decimated the economy of the entire country. And the spirit of the people was shaken. Italians are not ones for war. Truly, they are lovers and not fighters. Fighting Americans (many of whom were related) and changing sides took its toll.
Challenges Change the Islanders
Food and family are the top priorities in Italy. Back then, getting food on the table was difficult. My father disagrees. He doesn’t remember scrambling for a meal. But his older siblings have different memories. They were working the land to make ends meet. It was a tough life. In 1960, when my 13-year-old father left, everything changed. Tourism began to replace agriculture as the island’s prime business.
So, where is Ischia?
Well, it is the largest island in the Gulf of Naples. It is 17 miles southwest of Naples on the western edge of the gulf, according to the World Atlas. Foreigners travel by plane. Often, they have to take a flight to a European capital. Then, they take a shorter flight to Naples. During some times of the year, you can get direct flights from New York’s JFK.
You can easily access the island from Naples or Pozzuoli (birthplace of Sofia Loren). You simply have to take a boat or hydrofoil from either of those places. You go with the boat if you need to put a car or motor scooter on board with you. You go with the hydrofoil if you’re traveling without additional transportation. The hydrofoil, of course, is faster and takes about an hour. The boat will take about 1.5 to two hours. It all depends on whether you make a stop in Procida first.
What Makes the Geography Special
The island is actually a volcano. It last erupted 700 or so years ago. But in 2010 some experts warned it might blow again. No joke. Before you run away from Ischia, consider their final thoughts on the matter. The experts also said an eruption was not at all imminent. Still, they are monitoring it along with nearby Vesuvius.
These volcanic origins are not all bad. They provide rich soil for vegetation. You might credit it with the sweetest fruits and most delicious veggies you’ve ever eaten. Your body might also appreciate thermal waters and mud. Many athletes and ailing people come to Ischia for their healing powers.
For those who trace their roots to Ischia, it lives within the heart. It is where we find family and friends. It is where we find a slice of piece and Nonna’s parmigiana. Can’t beat that.