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Italy

September 2015

Strangolagalli

We started our trip in the small Italian village of Strangolagalli, where Dennis's mom's family is from.  We flew into Rome and took a train to Ceprano where Dennis's cousin Katia and her husband, Massimo, picked us up.  They drove us back to the house in Strangolagalli where we were greeted by Zia Vivian, Zio Santino, Matteo (not so little anymore!), and Lorenzo (still pretty little!). We hadn't seen any of them since they moved back to Italy in 2011 so it was a long awaited reunion.  We ate sandwiches, sipped on limoncello, ate delicious homemade tiramisu, and drank LOTS of wine.  It was a great first night.

The highlight of our time in Strangolagalli was definitely our second night there.  We went out to dinner with Vivian, Santino, and everyone, plus about 15 extended relatives- some Dennis had met once before but I had never met any of them.  The restaurant was called Jerry's and we ate SO much food. Seafood, meats, cheese, and lots of pizza.  It was all great but the best part was the end of the meal.  We all were drinking (more) limoncello when the waiter brought over a bottle of champagne and a cake that said "Just Married" and put it in front of me and Dennis. Everyone was smiling at us and taking pictures, and we were so surprised.  It was such a nice gesture- all these people celebrating our marriage who we didn't really know, but it didn't matter because they're family. 

The rest of our time in Strangolagalli was spent eating amazing homemade meals, playing Horse with Matteo and Super Mario with Lorenzo, drinking wine, and relaxing.  It was the perfect way to start our trip.


AMALFI

Next, we headed to the Amalfi Coast- specifically to the town of Pontone (Pantone?).  Pontone is a town that overlooks Amalfi and the Tyrrhenian Sea, and while beautiful, man was it difficult to get to.  We took two trains from Cassino to Salerno, then took a bus along the winding road to Amalfi.  From Amalfi, we took another bus up the hill towards Pontone, but the bus driver wasn't actually going to Pontone so he dropped us off on the side of the road near Pontone.  Keep in mind it was about 90 degrees and we had all our luggage:

So we were sweating, tired, each were carrying 2 (heavy) backpacks, and had to figure out how to get to our apartment.  We had booked a place in Pontone off AirBnB and had contacted our hosts but they didn't speak much English.  From what we could understand, they wanted us to meet them up the road a bit and then they would pick us up.  So we walked.  Uphill (very, very uphill).  With all our bags.  I was not happy at this point.  But finally we met our hosts, jumped in the back of their pick-up truck, and were driven the rest of the way to our home for the next few days... and it was beautiful.

And the view! It was totally worth the hell we went through to get there.

So, as I said before, Pontone is a town that sits above Amalfi- almost 1,000 steps above Amalfi.  Now, you can take a cab but it would cost about $60 and you could also take a bus but that takes over an hour... so each time we went to Amalfi, we walked down those steps.  And then back up the steps.  In 90+ degree weather.

BUT, all in all, Amalfi was fantastic.  It was beautiful, we swam in the Tyrrhenian Sea, and we ate AMAZING food.  So much pasta, seafood, and the best pizza we have ever eaten (at Antico Borgo in Pontone).


ROME

After a few days in Pontone, we headed to Rome (fun fact: we actually left Pontone a day early.  I got confused about what day it was/what day we were supposed to leave Pontone, and I messed up.  I spent the entire train ride scouring AirBnB for a place to stay, and after hours and several semi-emotional breakdowns, we finally found a room at a perfect little bed&breakfast near the Colosseum called Eat & Sheets- amazing name). The room was cozy, we ate a yummy dinner, and we got to see the Colosseum at night.

The second night we stayed in a neighborhood called Monti- near the Piazza dei Madonna.  We also ate sushi for dinner that night from Daruma Sushi and it was great.  I don't know why I'm always so skeptical of eating different ethnic cuisines in foreign countries.  I wouldn't think twice about getting sushi in Milford, Connecticut!

So we had some extra time in Rome, which worked in our favor.  We were able to spend a few hours exploring the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, we ate delicious food, we saw a very under-construction Trevi Fountain, and we got to relax a bit.  After living in Brooklyn for the last 5 years we tend to stay away from cities while we're traveling, but 2 nights in Rome was perfect.  


TUSCANY

From Rome we made our way north to Tuscany, Italy's famous wine region.  We found an a beautiful farm, called Forestaria, off AirBnB (we pretty much only used AirBnB for our European/African travels) and it was literally perfect. Exhibit A:

Forestaria is actually not known for grapes though- they only grow and harvest olives and they make their own olive oil.  I really dislike olives (I keep trying them though!), but we both love olive oil and it was delish.  Unfortunately, we were there a little early for the harvest so we didn't get to try anything fresh, but what we did have with our bread in the morning was amazing.  

This place was just so cool. One big farmhouse with several bedrooms (shared bathrooms), kitchen/dining room, and an incredible view.  Forestaria is located in the small town of Valgiano and there isn't much around but we did go to dinner up the road at a place called Osteria da Giomo, which was so good.  For only like 25 euro we got a multi course meal with prosciutto, bruschetta, eggplant, faro salad with seafood, lasagna... tons more I'm not remembering... and wine! It was so yummy.

The next day we went for hike.  Tons of trails run through and around Forestaria and the trail we picked was said to go through an area with waterfalls, have beautiful views, and lead to a town where we could get lunch.  Yes- there were waterfalls, yes-it was beautiful, and yes- after over 2 hours we did reach a town... a very quiet town that didn't look like it had much to offer. At this point we were starving, sweating, and very thirsty (we were under the impression this was a short hike so we were not prepared).  Luckily, after walking around for a bit, we did come across a restaurant and it seemed the entire town was eating there.  We grabbed a seat and the waitress came over- she didn't speak any English and they didn't have any menus but it didn't matter.  She brought us wine, a huge plate of lasagna, and an equally huge plate of ravioli.  We were in heaven.

The hike down was great. Our hunger and thirst were both satiated, our energy was back up, and we sang a lot of "Down By the Bay." (remember that song??)

That night, Maggie, a lovely Sweedish girl who works at the farm (and a former chef who trained at infamous Noma in Denmark!), cooked dinner for us and the rest of the guests.  It. Was. Amazing. We feasted on beets with goat cheese, a super fresh caprese salad, toast with salmon pate, adorable little cheese/phyllo pinwheels, homemade fettucine with pesto, pork with some sort of tuna cream, a soup with chickpeas, tomatoes, & shrimp, and for dessert a delicious brownie cake with raspberries, mint, and fresh whipped cream.  I wish we had photos for all of these ridiculous courses but we were too busy eating to bother with snapping a picture.  Just know everything looked as good as it tasted.  And it tasted great.

The next day, our last full day at Forestaria, we relaxed a bit before taking a 3 hour cooking class with Maggie.  Not only is she an amazing chef, but she was so much fun to be around.  We went through several bottles of wine, listened to a "classic rock" Spotify station, and made some delicious food.  I think our favorite was the ragu sauce of meat, carrots, celery, bread, Parmesan cheese and beef stock that we stuffed some squash blossoms with (only my second time cooking with squash blossoms but I love them). We also made a cute little ham & cheese "calzone," some crostini with sausage and cream cheese (great combo!  who knew?), eggplant lasagna with homemade sauce AND pasta (we actually made hand rolled pasta and it wasn't even hard- I told Dennis I want a pasta maker for our next home).  Oh, and for dessert we made panna cotta with fresh raspberries.  Everything was so yummy and although it was time consuming, nothing was very hard.  We were especially proud of our pasta.

Our stay at Forestaria was incredible.  It was beautiful, we met wonderful people, spent time outside, and ate (and made!) delicious food.

The next morning we got a ride to the train station in Lucca where we traveled to Pisa for the day.  Our flight to Paris left from the Pisa airport that evening so we spent the day at the Tower of Pisa and eating not very good Italian food (such a letdown for our last meal in the country!).  But we did have delicious gelato and we got this amazing picture: