Three years ago? Could it have been three years? Well, I’ll let the facts speak for themselves: After I had left Chiang Mai in late July 2015, I undertook a 30+ hour trip to Rome. And then stayed there for all of 14 hours. Why? Because I “had to” go to one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen.
And I have seen a few places by now! It’s still true! So, let me take you to the paradise that is the small village of Praiano on the famous Amalfi coast.
The whole vacation was planned in honor of my dear friend and awesome human being Autumn and her 30th birthday (and birthweek and birthmonth, she’s doing this properly). She wished to celebrate in a special location and made a truly excellent choice there.
So we met up on a sweltering Saturday at Roma Termini station (which is by far the most confusing train station I have ever seen) and got us and our stuff into a rental car. Stefan, equally awesome human being, drove us down to Amalfi. After we left the autostrada, things got interesting. If you’re not afraid of heights, tiny winding roads or bound to get carsick, it is really a stunning drive.
And it is slow. With all the other traffic on the road, scooters and even busses (!) you have to be very careful. Lucky for us, Stefan is an excellent driver and we got there safe and sound.
And took in the beauty:
Ah, the beauty.
Just to give you some perspective: These hibiscus blossoms were around 20 cm in diameter.
The inofficial motto for the week was “indulgence”. All of us had to recover from a city life that didn’t really agree with us. Stefan and Autumn had lived in harsh Paris for almost a year, and I was returning from two semesters in noisy and crowded Taipei and a bad relationship that had crossed the line towards abusive.
Well, we had come to the right place. Praiano is decidedly not a city, no, no, grazie mille, no need for that sort of hassle.
Our rooms were in the “apartment”, so basically we had a house just for us. The general favorite thing about the place was the fancy shower with several modes (tropic train, massage jets, spray nozzles, whoowhee).
And it had the best terrace ever…
…with the best view ever.
Crystal clear waters.
A CAVE. One you could swim in. Insane! 😀
We unpacked and went for wine and snacks to the hotel bar (a routine we would keep up… roughly every afternoon of the week). How I had missed buffalo mozzarella in Asia (or any good and affordable cheese). And really, really awesome pizza. And tomatoes that taste like the sun has shamelessly French kissed them all summer long. And basil so fresh and full of flavor it almost feels indecent to eat in public. Yeah, Italy (say it with me: “Eataly”) is about the food and the wine and the joy.
That first day we went grocery shopping at the local supermercato and bought a lot of cheese, veggies and pasta. And red wine, of course. You cannot do Italy without red wine. We also found that Praiano is actually a city for cats who allow some select humans to live with them.
That last one was “ours” for the week.
Fun tidbit of information: Did you know that the Amalfi region produces the best limoncello? Once you see their lemons (I first mistook them for yellow water melons), it makes total sense to turn all that good zest into liquor. A while ago, I also read a recipe for mozzarella baked in a lemon… and couldn’t figure out how a ball of cheese that size should fit into a lemon. Now I know. They are gigantic.
So… we settled into some sort of routine. Sunday we did nothing but chill in the sun, swim in the sea, read, and eat amazing Italian snack food. Call it antipasti, if you want, but there was no before or after the main meal, just yummy food the entire glorious day long. In the evening we made candele, a special pasta that looked really cool, with tomato sauce. The noodles are half a meter long.
Weird pasta definitely requires a candle light dinner. Also, candele translates to candle, how suitable.
Monday we did nothing but chill in the sun, swim in the sea, read, and eat. Autumn re-read Eat, Prey, Love, and inspired me to do the same. The “Eat” part is also about indulgence, food, and healing for the soul… in Italy, because where else? We may have gone for a walk that day.
Tuesday we did nothing but chill in the sun, swim in the sea, read, and eat. Or maybe that was just me, I remember Autumn was also meditating regularly and doing a lot of yoga during that week, and she kindly shared some of her practice with me (which led to this). Dinner was home-made gnocchi with tomato sauce from scratch.
Now, THIS recipe I learned from Stefan and Autumn is something I have to share with you. “Ordinary” tomato sauce often seems boring. It’s simple, true, but it can be oh so good. The basis is something like this, but just add a lot more halved onions. As many as you can fit in the pot if you like. And then take them out after the sauce is ready, keep them and eat them cold on buttered bread or with a bite of cheese. Or leave them in if you like chunks. If you can make this with fresh sun-French-kissed tomatoes then go ahead, if your tomato produce is watery this time of the year, use canned. DO NOT be shy with the butter. It’s THE ingredient in this sauce.
At one point we played cards against humanity and I think it was that evening, but I cannot tell for sure. The days merged a bit in their lazy awesomeness, you see.
On Wednesday we had an amazing, amazing dinner at Il Pirata.
The place also looks beautiful at night.
After a very yummy appetizer with mozzarella and marinated vegetables, I had a super delicious pasta with eggplant, more mozzarella and tomatoes. For dessert we shared a semifreddo al pirata, which is to date the best Italian dessert I have ever had. It was semi-frozen heaven on a plate, with hazelnutty and chocolaty notes and a superior creamyness. This little embodiment of perfection is what they must have served the Roman gods. I am not joking. I would go back just to eat this again.
Also, look at the view. Perfect with a midnight glass of sparkly rosé and the first congratulations for Autumn’s birthday.
So, Thursday was the much anticipated birthday, but unfortunalety that night’s dinner at Il Pino was very “meh” in comparison with the day before (and the day after, you just wait).
We tried to remedy the evening by dressing up and going to the club literally next door: Africana.
It was hot and sticky and mostly empty. So, Autumn and I decided to swim back to our hotel. We left anything liquid-sensitive with Stefan, who kindly offered to carry it back to the apartment and later joined us for a post-midnight swim. It was only 20 meters or so, but we totally swam home from the club and can brag about it now.
Friday night we went for a very special dinner at Vivaro. We had heard about this place before and it was everything we could have hoped for. When we sat down at our table, the host and chef came over and asked us what we wanted to eat and whether we wanted wine. An enthusiastic yes on the wine, Autumn and Stefan decided on fish, I said vegetarian and then we waited for whatever was coming.
The wine was red and smooth and we had two bottles between the three of us. I had eggplant parmigiana and an amazing garlicky pasta with Alfredo sauce and zucchini. Followed by a beautiful fruit plate with Provolone.
It was. Soooooo. Goooood. The best meal of the entire week. If the Roman gods ever felt like something savory after all that semifreddo, they must have had that particular chef cook for them. Amazing food. I was absolutely too busy enjoying myself to take any pictures.
Sadly, the next day we had to check out and leave this little paradise and drove the rental car back to Rome. Okay, Stefan did the driving again. We took the road to Amalfi, which is a lot more touristic than Praiano.
Along the coast…
…through the mountains…
…we headed back to Napoli, where we stopped for some really, really amazing Pizza.
I will have to return to Napoli just to eat Pizza. I didn’t want to believe the “Why do they even bother trying to make pizza in [insert non-Italian place]?” quote from Eat, Pray, Love. I was wrong. I apologize.
We followed the autostrada back to Rome, where we got caught in the worst rain/hail storm I had seen in a long time. We couldn’t see a thing, so we stopped at the side of the road and waited for the weather to pass. We got back to Termini station somewhat on time, I jumped out with my suitcase and we said our rushed goodbyes, because I had to get to a couchsurfing appointment with my host Stefano, who was going to take me to a BBQ party. How I hate to keep nice people waiting.
Stefan and Autumn have since moved back to San Francisco and in with D and I got to celebrate MY 30th birthday there! However, that week together in Italy will always be a fond memory and I would love to go back to Praiano some day. It just so happens, that I have bad timing.
Fun fact: they are there now and send me sunny photos all day long.
But I am not jealous, no. My next destination will be Paris, where I will see Autumn, Stefan and D again!