Lunchtime…again. This time in Italy

It’s been a couple of weeks since our last installment of Jim & Kathleen’s Food Experiences. In case you forgot, I had promised a running bunch of posts on our best food experiences from our travel life. You can read about breakfast in Vancouver here or lunch in Barcelona here. For installment number three (this one will be all about the food) let’s travel to Pontone, Italy with the best tour guide in the known world, Marcello.

To set the stage we were sailing on Celebrity’s Galaxy on a 15 night cruise round trip from Rome that visited the usual Greek islands, Istanbul and even ventured into the Black Sea to stop in Romania and Ukraine. We were on our way back to Rome when we stopped for one last shore visit, in Naples. Pre-cruise we had contacted the “God of Shore Excursions” Mike Preisman who had recommended we contact one of his favorite tour guides, Marcello Maresca. He told us that Marcello was like no other tour guide. That if we let him pick us up in Naples and give us a tour of what he later called, “My Italy,” it would be a day well spent. Mike was right.

The amazing Marcello

We contacted Marcello (we’re still friends on FaceBook and I hear from him all the time) and luckily he was available on the day we were there. We told him that we were more interested in Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast and Sorrento than we were in Naples, so he got us set up.

He was there on time and we headed off in his van. As we drove out of Naples, Marcello proceeded to tell us his philosophy of touring. “If you want to shop, don’t tour with Marcello.  If you want to see ‘his’ Italy, the real Italy, tour with Marcello.” BTW: When I say we, there was Kathleen and I and four other friends we had met through our Cruise Critic roll call including Marybeth and Anne we have become friends with and cruised with in SE Asia.

We made stops on the way to lunch at lots of places where we saw incredible views, stopped in shops where only the Italians shopped and laughed at the other cruisers trying to navigate the Amalfi Coast in one of those huge busses. Oh, the places we could go that they couldn’t. Speaking of driving the Amalfi Coast, even though Marcello is the ultimate tour guide, he has this crazy habit of driving the coast road while looking back at us to talk. Scared the hell out of us but I guess he drives that road so much that he can do it blindfolded.

First stop was a tour through three villages surrounding Sorrento. These were towns that no one stops in because they don’t have the reputation that Sorrento has. But they show what Italian life is like now. I would tell you all of Marcello’s views of Italy today but it is best experienced firsthand from his mouth. So my advice? To see the real Italy and the real Amalfi coast, go to Naples and meet Marcello.

After driving the villages around Sorrento and then into Sorrento itself (where true to his word we saw a bunch of tourist trap shops) we headed down the Amalfi coast stopping whenever Marcello thought we could have great picture opportunities.

We did not stop in the tourist trap towns of Positano, Amalfi and Ravello but did stop on either side of them to take in the view and we drove through the multitude of tourist trap shops with goods from all over. The only semi-shopping stop we made was at an overlook outside of Positano where there was a fruit stand selling local fruit.

After we had driven through Ravello, Marcello announced that it was time to see the real Amalfi coast and we headed up into the hills to the village of Pontone. This village had not changed in more than 50 years. He told us we would have lunch in a wonderful outdoor restaurant where we would be the only patrons other than locals. A restaurant that grew all the food that they served, baked their own bread and everything was made to order.

After a quick tour around the village set high on a hillside we sat down to lunch. And “OH MY GOD, WHAT A LUNCH!” Those of you who know me, know how much I love Italian food. And I have to say without a doubt that this was the BEST Italian food I have had since my Italian grandmother passed away when I was a freshman in high school.

The meal started with an incredible antipasti. Bruschetta, zucchini squash blossoms and so much more. Check out the pictures above and make sure to click on one and watch the slideshow to see them in all their glory. Wonderful red and white house wines by the pitcherful were refilled every time we got near running out. Once we had gorged ourselves on the antipasti, out came the pasta. Three kinds. First a gnocchi that was wonderful, then a ravioli with cheese inside and cooked with arugala and finally a wonderful mixture of pasta shells, beans and pumpkin. We were in heaven. And a very full heaven by this point but wait, there was more. As if we had not had enough to eat on the cruise. Out came the desserts. On one plate we each had a piece of apple tart, a chestnut mousse and a incredible lemon dessert that was like lemon mousse and lemon pie combined. All this was accompanied by our choice of a melon liqueur, a fennel liqueur and our favorite (but not by much) lemoncello. It was wonderful. And this was lunch? What do they serve you for dinner?

The happy group just before we dug in. 45 minutes later we waddled back to the van to visit Pompeii.

After we had thoroughly gorged ourselves (did I already use that word? Gorged is the only word I can think of that describes how we felt), we were back on the road over the mountain to Piedmonte and then on to our tour of Pompeii.

To me, that’s what an incredible dining experience is all about. Awesome company, wonderful ambience and incredible food. We are hoping to go back there when we stop in Naples again in October 2022 and again see Marcello’s Italy.

People will travel anywhere for good food – it’s crazy. —Rene Redzepi

2020–well that sucked. But hope is around the corner.

Consider this my end of the year/start of the year post. This blog (I still hate that word) is two years old now and this will be my 160th post. I truly believe if this had been a normal year for us, I would easily have written more than 200 posts by now. But without being able to travel there just wasn’t that much to write about. I mean how many lists can you make?

What did we get to do? A quick look back at our year does include our February/March trip to Florida, our cruise from there to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and then on to Mexico so I guess I can’t say it was all bad.

What did we lose? We had to cancel our spring cruise from San Diego to Vancouver on HAL’s Konigsdam, our summer trip to the Galapagos and our European Christmas Market river cruise in December. By now we should have added at least another eight countries to the list of those we have visited and I would have had pictures to prove it.

What have we been doing since then? The same as so many of you. Ten months of mask wearing, ten months of social distancing, ten months of being at home. Too many friends gone. The last week of the year I actually had to buy three sympathy cards. I have probably bought at least 8 this year and that doesn’t even count the GoFundMes I have contributed to when friends have become ill or passed away.

But we did have a little fun. We did two short get-aways to AirBnBs in Washington. We did four days at the coast with the grandkids. We FaceTimed with them at least twice a week. We Zoomed, HousePartied and Teamed with friends. We changed travel agencies we represent (one of the smartest things we have ever done). We are working on our 19th jigsaw puzzle, we ate a ton of takeout, we drank some serious wine and cocktails (we are doing a dry January 😔) and we watched five years worth of streaming movies and TV (always looking for suggestions).

For me, one bright spot this year has been my photography. The quantity of travel photos may have been lacking but the quality was much improved (at least from my standpoint). I took the best photo I have ever taken, I started posting a daily photo on Instagram (and have done that every day for more than a year–follow me @jimbellomo13) and later started doing that on Facebook (JimBellomo) as well. I started selling my photos (had a little luck but hopefully the more I post, the better it will get) on SmugMug (JimBellomoPhotography). Check me out on those platforms. You can even see my Instagram feed at right.

It is both funny and sad that so many people were glad to see 2020 end thinking that there would be some great change…but let’s be honest folks. Here we are on the fourth of January and it still feels the same to me 😜. Maybe once the vaccine is in my arm and I am getting on an airplane to go someplace it will feel a lot better.

What’s coming in 2021? It is so important to us to have something to look forward to, so we are still booked for our Galapagos trip (June 30–fingers crossed), a week with our kids at the beach in August and almost a month in Europe in December including that Christmas Market river cruise we missed (we are hoping for stops pre-cruise in Lisbon and Amsterdam). And that’s just what we have planned as of today. We are sure that as soon as they open the border we will be off to Chilliwack or Point Roberts. Maybe a long weekend in Vancouver, one of our favorite cities. I am sure even more will come up once we have those two shots in our arms. We actually have travel friends who are getting their first shots this week—lucky bums.

Which brings me to…we hope you are safe, healthy, wearing a mask in public, social distancing, dreaming of travel, awaiting your injection and all the other good things that can happen to you this year. The first date we are particularly looking forward to is January 20…for obvious reasons.

And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been. —Rainer Maria Rilke