Friday, March 30, 2012
5:45am comes early for Janel and me. We manage to pry ourselves out of our sardine can (a twin bed shared by the 2 of us – it is a good thing we really like each other!) The early morning streets of Madrid have been wiped clear of the chaos of yesterday’s huelga and are once again clean and pretty. We drag our bags (mine is way too heavy) about 20 minutes to the Atocha station to catch the airport express bus.
The line for Vueling Airlines is not long and check in is easy. We quickly find the VIP lounge and after waiting for some “riff raff” (with children, no less) we enter and stake our claim to a comfy spot where we make do with a light breakfast of coffee and goodies. It ain’t the Ritz, but sitting here is nicer than waiting out in the terminal.
Our one hour flight to Barcelona affords each of us just the right amount of time to catch some needed z’s. We have a 5 hour wait in Barcelona and are not looking forward to it. We are cranky, tired and our necks/shoulders hurt from carrying our bags. Poor us. Oh, but wait! What is that sign that we notice? A “Spairport?” Really? A spa in the Barcelona airport? We must find it. And we do.
This is not some dinky little “chair massage” place, but a full on spa with hairdresser, body treatments, facials, the works. There is only the slightest hesitation before we have booked 2 hour-long massages. Fortunately, the VIP lounge is right next door (coincidence?) and Janel settles in while I have my massage. It is pure indulgence and well worth it. There is also a fantastic shower for afterwards. This is the way to travel. We switch places and Janel comes out looking refreshed and renewed. We talk a bit about how Janet must be in the Naples airport right now and we can only hope she is being treated as nice as we are (but we doubt it. . .)
It is getting close to time for our flight and we would like to have just a bite to eat. Janel mentions something about craving “leafy greens” and that strikes a chord with me as well. We venture out into the public part of the terminal in search of lunch. We settle on Pans and Co, a fast food place that looks like they have decent salads. NOT! Ok – this was without a doubt the worst meal of our trip – a wilty, iceberg-y farce of a salad topped with what appears to be raw-ish bacon. Yick. We are hungry so we make an attempt, but wish for certain that we had simply starved. Even the “presentation” is totally uninviting:
Oh well, what do we care? We are on our way to Italy and to hopefully meet up with Janet. After a thankfully eneventful couple hours in the air we finally arrive at the Naples airport. We eagerly gather our bags, sail through customs and keep trying to peek out into the terminal to see if Janet is waiting.
She is . . .
The Short-Haired Ladies are together once again and are ready for adventure! Janet has already been met by our handsome Italian driver – Giovanni (John) – and we are whisked away in his sleek black Mercedes for the 1 1/2 hour ride along the Amalfi Coast to our home in Praiano.
Once we actually get out of Naples and hit the Amalfi Coast Road, the scenery becomes breathtaking. The hairpin turns with the sea on one side and cars close by on the other are wild. Giovanni stops a couple of times for pictures as he explains things that we are seeing as we pass.
Keep in mind when looking at the previous photo that Janet has been traveling for over 36 hours. I don’t know how she can look so good!
Praiano finally emerges around one of the bends. It is a lovely, small town just past Positano. We pass a few shops, hotels and restaurants as we drive through town. Once we reach the other end we see a sign for “Marina del Praia” and I realize that we have reached our villa – Villa Benedetta – where we will spend the next week. Maria (the villa’s caretaker) and a luggage porter are there waiting for us at the bottom of the steps of the villa. Yes STEPS. There are about 60 steps straight up to get from the road to the villa. For a villa in Praiano, that is not very many. We are so thankful that we asked for a luggage porter (there was a moment when we thought we were being silly; that is until the guy loaded himself up and trotted up the steps while we huffed and puffed empty-handed behind him).
When we reach the top we begin to realize how absolutely gorgeous Villa Benedetta is.
The inside is serenely done up in beautifully tiled floors with blue and white furnishings. There are 4 bedrooms each having fantastic views. We don’t even need to fight over who gets which one.
We even discovered a “hidden” upper terrace complete with a pizza oven.
Benedetta is perched directly on the side of a cliff with no other houses around it. It juts out directly over the sea and the views from every room, every terrace, every vantage point are incredible. We cannot believe where we are.
We are stunned at the views and looks out over all the angles. We are giddy to discover that the villa is perched directly above the tiny Marina de Praia – a beach-y spot complete with several small restaurants and array of fishing boats. This will soon become “our” spot.
We receive some brief instructions from Maria and she quickly makes a phone call to a local restaurant (M’ama – meaning “love”) to ask them to pick us up at 9:00 for dinner. She says that most restaurants and also the two grocers will pick you up and bring you back (this is because Villa Benedetta is about a 20 minute walk into town and also because of the amount of steps with which Praiano is inundated).
Since we arrived later than originally planned, we prepare directly to go into town for dinner and we are all starving! We trek down the steps and wait by the gate in the dark hoping that the restaurant really will know where we are and that we will recognize the car if it actually arrives. No problem. Within 5 minutes a car stops right at our gate and we pile in. The driver is a cute Italian young man and he proceeds to chat with us in pretty good English. He manages to turn the car around right at a curve in the road and off we zoom.
M’ama restaurant is part of the Hotel Margharita and when we arrive there are only 3 tables of patrons. We are in Praiano just before the tourist season actually starts (Easter) and we like it that way. Our server is so friendly and welcoming and we allow him to help us through the menu. As we are wont to do, we choose several dishes from Antipasta, Primi and Segundo and plan to “dividieri” (share).
The decision to start with Prosecco is obvious. While Janel and my “cava meters” are full, none of us has a drop in our Prosecco meter. (Prosecco is the Italian form of Champagne – Cava is from Spain). Janet suggests we each get a glass and we will have red wine with dinner. It doesn’t take much arm twisting to get her to agree to order a BOTTLE of Prosecco AND a bottle of red. . . Are we in heaven, or where are we???
Dinner is spectacular. We start with a beautiful plate of fried pumpkin blossoms and eggplant and follow it with the Praiano specialty of squid and potatoes. We know we will be in for some marvelous seafood this week.
This is followed by a mixed seafood risotto that is the best risotto I have ever eaten.
We sit, we eat, we drink, we chat and we basicaclly start to catch up on what each of us has been up to since the last adventure. When dolci (dessert) is offered there is no question that we will have the lemon mousse (the Amalfi Coast is famous for their lemons) and it is outstanding when accompanied by three espressos (decaf!)
Soon our server appears with three beautiful, chilled ceramic cups and proceeds to pour us each a shot of limoncello. Limoncello is a lemon liqueur that this area is quite known for. Janet and I have both said that we don’t like it, but will probably learn to love it. No problem. The limoncello here is so good that we become converts right away. Aids digestion, you know. . .
We end up closing down the place and then get a ride back to the villa where we fall into our beds. We only hope the relentless sound of the waves doesn’t bother us too much…
If every evening turns out to be only half as good as this one, then we are in for a fantastic ride!