La Chiesa Santa Maria del Carmine

The church we were seeking was not just any church. Tony’s father, grandparents, and several aunts and uncles had emigrated from Montoro Inferiore decades ago. But when they still lived here, as for many of the other families in the town, the Chiesa Santa Maria del Carmine had been the Del Pozzo’s spiritual beacon. Over the years it has been the recipient of donations made by its departed Del Pozzo daughters and sons who left this area for better opportunities.

Growing up, Tony heard these and other stories about the relationship between his family and this left-behind place of worship. He still possesses an aging postcard his father had kept all these years depicting an enormous statue of Virgin Mary draped in a glittering gown and clutching a doll-like baby Jesus. A large golden crown atop her head, she towers over the main altar of the chiesa like the Queen of Heaven. A plaque just below her feet is engraved with the words: A devozione di Pietro Antonio Del Pozzo e Famiglia — 1957.

Tony’s great uncle, Pietro Antonio Del Pozzo, had donated the ornamented marble altar surrounding the saintly Madonna, as well as her gilded crown. In short, Pietro had been a devotional rock star, revered for his generosity and commemorated for it to this day.

Now, years later, members of this same Del Pozzo family were coming home, not only to see the town of their origins, but to reconnect a circle that had been broken so long ago.

Nichole, Tony, and Chris Del Pozzo
in front of the church of their ancestors

The impeccably painted facade of the church belies its history. No one can pinpoint exactly when the church was erected, but its first written records date from 1511. Repeatedly damaged or destroyed by war or earthquakes over the centuries, it has been repaired and rebuilt numerous times.

Andrea and Tony check out the church's pleasing architecture

The most recent disaster occurred in 1980 when a horrific earthquake hit the town, severely damaging the church, killing 20 townspeople, and destroying several other buildings.

The Terremoto dell’Irpinia (Irpinia Earthquake) did not affect just this town. The tremor, which registered 6.89 on the Richter Scale, struck on a Sunday night as thousands crowded into their local churches for evening mass. Overall, it killed 2,914, injured more than 10,000, and left 300,000 homeless. The towns in the Province of Avellino were the hardest hit. Montoro Inferiore is a part of that province.

Decorative paving stones in front of the church

But like I said, today you would never know the “Del Pozzo Church” had suffered such disasters. The architecture is in pristine shape. The outside is painted a pleasing pale yellow contrasted with gleaming white around the windows and doors. A small campanile (bell tower) reaches toward heaven at the side of the church.  We couldn’t wait to go inside.

Waiting for Don Donato to arrive
and show us around

Montoro Inferiore

As we rolled through the streets of  Montoro Inferiore searching for La Chiesa Santa Maria del Carmine, we admired the relaxed ambiance of the town.

Not all the streets were deserted quite to this extent, but it was quiet.

I love these crusty walls

A quiet, picturesque corner

Posters plastered on a board announce upcoming events. That cherry festival looks like fun!

The residents seemed unhurried, content to go about their business at their own leisurely pace.

Even the dogs were mellow.

A little girl and her mamma watched us from their window

Then came down for a closer look

She greeted us shyly

A couple of more turns, and then we found it. This was the reason we had left our Shangri-la in Praiano and ventured up to this town in the first place. There it was, sitting at the side of the road facing Bar Planet: La Chiesa Santa Maria del Carmine.

The Undulating Road

Undulating along the coast, the high road from Praiano to Salerno rendered us mute with its astounding panoramas. As we rounded a corner not far outside Praiano, Andrea slowed to point out a tiny cove tucked into a niche of the coastline.

From our cliffside perspective, the clutch of colorful little fishing boats seemed more like toys bobbing in the cobalt blue water, waiting for a giant child to return to play.

Several turns later, the little town of Amalfi revealed itself, tumbling down the hill to its bustling waterfront action. We continued along the sinuous Amalfi Coast road, snaking slowly towards Salerno. Craning our necks to catch glimpses of the postage-stamp-sized beaches tickling the turquoise water, we were mostly silent.

Kris, and Gino behind him, do their best to pretend that the curves are not getting to them. Nichole feigns ignorance of their folly.

Just past Vietri Sul Mare, the last town of the Amalfi Coast, Kris asked for a breather. Everyone got out to gulp fresh air and stretch legs. By now, the previous night’s partiers were looking rather green. Andrea assured them the worst was over and it was but five minutes now to reach the straightaway of the autostrada — a direct shot up into Montoro Inferiore.

A few minutes later, we hit the town of Salerno. The tortuous turns were behind us, and we glided smoothly up the hill outside Salerno to our destination, Montoro Inferiore.

Montoro Inferiore is not on the tourists’ map, nor featured in any guidebook.  But it should be.

At the top of a hill, the land flattens out into acres of growing things surrounded by mountains, an agricultural upper deck.

In Italia, there's always a festival just around the corner.

As we pulled into the town proper, we wondered at the rows of streamers stretched across the main street, indicating some impending, or possibly just-happened festival.

We lumbered through the small streets, keeping our eyes peeled for a certain church: the Chiesa di Maria Santissima del Carmine.

Andrea had to stop to ask a local for directions.  We continued searching.

Meet Anna at the Municipio

The alarm went off early. Today we were going to Montoro Inferiore, the town of Tony’s ancestors. But first, we had an appointment at the municipio, the town hall, to present legal documentation for the wedding, now only three days away. We were also going to meet Anna Sorrentino, our wedding planner extraordinaire, in person.

Gino was in bed, dead to the world. You may remember from the previous post that he, Dan, and Kris had a rather extended night of partying. Dan had spent the night curled up on a love seat on the upper terrace. Kris appeared to be awake and getting ready, not too worse for wear…yet. That is the difference between ages 64, 58, and 30.

The official sign for Praiano’s town hall —
as pretty as the town itself

It was time to meet Anna at the municipio. As we walked towards the sign that pointed us up a flight of stone stairs to the entrance, an attractive woman dashed up on her motorino. She hopped off, shook her hair free of the helmet, and flashed us a friendly smile. It was Anna.

We all introduced ourselves, thrilled to finally be meeting in person after months of exchanging emails filled with the endless details required in planning a wedding across the world. She was as delightful in person as she had been over the computer.

The main room of the municipio, where the civil weddings are held

We followed Anna inside the municipio to a large, light-filled room where, in three days, the legal wedding would take place. Chairs covered with white fitted cloth were lined up in rows facing a large wooden table at the front.

On the wall behind the table was a cloth wall-hanging embroidered with the words Comune di Praiano and the town crest. Although all of this was very official-looking, the room did not feel at all austere. On the contrary, it was quite elegant and welcoming.

Anna explains the proceedings to Tony, Nichole, and Kris

One of the civil registrars entered the room and opened a large legal book lying on the table. Kris and Nichole moved to two chairs pulled close to the table.

Nichole and Kris face Anna and the Civil Registrar

One step closer to the big event

Anna brought forth the necessary paperwork, and the bride and groom-to-be signed the official book. Next, Tony and I, as witnesses, were called up to sign. Then we were done.

Kris, Anna, and Nichole. (Is it my imagination, or is Kris starting to look a little green?)

After gathering the stragglers from the villa, we hustled down to Hotel Margherita, where we had arranged to have Andrea meet us again with the van. We greeted him like a long-lost friend.

Allie, Sharon, and Nichole, ready to take off

 

Nichole with her morning cappuccino at Hotel Margherita

Andrea and I discuss logistics for the day

Tony explains to Andrea where we need to go

But Dan’s not looking too hot,
even with that cappuccino in hand…

We piled into the van, anxious to get going. Kris moved to the front seat. By now, he was looking pretty pale. Gino was conspicuously silent in the very back seat. Dan sat quietly looking out the window.

I really have to applaud those three. Despite debilitating hangovers, they would rather silently suffer than miss out on an adventure. They were troupers all the way.

Dinner on the Rooftop

It had been a long day.  No one wanted to cook. Why didn’t we try Hotel Margherita?  It was close, classy, and we had heard it had a great restaurant.

The concierge directed us up to the open-air rooftop terrace, decked out with a bar, comfortable lounge seating, and dining tables.

Who needs TV?

Would somebody please bring me a drink?

Nichole looks on while the waiter puts finishing touches to our table

The town twinkled as night descended. Lights from distant points along the coast glittered in the clear night air: Positano to the right, and Amalfi, Vietri Sul Mare, and Salerno to the left.

Flickering candles cast a soft light as we contemplated the impressive menu. We giggled at the piped-in music, Italian songs sung in chipmunk voices.

The food was delicious, and we plowed through several courses and carafes of wine.  We laughed throughout dinner, feeling liberated from the cares of the world. Complimentary glasses of limoncello finished off the perfect meal.

Each plate was a work of art

The boisterous group with not a care in the world

Kris and Nichole -- can two people look any happier?

Back at the villa, the party continued. Never mind that it was dark, the weather was still gloriously warm. The guys donned suits and jumped into the pool.

Game Over!

We all screamed with laughter when Kris modeled a shirt he had secretly purchased in Sorrento.

 

In the meantime, the party in the pool was heating up.  This renegade group was cranking up for some serious liquid celebration. The hour was already quite late, but the revelers had their drinkable provisions lined up on the ledge, reflecting the glow of the terrace lights.

You might think this party pack was composed of the younger ones of the group. You are wrong. It consisted of  just three: Gino (58), Dan (64), and Kris (the 30-year old groom).

As the night wore on, the rest of us were tucked in bed with covers over our heads. Intermittent roars of laughter ebbed and flowed from the upper terrace, filtering down through the open windows.

Around four in the morning, I suddenly woke up — from the silence more than anything else.  The steady drone of voices was gone. Worried that the three of them may have passed out in the pool, I bolted out of bed and opened the bedroom door. I needn’t have worried. A cacophony of slurry male voices blasted from kitchen.

No hiding the evidence

In the morning, a mountain of empty bottles and smashed bits of food covering the table gave evidence of the nocturnal festivities. Aside from that, the house was no worse for wear.

As much could not be said for those three.

Sauntering Through Sorrento

Pompeii is not far from Napoli, nor is it far from Sorrento going the other direction, so we did not have a long ride before we pulled into Piazza Tasso, the main square of this adorable little city.

Piazza Tasso

Sorrento is an anomaly. It is busy: buses and taxis, cars and mopeds, pedestrians, restaurants, alleys lined with little shops, wares spilling onto the streets and hanging from doorways.

Yet, the energy of Sorrento is not at all frenetic. In fact, it exudes a safe, friendly, and relaxing vibe, one that makes you pause and catch your breath, slow your pace, and smile. Everyone felt this immediately.

Candace gets into the spirit of kicked-back Sorrento

Pretty balconies, waiting for someone to join them

We left Andrea, promising to meet him at a certain spot down the way, “but this time on Italian time,” he said. Before we broke off into smaller groups, we huddled at the corner and agreed to meet there at five o’clock. Then we took off.

Allie, Nichole, and I started as a group, intent on doing some shopping. But Allie’s eyes were twirling around, having already spotted several shiny objects, and we left her early on, deep in the depths of some sparkly little shop.

Nichole and I forged ahead by ourselves, ducking in and out of stores. We sniffed wonderful dried Italian oregano, fingered colorful tablecloths with bright lemon, flower, and grape designs, and admired intricately painted ceramic bowls and other items gleaming from hooks on walls.

A gelato shop appeared. Nichole and I sat at one of the little tables set up across the alley for patrons to rest their shopping-weary feet, and enjoyed our tasty treats.

My kind of town!

Back on the street, we ran into Gino and Kris, who had been exploring more Limoncello factories where they, of course, had to do some sampling. They had also happened upon an Irish pub and enjoyed a beer while watching part of a soccer game.

We switched shopping partners, Kris and Nichole heading off together leaving Gino and I to explore on our own.
Kris and Nichole take to the streets.

Beneath this 16th century frescoed dome, retired men play cards all day long, year after year. The rule: no women and no phones.

The Sorrento Men’s Club was in full swing, as it always is. Seated at tables gathered under an open-air 16th century dome, small groups of men pass the time playing cards and enjoying each other’s company, no women allowed. But we can observe from the street.

Passing a church, I lifted my camera to catch a just-married couple emerging, surrounded by smiling celebrants.  Weddings abound on the Amalfi Coast.

Gino and I spent the rest of our time admiring the artistry of the little wooden boxes ubiquitous in Sorrento. This town is known for its excellent marquetry and various shops display an array of marquetry artwork: jewelry boxes, music boxes, wall plaques. One of the craftsmen we found was the same one from whom we had purchased a music box back in 2000.

It was time to meet the rest of the group at the appointed corner of Piazza Tasso. Everyone showed up on time, and together we walked the block to where Andrea said he would bring the van. Since there was no need for German time here, we patiently waited for Andrea’s Italian time to catch up with us.

While we waited, we gazed down into a spectacular greenery-filled gorge, speculating about the peculiar crumbling stone structure sitting in the middle of it.

This gorge was called the Valley of the Mills, and the crumbling building was the remains of a thousand-year-old mill. At one time there had been a wheat grinding mill here as well as a saw mill that provided cherry, walnut, and olive wood to local artisans.

The guys.

The girls.

Andrea arrived, and soon we were rumbling down the coastal road back to Praiano where, in front of Hotel Margherita, he dropped us off.

Waving a fond goodbye to our new friend, we straggled up to the villa.

Sprinting Through Pompeii

Andrea was smoking and chatting with his buddies in the parking area when we returned from the Prefettura. He was relieved to hear everything had gone well with the translation. We reboarded the van and were off again. Next stop: Pompeii.

It was almost noon. From Napoli, it didn’t take long to arrive at the entrance to Pompeii, and we spilled off the bus in anticipation. We promised to meet Andrea back at this exact spot at precisely 2:00. This time, he stressed, GERMAN time!”

Since this spot was strictly a drop-off/pick-up area, he could not wait for us even five minutes. If we were late, he would have to drive around in a circle until we appeared.

We promised not to be a minute late, even though two hours would not begin to be enough time to see Pompeii, not even a cursory look. In 2002, Gino and I had spent several hours here, two of them with a guide.

But at least everyone could get a taste of this amazing place and hopefully someday return for a deeper experience.

The ticket line was not long, and we hurried up the sloping pathway that leads to the main site, our English-language maps in hand. Out of necessity, the cafeteria was the first stop. We were starving.

The forum with Vesuvius, the infamous volcano, in the background

Then we set out to cover as much ground as possible. Without a guide, it was difficult to fully appreciate the sights, although we did the best we could by referring to the visitor’s guide and map.

Tony and Kris clown around

Casa della Fontana Piccola —
the House of the Small Fountain

The famous statue of the Dancing Faun

Chris makes friends with one of Pompeii's many stray dogs

Our new dog friend joins us on our explorations

An intricate mosaic floor, once inside a no-longer-standing house

After seeing the forum and surrounding temples and houses, we headed towards the Villa dei Misteri. This complex sits at a far end of the digs and is less visited than the more well-known sites. However, to miss this amazing house is a mistake.

It contains rooms filled with huge, extremely well-preserved frescoes depicting vivid scenes of “the mysteries,” sacred and ritualistic ceremonies that prepared young girls for adult life.

Wall frescoes in the Villa dei Misteri

After the Villa dei Misteri, we were really going to have to hustle if we were to make it back by 2:00. As we walked back through the forum, we came upon several plaster casts of people who died during the fateful Vesuvius eruption in 79 C.E. We were captivated by their positions and expressions. But we were out of time.

With minutes to spare, I elected myself to dash back to the meeting place to ask Andrea if we could have another hour. I sprinted.

To save time, I catapulted down the path leading back to the entrance, against the flow of tourists streaming in. Besides, I knew I had to sweet talk my way out through the entrance, eliciting a promise to be allowed back in. In my sweetest voice and best Italian, I explained my situation to the ticket-taker, and he waved me through.

I spotted Andrea just as he pulled up. He agreed to another hour and the van lumbered away. Back at the entrance, I thanked the ticket-taker for letting me slip back through the turnstile, and raced to the place where I had left everyone.

Where is everybody?

In dismay, I realized not one of the group was to be seen. I walked all around the forum, back and forth, up and down, and around again, searching. I found no one familiar. I was just about to give up and leave when Allie appeared.

“The others went out,” she said. “They were tired.” So she and I took off alone, intent on making the most of our remaining time. Using the street markers and the map, we packed in as much as we could.

Modern day street markers helped us find our way

We found an ancient pizza oven

And a bar -- those ancient Romans knew how to party

These huge stepping stones served as a means to cross
water-logged streets during a storm

There was too much ground to cover in the amount of time we had

Allie was fascinated, as I have always been by Pompeii. Realizing she could never adequately see it in this abbreviated visit, she promised herself that she would return someday and give Pompeii the time it deserved.

Time to race back to the van

The hour was up and we exited, practically running down the final ramp. We found our group well into alcoholic refreshments across the street.

Kris and Nichole revive themselves with bottles of Peroni

Chris and Candace do the same

Andrea pulled up a few minutes later, right on German time, and we hobbled on.