Just Beachy: A Day at Marina di Praia
20.09.2009 - 20.09.2009
Despite the rains of the previous night, we woke to a glorious, sunny day. We flung open the doors and listened to the sound of the waves pounding on the rocks and peeked off the balcony at the flurry of morning activity: wooden boats were being pulled toward the sea, brightly colored umbrellas began to open next to the rows of expectant beach chairs lined up at the water’s edge, old fishermen sat in chairs stringing nets, restaurants began to open their doors and the smells of fresh coffee and cake drifted out into the open air.
Before breakfast, we decided to take a walk along the cliff path that wrapped around the shore. We watched all the comings and goings of the small group that seemed to inhabit this tiny slice of paradise. We stopped at Trattoria La Conchilia’s “bar” and I grabbed a delicious cappuccino that I sipped while we sat and watched the stray cats as they stretched themselves on the colorful wooden boats and hid beneath fishing nets to jump out at unsuspecting pigeons.
My cappuccino fix in, we strolled slowly back to the villa to make breakfast. I was eager to make something in that beautiful kitchen!
I whipped up Vicki’s Italian Style Breakfast and might have gotten a little overzealous, it being my first experience in an Italian kitchen and all. We had fresh juice; toasted bread; a platter of grapes, pears, and peaches; cherry tomatoes with fresh garlic and basil drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar; salami; and cheese. Too much?
Overzealous or not, we ate it all and then headed the short distance to the seafront. The beach at Marina di Praia is striking. The Marina itself sits in a ravine, so you are surrounded on 3 sides by towering cliffs. The beach is not sandy, but is instead covered with smooth gray pebbles, rounded by the friction of the waves. The water is electric blue.
We rented two chairs for $5 each and settled down for a day of relaxation.
We watched as fishermen came in and out with their tiny boats. Children stood on the shoreline, tossing rocks into the waves and laughing in that wonderful, carefree way that only children can.
Men sat on chairs, stringing nets and repairing fishing equipment, surrounded by whitewashed buildings and bright blue boats.
Restaurateurs swept their outdoor terraces with rustic straw brooms and sailboats sat lazily on the pebbly beach, waiting for someone to rouse them from sleep. I was enchanted by everything around me.
We sunned. We swam. We drank in the beauty of the place until we were intoxicated by it.
Lunchtime rolled around and we were paralyzed with indecision. So many choices. Do we go to Alfonso a Mare again for pizza? What about Trattoria da Armandino, right at the water’s edge? Or Bar Mare with it’s quaint little seaside tables? We decided on Il Pirata, which was just around the cliff…as short walk on the cliff path…It was elevated and the dining area sat suspended over the sea. It was too beautiful to pass up.
Lunch today would be a lesson in semantics, once again.
Lunch started off wonderfully. We were seated at a romantic table, right on the cliff’s edge, the surf pounding the rocks below and the salty breeze blowing through our hair. We ordered a bottle of house rose and it arrived tableside in minutes, chilled and sweet. I looked out at the sea, tiny boats bobbing on the gentle waves, sparkles of sunshine flickering across my view. For starters, we ordered Pattatine Fritte, which we had noticed was an appetizer at nearly every restaurant. It sounds fancy, but they are just French Fries. I love French Fries. This was good so far: beautiful setting, delicious wine, the man I loved, and French Fries. Matt ordered a pasta course, linguine with clams, but I declined since I had an entire plate of fries to wolf down.
The problems came in when it was time to order the main course. We had eaten a lot of pasta and were looking for something else. One item on the menu said, “Fried Fish Plate.” Fish. I like fish okay. Fried fish is even better. That sounded good. Sadly, Matt followed suit and got the same thing. It may have been the beautiful day that made us forget that “fish” doesn’t always mean “fish” on the Amalfi coast…or maybe it was the half bottle of wine we had consumed….maybe it was the sunshine…whatever it was, it was a careless mistake.
When our food arrived, we looked at each other over what appeared to be two plates of fried bait.
“Seriously?” I said.
“It said FISH,” Matt whispered. “I thought FISH meant FISH.”
I looked at my plate hopelessly. It had a whole fried squid. Yes, whole. Lots of little squiggly tentacles and suckers. It had some of those scary-ass “prawns” with the crazy pinchers that we never did figure out fried in the shell. As for the fish, well, yes, it did have fish, but not one of them was over 3 inches long.
“We use this stuff to catch fish, we don’t eat it,” I whispered back.
Matt was pretty full after his plate of pasta, so he was content to eat the few fish that didn’t look like they came out of the pet section in Wal-Mart and called it quits.
When I was growing up, you ate what you got. It didn’t matter if you didn’t like it. It didn’t matter if it didn’t taste good. It didn’t matter if you didn’t want it. You ate it. So…I ate it. Tentacles, bait fish, suckers and all. Matt sat back and watched with a mixture of horror and amusement as I chewed, and chewed, and chewed on those tentacles.
Tasted just like chicken.
I had a little too much wine at lunch and Matt had a little too much sun, so we walked back to Villa Michelina for an afternoon of rest on it’s sweetly blooming patios. As we walked back, I thought about how perfect Marina di Praia was. It was so tiny, quiet, and quaint. The only sounds were the muffled laughter of a few beach goers, the occasional sound of a wooden oar hitting a rowboat as it headed in or out, and the magical sound of the waves.
Late that afternoon, we cleaned up and headed into Positano. Positano is the “pearl” of the Amalfi Coast, a bit more glamorous than her fishing cousins. It sits in a valley, stacks of buildings in beautiful hues hugging the mountainside in a delicate curve. It is here that you can find the best shopping, the most elegant restaurants, and the most opulent hotels. “Positano bites deep", John Steinbeck wrote in the early 1950’s, "It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone."
While Positano was a feast for the eyes, strikingly beautiful and alluringly romantic, it was also very crowded. Parking was a bear, and because of our little “ticket incident,” we opted to park in a pay lot. To me, $10 parking was better than a $60 ticket.
We grabbed some gelato at La Zagara, drawn in by their front window filled with pastries and cakes. We wandered through the narrow streets, gelato dripping onto our hands as quickly as we could eat it, shopping for small treasures to take home, and simply enjoying the buzz of it all.
We walked down to the beach area and stood in the course gray sand where we could look up at the color and vibrancy of Positano rising in row after row of pink and golden villas above us.
The sun was setting and we chose to return to Praiano for dinner rather than fight the hordes of people in Positano. Besides, it looked like a fierce storm was rolling in and we didn't want to be trapped.
We stopped in the main part of Praiano, just before getting to Marina la Praia, and found a parking space. This time we knew to pay the little box! We went up to La Brace, a local pizzeria where the pizzas are baked in a wood fired oven.
It was wonderfully warm and inviting. Pizzas were being tossed in the air as the fire in the oven glowed brightly, the smell of fresh garlic and herbs infused in the very fabric of the place. I loved watching them toss the dough, round and round, and then place it carefully on a wooden board, cover it with fresh toppings, and shove it into the fire to bake.
We ordered an appetizer of smoked meat, rocket (arugula), and parmesan. Delicious.
That was followed by a pizza with bacon, tomatoes, and parmesan. The bacon was thick and salty, with just the perfect amount of crispiness.
After dinner, we walked next door to Le Fioriere bar. A beautiful bar, dimly lit and romantic, we had great mojitos that were served with a bowl of amazing, fresh olives and a bowl of “crisps” (potato chips!).
The day came to a sleepy close and we drove back down into Marina la Praia where I fell asleep in a cozy bedroom with the scent of pink lilies floating in the air and the sounds of the storm raging outside my window.