I've been to the Amalfi Coast. I travelled there with my family in 1998, the summer after I graduated high school. This was my first trip to Italy and little did I know that this Breyer family adventure would serve as a stepping stone for future time spent in this most stimulating and beautiful place. Those three weeks spent in Italy were breathtaking. From the sights to the people to the food to the music, language and culture. A cool amalgam of family time and opportunities for my sister and I to explore and drink. I was in the final stages of closing my vegetarian chapter whilst there and gorged on ensalada caprese, plump mozzarella, fresh bread, intensely flavorful olive oils, crackling thin crust pizzas prepared in stone ovens, cacio e pepe pasta, gelato and when south the lemon liqueur Limoncello. Thank my stars I had reverted to my omnivore ways upon my move there in 2001. At this time I fell in love with charred octopus, delicate tripe, real prosciutto, tongue, truffles and rich bolognese sauces made with rabbit. If you are a gourmand, Italy is undoubtedly a mecca for all elements wine and gastronomy. 

We spent a week in heart of Tuscany, Florence. I would later come to affectionately know this place as Firenze. Our residence for the week was a once convent turned boutique hotel on the elegant Via Tornabuoni. Perfectly situated we were just a stone's throw from the remarkable Duomo Cathedral, Giotto's bell tower and the Baptistry doors. My father loves to tell a story of visiting me while I studied abroad. I was unbearably homesick and after three weeks of calling home daily, my mother dispatched my father to visit. He told me to meet him in front of the doors and as the story goes, I was dumb as to location. Together we covered every inch of the city and I was a guru come his departure two days later. The hotel ceilings were hollow and large, our grandly upholstered windows buckled open onto the lively streets beneath and every wall was adorned with religious themed frescos. We didn't leave a stone in Firenze unturned. This city was a wonderfully enriching opportunity for us to see the magnificent art and historical architecture that gave birth to the Renaissance era. We lingered in the Boticelli rooms at the Uffizi, stared at David's anatomy in the Accadamia and walked the periphery of the Palazza Pitti as well as the Palazzo Strozzi. 

Armed with our trusty Fodor's book, we visited every church and cathedral in town including Santa Croce, Santa Trinita, Basillica of Santa Maria Novela, San Marco, Orsanmichele, Santa Maria del Carmine, Santo Spirito as well as the Basilica San Lorenzo constructed in the middle of the market district and home to the Medici Chapel. Little did I know that my apartment would one day overlook this incredible structure. We enjoyed morning coffees in the Piazza della Republica, relaxed on the greens in the Boboli Gardens (perfect for a picnic for the romantic types) and enjoyed egregiously large gelato cones in the Piazza della Signoria. While studying abroad, every afternoon I made the picturesque and buzzy walk to this busy square. This is home to the Palazzo Vecchio, a dramatic statue of Neptune and other figures sculpted by famous artists that I had to identify for my final architectural exam. One afternoon, we took to the Piazzale Michelangelo for views of the city. My favorite spot visited was the Ospedale deli Innocenti or Hospital of the Innocents designed by Brunelleschi, who I had studied in a tenth grade art history class. Once upon a time, people would leave babies on these steps and it ultimately became a children's orphanage.

From the history of Florence, we made our ways to Tuscany. With Siena serving as our base, my parents took us to small, medieval towns where they had honeymooned many years prior. They were elated to reminisce and share San Gimignano, famous for its towers. One day we went to Lucca, known for its Renaissance-era walls that are still in tact. One evening in Siena, my folks encouraged my sister and I to go out just the two of us. So we dressed up in the snakeskin platforms I discovered at a chic store in Firenze (my Chapel Hill friends reading this - the blue suede shoes hailed from the same establishment), buttoned up our new leather jackets that were procured near to the Ponte Vecchio and took to the historic old town. In no time, we found ourselves in the Piazza del Campo, made famous for the twice annual Palio di Siena horse races. Now what follows is quite straightforward. Europeans don't have the same issues with egregious binge drinking like we do over here. Don't get me wrong, folks like to eat, drink and be merry but I think they are more responsible with alcohol than we Americans. You can drink before you can drive, which is thoroughly intelligent. Many go from the teet straight to G&T's. As such, at 18 and 16, we we were allowed to engage in moderation. In no time, two suitors inherent to the area offered to sit with us. Note they did not offer to buy us drinks but only to sit with us, which suited me fine. A rule of thumb I still employ to this day is that I always buy my own drinks. 

Unfortunately for them, we were not your regular female American tourist variety. We were on holiday with our parents and actually had a curfew. No shocker here but their interests in a wild time disappeared quickly. We in turn became warm bodies with whom to share a segment of evening until something better came along. As the one lit my cigarette another excitedly advertised that he had spotted "una papa agitada". No translation necessary there. I held my breath knowing what the glance over my shoulder would reveal. My father had gone out for an evening stroll and what were the chances of bumping into us. Huge given the intimate size of Siena. Of course there was method to his madness as he waved his arms from across the square. The party in the piazza was officially over. We said our goodbyes and the three of us returned to our hotel together. After this wonderfully embarrassing scenario and a bit more exploration, we drove to Venice for a couple of days to see the canals, brightly colored palazzos and feed pigeons in the Piazza San Marco. From the City of Bridges, we made our ways to the south of Italy. This extraordinary place is the Amalfi Coast, a 50 kilometer stretch along the southern edge of Italy's coastline. Home to cliffs, precariously intricate roads, a rugged shoreline, small beaches and brightly colored fishing villages. Our final destination was a magnificent corner of the world: A then sleepy and relatively unknown albeit stunningly picturesque seaside town built into the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean called Positano. 

We had a devil of a time getting our minivan up the hills and around the tight corners but we eventually made it. We stayed in a beautiful white washed bed and breakfast tucked into a particularly picturesque cliff laced with bougainvillea. This spot was special because it was also home to the owners. The place boasted a private beach down the many steps and a turquoise salt water pool. Each morning, breakfast was served outside overlooking the beautiful sapphire water. Every day we ate fresh figs plucked from the garden. The proprietor, a lovely man named Constantino relied on his Italian American nephew to manage communications with our family. We took to him instantly and he became our entertainment tour guide for the duration of our stay. He shared with us his Positano, introduced us to locals and the likes. When we weren't lounging on the rocky beaches, swimming in the cold waters and counting steps up and down to the shore, we were with him. In the evenings, we rode on the backs of mopeds to neighboring villages. It should be noted that my parents were not aware of this particular activity. One town boasted a phenomenal outdoor nightclub. On one evening, I rode with someone who would become my crony for the next pair of days. His English was agonizing but the way in which he said my name was bliss. I only mention him because when I returned in the Spring of 2001, he saw me in a cafe and asked incredulously, Elisabeta, is it you? Yes, it was. My friends couldn't believe what they were witnessing. A small part of me could not either. 

From Positano we reverted back to our trusty tourist selves and took Rome by storm. More exploration, gallivanting and late night gelato in the Piazza Navona. My mother was thrilled to find a shop blaring Joe Cocker. My sister and I bought the most dapper peddle pushers that I abused my freshman year in college. So ahead of the trends we Breyer girls were and are. The days were hot but the evenings cooled significantly, which invited the opportunity to spend every waking minute outside. We visited the Colisseum and Roman Forum, walked through the Pantheon and threw coins in the Trevi Fountain. Note this exercise ensures a quick return. Small world but partner-in-crime was in Italy at the same time as the Breyer's with a group of high school friends. At dinner one evening, we bumped into the group. Come the end of our trip, we didn't want to return home. I was on the cusp of embarking upon my final summer before university. Some weeks after we arrived back in Charlotte, we received a postcard in the mail from our dear companion in Positano. On it said, I looked up at the sky tonight and realized that two stars were missing. My mother swooned at the romance of it. I am sure that very postcard is sitting in a drawer somewhere today. 

Three years later I returned for a semester abroad with my closest posse. One was in Paris and another Sevilla but the small nucleus of us were in Italy. This was a grand semester on a myriad of fronts. The city was filled with students from around the world and our circles grew accordingly. I was painfully homesick the first couple of weeks and slept on the couch of my best friends, who lived an easy floor beneath me. Upon arrival we all set out to buy European sneakers so as not to disclose our nationalities. As if the North Face gore-tex coats in a rainbow of colors weren't advertisement enough. I bought a pair of Pumas that I quickly grew to abhor. They had a myriad of bubbles on the bottom and step in excriment was a true test of my patience as well as the disqualification of not one but two tooth brushes. When my father visited, I replaced the yellow jacket with something a bit more stylish and warmer. When in Italy, we learned enough vulgar Italian to get by, frequented the Irish pubs and internationally attended nightclubs for free entry alongside 5,000 Lira apricot shots. We learned the positive effect that an exhausted "allora" had on any situation. Everyone experienced their own adventures that they shared with the gang. I think everyone in the group owned an identical pair of gold hoop earrings. We regularly visited the San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale for groceries. I recall a girlfriend finding sliced turkey meat and the bedlam caliber enthusiasm that ensued. 

It is here that I first saw the Midas touch of a butcher, witnessed the sale of a pig's head and tasted blood oranges. I used to walk there after class to buy small bags of gloriously sweet dried mango and oranges. Breakfast to class was a small pizza from the baker next door. I found an international store that sold Cheezits for a pretty penny. I am embarrassed to admit that every once in a while I would buy a box, conceal it in my backpack and take to the streets to observe architecture with my trusty snack in hands. Within weeks of arriving, I went to an avant-garde hair dresser for a killer do. As per the photographs below, you can be the judge. When my parent's once visited, I scored a pair of killer green Gucci aviator shades. I thought I was the cat's meow. I remember a tourist once asking where McDonald's was located. What followed was a ten minute diatribe (from me) reprimanding them about being in one of the culinary capitals of the world and to forget burgers. This was during the hay day of mad cow anyway so no one was eating beef. Duh! A dear friend cooked for us many a evenings and another pal took a boyfriend who also had a penchant for preparing we young girls meals. He was in a Pink Floyd cover band - as if he wasn't hero enough.

After a long and surprisingly cold winter, once the weather warmed, every Friday morning we took the 6 am train to Rome. From there we continued south to Sorrento, Capri and ultimately Positano. We lounged on the rocky beaches, enjoyed the fare of the season and went broke on cheap bottles of red wine. They were the most halcyon of times indeed. After graduation, I had the pleasure of returning with one of my best friends from college, who I also studied abroad with. How we twisted our parents arms on this one I cannot remember. Hillary? We met up with a close friend we had made in Florence. Curiously the Pink Floyd cover singer. He took us to a nightclub that was a former prison and it was brilliant. One late afternoon, we had an early dinner in the very square where my father once excitedly waved his arms. Fast forward five years, when I was leaving Germany my father offered to take me somewhere. Anywhere in Europe he said. No surprise here, together the two of us returned to Florence. On this trip, spellbound by the hum, history and beauty of the place, I told my father I could live here. He smiled and reminded me that I once did.

PS. Writing this piece took me to my apartment this past weekend where I found the very Fodor's guide we used on this 1998 epic family holiday. Therein were receipts to pizzerias, museums and the likes. Upon opening a pair of drawers, I had the utmost pleasure of reveling in photographs from my time abroad. Unsure about the haircut but confident in the time overseas. In short, I'm now dying to return to Italy. Whose in?

The below watermelon and tomato salad is refreshing, delicious and a beauty to behold. The juxtaposition of the watermelon's sweetness with the salty feta is glorious. To make this, you need a sharp knife and genteel hands. You will  have leftovers, which you can add to over a pair of meals to make it last. A bit more watermelon, feta and greens. A friend posted this film for concocting watermelon jello shots. Why not prepare the libations and with the sweet meat of the melon, prepare the below? Kitchen recycling at best. #winning

Watermelon Salad


1/2 small watermelon
2 cups of heirloom cherry tomatoes - chopped
1 bunch of basil - gently torn
Feta cheese
Glug of balsamic vinegar - sherry vinegar will work too
Glub of extra virgin olive oil
Fresh cracked pepper


1. Chop your watermelon and tomatoes. Add to a large bowl. Now gently tear the basil and add to the same bowl. Take a hunk of feta cheese and crumble as much as you like. I am a firm believer that the more the better in the cheese department. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and sparingly with balsamic vinegar. Gently toss with your hands. Finish off with some fresh cracked pepper.

I served enslada for supper alongside prosciutto and a crusty baguette. Buon appetito.

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