Summer vacation arrives after a June packed with visiting friends and family, exams, presentations, parties, then our own end of year bash with a jam band to boot! Nothing better than listening to friends sing their hearts out. Beautiful night with some beautiful folks.  

July 3 – we leave but miss our train by 6 minutes that morning in Paris. Standing at Gare du Lyon – 30 degrees already at 10am, we stand in a stupor wondering what to do. Luckily we wait only 2 hours for the next train to Turin, Italy. We find an air-conditioned cafe upstairs, claim a couch, and sulk on devices. Train arrives. It’s crowded. We’re not sitting together, but at least we’re heading out. 

Turin is even hotter than Paris. We have a 3 hour wait until our night train. Italy! So different than Paris, the buildings stucco, dark ochres and terra cotta colors, tiled roofs, tiled floors. There is not much open as we search for a place to wait and eat. Several attempts, then we find a restaurant on a side street not too far from the train station. Red velvet walls. Mirrors. Dark wood. An older couple greet us as we wheel baggage in. We’re the only ones in the dining room. A waiter in a white tux takes our order. I feel we’ve stepped back in time. We have the most delicious spaghetti pomodoro. Then berries and gelato. We draw out the meal knowing there is only a hot train station otherwise. I have a Sicilian digestive called Amaro, which the waiter suggests. Everything about it is right. The name, the taste: it sums up the heat, the color, the feel of Italy at that moment.

The night train sleeper compartments, we make room for each other, find pj’s, toothbrushes, we try to settle in, Andrew and the youngest are easy, they fall asleep fast. Our eldest is too alert to sleep. We both stay awake, aware of the hiss of the brakes, the steep descent through the Italian Alps, the tunnels, the many stops, then the racket of the train once we are on the plains flying fast. 

Waking up to Naples – a hot dense mix of beeping carhorns, graffiti on walls, buildings in shambles, peeling paint, a general chaos but vivid liveliness.  Andrew has been smart enough to predict our exhaustion, has reserved a hotel room, we shower and have breakfast on the terrace with lizards and bougainvillea climbing the walls. We walk through Naples, I’m in a haze of no sleep, but everyone else is fine, and we sit in many cafes, in an open air market I find tight highly patterned Italian-made bell bottom polyester pants I can’t pass up. Then I notice women wearing them everywhere. We eat lunch looking out at Mt. Vesuvius. 

The 6 hour ferry ride is intensely boring. I suggest our eldest go ‘interview’ passengers and write about why they are going to the remote Aeolian Islands. She does and meets 7 or so very interesting people who are nice enough to think it’s cool to chat to a teenager about their travels. I stand and look out at the sea, not loving a ferry ride, and wondering what the islands will be like. 

Then we approach. Stromboli, the active volcano is the first island and the sight of it is mythical, as it’s shaped in a perfect cone in the sea, with plumes of smoke rising from the top. It’s all very elemental, the sea, the sky, the wind, the lava. Where in the world are we? 

The Aeolian Islands are 7 islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the coast of Sicily, named after Aeolus, the god of the wind. Extremely varied and wildly beautiful, each island has its own characteristics. Many have volcanic activity, whether it’s steaming fumaroles or thermal waters. All of them have great swimming whether in small coves, on black sand or pebble beaches. The water is turquoise and so clear you can see the bottom. We arrive at sunset and find our casa and a restaurant on the water in the little town and watch a red moon rising over the Mediterranean.

Check back next week to hear about figs, capers and insalata mista.