May 16, 2014

A peculiar destination

Mom, Jewel, and I set out on a new adventure after our luxury trip to Santa Margherita Ligure for something a little different. In case you were wondering, yes, we spent a lot of time on trains that last weekend. On the bright side, train travel in Europe is the bomb-diggity. 

Train stations also have the best vending machines, one of which gave Jewel her first ever Kinder egg (and her last one for awhile, since the USA has banned this kind of fun; let me just say, the Germans I met in Munich, a story I will get to eventually, were outraged by this deprivation of childhood splendor.) 

Castiglioncello is one of the most perplexing places I have been in Italy. Only after Mom mentioned that she'd booked us a hotel on the Etruscan coast did I bother with a Google search, not that it gave me much. More or less, Castiglioncello is the unknown Italian beach town, for actual Italians (ie. the Italians escaping the heat of summer when the tourists roll in). 

While the Etruscan coast is arguably more authentic than a city like Florence, overrun with tourists, walking down the rail line Jewel and I had to agree we did not feel like we were in Italy. There was a definite vibe of Mexico. Or maybe that was just the "Ristoratore" sign. Look at that food stop and tell me it's not in Mexico. 

We checked into Hotel Atlantico, and were even more pleased with our accommodations than we imagined. The breezy patio opened up the room and there was something about the place that just had the three of us lounging on the bed, smiling and musing on how much we anticipated we were going to like it in Castiglioncello. 

Seeing this little guy buzz about the flowers didn't hurt my mood either, as I haven't seen a lot of bumble bees in Italy. It always leaves me concerned for their habitation in the country, so I was glad to see that the bee fellows had taken refuge on the coast (I'm an oddball, I know). 

You may have noticed a common pattern with our travels: check-in to hotel, then explore! Investigating this little town led us to a pretty spectacular view. 

We made the descent down the coastal ledge to the beach (one of few in Italy that is actual sand, not pebbles). My little toesies had been too long confided.

California girl freedom, sand in my toes, and salty air in my hair. 

It was not the sunniest day, but even beneath the cloudy sky the Mediterranean was its signature teal blue. I've said it before, but I'll say it again, the potential colors of water are astonishing.

Seeing an Italian flag was one of the first signs to remind us we were actually still in Italy. 

The questionable construction techniques reinforced that reminder. 

We sat down post-beach for some cappuccini (ok well that is a lie, Mama got a cappuccino, while Jewel and I consumed gross amounts of gelato, again). Adding to the oddities and potential of Castiglioncello was that Mom was able to order a pistachio cappuccino. I was unaware flavored coffee was ever a possibility in Italy, but apparently you just have to go to the right place. 

Now onto the tale of Ghostbusters Pizzeria. Where I even begin to tell the story of where we got dinner (both nights), I don't even know. I guess I should start by saying, the food was really good and the staff was really nice. It was the name and decor of the restaurant that perplexed us. 

The first night we were there we just accepted that the owner must've really liked the film and wanted to paint ghosts on his wall. Fair enough. Our second night, however, Jewel noticed what we had not. The ghosts painted on the wall of the pizzeria were not from Ghostbusters. Rather, Casper the friendly ghost's uncles made an appearance throughout the ristorante. At this point we became flabbergasted. Had they not watched the movie? Then why name the restaurant after it? Did they know they had the wrong ghosts? 

After a (tasty) dinner of debate about what the heck this restaurant was up to, I resigned myself to questioning the owner as we were on our way out the door. Now, remember Castiglioncello is authentic Italy, meaning, there was only Italian-speaking. However, at this moment I honed my skills, determined to know the story behind Ghostbusters. Let's just say I was only more exasperated by the time the conversation was over: 

Me: Tell me the story behind the name "Ghostbusters Pizza". 
Owner: It's an American movie. 
Me: Oh ya! I know that, but why did you name your restaurant after it? 
Peppy waitress chiming in: Because he is (gestures to one of Casper's uncles), they are (gesturing to the two waiters, and then to the other two uncles), and I'm casper!
Me: ....
Owner: Ghostbusters is the theme of my restaurant! (Gesturing to paintings). 
Me: .... va bene. Nice story, good food, ok byeee!

What. the. crap. I just wanted there to be a rationale to the why Ghostbusters featured in their business. Mostly because I love me some GB (WHO YA GONNA CALL?!); I was just completely bewildered by the situation for the duration of our trip. Why Ghostbusters? Have you seen the movie? Do you have a connection to the movie? Tell me Italian man!  

Before this dumbfounding incident occurred, we had spent a joyous (though still bizarre) day in the rest of Castiglioncello, which would prove to be of my favorite places in Italy. 

There was not exactly a lot to see, but there was plenty of walking to be done. 

Did I mention the oddness of the town? Weird dungeon/cell on the street anyone? 

Despite potentially putting children in a small cage, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang style, the mini città has a coast that more than makes up for it. 

The ominous clouds and rolling thunder were a sight to be seen, especially with the electricity sparking in the air, creating a parlous atmosphere.

As Mama always says: the best pictures are those by the sea. 

Let's just take a full minute to appreciate how sick this picture with the lightning in the background is. Perfect. Timing. 

The storm obviously scared us little girlies, though. 

The terror of lighting was evidently not that pressing though, as we continued to stroll the coast way as the eye of the storm developed.

By this point you're realizing I took about a million pictures of the storm forming, but that is only because it was insanely awesome.

I don't know if I've drove in the point that Castiglioncello is just kind of weird well enough, so to further demonstrate the misfit nature (land of toys) here's the most interesting carousel on the planet:  

Please sing: "Lamborghini tractor" to the tune of "Mercy".  

The designer must have wanted to be sure all the underrated Disney characters didn't get left out. And who doesn't love baby Hercules and Pegasus? 

Then there was the very glamourous Pikachu ride for the kiddies. Do you now get how eccentric this play was? 

The carousel was one of many features of the large park (which radiated the ora of summer camp, pine trees & craft shack included). I have to imagine that during the summer months when the town comes alive that all these fun little recreations are poppin', but when we saw them they were eerily desolate. 

Mini pony rides sans the ponies is pretty sad. 

We ventured up towards the town's castle next, which we were disappointed to find closed for an event. However, later Jewel looked up for us that, as we expected, the castle was actually a fraud and never housed royal residents. We got over missing out on it after that. 

The clouds kept getting darker and darker, but our naive hearts were convinced it wasn't actually going to rain (or at least not hard). Hence, why we were all out hoodless, as well as, umbrella-less. 

Then it poured. We tried to hide in the foyer of the castle for awhile, but it just wasn't worth it. We trudged out into the rain, and were promptly soaked. Attempting to make the most of it, we walked around some more and tried to explore the castle grounds, it wasn't like we could get any wetter. I should have really taken more pictures of us laughing like hooligans and looking like drowned rats at this point in the day, but trying to protect the camera and all, I failed. It'll just have to be a hilarious, undocumented, memory. 

We ran to the tabacchi, bought some umbrellas and ran back to the hotel to dry our clothes (with a blow dryer, because we're classy like that). After we made ourselves at least semi-presentable, post outdoor shower, it was time for lunch. We had spotted just the place the day before, right on the water. 

The menu gives a pretty good description of Bagni Quercetano: "Located in a pleasing combination of shades of green and typical Mediterranean woods. The 'Baia del Quercetano' is placed in the heart of the most suggestive seaside scenery: a panoramic view of the clearest sea with a comfortable beach and black rocks. The beach provides deck-chairs, and umbrellas; its little "Bar/Restaurant supplies the customers needs. In our seaside restaurant you can find kindness, enjoyment and experience handed down from 1964."

The place is family run, no menu, just whatever is on hand for the day. Neither the cook (Grandma), waitress (daughter), or the toddler running a muck (grand-baby) speak any english. It was really a treat for me to actually get to use my Italian in this town. I like to believe if I was studying abroad somewhere tiny where I was constantly forced to speak Italian I would be far more proficient. In any case, I knew enough to give my compliments to the chef, because her food was delizioso

We got to experience the storm further, this time, while staying dry. 

By the time Mom had eaten every last clam out of her spaghetti con vongole, Jewel had nearly licked the ragu off her plate, and I had made sure not to lose a crumb of my salty-olive-oily sandwich, the rain had finally ceased. 

We spotted a surfer patrolling for waves at the top of the hill, then readily saw him give a ring to his fratello (brothers, in this context, "bros") and there was soon a swarm of neoprene clad surfer boys heading out into the sea. It was just like home. 

Curious kids we are, we went back down the road to get a look at how the Italians do il surf

The surfisti weren't actually too bad for a bunch of kids not hailing from the west coast (though technically, we were on the west coast...of Italy). It was entertaining to see something so relatably Californian to me, all the way in Italy. 

While we were watching the boys, one of those bees I was so tickled to see earlier landed in Mama's hair. She was not exactly amused I decided to take a picture of it before helping her extract it from her locks.  

We did a bit of shopping (finally got me a scarf; very european) and then went back to better explore the castle grounds we had stumbled through earlier during the downpour. 

Like anything in Castiglioncello, it was scattered with randomness. There was an amphitheater, where Jewel broke Mom and I's hearts by refusing to sing.  

She did, however, do some diverting posing to make up for it. 

There was also a small atrium on the castle acreage. Within, we saw the exotic Jewel bird. Native to the Northern region of California, it was surprising to see such a rare creature. Luckily, it was mid day and she was up & active. 

Leaving the bird in her cage, Mom and I found a lovely potted boat. 

Somehow our feathered friend escaped and continued to follow us around for the rest of the day. 

The strange fowl must have been dying to be released from her cage, because she was delighted to be able to do a little sun basking.

After all of our morning escapades Mom wanted to rest a bit; who could blame her for wanting to hang out at our wonderful hotel. "Not I", said the little duck. I was very much on board with Mom's rest-idea, but Jewel had other plans. After I took about a seven minute nappy, I was dragged from the room and out to do some more wandering whilst Mom got to enjoy the peace of being free of her two loud, rambunctious daughters. 

I was a little upset about missing nap time, but then we saw a rainbow, and how can you be mad under a rainbow? 

With the receding clouds the sea lit up with sole sera

Jewel and I returned to our accommodations at Hotel Atlantico, where Mom awaited, we all popped a bottle of Prosecco and enjoyed it on the terrace as the sun set. Then it was off to dinner (the saga of Ghostbusters) and back to the hotel. 

I forgot to mention the best part of the hotel: the pool. The photos don't do it justice, because there was jets, a hot rain shower, and a waterfall that I failed to capture. We swam in the evening for multiple hours both days, when we had the whole place to ourselves and could act like total nut cases.

Sunday morning we made our way back to the now familiar train tracks. 

Castiglioncello was both the most baffling place I have visited, and one of the best. If I had visited with anyone else, I doubt I would have enjoyed it as thoroughly. Mom, Jewel, and I (and the rest of the fam-bam, when they're around) are all a bunch of weirdos, though, and we like quirky things. If Castiglioncello is anything, it's quirky. And I loved it. 

Yours, Kenna

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