VATICAN INSIDER TRAVELS TO CASTELGANDOLFO – A TASTE OF HEAVEN

To read this week’s L’Osservatore Roman in English: https://www.osservatoreromano.va/en/pdfreader.html/ing/2020/08/ING_2020_033_1408.pdf.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=NewsletterOR-EN

VATICAN INSIDER TRAVELS TO CASTELGANDOLFO

For your special enjoyment this weekend, we will visit the Apostolic Palace at Castelgandolfo where Popes John Paul and Benedict vacationed for years but which now is fairly deserted as Pope Francis prefers staying at the Santa Marta residence in the Vatican, Much of the apostolic palace is now (sadly, as far as I am concerned!) a museum!   Castelgandolfo is a lovely town in a beautiful part of Italy, and I have had the incredible good fortune to have visited the papal palace on quite a number of occasions.

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The first extended visit was a number of years ago when I was welcomed by the then director of papal villas, Saverio Petrillo, whose book on the papal palace I used to write this story, along with much information he gave me as we spent an afternoon strolling the grounds, the gardens and the pontifical farm!

On several other occasions I spent an entire day in the palace when it hosted the offices, library and classrooms of the papal observatory and offered summer courses in astronomy. Those offices have been transferred to a new location on the papal property but the telescopes are still in the palace.

A TASTE OF HEAVEN

Given the difficulty (impossibility, to be honest!) for Americans to travel to Italy this summer, I was not even sure I should post this column! And then I thought: We can dream, can’t we! We can all plan future trips to Bell’Italia and enjoy its beauty, people and cuisine. So I decided to give you something to look forward to!

A few days ago I posted some photos of one of my favorite restaurants in Italy, “L’Antica Trattoria” in Sorrento, where I had my arrival dinner on July 27. I returned on August 1 for my farewell dinner. I would easily nominate Aldo and his restaurant for a Michelin star!

Two other incredible restaurants in Sorrento are “O’Parrucchiano” and Circolo dei Forestieri (Foreigners Club) with its large and heavenly terrace overlooking the Mediterranean. Both have wonderful menus!

O’Parrucchiano is on Corso d’Italia near Sorrento’s cathedral. It is build on several levels with dining rooms on each level, the top level being the largest and most beautiful by far! The huge, main room can accommodate several hundred people and is completely surrounded by what seems to be a tropical garden – plants, flowers. shrubs and trees of all kinds and sizes, including, of course, Sorrento’s celebrated lemon trees!

I discovered two Americans of Italian descent who have been working here for years! Maria – originally from Boston – will welcome you to O’Parrucchiano and if you are lucky one of your waiters will be Raffaele who hails from Brooklyn. Also ask for Rocco: it was he who introduced me to Maria and Raffaele!

Here are some photos I took on the two evenings I had dinner here –

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And more on the website: https://www.parrucchiano.com/en/

Terrazza delle Sirene is the name of the restaurant on the magnificent terrace of the Foreigner’s Club.   You want to sit as close to the railing as possible to get the most out of the stunning views of the Mediterranean, Vesuvius and much more!

I went last Friday for lunch and, given that there were not the usual large late July crowds of tourists, but mainly locals, I had a chance to chat with my young waiter Ciro and met some staff members through him.

The Foreigner’s Club has not only the terrace, which you will now see in my photos, but also a large, very lovely internal dining room. Both terrace and dining room are terrific venues for events like weddings, etc. Hopefully soon large gatherings, happy gatherings like weddings, can once again take place everywhere in the world, not just here!

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I have never ever stayed in Sorrento without having a meal on the Terrazza delle Sirene, at Antica Trattoria or O’Parrucchiano!

PS. Any empty tables you see in the photos were filled not long after I arrived for dinner, usually after Mass, about 8pm. Because of the very hot weather, most people came much later for dinner, starting at 8:30, 9 or later.

Their website: https://www.circolodeiforestieri.com/

 

WHERE BEING A FOREIGNER MAKES YOU FEEL AT HOME – VATICAN INSIDER: THE ENDLESS WONDERS OF ROME

Just a brief blog today, recounting my adventure at lunch and inviting you to spend part of your weekend with me on “Vatican Insider.” I’m probably not going to be back over the weekend but you never know! So check things out just in case!

WHERE BEING A FOREIGNER MAKES YOU FEEL AT HOME

One of my absolute favorite spots in all of Italy for a meal and a view that leaves you breathless is Sorrento’s Circolo dei Forestieri, the Foreigners Club. The huge outside terrace overlooking the Mediterranean and the large inside dining room are both drawing cards for Sorrentines and visitors alike. Many a wedding reception and other important family events are celebrated here. Coronavirus has greatly reduced foreign visitors and it was sad today not to see the terrace totally filled with happy guests!

I had a divine pasta in a delicate tomato sauce with ricciola, my absolute favorite white fish in Italy (I believe it is yellowfish in English), an even more delicate white wine and an amazing view (I am sure heaven is very much like this!)! If I had been any more relaxed I’d have fallen off my chair!

I have a wonderful story to tell about the young waiter, Ciro, but it is time for Mass so that will be another time. In the meantime, Enjoy! Four of the pictures I took just sitting at my table!

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VATICAN INSIDER: THE ENDLESS WONDERS OF ROME

Join me for a new edition of Vatican Insider on this first weekend of August – a torrid one in so many places of the world to read various weather reports. Just a line now to tell you about the Special I’ve prepared that I’ve called “And If You Have Time.” Previously in Vatican Insider I have aired special reports on Rome’s major papal basilicas, the catacombs, visiting Vatican City, the scavi, and a lot more. I’ve heard from many of you who write to tell me how much you enjoy these visits and listen to the podcasts so this week I have more special places to share with you.

There are endless wonders in Rome – a city of several millennia of Church and civil history, of art, and music, a world of culture. This weekend I’d like to bring you around Rome for brief visits to a number of other churches in Rome that would, if taken individually, merit almost as much attention as we have given to the major basilicas. All of the churches I am about to list are noted for their place in history, their architectural beauty and as repositories as some of the greatest works of art that man has ever known. Many are shrines in their own right as they house the bodies or relics of numerous pontiffs and saints.

So tune in for that after the news segment!

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at www.ewtn.com) or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on http://www.ewtn.com. OUTSIDE THE U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on www.ewtnradio.net ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: http://www.ewtn.com/multimedia/audio-library/index.asp (write Vatican Insider where it says Search Shows and Episodes)

DAY FOUR IN A BIT OF HEAVEN

DAY FOUR IN A BIT OF HEAVEN

Just a brief column this afternoon before I close up my workshop and go to Mass and dinner.   I’ve spent part of the morning and part of the afternoon working and in between I went to down to the port area of Sorrento to look into boat times to Positano.

Because there are fewer tourists and visitors this year, it turns out there are also fewer boats available to go to Ischia, Capri, Positano, Amalfi and Naples. I am happy I went because actually there are only two boats each day to Positano and two boats day back to Sorrento. I had a lovely lunch at a delightful restaurant I know at the port and then came back to my hotel to work on this week’s Vatican Insider and also on this column.

There’s a lovely public park not far from my hotel and near the church of San Francesco that overlooks the Mediterranean and all the beaches several hundred feet below – not sandy beaches as you will see in the photos. There is an elevator and it costs one euro to go down the several hundred feet from the city park to the beach area That’s what I did (as you see in a photo) prior to my going to the port for information on boats to Positano.

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I have a bit I want to say about how people, that is to say staff in hotels, restaurants etc. are dealing with new restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic, in addition to things like the obligatory masks, having hand sanitizer available, sanitizing tables and chairs in restaurants, etc.

My hotel, for example, has a buffet breakfast but instead of each guest handling food and plates etc. we indicate what we want and we are served. Also, we guests keep our room keys until the day we leave because if we returned them every night to the hotel they would just have to sanitize them. Interestingly enough, in the morning in the breakfast room individual portions of cereal are in small plastic bags with ribbons tied around them so there aren’t a lot of people touching cereal boxes or bowls.

An interesting thing for me is receiving communion. I have been to two different churches, San Francesco on Tuesday and the Sorrento cathedral last night and in both cases. the priests came down the center aisle to distribute communion to the faithful who were seated at both ends of each pew. There was also a lay minister helping with the Eucharist. The priest wore masks they did not wear gloves.

Well on that note I will close this column and post some pictures and then I’m off to Mass!

PARADISE IN THE COVID ERA

PARADISE IN THE COVID ERA

When I got to Termini rail station in Rome yesterday to get my train to Sorrento, I knew I would be seeing the largest number of people I had seen since early March. What was this brief excursion out of Rome going to be like? Will I be safe, notwithstanding taking all precautions and obeying all the rules? All the worries that we have because of Covid come to the surface when you plan travel. Here’s what I saw and experienced….

It seems that all major rail stations now in Italy have one, possibly two entrances from the station area to the track area and one, perhaps two, exits from the track area back into the station. I had no problem accessing track 12, I simply showed my ticket and in about 10 minutes the train arrived and I was boarding my car. At no point, however, did I see any personnel – all of whom wore masks – taking temperatures.

What was so fascinating was that each passenger, once in their seat, got a bag with a mask, gloves, a headrest cover and a bottle of water. So it was apparent that TrenItalia is very aware of the needs in a Covid area and it seems they wanted to reassure passengers. There was, of course, social distancing on the train with only families being allowed to sit together, that is to say, side-by-side in two or four seats. It was just over an hour trip to Naples (Napoli Centrale had only one way from the station to the track area and vice versa) where I then had a driver waiting for me to take me to Sorrento.

The usual way of getting from Naples main station to Sorrento – something I have done for years – is to take the local train called the Circumvesuviana (you guessed it – it means ‘around Vesuvius’ as that is the route taken travelling south). It is notoriously crowded and often people have to stand with their luggage for half if not the entire 55- minute trip to Sorrento.

I had tried to be so careful for so many months about avoiding crowded situations that it seemed to me that hiring a driver and avoiding challenges was the sanest thing to do. It was just under an hour to Sorrento, my beloved Sorrento, a place I have been visiting on and off since 1993. I had booked a wonderful small hotel in on a very quiet no-traffic street I know well and yet it is just five minutes from all of Sorrento’s major sites, including my favorite part of Sorrento, her churches.

Because of a technical mixup in Rome, I was unable to film my segment for the live Monday show of “At Home with Jim and Joy” and thus my first hour in Sorrento was spent doing that.

About 6 pm, I started to walk around in this town I so love and that is so very beautiful, seeing so many of the lovely familiar spots that bring a smile to my face and inside my heart. I was hoping to find a 6 pm Mass and went to several churches that were open but had no evening Mass so I stopped in San Francesco church and said a rosary.

It was after 7 o’clock when I finished and I walked to Piazza Tasso, the very lively main square in town and had a glass of white wine while waiting to go to dinner. This is the best place in town for people-watching! What was interesting was that they brought some little snacks but, as you can see, they were all in individual, throwaway containers.

Dinner was at one of my favorite restaurants in all of Italy – L’Antica Trattoria. I’ve known Aldo, the owner, and many of his amazing staff since 1993 when my mom and I spent a week in Sorrento the summer after my dad had died. Any time since then that I’m in Sorrento, I come back to this very special and beautiful place. In 2000 Aldo completely re-did the kitchen and I’ve never seen one I thought was more beautiful with separate areas to prepare the antipasti, the main meals, the desserts, and they have a very special wine cellar.

I ate in my favorite area – the garden-like terrace – where I enjoyed a superb dinner. Aldo’s chefs are amazingly creative, marrying flavors you might never have thought of. Some of the best meals I’ve ever had in Italy were at L’Antica Trattoria, and that included last night, as you can see. There are some very, very special rooms inside as well.

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So my Monday was a very busy one – travel, work, then being a tourist, but maybe you’re not a tourist if you’re very much at home in a place that is not home.

Incoming days I’ll try to recount some of my adventures and post a lot of photos and spend as little time as I can on papal and Vatican issues! Don’t be too shocked! This is still actually a work week for me, and we can be together again on Wednesday because I’ll be with Teresa Tomeo on her show “Catholic Connection”. I’ll also be preparing my radio special for the weekend for “Vatican Insider.

I’m signing off but come back tomorrow for a visit. Join me in Piazza Tasso for a Prosecco!