A few days ago I came home from a short vacation in south Italy. For the past few nights I have been going through and editing three or four photos at a time I took during the trip. I was only away for six days, yet it felt like a lengthy period of time where I have gone through different states of mind and caught myself in a totally different mood than before. I have always been fond of traveling on my own, and so was I this time. Traveling alone, sometimes offers the best opportunity to connect with one’s own thoughts, memories, past, as well as with unexpected encounters on the road.
After thinking about it for a few days, I came to conclusion that the best part of being a solo traveller has pretty much nothing to do with the well-known sights I visited, the surreal sceneries I came across, or the best local cuisine I indulged in… the part that leaves a long lasting memory behind has exactly to do with the people I have interacted with during the trip. First, solo travellers tend to find it easier to talk to one another – you are both alone (and very often clearly tourists), there’s no holding back needed to start a conversation. And second, when in an unfamiliar, foreign land, sooner or later you’ll find yourself in need of help or a bit of guidance. Instead of turning to your travel companion for discussion, soloists have to reach out to the locals. This is something I always like to do – to engage in conversations with the local people, though I cannot guarantee it is equally pleasant to do so everywhere else in the world as in Italy. As a result, now I can faintly remember any of the paintings I saw at the art museum in Naples, but I can clearly recall every encounter I had with people. I remember the women from Santa Cruz, California I talked to while waiting for the ferry from Procida to Naples; and on the train from Naples to Sorrento – the chef from Hong Kong who goes backpacking every few years after resigning from his job; the two American girls who were as lost as I was in Praiano; the Canadian lady at the B&B in Naples who simply needed a break from her everyday life; the guy and the girl sitting at the next table in one of the pizzerias on a busy street in Naples, who suggested that I should make a clear gesture to the waiter, otherwise he would never come to take my order… and so on, and so on. Oh, of course, an old classmate of mine (together with his ex flat mate, whom I have also met once on a birthday party) from Uni-Ulm happened to land in Naples on the exact same day as I did, without acknowledging each other beforehand. We eventually managed to meet up on their last day in Italy before heading back to München. That was literally the last thing I had expected, but it couldn’t have been a better surprise for a trip like this.
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After arriving at the Naples airport on the first day, I went straight to a small island off the coast – Isola di Procida. I made the decision to go to Procida simply because a photo I accidentally discovered when browsing Google map one day. The island is full of pastel coloured houses along its slightly hilly coastline. Comparing to the general perception of how Naples looks like, this felt like a world apart, I thought – and yet, only a forty-minute ferry ride away.
However, if you ask me for my first impression after arriving at the island, I’ve got to say, it was HOT! I was swallowed by the heat immediately. The sun was high up in the sky and its immense white rays were bouncing off the narrow streets paved with reflecting cobblestones. What made it most challenging was the humidity, I did not notice it right away because of the strong sunshine, but I was surprised when I saw the humidity indicator, hmm, I thought, that would explain a lot. And then I thought to myself, you know what, I am in south Italy, I am going to embrace every bit of it. So after checking in at the guest house, I changed into minimum clothing and started exploring the island!
I did a lot of walking during the three days in Procida (originally I planned to use the bicycle provided by the hostess, this idea went up in smoke after seeing how much people loved to race in overwhelmingly narrow streets there – sometimes so narrow to a point, where a car and a pedestrian cannot pass at the same time). The panorama view over Marina Corricella (see fourth picture below) was breathtaking, I wonder whether the islanders got together one midsummer night and unanimously decided to paint every house in pastel colours. And it was a lot of fun to look at plants and flowers I could not name. After a while, I also got used to seeing lemon and orange trees at every corner.
Speaking of lemon, there was so much I loved about it in Procida. The island is known for its special lemon species – the Procida lemons of the size of a grapefruit. My experience with lemon began with a freshly pressed lemonade in a 0.5L beer glass, served at a family-run restaurant at the harbor. Not to exaggerate, after one gulp, my tastebuds were completely woken up and I was yearning for more. It was a perfect combination of sour- and sweetness, as well as the amount of lemon pulp and shaved ice. It was a lemonade made for heaven!
One early afternoon I was sweating like crazy and dying for something cold and refreshing. Around a corner I saw people holding small cups of a white-ish beverage. Without knowing what that was, I went in and asked for ‘the same as that guy is having’. The guy behind the counter spoke some Italian I didn’t understand, so I asked whether it was a lemonade, thinking that a second lemonade for heaven would be nice. He then smiled, said ‘yes, but it is a Procida blah-blah’ I didn’t fully understand. I was too tired to care for details, so I just took a small cup and went out. It was again, more delicious than what I would ever expect from lemons! Unlike lemonade, this dessert (which by the way is called Granita di Limone, and the guy was just saying it was not just any lemon, it was made from the Procida lemons) consists mostly of shaved ice, soaked in fresh lemon juice with sugar (I think there has to be a lot). It was perfect for hot summer days on the island, I felt much more alive afterwards.
Another mind-blowing encounter with lemons was the Procida lemon salad. When I first heard the name, I thought it must be a green salad with a drizzle of lemon juice, and later only to find out it was a salad entirely made of lemons! To be precise, it was the white pith of a lemon that was used in this dish, together with some Rucola leaves. The taste was actually not bad at all, it went very well with other seafoods, and it is, without a doubt, a very healthy dish.
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Three days on the island went by relatively fast. It was quite physically straining each day, walking long distances, up and down the winding paths under the blazing sun. And since the weather was so hot, I had appetite for only one meal a day, which I thought was unbelievable, no wonder the Italians are slim. What else happened? I saw a beautiful sunset, and due to lack of experience, burned my feet on the sand. The floor is lava! And Procida, the paradise!