So the other weekend (sorry I am so late in writing this!), Nic and Sim invited me to spend a day or so with them on their boat at this pretty little seaside town called Punta Ala. It is only about 2 hours away from Florence, and is a very cute, very chic little port where many Tuscans park their boats. Nic and Sim have this gorgeous yacht with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a nice little kitchenette, comfy living area (that can sleep more people), and a two nice big decks, perfect for sunbathing. The weather report was not promising, but as is often true with the weather report, it turned out the be the exact opposite. Oh how ready I was to bask in the sun after weeks and weeks of seemingly endless rain! I was glad to see that Stephano and his girlfriend Irene were also there, as it was a great opportunity to get to know them better. Jenny, their daughter, was only there for a short time, but it is always nice to see her too.
So Punta Ala mainly consists of a large boat harbor, several nice little boutique shops, a handful of restaurants, a gelateria (ice cream shop– of course), a bar or two, and a tiny little beach that is completely enclosed by large-ish rocks, which sheilds it from the wind. In other words, it is absolutely ideal. I arrived in the afternoon after a 45-minute delay on the train, and was greeted by a smiling, already-bronzed Nic, clad in swimming trunks and sunglasses. I smiled really big inside, knowing that it was going to be a good weekend. When we arrived at the boat, Sim (naturally) had a great big delicious lunch already prepared, and the 7 of us (Pasquale was there too, for the afternoon… remember him from Stephano’s party?) gathered around the table, ate heartily, and drank a few beers. Not a bad way to kick things off! After lunch, I curled up in the sun and snoozed for a bit, thankful to be away from the zanzare (mosquitoes) that had been keeping me up at night in Florence (we will talk about them later!). I read for awhile, too, (I am trying to read a book in Italian, and I have to say that it is going relatively well, albeit a bit slowly!), chatted a bit with everyone, and then it was time for Jenny to leave so she could get the train back to Florence. Stephano and Irene invited me to come along, so we all piled in Nic’s BMW SUV and headed to the train station in next town (Follonica). It was a short trip, but one which I will never forget. Let me try to explain.
So there we were, four young, vibrant adults, cruising down a picturesque road in a small, seaside Italian town. Windows down, music (way) up, scrubby little seaside pine trees blowing past and giving way, every now and again, to another beautiful view of the sea. There was this smell that filled the car, this wonderful, gorgeous smell– was it gardenia? pine? what was it?? I inhaled it so deep, and felt springtime just explode everywhere– in the car, outside, and even inside my lungs. From that point onward, I had a smile perma-plastered to my face, and in fact when we got out of the car after returning back to port, Irene took one look at me and said, “Well, you look more relaxed already!” And indeed, indeed I was.
That night we walked all of 100 yards to this little restaurant on the water. There was a big group of us– maybe 12-14 in all? They were old friends of Nic and Sim’s, mostly from Florence. Everyone was lively, cheerful, and happy to be there. I absolutely love Italian dinner time (not even counting the food!!!) because everyone just sort of takes there time getting there and then really enjoys each other’s company. This particular dinner was especially exciting because the menu was full of fish!! Oh…. heaven was so close that night that I could literally taste it. There was the antipasto (appetizer) of mixed seafood (we’re talking two types of calamari, shrimps, firm-fleshed fish, etc. etc.), a small bite of seafood lasagna, fresh filets of tiny white fish (about the size of anchovies except with a very light, very delicate flavor), and a few other things that aren’t coming to mind right now. I can still taste that calamari… mamma mia!! For my main meal I had the sesame-encrusted tuna topped with balsamic vinegar, which was delicious but if I had to do it all over again I would choose what Irene had. It was a fresh filet of a very flavorful yet delicate white fish, encrusted with really thin layers of potato, then pan-fried until the potatoes were golden. Not only was it gorgeous, but the taste was, in a single word, memorable. The wine we had with dinner was a type I had never had before, called Ribolla Gialla, from the Veneto region of Italy (up near Venice). It was a light, crisp white wine that was surprisingly complex, yet not complicated. Perfect for fish! For dessert I chose a simple mixed-berry fruit salad, topped with frozen yogurt. Of course it was delicious, but especially wonderful were the little fragoline di bosco (literally “little strawberries of the forest”), which were sweet as candy and had an extremely concentrated, perfect strawberry taste. Wow! So needless to say, everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves. There was a lot of cheerful conversation, a lot of laughs, vibrant stories, and jokes among friends. It was a lot of fun to be a part of that experience! It will definitely stand out in my mind when I think back on the time that I have spent here in Italy.
The next day, no one was in a hurry to leave. I was thankful for that, because it meant that I had more precious hours to relax, read, and soak up some sun. We wandered out of port this time and motored around to the other side of the peninsula, but it was a little too windy so we went back. We had another light but delicious lunch, and I decided to lay down a bit. Two hours later, I emerged from hibernation with a big fat lazy grin on my face. I think my body really needed that nap. Like, needed it. Anyway, we wandered off to the beach for a bit before taking off, which wasn’t crowded because most people had already left for the day. I put a toe in the freezing water and decided that was enough, so I stretched out on a towel in the sun and watched as the Rabaglietti’s played beach tennis (or was it raquetball? The one with the heavy, wooden rackets where you play without a net and try not to let the ball fall on the ground) in the sand. I tried my hand at it too, but I was playing with Sim who is a seasoned tennis pro. I was proud when we counted to 10 hits without letting the ball fall, but then again tennis was never really my strong point. But at least I gave it a shot. As the sun was setting, we reluctantly left the beach, took showers, and packed up. And with a twinge of sadness, I said goodbye to this little oasis, in the way that you say goodbye to people or places or things when you aren’t sure you will ever see them again. But my, oh my, it was lovely while it lasted!