The VoomaGo Effect*
*The state of exhilaration, heightened awareness even giddiness one experiences by travel itineraries designed and offered by VoomaGo.
Lucky, lucky me. I am watching the sea reflect hues of intoxicating blues off the coast of Trapani, uninterrupted, sans for echoes of bathers’ delight. I am present in this moment, drawn to faint whispers of ships and vessels appearing as white dots that slip onto the horizon and disappear just as quickly. It is all so vast. I dream that I have set sail to uncover, and discover these foreign places filled with layers of rich narratives. I visualize ancient civilizations, with fat and thirsty emperors pillaging and governing – building monuments to themselves and their gods. A few minutes later, I am reminded that my camera, my trusted companion, needs attention and I start the capture. As an art director, and photographer and 6,000 + images later, I now have the arduous task of selecting images that make the cut. Divide and conquer I call it, which again serves to remind me of the combative history when thousands upon thousands fought for the spoils of where I stand.
Discovering means absorbing vivid details of everyday life; gastronomy, markets, people – cultures and customs, and of course, history’s triumphs and tragedies.
Now as I look back, I can still see the Adriatic, Ionian, and Tyrrhenian seas kiss the shores of the provinces of Puglia, Basilicata and Calabria – parts of the “continent of Italy”, while the huge ferry prepares for its crossing of the Straits of Messina to the island of Sicily where it meets the Mediterranean. It is where my travel partner Barbara and I dared the unfamiliar roads arriving at unfamiliar ports of call covering coasts in both harmonious and discordant fashion. We interrupted, pointed out, laughed, and argued with each other as we danced in lyrical glee celebrating the extraordinary places, people, rituals, palatable delights, seductive wines, and zillions of other pleasures that touched our senses. We toasted to antiquity and its temples and ruins, to collections of art treasures that rival the world greatest vaults, to parts unknown, complete with steep and mountainous terrain, secret coves, and inlets positioned for our invasion, and to the places only recognizable by its inclusion in teeniest mention on our map. At some point we arrived at southernmost tip of Sicily – Portopalo di Capo Passero, and Isola delle Correnti, where on a clear day you can see Malta. En route, it was no surprise when we got lost in the tomato fields of Pacino (spelling same as in Al, but pronounced Pachino), or made unconventional turns on the autostrada, or the multitude of times we held our breath as we were swallowed up in the engineering feat of mountain underpasses, which became known as the cavernous tunnel syndrome.
I remember Matera, the Sassi’s and Paolo, our guide. Paolo, perhaps part Fellini in fashion with his oversized sunglasses and love of great cinema who led the way down to the dwellings of the Sassi’s (stones of Matera) where human settlements were dug into the rocks, and streets lay one on top of another. Dating back to the Paleolithic era, the Sassi originated from prehistoric times, and is noted to be some of the first human settlements in Italy. No doubt, I wore sensible shoes for sustainability. Off the main square in town is the Palazzo Lanfranchi, (location of the National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art of Basilicata) and the Carlo Levi Centre where we paid homage to Levi, the anti-fascist, doctor/writer/artist, with a viewing of the extraordinary art panel entitled, “Lucania 61”, illustrating the land, and the people of this region while in exile for eighteen months.
My navigational skills and Barbara’s fearless control of our ubiquitous Fiat Panda, guided us from our start on the mainland through arid landscapes of olive trees and fields as lovely as patchwork quilts. Bordered by mountainous sculptures the likes of Etna in Sicily, we never were at a loss to document its beauty. At times I thought of it as Disney’s “Mr. Toads Ride Wild”. A visit to Bernalda, led us to the luxurious Palazzo Margherita and remembrances of FF Coppola’s vision while his hospitable staff received us with gifts of wine and assorted tastings. It was more than one could ask for. And with the help of locals we found the Visconti estate, Agriturismo Teodoro Nuovo, in Pisticci near Metaponto, with its substantial vineyards and produce of organic fruits and grapes, wheat, and olive oil as well as family photos and the lingering smells of the former hunting lodge, now refurbished as a B&B. In the small village of Taormina, overlooking the Ionian Sea, we delighted in its stunning vista, and town center boasting numerous churches, shops and fine restaurants, framed by baroque architectural details. We secured seats for a gifted operatic recital at The Teatro San Georgio in the early evening. Meanwhile, below the cliffs, the magnificent Isola Bella, a nature reserve and the resort of Giardini Naxos were reserved for an easy drive. I remember the ferry to Stromboli (accent on Strom) – a popular destination from the port of Milazzo on Sicily’s northern coast, that led us past the archipelago known as the Aeolian Islands. All hands on deck, as cries erupted when the volcano showed it’s true colors. Red and searing, my glimpse of its smoldering orifice was likened to a bed of hot coals magnified a trillion times. And, of course, there is Siracusa. Ah Siracusa! It’s where I fell in love with Ortigia – the dreamy and fashionably hip cultural island resort, with it’s café / artist’s enclave “Moon”, welcoming all in search of artistic expression.
It truly was a sumptuous feast. It was a bottle of fine wine filled with the spirits and culinary delights of Polignano A Mare, Alberolbello, Ostuni, Pisticci, Lecce, Rossano a Mare, Maratea, Tropea, Ciro Marina, Capo Rizzo, Crotone, Reggio di Calabria, Milazzo, Cefalu, Etna, Agrigento, Noto, Piazza Armenia and the famed mosaics of Villa Romana del Casale, and our stay at Villa Trigona. It was the Norman architectural wonder of The Cathedral of Monreale, and the countless cities, towns, and coastal retreats – far too many to write about. It was the gentle people we greeted with “ciao”. And, it was the gelaterias that called our names as we walked by.
Thank you Antimo.
No question there is an abundance of travel apps, guides books and literature available to make an itinerary, but when it comes to “insider information” VoomaGo and Antimo Cimino are the best. Intriguing, isn’t it, how we came to know one another and the conversation that resulted? Anticipating foreign travel to Italy, I mentioned to my cousin in Portland, Oregon that I was planning an extensive itinerary. A chance encounter between Hilde and Antimo in a yoga class was that link. My quest for this trip was a daunting task and preferring to take my cues from one who lives (lived) the life in that country was key. One telephone consultation, and I learned more in that hour than any book could deliver. His suggestions and ideas gave me the framework for a well-defined travel agenda and a journey that offered variety, while it was inspiring and challenging. Antimo established a coherent and organized program that gave an overall perspective of destinations with room for choices.
And The VoomaGo Effect? Amazing, as it will always be a part of me.
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Following images – © Renay Elle Morris / photopresseimages.com
1 Sassi Matera (Continent)
2 Polignano a Mare (Continent)
3 Bathers, Tropea (Continent)
4 Lecce (Continent)
5 Alberobello (Continent)