Most days I feel like I don’t deserve the life I’ve been given. I have two amazing kids, I live in a lovely area and I have a great job. I do my best for my family every day but I am far from perfect. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, gone through some extremely hard times and others have suffered because of it. Even with these lapses, I still feel extremely blessed. Maybe it is my glass half full mentality, but I truly believe that you alone can make yourself happy. I realize how fortunate I am and I do my best not to take that for granted.
I also understand how lucky I am to have met someone who enjoys my company enough to take me with him on his yearly work trips. These all expense paid vacations include flights, hotels, company organized parties and excursions. There is no skimping on luxury. The parties are exquisite, with endless food and drink, dancing and entertainment. The excursions usually involve small, private groups so you get the ultimate experience. Don’t get me started on the hotels and the gifts! Our first trip together was to travel to the Amalfi Coast in Italy.
What seemed to be no big deal to my companion was a huge deal for me. It was the first trip I had taken without my children since before they were born, heck, it was the first trip I had taken with someone other than my parents or ex-husband in at least 15 years. At the time of this trip, I had known him for nine months, which should have been plenty of time to get to know someone, but for me, who was so afraid of making a mistake and second guessed every decision, it felt like mere weeks. I finally decided, after weeks of overthinking and over analyzing, that I had wasted enough of my life and I was going to take this trip. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
The Redeye Out of Newark
I volunteered for the school carnival the week before, in cold, rainy weather. My job was to work the Frog Bog. If you don’t know this fun carnival game, it’s the one where you put a frog on a catapult and hit it with a hammer so it flies in the air and hopefully lands on a lily pad that floats in a pool of cold, dirty water. Maybe your lucky child will win a cheap stuffed animal that you throw away the first chance you get because, really, another stuffed animal? Most likely, you just lose your money and go home empty handed. Between the wet, cold, rainy weather and sticking my hands in nasty Frog Bog water over and over, I caught the mother of all colds.
A week later, I was still sick when I waved goodbye to my mom and kids and hopped into my Uber, ready to begin my adventure. Fortunately, the whole process was as snap. I carried my bag on the plane. It was a bit heavier than the requirement (typical), but the ticket agent let it slide. I sailed through security in record time. My companion, Let’s call him G, was meeting me in Rome, so I was on my own for the flight out. The minute I boarded the plane, I popped some NyQuil and slept like a rock for most of the ride. Normally I don’t sleep at all, so the cold was a blessing in disguise.
When we landed, I muddled my way through Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport and made my way to the parking lot where G was waiting. It was so good to see a familiar face and one that spoke English! I learned a few basics before the trip but it was a struggle. They say that first trips with a significant other can make or break a relationship. I’m not sure if they had a whirlwind trip to Italy in mind!
From Rome to Sorrento
G loves to drive fast and he loves to drive in Europe where the laws are slightly more lenient. He rented a car that he picked me up in and we wound our way through the lush Italian countryside, leaving Rome behind. It had been raining and as the sky started to clear, a rainbow appeared. From that moment, I knew this was going to be magic.
The duration of our little road trip was about three and a half hours. I had been to Italy once before, but never to the Amalfi Coast so I was on the edge of my seat with excitement. The majority of the drive was inland, but when we got closer to Naples, the coast suddenly appeared. I was in awe looking out over the vast sea and tiny villages built into the terrain. We zipped through tunnels and wound along coastal roads until we finally reached our destination.
Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria
As the sun began to set, we pulled onto a long, winding drive that was surrounded by a beautiful garden overflowing with exotic flowers and citrus trees. Looming ahead of us was the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria. Founded in 1834, it is everything you would imagine old world Italy to be. The ceilings are covered with frescoes, the balustrades and balcony rails are constructed of intricate wrought iron designs and Spanish tile sheathes the roof. Everywhere you turn is pure opulence. From the moment we stepped into the front lobby, we were treated like royalty. The staff was attentive and quick to answer questions. We were personally escorted to our suite which had two balconies with views of the Bay of Naples to the right and the exquisite gardens below. The living area was quaint but luxurious. There was a roomy walk-in closet and a large bedroom with an en suite bathroom. G and I freshened up a bit and changed before going downstairs for the welcome party.
Welcome Party and After
As we made our way back down the massive staircase, we could hear distant music and the hum of a crowd in the Vittoria Room, also known as the breakfast room. The first thing we noticed upon entering was the panoramic views of the bay and authentic 19th century wall decorations. It felt more like dining in a museum gallery than a hotel.
Since this is technically a work trip for G, there is plenty of hobnobbing. I met his coworkers and work friends. The company is small and this trip is strictly for top performers, so we were in close proximity to the CEO, CFO and other important leaders.
There were signature drinks made of limoncello and the cuisine was to die for. I laughed and chitchatted with the best of them, which seemed easy with G by my side. He is, by far, the more outgoing of the two of us. I was jet lag and had a cold that gave a much deeper and more sultry voice, but I was at the top of my game.
As the festivities died down, we headed to the hotel bar for a nightcap. It is small and cramped with all of G’s coworkers but that just added to the cozy ambiance. The walls were painted in golden hues with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and a long mahogany bar. We stood upon a flawless marble tile floor. When G noticed I was wearing down, we retired to our room so we could begin a full day tomorrow.
Breakfast at the Hotel
My love of food absolutely requires a section on the hotel breakfast. When we finally dragged ourselves out of bed the next morning, the breakfast room was transformed overnight. There was a massive buffet laid out with every cheese you can imagine, from stinky to mild. There were breads and croissants, piles of fruit, fresh and dried, sausages and other cured meats. Everything looked as though it was procured that morning and it was fit for a queen. Our server was a lovely young girl who brought us the most amazing cappuccinos and catered to our every need. I wanted to bring her home with us. I like to imagine that she thought we were just as charming as we did her!
Driving up the Coast to Bikini Beach & Exploring The Amalfi Coast
After breakfast we got in G’s car and drove through the windy narrow streets of Sorrento with windows down, Mambo Italiano blasting. We paused at an overlook and bought lemon ice from a roadside stand. We took in the beauty of the Amalfi Coast from above. The tiny villages dotting the coast line, looked so picturesque from a distance. We headed along the steep cliffs of the coast to the next company sponsored event, a day at Bikini Beach.
Bikini Beach is not your typical white sand shoreline. The sunbathing area is composed of multi-level terraces peppered with cushioned lounge chairs andh wide umbrellas. There is a bar under a Spanish tiled roof offering complimentary appetizers and drinks. A Hollywood style sign that reads “Bikini” bedecks the looming cliff. Games are on every table from playing cards to giant Jenga and there is a ping pong tournament just getting started. A hipster DJ keeps the music pumping and the ambiance is pleasant and serene. More relaxing and socializing ensued, along with a little sunbathing!
After a lazy afternoon of drinking and eating we headed back to the hotel to decompress a bit and get ready for that evening’s dinner. G had some work to do so I decided to explore Sorrento on my own. I strolled through the gardens of the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, snapping pictures of the exotic flora and stopping to get a glimpse of the citrus trees that were grafted together to produce both lemons and oranges. As I walked out onto the streets of this charming village, I took in the tiny shops and restaurants that lined the meandering streets. The smells wafting through the air alone are enough to stop you in your tracks. I stumbled across a steep, serpentine path that lead me all the way down to the water’s edge. I made my way down the slope, sidestepping other pedestrians as cars whipped past. The Bay of Naples opened up in front of me. There were small boats and a pier that you could follow to get a better look at the steep rocks above. The hotel towered above like an Italian Renaissance palazzo. I could see our balcony and people mingling on the beautiful common terrace. I took numerous pictures, not wanting to forget a detail of this moment.
Dinner at Ristorante la Basilica
We were invited, along with the rest of the G’s team, to dinner at a tiny Italian bistro called Ristorante la Basilica. The maitre’d escorted us to an upstairs room with long tables elegantly set for communal dining. Speeches were made and wine was poured. We chatted and laughed and ate like we would never have food this good again. For some of us, it was true.
The CEO of G’s company had a suite at the hotel and invited some of us for after dinner drinks. Words cannot describe the opulence. Our hotel room was a prewar Manhattan studio compared to this monstrosity. There was a wrap around balcony with views of Sorrento and The Bay of Naples. More drinking and socializing ensued (are you noticing a theme here?) and I slowly became comfortable with my new acquaintances.
After staying up until the wee hours, we dragged ourselves out of bed to catch an early morning bus to Pompeii. G promptly fell asleep as I watched the countryside slip by. Our tour guide was eccentric, to say the least. He was and elderly gentleman, slight, and wore a magnificent ascot. He gave us a detailed tour of the history of this extinct town, largely preserved in ash from the eruption of nearby volcano, Mt. Vesuvius. He also divulged many lesser known, unconventional facts about the ancient city, the people and their habits. The tour was long and there was a lot of walking so we were glad for a couple of packs of nuts I threw in my bag that morning.
Once it was over, we were taken to a nearby restaurant and seated at a group of tables that were set up in an u-shape. We were only given two entrees options but we weren’t picky. Between the wine, the food and company, it was by far the best meal of our entire trip.
Of all the activity options we were given- Pompeii, Capri, or Italian cooking classes, I knew we made the right choice. Experiencing Pompeii in person and seeing how these people lived and what they went through was life changing.
The minute we returned to the hotel we retired to our rooms for a much-needed nap. Showered and refreshed, we were whisked away to a privately owned mansion that was transformed into a reception area just for us. We mingled on the stone patio while taking in the sunset over the bay. There were pools full of drifting flowers, and string lights twinkled above our heads. Live music accompanied the scene and fireworks topped off this magical evening. I was lucky enough to be plus one to someone who was honored for excellence that evening. Proudly standing by his side for pictures and speeches made me feel a little like an imposter in a world that was a little too grand for a mere mortal. The evening was perfection and I will remember it always.
Home Sweet Home
Leaving Sorrento the next morning was bittersweet. We slowly sipped our morning cappuccino, savoring every last drop. The ride was quiet as we made our way back to Rome and went through the routine of checking our bags, going through security and making our way to the gate. Side by side, we quietly watched the in flight movies and tried to get some rest. The trip home went a little more quickly than I would have liked and other than a missed Uber, it was uneventful, easy even. We not only survived our first trip away as a couple, but we thrived!
Have you been to the Amalfi Coast? Have you always wanted to go? Leave comments and questions below!