Cycling for My Sunday Supper
About five years ago I traveled to Rome for a vacation. My aunt and uncle live in Avellino, about 50 km east of Naples, and rather than take the train, I thought I’d bike. It’s a 300 km ride from Rome – say, 12-14 hours including stops. It’s not like I’d be the first person to attempt this ride; Italy’s cycling teams use the route from Rome to Naples and Amalfi Coast for training. I don’t know if they are ever promised a Sunday Supper in Avellino, but I was.
It is by riding a bicycle that you learn
the contours of a country best. – Ernest Hemingway
After landing in Rome, I changed into my cycling gear, hopped on my bike and headed south towards Naples.
Along the way, I made a couple of stops. I was craving an authentic Italian sandwich (or panini) on ciabatta bread with provolone cheese and prosciutto. What can I say? I like cheese and dry-cured ham.
In between Rome and Naples there is Cassino. My intention was to experience my first Italian meal of the day at a trattoria style restaurant there. I knew it would be that same informal, relaxed style of eating, similar to the Sunday Supper family tradition that was an integral part of my childhood.
I wasn’t disappointed. I found myself sharing a table with a group of strangers and eating the same delicious food from a kitchen that cooked everything daily. It was modest yet plentiful, and everything was fresh and regional. All this value – including the conversation – for something that would be far more in a traditional ristorante.
Better Late Than Never
It was time to go; I still had to complete the last leg of this trip. So far I’d cycled through Rome’s city streets, past small beachside towns, and stopped to eat in a historic town. The scenery was about to change and I was looking forward to that. It hadn’t been a grueling uphill climb – yet. That was to come. It wasn’t going to be an easy ride into the city of Avellino.
These roads have more twists and turns than an episode of the Sopranos.
In the back of my mind I worried that I wouldn’t find my aunt’s place, or that by the time I located her house everyone would be asleep. I had got off to a late start and it was getting dark and extremely quiet.
Fortunately, through the darkness, street lights eventually appeared, guiding me towards my final destination – the house at the end of the curve on the last road in Avellino. Those were the directions given to me. “You can’t miss it,” my mother had assured me, “Last road. End of the curve.” No address.
Sunday Supper Early Thursday Morning
In the distance I could see the road merging into a winding driveway lined with Mediterranean palm trees. As I made my way towards my aunt’s house, I noticed the lights on the deck and people. I recognized a few familiar faces but before I could say anything…
…they all shouted at once, WELCOME!
This was the first time I had ever spent a Sunday supper in Avilleno with my extended family, even if it was on a Thursday at 3:00 AM. I remember feeling overwhelmed… with gratitude.