I am FINALLY back from Italy! A day later than planned, but it was totally worth it! I had an incredible time and I have so much to write about!
To start, I think it would be best to tell you a little about the people I met and got to know over the weekend, otherwise, you will be very confused!
Dominick: Pop-Pop’s first cousin. He lives in New York. We communicated by email to organize my trip.
Maria: A wonderful woman, 75, and the first cousin of my Pop-Pop. She is also Dominick’s brother. Maria lives in a house by herself next door to Dominick and Tony’s (her son) house. Maria is Gee-Gee’s twin. You hear that Gigs, you have an Italian twin! I cannot even begin to tell you how similar you both are! Everything about her seemed so familiar and I felt as though I had known her for years. She is such a sweet woman and she is very funny!
Tony: One of Maria’s sons. He is in his 50s and works for TrenItalia. He took charge of my visit and arranged all of our visits around Italy. Tony is also incredibly nice and is funny just like Maria!
Claudio: Tony’s wife. She is a hair stylist and has a little salon downstairs in their house. Although I didn’t understand the majority of what she was saying to me, I could tell she has a good, sarcastic sense of humor. She was very sweet and took good care of me while I was there.
Chirro: Tony and Claudio’s only son. He is 25 and is studying architecture. Chirro was great and with the help of his computer – and Google translate – we were all able to communicate with each other. Chirro was very kind to let me spend time with him and his friends over the weekend.
Pascualina: Chirro’s fiancé. She is also very nice, and very pretty and has a great personality.
Madallena: Pascualina’s cousin (I think!) Chirro introduced her to me as HIS cousin, but when we went to her house, Pascualina told me they have the same grandmother. Anyway, she is beautiful and absolutely hysterical. I loved spending time with her and she made an effort to make sure I was included.
Mario: Madallena’s fiancé. LOVE HIM. He also speaks VERY GOOD English, which was wonderful. He helped to translate when we went out. He is also incredibly nice, and funny. He and Madallena make a great couple.
Oscar: Tony and Maria’s German Shepard who lives outside.
Chirro has 2 sisters. I met the oldest one and her husband briefly. The other sister, Rosanna, is actually a model and was in a fashion show that weekend and couldn’t be there. I was also surprised to learn that she has competed in Miss Italy, Miss World, and Miss Universe pageants. From the pictures I saw, she looks gorgeous.
Over the course of the weekend, I met a ton of people! Too many to write about! I will say this, everybody in this area knows everybody else. And – everyone is someone else’s cousin.
Now it is time to tell you about all of the wonderful experiences I had!
Friday: Tony, Maria, Chirro, and Pascualina all came to meet me at the train station in Naples and we made the 1 hour drive back to their home. When we arrived, we were greeted by Claudio who had a wonderful meal prepared. First course – tortellini. This was followed by a salad with chicken. Then, we ate bread and actual chunks of Parmesan cheese. Next came pistachios, mandarins, and Torrone. We finished the meal off with some ice cream. Oh – and don’t let me forget about the wine – delicious. I honestly don’t know how I fit so much food into my stomach. After we ate I showed them some pictures of my family that I had brought with me. They loved seeing everyone. A little while later, Chirro took me out with him and Pascualina to meet Madallena for a coffee. I took this opportunity to have a Nutella Cappuccino, which was recommended to me by one of the Italian girls in my Spanish class. FABULOUS. After coffee, we went home and then went back out again to meet up with Mario for pizza. I was stuffed, but I could not resist homemade, brick oven Italian pizza. Before heading home, we stopped for coffee, which I have to say, is the best coffee I have ever had. It’s basically a little shot of espresso with sugar.
Saturday: Before starting the day, Maria wanted to show me around their property. We started at her house, which she is in the middle of renovating. I couldn’t get over the view from the balcony on the top floor. Next, she showed me Dominick’s house, which he stays in when he comes into town. He has a mandarin tree outside which provided the fruit we had been eating. There is nothing better than fruit picked straight from the tree. There is also a small collection of grape vines in the backyard and they use the grapes to make wine.
Next, Tony, Maria, and I took a short drive to Pompeii. Although the weather wasn’t the greatest, we still made the most of it. We spent a few hours touring the ancient ruins which date back to the 7th century BC. I could not believe I was actually there. It was funny because Tony and Mario were walking around as if they had been there a million times before, navigating the streets without a map. And there I was in complete shock that I was in a place with so much history looking at buildings and temples that have been there for centuries. Not to mention the fact that Pompeii is situated on a plateau of lava from Mount Vesuvius – and from everywhere in the city you have an incredible view of the volcano.
|Me at the Temple of Venus, Pompeii|
|Me and Maria among the ruins of Pompeii|
After touring Pompeii, Tony and Maria took me along to buy some cheese. Now, when you and I want cheese, we go to the supermarket to buy it. But not in Italy! We drove up a windy, narrow, one-lane road to reach an actual farm/small factory that makes fresh mozzarella and ricotta. Tony took me inside with him so I could see how it works. When you walk in, there are 6 large, metal basins filled with milk and water and inside there are hundreds of balls of mozzarella cheese floating around. I have never seen anything like it in my life. Tony must have bought about 20 balls of mozzarella and 2 things of ricotta.
When we got home, Maria brought out bread and prosciutto. She put 2 balls of mozzarella on each plate and we sat down and ate! It was fabulous! I also learned a little trick to tell how fresh the mozzarella is – press down on the top with a fork – the more milk that comes out, the better! Maria didn’t bother cutting her cheese. She stuck her fork straight into it – and ate away! Too funny!
About an hour later, Madallena and Mario came to pick me up. Chirro and Pascualina both had to work, so they offered to keep me entertained for the evening. We went out even further into the country to Madallena’s sister’s house. They live on a little farm with goats, chickens, cows, and horses. Her sister Laura, her husband Angelo, and their 2 year old son Nicolas were kind enough to have us over for dinner. We spent some time playing with Nicolas which I loved! I have been going through withdrawal from family interaction (my family in Spain is not exactly what I consider “family”) so it was great to be around them, even though I didn’t understand most of what they were saying. For dinner, we ate pizza that Angelo’s mother had made. It was hands down – the best pizza I have ever eaten. My favorite – white pizza with sliced potatoes, onions, and rosemary.
After desert and coffee, we headed out. Mario and Madallena took me to a little “disco-café” as I like to call it. It is basically a coffee-bar with a small stage and a DJ. There were a ton of people there and we had a good time just hanging around and people watching. Eventually, Pascualina met up with us and we went to another place down the street which had a live band. And…that’s about it for Saturday!
|Pascualina, Madallena, Me, Mario - at the discocafe|
Sunday: In the morning, Tony and Maria and I went for a little drive through the countryside. The landscape was breathtaking. I can’t even put it into words and no amount of pictures could do it justice. Tony actually has another house in this part of town, complete with olive trees in the backyard. Maria also took me to a small church in the area so I could see what it looked like.
|Inside the church|
|View from the top!|
After the drive, we made our way to Claudio’s parents’ house – were lunch was waiting! Claudio’s mother is this little old, 85 year old Italian woman. She is hunched over and walks around with a little chair as a walker. I didn’t understand a word she was saying to me, and she didn’t quite understand that I only spoke English. Regardless, she was absolutely hysterical. Claudio’s father is also a funny old man, 87, and very nice. The food was amazing. Homemade pasta and sauce, more cheese, more Torrone and more sweets. Mmm!
After lunch, Tony, Maria, Claudio, and I went to visit the Royal Palace and Gardens of Caserta. Once again, another beautiful place. I was surprised to learn that the statues in the gardens represent different episodes from Virgillio’s Aeneid – a book of classical mythology. It was great to be able to connect everything I have been learning in class to the statues I saw during our visit.
|Claudio, Me, Maria - outside the Royal Palace|
|Tony, Maria, Me - outside the fountain|
On the way home – we stopped for sweets. I enjoyed a lovely cannoli. Then Pascualina, Mario, and Madallena came to get me for another adventure! We ended up going to see Mario play basketball! While the skill level is low, as Mario admits, these men take the game very seriously. By the end of the game, Mario’s team was up at least 30 points and the other team started verbally assaulting the ref out of frustrating. Before the clock was up – the majority of the other team had been thrown out on technical fouls. The three of us girls had a fun time watching and making fun of some of the players.
Afterwards, we all went out for pizza – again! I have to say, I thought it was just a stereotype that Italians ate so much pizza, but now I am not so sure. We had great conversation at dinner, thanks to the help of Mario, the translator. They had a lot of questions about the United States, which I was happy to answer. After dinner, we called it a night!
Monday: Although I wanted to take the train to the airport, Tony and Chirro insisted on driving me allllll the way to Rome to catch my plane. We left first thing in the morning, around 6:30, to make the drive. Unfortunately, we ended up getting stuck in some SERIOUS traffic in Rome and the trip took roughly 3 and a half hours. By the time we got to the airport, my plane was gone! My only option was to pay a penalty fee to change my flight to Tuesday morning. So – that is what I did!
Since we were in Rome, Tony and Mario surprised me by taking me to see the Vatican. I was thrilled. Standing in St. Peter’s Square gave me goose bumps. It is a truly breathtaking place. We then took a tour through the Tomb of the Popes. I had no idea that all of the Popes were buried beneath the Basilica, and I have to say, I am not too fond of the idea. Although there are signs, and security guards, and a voice recording in 5 languages reminding people to be quiet, most of the visitors were not respectful. It really offended me that as people were kneeled down in front of Pope John Paul II’s tomb, praying, other people were walking all around them, chatting away. Anyway, next, Chirro and I walked through the museum to see the collection of religious items that church had in their treasury. Then, we walked through the Basilica. Once again, I was left speechless. There are no words to describe the feeling as you walk around inside.
|St. Peter's Square|
|Chiro and I outside the Basilica|
|Inside the Basilica|
After the tour, we stopped for a late lunch and then made the long drive home (with a few coffee breaks along the way!) For dinner, Maria invited us over to her house. Chirro went to go play soccer, so it was just three of us. Once again, she reminded me of Gigs. She had all of the pots on the stove, ready to go. The table was all set and she putzed around the kitchen getting dinner ready. I though the pasta and sauce was delicious – but Maria is very picky and she kept shaking her head as she ate it. The second course was chicken (with lots of garlic), peas, and broccoli. And then, of course, desert. By the end of the night, I was exhausted and about to explode, I had so much food inside of me! I said goodbye to Maria – for the second time, and then went to bed!
Tuesday: Today we decided to leave at 5 am to avoid any unforeseen traffic jams. Which was great, because I did not have to rush around the airport to catch my plane. Two buses and a 2 hour train ride later, I am now back in Cadiz!
This weekend was by far, one of the best I have had. I am so grateful to everyone for having me. Everyone was so kind and hospitable and treated me as if we had known each other forever. There are so many things I love about Italy; I don’t even know where to start! From the beautiful countryside, to the fires that burn in everyone’s fireplaces (yes, MB!), the coffee, the oranges, the pasta, the people… The list is never-ending. I cannot wait to go back! And next time – I’m not going alone! To everyone in my family, you MUST come see this place! It is truly amazing and something you have to experience in person.
Well, that is all for now! Be sure to look through the photo album on Picassa for more pictures. I took far too many to add to my blog!