Virginian Abroad: July 2017

1 Week in Southern Italy

One day, I received a call from Dad suggesting a trip to southern Italy; adamantly I told him, I’d help plan.  This trip would give us (J & I) the opportunity to meet the family; and for Dad, Nonna, and Lucia, a reunion of sorts, following several decades.  We planned a week trip, four days in Napoli (for arrival and departure), and three in the south with the Scordos.

NYC.JPG

What a vacation/Family gathering so far in Italy.  I should have known it would be unforgettable, when it started the way it did; thanks to me living up to the family name.  I leave the house on June 30, a half-hour from D.C. to realize I have left my passport at home.  After exhausting all options, which included making a rare phone call to my roommates; I determined my only course of action, turn back.  Defeated, after informing Dad & Tracy the news; the next step was to catch the 7 pm Greyhound, putting me into NYC at 130 am.

A costly and shameful mistake, since I am supposed to be an experienced enough traveler to remember my passport! The ride was surprisingly easy and quick, arriving to NYC on a Friday night was cool.  Playing the tourist role, I was sure to snap photos of the city while in the backseat of the Uber.  I woke Julia up; purtroppo, when I arrived but, came to find out she didn’t remember.  It was nice their excitement; Julia, Dad, Nonna & Lucia, to see me; it outdid their disappointment or irritation from my Andrew move.

NAPOLI 

The plane ride sitting next to Julia was smooth, although we did sit on the tarmack for an hour.  We finally arrived at the spacious Air BnB in Napoli after all too much driving around our intended location, then sitting outside at a nearby cafe; refueling.  The traffic is heightened by narrow streets, dangerous vespas, and impatient Italians.  We later learned that our location was convenient for the metro, hindsight, Nonna and Lucia are in no shape to be trekking around in the underground subway.

IMG_5125.JPG

While the three older generation Scordo’s needed some rest, Julia & I had an itch for exploration.  We ventured out around 4 pm, soon taking advantage of the first Sunday of the month policy; in Italy, most national & state buildings, sites, attractions are free on that day.  After wandering around the city we found a destination, Castel Sant’Elmo; a large fortress overlooking the entire city and bay.  We explored for an additional two hours then headed back to the apartment for Cena con la famiglia.

Napoli Mare 7-17

This day for me will always be remembered, in some part per sempre!  The previous night we ate at a local restaurant suggested by Nikki, our Air BnB owner.  Good food & vino.  I woke the next morning in a frantic state as Julia jolted out of bed, several instances in a rushed panic.  She would sleep until 2 pm; only awakening right before we decided to write a note about our departure.  She informed us that she had been sick throughout the night, but that would not stop her.  Insisting that she felt well enough to join us; despite not drinking or eating anything, we ventured out towards Piazza Teatro.

Upon entering the metro, we learned our stop was seven away; about a fifteen-minute ride.  While we waited, Julia; now feeling sick, sat down near the vending machines, prompting dad to buy a variety of snacks and drinks.  We aimed to find her a seat; however, the metro car was quite full; forcing all of us to stand.  Within a stop she started to sway, and despite holding tight to two poles; she started to fade towards the ground.  Fleeing into action, about three or four strides away, I bear-hugged her to keep her now unresponsive body up.

match.JPG

As I held her in my arms; frantically looking around for a seat, it seemed as if time had slowed down.  One man signaled to his seat as he jumped out of his spot.  Adamantly urging her to release her death grip on the poles, I took her full dead-weight; managing to plop her down into the seat.  The journey to the now two free seats, only a mere fifteen steps from her original location; was both mentally and physically exhausting.  Holding her head up with my hand, it was clear as I looked towards Dad, Nonna, & Lucia; I had no idea on what to do!  I think I needed a seat, from clear anxiety; as much as she was.  The next series of events was completely out of my control; Grazie Dio!

The surrounding Italian passengers jumped in, aiding the two of us with knowledge, and care; beginning with an older, imposing woman bodying dad, to offer Julia some water.  She began to pat Julia’s face with cool water, before giving me the bottle for her to drink.  I heard shouts of zucchero; sugar in Italian, followed by handfuls of chocolate candies that eventually I persuaded Julia to consume.  She first, as I can imagine; rejected them, but with my urging she accepted the sugar boost; she later confirmed that they were gross; never actually swallowing them!

Another woman came to our aid, insisting that she as an Infermeria, nurse; and began to fan Julia with a personal Asian style fan.  I took the fan and continued the act while she attended to Julia’s unconscious state.  She laid Julia down across the four seats, propping her legs up on the bar.  We later laughed, with the treatment Julia received; she should do that more often, seriously; that’s probably the most excitement some of those people encountered on the metro.

After about four minutes of Julia’s pampering, she flashed a smile; causing the bystanders to break out in exuberant cheers.  We had two stops left, and with help from four male passengers, we were led to the exit; Porto.  Without a firm comprehension of the language and a lack of vocabulary; all I could say to voice my sincerest appreciation; Grazie Mille, a thousand thank yous.

After exiting the metro station, we immediately found somewhere to sit down and eat.  The food helped Julia, (pollo con carote e poi acqua) then we turned our attention to the port; particularly Castel Nuovo, all we needed to do was turn the corner.  Very picturesque, it didn’t have near the size of Castel Sant’Elmo.  Afterward we stumbled upon a club water polo match, first I’ve seen in person; those Italians were serious about their teams.  Turning away from the pool, provided a panoramic view of the bay.  We left the port and split up; Julia & I opting to take the metro to the Duomo, not worthwhile to see, while the other three returned away via a taxi cab.

Castel Nuovo Napoli 7-17.JPG

We got lost a little bit; a predicament I enjoy getting into, allowing me to see more of a given city!  Later in the evening, we returned to the same restaurant as the night before.  Lucia was her interesting self during dinner; providing her own entertainment on the evening.  When we returned to the Air BnB, we sat on the terrace; overlooking the busy narrow street below, lined with packed bars and cafes.  People-watching is truly something enjoyable for all ages.

The next morning, we awoke in preparation for our day trip, to Sorrento & Positano.  The drive from Napoli took us along the famed, mountainous coastline was stunning. It was very cool to see Pompeii from a distance on the interstate.  The ride however will be most memorable for what occurred in the backseat, Julia, Lucia, and myself; who knew a tiny elderly Italian woman could take up so much room.  I cannot imagine the stress put into that driver, in this case Dad; not only with the road ahead but the two crazy ladies in the car.

Fam.JPG

SORRENTO

After parking the car, finding a good place for me to urinate outside, we made our way down to the beach; where we found a restaurant on the water, with the beautiful view of our surroundings.  The kids swimming were the real treat, again people watching!  Like a DA, Mitchell voice, I didn’t bring my jammer on this day trip; I’ll have to wait until Calabria.

After all the time in the car that day we needed some exercise!  Upon parking and our arrival to the Air BnB, J & I ran down past the overlook we found on Sunday day 1.  Although a relatively short run, both in time and distance, we made the most of it!  We faced plenty of incline, the hilly terrain required us to finish hard up the curve.  The treat then came with dinner at Tortura which translates to torture, mmh, did I translate that right?  It was delicious, fresca panini for 5-7 euro!  Tuesday evening ended with some vino, zucco ananas, and a much-needed shower & sleep!

  Wednesday, the second straight July Fourth I have missed, Julia as well for being in Europe.  Aaiming for a third for 2018.  We woke up planning to leave by 11 for Reggio Calabria, a 4 ½ hour drive but had to change the plans.  Nikki cam 5 minutes before 10am telling us we needed to be moving out by 10 am.  No breakfast, instead quick packing up.  The ride down to Reggio, similar to Sorrento, it was an experience.  Although we got a really nice vehicle, its European not for many people comfortably.  We stopped in Polla, a cute quaint town about 2 hours south of Napoli, for lunch.

Sorrento 7-17.JPG

REGGIO CALABRIA

The hotel Belvedere recognized on TripAdvisor for top food in Polla, not many options, provided a full course delicious meal!  From here on now I will be recalling and writing about Reggio which was a lot; eventful, Tiring, Fun, Challenging; ultimately, Memorable and surprising.  We arrived Wednesday, 6 pm in Galico, meeting Maria and Nino so they could then drive us to their home in Reggio.  It was nice to meet Maria but evident immediately my Italian would be put to the test.  She challenged me to use it as much as possible, and Nino only speaks Italian, mostly the dialect.

Julia and I ran at a local track which seemed to be like a watering hole for all active citizens in the town, and high school track.  Since Nino sat waiting for us, we did sprints: ran two hard 400s, 2 easy 400s, then to 8 100s and 4 200s, first time I really sprinted in Awhile!  When we got back, we replenished ourselves with Fish, Ricotta spiced, stuffed tiny peppers w/ tuna, salad, asparagus and egg casserole, cheese, prosciutto, and pane (ovviamente!)  Certainly a sign to come for the amount of food and fresh fruit, pesca!  It was interesting to learn more of our Scordo origins and relation.

Later after dinner we left Nonna and Lucia at Marias house, w/ Nino we headed to Galico to stay near the beach at Rita’s condo.  We pretty much received Air BnB service and quality, and with a view of Sicily!  Later, we learned the four apartment on four floors is all owned by Scordos: Geno & Maria, Mimmi, Anita and Rita.  The later three are sisters and are too much fun, but ill get there.  Thursday, the big day of the family gathering started rough; we had no uove!  Since no one eats eggs for breakfast and we didn’t buy groceries.  Julia and Dad can attest this day was like a 9-5, starting with the drive up into the mountains.

Scordo 7-17.JPG

Around 1130 am we arrived to an Italian restaurant, ovviamente, nearing the peak of the mountain.  It was surprising to see so many people waiting outside the restaurant.  We met countless Scordos of four generations, most didn’t speak English, making it difficult to converse.  Maria divided the tables up across the large private room.  Julia with Francesco, Pasquale, Maria, Carmelo and Laura; myself at the head of the younger table w/ Giovanni, Veronica, Federica, then Dad at the other end of the table.  Nonna and Lucia each were at different tables of older Scordos.

I imagine it was a challenge for them; atleast I had two English speakers (to some point) in Giovanni and Federica; and I know a little, and am very interested in learning.  It was a challenge for me, but it was exciting to see my Italian improve over such a short period.  Again, abbiamo mangiato bene: antipasto, First piatto del pasto, secondo per carner; sono ancora pieno, poi insalata, bottiglie del vino, e certo…pane su pane.  Finalmente, the Italian-American cake.  Pictures and dancing soon ensued, which I was forced to join, although I don’t know what I’m doing…

I really enjoyed meeting some family members that I already mentioned; Mimmi’s daughters (Laura & Sarah) weren’t present but they’re included, along with Franco.  After the lunch in the mountains, the family headed, by her instructions, to Maria’s mountain estate.  Julia and Dad needed a break after lunch, Julia had noticeably lost her fuse; just too many people and too much talking.  So, I back at Rita’s apartment put it on to talk to everyone, looking at family photos, conversing in Italian and even speaking with Elio!

Everyone left, so we had roughly two hours before we were to go to Anita & Rita’s place near the water for a little dinner, again these people don’t know what a little amount of food is!  It was all incredible though, avocado & pomodori insalata, chicken, zucchini & egg casserole, birra Italiana (Moretti) and naturally Pane!  The conversation, although in majority Italian was fun, interesting and in depth.  Those three are a blast with Rita being an absolute riot, she knows enough English to add in.Fadd.JPG

It was another late night, 1130 pm when we left, and then an early turn around the next morning (730 am.)  Friday morning, the seventh was our last full day in Reggio; with the family!  We awoke early to meet Anita & Rita then drove to Reggio to meet Nonna & Lucia.  We arrived to the Via Marina area of Rggio around 9 am, Maria and Nino driving Nonna and Lucia arrived a few minutes afterward due to traffic; we all know it was Nino’s piano-piano approach to driving, going 20 km/hr on the highway.

We entered the museo celebrated and known for holding the two Greek soldier statues found in the sea in the 1970s.  The museum was neat, photos better describe it!  After touring, we enjoyed the beautiful Marino row, refereed to by one Italian philosopher as the most beautiful stretch of Italian coastline, again photo got it!  Exhausted from too much eating and lack of sleep, the three of us returned to the apartment to “rest.”  Dad “checked his 100+ emails”…slept, while Julia and I ran the boardwalk area along the beach.

mam.JPG

L’acqua del mare era fresca!  For just briefly cooling off from the run, the water felt great; and its always nice to just swim.  We left for the apartment, got some euros, purchased some ricotta & prosciutto crudo for snacks….Not realizing that dinner would be in an hour and 1/2!  There was so much food ordered to Anita & Rita’s it was riducolous.  It was great to see some many people there, Laura with Danielle & their kids, Sara and Lorenzo and their kids (Marta!)  Then Maria, Nino and the usual.  Plenty of vino, seriously maybe had twelve smaller solo cups of the local Calabrese wine.

The melanzane balls alone w/ Arancia was enough but then pasta, pizza, verdure, etc.  The kids noticeably had a blast with driving a toy dump truck around the yard, causing trouble as they should…instead of playing electronics!  We all had fun, atleast I thought we did, the red wine certainly helped to loosen dad and Julia up.

I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with Sarah and Rita, seriously difficult to say goodbye but am holding hope for next year; l’anno prossimo I told them!  I received a nice shirt, tie and Calabrian ornament from Maria and Nino.  I realized although Reggio has a small town feel with too much family staying close to home…it is special, part of my origins!

Churc.JPG

I could enjoy it for a longer period, as long as I could continually pursue my passions and have the freedom to move around.  Funny story, or maybe once again for me since I drank.  Maria and Geno were following dad, although they live here and clearly know the directions.  So they’re driving behind us; I’m in the back, and we soon find ourselves lost in a dark parking lot.  They pull up net to us with curiosity?  Mimmi sitting in their backseat just looked at us in amazement, “there light on the car was out.”  I don’t know why, but I couldn’t stop laughing; we had to admit we were lost.  They lead us back, we said our buonanottes and headed in for much needed rejuvenation.

Finally, to ieri (Sabato), after another rushed, egg-less morning we packed up, said goodbye to Anita and Mimmi, Rita was most likely recovering from the night before, and then left out at 9 am.  We suddenly gained energy, just the three of us heading back up to Napoli, but first Pompeii.  The ruins, the search for breakfast, and an emptier car, there was a lot to be excited about.  First, we had a failed attempt at breakfast, the one and only McDonald’s off the interstate was closed, instead forcing us to hop back on and find the nearest roadside servizio.  Providing food, caffe and gas; popping stop!

POMPEII

Two hours up the road we’d find a larger servizio packed with travelers; many seemingly from northern Europe.  We got a club sandwich and pizzas, yeah Italians don’t do your traditional breakfast.  The ride up was easy, there was plenty of room now and thanks to Hertz, there was wifi in the car!  Pompeii is very pretty, ovviamente a tourist attraction but aside from the ruined area, a cute town.  The ruins are why people go, but the town helped to make my IG more lit, some of the pics were fire (SNL reference.)

Pompei 7-17.JPG

The ruined city is large and expanding, but it was hot; like seriously all the people from northern Europe; you know the type too white, were dying.  Hiding in the shade didn’t help, silly tourists.  The rooms, especially the final house (the Villa of Mysteries) was so well preserved (Photo!)  Afterward, we made our way back under the heat, dad did not appreciate all the walking, but we had now earned the right to mangia!  Started with antipasto (Prosciutto w/ Melon, then grilled veggies and mozzarella!)  Next vino, certo, and some homemade pasta!  The combination of exhaustion, it was a brutal walk to the restaurant, and food coma; although, the limoncello gave me a slight boast, set our minds right towards finding that hotel, more particularly the beds!

Driving in Napoli is an experience, thankfully one that I did not have to deal with.  The business hotel was difficult to find, way too difficult to navigate around the city in general.  The highlight possibly of the entire trip came on the way to the hotel, about three kms down the street.  Near family neighborhoods and a main street, we found a sketchy area of the city; under a bridge.

Cars were driving up and down the shadowy stretch, calling for the women along the sidewalk.  We passed about eight to ten, one or two being Trans, bravo Italy for being open, that were all standing, sitting in a beach chair, or talking to their clientele.  Afterward we arrived at the hotel, which was very nice; especially the courtyard with the desserts (Baba) and fruit bowl, again Pesca!

Overall, great trip but whether a week or 2 months, always good to return home to family, friends, my BED, Routine, city, and country to which I speak the language!  I’ll miss the beautiful language, the endless sites, the food; especially fruit, and people.  Sopratutto, Mi mancero la cultura e l’opportunita per miglioramento through discomfort!  Gotta say oddly, I’m gonna miss the beaudae, it’s a nice luxury; hopefully, I’ll be using it soon enough starting January, and then I’ll return south to Calabria in May?

Fea.JPG