Wednesday, October 30, 2013

And so it's time to go home, Saturday, June 29th

Saturday, June 29th

It’s time to go home. I got up early today so I could enjoy the last morning somewhat before the rush of leaving. I got up and dressed and then sat out on the beautiful terrace. Our apartment was perfect. Our entire trip was amazing. One that I will never forget. I hope the kids have memories that they won’t forget as well. 

People often say they get to go on trips of a lifetime. In this case, I think ours really was. There was nothing I would have changed. Looking back, every single day was perfect. We are lucky. Very lucky. 

Alessandra came by the apartment right on time, at 8:30. She did a quick run through and told us that we left everything just perfect. I could tell she was pleased. She returned our security deposit. I told her that if we ever returned, we would certainly stay here! 

We walked out the giant doors and our driver from Rome Cabs was waiting right there for us. Right on time, at 8:45. We left Rome, and arrived at the airport. 

As usual, my dad forgot to pack his little Swiss Army knife and had that confiscated because it was in his carry on. My mom mentioned that she always knows what she can get him for Christmas because he always gets one taken away from him! 

The airport was packed and our flight was delayed for about an hour or so. There wasn't even anywhere to sit, except the floor! But we didn't mind.  The kids kept busy, and I wandered around some of the shops in the airport a bit.

We had a little lunch in the airport. I bought Megan some spicy salami and Peccorino cheese in one of the shops! I surprised her with it on the plane. It was in a little snack pack. 

Our flight home was direct. Not bad at all. I got to catch up on some movies. I never get to see movies anymore. Especially my picks!

We arrived home to four cats who seemed to miss us very much and a huge stack of mail. 

Here it is now four months later and I can’t help feel like our trip was so much more than a vacation. It was an experience.  A journey. A good friend of mine told me before I left that I would come back a different person. I didn’t really understand that at the time. He was right. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My Insurance to Return to Rome! The Trevi Fountain!

We did it, we navigated the streets of Rome, in the dark on our own!  We made it to the Trevi Fountain, which if you can manage to get past the craziness of the crowds and the people trying to force roses upon you…is really a stunning site all lit up at night! 

Alex, Megan and I made our way down to the actual edge and tossed in our coins. We will be back! This was our insurance!   You know the legend right? Toss one coin in the fountain and you guarantee a return trip to Rome!  Two coins and you come back and fall in love, three coins and ...well this is where it gets a bit fuzzy.  I've read that you'll get married, and I've read you'll get divorced.  But the one that's always consistent is one coin and you come back! And then just go toss as many as you want, and then  Euros are donated to the local food bank or to the poor, and foreign coins are donated to the Red Cross.

It was a crazy mad scene though!  The crowds were tight and if we were going to be pick pocketed, this was the place!  But, whew – we made it, we took our pictures, we had our moment at the edge of the fountain and we enjoyed our time! Isn’t that what it’s all about?

After tossing in his coin, Alex decides he needs to try to toss me in the fountain!  Nice kid!  

We spent a bit of time in the area getting a few more souvenirs. Somehow though, I never found that “one” perfect thing. Again – another reason to return! This is something I tend to do when I travel – I see things I like and never buy them – I seem to think I’ll find something I’ll like better – I need to realize if I like something enough, to just go with my gut and make that purchase! I’m not talking expensive things either! Maybe a scarf or a little piece of art? Anything...then I get home and feel like I missed out on those little pieces. Anyway – I do collect magnets – I have one for every city or town that I’ve been to and I hang them on a whiteboard in my office.  

We found Mimi and G-pop and we walked back to our apartment. On the way we stopped back at the gelato place right next to the Albergo del Senato. The one that Megan and I had our very first gelato on the first afternoon when we arrived in Rome almost three weeks ago! It seemed only fitting that we would have our last gelato here now tonight!

We enjoyed our gelato and walked slowly back to the apartment. Stopping to say goodnight to our resident cats at Largo Argentina.

It was late, time for bed…of course as I was backing up my pictures from the day, Alex brings me his cell phone – he dropped it in a sink of water while he was brushing his teeth. Really? It won’t turn on. Ok…we’ll let it dry out overnight. Obviously we have no rice here for the rice technique! What a kid, 3 pairs of sunglasses and now the cell phone! It's a good thing he makes me laugh almost every day! 

It was time for bed, tomorrow we have to say good by to Europe. Bummer.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Our last night in Rome

I left off after our fantastic trip to we are, our last evening in Rome! Our trip is coming to an end, and fast!

We returned to our apartment and had some time to relax for a bit. We looked through the various booklets that Alessandra had left us and tried to decide where to go for dinner. We had recommendations from our guide yesterday, Mike, and we also had our list from our first night – our tour with Bruno. So many options! It was our last night – we wanted it to be special. While we tossed ideas around I also did most of our packing. I didn’t want to have to come back tonight and deal with it. 

We knew one destination for sure tonight would be the Trevi Fountain. So off we went, walking towards that direction. We had the address of one of the restaurants that Mike recommended, a place called Macerone. This would have been perfect yesterday! But they only had pasta – makes sense given the name right? We all had pasta for lunch and while really I wouldn’t have had a problem with more pasta, who would really? Some in our group wanted pizza…um, think Alex! So we kept looking.

Really, not a big deal, there must be more restaurants than anything else in Rome! We found a place a few blocks past the Piazza Rotunda on a nice street.

I absolutely love eating outside, musicians strolling by – sure they want a tip, but it’s such an amazing atmosphere! We had a good meal. Not the best of the trip, but it was good and the service was very good. We always had the most fantastic waiters and waitresses. They always served us with a smile and loved to joke with us and the kids. They often asked us where we were from and how long we’d be in Italy. To be honest, this is one of the things I miss the most since being home. I hate the rushed feeling you get when eating out in the states. It really has come to bother me when the servers clear you plates while part of your group is still eating. It bothers me when they bring your check and place it at the table stating "no rush", sometimes before you're even finished eating - but you know they just want to get you out of there so they can get your table filled for the next group so they can get their next tip. I miss the slow paced meals in Europe. I miss the feeling that you're dining in a restaurant where you're treated like part of the family, where they honestly want you to enjoy every bite of food and not just bringing in dollars....

After dinner the waitress offered us complimentary shots of Lemoncello and asked if the kids could have some. Again with the alcohol for kids! When I seemed a bit taken aback, they waitress laughed and said – they’re on vacation right? Alex seemed to indicate to her that he agreed and she brought both kids very watered down shots! We toasted our final night and fantastic trip! 

Keith decided to head back to the apartment instead of walking to the Trevi fountain. I don’t think he has the desire to toss a coin in or fight the crowds there! 

The rest of us made our way – it was our first time out really exploring Rome at night. Every other time we knew exactly how to get from point A to point B. This time we knew our destination but not so much how to get there. Off we went, map in hand! We made it without getting lost and we enjoyed the lively streets at night. Although I will say that G-pop was starting to look tired, his knee was starting to bother him. It took 21 days, but I think he’s fading! And Mimi, she just might be getting tired too! Sometimes I forget that they’re almost 70 years old! They have kept up so well with us that it’s hard to remember!

Megan had a fascination for these giant doors! Why in the world were they so big anyway???

And another one!

And we continued along, on our walk through Rome...

Next up....The Trevi Fountain!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Walking in our Ancestor's Footsteps!

So, we left the courthouse in Fallo, with an escort from the Sheriff so that he could show us the house, the house that was owned by my ancestors! – the American family escorted down the street…what a sight we were!  We followed behind our new friend, the Sherriff of Fallo, and our guide for the day, Vincenzo.

The Italians started looking out their windows – who were these people in our town? He’d call up to them – in Italian – you could make out some words – “America” “DiVito” “familia” And then an “ahhhhh”! He’d ask them if they knew Patrizio – well of course not – he left in 1910! They did know the DiVito who recently passed away though! They’d wave to us and smile! 

So we walked up to the house – it was charming! Lovely! It’s currently vacant if anyone is looking!

We walked through town...

We saw the town church – it’s beautiful inside!

Then the sheriff left us to just wander around the town a bit. It didn’t take long! Like so many little medieval towns seem to be, it’s basically a one street circle or loop.

We walked through, all the while taking more and more pictures

and when we got back to where we entered the town, Vincenzo told us we could wait at the “bench” and he would go get the van for us.

On our way out of town we stopped at the Fallo Hotel for lunch.

Our spot for lunch

We of course had Vincenzo join us for lunch. He was so much more than a driver that day! And again, thankfully he joined us for lunch! Not that we couldn’t have figured it out – but this particular restaurant was 100% all Italian! The menu – all Italian! The staff, well not a bit of English spoken here! And in his charming way, he asked us what we might like for lunch, even if it wasn’t necessarily on the menu, and what do you know – that’s what we got. I believe my dad got something from the menu, but Alex and I had gnocchi with traditional sauce and my mom and Megan had spaghetti carbonara. Neither of those items were on the menu and both were phenomenal! We had some starters, the five of us had entrees, I’m pretty sure there was wine involved and this meal was half the price of our over priced Panini lunch by the Vatican yesterday! Location is everything!

The views on the way out of town were beautiful!

This is the town across the valley on the next hill!

We decided that our drive back should be through the mountains instead of taking the highway. We were feeling adventurous now! We went through several little hill towns and it was just beautiful! Of course our stomachs were full and before long we were all sleeping! 

All in all our day to Fallo was a huge success! It was something we’ll remember forever! On our next trip we’ll have to do the same for my mother’s father’s father! 

Next up - our last night in Rome!

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Big Book of Records in Fallo!

After some lively conversation between the man we found in the court house and Vincenzo, of which we could understand not really one single word, the gentleman went to find the County Clerk. She came back all smiles! My mom and her got along as if they were separated at birth. However, neither could understand a word the other said! Not one word! As I stood there it was as if I was watching a movie – we walked into the room with these big books and boxes of records….

As I look back at this picture, I have to wonder just what was going on here!  G-pop took the picture and that's Vincenzo there in the hallway behind us.  Remember, he's our translator!  Now, you see Mimi is obviously talking to our County Clerk friend, and Megan and I are deep in thought trying to figure out just what is being said, because I know the only words my mom knows in Italian are words for food!  Think pepperoni, prosciutto, ricotta!  It's such a serious picture!

So at some point, Vincenzo came back into the room and it was very exciting! We had our paper printout from, words were being spoken a mile a minute – in English and Italian and Vincenzo was translating all the while! 

There was laughing and hands were going as only the Italians do! My mom was waving her hands, the clerk waving hers...The town Sheriff came in and joined in the conversation, his hands started going too. My mom talking to them both as if they could understand each other and they talking to her as if she could understand them! I stood there watching this exchange and my mom was just so at home here! I kept thinking how much she has loved Italy! 

Only there was a problem, they kept looking and they couldn’t find Patrizio DiVito! It’s not that we were in the wrong place, of course he was born here – we know that. But their records don’t go back far enough. When they built this City Hall, they didn’t bring the oldest records here. Did we have time to go to the main hall of records? It’s in another town? That would give us more information. We could find HIS card there they said. Vincenzo was pointing at his watch and telling them we’re only here for one day and we’d need an appointment if we went to the other town. Oh my!  Mind you, all of this exchange was in Italian, translated to English and back to Italian.

But wait – that’s ok because they can still show us the house that was the DiVito house! With a town this small, when a family owns property, they really only have one home and it’s passed down from generation to generation. Unfortunately the “last” of the DiVitos passed away this past March, but we can see the house and see the town! 

It wasn’t surprising that there wouldn’t have been any other DiVitos because my great grandfather, his father, and his sister all came to America. As a matter of fact, it’s a mystery as to who that last DiVito is a decedent from! We’ve got to do some research on that - maybe even a trip back to ask? 

Hugs were exchanged between my mom and the County Clerk. She was so upset she couldn’t find my great grandfather’s information. She must have searched every box and book for it! However, she was very pleased that we could see the house that he likely grew up in! And to see the town itself! Honestly, being here was like visiting with old friends!

Next up.....the American Family Tours Fallo!  As escorted by the town sheriff!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Back to our Roots! Part I... Friday, June 28th

This is it!  The big day!  The day the entire trip was based on really!  It’s the day we’re going to Fallo! This is the town where my great grandfather was born. And it’s actually the town that several other relatives came over to the US from as well.  But today is also our last day in Italy. Such a bittersweet day, I'm not ready to go home! This has truly been the most amazing time ever.

Anyway...on with the story!  This particular adventure is going to have to take more than one post.  It was quite an adventure going to Fallo, a tiny village in the Abruzzo region of Italy!

Originally we thought about driving to Fallo on our own. It’s a good thing we didn’t! Not because of the drive, but as we’d later find out – we would have been absolutely lost once we arrived!

As luck would have it, during my research I found out that Rome in Limo, one of the most commonly used tour companies for cruise passengers, happens to do a tour called “Back to Your Roots”! I stumbled across this when I was looking for our port tours. Interestingly for some reason we didn’t book any of our ports with them, but I did find this tour! I contacted them, and they were very easy to work with. Jany always replied by email very quickly – it seemed day or night! Did she ever sleep? Was there more than one Jany? 

Back when we started planning our trip, last summer, I started doing some pretty heavy family research. Sure – we knew the basics, but if we were going to try to find the “homeland” we had to know the details! So I went onto and did the whole family tree and I have to say it was absolutely fascinating! I found the immigration records for my great grandfather, Grandpop as we all know him as in the family. I saw the ship records for each and every time he came back and forth from the US to not only Italy but other places in Europe! I saw the paperwork where he became a US citizen, with his signature! So, on these papers, his hometown would be listed, with his birth date as well as his parents’ names. Which of course my grandmother knew, but to have it documented was fascinating!

I did hit a wall at my great-great grandfather. Once the records get to Italy it stops. I ended up researching both my mom’s mother’s family and her father’s family. Her father’s family will have to be our return trip to Italy!  His side is quite interesting! That one may make for a whole novel, not just a trip report! 

Anyway, as our trip got closer, I emailed Jany some of the details so our driver/guide would know where we would be going and what we’d be looking for.

We knew our drive would be about three hours or so. Keith decided to stay back at the apartment again today. He didn’t want to spend more than six hours in the van. Today he planned to check out some of the craft breweries in Rome. Not only is he a chef, but he is a pretty talented home brewer as well. 

So, while he slept in, we met our driver, Vincenzo, right at 8 am! We had a nice large van and Vincenzo told us that we’d take the highway out towards the Adriatic Sea and then back track towards Fallo, which is in the Abruzzo region of Italy. He said this would be a smoother ride, less mountainous… even though we’d be backtracking a bit. Coincidentally he was from a town about 25 minutes from Fallo, although he’s never been there himself. 

For those interested, Fallo is a tiny town with only 150 residents, maybe less. At the time when my great grandfather left Fallo, in the early 1900’s there were over 1000 residents! 

We rode along while Vincenzo drove. You would have honestly thought he was going to visit his home town too! He was so enthusiastic about this trip with us! The drive was so scenic, and apparently this wasn’t even the scenic route!

We stopped at an Autogrill for a bit of a break, filled up the van with gas and got some snacks. I got an ├ęclair type pastry. And once again – I was quite impressed with the freshness and quality of the food! So far train stations and roadside food has not disappointed us!

When we got close to our destination, Vincenzo told us to get our cameras out! He was funny – he wanted to be sure we’d get pictures of the road signs for Fallo!

And the “Benvenuti Fallo” signs! 

He was great. I feel so lucky that we’ve had such great drivers and guides! Here we are on our last day and every guide and/or driver has been wonderful!

As we approached the town, we were actually a bit surprised at just how modern it all seemed, with respect to where we were! First we saw an actual hotel! Shocking! When the town has 100 or so residents, you don’t expect a hotel!

But it certainly was filled with old world charm. This was absolutely nothing like my mom expected. I’d seen some pictures online in my research. She was maybe expecting something more farm like for some reason. I knew it was a medieval hill town type place. It was lovely!

Vincenzo slowed down and spoke Italian to two gentleman on the street, asking them where the City Hall was. With some enthusiastic hand motions we were on our way. Which was funny because there was only one road into the town!

We parked our very large, and seemingly out of place van and piled out. I felt like we stuck out like a sore thumb! 

We walked into the City Hall building and the first thing we saw was a poster on a bulletin board from a recent election. It may have been in all Italian, but my mom could not believe that of all the names listed she recognized the surnames of more than half of them! If they weren’t family names they were certainly names that she knew! They were families that also came over with her grand father!  Names she's heard of all of her life!

We walked up the steps of the very modern City Hall building and found someone in one of the offices. Not a soul spoke one word of English! Thank Goodness we didn’t make this trip on our own as our original plan was to do! It would have been right then and there that we would have hit a dead end! But we had Vincenzo with us now, and Vincenzo explained why we were here and who we were looking for. 

It’s not unusual for Americans to come to parts of Italy looking for a piece of their heritage, but I’m also pretty sure that this little town doesn’t get too many people stopping by too often! They have approximately 30 families that live there! 

Next up.....introductions with the county clerk and conversations in Italian!  Would we find our roots?