Italy – September, 2015
My grandfather’s 75th birthday was approaching.
His gift to himself was spending a week in Italy to connect with his roots. His mother’s side of the family was Italian and he was a devout Catholic, and there just aren’t that many ways to connect to those specific roots in Oregon. I’m neither Catholic nor Italian, but I couldn’t turn down his invite. A week in a new place with an old friend? Who wouldn’t?
A couple of weeks later, we were 30,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean and planning what we would see first.
We flew into Rome (Roma) and spent two days seeing the historical sites in the area: the Colosseum, Vatican City, Piaza de Spagna, and more squares than I could count.
We made a rule that we wouldn’t eat or sleep anywhere that can be found in the U.S., though the romantic idea of our exotic trip started to wear off when we found that all of the waiters in the cafes we found spoke flawless English and many weren’t from Italy. It appeared that there was no avoiding the tourist trap in the city. But… is that a bad thing?
Tourist is thrown around as such a dirty word among travelers, but missing the best sites and going out of your way to be uncomfortable just so you won’t *gasp* be a tourist is a very silly idea. Signed, myself after visiting Peru and Jordan without seeing Machu Picchu or Petra. Life is too short to worry about who you aren’t. We enjoyed the city, ignoring the silly idea listed above.
Our last night in Rome, my grandfather and I grabbed pizza from a cafe on the street with a Bulgarian waiter and took a final walk around downtown. We went to bed early to get a jump start on our road trip the next day.
Most of the next day was spent driving. We first went down the Mediterranean coast to Naples (Napoli). We stopped there for lunch and spent several hours snapping photos. This was my first time in Europe and the sight of small cars, narrow streets, and neighborhood soccer/football fields was brand new and shiny to me.
After lunch came Pompeii, an archaeological site near Naples. Mount Vesuvius erupted there in 79 AD, burying the city and preserving much of its ruins. The ashes from the volcano preserved embraced lovers, animals, pottery, and many of the buildings. Taking pictures inside this unplanned graveyard seemed inappropriate.
We spent the rest of the afternoon driving before arriving in Cariati, a coastal city on the Ionian Sea. This would be our final stop for the day. Tired, we checked into the small hotel and were treated to dinner in the lobby by the owners.
The next day featured some sightseeing around Cariati. The city has a population of 8,000 and its main attraction is its coastline. We finally went into full Italian mode, where I couldn’t communicate with anyone and my grandfather spoke only Italian. We were now in Italy. It was a relief. Shirley we didn’t come to my grandfather’s homeland just to eat pizza, visit monuments, and speak English. You can do that anywhere. It was a relief not to understand anybody or be familiar with the food
We spent the next day in Scala Coeli. Scala Coeli was where my great grandmother was raised. My grandfather and I went to the small village to look for extended family and see the locations of old family stories. We didn’t find family, but we spent hours going through the small streets, looking at the vineyards, and peering over the cliff. The cliff near town was the site where centuries prior, families would get rid of their parents when they became too old to care for themselves. This was done by dropping them off the side of the cliff. It was a horrifying story that I never expected to hear. But I grew to accept it. We were in an ancient land, one whose traditions predated my home country and our current view of morality and obligation by centuries.
Scala Coeli was as you would imagine a Mediterranean village to be: small, impoverished, beautiful, and full of friendly people.
The next day, we were headed back to Rome. I spent another night there sightseeing, then was on a plane back to Arizona.
After a handful of trips with my grandfather, I’m convinced that he’s the best travel companion in the world.