The day that I had been impatiently waiting for since my first trip to Italy in 2008 had finally arrived; I was taking my dad to Piane Crati, a small town in the hills of Calabria outside of the city of Cosenza. This sleepy town is where my father and his father before him (my Nonno), were born, and which he hadn’t seen since the family left for Canada in 1958. Neighbouring Piane Crati is the even tinier village of Donnici Superiore, where my Nonna hails from. It is likely that I had really been waiting for this trip for my whole life; although I was born in Canada, the passion and soul of Italy has always coursed through my veins, and I’ve always felt a deep-rooted connection to the land of my ancestors.
To read the introductory post to this series, please click here! This trip took place in August and September 2016.
My eyes snapped open at 2 am, a combination of excitement, jet lag and heat waking me from my light slumber. Today was our first full day in Cosenza, in Italy! I opened the window to let any hint of a breeze flow through and cool down my high-ceiling bedroom at the B&B Paparelle. I heard my dad awake in the other room at the same time; nervousness and excitement likely coursing through his veins even more so than in my own. Eventually, we drifted back to sleep, waking up again at 8:45 am and having a slow breakfast of coffee, fruit and packaged pastries.
It was 10:30 am by the time we got into our compact rental car and headed for the hills. As we drove through the old streets of Cosenza, so narrow that you sometimes find yourself involuntarily holding your breath in hopes that you’ll be slim enough to make it through, my dad exclaimed how cool and beautiful everything was, the word “wow” escaping his lips multiple times. To see him be so in awe with his country of birth, after describing my awe to him for years, brought me so much joy, and still does to this day.
Like millions of Italians before and after them, my family was part of the great Italian diaspora that took place at the end of the 19th century and well into the 20th. Almost 30 million Italians emigrated during that period for similar reasons – to escape poverty, war and lack of work and to start better lives for themselves and their families. One of those emigrants was my five-year old father, Carlo. The Marrazzo family left poor Southern Italy in waves beginning in the mid-50s. My Nonno (grandfather) followed in his parents’ footsteps and left for Canada in 1956, working hard for two years to save enough to bring the rest of his family over. At the end of 1958, my Nonna, along with three children between the ages of three and seven, said goodbye to their small town of Piane Crati, Calabria, and never looked back. They made the 300km journey by train to Naples, where they boarded the Saturnia ship and spent a week crossing the Atlantic Ocean. This was followed by a week-long train trip crossing the vast expanse of Canada and finally arriving in their new home of Edmonton, Alberta, a place immensely different from the home they had just left behind.
Our time in Sorrento was considerably different than our time in Naples. Naples is a bustling, vibrant Italian city and Sorrento is a small seaside town that is a major tourist hot spot. Our travels may not have ever brought us to Sorrento on our own. Dave’s parents, Randy and Lorise, are close friends with another couple, Pino and Rita, who live a few provinces over and who also happen to be Italian. They’ve always talked about traveling to Italy together, and Dave and I have always half-joked about tagging along. They were finally able to make the trip in 2013, so Dave and I worked our itinerary so that we would be able to meet up with them for at least a couple of days. To make things even better, Dave’s aunt Linda and uncle Larry would be joining them on the trip as well.
We hopped on the Circumvesuviana out of Naples again and had an easy journey. The train was amazingly uncrowded and we sat the whole way, even with our suitcases. As soon as we stepped out of the train station, my chest instantly tightened up at the sight of all of the tourists, tour groups and tour buses, and at the sound of so much English.
I had been waiting for this day, Friday the 13th, for many years. This was the day that I was finally going to walk up to the mouth of the sleeping monster, Mount Vesuvius. I have a very distinct memory of being around seven years old and finding a book at my elementary school that fascinated me. It was full of stories about ancient and faraway lands, and the stories that stuck with me most were about Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. Ever since that day it had been a huge dream of mine to see those incredible places. I visited Pompeii on my first trip to Italy and had seen Mount Vesuvius from afar, and now I would finally walk on it.
In order for us to get there without a rental car, we first took the metro to Garibaldi Station. I couldn’t help but laugh as the metro pulled up. It wasn’t sleek and new like in countless other cities in the world. Perhaps they are for other lines, but the one we hopped on was an ancient, slow Trenitalia train. Once we got to the main station, we bought tickets for the infamous Circumvesuviana line. A lot of travelers worry about catching the train at Napoli’s main train station and taking the CV because they are afraid of being pickpocketed. While this can and does happen, as long as you stay aware you shouldn’t have any problems. We didn’t. The station was quite busy with 95% tourists heading to Pompeii. Everybody was smoking. We happened to be standing beside two young British men and witnessed a funny encounter. An Italian man was going around with a small box of lighters trying to sell them to people, who would wave him along and that would be the end of it. He managed to engage these two guys and have a little bit of back and forth, neither of them really speaking the language. Eventually, after several minutes, the Italian was able to sweet talk them into buying a lighter with a kitten on it for one Euro. Continue reading Hiking Mount Vesuvius: Fulfilling a lifelong dream→
I have always wanted to experience Naples, the Bay of Naples, and Mount Vesuvius. My husband and I originally planned to visit the city on our first trip to Italy all the way back in 2008. We even had a hotel booked, but we were fresh travelers on our first trip to Europe and the Internet boogeymen got the best of us. Add to that an ongoing garbage strike, and we cancelled our stay. Fast forward to 2013 and our third trip to Italy. With more experience under our belts, we finally made it to Naples.
The overnight ferry from Montenegro docked in Bari, on the Adriatic coast. From there, we picked up our fourth and final rental of the trip and had an easy drive to Naples.
I’m ashamed to admit that we made a major rookie mistake once we dropped off our rental. We walked over to where all the taxis were lined up waiting for customers. One pulled up and let out its passengers. Then the driver, rather than going to the back of the line to wait for fares, swung over to us and ushered us inside. He was breaking the rules and we should have known better than to get inside. In the back of my mind I was screaming “RIP OFF!” but it was hot, we were tired and hungry. He was a real smooth talker, trying to act like our buddy and giving us common tips about Napoli. What should have been a 15EUR cab ride ended up being 35EUR, and he even had the balls to straight up ask me for a 5EUR tip so he could “get some coffee.” Worse things can definitely happen, but I felt a little ridiculous.
After we checked into our charming B&B, we hit Via Toledo in search of some famous Neapolitan pizza. We had plans to visit some of the famous pizzerias later on, but needed a quick fix. We didn’t have to go far before coming across Pizzeria Mattozzi. The menu was quite extensive but we hardly even needed to look before deciding on the classic margherita pizza, perfectly simple with only tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil. Delicious pizza combined with classic nonchalant Italian service, the waiter singing beautifully to himself, and a cute older gentleman clearing tables gave us a perfect introduction to they city. Turns out you can’t throw a ball of dough in Napoli without finding a good pizza. Continue reading Iconic art and eats in Napoli→
After two uneventful, yet sleepless, flights, Dave and I touched down in Roma. Although the trip from our door to the airport in Rome was 17.5 hours, we decided to rent a car and hit the road right away to get to San Marino, where we were spending two nights. Continue reading My visit to the world’s oldest republic→
Success! After several weeks of planning and fine tuning many options, Dave and I have finalized our itinerary for a European visit this summer.
It was always in our plan to spend time in Italy on this trip. We also wanted to visit Malta as we almost went there on our last European trip but couldn’t make it work. Other ideas included Croatia and Greece. We struggled a little bit making a trip that didn’t include several internal flights and odd routes. After many hours of research and taking dozens of guidebooks out of the library (thanks EPL!), our itinerary looks quite different, and extremely exciting! Here it is: Continue reading Unveiling my Europe 2013 itinerary→