Day 15 in Italia! 🇮🇹

40 or so minutes away from the heart of Cosenza is the mountaintop Scigliano where our relatives here have built a country home and, down the street, my great grandfather once lived.

This house has been built and added to for generations and it shows! Pieces of the homestead clearly date back and offer a glimpse of the history pre-Unification–you can see parts of the old garden here where the family still grow fresh produce:


Once inside the patio, you can immediately find a large brick oven where the family can bake fresh bread or pizza:


And to the immediate right from here is a recently built Terrace with an awning covered in grapes (which they pick and use to make the family wine every year!):


Inside the house is a wrought iron fireplace which is stocked with chopped wood from out back–creating a cosy and authentic feel to an old house with the clash of new marble laid stairs.

I absolutely love the look and feel of this house. It is unique, handmade, and full of character–a far cry from America’s suburban conformitive neighborhoods. I spent many moments walking around every inch of the house trying to commit it all to memory with the hope of visiting this place again in my dreams. If there is ever a place to live one day, it is somewhere like this.


Once we were all settled, we helped ourselves to even MORE food! Homemade lasagna with foraged mushrooms from the garden, freshly grilled bacon, tossed spinach, beef stew, lemon and oil dressed peas and carrots, baked bread, and a dessert soaked and powdered in honey with white wine.


After becoming extremely full again, we topped it all off with another coffee and were introduced to our first Italian Digestive. They explained that there is coffee and then this kills the coffee–gesturing as if sullen with heartburn, miming a swig of the digestive, and then bursting with ease and comfort…or a burp, whichever makes more sense. It’s a light liquor that reminds me slightly of the taste but nothing of the texture of Peptobismol which is mixed with medicinal herbs to aid with digestion. Which, after the big meal we just partook in, seemed like a good idea to try as we hastily took a drink. 

After eating, we drove down the road to find the old house where my great grandfather lived before leaving for America.


Above is the old home and our beautiful patriarch from my last post. None of our relatives live there anymore, but many of the neighbors still remember and so he tried knocking on everyone’s doors with the intention of asking but it seemed like everyone was out for the afternoon.

Great grandfather’s old garden


He was not so easily defeated, however, and after traveling further down the road, was able to find his cousin who was more than eager to meet us! Ultimately, we were able to become acquainted with all of the remaining relatives at once this day, meeting another sister and her daughter and family as well.

I am so overwhelmed with love and affection for these relatives who have been so hospitable to us on our journey through Italy. Today we return to Cosenza in the hopes of touring this city’s history!

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Day 14 in Italia! 🇮🇹


Cosenza in the Calabrian region–the homeland of my mother’s side of the family. Her grandfather left this beautiful little town to start a new life in America, passing through New York City before settling in Northen Minnesota to work in the iron mines. As the story goes, all he brought with him was two potatoes, one in each shoe, and one grape stem from the family vineyard hidden in his pant leg. He was alone and determined–working hard and saving up money so that he could send for his wife back home. Since then, our family has grown and spread all over the United States but a large number of us still reside back home in Calabria. 

This journey so far has had a number of travel woes, usual tourist attractions, and delicious food–but the real magic starts wth the rediscovery of our family heritage and meeting, for the first time, our Italian relatives. We met a few of them already in Bologna, but in Cosenza we had the pleasure of meeting the patriarch of the family. Related by blood, he is the nephew of my great grandfather who left for America–my mother’s second cousin. He was a spunky and calm man who was nothing but smiles! I had never met my grandfather as he passed away before I was born, but I have seen pictures and heard recordings of his voice and his nephew is the spitting image. He only spoke in Italian, but we were able to learn a bit about his life.

He has traveled all over the world in his life, talking excitedly about the work he did in Nicaragua and Mexico, about how he visited New York and telephoned my great grandfather in Minnesota, and how he even participated in a war in Saudia Arabia–showing us a black and white picture of him as a young man reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia. He was also a delightful little trouble-maker who kept stealing everyone’s wine glasses to refill with the family’s own homemade bottle of red and white as well as a brandy made from the family grapes!

We enjoyed a 7 course meal (pasta with meat sauce and Parmesan, salad, breaded veal, fried potatoe chips, broccolitini, fruit, and pastries paired with a long shot of coffee steeped in sugar!) and spent hours communicating with our extended family. With my great grandfather’s nephew at the head of the table, we also met his two daughters and their husbands as well as the father of one of his son-in-laws. There wasn’t much English to go around the table but we made do with Google Translate. Some of the highlights of our conversation included a detailed explanation about George Clooney and his Nespresso commercial–Italians have taken interest and were curious what his involvement was and what the catchphrase “What Else?” meant. They discussed Whiskey and what they knew of Jack Daniels and one of the husbands hilariously showed us a picture of The Duke’s of Hazard–I’m happy to say that America is clearly representing itself well abroad! 

After dinner and conversation, they brought out the old photo albums and we were able to see how our entire family.

Next, we head to the country to discover where my great grandfather lived!

Day 13 in Italia! 

Yesterday was the final leg of our road trip through Italy until we need to drive to Rome for our return flight home. We are now in Cosenza and since it was another day of travel, I have little in the way of an adventure to share for this day. However, since traveling through Italy, I’d like to share with you the soundtrack I’ve picked up and appreciated from the radio, tv, and locals in Italy. It’s not road tripping without travel music and the Italian artists and songs I’ve had the pleasure of hearing and discovering are a revelation in their own right. Below are my top 5 Italian songs so far from Italy–music that anyone can enjoy and listen to regardless of language barrier!

1) Vivere a Colori by Alessandra Amoroso

Vivere a Colori or “Living Color” has got to be the most popular song in Italy at the moment. I actually discovered it before even coming over to Italy, falling in love and buying it on ITunes in preparation. Imagine my surprise that I actually hit a genuine goldmine with this find. It’s all over Italy–from constant radio airplay, to game shows on TV, to hearing the locals singing the chorus in the street! As for Alessandra herself, you can find her CD in rest stops all over the country too–this woman is on top of the world! She made it big 7 years ago on an Italian talent show similar to The Voice but as a more broad artistic catch all for youth aspiring to be singers, dancers, actors, presenters, etc. and attending an academy of sorts. Alessandra won and has since gone on to be the first female Italian artist to win the MTV Europe Music Award for Best European Act. I highly recommend the rest of her CD (Vivere a Colori) and especially Comunque andare or “Still going” if you dig this tune!

2) Sofia by Alvaro Soler

Okay so technically this song is Spanish but I promise that Italians don’t care and this song is all over the radio as well! I’m also not saying that Alvaro wrote this song for me but he totally did. Sure I may be a little biased to finally have a song written after me (I guess I just needed to search in Latin countries this whole time!) but this one is super peppy and catchy complete with that typical whistling thing that pretty much every alternative act copies back home. Alvaro is younger than me and kind of a big deal–he’s handsome, a Spaniard, and making bilingual hits in Spanish, Italian, and has even been messing around with Jennifer Lopez on one of his hits for the U.K./USA. Keep an eye on this one–oh, and his music I suppose.

3) Senza Fare Sul Serio by Malika Ayane 

This one I discovered on the Italian version of MTV and holy crap am I obsessed with it. First of all, it doesn’t take Goggle Translate to understand and identify with the monotony of a 9-5 work week and the excruciating way we all tend to fall into a mind numbing habit. Malika in this video looks freaking fabulous doing it though (I’m totally pumping gas in that get up when I come home) and the end of the video is pretty much exactly me and why I’m even typing to you from Italy in the first place. There is hope, everyone! Check out Malika if you love this, she reminds me of the Italian version of P!nk.

4) Eterni by Zero Assoluto

Mmmkay. I don’t even know if Italy has access in their region to Stranger Things on Netflix but if they don’t then they’re lying. And if this song wasn’t created for and inspired by the show then they are ALSO lying. What’s amazing to me about this video is that it seems that Italy as the same cultural and nostalgic yearning for the 80’s that we do–and it even looks the exact same way! …unless this is literally just Stranger Things. The lights and the letter decoder gave it away. Bah, this one is for you nerds!

5) Due Giganti by Alessio Bernabei 

I don’t really know what to say about this one other than I really want to jump around in a pool with a dude who looks good in a wet suit and maybe sounds a little like Justin Bieber meets something actually decent.

Day 12 in Italia! 🇮🇹


After Pompeii, we decided to find a new hotel to stay in since our last one was the worst of the worst. We plugged in our GPS for a random hotel that we were lucky enough to have led us to…Sorrento off the Amalfi Coast!


This place is GORGEOUS! We splurged on a nice hotel with a sea view because we deserved this after the cardboard mattresses we slept on and the possible (we think) fleas we slept with. There was a pretty nice resturaurant across the street with beach access, so we sat down for a nice meal:

Prosciutto e Melone

Linguine with Lobster

Tiramisu


Near the end of our meal, however, I received a text from my mother: “Are you okay???” That’s odd. “Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?” I answered back. 

Well, as most of the world knows, there were two new earthquakes that shook up central Italy. Thankfully, as of the time of writing, there had been no fatalities. It sounded like Rome was shook pretty well from the tremors, and so we decided to postpone our plans until the very last day of our trip and to keep heading south since we feared further aftershocks. We didn’t feel any tremors in Sorrento, but after checking in with our family in Bologna they told us that not only did they feel it, but they were suffering from nausea and vomiting as a result. As Americans who live in central United States, earthquakes aren’t something we’ve ever experienced. The worst we have to deal with is tornadoes and snow storms. Our family reassured us that in Italy, everyone is used to earthquakes and it is simply a fact of life here. 

Still, we decided to extend our stay on the Amalfi coast for another night.


But when it rains it pours, and I mean that literally. The entire extra day in Sorrento was rain, rain, and RAIN! Oh well. We’ll have plenty of beach time in Cosenza.

I gave the ol’ Italian pizza another go and found it even BETTER in Sorrento:

Pizza Carbonara


Next we start the road trip to Cosenza for the week!

Day 10-11 in Italia! 🇮🇹

This is another combined post because holy Romans did it take us forever to get to Naples yesterday (and there may have been crying and getting lost involved). 

Before we left, however, we were able to squeeze in some time to visit the good ol’ Leaning Tower of Pisa which I refused to do a glorified selfie with.


We were in too much of a rush to tour it or pay for tickets, but I can tell you from my basic knowledge that the reason the silly thing tilts is because it was built on a soft foundation and took nearly 200 years to complete because of money and wars and stuff. The titling began during construction and everyone must have just shrugged and kept going because what the hell, right?

Once we eventually made it to Naples–persons and car intact in what was an excruciating 6 1/2 hour drive which really didn’t seem all that bad before, we sat down and had some sorta authentic pizza from a restaurant we just happened across.


Personally, I’ve had better. I blame the restaurant choice and not Napoli though. Adding this to the list to take more seriously when I inevitably come back one day. 

This morning, we began with one of our most important visits–to Pompeii. It was destroyed in 79 AD by the looming asshole Mt. Vesuvius shown below:

Not at all sorry

 

Aside from being known for a shitty movie starring Jon Snow, the archaeological site is famous for being one of the best preserved remains of a Roman city thanks in part to the blanket of ash that kept it nice and cosy for more than a thousand years–safe from invasions, Vandals, and dirty Modern folk like us building things on top of it.

Here are all of the really cool things we saw:

Roman bath houses–unfortunately closed. In a usual display of Roman humor, it’s known for erotic paintings


Temple of Apollo (NOT Creed)


Stadium


Roman Amphitheater


Penis graffiti because Pompeii is as immature as I am





Crypt in the Necropolis


Day 9 in Italia! 🇮🇹

We made it to Florence–the birth of the Renaissance and…fashion? At least that is what the tour said!

Now, I’ll inform you right now that I didn’t get to see much of Florence. The “No Museum” rule kills much of the majesty of this city–which is known for its innovative works of Leonardo da Vinci, beautiful workmanship of Michelangelo, scientific marvels of Galileo, and dominance and intrigue of the family House of Medici. I did get to cruise around a bit on an open tour bus, however, and was able to get a snap shot of some of the city.

 While I didn’t get to see the Doumo or the Statue of David, we were able to pass to see the Medici Fortress, the Arc of Triumpth, the house where Galileo lived and died, the Arno:


The Piazza of Michaelangelo, dedicated to the artist and sculptor and harboring one of the best views of the city:


And we even drove up to Thiesole, an ancient Etruscan settlement where Leonardo was thought to have tested his flying machine. I didn’t know much about Thiesole prior to this trip, but it sounds like a fiesty little badass. At first it allied and helped Rome before getting all disgruntled and was then leveled for being anti-Roman. It was built up again as a Roman settlement and continued to thrive after of the sacking and fall of Rome–before Florence eventually bitch slapped it into submission.

After our touring, we sat down for our second course meal–which featured Tuscan olive oil (of which is famous for being smooth in taste) and an iconic blueberry sauce for my pork medallions:


Day 8 in Italia! 🇮🇹

Sorry for the late posting but I was so full of pasta and good company for the night that I immediately crashed after returning to our hotel room. We made it to Bologna where we were due to meet our Italian relatives for the first time! I’d share pictures of us together but I think it’s only appropriate to share pictures of myself on this blog (I’ll also be keeping their names private). We were immediately greeted with big hugs and lots of kisses–I honestly felt so welcomed and accepted in this first 5 seconds of initial meeting that I wondered if I hadn’t simply known them all my life. There was a bit of a language barrier, mother couldn’t speak any English at all and the daughter spoke in broken, but we were able to make do with Google Translate which does a FANTASTIC job with, I’d say, at least 90% accuracy. The mother started making pasta for us to eat and we knew better than to refuse and I can’t tell you how magical it was to sit there in a real Italian home experiencing real home cooked Italian food. This is what dreams are made for!

A river usually runs through this canal, but the hot season has dried it up!


After lunch, we headed out to downtown Bologna with our famgilia in the lead–our own private tour with locals who knew the city and could bring us to all the well known structures. 


Our family explained that there used to be an old wall around Bologna and today you can still see parts of it scattered around the city. There are still 12 gate structures from the original wall and when you get further into downtown, you’ll see more of them embedded now between more modern housing.


We also noted the Spanish influence in the architecture to which our family agreed–there were a lot of Spanish families here throughout history. The city almost looks lik what I imagine the (Pirates of the) Caribbean to look like.


We visited the canal in Bologna, which unfortunately due to the hot summer, has all but dried up the river for now. My family assured me that when it rains, it will start to fill up again. The mother also pulled me aside and explained to me in Italian about the lockets on the gate (I didn’t think to grab a picture of this, argh!) But essentially, couples come here to scratch their initials together in the wall/frame and then they add a lock to the gate to symbolize their love and bond. I hurried out a question on Google Translate, “What if they break up???”. Mother shook her head at me and with her finger waved no no no. With a slow deliberate tap on my phone so that I was sure to let the message sink in, she had typed back (translated of course) “Love is Eternal.”


They also showed us a Cathedral which was intended to be built in the shape of a cross (quite common in this time period) but they explained that they had run out of funds and so it remains unfinished to this day–standing as an almost how-to build of an old church. Mother also pointed to the lamps above the street and under the awnings which we now noticed we’re off as the day grew darker. She said that lighting became too expensive for Bologna and so they leave these off now. I’d say Bologna isn’t the greatest for night walking.


I explained to my family that I was very much in love with history, specially with the “Romano Impero” and so they led me to towers that were still standing. It’s amazing how even structures created so far in the past can still make you feel as tiny and insignificant as a skyscraper in New York. They wanted to show me more from the Romans, but as it was a Sunday, all of the museums and sites were close. That’s okay though, taking in the city itself was far more history than we had yet to witness on our trip.


Before dinner, a reservation we had for 8pm (Man, these European eating times!) we stopped at “The BEST” Gelato shop in Bologna–Gelateriagelanni. The shop owners didn’t understand me or my traveling companions, but our family explained to them that we were Americans and you could understand that they were excitedly explaining that we were family visiting and being shown the city and you could tell our family were regulars at this shop. The shopowners warmed to us instantly and helped us pick out the best flavors. Actually, it’s not that unusual for the people of Bologna not to understand us–they explained that their city was not a tourist one but was instead a College town. The University of Bologna, home to famous students such as Dante, was what people came to the city for. 

Once we had walked around the entirety of the city, it was time for us to eat at one of the best restaurants in Bologna and enjoy some of their traditional dishes. 


Whew! I was FULL! I also ate bologna in Bologna which came with the table bread before our meal. I’d call that quite an accomplishment.

Okay, now I’m stuffed from just uploading these pictures. We said goodbye (for now) to our dear family–we will see them again in Calabria–and headed back to our hotel for one helluva a food coma.

Next up we’re in Florence!