Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Trip Through Italy, Finale

Our last stop on our Italian journey took us to Sicily. We were so excited about this part of the trip because we had plans to do some research on my husband John's grandparents. Knowing this might be a difficult task, researching in another country, none of us had high expectations, but we did have high hopes. We weren't certain where to start and only had a slight grasp of the language but we had a great deal of enthusiasm for the project. Little did we know what excitement this part of the trip would bring.

John and his son were hoping to find lots of fun tidbits about their family history so we left Naples and headed, by train, to the island of Sicily, birthplace of their grandparents/great-grandparents. But first, how do you take a train to an island that has no railroad bridge or tunnel that takes you across the water? Well, we found boat. The train cars were loaded onto a very large boat with tracks inside.  After that, we were ferried across the water to the seaport of Messina, on Sicily. Then unloaded, hooked to a new engine and off we went. We traveled to the Taormina-Giardini/Naxos stop and walked to our little Miramare Bed & Breakfast. What a delightful place it was! Beautiful views of the water and a walking distance to some of the best parts of the town. The owner, Aldo, was so nice and very helpful! We would highly recommend it if you are in the Taormina area. Click here for more information.

Our views from the Miramare Bed & Breakfast.
Our first full day we headed to the small town of Bronte, which is the birthplace of my husband's grandfather. John and his son, J, were looking for genealogical information and certification on his birth. We figured the building that had the information would be in the center of town, so that is where we headed first. We all thought Bronte was small but were very surprised when we arrived and found it to be a very bustling, good sized town. It is the only place in Italy where they grow and process pistachios. They take great pride in that. We drove right through town, and came out on the other side, without really seeing a place that looked like a government building. So, we decided we would park the car and go around asking where the building might be. There was a government looking building where we parked, so John went in to ask if they knew where it was and as luck would have it, that was the place. So the search was on. 

We found a gentlemen, Nino, who, in very broken English, said he could help us, and took us to the room with all the old books and started pulling them off the shelves. We knew the basic information as to when his grandfather was born and his name, and with that, they pulled the book that had just the information we were looking for. Nino made official certificates of the information that they found in the books and the guys took pictures of the handwritten data, that was all in Italian. 

John and J in Bronte, Sicily, Italy
One of the interesting things about Italy is that they take a siesta each day, usually around 12:00 to around 3:00. We arrived with just an hour to research before that siesta began. Once they found the data, they asked Nino where we could go to eat lunch. He said he had a great place and just to follow him. So we did. Now, this could have turned out real bad. We didn't know this guy and yet we are following him as he goes further and further out of town. He stopped at one point to drop off his wife, at their home, and continued on. However, where he took us turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. We went up a hill to a resort, that overlooked Mt. Etna and the valley just below Bronte. We ended up having a full multi-course Italian meal, which ended with some of the best pistachio gelato I have ever had. 

Pistachio gelato at Feudo Marullo Resort.
Come to find out, the resort is owned by the same people who own the local, large pistachio plant. We headed there after the meal to have a quick tour. Nino was well connected in the town of Bronte which was obvious by the places he was able to get us into. We felt very blessed that we made his acquaintance that day. He helped us with the pertinent family history information we needed and led us to a great place for our meal. I think we may have not seen the last of our new friend Nino.

The next day we headed to Giarre, where Grandma Politi came from. We had no idea where we were going here but once again, the helpful Sicilians came to the rescue. A couple drove us to the building we needed to find the same type of information we found the day before on grandpa. These folks did not speak any English, however. Communication was a little more strained. But a very nice man, who was standing in line behind us, asked if he could help and he translated for us.  He told them we were looking for birth information on Grandma Politi. The man behind the counter said we would have to come back on Monday. We told him we were not going to be able to do that because we would be leaving before that. So he said to come back later that afternoon. When the guys went back, they weren't real hopeful that there would be anything for them, but sure enough, the guy pulled out the same type of books and got them the information that they were looking for. 

One of the stories, that bounced around the family, for years, was that their grandfather didn't come to America at the same time as the rest of the family. The story goes that he had an affair with someone and ended up killing her husband. It shamed the family so they left for America to get away from the shame. However, in there research they found that their grandfather actually did come to America. What they found out this day, was that grandma had been married before their grandfather. Was this the man who actually went to prison for killing the man? A new trail to check into? A new story to be told? The guys left Giarre with another goldmine and were thrilled they had made the trip to find out more about their family. 

We spent the last day touring around the beautiful town of Taormina. It sits up on a hill, overlooking the coast and has some gorgeous views.  We hated to leave this beautiful island but the next day we had to head back to Rome, to catch our plane home, the following day.  

Pictures of Taormina but these were taken on our last trip there.
They were better.

The amphitheater in Taormina.   

We had to do the ferry ride again, and had a long train ride back to Rome but the scenery was great and the trip very relaxing.  The plane trip home the next day would not be near as interesting and a whole lot longer.  But it was worth it for all the fun and adventures we had during our stay in the wonderful country of Italia!

This is the ferry we took from Sicily back to the
mainland of Italy.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Trip Through Italy, Part 4

The next leg of our Italian vacation took us to Naples. Now if you are like me, you have heard many a story of how bad Naples is...dirty, lots of pickpocketing, etc. But I have to say it was not like that for us. Yes, there is graffiti everywhere but I will tell you, Rome was worse. I don't think I would want to live there but it was nice visiting. Never once did we feel in danger of having our purses or wallets stolen. That is not to say that it doesn't happen. We all knew it could, because on our last trip to Italy, one of us was pickpocketed in Rome. It happened on the subway with the typical diversion tactic. It made us all very aware of our surroundings for the rest of the trip.  We carried that awareness into Naples.
Naples has it's own kind of charm. It is supposed to be the birthplace of pizza but repeatedly we found that you couldn't get a pizza until after 7:00 p.m. We never found out the reason for that. Speculation was that they didn't fire up the pizza ovens till later in the day.  

One of the days we were in Naples, we took the ferry and went out to the Isle of Capri. It was so beautiful there. When you arrive on the island you take a funicular to the top and the views were magnificent. It really is a pretty island. The downtown area was very touristy with lots of high end shops and gelato stores. A great place to take in a little respite and enjoy a glass of wine or beer.

We decided to go even further up to Villa Jovis, the palace where Emperor Tiberius lived, that was built in the first century, B.C. It was quite a hike to the Villa but it was worth it. The walkway up was lined with beautiful homes and gardens. Lots of photo ops! The palace itself, was fascinating and a lot of it is still standing, which is remarkable considering how long ago it was built. Even a mosaic marble walkway is still visible. Rumor had it that if Tiberius didn't like someone, he would take them to this one area, affectionately called Tiberius' Leap, and they would be pushed off the cliff.

Entrance to someone's home, through the garden.

Part of the mosiac marble walkway.

One of the sheer cliffs at Villa Jovis.  Tiberius would
     throw people off these cliffs, if he didn't like them.          

We went the next day on a guided tour of Pompeii.  What a great tour it was!  We had a fun tour guide, who was well versed on the history of the volcano and the town of Pompeii.  He made the tour very interesting, adding humor to the facts.  We took a tour in the afternoon of Mt. Vesuvius and quite frankly, it was disappointing.  It was pretty much self guided with no help from the guide (different than the morning).  The best part of that tour was the pizza lunch they provided for us.  

Here are some of our Pompeii pictures.  

This face was once a fountain from the aqueducts of long ago.

Mt. Vesuvius as seen from Pompeii.

First Pizza oven in Italy?

There are lots of things to do in the Naples area.  We only touched the surface.  Guess we'll just have to make return trip.