Italy: Family, Food, Festivity – Part I

We’ve been home from Italy a few weeks now, getting used to a different grind.

But first, a few reflections of our semester abroad. Assumptions I had before leaving: we’d eat well and we’d see amazing sights. That’s Italy, right? We’d been before—but never quite like this: living in a villa with 33 students, a 4-month-old in tow, the backdrop a cold and wet Tuscan spring.

 

Whether we were hopping a ferry to Capri or simply taking the tram into Florence, each day was “un avventura,” an adventure. Every time we buckled Ariel in her car seat she grew wide-eyed and kicked her feet. She was at ease on the move, even lulled to sleep by the bumpy cobblestones.

The directors, students, and Italian staff at the villa became Ariel’s clan. She thrived on the attention, squealing at the friendly faces she saw each day.

Despite sub-par weather on many of our outdoor excursions, we enjoyed dozens of incredible sites. One of the highlights was our afternoon visit to Pompeii—amid a 90% chance of afternoon showers, the clouds parted just as we finished lunch and purchased two large umbrellas.

I did not realize Pompeii was so huge.

Visiting the city, decimated when Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. and preserved for centuries under lava and ash, was on my bucket list and technically still is since I want to go back. Plus, although excavations began in 1748, much of the city is still unexcavated. A new discovery was made just days ago.

Just when I thought I’d reached the best day of the trip, the next morning we headed for Capri. An old gentleman with muscular hands said, “C’e’ un po’ di mare oggi” (there’s a little sea today) as he gave a gentle swishing motion with his hand. The expression, I soon learned, was an understatement. But after a little sea-sickness I was fine as we took a cab to Anacapri, the highest part of the island, and worked our way down.

We seemed to have the island to ourselves, as only one more ferry ran that day due to the wind. We visited the villa of San Michele, built on the ruins of one of the villas of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, who left Rome in 26 AD and never returned.

I ate possibly the best seafood I’ve ever had, walked on wooden slats over a church’s hand-painted ceramic tile floor, and bought a pair of handmade sandals by a cobbler in business for over 50 years. Our spirits were light under a brilliant blue sky as a cool, crisp wind ushered us from one beautiful scene to the next.

Next day we were up with the sun to travel to Paestum to see some of the most well-preserved Greek temples in the world (Greece included). They are some of the only temples which visitors are allowed to walk into. The archaeological museum on the grounds was full of pottery, carvings, and artifacts found at the site and was one of my favorites from the trip.

 

We stopped by a buffalo mozzarella farm on the way to our beach-side hotel. We settled in and watched the sun set, then sleepily made it through a delicious dinner (the hotel owner served us broccoli greens and zucchini from his personal garden). Ariel was not thrilled by her little wooden crib, which did not allow her to fully stretch her arms out. After much fuss, we finally got some sleep before our early alarms woke us to pack for the journey home. A couple miles from our hotel we stopped to visit a WWII-era German machine gun post built to ward off American soldiers in Operation Avalanche. We then headed to Naples to the archaeological museum, where Ariel saw her first mummy and a collection of Egyptian statues of women breastfeeding.

We ate a sack lunch waiting for our train, then sped home at 298 km/hr, reaching the villa in time for dinner.

March was a whirlwind. We were either on the go or very, very sick. We missed the trip to Sicily due to all three of us recovering from chest colds, it lingering the worst with Chuck. One of us was always waking up the rest with a coughing fit. I hadn’t slept so little since Ariel was first born, going over two weeks without more than two hours of sleep at a shot.

We had the best caregivers, though—the directors and staff bought or made us food, picked up our prescriptions, and a doctor famous for her work in hematology even made house calls to check on us. April 1st, Easter, marked a shift in the weather, and consequently our health.

Ariel with chocolate Easter egg

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