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Sanibel resident shares recent adventure in Italy

By Staff | Jul 17, 2009

I grew up in a family where Italian traditions were strong, even though we lived in America. All four of my grandparents came to America from Italy when they were young adults, landed on Ellis Island, and started a new life in a very different environment than where they came from. I did not realize it while growing up, but I can see now that they never left their heritage behind. They brought it with them.

I just spent six weeks in Italy, and I was very touched to witness some of the familiar traditions that make Italy such a special and beautiful place.

This was not my first trip to Italy, but my longest. My son Justin moved to Salerno, Italy in September with his wife and two small children. Shortly after they moved they found out that a third child was on its way. Having them leave was one of the hardest things our family has dealt with, but as people keep telling me I guess I will just have to go to Italy more often! Well, Cayden Luca was born, so in mid-May I was on my way to Salerno Italy to do my grandma thing. I was blessed to spend two weeks living with Justin and his family in their apartment in Salerno. I cleaned, cooked, did laundry, changed diapers, and most importantly spent quality time with my grandchildren. I loved every second of all of it.

Salerno is on the western coast of Italy, just south of the Amalfi coast. It is not a city with many tourists passing through. The people that live there are true Italians and most speak no English. I enjoyed trying to communicate to improve my language skills. In nearly every neighborhood there is a meat market, a fish market, a produce market, a small general grocery store, and usually a hardware store. So we shopped daily for the freshest foods.

Italy’s food is very regional and seasonal. You eat what is available around the region. The food is prepared simply, but it is so fresh, delicious and pure. Each province of Italy has its specialties, and there is variety in the cuisine according to the region you are in. Even the breads vary from region to region. You will find olive oil and garlic in almost every dish though, and thin crust pizza is a staple. What can I say; I can’t imagine eating any better food than in Italy. Molto Buono!

After two weeks, my husband Michael, and our daughter Jennifer met us in Salerno. We showed them around town for an evening and the following day we were all off for a family vacation in Positano on the Amalfi coast. For people that have been to Positano, they understand that it is too hard to describe the beauty. For those of you who have not seen Positano, I hope that one day you will be able to experience it. It is a breathtaking town that is literally built on the side of a mountain that runs into the Mediterranean Sea. The builders used the mountains as the foundation and backs of many of the buildings. The second floor of the apartment we were staying had a hallway and the rear wall of this hall was the side of a mountain. Really amazing! Trying to juggle kids schedules with shopping, eating and going to the beach was sometimes challenging, but we had a great family vacation. The most important thing was that we spent precious time together. We had a wonderful restaurant right next door to our apartment. After a couple of nights we realized that the intercoms worked from the apartment to the restaurant. So, every evening we put the children to bed, put the intercoms on and had a much-needed relaxing dinner with some great wine to end our day.

The day came when we had to say our goodbyes to Justin and family. It was extremely sad, but I was grateful that I had another three weeks of traveling Italy to divert my attention away from missing them so much. And by the way, did I mention driving the Amalfi coast is an exciting and beautiful adventure?

My sister Deborah and her husband Vinny own an apartment in Todi, which is in the region of Umbria. Umbria is in central Italy below Tuscany, and just as beautiful. Deborah was in Todi when we left Salerno, so we picked her up on the way to Florence, the home of the Renaissance, for a three-night stay.

Florence is a beautiful city overflowing with art, music and incredible architecture. Although quite large, it somehow maintains the atmosphere of a small, quaint city. Walking Florence is a delight. The remarkable sights include the red brick Duomo (dome cathedral), Ponte Vecchio (old bridge), the Uffizi Gallery (greatest collection of Italian paintings), the Piazza della Signoria, and the Piazzale Michelangelo (offers stunning view of the entire city).

The shopping is great in Florence. The Mercato Nuovo is three street blocks filled with busy outdoor venders. Leather is the most popular items being sold and the bargains are unbelievable! The street going to the Ponte Vecchio is lined with jewelry stores.

From Florence we were on our way to spend five nights in Todi, but we stopped in the most beautiful town of Siena on the way there. After parking we made a hefty walk to the piazza, Il Campo, which is the heart of the town. It is active with restaurants and shops. Once a year the famous horse races go on there. They somehow squish thousands of people in the center of this piazza and race horses around the people. Only a rope separates the people from the horses.

For those of you who are trying to figure out what a piazza is – it is the “town square or town center”. From the beginning of times there has always been a place where people of a town can gather to do business, enjoy food and drink together, socialize, and gather for events. This is what the piazzas of Italy are all about, and every town or city has at least one piazza. It is the center or hub of activity for a town or city. It usually is pedestrian friendly with limited or no automobile traffic and it is always fun to see people enjoying themselves there, whatever they are doing. I am hoping that someday our small little island will realize what a wonderful thing it would be to have a Sanibel “piazza” to gather and enjoy ourselves.

What impressed me the most was the Duomo in Siena. It was the most beautiful I had seen so far. Built in the early 1200s, it is filled with intricate marble, Michelangelo statues, and Bernini sculptures. The shrines that were built to honor God and the saints in Italy are truly amazing. What additionally thrilled me about this cathedral was the room set apart, which showcased huge books of original hand penned Gregorian Chants. Wow!

Todi is an absolutely beautiful little castle town built during Etruscan times. The wall surrounding Todi climbs up a steep hill and at the top of the hill is the piazza. Deb and Vinny’s apartment is about half way up the hill, and is a hefty steep walk to the top. But, along the road going up are businesses and shops and restaurants and wonderful warm Italians to greet you.

Todi is a good place to hang out for a few days. There are so many beautiful little towns to visit that all seem to be an hour or two away. Orvieto, Assisi, Montepulciano, Pienza are all beautiful and worth visiting. And the scenery driving to these towns is so wonderful. So we made many day trips while in Todi, returning early enough to relax, have a wonderful dinner, hang out in the piazza for awhile and get a good night’s sleep.

My sister loves to experience the local culture and she took us to a few things that really showed the Italian culture that most of us would not experience. We went dancing at an outdoor festival in a town named Cesana that couldn’t have more than 300 people living there. A charming tiny town. Deborah and I got right out there and did some line dancing and eventually got asked by a much older Italian local to dance with him. We also went to a beautiful small village called Spello for the festival to celebrate “corpus Christi”. This was amazing. From the evening before, people decorate the street floors with mosaics done with flowers, mostly spiritual themes. They are amazing and beautiful. They have them roped off, and you can walk and view them. Then, at a certain time in the afternoon, they start a procession of the priests, altar boys and girls, singers, ushers and others. They sing songs and recite prayers, and the people follow the procession to the top of the hill, where there is a ceremony. After that, the ropes are down and you can just walk on the mosaics if you want. Italians are very reverent about God, Jesus and their saints. They also love their rituals. It is their way to show respect to God. Every street of this town had an amazing display of flowers growing and hanging from arches and windows and walls. It was just beautiful.