We returned to Italy in mid-May, nine days of sights, family, friendships, and searching for an answer to the question, “Why did they leave?” Our initial route was an easy one, Omaha to Dallas to Rome. Post Rome it was trains and cars (drivers and then me as the driver). The Dallas to Rome leg of our travel involved a 777-200. For 9 hours and 51 minutes we were packed in with 188 of our best new friends. The flight was full. It was our first experience with bulkhead seats for an international flight. There is a lot of room on the bulkhead, and a nice footrest if you are like me and too cheap to ride in business class. Try it.
It was great to leave Omaha. At departure, I had only 97 days left as dean of our college. I needed some time away, a chance to think more carefully about how I would spend the last three months in a position that had given me great joy over a 16-year run. Yet, I knew that it was time to go. I had and have other ideas on how I want to spend the next two decades, if I live that long. After 90, who knows.
I very much enjoy international flights that arrive early, very early, in the day. My initial experiences in global travel involved late afternoon or evening arrivals. I remember my first trip to Iasi Romania: Omaha to Atlanta to Frankfurt to Bucharest (overnight); train to Iasi the next morning with arrival in the late afternoon. Between the change in time zone plus the wear and tear of the travel itself I arrived pretty well spent, not much good for anything. I wanted to sleep. But, the folks on the other end had other ideas. They wanted to eat, drink and talk, until late in the night. We had a good time.
Our early morning arrival at Leonardo de Vinci airport in Rome had one other advantage: short lines for immigration and customs. Soon, we were on our way toward our B&B. We could not check in, but we were able to store our baggage. It was time for a walk, a long hike to the Trevi Fountain. I have been travelling to Rome for more than 25 years, yet I had never seen the fountain. It is spectacular. Our early day arrival translated into a smaller crowd around the fountain and we were able to move about easily. We stopped at a small shop for coffee, pizza, beer and such, observing that the Polizia and unlicensed vendors were engaged in a bit of hide-and-seek. The vendors had lookouts, and were able to quickly pack up their wares when their spotters gave them the signal. The narrow alleys teeming with a growing crowd gave the vendors good cover.
I have given you my take on visiting the Colosseum and Forum in another post, so I will not cover that same ground again. We did employ a great tour guide (you should do the same if you visit), and the history Giovanna (which also happens to be my mother’s name) gave us, on top of the visuals, was first-rate.
Two more observations. At the end of our tour, a thunderstorm rolled up, complete with small hail. Being pelted by hail is not fun, but also is not unusual in the hinterland of the U.S. Besides, we had umbrellas and were reasonably protected. In Rome, however, hail is rare and many people seemed startled as they were hit by this relatively unknown substance. The hail was short-lived and folks scrambled to get away in taxis and by Uber. About the same time as the rain commenced, we also saw five guys, all wearing t-shirts (black with maroon letters) that read, “Make Rome Great”. We were not sure exactly what that meant, but speculated: bring back Nero, re-introduce the ‘games’ in the Colosseum, attack Gaul, again.
We visited the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica, just as we had last year. Nothing new to report here. The Pope still lives there, and the artwork is still spectacular. I did receive a religious omen while outside the Vatican. It came in the form of a pigeon dropping. I don’t know what that pigeon had in mind as it considered the possibilities in this particular bombing run, nor do I know what St. Peter was thinking about when he sent that pigeon my way. Yet, the pigeon arrived, and angled his dropping on me such that it formed a cross, on my pants. Holy moly! Check out this picture. Is it a sign of something? I’m happy that I wore pants that day.
We did get together again with my Rome cousins, Thomas and Addie. They are a delight to be with, and their stories about their lives are most interesting. I wish that I could spend more time with them and perhaps convince them to visit us in Omaha. We met at Il Grottino, The Grotto, Thomas’ neighborhood restaurant. We ate there last year. Il Grottino is located only a block from the Tibre, and in an area great for walking. The pizza, stuffed fried zucchini flowers, rice balls, and Calzone di Thomas (calzone covered with prosciutto) are all excellent. We were somewhat limited in our time with my cousins. Thomas had an early start the next day. He was flying to Cannes for some sort of film festival.
The train to Salerno from Rome is modern and swift. The train’s speed is displayed on a screen in front of each car. The fastest speed I observed was 297 kph, about 180 mph. Nice. We arrived on time, ready to go on a new adventure. Our B&B was neat and spacious, and we were ready to explore. But, it was chilly, and later in our first walk it rained, hard.
Salerno was also our home base for our travel to Caserta and San Cipriano Picentino (SCP). My friend Mike’s mother was born and grew up in Caserta, moving to Kansas City in 1947. Mike was on a quest for more information on his mother and her home, and Janet and I were there to observe, enjoy, and provide moral support. Our driver, interpreter, and friend Pepe was most helpful. Mike’s biggest finds were in the parish records of his mother’s family’s church. There is more to learn, but he is off to a fine start. We visited the building in which her family lived, and even found a neighbor who knew the family.
This was my second trip to SCP in the last year. We were greeted by family, my cousins, who seemed genuinely pleased to see us. Stories were told, hugs were given, and we all agreed that the next visit needed to last longer. SCP is beautiful. From one side of my cousin’s place, you can see the Bay of Naples. The land is hilly, but fertile. So, we return to the question, “Why did they leave?” Again, I am writing of Vincenzo and Teresa Ardovino, my great-grandparents. I intend to write an essay on this topic, but I can report that there was confirmation of the story that the departure was linked to a feud between my great grandfather and the mayor of SCP. My cousins in SCP told me that the mayor was in fact my great grandfather’s brother. A family fight spurred their departure. I know that my great grandfather was very high strung, and probably prone to rash actions. More to come. The picture below is of the house my great grandfather grew up in. It was built in 1799.
Our last stop before leaving from Rome to the U.S. was Positano. Yes, I reported on Positano last year, and it remains the second most beautiful city I have ever seen (Istanbul is number one). We were back at a lovely B&B, way high on the cliffs, and 195 steps up a stairway from the closest road to the place. I am just happy that we had partners to schlep our bags up and eventually down those stairs. From our deck, we had a fabulous view of the very colorful hillside homes, the small port of Positano, three churches and the twisting and turning roadway that carried cars, buses, and a lot of walkers between homes and shops. Check out the photos. Even at night, Positano is a special place. We will return.
I have left out our time in Pompeii, the ruins, and Janet and Debbie’s horseback ride on Mt. Vesuvius. I’ll get to those in another post. I did drive again in Italy, Salerno to Pompeii and back. Yes, there was a roundabout, and yes, I found myself face-to-face, nose-to-nose, hood-to-hood with an oncoming car. He blinked. There was no accident, and I can’t wait to drive in Italy again.