My mom, dad, and Nick arrived in Rome early on a Tuesday morning. We hadn't come up with definite plans about meeting up with each other, which of course created a problem. They couldn't get in touch with me and they had no phone. It was a little stressful for a while, but they finally showed up at school to meet me. It was so amazingly good to see them. We first just walked around the area near my school
. Since we've already visited Rome as a family, we were able to avoid the big touristy spots and find things they haven't done yet. We walked through the Borghese gardens. It is really gorgeous there. We had a lot of catching up to do, so just strolling through the parks and gardens was great. After that, I took them to the church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Piazza del Popolo. I have gone to mass at this church and it has 2 very famous Caravaggio paintings, so I knew they would enjoy it. We also walked to the church of St. Ignatius of Loyola. This is really unique because the ceiling is actually flat, but painted to give the illusion that it is a dome. Unfortunately, the lights were turned off and we couldn't get the full effect. Despite this, it is still a very beautiful church (and Jesuit too, which is always a plus!). After all this we stopped at a bar for coffee and paninis. Everyone was exhausted from the trip over to Italy and the time difference, so we decided a relaxing evening would be best. We walked to my apartment and I showed them around the place I live. I gathered some things and we headed to their hotel for the night. I was a little disappointed that I couldn't take them more places on the first night so we walked to St. Peter's at night just to see it lit up and take pictures. Its always a breathtaking sight, no matter how many times I pass it.
The next morning we woke up for breakfast at the hotel. I didn't have class until 1 pm so we had the morning
. Unfortunately, my brother is an idiot and thought it would be a good idea to get sick in Europe...AGAIN! I don't want to spend too much time on this because it is still very frustrating to me, but basically, we had to sit in the hotel room all morning while he was sick. When I headed to class, I sent the family to Tivoli gardens outside of the city. They really loved it and found the scenery beautiful, except when Nick started throwing up in a bag again. Ugh! The trip was cut much shorter than expected, but there was no other option. When I was finished with class at 9 pm, my mom met me at school and I took her to one of my favorite restaurants in Rome. I felt very bad that my dad and brother couldn't join us in enjoying a good dinner. Again, we had to take it easy that night.
Thursday I had an early class and my parents attempted to visit the Catacombs of San Callixtus. Apparently this sight closes in February, making their morning a waste of time, but it we weren't too worried about it as we were looking forward to visiting Sicily for the weekend. As soon as I got out of class I met them and we headed to the airport. We arrived in Catania relatively late, but the real struggle was driving to the hotel. We thought that Romans were crazy drivers...we had no idea. Sicilians are typically very rough and gritty people. Their driving was no different. I think we all almost had heart attacks everytime we needed to drive anywhere
. After finding the hotel we decided to get a light dinner (or so we thought). Right by our hotel was an interesting castle and that square had a few places to eat. We thought it would be best to try the place that was packed with crazy Italians since they would probably have the best food, and it was amazing. Each of us enjoyed our meals so much that we finished everything. I think the biggest difference between the food in Sicily and some other cities in Italy is the freshness of the food. Every dish tasted like the pasta was just made or the vegetables were freshly picked. Needless to say, we thouroughly enjoyed ourselves (and stuffed ourselves, which was not the plan, but totally worth it!).
The next morning we headed to Taormina. This is an adorable little city in Sicily that is common for tourists because of the ancient Greek ampitheater there. We spent the whole day walking around and looking in shops. There were tons of little shops, narrow streets, churches, and the views were absolutely amazing. When we found the Greek amphitheater, we spent a lot of time just walking through and taking pictures. From this place, you could see mountains, and the water, and Mount Etna (a live volcano). It was really gorgeous and we loved it. After Taormina, we drove a little further to go up to the top of a mountain, but by the time we got there it was cold and started raining so we made our way back to Catania for the night where we spent a little time touring that city and its buildings as they were lit up
Saturday was the big day to meet the Chiolo family of Mazzarino, Sicily. We used the morning to see a bit more of Catania and buy some souvenirs. Lava rock, ceramics, and ancient soldier figurines are common gifts from Sicily. We also bought pastries to bring to our family and walked through a very chaotic open air food market (with many animal carcasses just hanging around...eww). The cannoli's are really amazing in Sicily, as they should be since it is a specialty of the area. We headed back to the hotel and got cleaned up for the visit. It took a very long time to get to Mazzarino from Catania, especially considering our directions turned out to be a bit out of the way and complicated. I think we were even driving on dirt roads for a while...oops. The long drive wasn't too bad though, because the views out the car window was amazing. There are just miles and miles of rolling hill with bright green grass or fields of crops. They grow a lot of cacti and orange trees in Sicily. We got to Mazzarino and found cousin Angela's home. Honestly, I'm not completely sure how to explain this whole experience. It was very surreal. While we were a bit stressed out about the language problem and trying to understand the very different culture, but at the same time, we had a lot of fun. Everyone was so incredibly nice and hospitable. They were just so happy to have us and so eager to show us basically everything they could. Even though we just met all of them, they really did feel like family
. When we first got there we started talking (or at least trying to talk) and they showed us the house. Later a friend of the family who lived in Florida came to act as our translator. They fed us many traditional Sicilian things for dinner including pasta, sausage, vegetables (especially a bitter asparagus), their homemade wine, coffee, and Sicilian oranges, blood oranges, and clementines. Everything was really excellent. We had already met so many people that it was really difficult to keep names and relationships straight, and while we ate even more family members showed up. It was a bit overwhelming, but still very comfortable at the same time. After eating they took us all through the town of Mazzarino. We started by going to the place where my grandpop was born. This was actually very strange because everywhere they took us was basically a surprise since we couldn't understand what they were saying. So we arrived at what just looked like some woman's storage room, but it was actually where my grandpop was born. It was so interesting. Next we went to the little church where my grandpop was baptized. It was really small but beautiful. When we walked in a choir was practicing, making the atmosphere even more appealing. The whole time it was so difficult to comprehend the fact that this was my grandpop's hometown and we were with people who are actually family. Next they walked us around Mazzarino to see more churches and squares, and then we somehow ended up in someone else's home.
It was just a crazy experience. It got really late and because of the long drive and their insistence, we stayed overnight in Mazzarino with the Chiolo's. Nick and I went out with our cousins Francesco and Angela. We got food with them (basically a roll with french fries and a small hot dog smothered in ketchup and mayonaisse) and met some of their friends. They were really nice and so excited to show us everything in the city like their school and places they hang out. In the meantime my parents talked to the rest of the family some more. The next morning we left really early to get back to Catania in time for the hotel's check-out. We woke up and had no toothbrushes or new clothes or makeup. They gave us coffee and cornettos for breakfast. Then the gifts started coming. We left with blood oranges and almonds from their gardens, pastries, homemade cookies, homemade wine, and candies. It was unbelievable how amazing these people were. I really felt connected to them and as difficult as it was, we could communicate and get along really well. Some of my observations about my Italian family: they are typical in that they really just wanted to feed us and talk all day long, they love taking pictures, they love showing us everything about themselves, the men hold each other's arms as they walk, and I loved them! Hopefully we will see them again soon, either in the U.S. or back in Sicily.
It was our last day in Sicily, but we were all kind of tired and in a daze after our time with the Chiolo's so we took our time at the hotel and then headed to another city in Sicily called Siracusa
. There are Greek ruins there too, but they were closed that day so we just ended up walking through the town. It was really beautiful, but a lot of things were closed. Really, the highlight of this trip was Mazzarino so at this point we were just walking around and taking in the scenery. We flew out of Catania that night with a huge Italian rugby team who made the flight quite interesting. When we got back to Rome we just stayed in an airport hotel and went to sleep. The next morning my family left to go home and I had to take a midterm that I did not study at all for. I went through a bit of a depression at this point because I just felt so comfortable with my family around and hoped I could go back home with them. It was hard, but I had spring break to look forward to when I would not only be traveling so much, but also seeing really close friends from home and Fordham. Overall, seeing my family was amazing. I wish their time in Rome was a little better and that I could have shown them a few more things, but just spending time with them was important to me. Sicily was amazing and an experience I will never forget!
First, I need to apologize for being so lazy with my blogs. I know its been a really long time since my last post and I should have kept up with it better, but I've been extremely busy. Since my family visited and we went to Sicily, I've had midterms and spring break leaving me little time messing around on the computer. Sorry about that! Thanks for continuing to check anyway! I have a lot of catching up to do, so in the very near future I'll be posting about Spain, Paris, and England. For now, more Rome with my family and our trip to Sicily...