Well, it’s been over a month since Lisa and I returned from our Italian adventure. I often find myself looking at pictures I took in disbelief that I actually got on a plane to get there. The last time I traveled to Italy was by boat….a BIG boat and I was 13. I haven’t flown anywhere in over 20 years but I managed to white-knuckle it for 8 hours. A little wine at JFK before our flight didn’t hurt either. I almost didn’t even mind sitting like a sardine in an anchovy can called Alitalia. We vowed that if we ever got rich, we would fly first class, you know, like the big fish.
So my much younger multi-tasking sister Lisa, having done this trip before, had a mental itinerary in mind, so needless to say, we hit the ground running the minute we stepped off the plane. As long as I was awake, I said I was game. The main purpose of our trip was to visit our octogenarian aunt Maria who lives alone in the ancient city of Chieti, which is nestled in the mountainous Abruzzo region of Italy. Although I talk weekly by phone with Zia Maria, I had not seen her in 53 years. This was going to be EPIC.
To reach Chieti, we would have to take a bus from Rome for 2 1/2 hours to go straight across to Chieti, so we decided to rest up in Rome and leave early the next day. Did I say rest up? Ha…we were both wired having survived the plane ride, so we checked into our hotel and then hit the cobbled roads. So here goes a snapshot of our journey.
Oops, I think I cropped it (the apron) too much :))
Along the way, we stopped for a great lunch of spaghetti and baby clams, bruschetta with tomatoes, mozzarella and anchovies, shrimp risotto and then walked some more. I was surprised to see so many bars, but not like you may think. There appears to be a coffee or gelato bar on every corner. Of course we had to sample along the way. My head turned left and right as we walked, much like watching a tennis match, trying to absorb all the sights.
Later, we stopped for a Roman style pizza with onion, cheese and guanciale (pork cheek) and roasted potatoes. Satisfied, we returned to our hotel. The Italians are so practical. I had forgotten they have a bidet in every bathroom. Mind you, they are not used for your feet, but even with comfortable Sketchers, my feet were hot and throbbing from what seemed like an Amazing Race finale over cobblestone. So I filled the bidet with ice cold water and plunged my feet in for several minutes. Instant relief and a good night’s sleep. Lisa on the other hand wore open wedgie sandals no worse for the wear. What a difference a couple of decades make!
The following morning, we got our tickets for Chieti at the bus terminal. We had to be the luckiest two people on the planet since we snagged the top two front row seats on a fabulously comfortable double decker bus. What a view!
During our visit, I was introduced to family friends and neighbors of our aunt, who are the most gracious people. Teresa and Antonello, Isabella and Nicola, Cousin Giovanni and Maria Cristina. I will cherish the feasts we enjoyed in their company and the lovingly made food created from scratch by our aunt. Thankfully she “allowed” me and Lisa to shell some beans and roll and dimple some potato gnocchi.
Gnocchi di Patate
We also had a fabulous fish feast in a family-style restaurant called Fillipo’s in Pescara, a neighboring town, hosted by Teresa and Antonello. Unforgettable and visually stunning. See for yourself…..
Before leaving Chieti, we also had a great dinner with Giovanni and Maria Cristina at a local restaurant that specializes in regional dishes. Two of them are here below, fresh pasta with mushrooms and black truffle and Arrosticini (mini lamb kabobs.) Lisa posted her re-creation of Arrosticini recently. Go check it out. It looks fabulous.
We did not leave Chieti without going to their Megalo Mall and stocked up on all the pasta we could squeeze into our luggage. I was happy to see brands we could find here in the U.S., namely DeCecco and DelVerde, both products of the Abruzzo region. We grabbed some Cuoretti (heart shaped pastina) and pasta alla chitarra (square shaped spaghetti pressed through a guitar string gadget), shapes that are not readily found here.
Saying good-bye was the hardest, we did a three-way embrace as we had when we arrived and cried like babies. Zia Maria is petite and delicate, but her energy blew us away. We walked every day and could hardly keep up with her. Lisa and I agreed that the fountain of youth blossoms under the Chieti sky, eating locally grown produce, making your own fresh pasta and walking, walking and walking some more, same as our grandmother did. I tagged along on her morning market trips as a kid, mostly to get my daily Bomba treat. Now we did it for a week with our aunt. Not much changed, I was glad to see.
Many stores in Italy still close after lunchtime for a couple of hours and then reopen later in the afternoon. How civilized. You could take a nap or take a stroll. Italians love their dogs too. We passed a friendly signora who was walking her French Bulldog and referred to him lovingly - come amore (Italian for love). Strangers passing by on the narrow cobbled roads, greeted us with a simple “buon giorno” and a smile. Our grandmother lived to be a 100. Now we know why.
We took our bus back to Rome that evening and checked into the same hotel, not before some more sights. We took a quick taxi to Campo De Fiori and had our last dinner there, fried stuffed zucchini blossoms, fried artichoke Jewish style, potato gnocchi and pasta all’amatriciana. We walked it off and passed the Fontana Di Trevi.
Living dangerously before our noon flight the next morning, Lisa says, “hey, are you up to squeezing in the Vatican”. She promised we would not miss our flight. I grew excited as images of me taking a selfie with Pope Francis danced in my over-active imagination, So we hopped in another cab and were dropped off at Ponte Sant’Angelo overlooking the Fiume Tevere. All in all, it was a visit I will cherish, with wonderful memories of Lisa, Zia Maria and all the warm people I met along the way. Now I’m going to make some of that pasta.
ARRIVEDERCI ROMA……E CHIETI