We took a bus ride from Palermo to Ribera. It felt like the longest ride ever, and it was HOT!! I don’t remember the bus having any air conditioning… We got to Ribera during the middle of the day, and my dad and my brother found a little shop where they bought some waters and Gelatos. Ribera is little one horse town, pretty archaic … the roads are still pretty much dirt. People still live in stone buildings, with wooden folding doors. This is where my father’s parents are from. We went back to visit because my grandmother’s sister Nicolina, still lives there, and we were there to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary where her and her husband would renew their vows.
We got to Zia Nicolina’s house in Ribera. This was the whole reason why we were here. Zia Nicolina lives in one of these stone buildings, it had about 2 or 3 floors. There have always been rumors of Zia Nicolina being a pretty rugged woman. She would make bread or Ricotta, and people would find a buttons and things in them. So when she offered us some homemade ricotta upon our arrival, I felt more than compelled to pass on that, lol. We stayed upstairs where there were 2 guest rooms and a water closet. And it was exactly just that… it was a closet to dump your human waste, and then GET OUT OF THERE.
IT STUNK SOOOOO BAD!!! I don’t even really remember there being a shower in there. PEE-EEWW!! There was a rooftop which my brother and I would hang out on during our stay there. I remember sitting up there one night, thinking about how homesick I was starting to get. We were already on our second week in a foreign country. I have never been this far from home, and for this long. In the morning you would wake up to the sound of the fresh fruit cart rolling down the street, I’m pretty sure it was a horse or a donkey pulling the cart.
I remember our first night in Sicily, we went shopping in the “downtown” area. I remember back then I was into a lot of BRIGHT things, and European style, especially Swedish decor from places like IKEA. We went in this one shop, where I bought this bright green octopus coat hanger, and also a little yellow egg garbage can with a swinging door (I still have the garbage can, I keep loose change in it).. but I’m not sure what happened to the Octopus, LOL. Either way, I remember shopping in Ribera, I think a lot of stuff closed early, like 8 pm or so. After we went shopping, we were invited to eat dinner over my dad’s cousin’s house in town. They lived in a high rise apartment and it was a bit of a step up from Zia Nicolina’s house.
We were greeted by my dad’s cousin (I forget her name). But I do remember that she spoke with a singing type of voice. The inflections at the end of her words always went up, so it always sounding like she was singing questions. It was a bit strange, and I have never heard anything quite like that before, but it made my brother, cousin, and I giggle. It was a bit of an inside joke the whole time we were there. There was also some talk about my dad’s uncle or cousin there, being involved with the mafia in Ribera. I’m not sure if that is true or not, but I remember them talking about something. Anyway… we were so excited to finally eat a good meal after our long bus travels from Palermo.
Now I love seafood, and I’ll eat squid now, as an adult…. but as a teen, I was not as adventurous when trying new things. At my grandmother’s house in the states, she would make squid dishes, but often compensated those with other meat or normal fish dishes for those who didn’t like the squid (it really is an acquired taste)… so it was quite upsetting to see EVERY.SINGLE.DISH that they served at this house, involved SQUID!!!! The salad, the pasta, the main course… just … EVERYTHING. Now my grandparents and my father were all for it, heck, they grew up eating crazier stuff than this… But my brother, mom, Zizi Fina (surprisingly), and Nick just could not do it. It was almost like that scene from Indiana Jones Temple of Doom where they are sitting at the feast and keep getting served Monkey Brains, Snake, and eventually the safe soup which actually turned out to be eyeball soup, LOL! I am not sure if these people were offended by our hesitance to their food, but as a teen you don’t really care about offending people, you’d just like to stick to what you’re used to. So while everyone else was chowing down on their calamari dishes (not even with breading to mask the chewy texture), they supplied us Americani idiots with some Dove chocolate shelled ice cream pops.
And that is what we ate for dinner that night. If I could go back in time, I would totally eat some if not all of those dishes… I love MOST seafood, there are still some things I have not tried, but I think I would if presented with the chance. I have tried squid ink pasta before, and it is absolutely delicious! When you get older your palette naturally changes, and becomes more open to trying new things. I’d really love to go back to Italy/Sicily as an adult and experience all that the Mediterranean Sea has to offer. You really can’t get seafood any fresher than that!
Some other things I remember about Ribera were the street markets. We would go to these markets during the day, and you could haggle prices on things. I also remember going to a fair at night. It was like a carnival type of thing, and there were street fairs there every night. Along the main strip of Ribera, there were Tunisians (we called them “The Tunisini”). They would come from Northern Africa and try to sell their wares on the island of Sicily. They have all their merchandise spread out on blankets, for you to choose from, and haggle on. They were quite tricky and talked a persuasive game… you had to watch out for them. I think during the night of the fair one night, we bought some souvenirs there as we walked back to our Zia Tina’s house to visit her.
Zia Tina was a feisty old woman, she also lived in a small downstairs apartment of one of these old stone buildings in the residential Ribera area… Maybe a few blocks from Zia Nicolina’s. Zia Tina was my grandfather’s younger sister. I think this was our first or second time meeting her. She took to me right away, and kept saying how much I looked like her mother (My dad’s grandmother, Nonna Serafina). I get that from everyone in my family… I must be Serafina Reincarnated. When you look at old pictures of her when she was young, I really do look like her, even more so when I was younger. So we visited with Zia Tina for a few hours, and she was seriously the cutest little old sicilian woman ever. She had us come sit down for some sodas, and she served us a plate of cookies, which she must have had sitting in her cupboard for awhile cuz there were ants crawling all over them. We didn’t eat them, LOL… but we didn’t mention it either… her eyesight must not have been that good, or maybe she was just embarrassed when she saw what she had served, cuz she didn’t seem to realize the bugs she was serving us. Either way, it was a nice gesture, and we left there feeling gracious. I remember hugging her goodbye wondering if I would ever see her again. Before I left, she gave me a little necklace with some charms on it. One was a little pewter charm with St. Michael on it, another was a blue stone lapis lazuli or marble heart. I accepted her gift graciously a gave her a big hug goodbye. My brother and I looked out of the back window of the car waving goodbye as she stood outside her stone house with wooden folding doors, doing the same, until the both of us could no longer see each other. We would only see her one more time on this trip, at Zia Nicolina’s engagement reception, which I will continue in a future post.
It was really interesting going there to see where we came from, and how my grandparents lived before coming to America. While we were in Ribera, we also had to stop by a popular family landmark: Nonna Serafina’s old house, also the house where my Nonna Giuseppina gave birth to both my aunts, Zizi Fina and Zizi Mari, and where my father was also conceived. It was a corner stone house, and the top floor was overflowing with beautiful jasmine flowers and vines. It was amazing to be able to see that.
We stayed with Zia Nicolina for a few days before going into Rural Ribera, closer to Agrigento, to visit with my dad’s cousin Martina and her husband O’Nofrio. As far as I remember, it was about a 20 to 30 minute drive to the outskirts of the city. I guess you can call it east bumblefuck… aka… in the middle of nowhere. I remember Martina’s house being a bit flashy compared to the rest of Ribera we had initially been introduced to. It was a little bungalow style stone house that sat on its own property, surrounded by lush ferns, palms, and olive trees. It had a nice sized terrace paved with tiny little white stones sectioned off in red stoned squares so the ground looked like that of a grid. There were steps up to the front door from the terrace, and the porch was a nice size as well. The inside of Martina’s house was equally beautiful, with dark blackish green marble floors, plush couches, shiny pillows, potted ferns and palms, and wooden side tables & grand armoires. The living room table tops were decorated with collections of little trinkets and family portraits. The walls were decorated with gold framed European art, hung up against plain white walls. The whole room was so elaborate, I could understand the decision to keep the walls plain. I remember her kitchen being much more simple. It was quaint, mostly white cabinetry and walls, with little splashes of yellows and blues.
I remember sitting in the kitchen one morning when we first arrived. Martina and O’Nofrio have 2 children, Andonella & Salvino, who are older than me and brother. We did meet them when they visited the states in the early to mid 90s. My brother and I were still 8 or 9, and they were pre teens at that point. Now during this visit, my brother and I were in our teen years, and they were entering early adulthood, so I guess they were going through certain “phases”. While my brother and I were sitting in the kitchen with my parents, aunt, and cousin Nick, while they were catching up with Martina, we heard very loud music coming from Salvino’s room. When he finally came out, he opened his door and the sound that spilled out was a very angry Marilyn Manson. He came out dressed in gothic black attire from head to toe. His nails might have even been painted black. This was a very different Salvino than the one we had met back in the mid 90s.
My brother and I had made some joke along the lines of “Good Morning Satan”, and we had my Zizi Fina in stitches with the comment. He didn’t spend much time with us during our stay here, as I’m sure he was ridden with the late teen angst that my brother and I had not crossed the bridge of yet at that point. Andonella had matured a lot at this point, but I remember that she was also a bit stand offish. The both of them did not spend much time showing us around or getting to know us, but you know how late teenagers are. They always have plans of their own, and why would they feel obligated to show around their little cousins from the states, to which the language barrier would inconvenience them even more so? So they went about their routine, and Martina and O’Nofrio continued to be our tour guides throughout our stay here.
One of the nights we were here, I remember we were to give Zia Nicolina and Zio Andrea the surprise of their lives. They were prepping for their vow renewal and anniversary party so all of the family gathered at Martina’s to give them something a little extra special. We all waited in the kitchen as we heard the sound of music in the distance. I can’t remember exactly if Zia Nicolina & Zio Andrea were already at the house, or if they came to the house and we surprised them, but they were surprised by all of their family and extended families who waited for them to arrive on the veranda of Martina’s front yard. The surprise was complete with a small parade of local musicians: a classical guitarist, a clarinet player, a tambourine player, a singer, and a keyboard player, who walked up the stone path to the gates of the bungalow, serenading the happy couple. They were so surprised that Zia Nicolina shed some tears of happiness! It was a beautiful moment, something I have only seen in movies! They kicked off the terrace party with a slow waltz like dance to a song of the live band. Soon after the music picked up, Tarantella style, which is notorious in the Italian/Sicilian culture, where everyone joins hands and dances in a circle around the main couple. Everyone partied the night away to the beautiful Italian music supplied by the local live music.
During our time here, we also visited Agrigento (View Post Here) and La Campagna, Zio Andrea’s Orange Orchard Farm. This farm was about as rustic as you could get! My brother and I ran around outside and played with the farm’s puppy Zorro. It was a tiny little husky puppy with the bluest eyes I have ever seen. He was so CUTE! I wish I could have taken him home with me! Zio Andrea showed my dad and Nick around the farm a bit, and also let them pick some oranges. There were rows and rows of orange trees extending over the large land that Zio had owned and tended to, with the beautiful view of the Sicilian mountainside as its backdrop.
My Nonna Giuseppina helped Zia Nicolina & Martina make some pasta in the kitchen which was located in a small one room stone house on a slab right on the farm. Vin and Nick played Uno to pass the time, while we waited for dinner to be ready. There was also a long table in there where the whole family dined on delicious pasta with homemade sauce and bread. No meal was complete without 10 bottles of Coca Cola or Sprite. I remember there being A LOT of flies around, we WERE on a farm after all. After dinner, we visited a small archeological site, not too far from the farm. My dad told me this place was called Eraclea Minoa.
“Heraclea Minoa was an ancient Greek city, situated on the southern coast of Sicily at the mouth of the river Halycus, 25 km west of Agrigentum. Its ruins are now found near a modern town of the same name in the comune Montallegro in Italy.”
We spent an hour or 2 here, exploring the excavation sites and enjoying the views. We also took some silly pictures of us all standing on stairs, awkwardly, and sitting on stone couches. My brother and I used to like to pretend me were archaeologists on secret excursions and posed for my mom’s camera as if we were uncovering some magical ancient bones of Jurassic dinosaurs or Egyptian Pharaohs.
We had loads more fun in rural Ribera, the land was our playground. Back at Martina’s house, we would watch as my dad helped O’Nofrio place the large net beneath the olive trees which canopied over half of the front and back yard. As he helped him press the olives into fresh oil, I played with the puppy they had at the house. He was a little beagle named Churridru. We would also have picnics on the table on the terrace in the front yard. Lunch always consisted of fresh pasta and homemade sauce, salad, bread, and bottles of coke or sprite. I’m getting hungry now just thinking about it. We spent a few days at Martina & O’Nofrio’s house, but we went back to the more city like part of Ribera where Zia Nicolina lived because we had to get ready for her big day, renewing her wedding vows.
I don’t remember the church in which they renewed their vows, but I remember it being very small and quaint. The whole service was in Sicilian, and my brother was the ring bearer. Soon after the vow renewal ceremony, we were whisked away to a nice little party hall with marble floors and columns circling around the dance floor. We danced a lot, we ate a lot, and we took lots of pictures. Zia Tina also made one last appearance here, and we took lots of pictures with her which I am happy we did, because a few years after our trip, she sadly passed away. She was the coolest old little sicilian woman, may she rest in peace.
No day in the small city of Ribera was complete without some espressos on La Chiatza, and we even found a shoe store named CARUBIA SHOES. I’m not sure if there was any relation to us, but you never know, because Ribera is such a small town.
I am grateful for the memories of this trip, and I wished I remembered more details about it since it was about half my life ago. I hope to visit my roots country again in the future, and hopefully expose my future husband to my culture one day. I am proud to call myself a Sicilian, and to know where I come from.
After Carlo picked us up from the airport in Sicily, we went back to his mountain house in Pioppo, Palermo to get situated and drop off our bags. Soon after we headed out, so he could start showing us around Sicily. He took us to Monreale, which is a little town that sits on the slope of Monte Caputo. It overlooks a fertile valley filled with orange, olive, and almond trees.
When we arrived, we happened upon a little old sicilian man with his horse and carriage. These little horse carriages are a Sicilian staple, and I never knew that they were a real thing, until I saw one for myself on this trip! It was the cutest thing ever, so we asked if we could take a picture with my brother and I sitting on it. He let us sit on the cart and take the picture, but he got rather cranky when we didn’t pay him after. I think we may have slipped him some money for it, lol.
After that, we headed to the Monreale Cathedral which was just BREATHTAKING!! The amount of detail put into the architecture of both the exterior and interior was just mind-blowing! The interior of the church was covered in detailed mosaics, marble, with golden details… The courtyard of the Cathedral was just whimsical and beautiful as well with marble archways and columns with golden inlay in various patterns surrounding a lawn divided into 4 parts by pathways and bushes.
After exploring the Cathedral, we walked up and down the steep cobblestone streets, seeing the occasional moped pass by against the back drop of the villa scattered mountainside. There was beautiful wrought iron, devoured by foliage at every turn. I remember we got to a lookout point, and below we saw what looked like a school trip, or boy scout troop playing in an empty fountain.
That is about as much as I remember of Monreale, but it was beautiful, and I definitely recommend anyone who loves old architecture to go check it out if they ever pass through that area… The mosaics alone are just BREATHTAKING!
So we took a small little plane down to Sicily after spending a week in Rome, enjoying time with family that my brother and I were meeting for the very first time. I remember the plane being pretty small, it held maybe 50 – 100 passengers if I had to estimate, and I remember it feeling really outdated. I feel like I remember green carpeting in the aisle. I think the plane right from Rome to Sicily was only an hour long or so, and I think I slept through most of it. I also remember some guy getting yelled at for trying to smoke in the plane restroom. Well, that’s always fun, plane drama. LMAO!
When the plane landed in Sicily, I have never felt so much like a celebrity before, walking down the stairs of the plane right onto the runway. The only difference was there wasn’t any paparazzi there to greet me LOL!! When we got off the plane, we gathered our luggage, and tried to snap some pics in front of the plan with all of the breathtaking mountains in the background. I have never seen mountains like THAT before!! It was just AMAZING. So, soon we were getting yelled at to get the hell off the runway. Stupid Americans we are. So at the Sicily airport, we were greeted by my dad’s cousin Carlo. Carlo is a very accomplished art professor in Palermo and he was quite the quirky, funny guy! He looks like Albert Einstein with the crazy white hair and round glasses. He picked us up, and we all crowded into his minivan as he steered us up twisty turning mountainsides at a high speed…. This was…SCARY!! There were no guard rails going up the mountain… As scary as it was… the view was just the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. He was taking us to stay with him in his house in the mountains of Palermo. These mountains were called Pioppo.
The 2 story house sat on top of the mountain, and it also had a little bungalow house right off the side patio, which is where we had some Foosball tournaments during our stay there. When we got to the house, we met up with Carlo’s wife ( I forget here name), his in laws, and his daughter Barbara. My dad brought her an American Flag and she posed for some photos with it. We had also met up at Carlo’s mountain house, with my Grand Parents. They had decided not to do the Rome leg of our trip, so they just met up with us in Palermo, Sicily.
I really loved staying at this house…I woke up every morning to the sun shining in our second story guest room window, the sound of the sheep baah-ing from down the mountain! The air was so clean, and refreshing… my brother Vin, my cousin Nick, and I would pass the time in the smaller side house playing Foosball, or exploring the grounds, practicing our photography (Digital cameras had just started getting popular, so this was a huge deal to us!). Vin passed the time by playing Scupa, a Sicilian card game, and I also did my homework, since I was in fact 15 at the time, and had school to worry about. We also ate about 5 times a day! The breakfasts here were minimal, they served either Camm-o-mee-lay (chamomile tea) or espresso and melba toast rounds spread with Nutella. Eggs weren’t really a thing here, and forget about bacon! The Sicilians seemed to spend most of their energy preparing for lunch 1, lunch 2, dinner 1, and dinner 2, LOL!
We had a lot of antipasto, seafood, salad, pasta dishes, and fruits/nuts. A funny little story that my brother reminded me of, he was trying to eat a pomegranate, and Carlo was watching him eat it. He made fun of the way Vin ate it, and then Vin ran away from the table crying. LOL! I don’t remember that at all, but it didn’t happen to me, so I guess I wouldn’t. But I DO remember taking a shower upstairs, and flooding the place (if you read Entry Part 1from Rome, you’d know that I was prone to this… I just couldn’t get used to the showers here!). The water trickled all the way down the stairs, and I got yelled at …. hahhaah ooops! In the mountaintops here, the Sicilians also loved to pick the “Babalucci” right off the vine. Babalucci are SNAILS!! And they would eat them too!!! YUCK!!! I think my dad tried one… so gross!! But that is considered a delicacy over there.
In this house, we also brought Carlo a green gourd and taught him about Halloween, the way the States do it. My dad helped him carve a Jack o’ Lantern face into it! It helped us get into the Halloween spirit in Sicily , since we were missing the fun back home. I think he really enjoyed learning about how we celebrated Halloween!
We spent a few days with Carlo and his family in their mountainside house, but he also took us sightseeing a lot too before eventually taking us to catch our bus to my father’s family’s hometown of Ribera. Carlo took us into the heart of Palermo, the city, where he works as an Art Professor. He took us to a few museums, and even to an excavation site that he was helping to restore. That was so fascinating! They found ancient human remains where they tore up the ground to build a building in the city, and that’s what they found! Instead of building, they started to excavate it, and preserve it. Carlo was helping to maintain all of that. He also took us to some smaller galleries, and eventually took us to HIS personal studio! He had a crazy looking painting of green roses, they looked like heads of lettuce. He also had a rose sculpture installation in front of a projector screen image of a rose which was pretty. The 2 most fascinating installations in his studio were the male and female form. He had 2 mannequins standing in 2 separate corners of the room. The female had motorized metal boobs that spun, and the male had a motorized metal penis that erected when he flipped the switch. It was pretty funny! There was also a piece he had, which was a foosball table that he splattered with green paint when Italy won the 1982 world cup. I think this piece was featured in an exhibit on the Intrepid ship in NYC.
He was a great tour guide, and my dad translated most of what he said to us. He drove us around in his mini van, and took us to some stores as well. I remember going into a music store in the city there and purchasing a Euro Dance CD. It had the song “Zombie Nation” on it, and my brother bought a Giorgia CD, an artist that we heard all over the radio during our time there. Her big hit at the time was “Ce da Fare”. I also remember the song “Blue” by Eiffel 65 being all over the radio there! It was funny hearing all of this new music in Europe first, and then when we went back home, it came out a few months later, and we had already known all of those songs!
We spent the last night in Palermo at Carlo’s high rise apartment in the city. We had dinner there with everyone and had a nice time. The next morning he brought my parents Espresso for breakfast, and he took us to the bus station. One thing about Carlo that was funny, was he would always say “THE BEST!” That was about as far as his english went. The one thing we joked about forever was when we were saying goodbye and Thank You for everything, we would say “Gratzi Per Tutti”… My cousin Nick said “Ciao Per Tutti” which translates to “Bye For Everything”. We all got a laugh at that, but I think Nick was embarrassed, but it was still funny and something that sticks out in my mind about this trip, nonetheless. So from this point, we took a bus to Ribera,
but first, here are some blurbs about a few other places that Carlo took us before I get into the Ribera portion of our trip:
Mondello was probably my FAVORITE part of this trip!!!! It is the most beautiful beach I have ever been to. The sand is a powdery white, and the water is CRYSTAL CLEAR. You can go out pretty far and it’s still only knee deep, you can see right to your feet. Carlo took us here and before we hit the sand, we got some Limone Gelato from a little truck right off the beach. It was so silky and creamy with real lemon flavor, you can taste the lemon rind in it. It was so refreshing! Relaxing on the sand was so nice, and my brother and I went and played in the ocean. I even went in with my clothes on, I don’t remember why! LOL! The view on this beach was just breathtaking, the beach is kinda like a U shape, with a view of mountains on both sides. We really weren’t here for that long either, but that beach just sticks out in my mind… I’d really love to go back and spend more time there one day.
Carlo took us to Cefalu (pronounced Chef-ah-loo), which is on the northern coast of Sicily on the Tyrrhenian Sea. I don’t really remember much about Cefalu, except for the fact that we did ALOT of walking here, and a lot of shopping as well. I remember it being a very hilly town, steep cobblestone hills and inclines. I remember going into a shop and buying a nail clipper with the Sicilian Emblem on it (Face with 3 legs), and my brother bought the Mambo #5 Import Single by Lou Bega. It was a huge hit at the time! I also remember us finding a Diesel Jeans store that my cousin Nick wanted to go into. I think there was a joke going that he didn’t have any underwear on while he was trying on the jeans, and his mom may have mentioned this to the store clerk. Hahaha! I think his mom’s objective was to always just embarrass the shit out of him.
I don’t remember much about the city itself, we were not there for that long, so forgive me for my lack of memory on this part of the trip.
When I was around 15 years old, my parents thought it was time to show us our roots. It’s always nice to know where you come from. I grew up in a sicilian household in Elizabeth, New Jersey. My brother and I were raised in a 2 family house, we lived upstairs with our parents, my grandparents downstairs. The finished basement complete with a kitchen was reserved for Sunday Dinners of the best Italian homestyle cooking you could ever eat! My grandfather is a tailor, so he would also work out of the basement, his clients would come over and mingle with the family as they got their custom Italian suits fitted. We always had family from Italy come over to visit. My grandparents themselves came over to this country around the late 1950s on a boat with my 2 aunts, and my dad was just a little bun in the oven. My dad’s family is from a small down in Sicily called Ribera (we will get to that in future posts).
My mom’s father’s side of the family is mostly from Messina, but growing up , you didn’t feel the culture in her family as much as we felt the culture on my dad’s side. I think it’s because my dad’s parents were born in Italy, so he was brought up with the culture from his parents first hand. My moms parents were both born here, it was her grandparents on her dad’s side that came from Italy on the boat , so skipping a generation naturally distances you from the culture a bit. You think that growing up in the same house as my grandparents would have me speaking the dialect fluently, but nope.. like I said , skipping a generation distances you from the culture a bit. I also moved away from their house when I was 8.
Not to get too off topic or anything, but I figured a bit of background was necessary and the proudness I feel about my heritage leads in to this trip. So it was my junior year of high school , around October, and my father had told us that his aunt and uncle would be renewing her wedding vows in Italy, and we had been invited to go!
Again I was only 15 at the time, and I had been to Mexico, but I have never been overseas before. I am 30 now, so my memory is a bit rusty on details of certain things, but I will try my best to recall most of the eventful things of this trip….
On this trip was My mom and dad, my brother Vincent, and my Zizi Fina and her son, my cousin Nick. We went during the last 2 weeks of October, so as kids we were a bit upset that we were gonna miss Halloween, since they don’t celebrate Halloween in Italy the way us Americans do (We are pretty big Halloween buffs, so missing it is a bit sacrilege in my house, but I mean looking back now as an adult, I really couldn’t complain… I was getting a free ride to see my roots, and immerse myself in such rich art, history, food, and culture). I don’t remember much about the plane ride there, or really much about the airport upon arrival.
We flew into Rome, and stayed in a little hotel on the outskirts of Vatican City. It was a bit slummy around the area, but the hotel was pretty nice. I do remember upon check in, they had this accordion music playing in the lobby, and my brother being the jokester and goofball that he is, began pretending he was playing the accordion! I remember laughing at that a lot! We got checked in, and then we went to eat at a tiny little restaurant about a block or so from the hotel. I remember walking down a basement to get to this restaurant. Once we got down there, it was nice and quaint, adorned with wine bottles, and the cliche red and white checkered table cloths. I remember ordering Gnocchi for the first time, and my mind was blown when I found out that it was pasta made from potatoes!! It was DELICIOUS!
After the restaurant, we were walking on our way back to the hotel. It was a pretty nice night, and relatively relaxing until we got a reality check that everyone warns you about when you are in Italy. We were walking, joking around, when all of the sudden, where hear a woman scream from a distance “AYUTA, AYUTA!!!” which means HELP. We are from Elizabeth, NJ, which has its rough spots, so we all go right into awareness mode. All of the sudden, we see a man (could have been a woman) all dressed in black, with a face mask on, running out of the alley with a woman’s purse under his arm. He ran right past us, and my dad and Nick didn’t even think twice and started immediately running right after the guy.
Nick had his camera in hand (not recording unfortunately) and just as they went to reach for the guy and catch him, the masked bandit hopped on a double parked moped and sped away into the night. Just as the crook sped away, the woman who was robbed, and her daughter who had her arm in a cast, came running out of the alley screaming and crying. We helped her phone the police, and I don’t remember much after that. It was pretty crazy to witness something like that on our first night there. We were pretty shaken up and headed back to the hotel. We knew from this point on that we really had to watch our backs in unfamiliar territory.
Back at the hotel: As far as I remember, my mom and dad and my aunt shared a room, and my cousin Nick, my brother Vincent, and I shared a room together next door to the adults. Vin and I would drive Nick crazy and keep him up all night as we made fart noises on our leg. LOL! These are the things I remember… oh to be a kid again. One thing I do remember about the hotel, were the showers there. And when I was there, I didn’t realize that it wasn’t just the shower at this hotel, but ALL SHOWERS IN ITALY/SICILY ARE LIKE THIS! I would have to wash in sections which was a bit “new”, lol. Wash my hair, turn the water off, wash my upper body, turn the water off, etc… I think I even flooded the floor… actually now that I think about it, I flooded the floor every time I showered. There is no tub or basin. You’re basically standing on a slab with a drain, which doesn’t drain fast enough. No wonder most Europeans don’t shower much… who feels like dealing with that on a daily basis, like really!?!?
So during our time in Rome, we spend A LOT of our time hanging out in Vatican City. I remember visiting there at night and seeing the Fountain of Trevi. We threw in some loose change, and went to the Gelateria right next to it. It might have been raining, I don’t really remember. I feel like it was drizzling because we were standing under an overhang waiting for the drizzle to stop, as we ate our gelato and watched the Fountain from there. We were standing there, and I remember a woman standing next to us with a poncho or umbrella on. This woman had actually turned out to be my father’s cousin. They realized who each other was, and hugs and kisses were exchanged! Her name was Dena, and she introduced us to our cousin Sirio, he looked about 11 or 12. He was a funny kid with glasses! We walked around Rome, and even checked out the Spanish Staircase. I remember my brother, Sirio, and I racing to the top and playing tag, and just having so much fun on these stairs. The adults caught up with each other and chatted together. I remember going back to my dad’s cousin’s house so they could all catch up more. I remember taking a bus ride there.
The next day we had made plans to go back to the Vatican and take the inside tour. I don’t really remember how long we stood in line to get in. We spent a lot of the day hanging outside the Vatican, lounging on fountains and chasing pigeons around the square. I do remember how ginormous the Vatican was when we finally went it. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but we took the tour of the basement catacombs where we were able to take some, which was pretty amazing. There were sarcophagi of old priests or deacons with golden mosaic tiled headstones which was pretty cool. After the Vatican, we went to eat at a little pizzeria close by. This restaurant was also in a basement typa setting like the last one we went to. It reminded me of my grandmother’s basement back home. This pizzeria served individual pies to each person, not much smaller than a pie you’d share with 3 other people in the US!!! It was the most amazing pizza I have ever had in my life!! We went there with everyone, plus Dena’s parents (my dad’s Aunt Mima and Uncle Pepino).
My dad’s aunt was my grandfather’s sister. Both his aunt and uncle have since passed on over the years, sadly. It was a good thing we went to visit them when we did. After pizza, we did more exploring of Rome. We visited Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel) which is a towering cylindrical building in Parco Adriano, Rome. It was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. It was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle. It is now a museum… The view from the top was absolutely breathtaking as the Italian sunset illuminated the golden villas for miles into the distance. After we explored the Castle, we headed back to the Vatican square.
On the way back, I remember seeing gypsy beggars sitting along the sidewalls, begging for money. I remember seeing a lot of these beggars, with deformed limbs, no teeth, etc. It was quite the disturbing site, kinda scary actually. They clearly could not walk, but there was also talk of beggars or gypsies pickpocketing you without you even realizing it. We were SUPER paranoid, especially after the mugging incident we witnessed on the outskirts of Rome near our hotel. I remember one day, we were trying to get a bus somewhere, and we had bought tickets. We had wandered the square looking for the bus stop, and when we went to get on, my dad started panicking because he couldn’t find his tickets. He started blaming the pick pocketers, which was so funny, because a minute or so later, he found the tickets exactly where he put them… in his shirt pocket. We all had a good laugh about that, and then we got on the bus, standing back to back toward each other so no one could take anything from behind. LOL!! Talk about being on guard at all times!
This is about all I remember about Rome, Italy. We were there for about a week, but this was not the end of our trip!!
Next was Sicily…
When I was around 12 years old, my parents had taken my brother and I on our first plane ride trip ever. They had decided on Cancun Mexico. We stayed at the Oasis Resort, which had BEAUTIFUL sparkling pools which surrounded the hotel like a moat. I also remember the peacocks and iguanas free to roam the grounds as the guests just went about their day. They had many activities to help you enjoy your stay, such as water aerobics, volleyball, and the swim up bar, which made frozen virgin drinks so even kids could take advantage of the tropical treats (Hey, we were 10 & 12 at the time!), and also hair brading. They had little shows that took place at nighttime, we went to a couple of those, and in the morning we would enjoy a delicious mexican breakfast buffet, complete with fresh fruit, eggs, & refried beans. I must’ve had refried beans for breakfast every day we were there! We enjoyed the resort probably just as much as the time we spent off of the resort.
We did a few things off of the resort, that I would’ve never imagined I would conquer at such a young age! One of the days, we had decided to go snorkling in the Caribbean Sea. I remember on the boat ride out to the middle of NOWHERE, the guy who drove the boat had this rope that he had tied to the front of the boat. He let us ride on the hood of the boat (probably was not the best idea), as long as we held on to the rope. The craziest part was, our parents actually let us, and that is extremely surprising, being what a worry wart our mother is.
My father did sit on the front of the boat with us. I remember the guy driving the boat, telling us that there were crocodiles in the water, to scare us. What a jerk! We finally got to the middle of nowhere in the caribbean sea and put on our life vests and snorkles. I remember being very afraid that there were sharks nearby, but the tour guide insisted that they weren’t around that area, but still you just never know! My parents got some pretty cool pictures of the coral and schools of brightly colored fish. I remember my mother getting pretty cut up on her ankles from the sharp coral. There was another couple who rode out there with us, they were a bit older. A nice lady & a bald guy with a huge skull and crossbones tattoo covering his back. I don’t remember their names, but they were very nice.
Another thing we did off the resort, was the XCaret Park, where we snorkled through caves with the fish, and swam with dolphins. I remember being a bit scared, I have never experienced anything like swimming with a dolphin before! We also visited some old Mayan temples, which were AWESOME! I remember that day being SO much fun!
I also remember riding a bus at some point, and going to a theater to see the Mexican Ballet (Ballet Folklorico Nacional de Mexico). Another night we also went out to the marketplace where I bought silver ring with Abalone inlay (I lost it later that year, when I put it in my pocket to do a backflip on a friend’s lawn) 🙁 . We also bought a mexican blanket, and some green malachite flake aztec warrior statues and wall plaques. I remember going to dinner that night by the marketplace, where my parents warned us not to drink the water for fear of Montezuma’s Revenge. I’m sure you all know what that is ! We were serenaded by a mariachi band with “Besame Mucho”.
A few other things I remember about this trip, was buying some worry dolls in our hotel gift shop. Also they played some awesome music by the pool during water aerobics. My brother loved it so much, that the DJ there made my brother a mixtape of some of the songs. I remember some of the songs they played were “Gimme Dolla!”, “Don’t want no short short man”, & “The Macarena”. The Macarena was HUGE in Mexico at this time. About a few months after we got back from our trip, the song finally made its way over to the US, and it was a HUGE HIT. My brother and I thought we were so cool cuz we already knew it!
One thing I remember about the whole trip , was that everywhere we went and my dad paid for stuff with his credit card, the cashier would look at him and say, “Rosario? Who is Rosario?” And he would say, “I am Rosario!”. This went on repeatedly for almost our whole trip. We did not understand why he kept getting questioned about his name. Finally my parents had asked why they were so curious to know who Rosario was everytime he went to use his credit card. We had thought maybe it was a famous political figure of some sort. It was no such thing, and actually proved to be a bit more embarrassing…. They said “Señor, Rosario is a woman’s name”…
PICK AN ADVENTURE!