Italy Part I: The Birthplace of Craviotto
I'm a proud Craviotto by marriage!
But I never imagined the 11 day adventure to Italy in 2017 our beautiful Italian name would lead us on.
What gave us the idea to go to Italy in the first place?
Two life events propelled us off our comfortable couch.
The first, was a trip to New York and a delicious meal in Little Italy (Pesto Gnocchi to be specific). After that experience, we knew Italy would be a good place for us.
The second, was the darkest Winter of our lives so far in 2016.
We began to realized the true importance of family after our baby son Anthony died. The grief pushed us to open our hearts to our family members and friends. We began to feel a new connection with the Craviotto legacy. We started to ask questions like, "where did the Craviotto name come from" and "can we visit that place?"
Upon investigating, we realized the only other Craviottos in the USA run Craviotto Drum Company!
(If you are reading this and your name sake is Craviotto, PLEASE reach out! LOL)
We used the mighty powers of Facebook to find some string to unravel in Italy and found a man named Mario who claimed that the name originated, and still exists, in the coastal city of Varazze.
How could we pass this up???
If we hadn't planned to go then and there, we probably never would've.
Kyle and I didn't see ourselves as "world travelers" since we're such creatures of comfort in general.
I guess, because life had tossed us out of our comfort zones already, we were itching for a "good discomfort," or at least a self inflicted one.
I think that's my definition of an ADVENTURE.
But how could we possibly go without Kyle's parents?! They were both nearing their 70's at the time and we thought we'd enjoy the trip more with them.
For those who don't know them, Harry & Terry are a faithful Catholic couple- born travelers with a dream of seeing the Pope in person!
To our delight they barely let us finish uttering the words of invitation! They were in.
And so the pilgrimage began!
We started planning like MAD.
My goal was to avoid looking at pictures so I could see the sights for the first time in person.
I tend to binge search locations so I can imagine what it will be like (a tactic of an anxious mind), which makes the whole experience less majestic.
So Terry (my beautiful mother-in-law) and I planned the itinerary of the trip. We were the heart behind the operation. We learned as much about Italy and its history/language as possible before we left.
Kyle (husband) and Harry (father-in-law) were the logistics team. They told the money where to go and booked all the stays.
We made an AWESOME team if I do say so myself!
The trip planning came together like magic.
I mean, sure, we made some mistakes along the way booking hotels for the wrong dates and all that, but for every question we had, there seemed to be a miraculous answer.
For instance, our good friends had just returned from their own trip to Italy and were able to inform us on what was worth doing. We also "just happened" to run into a missionary couple from Italy at a church bbq we ALMOST DIDN'T ATTEND. They connected us with a Christian camp on a vineyard just outside of Florence.
It was clear that we had come from a season of great loss and stepped into a season of ABUNDANCE. That filled our anxious hearts with joy and chased out all the travel jitters...or at least most of them.
Fun side note:
We sold our house right before we left and had my dad sign our purchasing agreement for our new home WHILE WE WERE IN ITALY.
That wasn't the plan, but it did work. Thanks dad! lol
Flying to Italy was... intense.
A certain Airliner nearly made Kyle have a panic attack.
They disregarded our assigned seating, reseating us in the middle of the middle of the biggest airliner I have ever been in.
It was old, cramped, and they gave Kyle that sweet electric BOX under his seat so he couldn't move his knees from his chest the whole way to France.
Real cool (NOT).
While I enjoyed sitting shoulder to shoulder with my father-in-law for 10 or so hours on a plane with outdated technology and terrible snacks, we were ALL glad to be boarding the rickety puddle jumper plane to Italy!
Would you believe we had 3 times more space on that little plane than on the large one?
For our trip to Italy, we did something very...bold (we'll just call it that).
We chose to rent a car and DRIVE to every destination.
This seemed like a cost effective choice since our car rental was only going to be a low price per day. Both men were more than willing to drive and the ladies, willing to be respectful passengers.
All was right with the world till we were given the news we should have seen coming: insurance on the vehicle would nearly triple the initial price.
No WAY were we gonna skip out on that since apparently "theft" is a thing in big cities and we were planning to go to a few of those.
We also learned almost immediately that there were things called "tolls" that we don't have to deal with in our mostly rural area of the US.
It seemed like we were CONSTANTLY stopping to pay a few dollars to the little automated voice behind the blockades that littered the countryside.
We would soon become all too aware of the many unique and fun driving experiences one can have on Italian roads including secret police boxes, miles of tunnels, complete lawlessness, IMPOSSIBLE parking situations, and being reversed into by a little electric Panda car.
If there are traffic laws in Italy, no one knew about them. The "right of way" was TAKEN not given. If I could have written the traffic laws by observation, they would be as follows:
1. Scooterists may drive however, wherever they want at any speed they so desire.
2. Buses and all other vehicles may drive whenever, where ever, however fast they can get away with.
(No need to honk, signal, or yield)
My face showed panic while Kyle's face seemed to say "I am confused...there are NO RULES??? AWESOME."
For a driver like him, it was a dream. For me, it was like Hell.
It was like a cool fresh breeze filled our emotional sails. After a nap at our hotel in Turin, we were buzzing with new excitement.
Turin is a large city in Northern Italy that reminded me of New York. The people there didn't seem as "Italian" as I had imagined they would. They walked quickly, heads down, and didn't seem to be very warm or inviting. We shrugged it off and set our minds to learning how to order coffee and read road signs.
The complimentary breakfasts more than made up for the less than "warm welcome" we received that first day.
Gosh... that's an understatement. I can't help it! How can I put words to such a beautiful spread of freshly baked pastries, hand squeezed juices, and professionally prepared coffee beverages???
I JUST CAN'T.
I actually realized after this trip that Italy does food right EVEN in the complimentary breakfasts at hotels.
Anyone who has had a bagel at a Motel 6 knows what I mean when I say I was expecting a cardboard bagel and some juice from concentrate.
Walking around Turin, there were no shortage of beautiful government buildings.
We also found ourselves at the home of "The Shroud of Turin" aka St. John the Baptist Cathedral.
The reverence and quiet there was astounding!
Museo Nazionale dell'Automobile was our one and only special stop in Turin, since we were planning to hit the road ASAP, but WOW it was so fun!
It was FULL of incredible cars and made by Fiat. It was fun to see my Father-in-law take pictures of every motor display he could find and oogle over the Jeeps.
The town I never wanted to leave was the coastal town of Arenzano.
It was quiet during the day with only the sounds of birds and the ocean. There were hidden markets between the buildings and at the top of the hill was a "church" that was more beautiful than any cathedral I'd seen of its size.
Down the road from our hotel was a historic "gunnery" that was connected to a gorgeous college campus by a wooded garden. Once you arrived at the campus, there was a clearing that exposed a lush valley that took my breath away.
There was a political office building that looked more like a castle with pond below the entrance. We were surprised and delighted to find animals of all kinds! There were turtles, exotic birds, and more.
I found the "night life" in most towns more vibrant than where I was raised, but Arenzano's was the best!
Dinner was usually around 8PM rather than our 5PM normal meal time. That first night in Arenzano, we were given a warm welcome at a local pub and I had my first Italian Double Cheeseburger. It was an interesting take on the American food, where the patties are placed side by side on a hoagie type bun! We also receive a plate of green olives as an appetizer, which was a huge culture shock for us for some reason.
I made a fool of myself after our meal when the young man who served us our food asked if we wanted "icecream" and I corrected him by saying we wanted "gelato" not realizing that in Italy...that is the same word. lol Tourists, am I right???
Our hotel staff was very welcoming. It also had a freshwater pool outside and (of course) an INSANE complimentary breakfast. It was at this place that we realized, servers would come by and take a coffee order for us and make us coffee on the spot.
Best. News. Ever.
We thought we had seen it all, when I made a wrong turn between buildings and found a hidden courtyard FULL of adorable shops! The walls of the buildings were painted to make them look like they had stonework almost like a colorful optical illusion or prank to fool travelers!
While we were staying in Arenzano, we took a day trip to the place our namesake was said to have come from.
I was having a really difficult day. I think the difficult moments of communication and last minute changes in plans was starting to weigh on me.
This is where my introversion shows its sneaky self. We didn't spend much time there, but it was a crisp and beautiful day. We split up and did coupley things, which really helped me to calm down.
The in-laws walked the boardwalk and we sat and people watched.
We saw a ridiculously drunk old man riding a pink bike and being a might too friendly with the people he passed. People were walking their dogs, and the paramanade seemed to go on forever.
We ate delicious sandwiches, met a few English speakers at various shops, and picked up some mementos on our way back to our car.
It wasn't what I imagined it would be, mostly because we didn't meet anyone new or spend much time there, but it was a treasure nonetheless.
The 5 Cities: Cinque Terre
Driving down the twisted mountainside of Cinque Terre was TERRIFYING. Our goal was to visit all 5 cities by train while staying in a beautiful (and tiny) apartment in Vernazza, but we didn't realize how dangerous getting there would be.
We only went to 3 of the 5 cities but, I can say honestly, we were more than satisfied with that! There are hundreds of authentic and fun businesses to visit in each city. There are beautiful beaches and delicious food/ drinks to consume.
Our most memorable meal was at a beautiful restaurant on the hill top of Vernazza overlooking the beach and entire town. I had the most amazing pesto lasagna EVER there. They had such pride in their menu and treated service like entertainment! Our server made it his mission to keep us laughing and smiling the whole time. My mother-in-law got the Shrimp Scampi, which had all it's faculties. She took it well and made it do a little song and dance for us to lighten the mood.
Paying for that meal was a hilarious as well.
We didn't know we had to pay for our meal in cash (of which we had none) at a different location. We were escorted through the back allies and winding stair cases to a tiny apartment with decorative plates and cat memorabilia covering every inch of wall space! Three of us stayed there as collateral till one of us could return with cash.
Of course we had to climb to the top of the tower above the restaurant! We were met at the top by a Bollywood music video crew! I can still remember the song, although I didn't understand the words at all.
Swimming in Vernazza's bay was chilly, but the rocks were warm and populated with other eager tourists.
Our rooms were right next to the train tracks which was great for traveling but sounded like the Ring Wraiths from Lord of the Rings were trying to climb through our windows each time the train screeched to a halt.
We were also located above an adorable little shop and next to a pizza restaurant that was the party spot of the town cranking loud music till the morning hours.
Italy is remarkably photogenic.
Each city looked just as glorious in our phone pictures as it does on a professional's canvas print. When I saw the pictures of the 5 Cities, I thought for sure they would be very small towns with a feeling of seclusion and anonymity.
It was the opposite. Even though we went during the fall in the "Shoulder Season" each city was PACKED with tourists and vibrant with buzzing travelers.
The towns had beach groomers, trash trucks, and food carts running like crazy in the morning to set the stage for all the visitors with their high expectations and fat wallets!
What really impacted me about the cities most was their recovery after the mudslide only a few years before our visit.
If you didn't know, most of the buildings that you see today in that area are new or refurbished after a terrible natural disaster that destroyed the local buildings. They have a wall covered with pictures of mud filling their homes and businesses. I was inspired at the work and pride that the locals put into rebuilding.
We left those splendid cities with a feeling that we would surely return someday soon.
As it turns out, adventure IS for us.
It felt like a fluke when we traveled for Kyle's work, a mission trip, or an academic excursion and really enjoyed ourselves... but after only a few days in Italy, with more than a week left, we knew we were becoming adventurers.
The story is NOT over!
Stay tuned for Part 2 and 3 of the Italy Blog series!
We traveled so many more places than these. I can't wait to tell you about Florence, Poggio Ubertini, Assisi, Rome, and our trip to the most meaningful destination I have ever been to: NO SPOILERS!
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Thanks so much for reading.