Catherine is an avid traveler and applies her experience in the environmental sciences to give a global view of travel domestic and abroad.
We traveled from Rome to southern Italy, to Paolo and Acri, including stops at Naples and Sorrento, to explore some of my family's history. My great-grandfather and great-grandmother were from these lesser known Italian towns, and lived there before coming to America at a young age. The decision to go to Italy on a trip stemmed from an idea my Grandmother had. It was my grandmother on my mother's side of the family whose parents came to America from Italy as a young couple.
We created a trip where we began in Rome and travelled south to the town where my great-grandfather was born, Acri, and my great-grandmother, Paolo, with a few stops in-between including Rome, Sorrento, Naples and even Pompeii.
We flew Aer Lingus, an Irish airline, from JFK in New York City to Rome, Italy with a 2-hour layover in Dublin. Most flights on Aer Lingus have a layover in Dublin, Ireland but we didn't mind the short stop for a break. This was where my passport was stamped even though this wasn’t my country of destination in Europe. If you do want stamps in your passport at each country you're visiting in Europe, you’re going to need to visit a tourist office for the accompanying country to get them. Once you’re in Europe, you are free to travel whether by bus or train, which makes traveling around Europe simple and convenient.
As an Italian, visiting the country was an awe-inspiring experience that really opened my eyes to the culture and beauty of this boot-shaped country and its people where I'm from. We landed in Rome and toured Italy from the Forum to the Coliseum. We visited the Trevi Fountain and the Piazza Navona. After a few days exploring Rome, including having lasagna at a restaurant by our hotel and some cappacino and pastry at a local cafe, we made our way to the main train station, the Rome Termini, for the five-hour train ride south. The trip on the train was just as enjoyable as the time we had exploring Rome on foot. There's so much to see on the way and the view on the train was breathtaking, with rolling mountains to the east of us and the coast to the west. It felt as if we were going back in time and coming upon the old Italy of generations past, and then we arrived in Paola.
We arrived in Paola and enjoyed a day in this hillside town, enjoying the local cuisine in a mom and pop restaurant, its name actually translating to the word "Restaurant" in English, and people-watching the locals of the town. All the locals were quite friendly and had some questions about New York, where we were from. My grandmother spoke some Italian but she can understand it better than she can speak it, thanks to Italian soap operas she watched back home. After some broken Italian conversations, it was time to head back to our hotel. The next day we were going to the town of Acri.
The next day, we traveled away from this coastal town and headed to the small town of Acri, a short drive from there. There is nothing historically significant here for a tourist but it was special for us. This was the town where my great grandfather was born and we were going to try and find his birth records and family information. We also intended to explore and have lunch at a local eatery too.
Our taxi arrived at the town entrance and we asked to be let off there so we could experience walking into the town ourselves. We made our way up winding cobble stone roads until we arrived in the main squares of Acri. It was a small town with little shops, a butchers, multiple jewelry stores, interestingly, and the like. To our amazement, my grandmother’s maiden name was on every other storefront in one in this main square. We found a Curto jewelry store, Curto Butchers and a Curto Crib Store all around the same square within view of eachother. It was surreal and a welcome surprise. Already, this grand trip in order to visit this small town was worth it, but we had one more surprise coming.
We wandered into the jewelry store and my grandmother spoke in the best Italian that she could to explain her family name and its connection to the store’s name. It turned out we were speaking to the daughter of the owner, whose last name was Curto. We found a long lost cousin of my grandmother’s paternal side of her family. We smiled and chatted and traded e-mails. After we left, we strolled over to the Curto Butcher Shop where the children of the owners worked in the front. We believe they were telling us that their parents were out of town, but again, someone also related to our family on a distant family branch. It was refreshing to see these were all family businesses, not what you'd typically see down the same block in America.
The hall of records in the Town Hall of Acri was our last stop. We found my great-grandfather’s signature in a book that held the birth record for her father. The people there were so kind and even offered to photo copy it for us as a keepsake. To this day it’s something cherished by my grandmother. The records people there actually had a few questions for us about what my grandmother's father, when he arrived in America, what his occupation was. They were quite interested in the migrant story and my grandmother explained as best she could in that broken Italian.
After this, we knew the rest of our trip in Italy couldn't top these experiences with its personal affects, but we did continue on to Naples and Sorento. Naples was home to the best pizza I had while in Italy. The city of Naples is known for being a bit more gritty, a strong contrast to the wholesome small towns we just came from, but there must be something there that makes the food spectacular. This was one of our shorter stops, only spending an afternoon there. We continued into Sorrento, a beautiful seaside town with pure-white painted buildings with bold blue shutters and roofs, remiescent of the greek isle. We took a side trip to Pompeii from there, which isn't very far from Sorrento.
Overall, it was an amazing experience off the beaten path. After visiting Paola and Acri, I swore to always try and find a town off the map when visiting a country in Europe to really take in the culture of that country and its people that reside there. It is a trip that I will never forget and that will always stay with me: learning about my family history, traveling off the beaten path to the southern hillside of Italy, and seeing Europe for the first time with my family at my side.
© 2013 Catherine Stolfi
Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on April 26, 2013:
Hi Catherine. What a great journey for you and your grandmother. This is something you will remember and cherish for the rest of your life. The first time I went to Italy I was overcome with the beauty and the people and the lifestyle. Like you, my family roots go back to a small Italian town, Teano. Although I have not yet made it there I will in the near future. A wonderful hub. Voted up and shared.