The Gift of Return to Italy

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Our family struggled through a difficult time earlier this year; our spring vacation was lost to us, and our summer trip was in doubt. In the end, through a collection of fortuitous circumstances and a determination to make a clean start, we pulled the trigger on two weeks of what had originally been envisioned as a four week trip back to southern Italy. Early in July, we flew from Vancouver to Frankfurt, and from there to Napoli, the vigorous heart of the mezzogiorno. 

A lively hired driver was waiting to take us to our hotel in the old town. A typical Neapolitan, he was an energetic driver and very talkative. It was after midnight when we got in, but we were all awake and our son was hungry, so we took a bit of a walk around Spaccanapoli. There was still a lot of action going on. Pizzerias were closed, but we found a friendly guy that had slices still in a warming wagon. He even offered to fire up the oven again for us, but we were content with the slices.

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In the morning, we woke up to the sound of garbage trucks and men’ voices calling out in Italian, and the wonderful, unmistakeable sensation of being in a southern Italian city. We walked outside filled with a sense of well-being, of adventure– we were in the heart of Napoli. Happily, we took in the familiar sights– buildings towering skyward, pastel paint peeling from walls, floor to ceiling shutters, multiple rows of clothesline with tiny pulleys outside each little balcony. We looked upward to the bright patch of blue sky between the rooftops, and along the long narrow street, toward a tiny view of sea and mountain.

We breakfasted at a cafe in San Domenico Maggiore, where a talkative waiter brought us our food and kept a Canadian toonie as a tip. We saw a cat in the window of a violin maker’s shop.  The city is a delight to us.

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We picked up our rental car at the train station, an Alfa Romeo Julietta, and managed to get lost trying to find the autostrada. With all of our experiences in Italy, driving in Napoli was a new one. Finally, we managed to get onto the highway and headed toward Salerno, a new route for us as we were going to take the “slow road” past the Amalfi Coast and through Basilicata. We circled around Vesuvius and eventually came out above the coast, where we had a gorgeous view over Vietri sul Mare and the ocean beyond. 

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Driving through the mountainous corner of Basilicata, we came to the country road up into the hills, full of switchbacks and water buffalo, that led to the town of Accettura, where we had stayed eight years before. We even passed a small herd of horses wandering near and on the road. This is dramatically beautiful country, just as we remembered it. 

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Accettura has not really changed. There are a few more shops with produtti tipici signs on them (a sign perhaps that tourism is growing in the area), and seemingly a few more restaurants. But we sat at one of the cafes on the Piazza del Popolo and looked out at the same view and sleepy town that we remembered. There was a caseficio, and we bought some little bocconcinis before heading back to the highway. It was fun to see it again (as we had always promised our son that we would). 

After this stop, we pushed on into Puglia, into now-familiar territory around Lecce and Gallipoli. From there it felt like no time at all to reach Ugento, and finally our long-beloved vacation casa in Torre San Giovanni, where our dear hosts awaited us. 

It had been six years since we had visited, and it had always been an article of faith that we would return. On two different occasions, tentative plans had evaporated, and this trip, long booked, almost hadn’t happened. And yet, here we were at last. As promised, as always, we took our son to the beach first thing. He is now almost sixteen, but that hasn’t changed since he was three. The beach, our beloved Lido Sabbioso, was unchanged too. Still sandy, still beautiful, the water still warm and clear and turquoise. Lovely. So, so good to be back. This trip, we knew, would be a healing one for all of us, a reward for what we had come through and a promise for the future. 

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Photos: Early morning on Via San Gregorio Armeno; peeling walls of Spaccanapoli; violin-maker’s cat; Vietri sul Mare; horses in Basilicata; water buffalo; Accettura; Torre San Giovanni (Photos 1,3,8 N. Wilkes)

© Leslie Wilkes 2016