Back in August, I took 10 days vacation from my 9-5 pr gig to “bop around Rome.” This is what I told everyone I was doing when they asked. The truth is, my main goal was to make it to a small town in the mountainous heart of Italy: Villetta Barrea Abruzzo.
In the summer of 2015, I was living near Perugia for three months and my biggest regret was that I never visited this town–Villetta Barrea is the name of the village that my paternal great-grandparents were from, and the region of Italy that my father adored most. When I arrived back in America and went about making a life for myself, I had a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that wouldn’t go away. I needed to go back to Italy so I could make the trip into Abruzzo and see Villetta Barrea, if only for a day.
So, of course, I called my friend Aryn.
Getting there Villetta Barrea, Abruzzo
If you know me, you know I’m a nervous driver (and flyer, and person in general). If you know Aryn, you know she LOVES driving, especially if there are no rules (there aren’t in Italy).
All of the men in the rental place were watching as we pulled out because they couldn’t believe that two young girls, a) were renting a car alone, and, b) were driving a fast little stick-shift. You should have seen their faces in the rearview mirror when Aryn peeled out onto the narrow streets of Rome. I tightened my seatbelt.
Honestly, I don’t know if it was more terrifying to drive through winding mountains, sometimes at 6,000 feet above sea level, WITHOUT GUARDRAILS(!!!!), or to drive, knowing Aryn had NO FEAR of ignoring the speed limit.
I could do a whole series about driving and navigating in Italy (without GPS), so for now, I’ll skip to the part when we get there.
Arriving to Villetta Barrea Abruzzo
When I got out of the car I was sweating and Aryn had to pee.
It’s funny, the details you remember from days gone by. After checking into the hotel, we scaled the village…for hours. Up and down. Villetta Barrea is tiny, and perched atop a windy, cobblestoned hill. Even so, there were three churches within sight at all times. For lunch, we went down to the lake and ordered the monstrosity of panino above (with Abruzzese salsiccia, yum!).
It took about two hours of climbing up and down the narrow, cobblestoned streets of the village before I finally resigned myself to ask for directions. All I had with me to go off of was a picture of my Dad a few years before in front of the door of his grandparents. There was no way we were going to find that little number 5 all on our own. I asked about four vecchi (old people) for directions. Alas, standard Italian doesn’t exist in this part of the mountains, and they didn’t understand me. We must have been the only Americans to visit the village in months. Finally, I asked a guy from Rome who was visiting his family, and he brought me directly (10 feet away) to the door. Relief, warmth, and awe flooded me.
A hundred years ago, my great-grandparents saved all the money they had to start a new life in America. Here I was, their namesake, standing at the door they closed behind them.
It was these grandparents that influenced my father the most in his life and this region of Italy that he admired the most. It was important to him to see where he came from, so it was important to me, too.
Nap time for Aryn
Self explanatory. I owed her BIG time.
The ravioli that made me cry
Hot tip: whenever you’re traveling to a foreign country, always ask the waiter what he recommends.
You’ll end up sobbing into your napkin while Nat King Cole croons in the background because the ravioli is so damn unbelievable.
Sneaking out at 6am
Horse’s Wild Spirit
We left later that day to avoid the storm and visit some friends in Perugia. These two days that we spent in Villetta Barrea outlive every other experience I’ve had traveling in my memory. I’ll never forget the people met, the food we ate, the steps we climbed, the church bells we heard, or the earthquake that woke me up at 3am. I’ll never forget the deafening silence that surrounded us as I looked out my window to admire the clear night sky.