No matter where you’ve traveled, how many countries you’ve been to, or what you’ve done around the world, there’s one experience that impossible to have unless you’ve got family in another country. Lucky for me and my sister our family origins start in Italy, and we still have family there today.
After taking an overnight Montenegro Lines ferry from Bar, in Montenegro, to Bari, in Italy, (a Montenegran boat that will no longer be running after December due to financing) we began a two week adventure visiting our relatives across Italy.
The first stop on our Italy trip that did not include famous cities like Rome or Florence, world class museums, famous art stops, or the best gelato in the world, was a small town on the Adriatic called Vieste.
A growing tourist town Vieste is surrounded by a national park and home to about 14, 000 people. It’s located in the province of Foggia in a region known as Gargano (perhaps my future dog’s name?). It’s also the place where my grandmother (nonna) was raised nearly 100 years ago.
So, what’s it like spending a week with your distant relatives who only speak Italian and live in a small town on the Adriatic coast that can only be reached by bus or car, bearing in mind that I don’t speak Italian. Hint: it’s incredible!
Let’s start with the lifestyle here. Everything in Vieste closes from around 1/2 o’clock till about 4 or 5 in the afternoon. That means you can’t get gas, you can’t go to a restaurant, you can’t visit the post office, and you can’t go shopping. During this time the town is a virtual zombie land, almost no one is outside but a just a few stray dogs who are napping away on the street corners.
You’re probably wondering what my day in Vieste is like. Well, every morning I wake up to the smell of fresh brewed Italian espresso which I drink with 3 quarters of a glass of milk and a few biscuits; a traditional Italian breakfast.
After breakfast our cousin, who’s 80 years old and used to be a life guard in the city, drives us around to all the best beaches and views in the city. At around 1 o’clock, our entire family (plus or minus 6-10 people) gets together for a 2-3 hour lunch, which includes a minimum of 3 courses.
Let me enlighten you with a typical lunch menu. Usually, lunch starts with a light snack like taralle (a type of twisted Italian cracker) and an espresso. This is followed by a plate of pasta, then a fish (stuffed whole cuddle fish was one such delicacy).
Afterwards bread with fresh cold cuts and cheese finds its way onto the table. Finally, we enjoy a fruit desert of fresh grapes, and when it’s all over we nap.
During the day everyone watches Italian television (mostly junk news – owned by the politician/ex-Italian primeminister Berlusconi – and soaps). It’s so much fun watching these shows with our cousins because they get so into it!
One of our Zia’s favourite is Beautiful, an American soap completely dubbed in Italian. A viewing of every episode ends in a deep discussion about what’s next, or ends with a gasp followed by a whispered, “Madonna” (referring to the Christian holy mother).
In the afternoon, my sister and I will usually head to the beach or into town to run errands and sight see. When we get back around 5 or 6 the city is just starting to pick up again and the streets are filled with people.
For us, this is time to chill out and prepare for the upcoming 3 hour dinner. At around 8:30 dinner is served and usually consists of several more courses of food over television and conversations. After we eat, I’m usually a zombie and struggle to make it past 10:30 pm, “la dolce vita” as the Italians say.
During my time in Vieste, one of the coolest things I was able to do was visit the one room house my nonna was raised in. One of our distant cousins still lives in the house and showed us a picture of our deceased great grandfather, in the house surrounded by our relatives (some of whom are still alive today).
Even more amazing is the fact that my nonna raised her 10 step brothers and sisters while she lived in the one room house, and her legacy still lives on in the hearts and minds of our family that was raised by her. As we looked through old photos and chatted in Italian I couldn’t believe how unique it was to connect with relatives here because we’re family!
To be honest, my days were just what you’d expect. I ate amazing Italian food, slept, napped, listened to and practiced Italian, explored the ancient town my grandmother was raised in, and loved every minute of it.
You can travel everywhere in the world, but to have a family experience like this is something truly special.
Have you ever had an experience visiting family overseas? If so share it with Borderless Travels readers because these experiences are great to learn about!