This beautiful story was sent to us by our friend and client LaNeal, and we thought it was too good not to share.
“Dream big.” I’ve heard that saying often, but when it came to dreaming about my first trip to Italy, I couldn’t have dreamt big enough to hold what came true.
I expected to be overwhelmed by the Vatican and its deep history and humbled by the impossible beauty of the Sistine Chapel. I expected to be seduced by the city of Florence and rendered speechless by the Duomo at its heart. I expected pasta and pizza, checkered tablecloths and candlelit tables, and I expected wine, lots and lots of fine wine. I expected all of that as we toured Rome and Florence, but I didn’t expect to find the same kind of awe and beauty in the quiet towns of Italy’s bootheel.
My first meal in Italy was not at a well known restaurant boasting a famous menu, but was a VoomaGo Experience at the home of Anna and Vincenzo. Their smiling faces welcomed our arrival and their table overflowed with the bounty from their own garden and Anna’s expert cooking skills. Creamy mozzarella, soft as a cloud, stuffed peppers, eggplant, and pork loin, pounded thin as lace before being grilled over coals fueled by grape stems, filled our plates. Vincenzo’s wine, poured from a bottle painted with flowers, filled our glasses. The dessert plate held fresh figs, grapes, melon, prickly pear and nectarines the color of sunset. The conversation was a jumble of the few Italian words we knew and the even fewer English words that Anna and Vincenzo knew, but the language of laughter and smiles around the table needed no interpretation.
Truth was, VoomaGo had ruined me. All further trips would be compared to this Italy vacation and I doubted they would measure up.
An evening stroll through the cobblestone streets brought a chance encounter with a museum guard as he locked the doors for the night. Instead of turning us away, he ushered us inside for a tour. Artifacts uncovered during the building’s renovation, some dating to 300 B.C., surrounded us as the guard nonchalantly explained the surprise of their discovery. As we made our way to the second floor, he peered out a side window to the cloistered nunnery across the narrow street and announced, “The sisters are making dinner.” Indeed they were. We crowded around the window to watch them prepare their simple wooden tables with the spare utensils that marked their life. Humbled by the moment, a realization came to me: we were standing in the midst of ancient history while through the window and across the street, we were witnessing a confined world that few will ever see.
We visited the Trulli houses, small round structures made entirely of dry stacked stone culminating in a cone shaped roof, the Italian version of a “Hobbit” house, and guided by the VoomaGo Local and architect who was renovating them. He explained the history and mechanics of why the stones stacked into the pointed roof above our heads did not collapse. A stone staircase curved around the outside and a climb to the top gave us a panoramic view of the Italian countryside and the olive grove surrounding the tiny houses.
The joyful celebration and parade for St. Gregory, the patron saint of Manduria, was unexpectedly moving. The statue of St. Gregory headed the parade, hoisted above the shoulders of the men who had received the honor of carrying it. The crowd was thick surrounding the heavy statue as it lurched down the street on its journey through town, and next to me stood an elderly woman, tearful eyes rapt on the statue, her hands tightly grasping her rosary beads. The love, faith and joy of the community was mirrored in her face.
My intention was to keep a travel journal so the memories of this spectacular trip would not escape me, but after a few days, while sitting beneath a striped beach umbrella and burying my toes in the sugary white sands of the Ionian Sea, I gave up and fully sank into the experience. Truth was, my experiential travel with VoomaGo had ruined me. All further trips would be compared to this Italy vacation and I doubted they would measure up. What I carry instead of the written words of a journal is the memory of the warm and welcoming hearts of the Italian families that I was privileged to meet. To get to know the culture and history of Italy was wonderful. To truly get to know its people was the dream I couldn’t have dreamt.
For more information on why we love Italy we encourage you to check out our Guide to Italy.