Pictures for this entry are at:
Monday, July 11th
We slept well at Castel di Luco. Breakfast was included with the room, as it was at most of the places we stayed, so rang the castle doorbell around 9am to collect our croissant and Nutella. Apparently even pseudo-royalty doesn't eat meat or cheese for breakfast. But it was hard to complain when the spread an entire table of food out just for you (1). Breakfast didn't take long (still full from "lunch" the day before) so we snapped a few more pictures of the frescoes and decorations in the dining rooms (2-4), packed up our stuff, and set off on foot back down the mountain to Acquasanta to meet Linda. Francesco kindly offered to drive us (by gesturing like he was holding a steering wheel), but I was looking forward to walking so we just said "grazie" and left.
Linda had offered to meet us back at the first hotel and take us to the Comune to inquire about family records. Practically before we could even say good morning she had a poster sized family tree unrolled for us to admire. I mean literally a family tree drawn on paper (5-6). One of her relatives was a nun and had traced their family back 12 generations. It was astonishing work. Then she led us the 3 blocks or so through the town (7-8) to the Comune.
The Comnue occupied at least 2 floors of a rather small building but the records seems to be concentrated on the 2nd floor. The helpful lady working that morning found Ali's great grandfather's birth record (9-10) in a matter of minutes after we gave her names and dates. Apparently they had at least a hundred years of records from the town in a room probably the size of your living room. A few minutes more and she had a large book open in front of us with the marriage record. She made a photo copy for us that I haven't scanned in yet. She also created and printed several copies of an official birth record for us to take home. The marriage license was a treasure trove of information. Ali's great grandparents were married in a civil service. Michele was 27, Maria just 17. The document also had the names of their parents, which was new information for the Sestile family.
With Linda's help we had already found much more information than we had even dreamed of. We copied down the address for the Comune so we could request more information in the future and walked back to the main part of town. We promptly ran into Francesco from the castle. Now that we had a translator we could tell him what we were up to. Like Francesca at the hotel, he quickly grabbed a phone book and started cold calling (11-12). No luck, but it was a nice gesture. We also spoke with one of the gentleman from the day before (13) who gave us one more clue to track down. There was a teacher at the local school whose mother's maiden name was Sestili.
We climbed a lot of stairs (14) to get up to the school to meet Rita (15). I suppose it must have been summer vacation there too because there weren't any kids around, despite it being the middle of the day. Linda introduced us and told her why we were there. She immediately called her mother to ask about the family name. We're a little fuzzy on the details but we think it's likely Rita is a distant cousin of Ali's. Her grandfather, or possibly great grandfather, was a Sestili and would have been about the same age as Ali's great grandfather. Rita even invited us to stay with her if we ever made it back to Acquasanta. Before the trip I had pondered the idea of trying to stay with a distant relative if we could find one but I never pursued it since the family didn't know of any distant relatives still in Italy. We might just have one now!
It's hard to tell when someone is turning down a gift to be polite and when they genuinely don't want it. We assumed Linda was turning down our offer for lunch to be polite so Ali kept asking until she relented. She had spent several hours helping us and we really wanted to treat her to lunch as a thank you and to spend a little more time just talking with her before we left for Rome. She took us to a local place (as if there were any other kind of restaurant around) called Pizzeria Ristorante (17). Now, I don't speak Italian but that sure sounds like Italian for "Hole in the Wall Pizza Place." The owner's name was Bruno (18) and Linda new him well. It was a bit like having our Italian chef friend cook for us in his home. We never saw a menu and there was no need.
Louisa, our Irish friend from the train had raved about some kind of pasta called carbonara. It has bacon so what more do you need to know? We mentioned wanting to try it so Bruno made up a plate of that and another kind of pasta. Each plate could have fed 4 people by itself. They were both good, although we preferred the alternate pasta and Bruno confirmed our correct choice. We had already had an appetizer of proscuitto and a local fruit but we couldn't turn down the lamb he offered next. Last he brought out three different kinds of liqueur for us to try. It was a fantastic lunch (19-22) and we had a chance to talk with Linda about her life and her husband. She invited us to visit her in Canada when she got back and we of course offered her room and board in Texas if she ever made it to Dallas.
After lunch Linda took us to the convenience store to get our bus tickets for the ride to Rome that afternoon. We had about 3 hours to kill so we said goodbye to Linda and went to explore the town some more. We walked down to the river first and observed some locals caking mud all over themselves (23). Ali guessed it was some kind of beauty treatment. I guessed they must not have been using it very long. Since we weren't interested in a mud bath we just walked back up to the hotel, snapping some photos along the way (24-28).
We still had an hour to kill so we sat down outside the hotel (29-30) where we stayed the first night and I took some time to write in the journal. After about 30 minutes my concentration was broken by a "Hey, are you the Americans?" Good grief, can anything more unexpected happen on this trip? I looked up and an American couple a little older than us were sitting down. They had heard we were in town asking around about family.
Vincent and Nancy had been married at Castel di Luco and that's where their Italian adventure had begun. It had started much like ours, with a vacation trip to his ancestral hometown. One thing led to another and now Vincent is a dual citizen and they had been living in Acquasanta for a year. Nancy already seemed tired of it. We chatted with them until the bus arrived, exchanging contact info as we had with all of our new friends. The bus pulled up to the stop across the street and I probably seemed rather rude when I grabbed our bags and jumped with barely a goodbye, but I didn't want to get left.
I don't think I've ever been car sick before. But I've also never ridden on the top of a double decker bus winding up and down and back and forth through the Italian mountains. I closed my eyes and tried not to barf. I don't believe I've ever written the word barf before. The bus ride was about 3 hours and after we got out of the mountains it was more pleasant. We had reserved a room in Rome at a hotel called the Bee Hive. From the Trip Advisor entries it sounded like a trendy little place that catered to Americans. At least we matched half the characteristics of their typical clientele.
The hotel itself didn't have any rooms available but they had a shared apartment a few blocks away that we had reserved a room in. If you count the night we left Texas, this was now the 9th straight night we'd be in a different room. We checked in at the main hotel, got our instructions for getting into the apartment, and headed out into the heart of Rome. As we walked towards the apartment the streets began to get dirtier and smellier. Clearly this was not a block of town popular with tourists. It did, however, seem to be popular with Indian immigrants.
The front door to the apartment building looked a bit like a prison cell door. By this time I was heavily second guessing our choice in rooms. We went through another cell door guarding the staircase up to our floor (31). Next to the staircase was the smallest elevator you've ever seen (32) which we took up to the 4th floor. It was really more like a pod than an elevator. The apartment was fairly large and had 3 rooms with a common living room, kitchen, and bathroom. One of our roommates came in a few minutes after us. He had lived in Rome before so we were a bit concerned when the first thing he says to us about this area of town was "if it seems a little shady, it's because it is." Thanks, that made me feel better. We debated for a little while but decided to keep the room.
About 9pm Ali decided she needed something for dinner. I wasn't hungry, probably due to my anxiety about where we were staying. We walked back down the street a couple blocks and grabbed some takeout from a little hole in the wall place that was on par with one of those quasi-chinese fast food places in a mall food court. But I actually felt much better about our room as we walked back. It was well after dark, but there was nobody loitering on the streets, no gun shots in the background, it seemed safe. Our roommate even backed off a little when we pressed him and said he had lived in this area before and never had a problem. So the apartment was adequate, though incredibly unromantic (33-40) and we wouldn't be spending much time there anyways. Most importantly, we were scheduled for 2 nights there, the first 2 nights in the same bed in almost 2 weeks. We crashed fairly early knowing we had a full day of hard core Roman site seeing the next day.
Next up: Colloseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, etc. etc.