Panini Girl

My obsessions-Italy and Cooking

November 4, 2007

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Looking For My Roots In Calitri

Two years ago J. and I spent two weeks in Italy. When we were planning this trip we decided that it was time to go and find my grandparent’s hometown. My mother has been to Italy many times but always on a tour and this small town in southern Campania is definitely off the beaten path and not some where that a bus tour would venture. A distant relative visited there many years ago but I’ve never had the chance to talk to her about her visit. I knew that my grandmother went back there once not long after WW II and I remember hearing that she left everything that she had taken with her for her impoverished family.

We knew that we would be be beginning and ending our trip in Rome, with a side trip for a few days to Positano so we figured how hard could it be to take a detour to Calitri? At the time that we were planning our trip there was almost no information avaialable on the interenet about this town. It took me quite a while to even find info on a hotel.

I did discover on Tren Italia that there was train service there, but it was only once a day and there was no way to make it from Rome in time for the only train that would connect to Calitri. Seeing that Calitri is in the Avellino province we thought we should spend the night in the town of Avellino but changed our minds and decided to go from Rome to Foggia (in Puglia), spend the night there and take the train to Calitri the next morning. Before leaving Rome we bought train tickets for the connection on to Calitri and figured that we were set! We arrived in Foggia without any trouble and quickly discovered that there weren’t many people that spoke English here (this was before I had started studying Italian).

We will always remember our dinner there in a trattoria where the delightful waitress slowly recited the entire menu to us in Italian! Not only did we not understand most of what she was saying, but the menu was lengthy and we couldn ‘t remember the things that we did actually understand!

The next morning after breakfast we walked down the street to the train station with our tickets in hand thinking all we’d have to do was board the train. I went to the information booth to inquire about which track we would need only to be told “Non c’è un treno.” Hmmm, even though I didn’t know much, I figured out that she meant “there is no train.” I showed her our tickets and she replied “l’autobus” and pointed outside to the parking lot where about five buses were waiting. Of course none of the buses said “Calitri” so we stood there semi- panicking as time was ticking and we knew this was the only connection of the day. A very kind gentleman who understood English, overheard us, pointed us to the correct bus and off we went!

We knew that we were supposed to make a change to another train/bus at some point and after about an hour the bus pulled in to a train station. We were the only ones to get off here and there were a few men standing next to a van motioning for us to come over. Both J. and I are now thinking “what do they want?”. Well,what they wanted was to put us in the van- this was the transport for the next leg of our journey! It was a beautiful ride and we were enjoying the scenery and the driver kept saying something and pointing up to a town on a hill in the distance.

How excited I was to see Calitri off in the distance! He kept saying the same thing over and over to us and finally J. said “I think he’s trying to tell us that yes, it is Calitri but no he isn’t driving us up the hill”. I’m now staring out at the switchbacks going up this very long hill thinking “this can’t be, how will we get up there-we have luggage?!”. J. was right. He stopped at the train station in the valley and shrugged his shoulders and said “l’autobus?” and off he went. We’re standing there thinking “what bus, no one else is even around here”.

A little way down the road I saw a car pulled over and I said “I’m going to ask that man for a ride up the hill” and J. looked at my like I was crazy! Just then from around the corner a big, blue bus appeared and stopped for us! We got on and continued up this very steep hill. I could barely bring myself to look out the window as the bus maneuvered around the hairpin turns. About half way up the hill a group of school children got on and the driver asked them to find out where we were going. Luckily one of them spoke some English and I told her the name of our hotel and the next thing I knew we were there!


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