Viva Italia

May 26, 2008
By Gianna Abruzzo, Inverness, IL

Viva Italia
I remember this summer. This summer was a summer to remember; a summer of firsts. My first time playing on Varsity basketball, first time driving behind the wheel of a car (so what if my mom was in the front seat), and also my first time traveling over seas to Europe.
Europe was probably the best two weeks of my life. From Paris to Rome, I saw the most beautiful sights of my life and had an experience that will be with me forever. My family and I had many hilarious moments that highlighted our trip that I will never forget.
Getting on the airplane, I couldn’t even begin to fathom what was ahead. I know I should have been looking towards all of the sights I was going to see and all of the fun my family was going to have, but I just couldn’t look past how much I was dreading the nine hour plane ride. I had never flown further than Mexico, let alone flying beyond the vast Atlantic Ocean. Honestly, what I was really upset about was the fact that I would be living on airplane food and Jay’s Hot Stuff chips all day. Being the eater that I am, this was like being starved. The ride fulfilled every stereotype of a horrible plane ride consisting of crying babies, smelly old people, and playing mother to my 18 year old sister who was motion sick and projectile vomiting the entire trip. As much as I felt sorry for her, I really did not want to spend 9 hours helping her run to the always full airplane bathroom. Finally I was able to take half a sleeping pill, and after hours of being puked on, I was finally able to go into a temporary coma. This two hour cat nap concluded the journey and my family and I had finally arrived in Paris, France.

Paris was just like I had seen in the movies. The Louvre, Arch of Triumph, and the infamous Eiffel Tower highlighted the two days spent in France. Two days was definitely enough time spent there because being Italian, my family realized theat French food was not our forte. The small, extravegent portions did not tickle our fancy, and one night my family did the unexpected. The Concierge of our hotel suggested a restaurant that he believed was the best in the city. They had “Macaroons to die for,” so we decided to give it a shot. When we arrived, the other diners all looked at us as though we were crazy because they knew we were American. We weren’t sure why we were getting these looks until we took one look at the menu; there was duck, snails and any gross thing you would never want eat. We knew the desserts would be good though, so we decided to skip the whole meal thing and order the world famous macaroons. Five pastries, two cups of coffee, and fifty dollars later my family was leaving the restaurant in search of some “real food.” We spotted a Planet Hollywood and ate pizza and chicken fingers until our bodies wouldn’t allow one more bite. For some reason, American food in France tastes so much better. Even though France was beautiful, my family couldn’t wait to get to the place in which our ancestors came, Italy.
Twenty years from now, if I only remember one thing from my entire two weeks in Europe, it would have to be the thirteen hours between France and Italy. For some reason my parents decided that the best and most cost efficient way of transportation was an over-night train ride. These 5 by 7 ft cabins were going to be the sleeping place for my two sisters and me. The rooms consisted of three fold-down beds and a sink. Mind you, we had luggage for two weeks to find homes for as well. My sisters and I were not quite sure how we would survive. After getting in a little dispute with my middle sister, Michelle, involving verbal and physical aggression, the sleeping arrangements were decided upon, and we tried to get to sleep. I woke up to the sound of the breaks screeching and I thought we had arrived in Venice. I looked out the window to find myself pretending to know that a sign I had read was in German, so I thought we were in Germany. I was wrong, as usual, and the claustrophobic train screeched to a stop in Venice, Italy.
Venice was a very different experience from living in the Chicago Suburbs. Everything was water and the buildings were beautifully antique. There were gondoliers singing and playing the accordion serenading couples in love as they drifted under bridges and into canals. I could not wait to get to the hotel and explore this new country. Venice was filled with delicious food, gondola rides, and my family’s favorite, the knock off hand bags. I got my first lesson of how to bargain when dark-skinned men lined the streets at night with designer purse look-alikes. The infamous “purse row” was made known to all the Americans and the men begged for our money. Technically, these purses are illegal so the men lay out all of their items on a white sheet and at the first sight of cops, they pick up everything in one heap and sprint away. This was very comedic and my sisters and I followed them to their next spot. We all walked away with gorgeous knock-offs, and the knowledge of how to make ten euros go a long way.
Our next stop was to the south of Italy, Sorrento. Luckily we were able to take an hour long airplane ride instead of a train. The city of Sorrento is not a place for much tourism, but for laying in the sun and enjoying the scenery of the hills and cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean. My family was picked up from the airport from our new friend and driver for the week, Nello. As we wound around the mountains to get to our hotel, I felt like I was in a movie as I viewed the little towns etched into the rocks and the straight drop to the Mediterranean Sea. This stop included lying at the pool, taking an elevator through the mountain to the sea, and cute Italian boys being chased away by my crazy Italian father.
Our last stop in Italy was the beautiful Rome. Our driver, Nello dropped us off there, and we were picked up by our new chauffer, Fabio. Fabio was a very good looking Italian man that my sisters and I fought over sitting next to. My dad and Fabio became friends, but definitely on a professional level. After calling my dad Mr. Abruzzo for a day or two, he was told to call him Steve. Fabio was really respectful so my father was being referred to as Mr. Steve. By the end of the trip, though, Fabio started calling my dad by the Italian version of his name, Stefano. My father took this Italian nickname to heart and began introducing himself to waiters as Stefano Abruzzo in a very fake Italian-American accent. This identity backfired on my father one night while we were at a very quaint restaurant. As the waiter introduced himself, my dad put on his accent and said his name was Stefano. My oldest sister, Brittany, is almost fluent in Italian so she taught my dad how to respond to the phrase, “Do you speak Italian?” My dad used his knowledge when the waiter asked the four words, and he responded, “Un Po,” which means a little. Our waiter was impressed and started talking in very fast Italian. I have no idea what he was saying, nor did the rest of my family. Not wanting to look foolish, my dad just responded, “Si, Si.” We just laughed this off and wondered what that man had said to us. We soon found out when the chef appeared with four plates of exotic dishes; Buffalo mozzarella, shrimp with the eyes and shell still intact and two mystery substances that we didn’t touch. All of our faces dropped as we realized that my dad had just said yes to ordering all of these appetizers. We just thought, “When in Rome,” and tried the foods. My father learned his lesson and never pretended to know Italian again.

After 16 days of being a world traveler, I could not wait to come home to the U.S. As much as I loved Italy and its food, I was looking forward to an American cheeseburger and French fries. My family and I had so many amazing memories and we learned a lot along the way. My sisters and I learned how to bargain for purses, and not to fist fight on a tiny train. My family knows to appreciate American food, and we now know why French people are so skinny. Finally, Stefano realized that he is not as Italian as he wishes. This trip was the highlight of my summer, and I cannot wait to se what is in store for this year.

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