2020 Italia – Calabria

It’s been a long long time…

Since I met Vladi in April 2019 we have talked a lot about his birthplace, Crotone. A town located in Calabria, in the very south of Italy, in its heel to be precise.

Although on many occasions he told me stories about Crotone and his family it have been years since Vladi had the chance to return to his birthplace and visit family who lives over there. Too many distractions, too busy all over the world and somehow the time wasn’t right.

Until now….

Many times I have asked Vladi whether he would like to return to Crotone and although each and every time I saw a smile on his face somehow it didn’t work out. Vladi’s work situation wasn’t helping either as it seemed to be mission impossible to get his well deserved leave (Our trip to Italy last year was his last period of extended leave) but then, at the time neither of us expected it his three week leave request was signed off.

With the world in the ban of COVID-19 we discussed whether it was a good idea after all to travel but as the south of Italy was as safe as home and traveling by plane would be no issue, if only we would stick to the security measures, there was no reason to further delay the trip.

And then, when on a Sunday morning Vladi told me we should go, we researched flights and things were set in motion.

After so many years he would finally be returning to Crotone and meet his family and I was the one lucky enough to accompany him.

On the morning of departure the alarm went off far to early for our liking, but after a shower and a cup of coffee we were on our way to Dusseldorf Airport. We parked our car and took a shuttle to the airport where we fitted our face masks in order to check in. Things went smoothly and at 08:30 in the morning we took of for our flight to Lamezia Terme, an hour drive away from Crotone. 

We landed at 10:05 according schedule and after we collected our luggage we were picked up at the airport by Vladi’s nice and nephew MariaTeresa and Luigi. We dropped our luggage at our B&B and spent the rest of the afternoon with Vladi’s sister Gabriella, her husband Mimmo and daughter Paula. Many memories were revived although and I had difficulties following the conversation, it was wonderful to see Vladi happy seeing his family. 

Before going back to our B&B we enjoyed a liquorice ice cream at the beach promenade, our adventure has begun… But both of us were extremely tired so we returned to our cozy B&B showered and planned to go to bed. But with Lungomare, the beach front, at our doorstep we could not resist to return for a final drink and watch the world go by. We walked to the harbour front and Vladi showed me the house where he was born. We would certainly return there this week. 

Completely happy we went back to our room where it did not take us long before we fell asleep, a deep and satisfied sleep.

Next morning we work up revived, enjoyed breakfast and Vladi started to make plans for the day.

A walk through il centro storico was a walk through Vladi’s childhood and he had memories to share. He told me many stories about his youth and showed me the house where he was born. We visited Castello Carl V and a small Museo. I loved the atmosphere in the narrow streets so typical for southern Italy. 

Next we strolled along lungomare towards the cemetery and visited the grave from Vladi’s mother, an emotional moment for him and I was glad to be there for support.

Finally we returned to the area we stayed, enjoyed a small bite to eat and a well deserved beer after which it was time for our siesta. After our siesta we spent late afternoon with Vladi’s sister Teresa and her husband Pasquale on the beach, a good excuse for Vladi to catch up on more memories. Back in Crotone we had a tasteful dinner at a small family run restaurant and finished of with a cocktail at a bar somewhere at lungomare.

After a good night sleep we were picked up by Enzo, the husband from Maria, Vladi’s oldest sister. We spent the hole day at their wonderful place and I was simply enjoying the conversation between the three of them and tried to pick up a word or two. Maria had cooked the most wonderful lunch and I started to worry about the extra kilos I would undoubtedly bring home. Late afternoon we visited Capo Colonna, the remainder of an Ancient Greek temple, and a small church which housed a painting of the black Madonna. Before we returned to Maria and Enzo’s house we had a short stroll through the harbour of Crotone. Another great dinner, more talking and then we were brought home. It had been wonderful to see Vladi enjoying himself and catching up with family he had missed for so long.

Before going to bed we decided for one more beer at lungomare so we could reflect on the day. When sat at our table we saw Luigi and his girlfriend Anna and not much later more family passed by who were enjoying the late Sunday evening and some people he had not seen since his childhood.

Tired but satisfied we went to bed and felt in a long deep sleep. The next morning we woke up refreshed and after the mandatory coffee and a small breakfast we went to the beach, which was only a block away. We rented a parasol and two deckchairs and were brought to our spot for the day. The water was nice and warm but I had to walk quite a bit before it was deep enough too swim. It was an enjoyable and relaxing day which we spent reading, swimming and zipping a beer or two. 

In the evening we were picked up by Barbara who brought us to Vladi’s brother Raffael and his wife Olga. Also Barbara’s husband Francesco and their son were present. Again we enjoyed a wonderful evening with far to much food (but how can one ignore home cooked Italian food, it is simply fantastic) and I enjoyed Vladi catching up with his family after so many years.

Next morning we were picked up by Luigi and his son Eduardo and we drove to a beach close to Capo Colonna where Vladi had spent loads of time in his childhood. Vladi’s niece MariaTeresa had a caravan over there, a good spot to relax. Also her sister Barbara and her child were there and it was a nice family outing. I swam quite a bit into the inviting sea and to be honest did not feel like getting out of the water. MariaTeresa had taken care of a wonderful picnic style lunch after which we returned to our B&B for our siesta.

In the beginning of the evening we were picked up by Luigi and Anna again for the 80 km drive to the Sila mountains. In Castelsilano, a small village we visited his father Savereo, Vladi’s oldest brother, with his wife Rosetta and daughter Sandy. The views from the house were simply breathtaking but obviously this was not the reason for the drive over there. 

Once again I enjoyed the typical Italian family atmosphere. Whilst Savereo grilled the Salsiccia and pancetta Luigi, Vladi and myself went for a short walk through the old village. Elder men were playing cards, women were chatting and children playing. It seemed to be a very peaceful village, but a bit remote. Back at Savereo’s house we enjoyed a fantastic meal with only home made products. Although I could hardly eat anything else Vladi’s brother and his wife were insisting I should eat some more, as like everywhere in the Laratta family hospitality is written in capital letters. After dinner we drove back to Crotone where it was time to go to bed. it had been a wonderful but tiring day.

Next morning we had a bit of a sleep in before Enzo picked us up again. Maria had once again prepared a wonderful lunch and we spent most of the afternoon in the house as it was to warm to go out anyway. In the beginning of the evening we drove to Le Castella, the remainders of an old Spanish fort. The village around it breathed a touristically atmosphere but fortunately it was not overrun like some popular places. We walked around the fort and enjoyed an ice-cream on a terrace before we headed into the direction of Capo Colonne.

Enzo and Maria had a surprise in mind as they had booked a table in the L’ancora Capocolonne,  a famous restaurant. We had a table overlooking the Mediterranean and although we seemed to be the only guests when we arrived at 20:15 not much later the place was packed. We started with a fantastic frittura mista, fried fish, prawns and octopus. That dish by itself would have been more than enough but was followed by a mouthwatering pasta di mare. The flavours were fantastic but I simply could not handle all of it. Still a small lemon sorbet was served after it and completely satisfied we returned to Crotone where we were dropped of in front of our B&B.

We slept well that night and the next morning we visited to local fish and vegetable market. Markets are always my favourite places to visit and this one did not disappoint. When in India it are the people at market who get my main attention but this time it were the local products displayed for sale. The quality of the merchandise was unbelievable and from my experience I know the taste would be intense. It seems that everything over here tastes so much better than at home.

At a cocktail bar at Lungomare we enjoyed a drink and a small bite to eat. Just when we were ready to leave we looked at their gin selection and discovered an Italian gin infused with tomato. A good excuse to order two and give it a try. We were not disappointed.

The rest of the afternoon we enjoyed a well deserved nap in our air-conditioned room in order to escape the worst heat of the day. in the evening we hit the streets again as we had planned to meet up with Gabriella & Mimmo, Teresa & Pasquale, MariaTeresa & Allessandro and their daughter Giorgia. We went to a pizza restaurant where I selected a pizza with Calabrian specialities and was entertained by the vivid discussions on our table. Again a heartwarming experience to see part of the family together. After dinner we joined the crowd for a stroll alongside Lungomare and whilst enjoying an ice-cream we were treated on a small fireworks show. 

After a good night of sleep and a coffee to start the day we were picked up by Pasquale, the husband of Maria Teresa, Vladi’s niece. We drove to their house and were introduced to their three children. Once again we were treated on a wonderful lunch but by now I was seriously worrying about my weight. All the food we had this week has simply been amazing and “no” is simply not the right answer to Italian hospitality.

It was so nice to get to know Vladi’s family and everywhere I was welcomed with big enthusiasm and unconditional friendship. This time was no exception. After lunch we were brought back to our B&B for a refreshing siesta. By now I am getting used to the Italian way of life where in the afternoon not a lot is going on. The heat simply prohibits any action. Most shops and restaurants are closed anyway so the best thing is to go inside and shelter from the heat.

In the evening Vladi had booked a table at Porto Vecchio, a restaurant in the harbor of Crotone. We had passed it during a stroll through the harbor and it looked appealing. Of course we started with a great tasting gin-tonic cocktail and we selected a nice wine to accompany our dinner. First we were treated on an amuse, a kind of bruschetta in a glass, followed by an amazing octopus dish. As a main course we enjoyed grilled swordfish. As if this all wasn’t enough a pre-dessert amuse was brought to our table before our selection of cannelloni. It had been a brilliant evening.

On the way to our B&B however we passed a couple of cocktail bars and it would have been a shame not to pay them a visit. It was a worthy ending of a fabulous evening. As we had only seen Vladi’s nephew Antonio very shortly he joined us and soon the both of them were engaged in a vivid conversation.

Next morning we realised it was already the last day of our trip. It was hard to believe that time had flown by so quickly. We visited a bar for our daily “caffè e cornetto con crema” after which we enjoyed another stroll through il centro storico where Vladi told me more memories of his childhood. We skipped lunch and returned to our B&B in order to avoid the heat of the day. 

Late afternoon Enzo and Maria arrived. We went for a short stroll to the harbour and back after it was time to say goodbye. We had enjoyed a wonderful time with them, and the fabulous home cooking and visits to Capo Colonna and La Castella came in mind.

Around eight in the evening the doorbell rang again and we headed downstairs to meet Gabriella, Mimo, Theresa, Pasquale and Paula. Together we enjoyed the vibrant atmosphere at Lungomare and our final ice cream.

After we said our goodbyes to Vladi’s sisters and their husbands we decided to go for a small bite to eat and ended up at a pizza restaurant. By the time we were finished we made one final stroll on Lungomare and discovered a pub with a very promising smoked gin… Not only was it served in a plastic glass but the taste was horrendous. Not something to keep in mind.

We continued our walk and by now it was getting close to midnight, which meant close to my birthday. Vladi did not want to return to our B&B but preferred to celebrate a bit so we went to a cocktail bar we had visited a couple of times before and ordered a much better tasting Gin & Tonic. We were happy they had some more on the menu so we enjoyed an intimate celebration before heading to our B&B for our final night. I could not have wished for a better way to start my birthday, together with the man I love so much!

After a good night of sleep it was time to pack our suitcases. Then MariaTeresa, Vladi’s nice, and her husband Pasquale and son Gioele picked us up for the drive to the airport of Lamezia Terme.

After a one hour drive they dropped us off and we said goodbye. Then we joined the long cue in front of the airport waiting to be allowed to check in. Because of corona we had to wear our face masks for the next couple of hours until we were in our car again.

Checkin was as chaotic as one could imagine and seemed to take ages. Because of this our flight was delayed but eventually we took of for our flight to Dusseldorf. Once we collected our luggage we returned to the parking lot where Vladi’s car was parked and we drove home. We made a short stopover at a Croatian restaurant for dinner and then our trip was officially finished.

It has been a marvellous trip and I was so happy for Vladi that he, after so many years, was finally able to see his family again. I was greeted with great enthusiasm by everybody and the hospitality offered to us was heart warming. 

Italy is well known for it’s strong family relationships and the last 10 days confirmed that once more. It is also well known for it’s food, something we could only acknowledge at the many occasions we were offered splendid home cooked food, but also in the restaurants. Perhaps it is good we only stayed 10 days, as like my first visit to Italy I gained several kilo’s in only a short period of time.

The one thing that I found was a pity were my lack of Italian skills. I understood most of the things Vladi was talking about (when I knew the story) but unfortunately missed most of the rest of the conversations. But then I knew this before and this trip was all about Vladi’s reconnecting with his family so I was glad to be quiet, listen and enjoy seeing how everybody was having a great time.

I’d like to finish this travel story with a heart felt “Grazie a tutti” to each and everyone of Vladi’s family we met during those 10 days. It has been absolutely fantastic to meet you all and that I now can put a picture to your names. Thanks for your friendship and thanks for your amazing hospitality. 

Once again I’d like to apologise for being so quiet. Before we come over next time I will have to make an effort to study more Italian and participate in small conversations. We will see.

Grazie e all a prossima Volta

     (In Italia o in Germania…)