If you only ever read one of my articles all the way through, I think you should make it this one.
Now that we’ve thoroughly dispelled all lingering emotions evoked by the trip’s most endearing acquaintances, it’s time we move on to the main event(s)!
And while it would’ve been easy to spiral into terrible moods as we waited two whole hours to get through customs, we refused—we were in Italy, after all. Nothing was bringing us down.
Until my bag was nowhere to be found on the carousel or the overflow pile 10 feet to the right and I approached the help desk not once but three times before finally learning my items were still hangin’ in Newark.
So we gave the airline our addresses for the next six days and booked it to the train. We’d had enough shenanigans for one day and were more than ready to get the heck out of that airport.
Where were were heading? Lamezia Terme!
(You know that big bump on the top of your foot? That’s where Lamezia Terme is on the boot that is Italy.)
Why would that be our first stop? Because my great-grandparents emigrated from Adami—a town only 40 minutes away.
And this is where we meet the real heroes of our trip: Barbara, Sabrina and Tiziana Bonacci.
Thanks to my dad’s cousin (who visited Adami 10 years ago), I was able to connect with Barbara a few weeks before we left. Because Adami is so far south/not near any of the larger tourist attractions, English isn’t as prevalent—and having her around to show us the ropes was crucial to a successful visit.
And because we’re Italian, you know she’s a relative. Her grandfather was my great-grandmother’s nephew. (Very important note: This is on my dad’s father’s side.)
So Barbara and Sabrina met us at the train station and led us through the MOST BEAUTIFUL VALLEYS I’VE EVER SEEN to our hostel in Soveria Mannelli.
Our view from the town square is below. The buildings off to the right make up Adami, home to approximately 50 people—hence our lodging across the valley.
Shortly after rolling into town (sometime after 9 p.m.), we grabbed a quick bite with Barbara, Sabrina and Sabrina’s twin, Tiziana. Approximately 30 minutes later, we were all but dead in bed.
The next morning, Barbara began her valiant quest to find my bag, making close to 20 phone calls in a 30-hour span because she’s an actual angel.
BUT the sun was shining and it was time for our adventures to get underway for real.
The girls were all about showing us everything the province of Calabria had to offer, and it all began not even 20 minutes from Adami—at the ruins of a 12th century abbey because this is totally normal over there.
After reattaching our jaws for an incredible lunch prepared by Mrs. Bonacci, we set off for a quick two-hour drive toward Tropea and Pizzo—a pair of breathtaking towns situated right along the Tyrrhenian Sea, making a strong case for Calabria as your next overseas destination.
IT’S ALL SO AUTHENTIC, YOU GUYS.
And with that, you would think Saturday was the best day of our weekend down south, yeah?
Not even close.
It was unbelievable, of course. And none of it would have been possible without the incredible efforts of Barbara, Sabrina and Tiziana. Words can’t begin to express how grateful we continue to be for their amazing hospitality.
But Sunday presented an actual Top 3 life moment.
And it had nothing to do with finding my backpack.
Being a couple of Catholics in Italy, we made a point to wake up early and join Sabrina and her father for mass.
With Adami being as small as it is, the two new kids stuck out like sore thumbs—especially Drew.
As soon as mass was over, friends of the family approached Mr. Bonacci to ask who we were. Sabrina was kind enough to translate all pleasantries, and before long we were on our way back to the family’s home for lunch.
Here’s where I start to cry.
I’m not sure how it came up, but as we all sat around, digesting the best carbonara I will ever consume, we began talking about the Tarantella.
One of my favorite pictures of my grandma (my dad’s mom) shows her dancing the Tarantella at her wedding, so of course I pulled it up to share with everyone.
Purely out of curiosity, Mrs. Bonacci asked my grandmother’s name.
When I responded with her maiden name—Anania—the whole family stopped and stared at me.
Not only did they have Ananias living right next door, but the head of the household had been one of the people we met right after church.
Mrs. Bonacci jumped right up to make a phone call, and not even two minutes later, there was a knock at the door.
In walked Raffaele and his son, Luigi.
Like Barbara and the twins, Luigi spoke great English. This came in very handy, as Raffaele was so excited and speaking so quickly, I could barely interpret his tone!
He began by asking my grandmother’s name, followed immediately by her father’s name. Knowing more than one Angelo Anania, he asked where they lived.
I said Des Moines. Without missing a beat, he asked if Angelo had a brother named Michele (Michael).
This is where I had to call for backup. Fortunately, it was just after 8 a.m. back home, so I texted Dad.
“He had a brother that they called Mike. He was a barber.”
Luigi was beaming as he translated the response.
Raffaele dropped everything in his lap—notepads, pens, framed pictures—and gave me one of the greatest hugs of my life.
My grandma was his first cousin.
Angelo and Michele were two of Saverio and Filomena Anania’s seven children—and the only two to immigrate to America.
Everyone else stayed in Adami, including Angelo’s brother, Raffaele’s father, Giuseppe.
By now you’ve probably guessed I was a blubbering mess. And I’m crying again just thinking about it.
But holy smokes, you guys. Having that connection—not just to my grandma, but to my great-grandfather—is so beyond words.
And in a town we had only associated with the Panes!
It was a total sobfest, but Raffaele persevered. He started sketching what he knew of the family tree, tapping me for help in completing Angelo’s family. I did the best I could while also sending my dad every possible update via text.
If there’s anything I’d love to have on video forever, it would be that 30 minutes.
Because of course, Minute 31 was when reality set in.
Our plan was to head back to the hostel right after lunch, pack up, and make the drive to Lamezia Terme to drop off our rental and wait for the bus.
Obviously the “right after lunch” part didn’t happen, and we now had just under an hour to get everything squared away.
Drew, like the SAINT HE IS, volunteered to do the packing (only time my missing bag was a good thing) and circle back to pick me up.
What did I do in the meantime? Walked with Raffaele to see my great-grandfather’s childhood home.
After a million more hugs, swapped emails and a promise to tell everyone back home hello, I had no choice but to hop in the car and wave goodbye until long after my family was out of sight.
This might sound like the cheesy ending to a terrible movie, but it really was the hardest goodbye.
And every time I sit down to relive this day and the actual magic we experienced, I’m forced to remember that Calabria wasn’t even part of our original itinerary.
That’s why I am 120 percent forever convinced that divine intervention exists.
Jam to: Simon & Garfunkel
*I promise I have a million more pictures from just this weekend, but didn’t want to bombard the article. They’ll end up on Facebook soon enough.