I’m here to share all the fun details from our European romp back in July 2019! Better late than never, right?
This trip was something out of a fairy tale. We were met with breath-taking landscapes, marvelous people, and truly out-of-this-world culinary experiences. Let’s dive in. (This will be a long post. Buckle up.)
We dropped Harper off at “The Puppy Hotel” (City Bark on 8th) for two fun-filled weeks of play time before we headed to the airport for our delayed (but worth the wait) honeymoon in Italy — land of wine, pasta, and the most beautiful language!
It had been over a decade since either of us have traveled across the pond, and I was wary of the 14-hour flight, but honestly, it was not that bad. Besides a small delay and perhaps looking a little haggard, we arrived in Rome a tad jet-lagged but ready to go!
Luna di Miele, Part 1: When in Rome
Our overall plan was to visit two main areas of Italy (my grandmother’s hometown in Abruzzo and the medieval town of Spello in Umbria), and to bookend the trip in Rome.
We stayed in an AirBNB in Trastevere, a funky, bohemian neighborhood of Rome recommended to us by a good friend who lived there for a while. It did not disappoint. Our apartment was smack dab in the middle of the action — and not the tourist kind.
Both ends of our AirBNB had balconies with awesome views.
Although we were a little exhausted and delirious, we decided to power through the rest of the day with only a small rest. We explored our neighborhood, found a great pizza place for a lunch, invested in some hats (like one does), and scouted restaurants for our first dinner in Rome (priorities).
You’ll notice there aren’t many pictures of me — it was just too anxiety-inducing at that time. I was less than a year into eating disorder recovery and gaining weight pretty rapidly. Besides photo fears, though, I was able to relax and enjoy myself almost the entire time. Thank goodness, because there was SO much to enjoy.
Time to Party!
Our first evening in Rome resembled nights from our college days — and since we didn’t know each other in college, it was really fun to catch up for lost time and party with the Romans! Since there are a few universities in Trastevere, it was quite an authentic experience and such a great way to kick off our honeymoon.
This photo of Nick was taken outside a bar that was right next to our apartment. We called it a night around 2 am, while the rest of the street was still very much awake (on a random Tuesday in July). We’d been up for so long that we slept soundly, despite all the noise.
Tourists for a Day
Perhaps a little dehydrated the next morning, we quickly recovered with cornetti and coffee before setting off for a seven-mile trek around Rome. This was going to be our one full day in the city before hopping on a train to Abruzzo, so we knocked out all the quintessential Rome things because why not.
It was nice to devote just one day to the touristy stuff. That was our limit. We wanted the more authentic experience, preferably the slower, small-town stuff. Boy, did we get that and more…
Luna di Miele, Part 2: Pratola Peligna
Pratola Peligna is a small village in the Abruzzo region of Italy, and it’s where my maternal grandmother was born before moving to the States with her family when she was seven years old. It’s located in a valley between the mountains, and on the day we arrived, a rainy fog had settled. It was almost jungle-like, with the most lush greenery I’d ever seen.
My parents took a trip to Italy and visited some of our relatives in Pratola over a decade ago, so they had a few connections for us to go on. I reached out to a handful of people on Facebook and via email, and ended up connecting with a second cousin who solidified plans with us.
Leap of Faith
We took a big risk: We devoted three days in our itinerary to Pratola. All we knew is the bed and breakfast we were staying at and the one evening we’d be meeting my relatives. Can we just take a moment and appreciate the fact that Nick was not only willing to do this but enthusiastic about it? Not many people plan their honeymoon to include visiting relatives they’ve never met before, in a small village where presumably not many spoke English. But he was all about it. Just more proof that he is the best human.
Our first evening in Pratola was also the night we were scheduled to meet my second cousins Rosa and Agostino, daughter and son of Mario, my grandmother’s cousin. We got lost, in the rain, trying to find their home; Google Maps might not be the best resource in small towns like this one.
Eventually, Rosa’s husband Davide (who doesn’t speak much English) found us wandering the streets and shepherded us indoors. We had no idea what to expect! The little exploring we inadvertently did trying to find their home made it clear that this was not going to be an easy place to be on our own (there are not as many attractions in Pratola as there are in other “small towns”), so I was starting to get nervous about spending three whole days there.
Meeting My Relatives
When we entered Rosa and Davide’s living room, we were met by over a dozen relatives! Thankfully, Rosa, Agostino, and Agostino’s daughter Martina all speak English very well (my months of studying Italian did not prove as useful in nervous encounters). They helped us translate to the group, and we immediately felt welcomed and like we belonged there. We consumed incredible food and wine, listened to hilarious stories, and thumbed through old family photos that both we and they had brought to dinner.
By the time our meal was through, my heart was full. Since Rosa and Agostino are both teachers, they had the summer off and were available during the day — Rosa mentioned she’d love to show us around Pratola the next day, to visit all of my relatives’ homes and important landmarks. I wondered if that would really happen, or if we were more of a burden than a pleasure to entertain. At this point, I was just grateful that our first meeting was a success and not filled with a lot of awkward silence!
The next day, after some pastries, cheese, and coffee at our bed and breakfast, Rosa and Martina arrived to show us around Pratola!
Walking Tour of Pratola
Exploring the Surrounding Area
After our walking tour, we had lunch and then headed out on a driving tour with Rosa and Agostino! We still couldn’t believe the enthusiasm and generosity they were showing us.
They drove us to a neighboring town in the countryside, where a medieval church sat atop a cliff, looking down over a waterfall (you can see a glimpse of it behind the tree on the left). It was a nice hike and a gorgeous rush to the senses.
Then they drove us to Corfinio, where we walked through the streets while Rosa gave us a history of the town.
Visiting My Ancestors
After a walking tour, driving tour, and incredible sightseeing, it was clear to Nick and me that Rosa and Agostino were having as much fun as we were (if not more). On our way back into town, they wanted to take us to the cemetery to visit the graves of my grandmother’s family and our ancestors.
I got to learn so much about both sides of my grandmother’s family. Funnily enough, Davide is a distant relative of hers, too, from a different line. It made me feel like everyone in Pratola is related to me somehow.
The Best Dinner Ever
After our busy day of touring, we were told they’d be treating us to dinner at Il Carro, and that the whole family would join. We sat near my grandmother’s cousin Mario, who kept topping off our wine before we could ever finish a glass!
One funny moment at dinner was early on, when the waiter brought a basket of rolls. Hungry after walking all day, Nick and I both reached for one, and Martina stopped us. Basically, she was like, “We don’t waste our precious stomach space on rolls.” This was a hint to how delicious dinner was going to be. We had mushroom pappardelle, arrosticini, a handful of other things I can’t even remember, and these chocolate- and cream-filled cornetti. OMG.
After dinner, they pulled us into the bar to sample some digestifs. This was probably one of our top three favorite moments from the entire trip.
A Trip to Scanno
For our last day in Pratola, Rosa and Agostino wanted to take us to a nearby medieval town called Scanno (but first we stopped by the most gorgeous blue lake you’ve ever seen). We walked up and down the streets, sampled treats, and just basked in the love we’d fostered for each other in less than three days.
It became clear that the reason they took us to Scanno was to take part in an Abruzese tradition of gifting a new bride with a presentosa, the necklace you see here. Just. My goodness. I was beside myself.
Saying Our Goodbyes
During one of our tours around Pratola, we ran into another set of relatives (the ones my parents visited when they came a decade earlier). These relatives were also excited to have us over for dinner, which we scheduled for our last evening in Pratola. (At this point, we stopped taking pictures, it seems. We were immersed in a new life.)
After we left Scanno, with tears in our eyes, we hugged Rosa, Agostino, and Martina, because we were going to spend that evening with the other set of relatives — and our train to Umbria left first thing in the morning. Nick and I had already given Rosa, Agostino, Martina, and Mario gifts and thank-you letters. Honestly, we were wracking our brains with ways to properly show just how special they had become to us in such a short time. We settled on wine, chocolates, and long hand-written letters (translated into Italian) which aimed to convey just how meaningful this visit had been.
Our last dinner in Pratola with the other relatives was lovely and delicious. They did not speak as much English, so we did a lot of laughing and gesturing and eating. Some of the younger crowd took us to an indoor-outdoor bar that they own and treated us to drinks well into the evening. Although they did not need to, they drove us home and offered to drive us to the train station in the morning. We politely declined because it was a short walk, and we made sure to express our gratitude and goodbyes.
The next morning, with full hearts, we said goodbye to Pratola. We sat at the small train station wondering how we got so lucky and how the rest of our trip was supposed to compare. As we sat there, Mario and his wife appeared from around the corner, with bags of cookies and sausages for us. They wanted to say goodbye one last time and see us off. Then Agostino arrived! It was like, one by one, they trickled in, desperate to see us until the very last minute. Agostino said that Rosa was so disappointed that she wouldn’t make it to the train station on time, but that she sent her love. We all hugged before Nick and I hopped on the train… even more in awe of these wonderful people!
We quickly arrived to our connecting station in the next town over, and who do we see when we step off the train? Rosa, Davide, and their two little boys waiting for us! I burst into tears. We had a quick little snack together before catching our train to Spello in Umbria. I just cannot put into words how I was feeling. Pure love, gratitude, humility, joy. That morning at the train station was my favorite moment of the trip. Hands down.
Luna di Miele, Part 3: Spello
The way we planned this trip proved to be smart. We partied hard in Rome. Then we connected nonstop with relatives in Pratola, which was as exhausting as it was life-changing. And then, the final leg of our trip, we headed to Spello to completely unwind in wine country. We ate the best food, including homemade lunches crafted with local ingredients; we napped every day; and we explored wineries, shops, and the ancient Roman aqueducts. Basically: walk, eat, drink, sleep, repeat. Since this post has been so longwinded, I’ll keep this part to just photos.
Back to Rome Before Home
After Spello, we returned to Rome for one evening before our flight home the next morning. We kept it low-key with pizza for lunch, followed by a long walk through the botanic gardens, a little rest at our AirBNB, and then an exquisite dinner. The perfect sendoff.
Oof! So many photos! So many memories! Such good food! I am dying to go back already, but I’m not sure when that’ll be possible with this global pandemic and all. I’m just so grateful we made it happen when we did. And that we took the risk to visit unknown relatives. The entire experience was unforgettable.