travel photographer

Italia :: Part One

You may or may not have heard about my bonus family. Back in March, Narratively and the Guardian both published one of my personal essays about finding my bio father’s children. I’ve known for some time that I was part Italian, but once my sister Laurie and I met in 2009 and became good friends, we decided that someday we’d go to Italy together because neither of us had ever had the opportunity to explore that part of our ethnic heritage, geographically speaking. That “someday” happened last October. This next bit of the story was originally in the Narratively/Guardian piece but it got edited out. Alas, all I have is iPhone photos for this particular incident, but they’re better than nothing.

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My husband and I landed in Florence late Sunday night and met up with Laurie and her husband about 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. There we were in Italy, nine years after our initial Facebook message, enjoying our first meal together. It was probably close to midnight when we finished eating so our waiter called a cab for us. While we were waiting outside a peculiar little car began climbing up the cobblestone road. The four of us looked at each other without a word, confused, wondering if this could possibly be our ride. It was about the size of a PT Cruiser, pearly white, covered in a whimsical mural of brightly colored animals. We stood there, mouths probably agape, still unsure of what was happening. Are all cabs in Italy like this? As the car rolled to a stop in front of us, the costumed driver smiled widely and motioned for us to get in.

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We climbed in the back, facing each other on bench seats, dance music blaring out of what had to be a premium sound system. A UFO-looking dome was mounted above us, projecting beams of brightly colored light that rotated and changed hues to the beat of the music. After the initial shock of having been picked up by a clown car, we noticed a basket on the floor, filled with whimsical props. Without hesitation, the four of us started adorning ourselves in costume. Somebody grabbed a tambourine and we all bobbed and danced to the beat. What I remember most is that Laurie and I laughed until our faces hurt, and then we laughed some more. At most it was probably a 10-minute ride, but it felt as though we’d wandered in to a lavish “Welcome to Italy” party. I’d like to think that our father and my mother somehow arranged it from the great beyond, a dispatch of celebration that my sister and I not only found each other, but that our late-life relationship has been deeply healing to us both.

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The driver had recently lost her husband to cancer. She said that she wanted to bring more happiness into the world so she drove this cab and donated a lot of her earnings to children’s cancer research.

The next day we got on a train and headed to the Prosecco Region of Italy, about 65 km north of Venice. Here I must pause and offer praise and thanks to Monica Pesoli, who planned our entire Italian adventure and directed us to the most amazing sights, restaurants and lodging. (Seriously, if you’re going to Italy, call her. She will help you navigate the tourist traps and enjoy the heart of Italian culture.)

The first two nights we stayed at an absolutely fantastic Vineyard, Maso di Villa, which is in Collalto. Our host Chiara and her husband happened upon the abandoned farmhouse in 1997 and decided to buy it, restore it, and use it as a B&B while growing grapes and making wine. The place is not only a feast for the eyes, it’s amazing in terms of hospitality and R&R. I wish we’d stayed there for an entire week.

(Why yes, I am wearing socks with my flip flops. Don’t judge. I had blisters all over my feet from walking 8-10 miles a day and my feet were also cold!)


The grounds were just beautiful. Grapes. Olive trees. And plenty of fresh produce that Chiara uses for her delicious meals.

Monica arranged for Chiara to give us a private wine tasting and tour of the vineyard. It was fabulous. Though it’s in the Prosecco region, they make red wine from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. They do not even sell a bottle until it’s been aged 10 years.

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It’s hard for me to have to say this but I only have one photo of the vineyard tour BECAUSE I WAS TOO BUSY ENJOYING THE WINE! If it had been feasible to bring home a case of it, I would’ve.


I also hate to admit that the restaurant Craig and I went to alone one night will remain unnamed because I was getting lazy with the camera and friendly with the food and wine (UPDATE: Craig schooled me. It’s called Untico Bodere Dei Conti, and it’s in Susegana.) Once my husband asked the waiter (who happened to be the owner) to order for him, we got the royal treatment all evening, including a taste of his mother’s grappa (which will put hair on your chest) and a complementary bottle of Prosecco, which he presented to us as we were leaving (we used Google Translate to communicate all evening.) This is how quaint and connected this community is: Chiara made our reservation, drove us to the restaurant and then when we were finished the owner called her to come pick us up. I do have one photo of my dinner plate from my iPhone. Every bite was savory and delicious.


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The next morning our driver picked us up and we headed to Follina to visit Abbazia di Santa Maria, which is a 1200 year old monastery.

Snapped a photo of Laurie and Don as we left the Abbey. Such a beautiful view from on high.

After about an hour of wandering through the monastery we had a 2.5 hour lunch at Al Caminetto Follina, a spectacular restaurant that Monica recommended. Here’s what I learned in Italy: people don’t linger over coffee like Americans do. They drink espresso like it’s a shot of whiskey and then move on. But meals are events. There are courses and different wines and lots of conversation. The Italians know how to savor and celebrate. The only photo I took at the restaurant was an apple that was offered as a part of our dessert. They carved it at our table. Here’s a video.

After our long lunch we headed over to Ca’ dei Zago in Valdobbiadene, a Prosecco winery that has been in the same family for generations (yes, Monica recommended it.) Marika gave us a private tour and then we sat on their patio and had a glass while gazing at the Italian countryside. This is where Craig got serious: “Let’s sell everything and move here.” This became his mantra. The Prosecco region was one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places I saw while in Italy. The photos don’t do it justice. The mountains in the back of the landscape photos are the foothills of the Dolomites.

This is Alessandro, our driver, who is just as charming and adorable as he appears. Monica requested him for us because she and her last group loved him so much.

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And check out this grape vine. Looks like it could tell a story or two.

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Next up: Venice and Verona!