An Odyssey is described as “an epic journey”. I am sharing a story penned for Beachcombing Magazine of how I came to visit my ancestral hometown and hunt for sea glass along the Italian coast. It was an unforgettable journey, and one I hope you enjoy reading!
The dictionary says “when you savor something, you enjoy it to the fullest.” More than any other single word I can think of, Savor describes the way I feel about my recent trip to Italy. I’m savoring the memories, the sights, the food, the great people, and already thinking about my return. Until then, I will share some of the highlights in a series of posts, beginning with this one, about Vasto, the town of my paternal grandfather’s family. Even if I had no ancestral connection to this place, I would have fallen in love with this “ancient Roman town in the heart of Italy” and perhaps you will too!
As I shared in my previous post, it was through the sea glass world that I met Ornella Di Filippo, who lives in Vasto and operates a very comfortable Air B&B, where we stayed. She and her husband, Marco, were wonderful hosts-even loaning my friend Dennis and me clothing to wear (did I mention our luggage was lost in Rome?) until our bags were sent to us by the airline a few days later. I had packed for the sunny warm days that were predicted, but found myself buying an umbrella and rain slicker, because of the heavy rain the greeted us! That, of course, did not keep us from hitting the beach in search of sea glass on our first morning there.
We walked down a path to the beach, serenaded by birds, passing by giant fig trees and eucalyptus, which made me feel like I was back in Southern California. The air was perfumed by the sweet blooms of flowering acacia trees mixed with the smell of the sea, which Italians call Salsedine. We were the only people on the beach that morning, save for a couple of fishermen who brought their skiff in later. There were many shells scattered amongst the rocks and lots of sea glass too!
Even with all the rain, the air temperature was warm, and we spent the entire morning going to a few individual beaches, known to Ornella and Marco for their sea glass.
Catch of the Day
Before our three days in Vasto were up, the sun did come out, and Ornella and Marco made sure we went back to the beach to see it’s “true colors” of vivid green and blue water. Again, we were the only people out there, except for the two fishermen.
Vasto is known for its fresh seafood, and we enjoyed clams, mussels, prawns, octopus, scallops in one form or another, every day. Served with local wine, Montepulciano DÁbruzzo, these were meals to savor.
Vasto is in the Abruzzo region of Italy, located in the south, with beautiful views of the Adriatic. It has recieved the Blue Banner mark for its clean water and eco friendly practices. Overlooking a long sandy beach, La Bagnante, a modernistic sculpture perched on a rock, beckons all visitors. Her name translates to “the bathing beauty.”
Ancient Roman Roots
I was surprised to learn that Vasto has a population of about 40,000. It really didn’t seem that large to me. There was none of the heavy traffic or crowds, but plenty of shops, restaurants and other businesses. We could walk into the heart of town from Ornella’s place, following the road that paralleled the sea.
Using the photos in my grandad’s old album as a guide, Ornella and Marco took me to the places in Vasto where my family had lived, and where they are buried.
There are some lovely churches and the relics of ancient Roman baths, so many charming sights that I feel they deserve a seperate blog post of their own. So I will stick here to my personal sightseeing, and hope to revisit this topic in a future post.
La Mia Famiglia
Ornella arranged for me to see the inside of the house where my family lived until the 1980’s. It is now used as a kindergarten/day care center.
My grandfather with his siblings, circa 1905, Vasto. What a lovely place to grow up!
Thie picture below was taken in 1925, in Vasto. My grandfather (on the left) , stands beside the bust he modeled of his friend (right.)
On my last day, we visited the cemetary. This too, deserves a post of its, own, but I will say briefly, that the cimetario is it’s own little villiage, filled with family mausoleums and graves, well tended and at the same time, overgrown in places. Individualistic touches and personal remembrances are everywhere.
I’m going to end this post here, as I savor the connection to family. It was a great privilege to recognize and honor my grandfather, Giuseppe Altruda in the town of his birth. I must say a thousand thanks, Grazie Mille, to Ornella and Marco, and family, for their kindness in helping me to locate these special places, for the wonderful meals and the sea glassing. Ci vediamo lánno prossimo-see you next year!
Next week I’ll be setting my feet down for the first time in Vasto, Italy, the hometown of my grandfather. It’s located on the Adriatic coast, in the Abruzzo region. Having heard about Vasto my whole life, it’s always been on my list of places to visit “someday” but thanks in part to my daughter studying art in Greece and Italy this spring, the time is now! Soon I’ll be traveling with a friend to Rome, Naples, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast before joining Sophia in Florence at the end of her school term.
How This Came About- The Sea Glass Connection
Through the sea glass world, I met Ornella di Filippo, who makes beautiful wire-wrapped jewelry and ornaments from the glass she finds on Italian beaches. And… she happens to live in Vasto. I had questions about my family’s ancestral town, and Ornella was most kind and helpful. After sharing a few photos from my grandfather’s album, she was able to locate the home where he once lived and places related to my family history, including graves.
After learning so much from her, It was easy to put Vasto at the top of the list, and go from there to other, more known destinations.
We will stay in Vasto for three nights and soak up the local seafood and sights. Ornella will give us a personalized tour of Vasto and also serve as our sea glass guide, and I feel so fortunate!
As the trip gets closer, I am inspired to make some pieces of jewelry with Italian roots to photograph on location at ancient sites like Paestum, Pompeii, and Herculaneum. Currently I’m making some rings with ancient coins that I’ve been saving for just the right project.
While near Pompeii, we will meet another person from the sea glass world, Rebecca Di Donna. She has already been helpful in pinpointing places a glasser would not want to miss. I can hardly wait to visit the museum of coral located in her hometown, along with the fantastic natural beauty of Capri and the Amalfi Coast. And let’s not get started on Firenze!
There’s going to be a lot to share, and until my next blog, please follow my Instagram feed https://www.instagram.com/judithaltrudajewelry