Atina! I’d never even heard of this town before we got to Italy, if I’m being completely honest, but it ended up feeling like another home for the few short days we were there. Elvio’s brother lives here, and Elvio actually has a small apartment here, so we got to have some family time with Gin and Elvio’s extended family while we were here, which was really cool.
Day 1 (July 20th)
Before we got to Atina, we made a stop in Chiusdino to see the abbey of San Galgano. It was destroyed in the 1700s, so what remains is almost like a shell of the original building. The roof is completely gone, but you can still easily tell how grand it would have been in its day. It was really interesting to explore. After the abbey, we walked up the hill to a little chapel which houses the actual sword in the stone. According to legend, Saint Galgano put the sword there in the 1300s. He later became a hermit and ended up dying there. All in all, it was a cool little pit stop on our way.
Back in the car was a little less cool. Due to wildfires in Rome, traffic was completely insane. We ended up being stuck in our tiny, packed car for about 6 hours for what was supposed to be a 2-hour drive. We finally arrived in Atina right at sunset. Atina is the town that Elvio was born and raised in, and the Pagano family has quite the history there.
The town itself is 3000 years old (that’s 300 years older than Rome, for reference) and has been through just about everything. During WWII, it was pretty much destroyed by German bombers. Elvio’s older brother Pepino was seven when the bombs and planes came. He was sitting on the terrace coloring when he saw the planes fly in. His mother grabbed him and pulled him inside, which was a really good thing, because a bomb ended up landing on their terrace, right where he was sitting. The bomb never actually exploded, and if it had, the whole home would have been destroyed, possibly taking the Pagano family with it. The bomb is now on display in the city center. A member of the Pagano family was also a master of music, and there is a street in the city named after him.
The place we stayed was one of Elvio’s many homes, and it was completely full of art from all of the world. The collection that Elvio has amassed is impressive, really. Emily and I ended up staying in Gin and Ambra’s old room. Once we got ourselves settled in, we had dinner with Pepino and many other members of the Pagano family. Probably our favorite, though, was 7-year-old Alessio. He talked as much as our little sister Johnnie (if you know her, you know that that’s A LOT), but of course in Italian, so we couldn’t understand him. He knew a little bit of English, so he practiced that on us before dinner.
Dinner was chicken and pasta along with beans. I’m really not a fan of beans (at all… I actually hate them) but I ate all of it! We also had some prosciutto and melon, of course, and then a fruity cake for dessert. It’s hard to say no to such amazing food, but holy cow, it’s a lot. After eating, we took a little stroll through the city, but saved most of the exploring for later, when we’d be exploring in the daylight. Finally, we condensed everything into smaller bags for Rome, took ice-cold showers, and hit the hay.
Day 2 (July 24th)
Our day started with a short taxi ride from our airbnb in Rome to the train station. He was a great mini-tour guide, explaining a few historical marks of the city on our drive. Once we reached the station, we bought our 8-Euro tickets (crazy cheap, I love European public transportation!!) and hung out for a while before our train arrived. On the ride, Em and I napped for a bit–not surprising–before we arrived back in Cassino (Atina doesn’t have its own train station). Elvio was late picking us up, Gin said he was always late, but once he got there we were back in Atina in no time.
When we got there, we had a little bit of time to just relax finally. Emily and I repacked our suitcases, deciding they’d be way too heavy. It was nice to just hang around for a while, listening to music and laughing. For lunch, we had penne with red sauce and some green beans in olive oil. It was really great to spend time with our extended Italian family, even though the only things we could really say were “thank you” and “yes” and “no”. They deserve more thank yous than we could ever say.
After lunch, Elvio took a quick nap, and then we headed back up the mountain to the Monestary of Montecassino. We took a ton of winding roads, up and up and up the mountain. The guards of the abbey made sure we knew that our knee-length-dresses needed to stay covering our knees (we were a little sick of the strict dress codes at this point). I was in a bit of a goofy mood for this part of the trip, which made Emily laugh at times when we probably shouldn’t have been laughing. The Monestary was created by St. Benedict and housed many future popes as monks. It was a gorgeous place that was bombed and destroyed during WWII. The town around it was completely obliterated as well, and when they rebuilt the Monestary on the hill, they decided to rebuild the town down in the valley instead. The Monestary was destroyed and had to be rebuilt 5 different times during the centuries of its existance. It was used for translating ancient scripts at one point of its history.
On our way back down the mountain we stopped for a panoramic view and found another cache. Back home to Atina. We decided to go for a stroll through the city. We walked through some little streets before deciding to hike up a mountain in our dresses. It wasn’t a difficult hike, but still. We saw some sheep, thought we hit a dead end, discussed Italian moutain vampires, and found some fantastic walking sticks. We didn’t have any idea how to get down the hill again, so that took a little bit of guesswork, but we ended up making it down just in time for sunset. It was the perfect view, exactly what you’d expect of Italian farmland and small villages.
Dinner was with Pepino and Alessio and all the rest of the Italian cousins. We had delicious fritatas, green beans, watermelon, peaches, grapes, and tomatoes. All the food here is so fresh, the meals are one of the things I miss most. Italian chatter, Pepino’s screeching hearing aids, Alessio’s endless blabbering, laughter, and amazing food. After dinner, we walked around the town a little more with Gin, Elvio, and one of Gin’s cousins. We talked about the possibility of her being a foreign exchange student like Gin had been, telling her she should live with us too. Plenty of gelato was consumed.
Back at the apartment, we played around on snapchat with Alessio. Emily was trying to understand what he was asking her to do, and he kept chattering until Gin finally told him that she doesn’t actually speak Italian, to which he responded, “yes she does, she was listening to me!” She was doing so well responding to his requests that he actually didn’t believe that she wasn’t Italian. After that, we crashed into bed, exhausted from the long day of exploring.
Next up: Rome!
Stay tuned for more updates,
xoxo, second sister suzie