Arrival to the Homeland
Dedicated to my great-grandparents, Antonino & Antonina Pidalá
I’ve always wanted to visit the small town up in the Sicilian mountains where my great-grandparents were born, and it could not have been a better place to top off my trip to Asia. The small town is called Longi, a picturesque little commune of under 2,000 people.
But before I dive in, I first made two pit-stops in Catania and Messina, two other beautiful cities in Sicily!
From Thailand, I flew into Catania, the second largest city in Sicily after Palermo. I planned on staying a few days to see a friend that lived close, but unfortunately, he couldn’t make it. Catania is nice because it still feels like small-town Sicily but with some added amenities of a medium-sized city. And, it’s also on the water! I couldn’t be away from the beach for too long! The Catania seaside is unique because of the black rock and sand from the volcano, Mount Etna, looming over the city.
The first thing I had to do when I got to Catania was to eat arancini, my favorite Sicilian food! They are fried rice balls with a variety of meats, vegetables, and sauces inside. I ate three of them in a local park until I was completely stuffed; they are very filling!
Like all Italian cities, Catania has beautiful architecture and churches. It was kind of rainy so I didn’t get to walk around too much, but I’ve already been to Catania in the past, so not too big of a deal.
On my second day, I went to a very interesting museum, The Historical Museum of the Landing in Sicily 1943. It’s all about the invasions of Sicily during World War II. I was very surprised at how comprehensive and well maintained it was.
Okay, on to Messina!
I have some distant family in Messina, and they were gracious enough to host my stay and feed me, way too much sometimes…! It was really fun. We used a lot of Google Translate because my Italian is very far from perfect, and they didn’t speak any English! My favorite night was when they got out their slide projector and showed me pictures of “the good ol’ days.”
Messina is about an hour and a half north of Catania by train and also on the water!
And luckily, the weather was absolutely perfect so I got to check out all the beautiful sights.
Now, back to Longi!
To get to Longi, my cousin (to be exact… my father’s cousin’s cousin’s son…) drove me up the steep mountains until I saw a small town, seemingly about to fall off the cliff! My cousin now lives in a nearby city, but he still has a house in Longi. I could not believe his generosity when he insisted I stay in his house instead of getting a hotel. That just goes to show how strong Italian family bonds are, even for distant family!
“You can do anything. But never go against the family.” –The Godfather
Longi is a very quiet, peaceful place. Most of the people there seemed to be older, which could be expected. I think a lot of the younger people have to go to the larger cities to find work. There were not a lot of people around during the day, but a social scene started to show up as the sun went down. Longi only has one main restaurant, but it doesn’t need another because it was the best meal I’ve ever had! Right at the end of my meal, when I didn’t think I could even take one more bite, a bunch of guys showed up and insisted I sit with them. So once again, I was forced to eat even more! They were really nice, and it was fun meeting some of the locals.
My favorite part of the town was that everyone knew my last name! It seemed like a fourth of the city was a Pidalá! It was also really cool to explore the graveyard for past relatives, and I even found my great-grandfather’s sister!
One prime attraction in Longi is their local flour mill. They make bread, pasta, biscotti, and all kinds of pastries! The owner showed me around and explained how it all worked. Really cool! And I got the absolute best biscotti (cookies) I have ever had in my life. No joke.
Given all the beautiful scenery, I went hiking many of the days I was in Longi. I went to a beautiful waterfall, which was about a 3-hour walk. The walk there was great! I even picked up a companion along the way. I felt like I was in a fairytale! This cat just comes up to me and starts walking with me and rolling around meowing. And then it started showing me the way to go! The walk back though was a different story… About an hour in it started pouring! So that was a fun walk back… And it’s funny nowadays, I wasn’t worried about myself at all, but I was terrified for my phone!! It’s okay though; my phone and I made it back in one piece!
This wasn’t my only run-in with an animal either. One day I was walking along this path, and there was a bull just hanging out by himself. I instantly froze, and luckily he didn’t get up… I weighed the options in my head and decided, “Okay, I got this. It’s just a bull. No big deal. He is friendly. I’ll just slowly walk past him.” As I start to inch closer, the bull and I lock eyes. He then proceeds to slowly shake his head side to side like, “nope, don’t even think about it.” Then I charged forward anyway!! Just kidding… I immediately turned around…
And that’s Sicily!
Do you have a unique story about your ancestors? Tell me about it in the comments below!