In July 1977, Mum's family came to pick us up and take us to Tullamarine Airport as we were on our way to Italy and to Dad's hometown of Bitritto, Bari. We flew with Qantas Airlines. On the way there, we were towards the back of the plane as Dad used to smoke and smokers were allowed to smoke on the plane, but only at the back of the plane. Dad didn't realize how bad it was and how noisy it was going to be. We were all sick so on the way back to Australia, we sat towards the middle of the plane and we were much better. Mind you, Mum had also given us a calming tablet which must have helped. Mum said that on the way there, we stopped over in Athens for 4 hours, but we just saw outside the window as we were all so sick from the flight.
When we got to Fiumicino Airport in Rome we were all tired, but very excited, especially for Dad as he was going to be reunited with his family. Then we found out we had to catch another plane to go to Palese Airport in Bari. I remember getting off the plane and seeing a lady in black who looked like my Nonna as I had earlier seen photos' and she was hugging a girl about my age a little bit in front of me. She was so excited as she thought it was me. They took us back to Dad's home that he grew up in at 18 Via Sannicandro, Bitritto.
The land was huge and full of beautiful fruit trees including oranges and cherries. It had a massive fig tree that you could sit under and eat figs until you were sick. They were called Regina figs as they would open up like a crown. The land was full of olive trees and isles and isles of grapes too. They lived off the land and would sell most of the local produce to local companies. It had trees full of almonds which we would clean as one of the photos shows. Firstly, they would open the thick leathery, grey, green coat called the hull and then crack open the hard woody shell called the endocarp to find your raw almond.
A funny or not so funny story about this day was I saw Dad and his nephew Frank around the table cleaning the almonds and I asked Dad if I could go to Zia Santa's house who lived in the centre of town. Zia Santa was Dad's big sister and they loved each other very much. They looked similar and had the same wit about them. I had been to her house before so I wasn't scared. Dad said "ok, go, start walking" so I did. I think he was joking, but being '7', I didn't know that at the time. So off I went and took the shortcut through Nonna's garden. It was only when my Mum came looking for me that Dad had realised what he had said, but he didn't think that I would go, but he said I could. No one had mobile phones back then so everyone was running around trying to find me as Dad was worried something would happen to me. Dad and I were very close. I was fine and at Zia's house.
Mum recently told me that Dad had gotten his International Driving Permit before the trip in case he was going to drive around Italy. She said that he never actually used it as everyone was offering to take us everywhere and anywhere we wanted to go. He had always kept a photo of us three in there.
We went to many places in Puglia, we went to Alberobello to see the amazing Trully homes, the Castellana Caves also known as the White Caves. One day we got up early as we were going to go up to the mountains. First we went to St Michele and then up to Padre Pio where we ate lunch. We then went on to Santuario Madre Di Dio Incoronato. I love the photo of my Mum, Nonna and Aunty's crossing the road as it reminds me of the Beatles crossing on Abbey Road. We also went past Lungomare which is along the coast line and saw many historical buildings. I remember we went to the beach in Bari one day and we had so much fun. Dad always talked about Lungomare and hoped that I would see it again one day. I will Dad, I promise.
Mum and Dad bought a chest in Italy and filled it with lots of special things that they would give to us when we would get married. I'm sad that while shifting houses things where placed on top of it and it scratched out my Nonna's address, but you can still see Dad's name which he had written himself. Mum said that it took 6 weeks to get to Australia and that they had to go and pick it up from Station Pier, Port Melbourne.
The Sunday before we were leaving we had a feast to celebrate my 8th Birthday. Mum remembers that they ordered me an ice-cream cake from the local coffee shop, which all the locals went to. My poor Dad got a bit tipsy as he was really sad to be leaving his family and not sure when he would return again. Dad and Mum would return, but not for another 21years and until they had settled all of us kids.