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 a huge Boeing 747. On the way there, we were towards the back of the plane as Dad used to smoke. 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 see all his family and friends again. Then we found out that we had to catch another plane to go to Palese Airport in Bari. When we landed, I remember getting off that plane and seeing a lady in black who looked like my Nonna and she was hugging a girl about my age a little bit in front of me. She was just so excited and thought that she was me. They took us back to Dad's hometown and to the house 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. The figs 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 their produce to local companies. It had trees full of almonds which we would clean as one of the above 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 the raw almond.
A funny or not so funny story about this day was I saw Dad and his nephew Frank around Nonna's table cleaning the almonds. I had 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'yrs old, I didn't know that at the time. So off I went and took the shortcut through Nonna's amazing 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 that something would happen to me. Dad and I were very close. I was fine and at Zia's house as I had remembered the way there.
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 that 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 onto Santuario Madre Di Dio Incoronato. I love the photo of my Mum, Nonna and my Aunties 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.
Dad also wanted to take Mum back to her hometown for a few days and they did and took Frank with them. This meant a lot to Mum as she got to see her Nonna Filomena again who she adored.
Mum and Dad bought a baulo 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 about 6 weeks to get back to Australia and that they had to go and pick it up from Station Pier in Port Melbourne.
The Sunday before we were leaving we had a feast to celebrate my '8'th birthday. Mum told me that they had ordered me an ice-cream cake from the local coffee shop which is on the corner of the Piazza Aldo Moro. All the locals would go there, especially the men for a coffee and a long chat. The women would shop when the market stalls were on. I remember Mum and Dad buying all of us lots of special things from the market. I especially loved my denim wooden sandals which I wore everywhere. We were in the market the day when we sadly heard about Elvis's passing.
On my birthday, my poor Dad got a little 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.