One of my favorite parts of my job is hearing stories from our guests about how they were able to connect with their Italian roots while they were on tour with us. Last fall I wrote about my own experience visiting the town where my grandmother was born and also shared stories from two former guests. Today I am bringing you Julie's story. She and her husband, Don, just joined us on our Chef Bike Tour in Sicily and made some special connections with the help of our guide, Giuseppe.
Don and Julie Kagey on tour in Sicily
A Day in Burgio
My husband, Don, and I recently embarked on a Sicilian bike/food adventure with Tourissimo. We decided to take this trip for 3 reasons – my husband’s passion for cycling, our love for food, and my Sicilian roots. Three of my grandparents lived in a small town in western Sicily called Burgio during their younger years and my grandfather was a shepherd in the hills of nearby Sciacca until he was 19 years old. They all immigrated to the United States before adulthood. I recall loving their stories of the “old country.” The Tourissimo folks helped by setting aside a day with one of their guides, Giuseppe, who speaks English, Italian, and Sicilian dialect. He is originally from the area near Burgio and knows it well.
Don and Giuesppe
We attempted to contact a cousin via email prior to the trip, but he didn’t respond to an email from my husband in English and one from my dad in Italian. We decided to do it anyway to see where my ancestors are from. Don, being IBM (Italian by marriage), totally embraced the idea and was probably more excited than I was. Giuseppe was very enthusiastic and fully believed we would meet some relatives, but he had a few special things planned also – a tour of the famous bell-making factory and a very well-known ceramics factory called Caravella in Burgio. Our first stop was a trattoria that Giuseppe recalled frequenting with his family for the best pizza around. Unfortunately, they don’t serve pizza at lunch, but we managed to adequately gorge ourselves on many other delicious foods (6 courses!). While we were eating, Giuseppe started asking the locals if they knew my cousin Saverio. Lo and behold, someone said he had moved to Turin, but his parents still lived in town. The gentleman also happened to have his father’s phone number and gave him a call and told him to come to the trattoria. About a half hour later, Dima and Rosita showed up and we surprised them. They were SO excited to see us and were upset that we hadn’t let them know in advance so they could feed us. ☺ They spent the rest of the day with us and insisted that we go to their home for coffee. There we enjoyed espresso and Italian almonds and looked at family photos. They even wanted us to stay overnight! Where else can you go and have someone take you into their home without any notice whatsoever? In Sicily it happens. I found out later that their home was the same home that one of my grandmas lived in as a child. That was a wow! And all the Burgitani that we spoke to were thrilled to learn that there is a “Burgio Club” in Chicago for all the transplants from Burgio. We went to the Burgio picnic every year growing up and my parents still attend many of their functions.
Julie, Dima, Rosita, and Don
The rest of the time in Sicily was amazing thanks to the terrific agenda created by the Tourissimo team. It was a wonderful blend of cycling, fantastic food, magnificent landscapes, culture, and history. Memories came flooding back to me of Sicilian expressions I had heard, visions of my Nana making homemade cannoli shells and filling them, snails coming out of their shells in boiling water, and spongy Sicilian pizza that my mom made just to name a few. All this combined with great camaraderie with a wonderful mix of interesting and fun people including two very cool chefs, made for an absolutely unforgettable experience. Listening to the groans of others in the group who are not used to being fed LOTS of food when the courses just kept coming made me smile. And they just won’t take no for an answer! It was great fun bonding with my paesani – Michael DiMaggio who also has a Grandma Russo, and Carl DeRosa. Although I am not an avid cyclist, I made it with the help of an e-wheel, my husband, and very supportive guides and companions. The stops we made along the way made the cycling manageable. And the best part – I ate my way across Sicily and didn’t gain any weight! ☺ I am very proud of my heritage and now consider myself a born-again Sicilian!
Don and Julie in between Burgio and Sciacca