Wait… What Did YOU Do Last Night?

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When I signed up for a trip to Ventotene a few weeks ago, I had never even heard of the Pontine Islands. In fact, I was not even planning on going. My Mom sent me an extremely eager E-mail about this island trip that sounded super interesting. “Why not,” I thought, “could be fun.”… Understatement of the century right there. When I was packing for Rome back in August I would often catch myself and think “Don’t set your expectations too high, Italy might not be some magical place where everyone gets to be Lizzie McGuire.” This trip proved me wrong.

We left for Ventotene on Friday morning led by professor Daniela Curioso (a.k.a most adorable little Italian ever).  We took a train to the coast then caught a ferry to the island. I could tell this trip was going to be fun by the people surrounding me, it was a very small group (less than 20 people) about 95% girls and everyone was hilarious! While on the boat I met one of the crew workers, and he kept referring to me as his “sister” because he had red hair also.   -__-  Yeah, very funny bro. But after an hour of that, when we were all on the brink of total sea sickness, he came up to me and said “Sister, you want to see?”… see what? He took my hand and a bunch of girls followed us to the helm of the ship into the control room where I proceeded to hop into the captains seat! The crew was so friendly! … Probably because we were a crowd of American college girls, but that’s irrelevant. All the girls took pictures sitting in the seats and doing Titanic poses on the front of the boat.

VIVA ITALIA!

The Captain and crew!

When we finally got to the island I was shocked at how small it actually is! There are only 2 streets on Ventotene and you can pretty much see from one end of the island to the other. The whole island is made up of pastel colored stucco houses, palm trees, and beaches.

… I ain’t mad at that.

Once we got on the island we loaded our bags onto a golf cart, I asked “How will they know where to take our stuff?” to which Daniela replied “Well, there’s only one hotel on the Island.” Guess you can’t really mess that up. We all separated into our ADORABLE rooms and ran straight for the beach. It was like a wave of American girls (plus one very lovely Italian, Daniela) running straight at the water diving in head first, throwing all caution to the wind. As we drifted through the waves what seemed like 50 feet out from shore, we all couldn’t get over the idea that we were floating in the Mediterannean under the moon! We had no idea what this weekend had in store for us.

On Saturday morning most of us were up early for some 8 AM yoga with Daniela on the roof of a house over looking the ocean.

Oh yea, no big deal.

Then we all hopped on a boat and crossed the water to that small Island in the distance. That’s St. Stefano and if you’ve ever seen the movie “Shutter Island”, it’s pretty much that. It’s a small island, about a 7 minute boat ride from Ventotene that only holds this prison.  Presently it’s abandoned. This prison was constructed in the 1790’s by the prisoners themselves, and remained in use until 1965 when it was deemed inhumane. The conditions on the island were actually quite nice. They had a beautiful view, and the last director of the prison allowed the inmates a lot of liberty because he believed in the idea of rehabilitation through responsibility and self awareness. So the prisoners would work on maintaining the island during the day. He even let one inmate (imprisoned for murdering his own wife) babysit his children… that’s trust. One of the director’s sons even got married on the island. But when one was sent to prison on this Island, you were going there for life. A man sent there was usually either a murderer or a political criminal. Sandro Pertini was imprisoned there for a year but was then pardoned and went on to become one of the most beloved presidents of Italy. The reason this prison was considered inhumane and shut down was because of it’s remote location. It was almost impossible to have any visitors on the island. And the director believed that these men needed to be redeemed mentally, physically, and emotionally in order to heal them as people. Therefore, contact with their loved ones was vital. Can you tell I love history? 🙂

We’re going to prison!

Almost everything that was on this island was stolen after it closed.

After we got back from that we all had a few hours to roam the island and relax. While I was sitting on a rock sketching, I encountered a WEDDING  (This seems to be a recurring theme in my travels) that was happening, which is a huge deal for an island of 156 locals. Don’t worry, this wedding will be significant later in the story.  That evening we all had the pleasure of a cooking class with the hotel chefs.

These ladies were the Tiramisu DREAM TEAM, along with their lovely pastry chef Enrico 🙂

During these lessons we were all broken up into groups where you either prepared lentil soup, pasta with fish, or tiramisu. Literally some people were cleaning squid while others got to eat pastry cream, not quite an even playing field! I elected myself as official photographer/ taste tester of course 🙂 The chefs were all handsome young men with extremely broken English and thick Italian accents. Hmm… tall, dark, Italian men who can cook? Yea we weren’t complaining either.

After enjoying the fruits of our labor we all had the night off to do whatever we pleased. Some girls went on night swimming rendezvous, some took the time to catch up on sleep. What did this girl do? Crash that Italian wedding with some very good friends! Ok, when I say crashing I don’t really mean it in the American sense where I sneak into all of the pictures and steal someone else’s name card. Italian weddings are more like an open event, they are much less formal. So when one of the friends we made on Ventotene asked a few of us to come along, of course we were all over that!

They made a heart out of lanterns on the beach!

This was the only picture I managed to get of the actual reception.

I swear you would have thought that we were family at this wedding. I danced with who I’m pretty sure is the father of the bride! Everyone was so friendly and welcoming. We didn’t get in until the wee hours of he morning so, of course, I missed 8 AM yoga but I did make it to the 9 AM church service!

This trip really changed my perspective on my sense of adventure, but when you let your inhibitions go every once in a while, you stumble upon places like Ventotene. If you ever happen to have spare time and money for a trip and don’t know where to go, GO TO VENTOTENE! I promise you, you’ll find adventure too 🙂

Here’s just one more picture to show you how magical Ventotene is.

Thank you to Daniela Curioso for organizing this wonderful trip!

Ciao!

Jen

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