5€ flight? Count me in!

Luther’s Malta and the Mediterranean Program, currently in its 27th year, offers students the opportunity to spend a semester exploring Malta's rich history and traveling to other countries in the Mediterranean region. Coursework includes Paideia II: Ethical Issues in the Mediterranean, a Service Learning class, where program participants teach English to recent immigrants to Malta, Maltese History and Culture and additional classes taken at the University of Malta.

To learn more about the program, visit the Malta Semester website.

One night we were doing a classic search on Ryanair for cheap flights and we found 5€ flights to Pescara, Italy. We had never heard of it, but Google images showed pictures of sandy beaches with turquoise waters which enticed us to visit. And after the amazing Italian pizza we had in Rome, we knew the food in Italy would not disappoint- so we booked it!

We had no expectations for our getaway to Pescara other than to relax by the beach and eat pizza. So we packed our swimsuits and sunscreen (protect our pale Midwest skin) and headed on our way!

As our AirBnb host drove us home from the airport, we saw signs for Pescara in the distance and we started to get really excited. But we kept driving past the city signs and we were a bit confused. Turns out our Airbnb was a 30 minute drive from the main city center of Pescara. Our place was situated in a residential neighborhood in the middle of a very authentic Italian town. We could tell this was not a common tourist destination, and no one spoke English. We later learned that no one really travels to the Abruzzo region (geographical region around Pescara) unless they are visiting relatives. Note to self- do more research on where your Airbnb actually is before you book it. Regardless, we were excited for our relaxing beach weekend!

The next morning, we woke up as the Italian sun shown through our big bright windows adjacent to our bed. Today was beach day! We packed our lunches, put on our suits and lathered up with sunscreen! As we walked to streets down to the ocean, we immediately stuck out. Not only were we clearly American tourists, we were the only ones relatively in beach attire. Everyone we passed was wearing down coats, pants and scarves. They were probably thinking, “Those crazy Americans!” But we didn’t let the stares discourage us from heading to the beach, after all that is what attracted us to Pescara in the first place.

Well... it’s safe to say we lasted about 30 minutes at the beach before our goosebumps got the best of us—our Minnesota weather resilience failed us. Even though it was overcast and 58, we thought we could tough it out. But we were very wrong. It was too cold to go to the beach on our beach getaway. What now?

We decided to head to the city center on Pescara for dinner. We had a few recommendations from our AirBnb host, and we thought we should check them out. We opted to embark on the hour and a half walk to dinner, to enjoy the view (and get our steps in). Shades of magenta filled the skies as the sun began to settle behind the mountain ranges in the distance. P.S. this was the first time we saw that there were mountains behind us. Pescara was wonderful- a cute town nestled between soaring mountain ranges and the peaceful Adriatic Sea.

As we were enjoying Italian pizza (my pizza had purple potatoes and yellow grape tomatoes! YUM!), we got a text from our Airbnb host. She said she had an awesome opportunity for us! Her dear friend is a mountain tour guide and she was free tomorrow and would love to take us on a tour of the mountains. The next text asked if we had adequate hiking boots and winter coats. Well if you remember, we thought this was a beach getaway and packed accordingly. Even if we weren’t prepared with the right apparel, we couldn’t pass this opportunity up.

5AM wake up call to catch a bus in time to meet our tour guide. Also, side note, the public transit system in Pescara was a bit confusing. And we are so thankful we had the MoveIt app to help us interpret and navigate the bus system. We were groggy and hungry, but we were ready to embark on our mountain journey! Our guides drove us through the meandering roads in Italian countryside. It was amazing to see greenery that Malta seems to be lacking. The car ride reminded me of the streets through Decorah, Iowa— it felt a little like home, but with real mountains instead of bluffs, but you get the gist.


When we arrived at the starting point of our hike, our tour guides took out hiking poles. As we were already a little nervous about our footwear and attire, the hiking poles didn’t help to ease our anxieties. We were wearing every single layer of clothing we brought (even leggings under our jeans) and our hiking footwear consisted of Chacos and Converse— not quite adequate apparel for hiking a mountain. But despite our hesitations, we had an incredible hike to visit the Hermitage of Sant’Onofrio. This hermitage was delicately carved in the rocks as a place to escape reality and be with oneself in nature.The monks would sleep on the stone in a self-carved bed (we laid down and it was actually comfortable!) We also tasted fresh mountain spring water, and the cool, crisp water felt amazing after a long hike.

We would not have learned so much without our incredible tour guides. They were not your average guides, Luana and Luccea, best friend tour guide duo, went above and beyond any expectations we had. They made us feel welcome and appreciated. They took us under their wing and were so excited and proud to guide us around. They stopped and shared information along the hike about the native plants and myths of the area, and even taught us some Italian words! After our guided hike up the mountain of Maiella, Luana and Luccea brought us to a local gem of a restaurant. They ordered the food for us, and were giddy to share a meal with us. We shared in excitement (and so did our stomachs)!


The servers first brought out warm, fluffy homemade bread. Naturally, I reached for the olive oil and vinegar to dip my bread in. Personally, my ratio of olive oil to vinegar usually favors vinegar—  I love the sting of the balsamic. When we were pouring the vinegar on our plate, Luana and Luccea looked extremely disturbed and confused. And in turn, so were we. They exclaimed, “No, No, No! What are you thinking?” Slightly embarrassed, we explained that we were simply dipping our bread in olive oil and vinegar. “No, No. That vinegar is only for salad. You do not put that on bread.” They proceeded to show us the ‘correct’ way to eat the bread- you drizzle the olive oil atop and sprinkle with salt, and it was surprisingly good. The salt mixes with the fat of the oil to make a delicate dressing on the natural flavors of the bread. Luana and Luccea cheerfully smiled, “that’s how the Italians do it!”

Wyatt decided that he still liked the vinegar and oil mixture better and attempted to grab the vinegar. Luana intercepted and took it away and hid it at the end of the table and jokingly said “You’re a disaster.”

Next, the bread was accompanied by a gourmet cheese and meat platter. Aged sheep cheese complimented the rich sausage flavors. Delish!

We finished with a local dish called Arrosticini, only found in the Abruzzo region. Immediately, when the server delivered it, Luana and Luccea urged us to eat quickly. They said it’s only good if you eat it really fast- so it’s still hot. (We ended up eating 5 or 6 each, even though we were already so full!) Arrosticini was sheep on a kabob stick roasted a wood fire. It was some of the best meat we had ever tried, and even a more incredible experience. We were enjoying local Italian cuisine in an authentic Italian town- seemingly untouched by tourists.

Luana and Luccea kept gleaming about how proud they were of our curiosity and respectfulness. They said the world is a better place because of people like us.

We could not be more grateful for the experience and for Luana and Luccea for showing us their home!

P.s. Luana mentioned that she loved Italian espresso and I asked where she would recommend I try some. I did not expect her to stop in her tracks, pull over the car immediately and say, “Time to go get espresso!” A little confused, we tried to say no, but she insisted. So she ordered us all Italian espresso and taught us the Italian way to drink it standing up with a chase of water to cleanse the pallet.

Thank you Pescara for an amazing experience we will never forget!

Grazie

Pescara clan sunset selfie!
Sunset behind the mountains
Italian pizza wth purple potatoes and yellow tomatoes
Hermitage of Sant’Onofrio
Smiles in front of the Hermitage
Resting in the hermitage
Group photo with our wonderful tour guides
Arrosticini cooking on the hot grill
Enjoying Arrosticini
Drinking espresso the Italian way