Italy: Like Coming Home

By Tommy Chapple, 17-time traveler, Central Point, Oregon

I’m an American and proud of it. My ancestry is three-quarters English, and the other quarter is Italian. You’d think the English side would overwhelm and lead, but it’s my Italian blood that runs through my veins and makes me who I am.

My mother never told me traditional bedtime stories, but she did tell me stories about a 14-year-old boy who ran away from home, stowed away on a freighter, and sailed into a southern port in the United States. Sometime in the late 1800s, he got a job with the Illinois Central Railroad and married a Southern belle. This boy eventually became my mother’s father—and my grandfather. I’ve never been able to trace where he came from in Italy—and I’ve tried everything I could to find him. He passed away in a railroad accident when my mother was about five years old, but even the railroads have no records of him.


Tommy (left) and her friend of 55 years, Janet Moyle, enjoy a gondola ride in Venice, Italy.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been enamored with all things Italian. As a nine-year-old child during World War II, I followed the news as Americans landed at Salerno and Anzio, and fought their way up through the boot of Italy … and I recall the liberation of Rome and subsequent battles for the end of the conflict in Italy.

Before I lost my husband to cancer two decades ago, he and I loved to travel. When I lost him, I still had twelve more years until retirement. It was after I retired that I magically found Grand Circle. There was a trip that took you through Europe by train, and the trip began in Venice! I signed up immediately and I was, as the saying goes, “in hog heaven.” I was not only able to see Italy for the first time, but to see it by train—two of my favorite things.


Visit Sorrento’s bustling harbor features colorful homes and fishing.

Since that first trip in 1998, I’ve traveled to Italy on more than ten other trips with Grand Circle. And I truly have traveled all over Italy, from Reggio Calabria in the toe … to Bolzano and the Alps in the north … to Viareggio, Portofino, and Santa Margarita on the Lingurian Sea … and east to the flat, white pebbles of the Adriatic Sea. My map of Italy and Sicily shows I’ve visited 60 cities and towns, and I’m ready to visit even more.

I took my eleventh trip to on Grand Circle’s Tuscany & the Amalfi Coast vacation. And although I’d been there many times before, I still found that there was always something new to discover and experience. During this particular trip, I asked our Program Director, Patricia Fannon, if it was alright to sing on the bus. I’ve been singing all my life, and I love to share this passion with others. So when we arrived in Pompeii and entered the amphitheater, another traveler encouraged me to sing. There I stood, in an arena of about 1,000 seats, singing my heart out for all to hear! It was a moment I will never forget.


I tested my singing skills in the middle of the amphitheater during my visit to Pompeii.

Although I’ve never been able to find my grandfather’s hometown or family, it hasn’t deterred me from my search. I’ll continue to travel to his home country—not only to try to uncover his roots, but because each time I return to Italy, I feel welcomed with open arms … and it’s as if I’m coming home myself.

If you’d like to learn more about this trip from our travelers, check out this video featuring Grand Circle travelers like Tommy describing—in their own words—what made their experiences in Italy so memorable.