Our first night back in Italy occurred just over the border of France. On the way, we passed by countless French restaurants offering pizza pizza pizza. We were starving, but just couldn’t possibly have pizza anywhere other than Italy, after having held out so long for the delicacy. We arrived in a small ski town called Sestriere and promptly stopped at the first pizza joint we could find, meaning we had to wait outside for the place to open. And for the first time in ages, it was freezing! But boy, was the pizza worth the wait! The kind of pizza that you can eat a whole one to yourself (kids included!) and a sign of Italian yumminess to come! We stayed the night in the carpark and woke up to a market the next morning. Perfetto!
We drove the next day, not really having properly planned the route we were going to take through Italy. So we stopped for the night in a town called San Guilano ( one of many in Italy, I think) off the freeway, parked up in a residential street, took out maps, road atlases and travel guides and did some serious planning. Lots to do in Italy and nothing should be missed! This place proved good for a morning jog anyway, despite the rain.
Our first planned destination required crossing over Italy towards the east to Verona; one of the most romantic cities in the world. We arrived in time for lunch, having found a handy sosta nearby and strolled into the city, grabbing a calzone along the way (yum!). We checked out the Verona Arena, an amphitheatre originally built in the 1st century and one of the best preserved ancient structures of its kind. Worth a visit. From there we walked on to find Juliet’s balcony (Casa di Guilietta), along with thousands of others who desperately wanted a photo of the place where the fictional Shakespeare’s Juliet supposedly stood whilst shouting out to her Romeo. Would be romantic, were it not for every man and his dog. Interesting to see all the love notes attached with chewing gum to the walls of the house.
After our first of many gelatos to come, we climbed up to the not- so -stunning, but worth the view, Piazzale Castel San Pietro for a great photo of Verona.
We returned to Frosty after this, weaving through little old and rustic streets, where we met a Kiwi and a South African, Dan and Lisa; a young couple who were travelling southern Europe for 4 months. It was lovely to meet them and they proved a wealth of information about Italy and even kindly provided us with some new DVD’s for us and the kids!
Next stop; Bologna; home of the famous Bolognese sauce, which we were absolutely going to find. An unexpectedly pretty city, rich in architectural wonder…and Italian shoes!! We camped up for the night in a street not too far from the city centre and Dave went for an afternoon explore to the Anatomical Theatre, carved in spruce in 1737 at the oldest university in the world ( built in 1088).
The next day included a jog, a stop by an Italian shoe shop (had to be done, sorry Dave), a visit to Piazza Maggiore and an amazingly colourful food market, followed by a proper Bolognese at Dario’s Trattoria.
Then we parted ways and the kids and Dave went to the zoological museum at the university museum where they saw ducks, a pickled hamster, bats, stuffed monkeys, whale intestines and other gory stuff. Meanwhile, I spent the entire time getting completely and utterly lost around the streets of Bologna, which resulted in a 15 km walk back to find Frosty and me wishing that I had in fact accompanied the family to see the gore!
Completely knackered from ridiculous amounts of walking, we left Bologna and headed into the countryside. Despite heading the wrong way several times and ending up right back where we started, we ended up at Il Fonti Camping, between Bologna and la Spezia. And as luck would have it, it was the weekend of the annual chestnut festival and we were lucky to get in! To be honest though, it was a bit of a non-event in terms of the festival, but we enjoyed a relaxing weekend, nonetheless and sorted out a lot of stuff such as washing, sorting the van etc. We even had a swim in the pool!
To Lucca after 2 days in Bursana via an enchanting village, where we stopped for a traditional Italian lunch.
Then to the beautiful town of Lucca, a 16th century walled city at the beginning of the Tuscany region. Our time here included a climb up the Gunigi Tower,
a fabulous 4km jog around the walls enjoying the local feel of the place, a ride on a 4 person bike around the town and more gelato!
We also had the opportunity to cast our eyes upon Saint Zita, the Patron Saint of Lucca; incorruptible, who died in 1272, yet still doesn’t look a day over 250! A gorgeous place to visit and one of my favourites in Italy so far.
Florence was next on our plan and was another architectural wonder, most especially the Florence cathedral (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore) with its vibrant colours and beauty, and its crypt.
Of course, more walking and more bell towers to climb, but absolutely worth it. It was here that we enjoyed the statue of David, the graffiti of Michelangelo that nobody else among the 1000s of tourists even so much as looked twice at!
Remarkable to also see the hospital of the Innocents, originally a children’s orphanage from the 15th century, which had a window where abandoned newborns could be anonymously handed over. (Note that the window had bars only wide enough through which to fit a newborn child).
We enjoyed our time in Florence and also met some lovely French people from Marseille, Alain and Anna and a young Aussie couple from Brisbane, Ivan and Amy.
Italy is so far absolutely stunning, with so much more that awaits us.