Travelling to Italy next was another last minute decision. We had been toying with the idea since before we started our travels but it was an extremely long drive, especially to Rome (and if you are going to all that effort of driving to Italy, you have to go Rome!). It wasn’t until we were in Germany that we decided to bite the bullet and go. We had found some very well priced accommodation in several areas of Italy and we figured we had come this far, we were road tripping Europe, we had the time and the means, how could we NOT go to Italy! We drove from Germany through Luxembourg where we stopped for a couple of hours in the city centre for some fast-tracked sight-seeing. We found a huge park for the kids to let off some steam at and then walked, in the rain, through the busy city. We didn’t see a lot, but what we did see was quite beautiful. Many old, grand buildings and some very captivating views.
We continued on through France and stopped overnight near the border of France and Switzerland. The next day we had an amazing drive through Switzerland and into Italy.
Honestly, my first impressions of Italy were not great. I had been imagining rolling hills scattered with picturesque farms and quaint little villages (similar to what we had just experienced driving through Switzerland), but instead we were greeted with huge, noisy highways, crazy drivers and some pretty dirty, intimidating towns. For much of the first few hours we were on a very busy, major highway though so we figured the real beauty was waiting away from the main roads. Turns out it was waiting quite a fair way further along as we continued to be unimpressed (and a little scared to be honest), for several hundreds of kilometres. Don’t get me wrong, throughout our time in Italy we saw some amazing and beautiful places and met some wonderful people so I’m sure, like any place there are the good and not so good areas, it’s just that due to our pre-conceived ideas of Italy being this amazing, romantic, “postcard” holiday destination, we weren’t quite prepared for the reality of some of the “rough” areas that we came across as we journeyed through.
As we drove, we exited the highway several times in hopes of finding a campsite for the night. Although we were extremely tired and it was getting late we were kind of relieved not to find any as the areas we drove through were quite rough and intimidating. As night fell we unanimously decided to give up our search and treat ourselves to a hotel for the night. We drove into Bologna and found success in the second hotel we enquired at. A four star hotel (I have to mention this as Anna was extremely excited to say she was staying in a four star hotel!) at a super, last minute rate. We didn’t get a chance to look around Bologna at all as we had another big drive ahead of us the next morning, but we did experience something we had not yet seen in Europe before leaving the city…….. As we sat in the car for ages while Peter worked out (in Italian) how to pre pay for fuel, Elyssa said to me “Mum, why are those ladies standing on the side of the road for so long?”. I looked up, looked around, wondered exactly the same thing and then, as I watched several women on several corners, dressed in next to nothing (literally…..), doing what I guess I can only refer to as a ‘little dance’ every time a car drove past, it dawned on me……… “Oh, they’re just waiting to catch buses………..”…………….. Funnily enough, we noticed many, many ladies waiting to catch buses throughout Italy after that………..
We had booked two nights accommodation in another property we had found on airbnb.com in a house in Fossoli, in the region of Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy. Well, this turned out to be wonderful. So much so that we stayed an extra night. We were greeted by our host Mara, who, despite the fact that we were two hours early (not sure how that happened, completely not like us at all), through a mixture of Italian and broken English, gave us such a warm and friendly welcome and made us feel right at home. After showing us through the house, which she was still finishing up getting ready for us, she took the kids outside where she had a selection of toys for them to play with. They (little kids in particular) were absolutely thrilled and over the next three days spent every minute that they could playing with them.
The house was a beautiful, typically Italian home, beautifully decorated and fitted with modern Italian designed kitchen and appliances. Dotted throughout were amazing artworks; paintings, pottery and handmade pieces, mostly made by our host Mara and her husband. We were also left with a fully stocked fridge with enough supplies for three days breakfast and snacks and drinks for the kids! All this for such a great price, we had done well with this one and we’ll post a detailed review of the place soon.
That night we went to a nearby pizzeria and had our first taste of authentic Italian pizza and pasta. It took us a little while to decipher the menu, but we had a lovely waitress who helped us out and made some great recommendations. Anna was disappointed at first that there was no Spaghetti Bolognaise (her favourite meal) on the menu, but after seeing and tasting everything that we ordered, she was in her element. She absolutely loves Italian food (and all food really!) and still raves about that meal weeks later.
We spent much of the following day at the house. It was hot. Very hot! (The entire time we were in Italy the daily forecast was in the mid 30s). The balcony where the kids played was shaded and offered a lovely breeze and the house itself was considerably cooler still, so it was nice to just hang out at “home” and relax for a few hours. We ventured out in the afternoon to do some grocery shopping where we took our time, enjoying the air conditioning and having fun checking out all the new and interesting Italian foods. At the checkout one of the kids somehow made a detector beep and Peter spent the next few minutes trying to convince a very rude shop assistant who refused to serve us, that we were not in fact hardened criminals on a shoplifting expedition hiding behind the disguise of a family doing their grocery shopping………….!
The next day we visited Verona. And we went the long way to get there! We had been warned that there were some toll roads in Italy but did not expect them to cost as much as they did. In our first two days in the country it had already cost us around €20 for the privilege of driving on some very busy, often congested, not very well maintained, roads. So we thought we’d be smart and take the slightly longer route to Verona and avoid more tolls. Haha! That backfired! It took us about 3 times as long as the main road would have and probably cost us in petrol what we saved on tolls. At least now we know why they charge so much – because they can!
Verona, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an ancient Roman City in Northern Italy. Three of Shakespeares plays are set in Verona, most famously Romeo and Juliet. It is an absolutely beautiful city that we had a wonderful time exploring. In the centre of the city is Piazza Bra, a large piazza dotted with cafes and restaurants as well as the famous Arena di Verona, a huge Roman Ampitheatre built over 2000 years ago. This spectacular construction is today a music venue which plays host to world famous operas, bands and performers. We ate our picnic lunch in a garden in the piazza (first on some grass, then on the concrete beside the grass after being ‘moved on’ by several Italian Police Officers…….) as we marvelled at the massive Arena.
We then walked through many narrow and ridiculously busy shop lined streets to Piazza Delle Erbe, another of Verona’s beautiful squares. Lined with eateries surrounded by grand, unique old buildings, there are many little market stalls in the middle as well as an ancient fountain with a statue known as Madonna Verona in the centre of it. When we got there, there was a young girl standing at the fountain with both her hands firmly in the water. We watched as several tourists saw her doing this and took the same position posing for photos, assuming I guess, that this was some sort of tradition they just had to be a part of. After many minutes the girl removed her hands from the fountain, each of which were holding bottles of water she had been trying to make colder in the cool water of the fountain……….
Next we made our way to Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s House) to see the balcony that Juliet stood on while Romeo declared his love to her from below. The courtyard was absolutely packed with people keen to see this balcony, not at all perturbed by the fact that the whole story (including said balcony) is believed to be completely fictional. I am not judging, I am one of those people, so excited to be at the setting of the most famous love story ever told! Before entering the courtyard you walk through an alleyway lined with love letters and notes stuck to the wall by visiting romantics. It is believed that in doing this you will make your love everlasting. I was disappointed I didn’t have a pen on me….. or paper……or something to stick it on with…….
Below the balcony is a bronze statue of Juliet and it is believed that touching or rubbing her right breast will make you lucky in love. There was a queue of people keen to partake in this corny tradition. So of course I joined the queue! And in keeping with the tradition of ‘Erin managing to make a spectacle of herself in public’ I reached for the breast, with the baby in the carrier and smashed his head on her breast!!!! The entire courtyard of people roared with laughter and Ben started crying. Still got my photo though, and to cheer the little one up and entertain the crowd a little more, I stretched his hand up to touch the breast as well. Classy!
After that bit of excitement we made our way back through the masses of crowds to our car and drove back to our house, this time taking the highway and paying the €5.10 toll.
The next morning, after a warm and friendly farewell from our lovely host Mara, we headed south, windows down and sunroof open (it was 37° and we have no a/c). Our next accommodation was 400km away, on an olive farm 30kms from Rome.