I close my eyes. Take a deep breath. Clear my mind of all rambling thoughts. And think about places I love. And the one place that always comes to mind over all others is Italy.
I’ve visited Italy three times now The first was as an angst-ridden Year 10 teenager taking one of the coveted spots on a school ski trip primarily filled with Year 11 teenagers. Mainly Year 11 boys I could develop ridiculous crushes on. We wasn’t allowed to explore much of our resort town of Andalo, being chaperoned from hotel to slopes by our poor teachers, who just wanted us all to get to bed so that they could sample the local vino. But we were allowed out one night to the local pizzeria, where we all got pretend drunk on Coca-Cola and the heady scent of mozzarella.
It would be another twenty years before I returned to Italy. I had recently been made redundant, and was studying for my Open University Psychology Degree – the much hated (by me) Child Development module. I needed a getaway, and Mr Fletche found an all-inclusive hotel nestled up in the hills above Sorrento. These were the days when we still largely relied on travel companies and package holidays. The Atlantic Palace hotel was a little old-fashioned, but the staff were wonderful, we had rooftop views over Naples Bay to the looming Mount Vesuvius and poolside was the perfect place to get a bit of uni reading in whilst soaking up some late spring sunshine.
(I’ve just noticed that the Atlantic Palace has had a makeover since we were there in 2013 and it looks all kind of swish now!)
But it was Sorrento itself we fell in love with. It was a wonderful walk down from the hotel to the town. Even if we did have to press ourselves against stone walls to avoid the local motorists squashing us on the hairpin bends so beloved of the Sorrentine Peninsula and Amalfi Coast. Thankfully the hotel did also have a semi-regular shuttle bus down to, and most importantly, up from, the town. We spent lazy afternoons eating gelato down by the harbour, or people-watching on a cafe terrace over a litre of vino bianco, or strolling around the tiny cobbled side streets, enthusing over the huge lemons strung up like bunting outside tiny shops. We watched the cyclists conquering Giro D’Italia. We mastered the local trains, taking a trip down to the ruins of Herculaneum – and even mastering the local lingo when I lost my return train ticket and had to purchase another from a real person instead of a machine.
I came home and purchased a Learn to Speak Italian CD for my car. As well as studying two uni modules and job-hunting, I also learned how to book a table for two (1) and ask for the bill (2) in Italian. I was ready to return.
(1) posso prenotare un tavolo per due
(2) il conto per favore
I sat my final uni exam in June 2015, and a week later, Mr Fletche and I embarked on a two week tour of Northern Italy. No travel companies or package holidays this time around, this was a DIY tour, with hotels, guesthouses and train journeys meticulously planned. We flew into Milan, a city that deserved so much longer than our one night stay, where we clambered to the roof of the magnificent Duomo and drank ridiculously expensive cocktails at a rooftop bar in a department store. We took the train to Verona, where we accidentally took a bus ride without paying, climbed another tower, and discovered the beauty of an Aperol Spritz.
From Verona, it was on to Venice, where we spent two full days getting lost, listening to the duelling orchestras on San Marco Piazza with an overpriced prosecco in hand, and taking full advantage of the vaporetto to travel over to the colourful islands of Murano and Burano. A first class train journey to Florence, where we gawped at Michelangelo’s David, and Boticelli’s Birth of Venus, and the crazily beautiful Duomo, crammed into the centre of the city. And finally, to the seaside, to the beautiful town of Monterosso-al-Mare, one of the five towns that make up the stunning Cinque Terre overlooking the Ligurian Sea. A local train takes us between the towns, except we visit on the day of a train strike, forcing us to do the relatively short but exhausting hike to our neighbouring town Vernazza.
I have been lucky to visit some stunning places, both near and far, home and abroad, but it is Italy that has stolen my heart and can’t get out of my head.
This post is inspired by the April #travellinkup, all about those places we can’t get out of our heads. Which destination do you feel that way about? Let me know in the comments below!
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** All photos with permission of CPF Photography**