Sometimes with travel, what matters is what you remember of a place years down the line. What stays in your mind, the little unexpected moments that crystallise and forge memories of a lifetime. Ice cream dripping down arms, chasing pigeons, sticking your head out the car window wanting to inhale the land, arguments, kissing and making up, new tastes, looking up at a building you can’t fathom, a little bit of history falling into place, feeling scared, excited, happy. Italy has been the country we have most travelled to as a family. Partly due to being Carnival Cruise’s funnest family and cruising the Med, and partly due to our own trips. Luxury Retreats asked me to share some Italian memories, I hope they inspire more travels and memory making…
Sunflowers and Ice Creams in Tuscany
My Mum was very ill at the time and insisted we go ahead with our stay in an Italian mansion in Tuscany, but I was worried about her and wasn’t feeling holidayish in the slightest. But it was Miss L’s first trip abroad, she was nearly 2, I was pregnant with G and life had to keep going. I remember fields and fields of sunflowers lifting my heart. I remember arguments over not bringing enough spare clothes for L, followed by laughing together at her eating apples and ice cream in her t shirt and nappy while staring up at the towers in tiny Tuscan walled village whose name now eludes me. I remember restaurant owners laughing at L inhaling spaghetti. Watching her gobbling up Italy with all her senses and sharing the joy of being a parent, and marking time before being parent to two, kept me going through a difficult time and made me realise you can make memories, even when life is painful.
Eating Tortellini in Bologna
Legend has it that when the Pope’s daughter, Lucrezia Borgia, visited the small town of Castelfranco Emilia, near Modena, the innkeeper was so captivated by her beauty that one night he peaked through the keyhole and all he saw was her navel. One day he turned the shape of her navel into Tortellini. My kids thought eating belly buttons was hilarious, and yummy. Bologna was my first family press trip, and on reflection I should have negotiated the itinerary based on my kid’s ages much more, but we still managed to have an incredible time and do some very grown up things with a 4 and a 6 year old. One of those was eating tortellini, another was eating cheese and honey, but the highlight was the San Luca Express train to eat pizza by the Santuario San Luca. Bologna is a stunning city, the foodie capital of Italy, with towers that defy gravity and miles of UNESCO registered, covered walkways, a mix of frescos and modern graffiti. The best bit is it is compact and very walkable, you can read all about the time we broke Bologna.
Running through the streets of Venice
Our cruise began in Venice, so after flying over and boarding our vessel, we spent the first deliciously delirious day running the streets of Venice. The kids could not get enough of the little bridges over canals, the car free streets, the gift shops packed with carnivalesque treasure and finally, the pigeons to chase in St Marks Square. We wanted to make the most of it, so took a speed boat back to the cruise port, we felt like we were in a movie.
Sticking our fingers in the Collusseum in Rome
Most of the travel arguments in our house stem from Mr A and I’s different approaches to planning. Mr A plans for a living and likes holiday activity to be less planned. I write about holidays for a living so have a head full of ideas about what we should plan. So despite my protests the Colosseum didn’t get booked in advance, and the queues were long. And we have one child who really doesn’t do waiting. But somehow I managed to get one of my favourite photos of the visit in the queue and it did seem to build up our excitement for the moment when we suddenly emerged, like caged gladiators, into the streaming light of the Colosseum itself.
Christmas Market in Naples
The warning signs when arriving in Naples by cruise ship are quite stark by comparison to other cities, guard your belongings carefully, beware of pickpockets. Naples was very different to our other stops, there is more poverty, graffiti and a slightly macabre edge in this city, and the kids immediately noticed the difference. They found the skulls outside churches quite exciting, but what really wowed them was the street of the nativity makers. It is jam packed with shops selling nativity scenes, many of which move. There are beautiful Christmas decorations too, probably the only time I have been happy to entertain Christmas in July. We also found amazing pizza, although we didn’t realise it at the time, Naples is the city where Julia Roberts eats her Eat Pray Love pizza. Ours, on a tiny street corner cafe, was pretty memorable however!
Scaling Mount Etna in Sicily
One of my favourite photos and one I have on a canvas in my office, the three of them on Mount Etna. We wound through the country roads of Sicily, all the time Mount Etna appearing, smoking and taunting us in the distance. Mount Etna is Europe’s largest and most lively volcano and it is always erupting. A slightly edgy trip to do with kids, but the hoards of tourists heading up Etna and the guides don’t seem perturbed in the slightest. Our two loved exploring the totally different landscape, collecting lava and then eating cheese toasties and chocolate in the cafe, while watching it smoke some more.
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene.
Before the kids came along, I entered a competition to win a holiday to Verona, I found the card on the bar after a teaching conference I was helping to deliver. Winning always seemed like the most delicious reward, if you have ever tried to convince Maths teachers to use role play in their lessons, you probably deserve a holiday in Verona. Mr A and I were also about to get married, so my memories are of arguing over table decorations and making up by visiting Romeo and Juliet’s Balcony have come to symbolise the highs and lows or wedding planning. There was also wine and beer by the amphitheatre and eating incredible nougat bought in the market, but I will always remember my breath being taken away by castles, marble walkways and ornate street lights appearing out of the mist like a fairytale as we crisscrossed Lake Garda in the mist.
There is more of Italy of course, I have been very tipsy in Genoa, stopped by the police as I swayed and marvelled at the garlands of paper windmills hung across the narrow streets. That is another story, as is taking the train across the snowy alps from Lyon to Milan. Florence has eluded my 3 times now. Once I was too pregnant and it was too hot. Second time we were exhausted after a day in Rome with small kids. Third time the press trip fell through. One day I will return. The Amalfi coast terrifies and excites me too.
Tell me your Italian memories? Or where would you most like to visit in Italy?
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