~~ Ciao ~~
Road tripping is one of the best things to do. Whether it’s for two days or ten, it’s so good to get up, get out, and go exploring. It doesn’t matter if your destination is simply a couple hours away, it pulls you out of your normal life, and ignites your carefree spirit, where the journey to your destination is that much more part of the trip.
When last did you go on a road trip?
We’d been in Rome for a whole 10 days, and for our next 10 we were off on a road trip. We needed to visit Milano to see (and meet) Luca’s family, and thought we may as well do it now, before properly settling in Rome. We’d be visiting La Spezia for one short night, then Milano to see family, then Firenze (Florence) to see a close friend, and then back home to Rome.
Join me and see what these three places were like, and perhaps get inspired to go on a road trip yourself, it’s good for the soul!
After looking at the train options, we decided that renting a car would be the best option. Luca was comfortable driving, as there was no way I would be taking the wheel on the streets of Rome, that would most definitely turn into a nightmare we did not need.
We left Rome later than anticipated (3 hours later to be exact), with Luca dealing with all sorts of admin at the car rental place, and finding his way back through the streets of Rome. Eventually though, we were off. Driving out of Rome was quite the experience, with Luca at the wheel and me with google maps directing us out of the city. Completely disorientated, being on the other side of the road, roads winding around more than usual (Johannesburg streets are pretty straight and simple in comparison), scooters zipping past. Of course I led us off track, leading us around in circles and back towards Rome. Oh my! In these moments you’ve got to just stay calm – tranquillo calma (something I say now, meaning calm tranquil). You’ve just got to take a breath and think Relax, you can do this, it’s just directions.
We eventually got back on the road in the right direction, both beaming as we finally had that on-the-road feeling. Even though we were running a few hours behind, we were moving forward in the right direction!
First Stop: La Spezia
Distance from Rome to La Spezia by Car: 3h50min
We arrived at La Spezia much later than we’d anticipated, and it was already almost dark. Luckily we’d only planned this as a stopover, so we weren’t too phased.
Our Airbnb place was really weird, and not what we’d expected from the pictures or the description. Our landlady had messaged us to say that the keys would be in the door. We found the building and walked into the main doors to find a bit of a semi-construction site. At the back was an elevator. We had all our stuff with us, so we piled in as much as we could and went up to our level, where our home-for-the-night would supposedly be.
As we rose higher and higher, Luca’s fear of heights started setting in. The dinky elevator shuddered and stopped at the end, opening at the end of a short thin corridor, with the right side of the corridor completely glass and looking out at quite the drop down. As we rolled our stuff to the end of the corridor, we then needed to walk down some stairs, then up a big staircase, through some doors, and then up a thin flight of stairs and around until we faced our door with the keys dangling from it. A bit of an Escher building, but we were rather tired so we just went with it. As we opened the door we stood for a moment, looking at the ‘Apartment’. More like one small bedroom… We looked around, looking for the kitchen, even checking around outside the room to see if any of the other doors next to us were perhaps part of the package. Nope, the kitchen was the mini fridge and the counter in the corner of our room 🙂 We were a bit confused, wondering if we were at the right place. None-the-less, this was it, and it was already 9pm so we needed to make do, find some food, and move forward.
Chuckling a little at everything, out we went, looking for some nosh. The streets were rather quite (unlike Rome where you can find a buzz until very late), however we managed to find a cool spot to eat called BIF – Burger Italian Factory. A lovely warm atmosphere, with ambient light and earth tones – something felt familiar about this place, perhaps because it was more like restaurants I’d been used to back home, different from the more traditional Italian spots I’d visited up until now. We hadn’t had much red meat since being in Italy, and decided that it was burger night, with some red wine to celebrate.
I love celebrating in little ways, as often as possible, for my achievements, no matter how small – It’s so good for the soul, and something we don’t do enough of!
To start, we ordered a plate of Burrata. This would be my first time trying it, and being a mozzarella fan, I was assured that this would be heaven-on-earth. It most certainly was, and the whole time eating it, all I could think of was how I didn’t want it to end. I had to remind myself that I lived here now and that there would be more. Incredible!
Our burgers and wine went down very well, we were stuffed and ready for bed.
It’d been a long day, magies vol ogies toe (an Afrikaans saying translating to, stomach full, eyes closed). We were ready for bed, and off to La La Land we went. Our room, odd as it was, would make do for the night. However, in the dead of night, we’d have one last strange experience. There was one big window in the corner of the room with a metal net lining covering it, which we’d thought was strange. In the middle of the night we realised why, when we heard more seagulls than we’d ever heard before. So many seagulls, seemingly congregating in the area right outside our window, and having a furious and loud conference throughout the night. We were waking up continuously, tossing and turning to the flapping and cries throughout the night. One of the weirdest nights I’d had in a long time, up high in our Esher-room with what seemed like hundreds of flustered and opinionated birds.
Above: Found this great image online – perfectly showing how I imagined the seagulls outside our room window.
Getting up early, we got out of our Esher room. Luca took the stairs, going no where near the ominous elevator, and I took my chances. We drove around town a little, to have a squiz at the town life by day. It was coming to life, with fruit and veg markets out, and people rising out of the sleeping shadows. A very pretty and quaint atmosphere.
We needed to get a head start and get to Milano so we didn’t have much time, but I did take time out to go and stand by the sea for a bit. This was the closest I’d been to the sea since being here.
I love the ocean, so to smell the sea air put me in a carefree holiday mode instantly. The boats were casting such pretty shadows onto the water, and I breathed in deeply.
After stopping for a quick caffè and cornetti – Oh how Italian! – we were off again, on the road.
Roll with the good and the bad.
When things don’t go as expected, don’t let that affect all the great stuff.
Second Stop: Milano
Distance from La Spezia to Milano by car: 2h40min
We’d arrived in Milano and we were here for 4 nights, allowing us to relax a little.
Our apartment had super-fast wifi which we were thrilled about. Being used to having fast internet back home in South Africa, we’d been missing it. Also, we’d been using our internet a lot, looking up things, working out public transport routes, flat-hunting – So we’d been burning into our data. I feel like a modern cliché, but having wifi at home is simply a must.
We all have our own unique experiences of places, and the world. Even if we visit the same place at the same time, we’ll each have our own story to tell. You’d think my visit to Milano would be about discovering the city, it wasn’t. It turned out to be more about self-discovery.
It had been a busy few weeks, and I had transitioned into a quiet self-reflection phase. Luca had gone to surprise his family (who didn’t know he was in Italy yet) and we’d go see them together again the next day. So I had a full day on my own, something I was really looking forward to. Luckily we both really enjoy solo time.
Off I went for a stroll to a little café I’d found online. Here I could practice my Italian and ended up having a lovely broken conversation with the two young girls working at the café. Then, off to the supermarket, and then back home. I liked this phase. I was enjoying the quiet, not looking for entertainment, just enjoying the experience of the everyday in Italy, shopping at the supermarket, cooking at home, writing, thinking about life and what my purpose may be.
In the quiet you start to hear your little voice, deep inside you. And over the next few days, the longer I listened, the louder it became, until it was screaming out at me, pleading for me to listen and explore the things that truly made me come alive.
In this noisy world we live in, we forget what we truly want. Sometimes, the only way to reconnect with ourselves and our true desires, is to be in quiet.
An interesting time of discovery, but I’ll save that for a later finding purpose post.
Over the next couple days we had some family time. Seeing Luca’s one sister a couple times, who I’d previously met before – getting to meet her wild little son, and most importantly getting to see all her beautiful art – This reminded me to keep my passions alive and to pick up some of my forgotten creative hobbies. Then, meeting his other sister (where I had goats cheese for the first time, and became obsessed to find more!). Then, meeting his brother and parents. A wonderful time!
It’s so lovely to connect with families of people close to you, it gives you some perspective and reminds you that each and every person in our lives has a whole world of their own.
Above: Luca’s sister’s lovely abstract and colourful art; Discovering delicious Caprino (Goat) cheese; Discovering that we could make veggie pasta, something we were dying to try as soon as we got back to Rome.
After spending the day with Luca’s family in Gavirate, he took me on a drive before heading back home, up north near the Swiss border. Ah! How gorgeous this area is! I’d been to Switzerland before, and knew that it was as pretty as a picture with everything so clean, so neat, so perfect. This reminded me of that visit.
As we drove up a darling road, we looked out at the gorgeous view unfolding before our eyes. The huge Lago (Lake) Maggiore revealed itself, what a sight! We spent a few hours in Lombardia, enjoying the lake view. The water looked so clean and soft. As the light got softer with the closing day, a swan glided past… Luca and I looked at each other and smiled… Swan Lake, yes we were both thinking and saying it 🙂
On our last full day we went into the centre of Milano, and did a little exploring. Seeing the incredible Duomo (Cathedral), with it’s fascinating and detailed door of stories, basically telling the entire story of Christianity. It’s hard to take in the level of incredible craftsmanship. I’m not surprised it took nearly six centuries to complete!
We spent the rest of the day walking through the streets, catching the metro, walking through a castle and into a park. A day without plans, a wander.
I had a good time in Milano, but didn’t feel a connection to it, nothing like I’d experienced in Rome. At the time I thought how great it was to leave our new home for a bit, so that we could get some perspective. Now, I wondered what Firenze would be like, and if it’d pull on my heart strings like Rome had done. And off to Firenze we went!
Often, before visiting a place we’ll do lots of research. Because of this, we often arrive with a to-do list, thinking we have to see and do certain things to make the visit complete.
We should give ourselves much more free time to just wander, to just be, so see what unfolds in a new place. Sometimes the experience goes far beyond the known sights, and becomes a personal journey.
Stop 3: Firenze (Florence):
Distance from Milano to Firenze by car: 3h30min
We were off to Firenze this morning, and excited to see our dear friend Simone.
The drive was lovely, through the Tuscan countryside. Before we knew it, we’d arrived!
In Firenze, the streets became smaller and quainter. Driving through the busy but pretty streets, we realised that having a car in Firenze was not going to be necessary, and would be more of a headache. Struggling to find temporary parking anywhere, we decided to search for a 24hr parking basement and left the car there for the full duration of our stay.
We met our dear friend outside her apartment in the centre of Firenze. She was here for a few months, studying art, and looking around me I could completely understand why it was often referred to as the capital of arts in Italy. It had such a different atmosphere to Rome, and felt smaller, and more compact, as if we were in a quaint little make-believe Italian doll house… with a lot of tourists.
We got our bags from the car, settling in a bit, and off we went for a walk through the streets of Firenze. Such pretty little alleyways, reminding me a bit of Venice. Excited, Simone took us to her favourite ice-cream shop Gelateria Santa Trinita, and wow! Wow wow wow! If you ever get a chance to go to Firenze, be sure to visit this place for an ice cream. It’s also right by the Ponte Santa Trinita bridge, which is a beautiful place to sit and enjoy.
It was lovely to have this opportunity for the three of us to spend quality time together.
Above: Super cool sunglasses shops, particularly this one: i visionari
After our gelato we continued our wander, making our way to the Piazza del Duomo, in the heart of the historic centre of Firenze. Although jam-packed with tourists, the square was gorgeous, especially when looking up at the Florence Cathedral.
After our amble we went for a pizza, and again, wow! We visited a little place called Gusta – a cosy and busy pizzeria – each ordering a pizza and a beer and sitting around a table along with two other people. We’d been after pizza that was close to the Neapolitan style, and this pizza was getting us closer. Super tasty, with great quality mozzarella.
The next day I went out looking for a café with wifi, and made another discovery, Volume. Being a coffee-and-café lover, this was one of my special discoveries, something I’d been looking for since being in Italy. A cosy café, with great coffee, wifi and music. Here I could just sit and write, and drink coffee, feeling at home the moment I walked in.
I was drinking far too much coffee since being in Italy. I love hot drinks, and actually use to have about 10 cups a day – usually around 4 coffees and 6 or so teas. For the last couple years I’d been working really hard to get the number down, and had progressed to about 3 coffees a day, and about 3 teas. Being in Rome my coffee addict broke free, and I was on about 6-8 (or more) coffees a day! Loving cafés doesn’t help much, as visiting a café is just not complete without a fresh coffee 🙂
Anyway, in our friends apartment I decided to have some of her Twinings English Breakfast tea – I had it black and was blown away by how much I enjoyed it. I’d switched to black teas a while back, and preferring stronger teas like Five Roses, I hadn’t found a tea I really liked, and had slowly stopped drinking tea.
This was a wonderful discovery.
English Breakfast has the perfect balance of strong and soft, making it a great black tea – Give it a try!
Our adventures in Florence continued.
We were now off to visit the famous Uffizi Gallery Museum for a healthy dose of art. This place is mind-blowing, with so much art it’s hard to take in. I got the same feeling I’d gotten went I’d visited the Louvre – I went in, ready to take in every detail of every piece, taking photos and jotting down all the names of my favourite pieces – After 4 or 5 hours, I was almost jogging my way out of the museum, desperately needing a break outside to process! I would definitely recommend visiting this museum over a few days, going for a couple hours in the morning each day, rather than all in one go.
Botticelli‘s Birth of Venus and Manfredi‘s Tribute to Caesar were my favourites if I had to choose. However, the thing I was drawn to the most, was how unique each of the characters were in the artworks.
They were so full of life, with their own unique features and quirks, something felt so special and real about them.
Below are some of my favourites.
Take a moment to look at each one, and appreciate their unique characters. Special!
Another great experience in Firenze was going to my very first Aperitivo – This is a wonderful tradition in Italy, that usually runs from about 7pm – 9pm, where places will serve snacks to go with your drinks. Some places give you a little plate of peanuts when you order a drink, and others have big and amazing buffets. You’ll generally order your drink, and then be able to enjoy the snacks on offer. It’s not about over-eating or getting drunk, and is rather a nice way to enjoy a drink after work, and a way to restart your metabolism to work up an appetite for dinner.
It was our first time going out in Italy since our arrival. Starting with cocktails and an aperitivo at a local hangout Zoe Bar – This turned out to be one of the generous buffet places, with a gorgeous array of Italian snacks lining the counter, and constantly being replenished until about 10pm!
After our aperitivo, we’d worked up an appetite, and made our way to a supposedly amazing little pizzeria – Pizzeria O Scugnizzo – with pizza ‘straight from the heart of Naples’ – After discovering this place on google, we were determined to find it, and find it we did! We got a classic Margherita, and, like true Italians, took our pizza to the square to eat it. Gosh, this place was a great discovery, and it’s the first place I’d eat at when visiting Florence again in the future.
Above: Firenze at sunset; Beautiful lights on the river; Cocktails and aperitivo at a local hangout Zoe Bar
After our pizza we made our way to La Cité, where there was some live music playing, by a band from Southern Italy. La Cité is such a cool place, a French-inspired library space. During the day, it’s a great place to hang out and have a caffé, or do some work or reading. It transforms at night, becoming a hip bar, with live music or just a spot to spend a relaxed evening late into the night.
The band, Lucania (Musica Popolare del Sud Italia), was amazing. Luca and I found a tiny little bench upstairs, with a surprisingly good view of the band playing the floor below.
Watching them play, so full of passion, their expressive faces looking over at each other in special moments. You could see that it was their music, their heart and soul expressed through their music. It was alive and filled the air with life from the South.
A moment in time I’d love to put into a bottle to enjoy more often.
Lots had happened in Firenze over the last 4 days, and it had now come to an end.
We were leaving very early the next morning, so that we could return the car in Rome by 10am. It was going to be a busy day, and back to reality so to speak.
Luca and I were both feeling like getting back to Rome, and both excited to get back to our mission of settling and making it our home. It was a good sign, that after the last 10 days of road tripping, we both hadn’t felt a connection with any of the places like we had in Rome. Rome had pulled at our heart strings in some way, and we were itching to get back.
Road trips are such a great way to get perspective.
Whether it’s for two days or ten, whether it’s one hours drive away or all the way to the other side of a country.
It’s not the specifics that matter, it’s the journey of moving outside your comfort zone and igniting your carefree spirit. By being outside your home as you know it, you return with fresh perspective.
They say distance makes the heart grow stronger… This cliché couldn’t be more true.
We knew that Rome was the place for us, at least for now.
Ciao for now, see you back in Roma!