Off the Road

My first memory of travelling in Italy is of an early November morning, sitting in a cafe by a large window, looking out across a cobblestoned piazza. I remember the bright sun, already ablaze with the hazy white glare of winter, making the bare branches into spindly shadows on the ground.

I’m not sure whether that was Rome or Venice or Florence.

Twelve or 13 years ago, a girlfriend and I took a month-long trip from Ireland through Europe. We flew from Cork to London to Rome initially. We stayed in a wonderful apartment in Rome in the Trastevere section. It was the only accommodation we pre-booked. Everything else, from how long we stayed in a city, to where we stayed, was done in a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of style.

When we decided it was time to move on after several days of wandering along the Tiber, playing tourists at the Vatican, and meandering down our local winding terracotta streets gorging ourselves on pastries and coffees, we bought train tickets to Venice.

Venice was perfect from beginning to end. We found a wonderful, quaint B&B down a little stone alley off the canals. We wandered the walkways and the canals, frequented a Venetian Ball mask shop, enjoyed fabulous risotto and partook of the nightlife. I recall happening across a small bar off the beaten track, frequented only by locals. It was dark, though early evening, and the after-work rush was on. They were drinking wine and eating small sandwiches that a man was making from behind the bar. There was a wonderful energy, a celebration of the end of the workday. Later, we wandered the cool night eating roasted chestnuts from a paper bag.

Florence was next. It was beautiful, especially as the sun rose over the misty river early in the morning, but nothing could compare to Venice. I recall someone had recommended at the time that we travel to Siena or Pisa. We never did but I think we would have liked either of those options better than we did Florence.

After Italy, we took a train to Budapest, then Vienna and finally Prague. A month and a half after our trip began, we flew home to Ireland from Prague.

The following summer, I had a meaningful and memorable holiday with my mother in Paris and in Arles, in the south of France.

I’ve been back to Europe only once since then, returning to France with my husband. We spent two weeks with friends in the Loire Valley, and then went to Paris for a romantic weekend.

When I consider where I would like to travel and to spend some time living like a local, besides New York (my love of which I have written about here), it would be either rural France or rural Italy.

I envision an old stone house in the middle of fields, bordered by forests and mountains. I can just about see my son running wild through the scene, my husband making his wonderful breads, the two of us gardening together, and me writing.

While I’m not sure if we will ever experience that, I consider myself incredibly lucky that we will be taking a family trip to Tuscany for Christmas this year.

It is difficult to describe how excited I am when I think about celebrating a rustic Christmas in Lucca.

We will be staying at the 17th century Borgo della Madonnina, in a historic cottage which was once part of a farm, in a wooded valley in the hills overlooking Lucca. There is a national park nearby.

I imagine the Tuscan countryside at that time of year, the trees still green, the blue sky standing out against the tawny bronze of winter grasses. The hills are dotted with centuries-old stone buildings, their “chestnut beamed ceilings, log fires and flickering candles,” (this from the Borgo della Madonnina website) imparting a cozy, warm glow.

I understand that the local villages have Christmas processions and, although we are not in any way religious, the services held in their 11th and 12th century churches must be absolutely magical.

Judging by the pictures, it sometimes snows, and then the village lights lend the area a faerie-like sense of wonder.

The three of us are looking so forward to a traditional Christmas dinner in the lights of a classically-decorated Christmas tree, a fire roaring in an old stone fireplace.

I’m sure it will be the best Christmas dinner we have ever experienced.

Maybe we’ll find a small house for sale and disappear into the Italian countryside.

A response to today’s Daily Prompt.


4 thoughts on “Off the Road

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